Category Archives: Automobilia

Clocking Out: Automotive Dealership Neon Clock, ca. 1940s

At Dorset Finds, we have one philosophy: The only thing better than an extra-large vintage clock is an extra-large vintage clock that lights up! (Come to think of it, we also subscribe to the philosophies that he who hesitates is lost, and there is never an occasion where three-quarter-length pants are appropriate.)

This timepiece, which dates from the late 1940s–early 1950s was likely manufactured by Neon Products, Inc. of Lima, Ohio.

In the 1930s, the Ohio-based advertising sign maker ArtKraft adopted a technique (innovated by the Claude Neon Company, in France) of bending colored tubes of glass and filling them with light. ArtKraft grew rapidly, and with increased demand, a couple of its tube-benders started their own operation, Neon Products, Inc. Neon Products went on to produce pieces for clients such as RCA, Dr. Pepper and Zenith. In addition to creating signs, the company also introduced lines of neon clocks.

This find, measuring 22 inches across, originally hung in John Howard’s Car Store in Somerset, Penn., and was given an update in 1980 when it received a hand-painted addition to the center of the clock face. Other than that, its features remain original and unadulterated. Best of all, the neon is unbroken and the clock keeps good time.

Special thanks to Jeff at Let There Be Neon in New York for his neon clock expertise.

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Enter the Sandbox: Dinky Toys Collection, ca. 1950s

Playground politics are not to be taken lightly. Attitude comes second only to the hardware a child packs. Whether challenging one’s competitor to a car race down the driveway or excavating the dirt hill of the schoolyard, one is expected to produce from one’s pocket a die-cast gem to rival all others.

In the pre-War era of the 1930s, when a kid chose to throw down, chances are their car or truck of choice was a Dinky toy.

The Frank Hornby firm Meccano was founded in 1901. Best known for its electric trains and metal erector construction sets, the company began selling Modelled Miniatures in 1933 to complement its O-scale railway sets. By the following year, these products had been rebranded Dinky Toys. Production of the die-cast models took place in Liverpool, England and Bobigny, France. Prior to halting manufacturing during the second World War, the company had in its repertoire a broad range of cars, trucks, military vehicles, aircraft, ships and earth-moving machines.

The pictured collection includes a selection of 1950s Dinky Toys and larger Dinky Supertoys. Examples such as the red Blaw Knox Bulldozer come compete with driver and movable levers to raise or lower the shovel, while the Nestlé delivery van possesses some of its original, and very rare, milk cans. The maroon Foden flatbed log-delivery truck retains its chain and post guards as well as all the wheels, including a spare located under the bed of the vehicle. The previous owner was adept enough to fashion four wooden stumps out of dowel to complete the picture.

We’ve Lost The Spark: Auto-Lite Service Parts Toolbox, ca. 1950s

Utilitarian items like vintage toolboxes are always a joy to unearth. Sure, in the case of this example, the box’s purpose was to also act as an advertising piece, but fundamentally, this steel cabinet sat in a workshop to hold — and keep separated — spark plugs and related parts.

Auto-Lite (Toledo, Ohio) originated in 1911 when a couple of small parts companies began producing buggy lamps. By the 1930s it had become a prosperous automotive-components business, and in 1935 Auto-Lite undertook an endeavor to create its own ceramic spark plug. In no time, leading carmakers such as Chrysler, Willys, Packard and Studebaker were adopting the brand’s spark plugs. (Interestingly, Auto-Lite carries on today, outlasting all of these once-promising automotive manufacturing heavyweights, with the exception of Chrysler.) Aside from spark plugs, the company also made radiator grills, door handles and hubcaps.

The blue toolbox pictured is in very good shape structurally, and the graphics, though distressed in points, are still clear and clean. Inside the drawers are several metal dividers used to partition sections for various small components. Also present are two boxed, dead-stock,  ball-bearing gears.

The L Word: Buddy “L” Dump Truck, ca. 1940s

It’s said that condition is everything, and Dorset Finds has to concur. That’s not to say, however, that good condition is everything.

Yes, there is certainly value in having a collectible toy in pristine, unplayed condition, and we certainly don’t want to detract from such extraordinary finds. But, isn’t there also a heightened significance in possessing the same item that was enjoyed and destroyed for decades, all under the context of play? What value do we place on jumping a three-foot dirt pile, Dukes of Hazzard-style, with Teddy still in the dump compartment? What worth can be found in surviving the ride all the way down the driveway, across the street and into the front yard of your neighbor?

The Moline Pressed Steel Company was started in 1910 by Fred A. Lundahl and manufactured steel parts for the automotive industry, such as International Harvester Company. Recognizing the need for a durable toy truck that could take all the batterings his son could deal out, Lundahl built a prototype with 18- and 20-gauge steel that he pulled out of his business’s  scrap heap. Buddy L was born in 1921 and focused on boys’ toys such as fire trucks, cars, trains, construction equipment and dump trucks.

The 22-inch model pictured is a true survivor. Despite heavy play, the axles are straight, the wheels spin and, structurally, the piece is solid.

Nicely played, Buddy L.

Enjoy the Silence: Drive-In-Movie Speaker Lamp, ca. 1940s

There are certain iconic designs that, in some form, helped to define a period. These seminal objects shadow our daily lives,  performing their distinct functions in a way that elicits a response from us and, in turn, shapes our perceptions of a given era.

There were a number of major drive-in movie-theater speaker producers during the mid-20th century: RCA, Simplex and DITMCO models lined the aisles at hundreds of drive-in locations around the country. Perhaps the biggest — and arguably, most desirable — was the Eprad. These cast-aluminum speaker casings embody a mastery of the understatement. Their solid curves form a front grill, mirroring automotive styling of the same period.

This unit has been modified to become a lamp, rewired with cloth cord and an adapted volume control that now commands the on/off switch. Its surface has been buffed to bring out the unmistakable aluminum finish. The original bracket is present at the rear, allowing for easy wall-mounting.