Lifetime collection of Americana and folk art the centerpiece of Morphy’s Oct. 8-10 sale

DENVER, Pa. – An honored lifetime collection of Americana and folk art, the Joseph and Lilian Shapiro collection, headlines Dan Morphy Auctions’ Fall Sale slated for Oct. 8-10 at the Morphy gallery in Denver, Pa. More than 500 lots of select offerings from the Shapiro collection – antique advertising signs, salesmen’s samples and patent models; product cabinets and packaging; and early hand-carved folk art – will be offered. The celebrated 30-year collection has been featured in numerous national magazine and newspaper articles, and was showcased in a special 2005 exhibition at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass.

The Oct. 8 session opens with 40 jewelry lots, followed by 150 general antique lots and the day’s main attraction: the Shapiro collection.

“This collection is going to make a lot of people happy because it crosses over into so many subcategories, like black Americana, Native Americana, early American inventions, and even Halloween and political themes,” said gallery owner Dan Morphy.

Within the Shapiro collection is a remarkable grouping of 100+ folk-art bride sticks. Skillfully hand-carved and painted, the rarely seen decorative objects date from the early 19th century to around the turn of the 20th century. Each was a custom design, to be given as a gift to a new bride. While not meant for practical use, they replicate the plainer forked sticks that women of the 19th century used for pushing down laundry into tubs of boiling water. “Some of these sticks have cross-hatching, mother-of-pearl inlay, and wonderful folk-art carving on them – hearts, half-moons, a horse’s head, even a carved, caged ball that’s like a whimsey,” said Morphy. “Many of the pieces were formerly in the collection of folk art dealers Betty and Joel Schatzberg.”

The more than 200 advertising items in the Shapiro collection include dye cabinets, display cases, and a huge array of tin, enameled-metal, porcelain and reverse-on-glass signs. A late-19th-century Soapine Dirt Killer reverse-on-glass sign, estimate $10,000-$15,000, with sharp, rich colors and desirable whale-logo graphic, was once displayed in the executive offices of Kendall Manufacturing Co. in Providence, R.I., producers of Soapine. A paper version of the same sign carries a presale estimate of $15,000-$20,000, a reflection of its rarity and extraordinarily fine condition.

The graphics on some of the signs, soapboxes and packaged soap bars in the collection display insensitive themes that were considered acceptable in previous centuries. A lithographed-paper sign depicting Uncle Sam kicking a Chinese man out of the country, a reflection of the anti-Asian sentiment during the mid-19th-century Gold Rush era, is estimated at $2,500.

Although the Shapiro collection is first and foremost an Americana and folk art collection, its underlying laundry and soap theme reflects Joe’s profession – he was a distributor of Whirlpool commercial laundry equipment. The collection includes a 30-piece panoramic timeline of washing machines, mostly of wood and dating back as early as the 1830s. Additionally, 25 to 30 early salesmen’s samples replicate drying racks, ironing boards, scale model washers and related equipment – some of which were featured on PBS Television’s Antiques Roadshow.

The Oct. 9 session commences with 100 marble lots from California-based collectors Bob and Penny Robbins. Top lots include a superb selection of hand-made Indian Lutzes, sulphides, onionskins and swirls. A rare, red-base Guinea sulphide is expected to bring $3,000-$5,000. A fantastic selection of machine-made marbles from the Robbins collection features examples by Peltier, Akro Agate and Christiansen Agate Co., with most in 9.5 out of 10 condition or better.

Bob and Penny Robbins’ advertising collection consists of “smalls” of many types, with most in near-mint or near-mint-plus condition. More than 600 lots are devoted to the collection, which includes 100+ coffee cans, 50 tobacco cans, 200 talc tins, 100+ peanut butter pails, 100+ pocket mirrors, 100 tip trays and more than 25 match strikes. Among the collection’s highlights are a near-mint Lowney’s Cocoa string holder, estimated at $4,000-$7,000; and Five Brothers Plug Tobacco tin-over-cardboard sign, also estimated at $4,000-$7,000.

Day two concludes with 150 holiday lots. “This group includes some of the rarest and best Halloween material we’ve ever auctioned,” said Morphy, pointing to a veggie man driving a pickle-shape hot air balloon, $3,000-$4,000; elephant-head jack-o-lantern, $2,000-$3,000; and veggie man candy container, $3,000-$4,000.
The Oct. 10 session features more than 200 examples of early comic character toys, including Popeye, Felix and rare Disney. Highlighting the selection is a lineup of 100 premium-quality comic character toys from the Carl Lobel collection, including every Popeye toy ever made by Marx and Chein, with original boxes. Popeye-related toys in the collection include a flawless example of Hoge’s tin Popeye in a Rowboat, considered by many collectors to be the quintessential Popeye toy. The rowboat carries an estimate of $4,000-$6,000. 

Obscure and rare, a Louis Marx Smitty Scooter toy from the Lobel collection, estimate $3,000-$5,000, retains its very rare original box and is one of only a few known to exist. Other elusive 1920s comic-strip toys depict Buttercup and Spare-Ribs; and Snowflake and Swipes. Each of the toys is boxed and estimated at $1,000-$1,500. The grouping is rounded out nicely with Charlie Chaplin, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd toys.

Other consignors have added choice inclusions to the third session, including boxed Disney celluloid toys, additional Disney and Popeye toys, mostly boxed; and a fine-quality single-owner collection of 100 cowboy cap guns and holsters, also mostly boxed. A Roy Rogers Flash Draw boxed gun and holster could hit the bull’s eye at $2,000-$3,000.

The closing session will also feature cast-iron horse-drawn toys, trains, pressed-steel and cast-iron toys; trains, figural doorstops, and approximately 100 bank lots. A Girl Skipping Rope mechanical bank, from the family of the original owner and in excellent working order, is estimated at $18,000-$22,000. In the still bank section, a Battleship U.S.S. Iowa in pristine condition could make $3,000-$4,000.

Dan Morphy Auctions’ Fall 2009 sale will be held Oct. 8-10 at the Adamstown Antique Gallery, 2000 N. Reading Rd., Denver, PA 17517 (on the Adamstown antique strip). For more information call 717-335-3435; e-mail; or visit

Photos courtesy Dan Morphy Auctions.