Fresh air blows into Indy Ad Show with new promoters; dealer count up by 30 percent

INDIANAPOLIS – Spring was in the air even though the calendar marked the last day of a long, hard winter. On a Saturday too nice to spend to spend indoors many collectors and dealers did just that to participate in the Indy Ad Show, which opened its two-day run at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on March 19.

With the anticipation of a new season came hope of renewed growth in this perennial favorite that takes in the vast realm of antique advertising. Also known as the Original Indianapolis Antique Advertising Show, the spring installment of the twice yearly event marked the first solo effort of promoters Bruce and Donna Weir of Effingham, Ill. The couple took over sole ownership of it after co-managing it with longtime local owner and dealer Doug Moore last year.

Initial indicators appeared encouraging.

“This is the biggest (Indy Ad) show in three years. We’re up 30 percent in dealers,” said Donna Weir, attributing the improvement to increased marketing efforts.

She was also encouraged by the apparent increase in attendance midway through the first day.
“I don’t have a figure yet, but we were double the count during the first hour from the last show,” she said.

To get customers into the show quickly Weir sold admission tickets to those in line before the doors open. “At 9:30 we had only a few people in line, but by the time the show opened there was a line stretching around the building. They must have been in their vehicles waiting,” she said.

By mid-afternoon customers continued to stroll the aisles of the Champions Pavilion exhibition hall.

Participating dealers from around the country again brought their fascinating mix of vintage advertising signs, posters, displays and promotional items. The show traditionally features relics from almost every store on Main Street   

Among the biggest items was a life-size mechanical gorilla, originally a store display, which had a red “sold” tag fastened to the bib overalls it wore.

Dealer reaction was favorable, ranging from the increased traffic to steady sales.

“We’ve had nothing but positive comments,” said Donna Weir.

Veteran Michigan dealer Ted Tear noted that a recent change in Indiana law allows for the sale of mechanical gaming machines for private entertainment.

Several dealers offered Depression-era slot machines and trade stimulators. Much older was an 1898 Dewey slot machine with a built-in musical component in a fine wooden cabinet. Rob “Buck” Ferguson of Alpena, Mich., who said he scours the country for Old West antiques, priced the machine at $18,500.

Ferguson also displayed a red, white and blue striped banner promoting champion marksman W.F. “Doc” Carver of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The framed banner in excellent condition was priced $6,750.

Like many show dealers, exhibitors at the Indy Ad Show are eager to share their knowledge. Greg Greenberg, a metal sign collector turned dealer, featured a round enameled sheet metal sign advertising RPM Motor Oil featuring a lively Donald Duck graphic. Greenberg said the one-sided sign was designed to mount on the spare tire of a commercial vehicle, where it would be readily seen by customers. He said that two other round RPM Motor Oil signs with Walt Disney graphics were made: Mickey Mouse and Pinocchio, with the latter being the hardest to find. Greenberg priced the bright and colorful Donald Duck sign at $6,495.

Greenberg also offered a Campbell’s Vegetable Soup porcelain enamel sign priced at $1,995. He said the “Vegetable” variety is found les often than the Campbell’s Tomato Soup counterpart. The slightly curved sign measured 14 inches by 22 1/2 inches and included its original metal bracket. Greenberg also had an Iron Fireman porcelain enamel sign that featured a robot graphic. He suggested the 1930s sign, 36 inches wide by 15 inches high, might have been a “display topper” advertising an automated coal furnace auger. The bright red and black sign was priced $1,495.

Rod Heuerman of Teutopolis, Ill., displayed a 1950 Vendo 36 Coca-Cola machine, which he restored to like-new condition. While the classic was priced $4,300, Rod emphasized he was not in the business of restoring Coke machines. His effort was to demonstrate the use of new replacement parts and decals available from Fun-Tronics LLC, a business he and his wife, Janet, acquired in 2008.

Fun-Tronics is the only company authorized by Coca-Cola to reproduce Coca-Cola decals. “It’s a big thing. No one else in the world has that,” said Rod, while crediting Janet with the hands-on operation of their business.

Rod said that while they have many longtime customers who restore vending machines to resell, they get many inquiries and orders many people who have a machine and want to restore it themselves. Potential customers are invited to visit their website at

Among the many unusual items brought by longtime Indy Ad Show dealer Walter Scott of Baraboo, Wis., was a pair of bronze cage fronts salvaged from an old bank. The larger, 33 inches wide and as tall as a garden gate, was marked “Teller” in large letters. It was priced $1,800. The narrower one, at 25 inches wide, was the unusual one because it was designated “Bookkeeper” and had a $2,200 price tag.

Far less formidable but just as scarce was a child’s vinyl catcher’s mitt with the slogan “Call for Hamm’s” printed in red letters on the front. Scott explained that the mitt is the scarcest piece of all the Hamm’s beer advertising the St. Paul, Minn., brewery produced.
Scott’s little mitt – only the second he’s ever seen – is in mint condition and priced at $2,800.

Because toys were often used as promotional items many vintage playthings can be found at the Indy Ad Show. A manufacturer that produced many advertising toys in the 1930s was Metalcraft in St. Louis. Gary Broce of Indianapolis featured a Metalcraft “Red Bird Special” truck that he has restored to like-new condition. He said the pressed-steel truck is unusual because the design of its fenders imitates wheel covers and the grille has dummy headlights. He priced the rare model at $3,000.

Broce also featured a 1925-26 Steelcraft pedal car in original as-found condition. The Willys-Knight marque was plainly visible at the top of the radiator. He priced the car at $2,900.

While Donna Weir managed the front gate, husband Bruce manned their Timber Ridge Antiques booth. Prominent is their display was a Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco tin lithograph charger in the original hardwood frame, all in excellent condition. A former owner had outfitted it with a custom-made back frame to protect the original paperwork, which was still attached to the charger. Depicting the trademark Durham bull and a beautiful young woman, the large advertising sign was priced $7,500.

Donna Weir summarized her first day at the helm of the Indy Ad Show by saying, “We love this show and love the great stuff that people bring.”

The next Indy Ad show will be Sept. 24-25, 2011. For more information contact B&D Promotions: phone (217) 821-1294 or visit the show’s website:

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