Reverse painted on glass sign shatters advertising sign records

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A magnificent Rock Island Railroad reverse glass sign, made in 1890 by an employee of the firm who fashioned reverse glass lamp shades for the Pullman cars, sold for $165,000 at an auction held April 1-3 by Showtime Auctions. The 54 inch by 43 inch piece was beautifully housed in the original gilt frame.

“Not only was the sign the earliest and most important piece of advertising ever made for the Rock Island Railroad, the price realized was the most ever paid for an advertising sign,” said Michael Eckles of Showtime Auctions, adding, “The previous record was $66,000, set at one of my previous auctions.” The Rock Island sign had been in the same family for over 80 years.

The auction was a huge success by anybody’s yardstick. Nearly 1,900 lots changed hands, and by the time it was all over the sale had grossed just under $3 million. About 800 floor bidders attended the event over the course of the three days, grabbing 69 percent of all lots sold. Online bidding — via and — saw a 23 percent sell-through.

Headlining the auction was the Earl Hagerman collection of country store and advertising items, many pieces from the Chesapeake Bay Fire Fighting Museum in Maryland, and over 200 rare and vintage toys out of Kansas. “Nearly every lot that crossed the block was an investment-grade, quality collectible item,” Mr. Eckles said. “It was easily the best sale we’ve ever had.”

Another lot that exceeded the $100,000 mark was a professionally restored 1870 T.J. Coolidge horse-drawn hose cart (#1), used for firefighting. It soared to $110,000 and featured an etched glass with clear and cobalt blue lantern, and retractable swiveling hose nozzles on the back. A related lot – a fully restored 1919 American LaFrance fire truck – commanded $60,500.

Following are additional highlights from the auction. All prices quoted include a 10 percent buyer’s premium.

A 1910 Allen’s Red Tame Cherry embossed die-cut easel-back sign, titled “Drink Allen’s Red Tame Cherry and You’ll Smile, Too” (American Artworks, Coshocton, Oh.), in near-mint condition, gaveled for $55,200; and an extremely rare Ferris Corsets tin die-cut two-sided store display, with both sides in near mint condition, 20 inches by 25 inches by 14 inches, hit $17,825.

A late 19th century Cigar Store Indian Chief, beautifully carved by Thomas Brooks (N.Y., 1828-1895), who mentored such renowned carvers as Samuel Robb, 76 inches tall, in very good condition with the original paint still intact, breezed to $51,750. Speaking of tobacco, a Polar Chewing & Smoking Tobacco tin store bin in excellent original condition topped out at $5,750.

An extremely rare Gilt Edge Whiskey paper sign titled “A Treat That Can’t Be Beat,” in the original mat and frame and in excellent condition, measuring 29 inches by 23 ½ inches overall, realized $46,750. Also, an equally scarce Old Prentice Whisky label-under-glass saloon display bottle (J.T.S. Brown & Sons, Distillers, Louisville, Ky.), 17 inches tall, brought $18,400.

    Five Jacks Whiskey paper sign with unique graphics, framed and in mint condition sold for $24,750.A pair of extremely hard-to-find Five Jacks Whiskey items both did well. A paper sign with unique graphics illustrating Uncle Sam, gambling, and Indian and a cowboy, in mint shape and framed under glass, 25 inches by 20 inches, fetched $24,750 (shown right), while a multi-colored enamel pinch bottle with card suit motif, 6 ½ inches tall and with no visible chips or cracks, hit $16,500.

    A collection of 12 salesman sample canes, with each shaft bearing a different wood and measuring about 18 inches in length, nicely arranged on an easel display and in mint condition (The Gerlach-Barklow Co., Joliet, Ill.), demanded $21,450. Also, a Colonial-era Philadelphia volunteer fire hat (“7”), made of waterproof wool by Garvin & Cutter (Boston), made $10,925.

A Mr. Peanut “tapper’ (used for a window display to tap on the window, to get the customer’s attention), 28 inches tall, with some repaint and without a cane but in otherwise very good working condition, went for $20,900; and a Patterson’s Toothache Wax store display jar with label under glass, with ground glass collar and lid, in excellent condition, rose to $8,000.

    An extremely rare Sunset Trailers cigar round tin (“2 for 5”), stamped “Factory No. 854, 13th Dist., O” and measuring 5 inches tall by 4 ¾ inches in diameter, in excellent original condition, hammered for $17,050; while a Johnson’s Log Cabin Coffee tin store bin, in excellent original condition and measuring 24 inches by 28 inches by 18 inches, topped out at $11,500.

A Buddy L pressed steel toy trench digger (No. 400, circa 1928-1931), 24 inches long, in excellent all-original condition, sold for $16,500; a Buddy L pressed steel toy oil truck (Model No. 2003, circa 1930-1932), 24 inches long, with enclosed cab and doors that open, garnered $12,100; and a Ford Service arrow-shaped two-sided neon steel sign found a buyer for $9,775.

Showtime Auctions has a bussy year planned. Its next event is a summer absentee sale with bidding closing July 9, 2011, at 6 p.m. (EDT). Approximately 250 small lots of advertising and country store collectibles will be offered, to include a rare Rock Island Train reverse glass sign. Then, Sept. 30-Oct. 1-2 The Mike & Colleen Empy (featured collectors) Country Store & Advertising Collection, with hundreds of other quality items from over 100 consignors, will cross the block. Offered will be advertising, country store, soda fountain, Coca-Cola, toys, banks, general store, petroliana, automotive, firefighting, music, pottery, Wave Crest, salesmen’s samples, Western Americana, Native American, gambling, coin-op, a match safe collection and much more. Details to follow.

To learn more contact Showtime Auctions’ office at (951) 453-2415 or via email.

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