Garage sale shopper selling trove of dozens of diverse antiques collections spanning 70 years

lawyer bookcases

Several good examples of solid oak furniture will be available at the Nov. 18-20 Alta, Iowa, antiques and collectibles auction. Photo courtesy Cone Auctions.

Lois Travis of Storm Lake, Iowa, began her illustrious collecting journey with Christmas seals at the age of 10. Now, after spending more than 70 years amassing collection after collection, 91-year-old Lois has decided it’s time to scale down and send many of her cherished finds to new homes. A three-day no-reserve auction, Nov. 18-20, 2011 at the Alta, Iowa, Community Center is planned to facilitate the endeavor.

Kevin Cone, principal of Cone Auctions, who is administering the sale, says of the variety: “If you collect something and you can’t find something at this auction, you’re not looking – it’s probably there.”

Lois and her late husband, Robert, were married in 1942. Shortly thereafter, Robert went off to war for about four years, serving in Africa and Italy. After his return, the couple began attending auctions and garage sales in earnest, furnishing their home and amassing collections of salt and pepper shakers, dolls, railroad memorabilia, marbles, vintage advertising and more.

Lois says she began collecting railroad memorabilia because her father was a railroad depot agent. She reminisces that her mother would have to go out before sunup and retrieve the mail pouch from beside the railroad tracks and take up to the general store/post office in Sexton, Iowa. She’s selling some of the railroad-related items (lanterns, calendars, books, ticket punches and a depot booth) but she’s keeping the lantern her mother used to fetch the mail.

McCormick & Co.

Several examples of fine vintage advertising, such as this McCormick & Co. piece, will be sold.

To illustrate the diversity of the auction inventory, Mary Swanson, Lois and Robert’s daughter with whom Lois now resides, remembers as a child that her parents would go to auctions and buy entire estates; the auction wouldn’t didn’t list anything specific, but the auctioneer would say “everything in the house.” They found wonderful vintage hats, hat pins and clothes, leading to even more collections.

A collection of china dolls, begun when Robert bought Lois some little bisque dolls at auction just because he thought she would like them, expanded to collecting many types of other dolls, including Skookum dolls, Dolls of the World, Barbie dolls and kewpie dolls. Lois says she’s keeping some of the more sentimental dolls, but most of them are going in the auction. The sale includes more than 100 Barbie dolls still in the boxes and hundreds of others, from Campbell’s Kids to kewpies.

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Robert’s own interest lay in furniture because he enjoyed the refinishing work. Many examples of solid oak furniture will be sold, including two 6-shelf barrister bookcases, a drop-front desk, a round curio cabinet and a possibly unique 32-drawer lumber yard cabinet with leaded glass doors.

vintage advertising tins

Prime examples of the many vintage advertising tin examples that are up for auction.

A long-time (and still current) postcard collector, Lois says one of her 60 pen pals got her started collecting Campbell’s Kids. The Campbell’s-related items range from contemporary collectibles and children’s china sets to 1910s-1930s ephemera.

Lois has donated a lot of local-interest items and artifacts to the Storm Lake, Iowa; but there are many examples of American Indian arrowheads, pipe stones and points that will be up for bid.

Mary points out, “This isn’t a fire sale or a clearing-out,” it’s just scaling down. For the time being, they are renting a storage unit for many of the things they’re keeping.

Lois says, “We’ve had a lot of fun through the years of collecting, going to garage sales and auctions. I hope [the people] find a lot of things they like.”

antique wicker wheeled chair

This antique wicker wheeled chair is in excellent condition and will serve as a prime example in a new collection.

Originally planned as a two-day sale, the event is now scheduled to fill three days. Cone Auctions of Storm Lake, Iowa, is handling the sale. All items will be sold with no reserve and no buyer’s fee.

Selling on Friday, Nov. 18, beginning at 4 p.m. are all the dolls, doll-related items and Campbell’s Kids collections. The Saturday lineup, beginning at 10 a.m. includes the furniture, crockery, primitives, railroad and American Indian items. The rest of items are crossing the block on Sunday, Nov. 20, beginning at 11 a.m.

For more information, visit or contact Kevin Cone at

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