Life down on the farm–Farm collectibles

Home and animal health created a number of great advertising tins and some, such as Rawleigh's Salve, could be used for both. These tins have many audiences and are true "cross-over" collectibles, which drives up prices. Condition is most important as well and most of these would grade excellent, demanding a premium. Tin values seem to vary greatly from one region of the country to another and of course are cheapest in a "box-lot" at a farm auction. They are fun to look for, colorful, and add to another collection greatly.

Collecting farm memorabilia can take you on a long trip down Memory Lane. It is often the gathering of the memories and the search for the items that is more fun than the items themselves. Yes, value is important, but so is history. Farming’s long history provides many collecting avenues and categories.

Farm-related advertising memorabilia

Vintage Butter Advertising
vinage advertising - butter
farm advertising - butter
pure jersey butter
Butter cartons like the three shown here are a fine addition to any farm collection but fit in especially nice with dairy collectibles, $20 each. One thing to do is try to find your favorite cow type (Jersey, etc.) or a local dairy to add to your collection.

It is amazing the things you can find that are “advertising items”: barometers, thermometers, tape measures, yard sticks, yard sticks as walking sticks, tin signs in every size and shape imaginable, pens, pencils, patches, hats, knives, can and bottle openers, glasses, kitchen containers, utensils, mirrors, tins, boxes, counter mats, banners, neon signs, calendars, display stands, display racks, salesman’s samples, salesman’s sample cases, toys, cast iron animals, chalkboards, tools, key chains and watch fobs.

The area of greatest concern to collectors of advertising items is the reproduction and manufacturing of fake items. Many signs have been recently reproduced and it is difficult to tell the reproductions from the originals. This shows the importance of provenance in antique finds. It is far safer to buy such advertising items at an auction with provenance than from an unknown dealer for this one reason.

However, even some of the older reproductions – signs and tins reproduced from the 1960s-1980s – are already taking on a collectible nature of their own due to their beauty. But fake signs and reproduced advertising items are an area of concern that you should know about in this field. Whenever a collectible attains a high value, there is someone in the wings waiting to rip off the unsuspecting buyer! Just be aware of your source, buy from reputable dealers only, buy at a sale where you know the item is original, familiarize yourself with the reproductions on the market, and have fun looking.

Values in this area are from a few dollars to thousands. It would be easy to spend a few hundred dollars on just one or two good signs. A neon sign advertising a local tractor dealership could easily cost more than $1,000. Many small items such as tape measures and measuring cups command only a few dollars, but the bullet pencils given away by dealerships bring from $25 to $75 depending on brand name and location of the dealership. Other items such as display stands used for literature or small products come up for sale so infrequently it is hard to judge their market value. I have seen many an urban buyer, who did not have a clue what a milking machine was, let alone a DeLaval brand milker, go after a DeLaval sign just because of its black/yellow color pattern.

Items of greatest value in general appear to be those that can be easily displayed in your home. This includes any of the tin or porcelain signs that are smaller than 24 inches by 24 inches. The really large signs are much harder to find display space for in the home.

Thermometers and barometers with advertising are also popular as they can still be used and displayed. Next in line would be the small items that can be placed on a shelf to be admired such as any one of the tins shown here. An entire book could be written on just dairy-related collectibles (in fact, one has been and is available from Hoard’s Dairyman) due to the collector interest in milk bottles, milk cans, cream cans, cream and butter crocks, butter cartons, crocks in general and dairy bottle caps. Most of these items are valued in general collecting books but they are all farm collectibles in every sense. Many of these items have a regional “value-added” to them bringing greater money within their own region than elsewhere. Local bottles will always bring a premium; also, the more colorful the bottle or butter carton, the more value in general.

Farm kitchen collectibles

Some kitchen items related to the preparation and preservation of food are not unique to farms, but are of special importance to farm kitchens, given their isolation from “store bought” food in many cases. Most farms had an extensive farm garden for family use, making the preservation of goods important.

Items most used by the farm family include canning items, pie safes, Hoosiers, early refrigerators, small utensils, etc.; and other items of interest around the household and farmstead. Things that immediately come to mind are the old apple corers and cherry pitters used in preservation of those fruits. Related items include the famous blue Ball jars and early tops and jars for preserving food.

Kitchen utensils with wooden painted handles are highly collectible and important to farm households and collectors. Also, cookie jars, bread boxes and all the other odd and sundry items found in a kitchen are important to farm kitchen collectors.

Butter Churn
butter churn
This butter churn, made by the Union Mfg. Co. of Toledo, Ohio, is still in extremely nice condition.
butter churn detail

When I think of farm kitchen collectibles, I cannot help but think of all of the miniature renditions of farm animals that adorn the kitchens of hundreds of thousands of Americans, farmers and urbanites alike. What kitchen does not have a rooster, hen, cow, pig, sheep, or some farm animal as a towel decoration, cookie jar, sugar bowl, candy dish, or something else? So again, the items related to the farm have spread everywhere due to the general attractiveness of the item. This increases demand and value.

On a larger note, early iceboxes are quite collectible and valued at $300-$1,000, if in great condition and made of oak. In our last kitchen, we had an antique wood cook stove, a Junger from Milwaukee, Wis., valued at about $1,500.

Pie safes are a nice addition representing the importance of preserving fruit in pies and a traditional piece usually fetches at least $300.
Hoosiers are great kitchen cabinets that were designed to store flour, spices and needed cooking items and today are valued at $300 to more than $1,000, depending on condition, brand name, color and completeness.

The giant butcher blocks, once found in many farmstead butchering centers, are worth $300 or more and are being reproduced across America.

In addition, there is the related area of kitchen and food preparation cutlery. This now brings in collectors of knives and Americana in general, increasing the value of good knives such as a Case. Some items such as kitchen steels are still inexpensive, but many items of cutlery are worth more than $30 and some more than $100 each.

Now, if you add flour sifters, egg baskets, porcelain funnels, specialty kitchen tools, early bowls, butter churns, crocks, egg scales, cutting boards, cast iron pots and pans, early kitchen appliances, dishes, bowls, cups, saucers, plates, sugars, creamers, ice cream scoops, salt and pepper shakers and spice sets and items unique to a farm – such as extremely large tables and benches used for the threshing meals necessary to feed a hungry crew – to the items already mentioned, then you have a glimpse of the range of farm kitchen collectibles.

Farm/sporting collectibles

Hunting and fishing were often necessary for farmers to provide needed food and were usually not seen as recreational activities in our earlier history; it was simply an extension of food production.

With this in mind, many companies marketed items to farmers in a different manner, including selling crow and owl decoys to deter the crows as pests from the farm and garden, and the marketing of predator calls to eliminate those “bad” animals from the farm.

I’ve covered hunting and fishing collectibles extensively in more than a dozen of my books on fishing collectibles and my books on duck decoys and related sporting collectibles. However, I think it’s worth noting that some of these items had a special niche on the farm long before they were seen as recreational.

Some special advertising was meant to induce the farmer to buy a particular product that is now seen as recreational in nature. Also, there were games and recreational activities specifically marketed to farm families. Many of these items are now in the field of general collector interest, but it is important to show their relationship to farming and farm family life.

Some advertising items are far more valuable than others due to the high demand of sporting collectibles at this time. Any of the actual calls, decoys, rods, reels and lures are worth anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand and it all depends on age, quality, rarity and demand—the same factors for all collectibles. But for the most part, many sporting-related collectibles are available within a price range of $20 to $50.

Russell Lewis a farmer, college professor and lawyer, as well as an experienced and recognized author. You can contact Lewis via e-mail at

Some of the available collecting resources at the Shop
american farm collectibles
American Farm Collectibles, Identification and Price Guide, 2nd Edition

By Russell E. Lewis
Retail: $24.99
Your price: $16.49

encyclopedia of american farm implements
Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques, 2nd Edition

By C. H. Wendel
Retail: $29.99
Your price: $19.79

warman's john deere collectibles

By David Doyle
Retail: $24.99
Your Price: $18.99

More Images:

This is an example of the common yearbooks published by many companies and distributed for free to rural route box holders. This one is not mint, but it is clean and of special value to us as it is from my hometown and from a classmate's grandfather's (and then father's) business. Also, note it was a John Deere dealership as well. Photos show the front cover, above, and back cover, below.
DeLaval yearbook.
Animal health is important to anyone on a farm and ointments for cows seem to be the most prevalent, followed by items for horses. This cow salve with a great tin is not perfect, but it's valuable, as it is rare and early. O-H stands for Our Husbands and is a great play on words on animal husbandry.
Various fishing and farm collectibles: A girl with a goat statue, two cow candles, numerous antique and collectible fishing items, an antique scale once used by Weber Fly Fishing Co., a splint woven picnic/fish basket, a collectible wooden display unit from the Montague Rod and Reel Co., a rare book, a printer's block, and Mobil and Arcade trucks. Most items shown are in the $50-$250 range, but one Meek reel would top $1,000. Many of the reels shown are rare Meek and Vom Hofe and range from $500-$800 for most. The picnic/fish basket is valued at about $200, as is the display case.
Fishing and farm collectibles.
Tin of dilators, Bag Balm brand.
These colorful Ransburg canisters were made in Indianapolis, Ind., in the 1940s-50s Ransburg pieces are noted by their distinctive artist palette trademark on the bottom. Ransburg items sell well.
The rooster cookie jar is a rare Ransburg piece.
Egg scale, Jiffy-Way, sold by Sears and Wards, $25+. Many of these types of scales show up at farm auctions today. A related collectible would be the old egg candling machines consisting of a simple light in a wooden box to check for impurities in the egg.

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