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
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.
This butter churn, made by the Union Mfg. Co. of Toledo, Ohio, is still in extremely nice condition.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Farm Collectibles, Identification and Price Guide, 2nd Edition
By Russell E. Lewis
Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques, 2nd Edition
By C. H. Wendel
By David Doyle