Recent Additions to the Museum’s Collection Include Kits, Photos, and a Damm Sign

10 January
The fancy fold work features blended shades and a convex letter effect.

We continue to add to museum’s collection, making some purchases, but largely acquiring new items as in-kind donations.  It’s especially exciting to be acquiring so many different kinds of sign industry artifacts. Here are some highlights from last year.

The most recent purchase was the result of a “tag sale” of items from the historic Damm Theatre of Osgood, IN.  The theatre dates to 1922, when Louis Damm moved his business from its original location across the street to the site of the competing ColumbiaTheatre, which he had purchased.

Damm Theatre - Osgood, IN

Here is the sign standing on display before the opening of the sale in all its 12-ft. high glory.  It was manufactured by The McSavaney Company of Springfield, OH as indicated by the “punch-in tabs” which characterize the company’s line of custom and stock signs.  The sign joins three other McSavaney signs in the museum’s collection.  Note the panel at the bottom reading, “TALKIES.”  Included in the sale was the original invoice, dated “March 11, 1930.”   The invoice was for $100.00.

A big “thanks” goes out to Shawn Green, Green Sign Company of Greensburg, IN, who volunteered his time to meet museum founder, Tod Swormstedt, in Osgood and help load the sign onto the museum’s trailer.

Another friend of the museum, Darryl Tilden of RoadRelics fame (Minneapolis, MN), discovered a nice 1920s/30s reverse glass fancy gold sign reading, “SIGNS” and alerted the museum to its availability.  With his help, we purchased the 11 x 35-in. piece.

The fancy fold work features blended shades and a convex letter effect.

Two photo albums comprising 127 vintage photos of late 1800s and early 1900s lightbulb signs were also recently purchased.  The collection of rare photographs depicts the work of the A&W Electric Sign Company, who created rooftop spectaculars akin to The Great White Way as well as custom projecting signs in the Southwest and in Phoenix, particularly.

A&W Electric Sign Photos

We’ve received several in kind donations to the museum over the past several months, including two different signkits, both from well-known signpainters.  Michael Murray of Toledo, longtime colleague of the late Keith Knecht, and an accomplished pinstriper in his own right, donated Keith’s signkit to the museum early last year.  The kit will complement the display of fantasy showcards rendered by Keith, and donated to the museum by his brother, Bruce, also of Toledo.

John Cox, Thorough-Graphics of Lexington, KY, donated among other items, the signkit of the late Mike Stevens, author of the pivotal book, Mastering Layout which has become the classic text for sign layout and design.  Cox was hosting design workshops offered by Stevens at his shop in Lexington when the gifted designer passed away.  Cox also donated several Stevens showcards from the large collection on display at the Thorough-Graphics shop.  Several Stevens showcards are already on display alongside those of Keith Knecht and the late Bob Harper, another noted showcard artist.

Here are Mike’s kit, on the left, and two views of Keith’s kit.

Mike Stevens Signkit

Keith Knecht Signkit

Other recently donated items include a screen-printed, double-faced version of the iconic DeKalb flying corn.  The 64-in. sign was donated by Mark and Linda Luttrell of Xenia, OH and came complete with the pole mount.

DeKalb Corn screen-printed flying corn

David Reed, a gas-and-oil collector from Gulfport, FL donated two sets of Gulf letters: One was the production blue “Gulflex” porcelain enamel letters mounted on the original porcelain rails; the second was a set of hand-cut, painted “Gulflex” letters

When Michael Olshefke of Radar’s House of Paint (Gurnee, IL) visited the museum with his family, he brought a circa 1930s National Display Ltd. Signmaster showcard kit to donate to the museum.   Olshefke is a striper and vehicle painter and had found the kit at an antique store some time ago.  The showcard kit was a higher-end version of the many different models available in the 1920-1940 period.

A wonderful collection of 1950s-1960s era airbrushed and color-pencil sign sketches were donated by Walter Yonka of Cincinnati, OH.  The sketches were from the artistic hand of his father, “Clement” Booth Yonka aka “Booth” who was recruited by George Lackner of Lackner Sign fame in the Post WWII era.  Prior to the war, Booth had traveled the carnie circuits making glass “barn animals” for sale.  During the war years, he was a foreman at a Macon, GA munitions factory, and moonlighted as a part-time tubebender for a local shop.  We hope to frame a selection of the sketches and hang them in the museum lobby.

Lackner Sign Sketches


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