We have acquired more than three dozen acquisitions in recent months, several of which were icons in their respective areas and thanks to museum friends, saved from the scrapyard.
The first was an Orlando area mainstay: A two-story tall chicken. The story of how it came into our hands is serendipitous . . .
It was at the ISA Sign Expo show in April in Orlando that we found out about the Olde Dixie Fried Chicken sign, an Orlando area icon for more than 40 years. We were at our booth on the second day of the show when Jimmy Kunsman and Maris Peacock of Arapahoe Sign Arts in Denver came up to tell us about a very cool sign they thought we might be interested in. They had just eaten there the day before, and seeing the business was closing, they inquired about the future of the sign. They snapped a selfie and even got a phone number of a contact to call.
It took some planning and more than several e-mails and phone calls with the deceased owner’s daughter in Austin, TX, but in the end, we got the sign. Or at least the top figural portion of it: Some legal issues prevented the entire sign being dismantled.
Our thanks go out to Jimmy and Maris; the daughter, and donor, Pam Mawdsley; and John Ingram of Interstate Sign & Light, Orlando, who took down the sign and loaded it on a truck for the journey north to its new home.
Another local icon—the Crown Deli sign from Brooklyn, NY—joined the museum collection two months later, thanks to two NYC area shops. The sign was donated by Aron Fixler of Boro Park Signs, who had removed the sign late last year when the original deli property changed hands. He had alerted us to its availability, but he had no place to store it until the museum could pick it up. Our founder, Tod Swormstedt, called his buddy, Jeff Friedman of Let There Be Neon in Tribeca, to see if he could store the sign “for a month or two.” He agreed to do so, though it probably overstayed its welcome: The museum was finally able to pick-up the sign in June. Thanks Aron for alerting us to the sign, and thanks Jeff for your patience.
Although less impressive in size, but no less significant was the collection of vintage photos donated by John Nagle of Eagle Sign Company. Three different notebooks of late 1930s through late 1950s black-and-white photos arrived, depicting signs produced by Iowa Neon Sign Company. He also donated two notebooks supplied by Wagner Sign Service to its sign company customers, illustrating uses of its readerboards and letters on sign installations across the country. The Wagner photos include theater marquees, facia signs and free-standing signs and are from the early 1950s-early 1960s era. All of the notebooks were presumably used by Iowa Neon salesmen when calling on prospective customers. They are a great addition to the museum’s archives.
A recent visitor to the museum—Pat McClellan of Miamisburg, OH—noticed our porcelain enamel wall and inquired if we’d be interested in any vintage safety-related porcelain enamel signs. It turns out as part of his job, he salvages equipment from former printing plants and he’s made it his passion to collect signs he finds in the old buildings. He donated two vintage porcelain enamel signs as well as a screen-printed Fallout Shelter tin sign.
Frank Schube, retired president of Dualite, the Williamsburg, OH production sign company, was downsizing and saw to it that the museum added four point-of-purchase signs from his personal collection. Ironically, none of these were produced by Dualite, but by Dualite competitors. These included two Red Top Beer pieces—a vacuum-formed wall plaque (Embosograf Co., Chicago, IL) and an internally illuminated plastic sign (Ohio Advertising Display Company, Cincinnati, OH); a rotating tri-vision Burger Beer sign (The Countryman Company, Covington, KY); and a backlit Schoenling Beer glass-faced sign (also Ohio Advertising Display Company) depicting the Cincinnati skyline.
Herb Howell, another local collector though not from a sign background, graced the museum with several auto-related signs. Howell is a car enthusiast, and restores vintage Fords, so his collection has a Ford theme. He, too, was downsizing and donated a number of signs. One of these was an NOS (still-in-the-crate) neon “Used Cars” arrow, manufactured as the labels on the crate attest to, by Service Equipment Co., Springfield, OH, which was the preferred manufacturer of all Ford signs much like Walker & Company was for GMC. Howell also donated an Autolite glass-faced clock; a four-sided reverse screen-printed glass display depicting auto electrical circuit schematics and used for training auto mechanics; and a Carter Carburetor neon-illuminated glass-faced point-of-purchase sign.
Our annual trek to the Ohio Gas show in Dublin, OH yielded a 1930s era smalts sign for Purina Chows. The 4 x 5-ft. tin sign is painted with a wood frame. Although a production sign, no indication of the sign company could be found on the back or front.