Acquisitions update from museum founder Tod Swormstedt.
Our newest additions range from the very large to the very small and several “in the middle.”
The “very large” is the circa mid-1935 double-faced neon sign for the East End Café, originally located on Eastern Avenue a mile or two from Downtown Cincinnati and along the Ohio River. I’ve had my eye on this sign for a number of years—even before the museum existed—but the business was still in operation. Until recently. Property owner Kathie Hickey notified us of the imminent razing of the building, which had been structurally compromised by a fire two years ago, and she offered the sign to us. We are currently researching the history of the building, which dates to the late 19th century. I can remember when the sign said, ‘STAG ONLY’ where it now says ‘Established 1887.’ This is one we may re-paint, so we’re trying to find a photo of the sign with the ‘STAG ONLY’ letters.
The more diminutive acquisition is one of my favorite type of items—a salesman sample. The hinged, 4-3/4 x 8-5/8-in. black case displays two sample glass panels with three styles of gilded letters each, offered by Metallic Sign Letter Co., Chicago, IL. The circa 1930 sample box came complete with two pricelists—one for the letters and the other for installing the letters; and several “Five Year Guarantee” certificates to present to customers. The piece was acquired in a trade with Scott Bristoll, a well-known Cincinnati area breweriana collector.
The third acquisition is a single-faced, neon porcelain enamel sign for “Wm. Rife Company – Jewelers.” The sign had been manufactured by The Blommel Sign Company of Dayton, OH in 1950 and had been taken down and stored in the basement since 1990, when the storefront was remodeled and an awning installed. Rife Jewelers had been operating in the Oakwood area of Dayton, OH for 78 years, before the passing of its most recent owner, Thomas F. Rife. The sign was donated by the Rife family in Mr. Rife’s memory. The sign represents the only vestige of the Blommel Sign Company in the museum’s collection. The Dayton company opened its doors in 1919 and was at one-time, a major force in the electric sign industry.
Our fourth acquisition is actually a collection and bears special emotion for me as it’s the archives of a longtime friend and well-known and talented signpainter: Mark Baty (1936-2011), Baty Art & Sign of Waukee, IA. Baty was an avid Letterhead; he and his wife, Jeanne, were seen at many of the Letterhead meets in the 1980s and 1990s. The versatile signpainter was particularly known for his workshops on color theory; showcard design and layout; and pictorials presented at Letterhead meets across the country (see photos). His passion for teaching was also evident in the lettering class he taught at Des Moines Area Community College for over 30 years.
Baty’s original home-based shop was literally a museum itself, with many Letterhead mementos of sign panels and projects presented to Mark or created by himself, as well as samples of his own work and that of other signpainters he respected. His wife, Jeanne, recently donated much of his collection to the museum, thanks to the efforts of Nancy Bennett, most known for her role as a Walldog project coordinator. Nancy drove the two hours to and from her home in Centerville, IA to Waukee, loaded up her van and then arranged for local friend Jack Kennelly (see photo), to drive the packed van to Cincinnati. We are still sorting through all the treasures, and we will definitely be displaying many of the Letterhead-related items on the Letterhead Timeline wall during the 40th Anniversary meet here in Cincinnati, September 24-27.