Cigar store figures: treasured folk art

From around 1840 to 1910, life-size cigar store figures of Indian chiefs, braves and princesses – mostly carved from wood but some cast from zinc, too – could be seen inside or outside nearly every tobacco shop in America. The U.S. census from 1860 listed no fewer than 2,269 active wood carvers. Of those, 959 were living in New York, the epicenter of cigar store Indian manufacture. New York City was the unofficial headquarters for studios producing cigar store Indians, or “show figures,” as carvers called them.

This cigar store Indian statue sold for $65,000 + buyer’s premium in Material Culture’s May 26, 2013 auction in Philadelphia. It was crafted around 1850 by John Cromwell (1805-1873), who opened his first shop in New York City when he was 26.

The most famous and highly collected carvers are Samuel Robb, Thomas V. Brooks, J. W. Fiske, Julius T. Melchers, John Cromwell and William Demuth – although Demuth was not himself a carver but a tobacco products distributor who operated a carving studio. Of the group, all but one (Melchers) worked in New York City. They all even apprenticed under one another at various points in time; that’s how tightly knit the carving community was.

Melchers, the outlier, operated out of Detroit, and was the only carver who was a classically trained artist. The others were more or less folk artists and, in fact, cigar store Indians are generally considered a category of folk art. Melchers, it is said, used actual Native Americans as models in creating his highly detailed, true-to-life creations. In that regard, he’s in the top tier of most desired carvers in the collecting community.

As anyone who’s even casually familiar with the genre knows, cigar store Indians can fetch dizzying dollars at auction. “We sold a Samuel Robb figure at one of our sales not long ago for over $100,000, but that’s not unusual,” said Mike Eckles, owner of Showtime Auction Services in Woodhaven, Michigan. “Cigar store Indians sell for in the six figures all the time. They’re life-size expressions of a time gone by, and people just love them.”

When Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas auctioned this cigar store Indian attributed to Samuel Robb in May 2010 for $203,150, it set a new auction record.

In May 2010, a carved cigar store Indian done in the manner of Samuel Robb – but not definitively attributed to him, since it was unsigned (most weren’t) – was sold for $203,150 by Heritage Auctions in Dallas. At the time, it was a world record price, owing to the figure’s original paint, superb condition, impeccable provenance and detailed features. The male chief figure stood 75½ inches tall, including the base.

“Condition and original paint are especially important,” said Marsha Dixie, Heritage’s Consignment Director in the Historical Department. “Keep in mind, these figures were usually outdoors, year-round, exposed to the elements, with people sometimes throwing things at them or even hacking at them. As for paint, it was common for people to re-paint the figures, thinking they were doing the right thing. To a collector, that’s not a good thing. Patina is everything.”

The Heritage record was demolished in 2013 when a female figure – known in the trade as a cigar store princess – sold for a staggering $745,500 (inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium) at a sale held by Guyette & Deeter. The Maryland-based firm’s specialty is duck decoys, another genre of carved collectible that routinely sees six-figure prices. The cigar store princess was carved either by Robb or Brooks (again, unsigned) and overall stood 83 inches tall.

The current world auction record for a cigar store Indian figure was set by this spectacular example attributed to the shop of Samuel Robb or Thomas V. Brooks (it’s unsigned, so no one knows for sure). It fetched $745,500 at Guyette & Deeter in November 2013.

“I had known the owner of the figure for quite a few years,” said Jon Deeter of Guyette & Deeter. “It had been used and never traveled far from downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Its condition was pristine and it was a very attractive princess. We’ve sold other Indians in the mid-five-figure range. They’re fun to work with and are a wonderful slice of American folk art.” The sale price still stands as a record today, although it will doubtless be shattered at some point in the future.

Not all cigar store Indians sell for six figures. This carved and painted Indian chief, probably made by Thomas V. Brooks in the 19th century, sold for a very reasonable $13,800 at Cottone Auctions’ March 25, 2017 sale in Geneseo, N.Y.

The prices for better examples continue on an upward trajectory, but it wasn’t always that way. A New York Times article from 1974 stated, “It was not until the 1950s that the general public began to realize that cigar store Indians were anything more than firewood.” The article pointed out that prices in 1974 were 10 times what they were just 20 years earlier. Nostalgia and a yearning for a simpler, earlier time simply swept the category up to the big time.

One person who may own the next record-breaker is Mark Goldman, a collector and tobacconist in New York City. He began collecting in 1967 and today has over 100 life-size figures, by all the major carvers. But the one he thinks might trump them all is an early Punch figure by James “Jersey Jim” Campbell. Goldman bought it years ago when it was deaccessioned by a now-defunct U.S. Tobacco museum in Nashville. He says it’s worth about $500,000 today.

“Collectors today fall into one of two categories,” Goldman said, “people who are looking to outfit their man-caves and serious collectors. The man-cavers might be happy with a simple replica, which they can buy for around $500 or $600. The serious collectors bring serious money to the table, and are keenly aware of the often-subtle differences that can distinguish an ordinary cigar store Indian from a highly valuable piece of folk art.”

These cigar store Indians, both by Julius T. Melchers, are from the inventory of Mark Goldman, who lives in New York City and owns the largest collection of such figures in the U.S., with over 100 life-size examples, by all the famous carvers.

Aside from the obvious markers like paint and condition, Goldman says he also looks for what he calls movement. “A Samuel Robb Indian with a rose, for example, or with crossed legs, or who is showing a smile instead of a stern, steady expression, might double or even triple the value of a figure that doesn’t show those things.” Goldman said whether a figure is male or female (about an equal number of each was produced) matters little. His collection is half and half.

Books on the subject that collectors, or people considering collecting, refer to include Artists in Wood by Frederick Fried (the title refers to what Samuel Robb gave as his occupation on his marriage certificate), Hunting Indians in a Taxi Cab by Kate Sanborn (if you can find a copy; it was written in 1911), Cigar Store Figures by Pendergast & Ware, and The Ship Carver’s Art by Ralph Sessions. By the way, and fakes and repros are out there, so caveat emptor!

Warning! Things You Cannot Collect

The value of collecting begins and ends with what’s available and in what quantities. But what if you’re not supposed to collect it at all? There actually are quite a few items that, by law, collectors are not allowed to handle, sell, pawn, trade, auction, or represent in a transaction because they are protected national treasures.

What do you do if it’s a family heirloom? How can you legally convey the object outside of your own family? It pays to know which items are protected and if there are exceptions to the rules.

Apollo 15, 1971, lunar surface “moon dust” on clear cellophane tape clearly shows both the gray moon dust and ridges from the creases in the space suit worn by NASA Commander Dave Scott. The moon dust sold legally for $775. Image courtesy of and Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Moon Rocks and Moon Dust

Only 12 astronauts have landed on the moon in six manned missions from 1969 to 1972. Over the course of those moon landings, about 842 lbs. of moon rocks and moon dust were brought back to Earth. All lunar “rubble” is considered a national treasure and is owned exclusively by the United States government. It cannot be sold publicly or privately unless it came from an official artifact that was given to an astronaut after their mission ended. An example would be moon dust embedded on patches, parts of spacesuits, boots, bags, or equipment. At one time NASA insisted that all of the artifacts kept by astronauts were government property, but Public Law 112-185, signed by President Barack Obama on September 25, 2012, gave clear title to artifacts in the personal possession of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. Go to for more insight.

Families of astronauts may sell lunar artifacts at will, with the exception of moon rocks. They are still regarded as national treasures and held by the US government.

Disaster Debris

Tragedy struck in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry, killing all seven crew members and scattering debris across a wide area in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Some 2,000 debris fields were searched by a thousand or so volunteers. During the search, debris from the Columbia turned up on online auction sites, triggering a warning from NASA that some of it may be hazardous.

After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City, firefighters and other first responders volunteered to help with search and recovery efforts. Unfortunately, many items associated with these recovery efforts were later determined to have been looted from the site.

Any piece of debris, no matter how small, from any national disaster is considered to be a national memorial, and any attempt to keep, transfer, sell, trade, or otherwise profit from it is considered theft of government property. Families with relics from national disasters, no matter how unintentional, should return the item to the proper federal authorities.

Each Medal of Honor for the Army, Navy and Air Force is a protected military decoration that cannot be sold, traded, exported, imported, reproduced or otherwise involved in an transaction. Image courtesy of Wikipedia in the public domain

Medals of Honor

The Medal of Honor is considered the oldest combat medal in the US Armed Forces. Established in 1862, the Medal of Honor is awarded by the president of the United States in the name of Congress for “… conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty,” per 18 USC 704. Since 1862, Congress has awarded 3,520 Medals of Honor.

There are three different versions of the modern Medal of Honor, each specific to the Army, Navy and Air Force. However, US Code prohibits “purchasing, attempting to purchase, soliciting for purchase, mailing, shipping, importing, exporting, producing blank certificates of receipt for, manufacturing, selling, attempting to sell, advertising for sale, trading, bartering, or exchanging for anything of value” a Medal of Honor.

So, if your family has one, what should you do with it? Keep it as a family heirloom. If it is necessary to remove it from the family, the medal should be returned to the Department of Defense.

The Oscar awarded in 1947 to the pioneer of the movie projector, Thomas Armat. It pre-dates the 1950 regulation that would have required its first being offered to AMPAS for $1. The Oscar sold legally for $80,000. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Heritage Auctions.

The Academy Award, aka The ‘Oscar’

“…and the Oscar goes to…” is the phrase every actor, director, producer or other motion picture professional hopes will be followed by the sweet sound of their own name. The winner’s ritual goes like this: stand, look surprised, look humble while enjoying the lavish applause, and deliver a witty speech while clutching the gold-tone statuette you just received. If you’re lucky enough to be the recipient of this most coveted of all film awards, you learn sooner or later that there’s just one small problem: the Oscar isn’t really yours. It is essentially leased to you by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

From 1929 until 1950, an Oscar belonged to the recipient, and they could do whatever they pleased with it. They, and their families, were allowed to sell them, if they wished to do so. After 1950, however, the Academy had each award encumbered, meaning that if the recipient wanted to sell it, they had to first offer it to the Academy for $1.

All 1933 $20 double eagle gold coins were supposed to have been turned in to the federal government after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order prohibiting the possession of gold by individuals. About 20 of the coins were stolen from the US Mint. One of the coins sold for nearly $7.6 million in 2002 after a compromise arrangement was struck between the coin’s private owners and the government. Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia

The 1933 Gold Double Eagle Coin

It was a gold coin that really wasn’t. To help ease the banking crisis of 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that gold was no longer legal tender. All gold pieces, certificates or bullion in circulation were supposed to be turned into the federal government in exchange for currency.

As of the time of Roosevelt’s decree, 445,500 $20 gold pieces had been minted for the year 1933. All but two were subsequently melted down. However, about 20 were stolen from the US Mint, with about 13 remaining at large.

By the early 1940s, between eight and 10 specimens were known. Two of them were sold by Texas dealer B. Max Mehl. In 1944, a journalist enquired of the Mint regarding the 1933 double eagles. Mint officials could find no record of any issuance of the coins, and decided those in private hands must have been obtained illegally. Over the next few years, the Secret Service seized a number of specimens, which were subsequently melted. One piece, however, wound up in the hands of King Farouk of Egypt, who even obtained a U.S. export license for the coin. What became of the Farouk specimen after his death is unclear, but the coin resurfaced in the late 1990s. When brought to New York for sale to a prospective buyer, it was seized by U.S. authorities. After litigation, a compromise was reached to allow the coin to be auctioned, with the proceeds to be divided equally between the government and the private owners. In 2002 this coin sold at auction by Sotheby’s for $7,590,020. The purchase price included $20 paid to the federal government to monetize a coin it contended had never been officially released.

In 2004, 10 specimens of the 1933 double eagle were submitted to the Mint for authentication by the heirs of a Philadelphia jeweler who may have been involved in obtaining them from the Mint in 1933. The Mint authenticated them but refused to give them back. The heirs brought suit against the government in 2006, and a federal judge ordered the government to file a forfeiture action regarding the coins. The government brought such a suit in 2009, and it was tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania beginning on July 7, 2011. On July 21, 2011, a jury decided that the coins had been properly seized by the Federal government. Judge Legrome D. Davis confirmed that jury verdict on August 29, 2012. On April 17, 2015, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the government had failed to file its forfeiture action in a timely manner, and that the heirs were entitled to the coins. That ruling was vacated by the full court on July 28, 2015, and the case was set for further argument. On August 1, 2016, the full Third Circuit ruled in favor of the government, upholding the jury verdict. On November 4 of that year, the heirs asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The request was refused on April 21, 2017, thus ending the case.

It has been legal to own gold again since 1975, however the stolen $20 gold coins are still regarded as contraband and are subject to confiscation, fines and imprisonment.

Eagle Feathers

And speaking of eagles, our national symbol is legally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which assesses criminal penalties for those who “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle … [or any golden eagle], alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.”

However, to Native Americans, eagle feathers are sometimes used in religious ceremonies. This is why the National Eagle Repository was established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency issues permits to members of federally recognized tribes allowing them to possess eagle feathers for such ceremonies. Families with eagle feathers or eagle parts should deposit them in the National Eagle Repository for proper distribution.

World’s Fair collectibles: a global fascination

Ah, the World’s Fair. For anyone who’s ever been, it is a magical and memorable experience – an exciting sneak peak into the future, with acres of exhibits, pavilions, performances and fanfare. And let’s not forget souvenirs. Like the park patrons who get conveniently dumped off at a gift shop after disembarking a ride at Disney World, most people who attend a World’s Fair or expo will almost certainly feel compelled to buy at least one memento of their visit, usually from a vendor at a stand or kiosk.

The list of past World’s Fair memorabilia is lengthy and includes glassware, china, coin banks, salt and pepper shakers, buttons, books, china, programs, coins (or tokens), jewelry, plates, pitchers, dolls, ashtrays, dolls, lighters, compacts, pins, buttons, badges, pocket knives, spoons, lamps, pens, glasses, china, directories, posters, fabrics, photo albums, stereoviews and cards, beaded purses, radios, cameras (such as Brownies), model cars, model trains, jigsaw puzzles and more.

Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse soft doll sold at 1939 New York World’s Fair, patent stamped under right foot, partial 1939 World’s Fair sticker under the left foot. Sold for $2,500 on November 18, 2017. Photo courtesy Milestone Auctions

Are these items worth anything today? If they were mainstream, mass-produced tchotchkes, their value is nominal. But a lot depends on which fair or exposition you attended and if the item was unique or made in low numbers. If you have a memento from the very first World’s Fair – the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London – hang onto it. They are exceedingly rare. Even the venue where that event took place is long gone – the Crystal Palace was relocated to Sydenham in South London in 1854. It burned to the ground in the mid-1930s.

The United States held its first World’s Fair in 1876, in Philadelphia, to mark the country’s centennial. It was called the Centennial Exhibition, and it was there Alexander Graham Bell unveiled his new invention, the telephone. Souvenirs from that fair included inkwells, sewing boxes, metal Liberty Bell paperweights, and stereoviews of various subjects (such as Tiffany vases and the steel turret salvaged from the Civil War vessel The Monitor). These, too, are all quite valuable to collectors.

Collection of nine Libbey Glass peachblow rose bowls, creamers, bowl and pear from 1893 World’s Fair Colunbian Exposition, Chicago. Sold for $1,500 on April 16, 2018. Photo courtesy Gray’s Auctioneers

Another highly collected fair is the Columbian World’s Fair of 1893, in Chicago, timed for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America. Souvenirs from that event include china, glassware, prints, postcards, badges, medals, charms and, for numismatists, the official U.S. coins that were minted beforehand to help bankroll the event. The 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, produced coins, pinbacks, shot glasses and other items.

Two other World’s Fairs popular with collectors are the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (later made famous in the Judy Garland movie Meet Me in St. Louis); and the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The former marked the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Popular mementos included ceramic plates and glass and metal cups. The latter was in honor of the opening of the Panama Canal the year before. San Diego held its own similar expo.

Rare original Eiffel Tower poster from the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Artist unknown; printed by F. Menetrier, Paris, sold for $3,800 in May 2014. Photo courtesy PosterConnection Inc.

By 1900, Paris had already held two World’s Fairs – both located near the Eiffel Tower. Items from either one are rare and highly sought after. Americans desire what is out there because those fairs often highlighted Yankee ingenuity in the post-Gold Rush era. Items from the 1900 event that surface from time to time include souvenir plates depicting notable figures and structures; and even lists of scheduled events, such as the performance by Sarah Bernhardt.

1933 Chicago World’s Fair ‘A Century of Progress’ poster. Artwork by Weimer Pursell (1906-1974). Once inside the fairgrounds – especially at night – visitors were treated to a dazzling display of color and light. This poster sold for $2,200 in May 2011. Photo courtesy Poster Auctions International

Other World’s Fairs and expositions from that period that appeal to collectors include the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition (Portland, 1905), the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (Paris, 1925), the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial (1926), and the Century of Progress (Chicago, 1933).

Once we get into the later, more common World’s Fairs, like New York (1939, 1964) and Seattle in 1962, interest and values tend to taper off somewhat.

New York World’s Fair 1939 / World of Tomorrow poster, boasting Joseph Binder’s futuristic design and the most iconic of all the 1939 World’s Fair posters, sold for $3,200 in September 2012. Photo courtesy Poster Auctions International

The posters that were produced to advertise the World’s Fairs can be valuable and are often very beautiful. “The one word that unites all the World’s Fairs is progress,” said Jack Rennert of Poster Auctions International in New York City. “Each fair says to its public, ‘This is the best we’ve done and this is the future that will be even better.’ The posters touting this are all quite positive, whether official fair posters or those of individual pavilions, companies or events.”

Rennert added, “There’s an air of optimism about the fairs, and this pervades the posters that promote them. We collect them not only for their decorative value but also because they are historic documents. Plus, people like to collect finite items, for events like the French Open, Cannes Film Festivals, the Bill Graham concerts, the Olympics and so on. When there’s a well-defined, finite number of images, there’s a natural desire to own them all. That’s the challenge, and the joy, for collectors.”

Fred Holabird, owner of Holabird Western Americana Collections, LLC in Reno, Nevada, has World’s Fair collectibles in nearly every one of his auctions. “I love them because they bring new collectors into the market, and that’s good for everybody,” said. “Our sales feature items you won’t see in many other auctions, like ‘so-called’ dollars (dollar-size commemorative medallions minted for the fairs but not legal tender), stock certificates, cranberry glass, books and catalogs.”

Unique and very special, this Eugene Feuillatre, Paris, ‘La Nuit’ vase, was a model made expressly for exhibition at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900. Silver, enameled and polychrome painted enamel. Shows two flying bats against a night sky. Sold for €25,000 on November 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen

“The unique stuff gets the most play,” Holabird said. “For example, there was a Tower of Jewels made for the Panama-Pacific Expo in San Francisco in 1915. It was this giant, tree-size tower, about a hundred feet tall, studded top to bottom with glass jewels, each one about two inches in length. Those come to auction periodically and sell for the $100-$200 range. Even postcards from the older fairs are highly collected. There’s tremendous mystique and intrigue in the genre.”

Raise your glass to saloon collectibles

While saloons of the past bore little resemblance to, say, Cheers in Boston, The Bamboo Lounge in Goodfellas, or De Rossi’s Wine Bar in Dr. Who, they were nevertheless places where everybody knew your name… if not more.

The world’s oldest continuously operated drinking establishment is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as Sean’s Bar, in the medieval Irish town of Athlone. Brews have been poured there since the year 950 A.D. On the other side of the Atlantic, the oldest bar in the United States is The White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island. It was founded in 1673, nearly 750 years after Sean’s.

All are fun facts, but you don’t have to travel to experience the history of bars and saloons when you can do so vicariously with saloon collectibles. Here are six popular types:

Saloon Tokens

Let’s say you bought a round of drinks for your friends. You paid for them all, but if someone already had a drink, the bartender would instead give the person a token good for their next drink.

Midway Saloon token, Arizona Territory, circa 1905, sold for $10,500. Image courtesy of Archive and Holabird-Kagin Americana

Saloon tokens were a familiar sight from the 17th- through early 20th century in Great Britain and the United States. There are literally thousands of individual saloon tokens available to collect.

Most saloon tokens bore the name of the establishment that issued it and the amount it was good for, however some tokens did not have a have a name imprinted on it. These are “mavericks” and comprise a collecting category all their own. )Learn more at

Saloon Photographs

Interestingly, the physical structure is technically known as the tavern, public house or “pub” for short (British), or saloon. The “bar” is actually the metal or wooden rail that extends along the bottom of the usually long wooden structure where drinks are dispensed. Yet, over time, the entire establishment has come to be known as a “bar.”

In the past, the metal bar was the most distinctive part of the tavern. With spittoons placed at convenient points from one end to the other, a bar could be either simple or highly decorative – usually a reflection of whether its clientele was neighborly or distinguished. Antique photos of saloons immediately identify whether they were upscale or down-to-earth places, simply by the type of bar and other fixtures depicted.

Vintage photograph of a Western saloon, circa 19th century, sold for $3,750. Image courtesy of Archive and Dan Morphy Auctions

Early saloon photos are historical works of art that capture a moment in time that has since been lost, such as this picture of a circa-19th-century Western saloon that sold for $3,750. Note the lawman standing at the far right of the bar and the spittoons placed along the length of the bar.

Saloon Gambling

Luring thirsty drinkers during the mid-19th-century Gold Rush era wasn’t difficult. Main streets of larger towns were littered with bars and saloons on every corner and anyplace in between. But in smaller localities, a bit of gambling could attract local patrons on a more regular basis, just as “happy hour” or a live band might do today.

Will & Finck Gambling Wheel, circa 1900, sold for $10,000. Image courtesy of Archive and Potter and Potter Auctions

Early gambling devices are coveted saloon collectibles. The circa-1900 Will & Finck gambling wheel shown above sold for $10,000 at auction. Gambling collectibles range from a simple deck of old cards to gambling chips to the more sophisticated coin-operated poker machines, which are mostly electronic today.

Saloon Paintings

Overwhelmingly, 19-century saloon patrons were men. Artworks placed above saloon mirrors were aimed at the predominantly male clientele and usually depicted nude or semi-nude women in various fantasy poses.

Example of a saloon painting of a woman, circa early 20th century. Image courtesy of Archive and Showtime Auction Services

Collectors seek out such paintings of “pretty women,” as well as paintings that depict saloons themselves. Although most paintings of saloons were not created contemporaneously, each still bears witness to the rough-and-tumble, often transitory nature of those who frequented saloons of the Old West.

Saloon signage

Early hand-painted signs advertising saloons and/or the beverages they served came in two types: highly artistic and colorful, or hand-carved wooden posts to be nailed above the front door.

Olympia Bottled Beer painted glass saloon advertising sign, circa 1900, sold for $17,000. Image courtesy of Archives and Dan Morphy Auctions

Some collectors focus on acquiring signs for a particular product, the city where a beverage was manufactured, a particular timeframe, or some other criterion. Because such signs were made in limited numbers, rarity and condition can make even a small collection a worthy one.

Saloon Advertising

In large cities or rural towns, inevitably there would be more than one saloon within easy reach in a given geographical area. How to advertise? Simple. Create your own advertising items.

Collectors can be as broad or as narrow in scope as they wish when pursuing saloon advertising items. Just a few of the items available are: pocket mirrors, calendars, whiskey jugs, coin purses, match holders, and even saloon currency.

Saloon currency, such as the example shown here, was an early form of advertising. It sold at auction for $150. Image courtesy of Archives and Early American History Auctions

Whether you call them saloons, bars or pubs, you’ll find no shortage of material at auction that pertains to drinking establishments of centuries ago. Collecting such items can be a fascinating way to visually review a part of social history that unfolded from continent to continent and coast to coast.

# # #

Yearbooks: Not So Embarrassing When They’re Collectible

Remembrances have been around for centuries in the form of scrapbooks containing special things – ribbons, drawings, handwritten stories, dried flowers, even hair. Bound together, these items have a way of keeping memories alive.

A new way of commemorating personal experiences was introduced in 1806 with the publication of the first college yearbook. It was produced by Yale and titled “Profiles of the Class Graduated at Yale College.” There are no known surviving copies of the book. The “Signia,” a yearbook from the 1823 graduating class of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, is believed to be the oldest extant college yearbook. As for the oldest high school yearbook, that honor goes to the 1814 edition of “The Cue,” from Albany Academy in Albany, New York.

It’s not certain what each of these yearbooks contained, but a best guess is that they might have been formatted in scrapbook style and focused only on the graduates.

1877 university scrapbook with remembrances and advertising cards. Images courtesy of Uniques and Antiques Inc., and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Photography would change how yearbooks looked. As early as 1826 or so, a practical image was made from a camera obscura by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce. His View from the Window at Le Gras is considered the earliest surviving photograph. Since yearbooks are all about visuals, Niépce’s invention would change and define the yearbook over time.

Early Photographs

The 1845 edition of “The Evergreen” is the oldest surviving high school yearbook issued by Waterville Academy in New York City. Highlighting its academic and other activities, the yearbook also allowed daguerreotype images to be tipped in by hand.
When the daguerreotype fizzled out by the end of the 1850s, George K. Warren, a photographer specializing in portraits in and around Boston, moved on to the more useful tintypes where more copies could be produced from a single negative – a useful breakthrough. Concentrating on college portraits, patrons bought several copies of their image and passed them around to their friends. Your friends then gave you a copy of their photographs, and after amassing a selection, you could have them bound in a book of your own.

However, yearbooks were only for seniors at college and high school and were quite expensive to produce. This remained the case until the 1870s, when the albumin process made it easier to mass-produce photos.

Gravure Printing

By 1880 or so, printing by the offset process made mass production of books, newspapers, and advertising more economical and commercially available. Utilizing an intaglio process, photographs could be more easily reproduced and rendered in higher quality using a photogravure process. Because such images were produced by hand, it was limited to fine prints.

Princeton University Yearbook of 1899 showing then-new rotogravure printing of half-tone photos. Image courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers Archive

However, it is the rotogravure process that enabled photographs and images to be printed using a rotary printing press. With this process, yearbooks became more widely available, with images and photographs using the half-tone printing process. By 1920, all yearbooks included more than just the graduating class; they also included club activities, sports teams and individual graduate poses.


Beginning in the 1930s, high school and college yearbooks became much more affordable for the average family thanks to offset lithography. They began to be produced for graduating classes everywhere.

Availability to Collectors

It isn’t difficult to find 19th-century scrapbooks at auction. Most are filled with clips of newspapers and other items of personal interest, but they contain virtually no photographs or advertising to tell a more compelling story.

Almost all vintage yearbooks that show up at auction are from the beginning of the mass-production movement, which started around 1920. They include individual images, sports activities, clubs, histories, personalities and even advertising.

The Seminole, 1946 and 1947, University of Florida yearbooks. Courtesy Florida Estate Sales LLC and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Collecting yearbooks, particularly those from high schools, is a favorite pastime for fans looking for early photographic depictions of current celebrities. Having an insight on stars and public figures at a time when their personalities were not fully formed adds an interesting dynamic to the individuals we now know.

For example, Neil Armstrong, who, in 1969, became the first man to set foot on the moon was something of a recluse later in life, choosing privacy over the trappings of celebrity. His autograph became harder to obtain, as he refused all requests for his signature. A 1947 high school yearbook that recently sold for $2,050 shows a handwritten signature in capital letters. Very unusual.

Neil Armstrong signed his Blume High School (Wapakoneta, Ohio) yearbook in all caps. The description of Armstrong reads: “He thinks, he acts, ’tis done.” The book sold for $2,050. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Yearbooks provide a snapshot in time that goes beyond the embarrassing senior photo. The advertising in yearbooks, for example, provides a frame of reference for local histories. The activities or clubs that were important at that time may have disappeared, and athletic achievements may have been forgotten.

Yearbooks are plentiful; in fact, the supply is overwhelming. There are about 17,000 to 25,000 or so high schools in the United States. If each school produces a yearbook with an average of about 500 students or so per graduating class, that could mean about 8.5 million to 12.5 million yearbooks published per year and that’s not including colleges and universities. Most yearbooks continue to sell at auction in the $10 to $30 range. A premium is paid for any that contain a student who later became famous, whether an actor, politician, athlete or other public figure.

Examples of albumin photo processing are seen in this 1870 West Point Officers yearbook. Image courtesy of Alderfer Auction and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Additionally, yearbooks now encompass more than just colleges and high schools. Military graduating classes such as boot camp, specialized training, and naval tours all have their individual yearbooks commemorating the class or event. Businesses also have created yearbooks for anniversaries and yearly conferences, and so do sports teams. The New York Mets have issued a yearbook annually since 1962.

The New York Mets baseball team has issued yearbooks since 1962. Image courtesy of Baker’s Antiques and Auctions, and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Lastly, unlike other collectible categories, there are no specific price guides for yearbooks or organized collecting associations. However, there is no shortage of collecting opportunities with yearbooks. They encompass art, culture, language, advertising, and personalities. They also tell the story of printing and photography. That’s what makes collecting yearbooks a fascinating and long-lasting avocation – one year at a time.



Konkle, Bruce E., A Preliminary Overview of the Early History of High School Journalism in the U.S.: 1775-1925, University of South Carolina-Columbia, 2013

Yearbook History:; NPR

About George K. Warren, J. Paul Getty Museum:

Petroliana: Separating the real from the unreal

It’s no secret that fakes, frauds and forgeries have infiltrated virtually every corner of the antiques and collectibles market. Counterfeiters have tried to replicate everything from rare coins to Confederate belt buckles in hopes of passing them off as items of great value. And some fakes are very, very good – good enough to fool even prestigious art museums with world-class experts on staff to vet their acquisitions.
Until the 1970s and ’80s, the field of petroliana was pretty much immune to this sort of nefarious activity. It was a sleepy sub-genre of vintage collectibles, supported mainly by classic car and gas station enthusiasts. Almost nothing in the field carried great monetary value. Signs, oil cans, gas globes and pumps were pretty cheap to come by. But starting in the 1970s, and certainly in the ’80s and ’90s, everything changed as the category got more organized and the nostalgia craze took hold.

Thirty-inch Sinclair HC porcelain signs. The one at left is a rare original. The one shown at right is a poorly made reproduction. Notice the large ‘C’ that doesn’t match anything Sinclair ever incorporated into their signs. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

“The fakes started showing up when car guys began looking for items to put in their man-caves and garages,” said Wayne Henderson, the editor and publisher of Petroleum Collectibles Monthly. “Those reproductions started out innocently enough as restoration supply items, and they were marketed and priced out as such. Then, folks started re-working old globes and signs, often without doing a whole lot of due diligence or research. In those instances, the frauds were easy to spot. But it didn’t matter so much, because prices hadn’t taken off yet.”
Fast forward to 1992, at an auction in Charlotte, North Carolina. Over time, signs had risen in value. Henderson, who attended that event, estimated that “80 percent of what was in that auction was fake.”

At left is an authentic 1938 lithographed-tin Texaco Sky Chief curb sign. This sign and globe lenses (examples not shown) are the only legitimate non-print uses of the Sky Chief logo in a round format. At right is a neon-added 24-inch lithographed-tin fantasy sign. Neon was used in gas stations only on identification signs or building signs and lettering. This sign is much too small for any logical use. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

It was a wake-up call not just to him, but also to the industry as a whole. He and a colleague, longtime petroliana insider Scott Benjamin, began to write books to enlighten collectors to the dangers of buying a worthless knock-off advertised as the real McCoy. They pretty much succeeded in cleaning up the fake gas globe and gas pump trade.
Oilcans, too, have been faked, but they’re difficult and labor-intensive to produce, so they’ve never been a real factor. “I’ve seen decanter-style phony cans that wouldn’t fool a two-year-old,” Henderson remarked. “Some others have been cleverly made and can reach prices approaching five digits, but I think the payoff just isn’t worth the time and effort.” So, with cans, globes and pumps largely under control, that left just one problem area: signs.

The sign at left is a known original, with holes for mounting onto truck panels and other places. The colors and hand-stenciled irregular stroke lettering are correct. The sign at right is a fake lithographed-tin sign. It has no mounting holes, the computer-set typeface for ‘Pennsylvania Motor Oil’ is too sharp and the wrong color, and it is missing the border and motto that appear on the original. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

Face it, when a single Musgo, Harbor or Clipper sign can bring $50,000 or more at auction, it’s no surprise that people will be out there trying to fake them and pass them off as genuine. To be clear, most reproductions are clearly marked as such and are not meant to deceive the public. But the problem of fakes is so prevalent that a new company has sprung up to combat it. It’s called The Authentication Company (or TAC) and was co-founded by Dan Matthews, a petroliana auctioneer and expert who’s authored several books on the subject; and Joey Whiteside, a lifelong petroliana collector who specializes in advertising signs. The firm is headquartered in Nokomis, Illinois, and is online at
TAC specializes in marketing original period-correct items, including signs, globes, cans, metal thermometers, displays and various other advertising items, but with a heavy emphasis on porcelain signs (and tin, to lesser extent). It guarantees that all items that have been marked with its special security holograms and serial numbers are original. “Many fakes are pouring into the country from places like India, China, eastern Europe, the Philippines… and, of course, some are made here in this country, too,” he said. “Most repros are easy for the trained eye to spot, but the last thing a collector or auction house needs or wants is a fake.”

The known original porcelain sign at left has a smooth finish, irregular hand-lettered lettering, and a white border ‘T.’ The sign at right is a fantasy reproduction Sky Chief pump plate. It is lithographed tin as opposed to porcelain, has an embossed logo, computer-typeset ‘Texaco,’ and a black-border ‘T,’ which was never seen on original Sky Chief pump plates. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

Matthews said there are eight things to consider when examining a porcelain sign for authenticity. They are as follows:
• Size and style. Was the size or style of sign ever even made? (remarkably, oftentimes it wasn’t). If, for example, a size was only made in a 30-inch and a 40-inch size and you see one that’s 24 inches in diameter, run the other way.
• Quality. Look at the sign for its overall quality of workmanship. Does it look and feel real? Original signs have crisp, clear lines and edges on all letters and graphics, and were made with porcelain covering all sides. If a sign is missing enamel on the sides or inside the grommet holes, it’s probably a reproduction. The enamel inside the grommet holes can get chipped away, but there’s usually some evidence of its prior existence.
• Stamps. Pay close attention to the stamps printed on a sign. These will often tell the date a sign was made, or the company that created it. For example, reproduction Mobil signs are supposed to be marked with the words, “Licensed by Mobil Corporation,” but a huckster may try to knock off the finish where the distinguishing words are located.
• Holes. Are the holes in the right places? Some signs look very close to the originals, but the holes that were meant to be used in hanging the signs don’t appear in the right places.
• Grommets. Does the sign have grommets in the mounting holes? Almost all original signs had them at one time or another. If the sign doesn’t have grommets, there should be some chipping in the holes since they were most likely there at one time.
• Color. Are the colors and/or sign design accurate? Compare the sign to others that you know to be legitimate. If the color of the sign is a little off, this is a red flag. It’s not a mistake that would have been made by the factory. On original signs, the paint color will always be consistent.
• Feel. Does the back of the sign feel like sandpaper? The backs of most porcelain signs are smooth, or have some texture, but if the back is rough, it’s probably a fake. There are exceptions. The porcelain on the back of an original sign is usually not as thick as the front, so that’s almost always the first place it will rust. Also, if a sign has been buried in the ground for a while to artificially render the effect of “ageing,” the back will start to rust, which can make it feel like sandpaper.
• Design. Many repros are “fantasy” pieces – signs that are appealing to the eye but were never created that way. The fabricators take the logo and colors of a company and invent a new, eye-catching piece they think people will want to buy. This is fine, so long as the sign is clearly marketed as a reproduction and not an original. Unfortunately, some people (new collectors, especially) are dazzled by what they see, believe it to be original, and as a result, overpay for it.

The original sign at right included grommets (see 6 o’clock hole). The fake at left has none. The real sign has a vertical white outside line to the left of the ‘B’ in Buick (just above the tip of the curlicue), while the fake has none. The bottom of the ‘B’ should have a wider, flowing curve, per GM specs; but on the fake sign it’s squeezed together. Image courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

Matthews and Henderson both agree that best way to protect oneself against being knowingly or even unknowingly sold a fake sign is through self-education. They strongly urge newbies and even seasoned petroliana collectors to read guidebooks, join clubs, talk to people who are knowledgeable in the field and – most importantly – always buy from reputable auction companies or dealers who are familiar with the items they’re selling.
Remember, there are a lot of great auction houses and dealers who unwittingly sell reproduction items to the public because they’re not entirely familiar with a particular genre of collectible. As with many things in life, the caveat emptor (buyer beware) rule definitely applies when buying petroliana for your collection – most especially porcelain signs

Both the 8-inch Texaco sign at left with a white-outlined T and the 15-inch Texaco sign at right with a black-outlined T are authentic. The heavily pitted 12-inch sign shown at right is a phony that was aged to deceive the unsuspecting. Errors include an incorrect typeface for the word Texaco, computer typeface oversized registration text, and a fake date. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly.

Pest Control In Pretty Packages

It is difficult to comprehend that some of our smallest works of antique art took their inspiration from disease, foul odors and fleas, yet the facts are indisputable.

Imagine a typical overcrowded 18th- or 19th-century city without plumbing facilities, where refuse littered the streets and animals roamed freely. Consider the multiple layers of heavy clothing people wore year round and how rarely those same people bathed, if at all. There was little oral hygiene and no hygienic paper products. There were no washing machines and no routine garbage collection. It was a world where rodents ruled and both animals and humans carried fleas. There was Febreze, although it was certainly needed.

How would a person mitigate these circumstances enough to make life bearable? If you were poor, you could not. If you were well heeled, however, you could purchase a vinaigrette or fancy flea trap.

This hollowed, Russian hand-carved bone flea trap dates to the 18th century. It is 2 inches tall and 3 1/2 inches in circumference. The owner would cut a strip of cloth, rub honey on one side, saturate the other side with blood, then slip it within the flea trap. The blood attracted fleas, they entered through the many carved perforations and stuck to the honey. Most flea traps are straight and tubular, but this flea trap displays the Russian penchant for the onion dome. Image courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

To the wealthy, flea traps were every bit as much an accessory as jewelry, hats, gloves or a fan. They were worn around the neck, tucked into clothing, stashed under a wig, or placed in a bed. Flea traps have been in use since the Middle Ages. They were made of silver or ornately carved ivory or bone, their beauty shrouding their unpleasant purpose.

Early flea traps, which are scarce to begin with, are even more difficult to find because they are often misidentified as vinaigrettes or even needle cases. As a result, comparative pricing can be tricky. Linear, cylinder and bulbous shapes are the most common forms and sell in the $250 to $300 range, although there is one 17th-century example currently listed online for $20,000, a highly inflated price.

An interesting fact to note is the origin of the color puce. “Puce” is the French word for “flea,” and by extension, the color of the stain remaining on a bedsheet after a sated flea has been crushed. You may never think of puce in quite the same way again.

19th century pomander that might also have been used as a flea trap, carved from coquilla nut, the fruit of the Brazilian palm: the coquilla nut. The top and bottom halves are turned in opposite directions to open this case, which is 3 inches tall and 5 1/2 inches in circumference. These beautiful pieces can be readily found online in the $20 to $30 range. Image courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Throughout history, foul odors were another unpleasant aspect of daily life. Although, of necessity, people became accustomed to the circumstances that caused the odors, they still attempted to alleviate them. During the Middle Ages people began to use pomanders to introduce a pleasant fragrance to the environment. Initially, pomanders were made at home, much like those we still make during the holidays. People used citrus fruit pierced with herbs like cloves or they saved the skin of an orange and stuffed it with a rag or sponge that had been soaked in vinegar. Oranges and vinegar were believed to have the power to ward off illness.

Pomanders were also made of silver and gold, often with enamel work or even mounted with gems. These would be filled with sponges or cloths infused with scents. They were worn around the neck, wrist or on a chatelaine. They could also be placed in a trunk or cabinet with clothing.

Another innovation that soon largely replaced the pomander was the pouncet box. Pouncet boxes emerged during the late 16th century in England and were used primarily by the wealthy. The pouncet box was flat and circular in shape with a perforated lid that held vinegar-soaked sponges or cloths. Both men and women carried pouncet boxes to overpower any foul odor and, more importantly, to offer protection from infected air, then considered to be the source of contagion.

This 1851 Dutch Lodereindoosje or Loderein box, also known as a vinaigrette, is a hinged box type. The name Loderein is the Dutch phonetic variation of the French phrase “l’eau de reine,” which means “queen’s water.” It retains the original sponge and a hint of scent. Visible marks on this piece include the Dutch lion passant, the 1851 date letter “R” and the Minerva-head duty mark. Boxes such as this are often misidentified at antique shows as snuffboxes. Image courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

By the late 18th century, the pouncet box evolved into a smaller silver container known as a vinaigrette, from the French word for vinegar – vinaigre. The vinaigrette worked on the same principle as the pomander and pouncet box. Aromatic substances dissolved in vinegar or concentrated scented oils were used to saturate sponges or fabric placed in the vinaigrette, which was carried in a pocket, worn around the neck or suspended from a chatelaine. The amount of detail silversmiths managed to apply to such small pieces is quite remarkable. These are truly artworks.

Novelty vinaigrettes in the form of musical instruments, shoes, wallets, satchels, hearts, eggs, nuts, and even books were very popular during the 19th century and are highly desirable today. The violin vinaigrette shown here is valued in the $500 to $600 range.

The 3 1/4-inch long 19th-century Dutch vinaigrette was made in the form of a violin or cello, complete with pegs, string, bridge, scroll and “f” holes. It is decorated with scenes of a dock with a ship in the background and putti performing various tasks. There are wine barrels, wheels of cheese and, most interestingly, a figure in the background holding a caduceus, perhaps supporting the belief that the vinaigrette was a prophylaxis against disease. Image courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

By the mid-19th century, the popularity of the vinaigrette was waning. Younger women viewed vinaigrettes as outdated accessories carried by older women who used them more for their invigorating effect than as a prophylaxis. During the early 20th century they were collected as curiosities and regarded as bjets d’art or bibelots. Chances are you have overlooked these treasures at an antique show or auction. They are usually exhibited in jewelry display cases and can be easy to overlook when they’re jumbled together with other items.

Knowing about flea traps, typically identified as pomanders, will afford you the opportunity to obtain an antique far scarcer than vinaigrettes – an antique not many people have in their collection.

While on the subject of fleas and flea markets, do you know the origin of the term “flea market?” The phrase is derived from the French name “marché aux puces” (market of fleas) that applied to a market in Paris specializing in secondhand goods, especially clothing of the sort that might contain fleas. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the date 1922 as the year when the phrase was first used in its English translated form.


Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing this article. Click to visit Antique Trader online.

Elongated Coins: Make Your Money Stretch

You don’t need to have an interest in coins to get started in coin collecting. An affordable alternative to traditional numismatics is the elongated cent. Just find a machine, plug in a penny and a couple of quarters (to pay the cost), crank the wheel to squash the penny and imprint a design, and you get a memento that will last forever.

Elongated coins (also known as elongated cents, stretchies, squashed cents, or rolled cents) are made by forcing a coin, token or metal blank between two steel rollers. The design engraved on one roller (die) is then transferred to the coin, turning what was just moments before legal tender into a memento valued to the maker at more than a penny.

Cindy’s cents machines at Natural Bridge, Virginia (6477 S. Lee Highway, Natural Bridge, Virginia). Courtesy of Cindy Calhoun/Cindy’s Cents

Speaking of legal, many people think it is illegal to alter U.S. coins by smashing them. However, it’s perfectly legal to roll pennies. U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 17, Section 331 prohibits, among other things, fraudulent alteration and mutilation of coins. This statute does not, however, prohibit the mutilation of coins if done without fraudulent intent or if the mutilated coins are not used fraudulently.

These coin curios have been around for more than a century. The first elongated coins in the United States were made in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The enterprising individual(s) who brought a rolling machine to this world’s fair to press designs on coins created a whole new type of collectible, falling into the exonumia category of numismatics, which includes all things coin-related. Ever since that Chicago World’s Fair, entrepreneurs and collectors have taken a shine to pressing coins.

Elongateds fall into three general production classes: oldies, modern and contemporary. From the period 1893-1965 come the “oldies,” which were issued primarily at national and world expositions. Circa 1965-circa 1985 coins are considered “modern elongateds,” which were created primarily by private rollers. Contemporary elongateds, circa 1985-present, are made largely by commercial penny presses, such as those found in many zoos, parks and other amusement sites.

Custom coin designated by Cindy Calhoun commemorates the C&O Canal, DC to Cumberland, Maryland. Courtesy of Cindy Calhoun/Cindy’s Cents

Cindy’s Cents has specialized in custom elongated coins and penny machines since 2006. The business has about 30 public machines placed in West Virginia, Virginia and a few machines in Maryland. [Their website,, lists the specific locations and offers elongated coins from those machines for 75 cents apiece.] The company is headed by Cindy Calhoun [TEC #3467] of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. She is also a squashed penny enthusiast and has thousands of elongated coins in her collection.

Calhoun says her collection started with elongateds from places she visited when she was growing up. “I didn’t consider myself a collector back then, I was just getting souvenirs,” she explains. “I became more involved with the hobby as an adult; then trip routes were planned around where the penny machines were located.”

Currently serving as president of the Elongated Collectors, Calhoun is also a private roller – someone who designs and rolls elongated coins for clients.

1915 Pan-Pacific International Expo in San Francisco PPIE elongated penny with Tower of Jewels, priced at $25. Courtesy eBay seller BJStamps

The Elongated Collector ( is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1966. The group’s official mission is to “educate, encourage and promote the study, acquisition and exhibition of elongated coins;” assisting new collectors and youth rank high on their priority list. Benefits of joining the group include being a part of an active collecting community that makes it easier to buy, sell and trade elongated coins; receiving informative quarterly newsletters filled with articles written by TEC members – plus at least two free elongated coins with each issue; and access to a wealth of information about elongated coin history and realistic and consistent values of elongates.

Modern and contemporary elongateds make up the lion’s share of the pressed coin population, but there are still plenty of oldies to pursue. Oldies tend to cost the most to acquire.

Calhoun explains, “The first known elongateds were at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Surprisingly, these can still be found for a reasonable amount ($25-$40). Many key events in the U.S. have been commemorated on an elongated. The early elongateds were prominent at the world’s fairs, and many elongated collectors specialize in the coins from those events.”

1906 San Francisco Post Office elongated cent. Uncirculated 1906 Indian cent showing image of the San Francisco Post Office. Sold for $34. Courtesy Heritage Auctions

According to the TEC, “Prices of elongated coins vary depending on the number rolled, age, denomination, popularity of topic or event, even the condition of the coin.” Help with determining rarity comes from the book Yesterday’s Elongateds, which is a helpful resource for collectors of older elongated coins. It includes listings of oldies along with a rarity scale. As for condition, in addition to considering the state of the metal itself, elongated coins on which the design is completely visible are more desirable than those with the design cut off (rolled short) or those with long “tails.”

Calhoun shares helpful insights when considering value: “The older elongateds that were made in limited numbers sell higher than those from public machines. The most expensive elongated is the Pike; it’s pictured on the front of Yesterday’s Elongateds and last sold at auction for more than $4,000. However, most current elongateds can be purchased for less than a dollar, and the older elongateds vary depending on the host coin (one rolled on a gold coin will obviously be more), when it was made, and the number of that coin that are known to exist.”

Rare 1910 Grand Army of the Republic elongated cent. The host coin is an uncirculated 1910 Lincoln cent, $81. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

While there are possibly hundreds of thousands of elongated cents to pursue, building a collection doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. Stretched penny fans can create a collection of any size that reflects their own personal interests. In fact, Calhoun recommends focusing a collection. “You can’t collect them all. Some people collect by location (i.e., all related to a particular city or state). Others have collections by theme (zoos, sports, events, Disney, Christmas, etc.), or by the engraver or roller,” she says. Modern and contemporary designer initials are often included in the design, usually in the border or at the edge of the design.

There are some aspects that most collectors agree on: Pre-1982 copper cents are best for rolling. According to the U.S. Mint [], the metallic composition of pennies has changed several times since 1792. As it relates to elongated pennies, from 1864 to 1962, the cent was composed of 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and zinc (with the exception of 1943, when pennies were made of zinc-coated steel to conserve copper so it could be used in the war effort). In 1962, the tin content was removed from the alloy, making penny composition 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. In 1982, the Mint transitioned the cent composition to 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper (copper-plated zinc). The post-1982 cents have a zinc core, which will show up after rolling the coin; and with time the zinc will turn black, and it greatly diminishes the look (and value) of the elongated coin.

Most elongated cent collectors also agree it’s best to use clean or even polished pennies for rolling.

Appealing to families because elongated coins make for affordable souvenirs, there is no limit to the variety of pressed pennies that are available. While it’s not guaranteed newly rolled pennies will ever be of significant monetary value, there are several things that are guaranteed:

The The pursuit of rolled cents is as affordable as collecting gets.

Collectors will never run out of elongated coins to chase.

A penny is just a penny, but when it’s elongated, it becomes a valued memento.



Sources:; Penny Collector,;; The Elongated Collectors,;;

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing this article. Click to visit Antique Trader online.

Looking for Spectacular Spectacles

From Benjamin Franklin’s spectacles to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s sunglasses, eyewear plays an important role in our perceptions of history and culture. While the first eyewear emerged in the 13th century Italy, it didn’t mesh with fashion until much later. In 1730, an English optician developed a pair of glasses with two attached rods that rested on the wearer’s ears. From that point, corrective lenses became wearable accessories.

Full-Vue rimless eyeglasses, circa 1940s. Courtesy of Tom Valenza, Historic EyeWear Company

Through the 18th and early 19th centuries, eyeglasses were known as spectacles to differentiate them from single-lens monocles and pince-nez, which rested on the nose but did not connect to the wearer’s ears. Spectacles during this time were commonly rimmed with wire, tortoise shell or horn, and lenses tended to be small and round. Early bifocals featured one lens for far-sightedness and the other for near-sightedness. Their invention has been credited to Benjamin Franklin, but while he was certainly an early adopter of bifocals, he never overtly claimed to be their creator.

Until the late 19th century, spectacle style had much to do with variations in bridge and lens shape. Most spectacles had a gently curved bridge, a “crank” bridge with a sharp curve in the center, or an “x” bridge (two wires joined at the middle). Just prior to the Civil War, American companies began to mass-produce spectacles, greatly reducing their cost and making vision correction more readily available to consumers. By the 1870s, manufacturers were producing a wider range of eyeglass styles.

The collectors’ market for antique eyewear is small but growing, says Thomas Valenza, retired optician and owner of Historic EyeWear Co. []. Valenza’s interest in the history of his profession led to an interest in collecting antique and vintage eyewear, and then to starting a historic eyewear reproduction business.

Driving glasses with perforated metal side shields, circa 1910. Courtesy of Tom Valenza, Historic EyeWear Company

“My wife and I began going to historic reenactments and noticed that the glasses they wore were often historically inaccurate,” Valenza says. “We thought there might be a niche market.” There was, and pieces from the Historic EyeWear Co. have since become popular with reenactors and have appeared in period movies, television programs, and Broadway productions such as “Hamilton.”

Original antique spectacles are difficult to wear today, even without lenses. “Most pre-20th century frame styles are too small for modern faces and modern lens edging equipment, so reuse is very limited,” Valenza says. “Our reproduction styles have been increased in size to accommodate these modern requirements. Original pieces are very collectible and the market for them is driven primarily by collectors, actors, reenactors, historians and antique dealers.”

Collector Terry Marshall owns an array of curious spectacles, including eyeball massage and electromagnetic glasses associated with quack medicine.

“Early glasses often have telescoping sliders and loops that connect to a wearer’s wig,” says Marshall. “The market for collectors is pretty soft right now. You can get some decent sliders for around $20.”

Gold, round-framed spectacles from the 1970s. Courtesy of Tom Valenza, Historic EyeWear Company

Once mass production began in the late 19th century, the market for eyeglasses began to expand. Over the next several decades, glasses became fashionable accessories, available in many sizes, shape and colors.

With the advent of popular film in the early 20th century, stars began to set the standard for eyewear. Harold Lloyd’s round tortoiseshell spectacles were all the rage for a time, and in the 1930s, newly invented sunglasses hit the market.

Adjustable nose pads, introduced in the 1920s, gave designers additional creative liberty. By the 1940s, consumers could find eyeglasses with larger lenses and a variety of frame widths. Aviator-style glasses also appeared during World War II, and their popularity continues today.

Cat’s-eye glasses (so called because of the pointed top edges of the frames) rose to popularity in the 1950s and 1960s and became a coveted fashion item for women of the era.

Cat’s-eye glasses introduced color and flair into what was once a fairly unvaried market. Courtesy of Tom Valenza, Historic EyeWear Co.

“When cat-eye glasses originally came out, they introduced color and flair into what was a pretty boring market of eyeglasses,” says Levi, owner of the Vintage Optical Shop. “Before that, frames were generally gold, silver or tortoise shell, but cat-eye glasses came in all shapes and colors.”

The Vintage Optical Shop specializes in finding and restoring high-quality vintage frames and making them available to customers via its website, Levi has noticed an increased demand for vintage cat-eye glasses.

“Many women are into vintage and pinup culture, and it adds a unique touch to their otherwise modern style,” he says. “There are many new brands making reproduction frames in the cat-eye shape, but people often prefer genuine vintage frames because they’re looking for something authentic and unique – something they won’t see anyone else wearing.”

Which brands are most sought after? “Collectors continue to look at the really exclusive pieces from brands like Cazal, Persol, Silhouette, Mikli and Oliver Goldsmith, to name just a few,” says Clodagh Norton, co-founder of

Norton notes that celebrity connection is important, too. “In the vintage market, people do look to the celebrities of the past and what they were wearing. The real classics will always resonate with consumers who are fascinated by original handmade designs, and iconic pieces that were worn by film stars like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.”

Consumers have been interested in vintage frames for decades, but Norton says the rare, expensive pieces are becoming status symbols.

American Aviator glasses, 1958. Courtesy of Tom Valenza, Historic EyeWear Company

“The really iconic frames from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s are increasingly difficult to find and are, after all, a little piece of history,” she says. “Once you have a pair of these in your hand, you can appreciate the craftsmanship, stunning materials, and creative ideas immediately.”

Another current trend is for 1990s style frames inspired by Keanu Reeves’s character in The Matrix.

“This trend for rimless, smaller designs will impact what’s selling in terms of vintage,” Norton says. “But eyewear trends are changing all the time.”

Valenza agrees. “There’s only so much that can be done with eyeglasses designs, so what most of these designers and manufacturers do is go back to the originals and modernize or update them,” he says. “Every past style will come back—it’s only a matter of time.”




Author: Jessica Leigh Brown is a freelance writer based in Clinton, Tenn. Her work has appeared in a number of regional and national publications, including Tennessee Archways, Flea Market Décor, Tennessee Home & Farm, and Tourist Attractions & Parks. Find her on the web at

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing this article. Click to visit Antique Trader online.

Baltic Amber Jewelry: more than meets the eye

It has often been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the case of Baltic amber, humans have admired and appreciated it since the early Stone Age, also known as the Paleolithic Period. That’s millions of years of beauty for millions of people to behold. Cultures and societies may have arisen and changed dramatically since cave man days, but the composition of Baltic amber and peoples’ fascination with it hasn’t.

This hand-carved translucent honey-colored Baltic amber piece contains various insects, including flies, spiders, ants, and a beetle. It is paired with an antique sterling silver chain to form a unique pendant. Image courtesy Jasper52

“The interest in the Baltic amber is growing everyday,” said Kazimieras Mizgiris, co-founder (with his wife Virginija) of a pair of museums focused on amber, including the Art Center of Baltic Amber, located in Vilinius, Lithuania. “Baltic amber has always been attractive to people. It was only 5,000 years ago that people used to work in the Baltic Sea for the production of amulets. Amber is warm, spreading good energy, and it glistens in the sun, Mizgiris said.

In the simplest terms, Baltic amber is resin from pine trees that has fossilized. It is not just any pine tree that produces this resin; it is specific to pines that grow in Northern Europe and regions surrounding the Baltic Sea. This particular resin contains more than 40 different compounds, most specifically, succinic acid. According to information on Mizgiris’ website,, these naturally occurring acids possess attributes that may heal various forms of discomfort, such as wounds and cuts, tooth pain, headaches, and general inflammation within the body.

12 stones of honey-colored Baltic amber form this bracelet, which weighs 27 grams. Image courtesy Five Star Auctions & Appraisals.

Many believe that simply wearing objects that contain Baltic amber may benefit the wearer. Various sources report that when Baltic amber necklaces are worn, their stones or beads are warmed by body heat and release small amounts of succinic acid when warmed by body heat.

Amber and Aromatherapy: According to various sources including The Poland Import Export Chamber of Commerce site, Baltic amber played a role in limiting the death toll from the plague during the Middle Ages. When it was discovered that those who worked with Baltic amber on a regular basis did not fall victim to the disease, it was used to fumigate residences and businesses.

Vintage gold and Baltic amber ring. Image courtesy John Nicholson Auctioneers

With the longstanding connection between Baltic amber and wellness practices, it’s not surprising that evidence of amber jewelry has been discovered among ancient remnants in the advanced civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the Baltic region. While the most common color of amber, as one might expect, is its namesake shade of yellow or white yellow, it’s not the only shade seen in amber. In fact, amber comes in seven colors and more than 250 shades.

Amber Fact: Annually for the past 25 years, thousands of people from around the world have gathered in Amberif Gdańsk, Poland, to discuss and display their shared interest in Baltic amber at a trade shown known as AMBERIF. The acronym stands for Amber International Fair.

Art Deco Baltic amber jewelry box made of wood and featuring tiles of natural butterscotch-color Baltic amber on top and honey-colored amber slabs along the sides. Its metal plaque indicates a manufacturer located in Königsberg, Prussia made it. Image courtesy Jasper52.

The opportunity to view an extensive selection of Baltic amber is not limited to those in attendance at AMBERIF. In Lithuania, a hub of Baltic amber history and processing, there are multiple museums devoted to the fossilized tree resin. The Amber Gallery-Museum is located in Nida, Lithuania, while the Amber Museum-Gallery is located within the Art Center of Baltic Amber, in Vilinius, Lithuania. The Mizgiris’ opened the museum in Nida in 1991, while the museum in Vilinius opened its doors in 1998. The Art Center of Baltic Amber opened seven years later. Every year, according to Mizgiris, each of the locations welcomes more than 50,000 visitors. In addition to presenting a variety of displays of Baltic amber, the museums and the center present educational activities and demonstrations of amber processing.

This set of three Baltic amber bead bracelets, yellow/white in color, weights 28.3 grams. Image courtesy Jasper52

Interest in Baltic amber, including natural specimens and pieces incorporated into jewelry or decorative art, is drawing attention worldwide. Whether the interest is scientific in nature, an aspect of collecting, or appreciation for and interest in jewelry and jewelry making, Baltic amber continues to tell its story, while also providing opportunities for more people to incorporate this unique form of nature’s artistry into their lives.