Published: March 5, 2002
By Catherine Saunders-Watson
YORK, PENN. – It has often been said that the key to retail success is recognizing a need in the marketplace, and then filling it. Adamstown Antique Gallery owner Dan Morphy must have been thinking along those lines last November when he bought the York Toy Show, because his first order of business after signing on the dotted line was to expand the event to include antique advertising, a category for which no major specialist show exists on the East Coast.
Renamed the York Toy, Doll & Antique Advertising Show, Morphy’s invigorated version of a popular affair that had grown quiet over the last few years made its debut on February 9 in the Memorial Building of the York Fairgrounds.
Even before the doors opened to the public, during the $50-per-head dealer set-up, Morphy’s experiment in melding compatible crossover categories seemed a winner. Wide aisles and attractive, light-grabbing glass showcases allowed the colorful mix of merchandise plenty of elbow room and show-off space.
Many of the country’s top advertising dealers took advantage of the opportunity to display toys alongside their usual goods – something they would be restricted from doing at most advertising shows – with the result being an eye-pleasing array of great, old toys that otherwise would have stayed home for the day.
Up and down each aisle, it was a who’s who of big names, so much so that one woman in the crowd was overheard commenting to her companion, “This is like a little Atlantic City, but just for toys.” With a nod, the friend concurred, “There’s a lot of good stuff here.”
Bernie Dreher of Jim Thorpe, Penn. pulled out all the stops by bringing a piece that had been in his private collection for ten years, a 1920s-vintage Hubley cast iron Friendship seaplane priced at $10,000. “It’s one of the best examples known,” he remarked. “The paint is superb, and it still has its original pull string.”
Sharing Dreher’s booth was George Wausnock, a State Farm Insurance agent whose Pottstown, Penn. office filled with automotive toys and regional antique posters is practically a shrine to collectors passing through the state. He offered a wood-framed Corticelli Silk Thread ad with a kitten theme for $850, pointing out the important dated signature that read “Ben Austrian 1912” to those with an interest.
Marjorie Darrah, whose parents established the Mary Merritt Doll Museum in Douglassville, Penn. in 1963 and who now owns the museum herself, could have dazzled show attendees with only high-priced French and German dolls, but instead she brought selections for all pocketbooks. For only $95, one could purchase a Dr Kildare doll with original box that Darrah described as “too untidy to bring.” Darrah explained that she had acquired the doll, which still bore its original “Dr. Kildare is a Doll” lapel button, from “a refuse man who has only one sale a year.”
Literally stopping traffic at Muddy River Trading Company’s booth was a 1950 double-sided Coca-Cola school zone sign shaped as a policeman and available for $3,350. Of molded sheet metal on a cast iron base, the smartly “dressed” cop that seemed too nice to have been used as a road sign caused one shopper, Ken Wilcox, to do a double take. He was able to confirm that just such a sign had stood in a school zone off Route 30 in Orwin, Penn. “for years, until it rusted away and was removed.”
Muddy River’s Mary Pat Metz mentioned that she and her husband had sold identical signs a couple of times in the past in their phone/fax/Internet auctions, which are now based in Roanoke, Va. “But finding one in this condition is not so easy,” she qualified.
Just in from Italy, Elio Re of Milan breezed into the salesroom with a friend in tow – a 1920s gas-powered air compressor designed as a three-dimensional depiction of the Michelin Man on its original wheeled cart. Proof positive that there are buyers out there for anything that is unusual or rare, the bulbous “Bibendum” was snapped up quickly by a petroliana collector who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Larger in size than those sometimes seen in European auctions, the whimsical tire company figural had an asking price of $1,500.
Watching on with amusement from across the aisle was dealer Paul Fink from Kent, Conn., a veteran collector of transportation games. Paul and his wife Davia had brought several rare Nineteenth Century boxed games with provenance through the Stuart Kaplan Collection, but their favorite piece on display was a $475 Parker Brothers edition from 1922 called “Across the Continent – The United States Game.” Its graphics showed areas of the country that were still territories as opposed to states, prompting Fink to comment, “Games have always been reflectors of history and the pop culture of their time. When America has been at war, companies have produced war-themed games. When Lindy flew to Paris, there were Lindy games. When radio and TV came onto the scene, so did radio and TV games.”
Exhibiting pop culture of the postwar era was Bob Smith, who is also the promoter of RATS, the Rochester Antique Toy Show. On his table was a trio of rare Welch’s grape juice bottle carriers decorated as buildings from Doodyville, the mythical home of characters from The Howdy Doody Show.
“The Welch’s Company was one of the show’s regular advertisers, and their packaging often featured mail-in offers for Howdy Doody rdf_Descriptions. Underneath one of these cartons, for instance, is an order form that could be sent in with 25 cents to receive roofs, trees and character cutouts to add to Buffalo Bob’s house, Clarabell’s house, etc.” The Welch’s cartons were priced at $135 with bottles or $60 without bottles.
Asked his current observations of the antique toy market from the viewpoint of a show promoter, Smith responded, “There are lots of Canadians coming across the border to sell. They love the exchange rate. At our 20th anniversary show that’s coming up in June, we’ll have one of our largest-ever contingents of Canadians setting up.”
Schoenhut enthusiast John Zimmerman of Ronks, Penn. had made a beeline toward Judith Lile’s showcase. The Lancaster, Penn. dealer is known for her fine, early wooden playthings, like the $700 glass-eyed giraffe Zimmerman was considering for purchase. Lile confirmed that the toy was made by Philadelphia’s Schoenhut Company either in 1905 or 1906.
“I intentionally brought some of my nicest things today,” she said, pointing out a $2,000 set of turn of the Twentieth Century Punch & Judy figures. “They’re from Germany, handcarved and handpainted, and the characters – the deacon, the magistrate, the cop – are not ones that you often see.” The set had been found in Pennsylvania, arguably the best state in which to find vintage German material.
Two generations of the Yanolko family had driven down from Allentown, Penn. to set up their impressive wares toward the rear of the building. George and Dolly Yanolko, longtime collectors of antique advertising, were particularly proud of their Nineteenth Century tinplate R&G Corsets sign, with lithography by Kaufmann & Strauss of New York. Its resolution on metal was so fine that the $2,500 sign fooled everyone who saw it into thinking it was a tinted photograph.
Daughter Lisa Yanolko reflected her own preferences by offering a varied selection of Popeye rdf_Descriptions, including a Phoenix Candy Co. Popeye Poweroll 2-for-1-cent candy box, $250; a Celludan Popeye sandpail, $700; and a smaller circa 1933 T. Cohn sandpail, $450. What was selling at the show? “No specific category, but always the older stuff.”
Another well-known name in antique advertising, Bill Morford of Cazenovia, N.Y., had brought his usual blockbuster assortment of signs and tins, including a dental trade sign shaped as a giant tooth, $4,500; and a circa1910 Gem Damaskeene Razor clock, $3,500.
Morford is a third-generation auctioneer who owns and operates the Wm. Morford Company’s phone/fax/Internet sales. His marketplace observations are unfailingly astute, and based on his last auction results, Morford tipped pocket tins and Maxfield Parrish as being “really strong right now…a ‘Taxi’ pocket tin and a circa 1905 Maxfield Parrish print of ‘With Trumpet and Drum’ each sold in our sale for $5,280.”
Perhaps the most welcome visitor of the day was an Ohio dealer who drove up with a U-Haul trailer, straight from the Nashville Show, to spend more than $30,000 on spool cabinets, display cases and other country store rdf_Descriptions. “I personally watched him make at least a dozen trips out to his trailer, his arms loaded with merchandise,” promoter Dan Morphy said. “You can bet he’ll be getting a complimentary early buying pass for our next show.”
Comments from shoppers, who came in recurring waves throughout the day, were overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing their delight at the diversity and quality of merchandise being offered. Even robot collector Eric Gewirz of Bethesda, Md., was not upset that his only purchase, a Soviet space dog tin, had been the result of a deal made more than a month prior to the show. “It was a good show, even if I didn’t find anything, and it was nice to see a show that full.”
The majority of dealers, likewise, gave the York Show very favorable reviews. Bill Weart of Allentown, Penn. commented, “The show has been good. There were lots of tire-kickers, but we sold a variety of things.” His wife Stevie Weart added, “The show’s new incarnation is really nice. We like the mix of advertising and toys.”
Advertising dealer Richard Lehmann of Frederick, Md., a first-timer at York, also approved of the merger of categories. “This has been a fine show. We [advertising dealers] needed a show in the East. Up until now, we would have to drive halfway across the country to do an advertising show that was worth our while.”
Holiday and toy dealer Roy Olsen of Radnor, Penn. even went so far as to say, “I think this could become the February Allentown,” referring to the popular November toy show that continues to be a favorite with antique toy collectors.
Near the end of the day, promoter Dan Morphy personally visited each booth to poll dealers about the possibility of adding a second date to the York Toy, Doll & Advertising Show calendar, specifically in late summer. “I was not going to add a second show for reasons of making more money. I was only going to do it if the dealers thought it would be beneficial to them. Overwhelmingly, the dealers approved of the idea and said they would participate,” Morphy said. Accordingly, a show date has been announced for Labor Day weekend at the same location.
“The show will take place on Saturday, August 31, coincidentally during the same timeframe that Melvin Arion will be holding his antiques fair next door. The shows will be in two different, adjacent halls of the same building.”
Morphy also broke the news that the February 15, 2003 show will be doubled in size, taking up both halls of the York Fairgrounds Memorial Building, and that a concerted advertising campaign will be launched to pull in the buyers.
“When I acquired this show, I made a commitment to the dealers to do it right and to advertise it heavily. In addition to our usual print ads, next time around we’ll have freeway billboards, banners on the fairground gates and signs around town to publicize the show. You’d be surprised how many collectors and dealers live or shop for antiques right there in the York area.”
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