Tippecanoe and Sweet Corn Too

Tippecanoe tinWm. Morford gets a lot of great stuff for his absentee auctions, which he’s been holding for something close to a zillion years. It seems as long as there have been advertising auctions, there has been Bill Morford.

The latest edition (Auction #88) features the usual assortment of high-quality advertising, but one piece in particular caught my eye. It was a tin I’d not seen before. And, as a lifelong Hoosier, it intrigued me.

The item is a vegetable can with a paper label for Tippecanoe Brand sugar corn by French Bros. of Brookston, Indiana. The paper label pictures an Indian in a canoe on the Tippecanoe River.

The Tippecanoe is one of Indiana’s other rivers. Of course, the river in Indiana is the Wabash. Yet, the Tippecanoe has a storied past in U.S. history. There’s the Battle of Tippecanoe, fought in November 1811 between forces led by William Henry Harrison, then governor of the Indiana Territory, and Native American warriors under the guidance of Tecumseh. With Tecumseh out of town on a recruiting trip, his brother, The Prophet, was in charge, and things went poorly for the home team. At the end of the day, it was U.S. Troops-1, Indians-0.

There’s also Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, which has been described by Papa Wiki as “a very popular and influential campaign song of the Whig Party’s colorful Log Cabin Campaign in the 1840 United States Presidential election.” Not surprisingly, the hero of the song is Whig candidate William Henry Harrison (yes, him again).

The “popular and influential” part of the song must have been relative. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was popular and influential. (And, yes, you will go the rest of the day with that earworm drilling a hole in your skull. You’re welcome.)

The whole point here is to make a case that the Tippecanoe had significance in its day. That’s something French Brothers took advantage of when branding vegetables. It’s a strange thing, in a way, but it’s the way companies rolled in the early 20th century.

Bidding in Auction #88 closes this Friday, June 24. See the entire selection at morfauction.com.

Tippecanoe back


A dag, a lady, a lazy eye


Daguerreotype of Julia Dent Grant and children. (Photo: Cowan’s Auctions)

The discovery was significant. The selling price was noteworthy. But there’s a story within a story regarding a sixth-plate daguerreotype that sold for $18,000 today at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati.

The image was a portrait of Julia Dent Grant with her eldest children, Frederic Dent Grant and Ulysses S. Grant Jr., taken by an unknown St. Louis photographer in the late spring or early summer of 1854. Mrs. Grant was married to Ulysses S. Grant. At the time, he was away from his family, serving in the military in California — the Civil War and a presidency unthinkably in the future.

The image, which turned up at an Ohio auction last year and wasn’t identified until afterward, shows Mrs. Grant facing the camera. That’s the intriguing part. “Frontal portraits of Julia Grant are a rarity,” Cowan’s catalog noted. The reason was that Mrs. Grant suffered from strabismus. More simply put, she had a crossed eye. As such, she usually chose to be photographed in profile.

The daguerreotype sold at Cowan’s is the earliest-known image of Mrs. Grant. The discovery gives the photo an added layer of appeal. But once you know about Mrs. Grant’s lazy eye, that image becomes even more interesting.


Hey bidder, hey bidder, hey bidder!

The 1871 presentation baseball bat. (Photo: Forsythe's Auctions)

The 1871 presentation baseball bat. (Photo: Forsythes’ Auctions)

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is tonight in Cincinnati. While we at Americana Journal aren’t big fans of baseball (no offense to those of you who are), we are huge fans of folk art. One incredible piece of baseball-related folk art sold quietly at auction earlier this year, with no media coverage. But, we have the story.

From 1871, a presentation bat in original red, white and blue paint with a black handle and gold bands, 54 inches long, brought $9,680 (with buyer’s premium) during a sports memorabilia auction held by Forsythes’ Auctions in Cincinnati on January 31.

The presentation. (Photo: Forsythes' Auctions)

The presentation. (Photo: Forsythes’ Auctions)

The bat had a central design lettered “J. Whipple, Captn, of Erie. B.B. Club.” The hand-painted motif included a baseball, crossed bats, a cap and a horseshoe. It was also dated 1871.

“It’s probably one of the finest folk art bats to be sold,” said auctioneer Dave Forsythe.

The bat was found at an estate sale “somewhere in Pennsylvania or somewhere,” according to Forsythe. The where didn’t really matter. The why was obvious.

Although baseball’s roots can be traced to a game played in the United States in the 18th century, the sport as we recognize it today truly came into form with semi-pro national baseball clubs in the 1860s. The presentation bat sold by Forsythes’ Auctions dates to when organized baseball was still a toddler in diapers.

What boosted the bat from great to spectacular was the condition, described as “amazing” by Forsythe. “I would grade it a 10, and I don’t grade many things a 10,” he said.

Forsythe had little success in tracking down information about Captain Whipple. “I tried to do some research on who it was presented to,” he said. Other than Erie, Pennsylvania, there was a connection to Baltimore, but little else.

Provenance or not, there was no denying this was a great bat worthy of a prime spot in someone’s collection. Simply put, it’s an All-Star.

We have to do better: Antiques and the naked emperor

Author’s note: The following article was rejected by AntiqueWeek earlier this year, even though the topic was originally approved for use on the editorial page by the publication’s editor. The story sat in-house, ready to run, for roughly three months before it was killed off. No explanation was given. It is published here exactly as it was submitted.

Over Cokes and coffee one afternoon several years ago, I sat with a group of people who represented a broad spectrum of the antiques industry. Among them were dealers, show promoters, shop owners and auctioneers. At one point the discussion turned to the growing number of antiques shops and malls that have closed. All agreed it was unfortunate to lose those businesses. However, not everyone thought shop closings were news that should be reported in trade papers such as AntiqueWeek.

The logic was this: People need to hear good news, not bad. Folks should be encouraged, not disheartened.

While I’m glad to be an ambassador for the antiques industry through my role as a writer, I believe it’s essential to report the good and the bad. On more than one occasion I’ve traveled to a town, expecting to find an “Open” sign in the window of a specific antiques shop, only to discover an empty storefront, the business having closed since I was last in the area. In my mind, reporting shop closings is a service to the public.

However, this is about much more than merchants who have called it quits. It’s about the naked emperor.

I sometimes wonder if the industry as a whole is afraid to say the king has no clothes. We are willing to overlook the bad things out of fear they make the hobby seem less worthy of pursuing.

We’ve got to do better. As an industry, we have to set the bar higher if we want people to trust us, if we want them to buy what we’re selling.

Auction houses need to lead the charge in getting things right, because they are the most visible part of the parade and often leave a paper trail that testifies against them when they get things wrong.

I recently saw a listing for a pair of chairs being sold by a notable American auction house. Unfortunately, the description had two glowing errors. The names of both the designer, Gilbert Rohde, and the maker, Heywood-Wakefield, were misspelled.

In another case, an American-made stoneware pitcher embossed with a good luck symbol (a reverse swastika) was offered as a World War II Nazi piece made in Germany and having a connection to Heinrich Himmler. I believe it was an honest mistake by a cataloger who was more familiar with military items than Americana. But for those who knew better, it made the auction house look silly.

Add to that the problem of condition issues that are downplayed or ignored altogether. I’ve seen auction houses point out a minor flaw, such as a chip to the foot of a step-back cupboard, but not mention that the cupboard was obviously married — the top and bottom from different sources.

I know what some people are thinking. This is the antiques industry. We’ve all been told, “Buyer beware.” That’s just not good enough. Actually, it’s not good at all. Sellers do everyone a disservice when they don’t provide correct and complete information about the objects they offer.

We need to take a lesson from the airlines.

The head of a major U.S. carrier once noted that when passengers see dirty lap trays, they’ll assume the engine maintenance isn’t done well, either.

I understand what that CEO meant. When I see “Gilbert Rhode” and “Haywood Wakefield” in an auction listing, I wonder what else the auction house has gotten wrong. It certainly doesn’t encourage me to bid.

Professionals in the antiques trade could stand to scrub their lap trays. In the end, it’s not just the customers who benefit — it’s everyone in the business.

Tuesday Tip: On medals

 From the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, this bronze medal was awarded in a graphics design contest. It sold for $133 during a World’s Fair auction conducted in February 2015. (Photo: Andy Kaufman)

From the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, this bronze medal was awarded in a graphics design contest. It sold for $133 during a World’s Fair auction conducted in February 2015. (Photo: Andy Kaufman)

Although the World’s Fair is a niche area of collecting, it has received increased interest in recent years from medal buyers. Here’s a simple explanation:

“Medal collectors have discovered the fairs. And the boom in coin collecting has crossed over into that,” says Andy Kaufman, who runs a semi-annual absentee auction of World’s Fair memorabilia.

The treasure hunt for World’s Fair medals hasn’t always been a big deal. This isn’t the Olympics. But as more people look for additional sources to build their medal collections, material from international expositions comes into play.

As Kaufman notes, “In the old days, medals were not that prized. But, today medals bring good money.”

For more on Kaufman’s auctions, visit WorldsFairAuction.com.

No change required

DeBrewerWhile researching a sheet of lyrics to De Brewer’s Big Hosses, a temperance song, the first hit from the search engine linked to the Library of Congress.

That got my attention.

The link led me to a recording of the song on the National Jukebox. That Internet resource makes historical sound recordings available to the public free of charge. The Jukebox includes material from the collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing institutions and archives.

The National Jukebox can be found at http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/.

To hear De Brewer’s Big Hosses, which was recorded by Victor in 1913, click here.

Tuesday Tip: A Tradition of Progress

A Tradition of Progress: Ohio Decorative Arts 1860-1945 opened at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster, Ohio, last weekend. The event runs through May 17.

Tradition2The  exhibition “tells the story of Ohio through decorative arts objects, starting with the Civil War era and concluding with the event that marked the true beginning of the modern era—World War II.   This time period was perhaps the most transformative in American history.  Ohio artists, artisans, designers, and manufacturers played a very important role in this transformation.  The exhibition will include more than 150 splendid pieces of furniture, glass, ceramics, metalwork, and textiles.”

Three special programs are planned:

Sunday, March 22, 2 p.m.
The Amazing Evolution of Ohio Furniture from the Victorian Era to the Modern Age
by exhibition curator Andrew Richmond

Sunday, April 19, 2 p.m. 
From Punch Bowls to Jazz Bowls: The Glory Days of Ohio Pottery and Glass
by exhibition curator Andrew Richmond

Sunday, May 3, 2 p.m.
Traditions of Progress: Ohio Painters from Lily Martin Spencer to Charles Burchfield
by Susan Talbot-Stanaway

For more information, visit www.decartsohio.org.

Nothing sells like a Deere

Five words say it all: “John Deere is really hot.”

Lyle Chupp offered that assessment following a 3,500-lot auction held January 15 to 17 at Shipshewana, Indiana, by his family-run business, Chupp Auctions & Real Estate. The top item of the sale was a triple box wagon made by John Deere Wagon Works of Moline, Illinois. In original paint and stenciling, with its original decal noting the company’s guarantee regarding the wagon’s construction, it was bid to $11,000.


John Deere Wagon Works triple box wagon. (Photos courtesy of Chupp Auctions & Real Estate)

Box wagons were a standard piece of farm equipment from the late 19th century into the first half of the 20th century. Think of a shoebox without the lid. Add axles and wheels, and you have a box wagon. The wooden sides were relatively low, but a second tier of side boards could be added to increase the height, making it a double box wagon. Even less common was the triple box wagon, which had a third set of boards.

Rarity and condition helped lift the price on the John Deere wagon, but it wasn’t just farm equipment that sold well. Anything in the John Deere line had a following, especially advertising. Among the better pieces was a wooden sign for John Deere Plows, yellow with black stenciling, 12 inches high by 8 feet wide, that sold for $5,200.

John Deere Plows sign, 8 feet long.

John Deere Plows sign, 8 feet long.

One of the surprises of the sale, however, was the strong interest in farm literature. Again, John Deere memorabilia stood out, with a John Deere Grain Elevators booklet bringing $500 and a John Deere Combines booklet hitting $400.

John Deere Grain Elevators booklet.

John Deere Grain Elevators booklet.

Titanic mystery solved


Titanic-DNAIt came over on the Mayflower.

That’s a line not uncommon in the antiques industry. However, seldom did that _____ (fill in the blank with just about any object: chest of drawers, family Bible, oil painting) actually have anything to do with Pilgrims and sailing ships. More often than not, the provenance of an object had gone a little screwy somewhere along the way.

As such, it’s not surprising that a claim regarding the Titanic would surface. One such assertion was recently put to rest. It involves a woman who said she was a survivor of the 1912 tragedy. You can read the story here on Ancestry.com.

It’s worth noting we’re huge fans and longtime subscribers of Ancestry. There’s a wealth of information on the site, not just for tracing family trees, but also for researching Americana when trying to connect an individual or company to a piece.

Tuesday Tip: The best ‘Way’

Ways Packet DirectoryWhen recently researching a ferry that operated between Wellsburg, West Virginia, and Brilliant, Ohio, I turned to my favorite resource on paddlewheelers: Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994 by Frederick Way, Jr.

Here’s a summary of the book, as noted by the publisher:

Containing almost 6,000 entries, the directory includes a majority of combination passenger and freight steamers, but includes in a broader sense all types of passenger carriers propelled by steam that plied the waters of the Mississippi System. Each entry describes its steamboat by rig, class, engines, boilers, the shipyard where and when built, along with tidbits of historical interest on its use, demise, and/or conversion.

For anyone interested in paddlewheelers, this is a must-have resource.

As for the ferry that had me reaching for my copy of Way’s Packet Directory, it was The New Era. The vessel was originally built as the side-wheeler Transit at Clarington, Ohio, in 1918. Converted to a stern-wheeler in 1922, it was renamed The New Era. The owner was the Wellsburg-Brilliant Bridge & Ferry Company. The boat was eventually sold to Lee Van Tilburg of Steubenville, Ohio. It sank at Brilliant on January 30, 1948.


The image from a postcard showing The New Era.