Ce­cil col­lec­tor celebrates ad­ver­tis­ing’s Golden Age

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By ED OKONOWICZ

Spe­cial to the Whig

— The in­te­rior of Jeff Pow­ers’ brightly lit, twocar garage could serve as an au­to­mo­bile showroom. The life­long Ce­cil County res­i­dent’s garage walls are dec­o­rated with col­or­ful ve­hi­cle-re­lated ad­ver­tise­ments – pro­duced by auto man­u­fac­tur­ers, ser­vice sta­tions and au­to­mo­tive sup­ply com­pa­nies dur­ing the 1920s through 1950s, a pe­riod some ex­perts con­sider ad­ver­tis­ing’s Golden Age.

The 55-year-old Gen­eral Mo­tors re­tiree, who cur­rently works as an as­sis­tant at Pat­ter­son Fu­neral Home in Per­ryville, is quick to share a story as­so­ci­ated with every sign, ther­mome­ter, oil bot­tle and even the full-sized, re­stored 1950s gas pump stand­ing out­side his garage en­trance.

Pow­ers said he be­gan col­lect­ing key chains when he was a young­ster. To­day, he fo­cuses on a wider range of ob­jects that make up his nu­mer­ous col­lec­tions, in­clud­ing NASCAR mem­o­ra­bilia, ma­son jars, old crocks, bot­tles, oil cans, and ad­ver­tis­ing found on signs, cab­i­nets, clocks, ther­mome­ters and other items.

“Ad­ver­tise­ments are one of my pas­sions,” Pow­ers said. “I love the con­tent. The art­work. A lot of those items are re­lated to au­to­mo­biles, but it can be any­thing that catches my eye.” Such as: A six-foot wide, oval, porce­lain ESSO gas sta­tion sign, made in the 1960s, found in Charlestown;

A three-foot-tall Mail Pouch Chew­ing To­bacco, hand-painted ther­mome­ter sign, made in the 1940s;

An array of Ma­son jars, pro­duced by man­u­fac­tur­ers around the coun­try;

A 1930s, TEEM, lemon­lime drink, ther­mome­ter dis­cov­ered in Whitesville, W. Va.;

A Pepsi Cola clock, made


An as­sort­ment of mo­tor oil cans sit on a shelf in Jeff Pow­ers’ garage.

in 1957, found at a lo­cal Shell sta­tion, dis­played be­side a large Pepsi bot­tle cap, a sur­vivor from the 1940s;

Rows of vin­tage mo­tor oil cans from dif­fer­ent auto sup­ply com­pa­nies;

Black-and-white pho­to­graphs of his­toric Ce­cil County small town fam­ily busi­nesses;

A large Pre­stone An­tifreeze ther­mome­ter dis­play, made in the 1930s, sal­vaged from a garage in Bal­ti­more.

Point­ing to­ward his Mail Pouch ther­mome­ter, Pow­ers said, “Look at all that vi­brant color and the de­sign. It grabs your eye. And all this art­work was real, not computer gen­er­ated. I call all of these pieces ‘ ad­ver­tis­ing art,’ be­cause that’s what it is, true art that cap­tures your at­ten­tion.”

Ex­press­ing his dis­ap­point­ment in mod­ern ad­ver­tis­ing, Pow­ers ex­plained many com­pa­nies to­day fo­cus on their lo­gos, as op­posed to the prod­ucts they make. But, he added, one rea­son is more new busi­nesses of­fer ser­vices that are in­tan­gi­ble – such as bank­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­ter­net re­lated


“You used to see a sign,” Pow­ers said, “and you knew what the prod­uct was im­me­di­ately. Now you have to work at it to find the name or what the prod­uct is. A lot changed when com­put­ers started tak­ing over the world. Tech­nol­ogy has changed ad­ver­tis­ing a lot.”

But the shift doesn’t stop col­lec­tors from seek­ing out at­trac­tive pieces of the past and adding them to their col­lec­tions.

When asked the value of a num­ber of items, Pow­ers ex­pressed min­i­mal in­ter­est, mainly be­cause his col­lectibles aren’t for pur­chase.

“Noth­ing I have is for sale,” he said. “I’m not a dealer or a picker, like you see on TV. They do it to make a profit. I find pieces and dis­play them be­cause I en­joy it.”

Point­ing to a car­ry­ing rack – hold­ing eight, thick glass bot­tles, with pointed metal spouts – Pow­ers ex­plained these quart bot­tles were used in the 1920s, to sell oil to mo­torists. Metal cans re­placed the glass bot­tles. To­day, most quart con­tain­ers of oil are made of plas­tic.

Each item or sign tells a story, he said, about what it was used for, where it stood, where it came from, how it was found, and how it ended up in the col­lec­tor’s hands.

When asked to name his fa­vorite, Pow­ers pointed to his Lance Cracker Dis­penser.

The red-trimmed, glass and metal rec­tan­gu­lar boxes were found in gas sta­tions through­out the coun­try in the 1950s. Filled with pack­ets of crack­ers, cus­tomers fol­lowed the honor sys­tem, by leav­ing money in­side the box for the num­ber of pack­ages they took with them on the road. Pow­ers found his fa­vorite find in a garage. It had been in a ser­vice sta­tion in Port De­posit.

Point­ing to a DuPont Com­pany clock, Pow­ers said, “When a com­pany is sold or taken over,” Pow­ers said, “it’s great for col­lec­tors.”

Ex­plain­ing his statement, Pow­ers said two things oc­cur. The new par­ent com­pany dis­poses of all the old lo­gos and ad­ver­tis­ing prod­ucts, mak­ing them in­stantly avail­able for free, or very cheaply, to in­ter­ested par- ties. Also, over time the value of these sal­vaged items in­crease, be­cause they are no longer be­ing man­u­fac­tured or avail­able.

While there is a large com­mu­nity of col­lec­tors, some of whom share in­for­ma­tion and are al­ways on the hunt, it’s not a closed so­ci­ety that re­quires dues or an ap­pli­ca­tion process.

“We’re all col­lec­tors,” Pow­ers said. “Most peo­ple do it just out of habit, or do it sub­con­sciously. Of course, more se­ri­ous peo­ple do it in an or­ga­nized way.”

While fo­cus­ing on dis­cov­er­ing ob­jects to add to al­ready ex­ist­ing col­lec­tions, Pow­ers ad­mits he’s al­ways open to new finds.

With so many peo­ple out and about, col­lect­ing their own par­tic­u­lar cher­ish­ables, one won­ders if any bar­gains re­main, wait­ing to be dis­cov- ered and snatched up.

With­out hes­i­ta­tion, Pow­ers said there are plenty of trea­sures avail­able for those in­ter­ested in go­ing on the hunt. From De­pres­sion glass on Good­will store shelves, to odd­i­ties tucked away in barn-size an­tique malls.

But, Pow­ers cau­tioned, “It’s best to start with one thing, and study to un­der­stand it. And don’t just stick it in a pile in the back room. Have a place to dis­play it, and en­joy it. Oth­er­wise you’ll end up be­ing a hoarder.”

A lot of peo­ple go on web sites like eBay, where they buy pieces for their col­lec­tions.

Pow­ers said, “I think if you go out and find it by your­self, it’s a whole dif­fer­ent thing.”

To sug­gest a Ce­cil col­lec­tor to pro­file, email let­ters@ce­cil­whig.com.



Jeff Pow­ers stands be­side a 1940s-era bean top gas pump he re­stored.

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