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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Collector keeps it all

Friday, April 4, 2003

Recently becoming interested in collecting Clabber Girl memorabilia, Chestline Antique customer Dorothy Cooper purchases an old Dauntless brand peanut butter jar at Archie Lee's shop on East National Avenue. Dauntless was one of Hulman & Company's, of Terre Haute, many products in the early 1900s.

Driving, reading or even while eating and drinking, ads are everywhere you look. Sometimes the signs and slogans for the advertising industry become cultural icons over the years, for example the various company signs hanging in one local antique shop promising consumers their products taste great and have the best quality of all.

Many of the everyday advertisement signs which caught Archie Lee's attention years ago are older than he is. The owner of Chestline Antiques, 531 E. National Ave., Lee specializes in selling the antique sign and container collectibles. He knew all along the signs' popularity might even outlive the product itself. Some date as far back as the late 1800s.

"You can collect anything," said the 90-year-old, "That's why you don't want to throw anything away."

Operating the shop for the past 43 years, Lee has collected various metal, paper and cloth signs with brand names of soda, coffee and beer printed across them. A lover of the old Arbuckles' Coffee, Lee's favorite is coffee memorabilia.

"Arbuckles' Coffee was one of the great old coffees," he explained, adding that it's the stuff written about in classic Western books.

Tins, crates, barrels and packages set along the floor and line shelves and display cases. Some of the products are still around, like Coca-Cola, while others just couldn't beat their competitors, such as Dauntless peanut butter. Even the store's fixtures are antiques, but Lee won't part with those. They come from one of his grandparents' old southern Indiana country stores during the early 1900s.

Looking at the multiple signs, canisters and boxes in the antique shop can take visitors back in time.

"You never know what you're going to find," the experienced antique dealer said. Depending on his customers' age, some are memorable, others aren't. Old Reliable Coffee, Richardson Root Beer, Faygo Cola, Delaware punch, Clabber Girl baking powder and even Brazil, Ind. Alfonso Rios & Company Cigar boxes are among the many collectibles at Chestline Antiques.

Lee values simple labels, which might otherwise have gotten overlooked, like the old Indian River fruit labels on top of a stack in his store. He knew their value before someone recently appeared on the television show, Antique Road Show with some.

"Aren't these dandies?" he asked, holding up a copy of a fruit label.

The dealer boasted that he recently sold over 400 of his Dauntless coffee and 50 Clabber Girl sign collection to the national restaurant chain Cracker Barrel.

Pointing to a large coffee mill like one used back in the old family store days, he reflected on a time when the grocer grinded coffees and spices for customers who measured out the portion of bulk product they wanted to buy. The pleasing smells of coffee roasting and spices through the mills would drift through the stores back then, when customers parked their horses and buggies along the hitching rail outside. In 1920, a large coffee mill could be bought by a grocer for $17. Lee sells the same one for around $2,000 today. He sells original 100-pound crates that coffee was shipped in during the days of cheap transportation by rail and river in the downtown shop.

Much of Lee's collection comes from his family's old stores, auctions or from friends cleaning out their attics.

"I'm tickled to death to get some of these things, because they're getting hard to find," he said.

Nostalgia is very important to collectors. He cautioned that some items loose their appeal to antiquers if they get so old no one remembers them anymore. He pointed out that wooden spinning wheels aren't popular anymore, but items from the 40s, 50s and 60s are hot sellers.

Customer Dorothy Cooper has found a couple treasures in the shop, like the Dauntless peanut butter jar from the early 1900s she purchased for less than $10.

"I just love to come in here," she said. "I could be in here for hours." She recently started a collection of Hulman & Company things.

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