The social platform for antiquers, collectors, and enthusiasts

Gone But Not Forgotten

Live long enough and you’ll outlive many of the companies, products, and brands you grew up with. They may no longer be in business but like many of the companies and products we cover in this issue, they are not forgotten. Their imprint remains strong in our collective consciousness and in the items we collect.

When I think back on my childhood, I think about the big Magnavox console television set in our den where we sat together as a family to watch everything from Ed Sullivan to the Moon landing. I think about having milk and seltzer delivered weekly to our back door, talking on our kitchen phone with its always twisted and tangled phone cord that never seemed to extend beyond someone’s earshot, baking with my grandmother in her kitchen and using her Oster mixer, the sound of clacking keys and the bell signaling a hard return on my mother’s manual Smith-Corona portable typewriter, and always having to have change for a phone call when I went out.

At the time, it seemed that advertising was everywhere – on the radio, TV, in newspapers and magazines, and on billboards that lined the open roads. Scattered around the house, advertising could be found on such everyday items as pens, matchbook covers, datebooks, children’s toys, books, and product packaging. Companies spent millions with Madison Avenue ad agencies to give their product or brand a unique identity in the minds of consumers, everything from catchy slogans and jingles to logo artwork, mascots, and famous as well as fictitious spokespeople. As consumers, we were proud of, and proud to display, the informed and financially prudent choices we made in what brand products we purchased and where we shopped.

It was all about building brand identity and loyalty and influencing consumer choice at point-of-sale. In that respect, nothing has changed except the ways and places these tried-and-true marketing objectives are employed today. To this day, I can connect a slogan with a brand, identify a company by its logo, and recite the words to the most popular commercials of the 1960s-1980s, even if I have outgrown or outlived the product or brand.

My childhood was also an era of rapidly advancing technology and ours was a generation of consumer consumption. Our radios became smaller and then portable; the “Ma Bell” black rotary dial telephone, a staple in every home, was replaced by telephones that came in a range of colors and then designs; all-in-one stereos made buying records a new collecting obsession; 8-track cassettes made it possible to bring our favorite music into the car; personal computers were revolutionizing information management; telephones were being put in cars… So, where did we go to learn about the latest products and quickly evolving technologies from both new and trusted brands? For many, myself included, it was Radio Shack.

Once everywhere, Radio Shack was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2015, its demise a harbinger for many consumer electronics companies in the advancing Internet Age. Yet the in-store experiences and memories of generations of consumers ensure Radio Shack will live on in our cultural collectivism and collections long after the presence of their brick-and-mortar stores has faded from the retail landscape. The same can be said for Tower Records, Woolworth, A&P, Thom McAn, and Fotomat, to name only a few. Recalling the name is to recall the experiences and role the business played in your life.

I also grew up in the Golden Age of Air Travel, when you dressed in your best to travel, had a choice of menu items for your meal, and dined using cloth napkins and real silverware. I also remember all the big names that dominated the skies during that era: TWA, Pan Am, Eastern, Continental, United, American. Despite their dominance at one time, most on that list are no longer in operation. Pan Am, “The World’s Most Experienced Airline,” and arguably a global brand powerhouse, was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1991. Yet, search “Pan Am Memorabilia” on the internet and you will find everything from flight attendant buttons and uniforms to travel bags, shot glasses, dining menus, silverware from First Class, poster art, model planes, wings, and amenity bags available for sale, most in the affordable range but all emblazoned with the Pan Am logo. Their collectability after all these years is proof that the memory lives on long after the experience itself.

The rise in automobile sales and automotive travel in the early decades of the 20th century provided new opportunities for entrepreneurs in the form of roadside businesses. The most essential of these businesses were service stations, where one could get gas, find a modern restroom, and perhaps pick up something to eat and drink. While initially these service stations were just a source for gas, oil companies soon entered the market, creating brand chains for their gas and customizing the customer experience with such amenities as washing your windows and changing your oil. Soon, it was no longer about finding gas wherever one could but filling your car with the right gas; intentionally choosing one gas brand and service station over another. Among these early giants was Sinclair Oil.

In 1933, Sinclair had 8,100 service stations, either company-owned or held under long-term lease, and their DINO the Dinosaur corporate logo was an instantly recognizable visual along America’s new highways and byways. Today, Sinclair Gas Stations are far fewer in number and mostly concentrated in western and midwestern states but the market for vintage Sinclair Gas memorabilia is strong as is the market for Automobilia, Petroliana, Road Art, and Man Cave art among collectors and enthusiasts. From metal signs to gas pumps and globes, clocks, oil cans, and green plastic DINOs of all sizes and from all eras, there’s something for every collection that ensures Sinclair’s place in our memories and its role in propelling us into the Golden Age of Automotive Travel.

Looking back, who doesn’t remember ordering AAA TripTiks, collecting S & H Green Stamps, “Ma Bell” telephone booths on almost every city street corner, and the Fuller Brush Man who came to your front door to sell personal care products?

“Gone but not forgotten” is a testament to good marketing and the power of nostalgia. Our collections are the tangible byproducts of those emotional associations and ensure the stories, legacy, and cultural impact of these companies, products, and brands, live on.