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Premier Bill Powell antique advertising and toy collection leads 'endless variety' in Noel Barrett's auction
American Eagle painted wood riding toy with outstretched wings, made by S.A. Smith Co., Brattleboro, Vt., 39in. long, est. $3,000-$4,000. Noel Barrett Auctions image.
NEW HOPE, PA.- “In this business there are only about a half dozen people who can honestly be described as having a golden eye. Bill Powell is one of them,” said Noel Barrett, whose Nov. 18-19 auction features Powell’s peerless personal collection of antique advertising and toys.

Those who have come to know Bill Powell over the years from his beautiful displays at major antique and Americana shows know him as the “go-to guy” for great trade signs, fabulous store fixtures and rare lithographed paper-on-wood toys, Barrett said.

“Bill is one of the great pickers. He would hop into his car and drive all night if something special awaited him at the other end. Whenever you would come upon his booth at a show, you’d know immediately whose it was. He has always favored antiques that are figural, unusual, and have marvelous colors and patina,” Barrett said.

Powell’s collection will be offered in approximately 400 lots during the auction’s second (Saturday) session. It includes many highly desirable late-19th- and early 20th-century painted-wood signs, each a unique creation. Some are monumental in size, like the 5-ft.-wide “Harness and Horse Collars” trade sign decorated with two stylized horses’ heads and made to fit over a barn door. Two Ingersoll Watch signs are of equally grand size, while several optician signs – one with an oversized pair of spectacles, complete with peering eyes, and the message “Glasses Fitted” – measure 4ft. from end to end.

Another exceptional trade sign is crafted as an actual sled, nearly 8ft. long and painted in red, white and blue with the name “Sonny-Boy.” Other dimensional trade signs include a stylish high-button shoe, a butcher shop bull’s head, and a milliner’s figure of a gentleman wearing a stovepipe hat.

Late-19th-century stone lithography created some of the most colorful signs and posters ever made. Favorites in Powell’s collection include “Laugh At Cigar,” which depicts a circa-1895 saloon interior; and “DeWitt’s Remedies,” with an elaborately detailed image of an early dry goods store.

America’s early shipping and display containers bore colorfully illustrated labels. Powell’s collection includes many such tobacco barrels, cardboard boxes and tins; as well as wood shipping crates with applied paper labels.

In the same vein, Powell built an exquisite sub-collection of lithographed paper-on-wood toys. Many of his superb 19th-century American boats came from the collection of the late William F. Holland, a pioneer American toy collector. Vehicular toys include a wonderful S.A. Smith wheeled eagle with flapping wings, a Paris Mfg. Co. child’s hook & ladder wagon, and an all-original circa-1880 velocipede.

The “endless variety,” as Barrett describes it, also includes metal and porcelain signs; salesmen’s samples, early cigar boxes and figures; lithographed heavy cardboard signs, antique barber poles and primitive fire escape systems; advertising thermometers, and 10 early air rifles and BB guns.

The 400-lot Friday session offers a panoramic history of American patriotism with the Greg and Molly Caron collection. One of the most highly prized pieces in this connoisseurs’ collection is a painted-wood shield from a War of 1812 warship. The shield was among the contents of the Barbour family’s White Birches Lodge at Follensby Pond in New York’s Adirondack region. It is thought to have come from a ship that operated on Lake Champlain; its counterpart bowsprit is held in the Shelburne Museum collection. The shield is estimated at $18,000-$22,000.

The Caron collection also includes an Adirondack twig table with flag, a painted camp chair with shield, early Uncle Sam parade costumes, a huge array of political and patriotic memorabilia; and a spectacular half-round leaded-glass window featuring a Liberty figure from a Hartford Insurance Co. building.

Adding the finishing touch to the Friday session is the Frank Mohr collection of classic 19th- and early 20th-century American and European trains and toys; extraordinary automata, and Continental toys by Fernand Martin, Lehmann and Gunthermann.

The Mohr collection features one of the largest selections of Ives clockwork toys to come to market in recent years. There are many dancers, including the seldom-seen revolving cakewalk couple; acrobats, boxers, a scarce circus horseback rider, General Grant Smoker, and numerous desirable forms with an African-American theme, such as Suffragette, Stump Speaker, Washerwoman and Nursemaid.

An impressive mid-18th-century Scottish dolls’ house is known by the name of its one-time owner, a Mrs. Farie. The Farie House was a 6-room cottage-style structure when it came into Mrs. Farie’s possession in the 19th century. She added a basement, third floor and finely crafted staircases and paneled doors. During the 20th century, the house was thoroughly cleaned, redecorated and electrified. It has been featured in several books by renowned doll authority the late Flora Gill Jacobs, and appeared in House & Garden magazine. Its auction estimate is $40,000-$50,000.



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