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Big Wallets Required

Big Wallets Required


By Lance Lambert

Last week a gentleman, accompanied by his four year old grandson, hired me to do an appraisal of his 1966 Mustang. The grandson was very quiet as he took a long look around my garage and then said “You have a lot of toys”.

Many participants in the old car hobby also collect automotive and petroleum memorabilia. The owner of a 1957 Chevrolet may also proudly display in the garage a Chevrolet dealer sign from 1957, or a restored 50’s era gas pump. Automobile dealer promotional items became useless when the next year’s Chevrolets were introduced, and the Texaco gas station owner was forced to keep pace with gas pump progress when more modern pumps were designed. As time has passed most of these items have become extremely collectible and expensive.

Recently one of the annual automotive swap meets was held at the county fairgrounds. Hundreds of vendors were selling everything from automotive company ashtrays (now great paper clip holders) to full sized automobiles. Are you looking for some factory original material to upholster your 1950 Studebaker? The vendor in stall #102 just happens to have about ten yards of it. How will a dealer’s window banner announcing the arrival of the new 1940 Plymouth Road King look in your garage’s window? All you need is a big garage window and a big wallet to find out. A really big wallet.

Some of the items displayed in my garage have been prized possessions since high school. A few items more recently purchased are still in the trunk of the car waiting to be unwrapped and displayed. A common thread linking these items is that they were purchased for very little money. The real high dollar items were purchased for no more than a couple of hundred dollars. OK, the old Signal gas pump cost much more but a guy has to get himself something really special when he turns 50 years old. Doesn’t he? One of the recent additions to the collection is a plaque that was awarded to R.H. Tucker in 1950 for “….your cooperation and endeavor to develop plans toward more and better satisfied Chevrolet owners.” Good job R.H.! Your plaque is hanging next to the plaque that L.A. Sawyer received in 1951 for “Meritorious achievement in service to the petroleum industry.” “Meritorious”, now that’s something to fill you with pride. Perhaps things continued to go so well that future awards actually stated R and L’s first names. Both of these plaques were purchased because they are a small part of automotive history, are great looking and, best of all, cost a grand total of $11.

Now let’s return to the swap meet. I’m walking along and notice a thick paper sign approximately 11” X 17” in size advertising an auto repair shop in Tacoma, WA. It appears to be from the 1920’s and features just the right amount of aging and patina to offer proof that it has been around longer than most of us have been around gathering patina. I pause, pick it up, turn it over and expect to see a price tag somewhere around $50 to $100. The price is $1500. Yes, about two or three times the new purchase price of any car being repaired in this Tacoma repair shop when the sign was clean and new. I was shocked at the price and felt like the guy at an auction that scratches his nose and is immediately congratulated on his winning bid for a genuine Picasso. I dropped the sign as if it had just burst into flames.

The amount paid for many of the items in my garage is about $20 to $200. Of course the majority of items were purchased 10 to 30 years ago when a seller’s pitch was often “It’s marked $20 but I’ll take $15 for it”. Now more often heard from vendors is “One of those just sold on eBay for 17 gazillion dollars but I’m willing to sell it to you for every penny you earn for the rest of your life”.

These days my swap meet and antique shop sojourns are mostly for the fun of seeing a lot of interesting old car items. I rarely purchase anything due to the vendor’s asking price and my wallet’s giving price speaking different languages. Some past swap meet and antique store adventures resulted in coming home with an item that caused my family and neighbors to ask “Why do you want that old thing?” Now the more frequent greeting is “Didn’t find anything you wanted?”

I think the appraisal client’s grandson said it best. Yes, I have a lot of toys. I’m just not sure how many more I can afford to buy.