Columbus, Ohio USA
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Abbott's Emporium excavates art, history from pages of vintage magazines
By Dennis Fiely
November 2009 Issue
Photos © Gus Brunsman III
A remarkable collection of magazine ads and articles from the turn of the 20th century through the 1980s lines the walls inside Abbott's Antique Paper & Emporium at 1108 N. High Street.
The usual array of china, glassware, jewelry and figurines clutters Bruce Abbott’s new antiques consignment store at 1108 N. High Street. But its most prized possessions are tucked in bins that line the perimeter, a periphery that contains more than 36,000 magazine ads and articles from the turn of the 20th century through the 1980s. Every piece is precisely cut, sealed in plastic and organized in hundreds of categories ranging from Airplanes and Appliances to Toys and Trucks.
Rifling through the holdings of Abbott’s Antique Paper & Emporium is a trip back in time when companies such as Texaco and Pillsbury stamped their logos on copy that rallied American troops against “the Japs, Nips and Nazis” during World War II and Philip Morris honored young professional women in the ‘60s for smoking Virginia Slims with the tag line, You’ve come a long way baby.
“Some of this stuff would be controversial today,” understated owner and antique paper collector Bruce Abbott, as he lifted a 1970s ad from Playboy illustrating a gentleman offering a Tiparillo to a topless woman.
Abbott’s Animation file expresses the range of his collection, from the parental to the prurient, where ads for Disney movie classics precede Playboy cartoons by just a few letters in the alphabetical arrangement.
A pregnant customer recently sorted through the Animation bin, seeking artwork for her baby’s nursery. She stuck on a First Aid theme by Johnson & Johnson depicting several different ads of a little boy lovingly applying a Band-Aid to a little girl’s scrape. “I wonder why,” Abbot paused, “they never showed the girl offering to assist the boy.”
Signs of the times, changing morays and values, are reflected throughout his cultural keepsakes lifted and preserved from the pages of Look, Life, Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, relics with large-page formats that make their photographs and graphics suitable for framing.
Of his collection, which includes another 40,000 pieces in back stock, Abbott said, “It is all American, encompasses every bit of 20th century history you can think of, and it is all real – not a single copy here.”
Of the 36,000 pieces on display at Abbott's Emporium, about 9,000 are related to automobiles, including 1000 articles and ads about his father's beloved Packards.
The collection is worthy of its place among the Short North galleries, Abbott insisted. Consider that covers for magazines such as Fortune were richly drawn by the leading artists of the day such as Ernest Hamlin Baker and Walter Buehr. “I have always considered many of these pieces to be works of art and that is the message I convey to everyone who comes in here and dives into my bins,” Abbott said.
Abbott began clipping and saving as a teenager in support of his father’s car restoration sideline. “My father sold antique car parts and restoration services at swap meets and he thought it would be nice for his clients to have pictures of their cars,” Abbott said.
Of the 36,000 pieces on display at Abbott’s Emporium, about 9,000 are related to automobiles, including 1,000 articles and ads about his father’s beloved Packards. His collection includes original Packard hood ornaments mounted on decorative wood bases. “Cars have always been a part of my family’s life,” Abbott said. “My grandfather owned an auto parts store on East Hudson Street and a gas station in Gahanna. My father (Robert K. Abbott) was a member of the Antiques Automobile Association of America and the local Packard club.”
Along with a love of cars, Abbott inherited a pack-rat mentality that he attributes to “three generations of obsessive-compulsive disorder on my father’s side of the family.” Through more than 20 years working in the restaurant/food and beverage industry in Ohio and Florida, Abbott not only saved all the clippings from his youth, but the 15,000 magazines from which they came.
He resumed his interest in his paper stacks when he returned to Columbus from Florida in 1997 for his father’s funeral. “I had all this crap and it needed to go away,” he said. The emergence of eBay at the time helped him realize that there was a market for his materials. Responses from flea markets, car shows and a booth at the Ohio State Fair encouraged him to open his Short North emporium in May.
“I sold $6,000 worth of paper at the fair and that was only two percent of my inventory,” he said. “If I can sell that many pieces at the fair in 12 days, why can’t I equal that volume here every month? I had just turned 50 and I said, ‘Screw it, I am going to give this a shot.’ ”
He was especially surprised by the interest among young people, who have discovered his colorful ads for billiards, bikes and beverages as inexpensive (averaging $7 each) and unusual adornments for their dorm rooms, apartments and condominiums. “They love Pabst Blue Ribbon beer,” Abbott said. “I can’t keep enough PBR pieces in stock. The kids are framing them and putting them in their bedrooms and bathrooms.”
He caters to young tastes with other collectibles such as a series of dead rock star posters and a large print of Freewheelin’ Franklin from Gilbert Shelton’s 1970s underground comic strip The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, with the classic counterculture line, “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” He has cleverly created categories for specific demographics – such as a gay-themed file that features Lifesavers, Clark’s chewing gum and Mohawk rug ads depicting their products with striking rainbows.
Abbott keeps a workshop in the basement where he offers framing and mail order services. He describes his shop as cross between two television reality shows, the PBS series Antiques Road Show and the History Channel’s Pawn Shop. But the vintage magazine ads and articles set it apart from other antique stores.
Abbott rummages through his racks with the gleefulness of a kid in a candy store, mining one gem after another for visitors. He seems to have every one of his tens of thousands of pieces committed to memory, knowing exactly where each one is located among his rows of bins.
“It’s amazing the amount of knowledge I’ve acquired about art, advertising and 20th century American history from my collection,” he said. “I could teach an advertising class from what I’ve learned. And I am green because I am taking stuff that would go into the trash and turning it into a New Age art form. I’ve never been married, but I have 34,000 children right here.”
Editor's Note: The retail store closed April 2011. Inventory may still available by calling the number below.
For more information about Abbott's Antique Paper & Emporium, 1108 N. High Street, visit www.oldeads.com or call 614-263-2439
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