by Harold Screen
A good go-with hobby for coin-op collectors is acquiring some of the material used by our grandparents in their youth while socializing at the local ice cream parlor. My wife and I have been collecting soda fountain and ice cream items since we began with slots and I guess it goes back to my high school days in the 50’s working at a soda fountain when cones were still a nickel and an ice cream soda was 20 cents. The collector will find a wide variety of objects, which provide great wall decorations behind a row of slots, jukeboxes, or trade stimulators.
Syrup Dispensers: As hot now as Rol-A-Tops were in the late 70’s! An auction last fall saw one f these very pretty items being knocked down for $4,000 plus a 10% buyers premium (Boo, hiss) and tax. We should note that there are collectors of dispensers who have no other interest in soda fountain material.
Dispensers were available from about 1897 and gradually disappeared from use by the mid 50’s. The first dispenser I know of is a tall glass cylinder for Miners Fruit Nectar. Other early dispensers such as Dr. Pepper, Coca Cola, Hires, GrapeKola and Pepsi were of the large one or two-piece china urns or the large bowl style. By the teens, dispensers took on the shape we now recognize as either spherical or the more common urn shape. By the 20’s, dispensers began to reflect the times by using an art glass design; different colored glass, shapes of fruit, crinkle or frosted glass, etc. The 30’sm, 40’s and into the 50’s saw the style that clamped onto a counter. These dispensers had a removable jug, which was inverted over the base. Other dispensers of this period included those with a milk glass base and a similar inverted jug. The survival rate of the rather plan paper labeled jugs is very low.
The most collectable period was that of the teens with the spherical or urn shape dispensers and had names such as Jersey Crème, Cardinal Cherry, Liberty, Root Beer, Buckeye, Juleps, Cherry Smash, etc. Some of the odd shapes of the period include the Buckeye Log, Afri-Cola, Dr. Swetts tree stump, the Crush series of molded fruit (orange, lemon and lime), and the Hires hourglass. In the 1900 to 1910 era many dispensers were produced that were of metal construction with the base containing ice surrounding the cooling coils and a large 2-3 gallon jug on top holding the syrup. Although quite colorful, they are bulky and since made of metal, prone to rust out through the years. However, a metal dispenser was produced for the Mission Fruit Company in the 30’s that is quite art deco in style, rather small and also very hard to find. The most collectable dispenser of all is the very rare salesman's sample of the Hires Muni-Maker. As in anything, condition is important along with having the original pump.
Ice Cream Dippers: An esoteric a collectable as one will find having many different sizes and shapes. The leading authority in the field estimates that more than 125 different styles are known ranging from the common bowl shape to the cylinder to the sandwich and to the most collectable, the hear shaped dipper. A coin-op collector might want to make the effort to acquire a complete set of the nine bowl sizes the Gilchrist Co. produced in the 1920’s. This would make a very interesting effect mounted on a wall in a semi-circular pattern. Bowl size is measured in number of scoops to the liquid quart, i.e., 6, 8, 16, 30, etc. The size is usually stamped on the bowl scraper and the hardest size to find is the smallest, the size 40.
Restoration of a dipper ranges from a good cleaning to stripping the nickel finish off and polishing the brass underneath to a high shine. So far, this doesn’t seem to affect the price as some dippers have such worn plating, the collector is left with no choice.
Competition is keen among collectors for the more unusual types such as the heart shaped dipper. A thousand were made and less than 30 are known - where are the rest? Another interesting type is the Dover slicer that had a blade, which cut off the excess that always came with the dip. Cost conscious business practices were evident even with the kindly old parlor operator.
Strawholders: Another area of specialization! As with dispensers, many collectors of strawholders have no other interest in soda fountain material. And the varieties are extensive! The most common color is “clear” glass but strawholders (also known as straw jars) are found in green, pink, frosted, and I’ve heard of a blue one. The early holders were of pressed pattern glasses, which were either round or square, and many had matching glass lids and these are the most desirable and expensive. The more recent ones (after 1910) take on the shape we know today; round multi-sided with metal lids and lifting inserts. One even had a “bell bottom”. Metal strawholders are found but don’t seem to have much collector interest.
However - words of caution: a late model has “Bloomfield Industries” pressed into the bottom and is not very collectable. Also, be careful of the barber jars, which were used to sterilize combs. These can be identified by either panel on the side, which has the writing removed or the bottom of the insert, which has drain, holes in them.
Lastly, many strawholders had long production periods, showing in catalogs from 1915 to 1939, with no design change.
Milk Shakers: The term “milk shake” was derived from the early practice of shaking a glass of milk, crushed ice, and flavoring to make a pleasing drink for the trade. It is lost to history as to who was the first to put a scoop of ice cream into the glass.
The early models of the late 1880’s were hand cranked and made in both a free standing floor and a smaller counter top model. The counter model survived in catalogs as late as 1930 and I know of one still in daily use here in Baltimore. The first electric models appeared about 1910 and had the marble or porcelain bases. The porcelain-based model by the Horlicks Malted Milk Company is highly desirable as it had two “legs” and a friction drive Dumore motor to the mixing spindle. The marble base model still shows up quite regularly at flea markets and makes an impressive display item after the nickel plating has been removed and the brass highly polished.
The marble based models gave way to the single pedestal, which evolved; to the green porcelain finish most of us know today. Be careful in using the old models unless the motors have been cleaned and brushes replaced. These are ungrounded electric appliances and they’ll get your attention - I speak from experience and one hell of a shock!
Trade & Post Cards: Now we get to an area of collecting with it sown special reward - they don’t take up a lot of space! These really divide into two categories: post cards, especially those of interior views of old fountains, and advertising trade cards which are soda fountain or ice cream related. There is little interest in post cards of exterior views, especially those that just show an ice cream sign. However, cards of ice cream factories are collectable. The leading collector in this field has less than 300 related post cards and feels that pure trade cards are limited to less than 50. These trade cards cover only hand cranked ice cream freezers and a very few soda fountain cards. Many stock cards (the merchant printed his message in a blank space) are available but to the purist they don’t really count.
Glassware: An area of wide interest ranging from ice cream sundae and soda glasses of different sizes and colors, footed banana split dishes, soda pop glasses from the fountain with the product name “painted” on them (ACL), to root beer mugs and steins. My own collection numbers 65 different items from the salt glaze Berry Root Beer mug, different Hires mugs, Zipps and Buckeye mugs, and many soda glasses including one from Durango, Colorado, one with an embossed tiger’s heard, another called “Robin Brand” ginger ale showing a Robin sitting on a branch, and a few very fragile concave early soda glasses. One of my other glass interests is looking for green glass footed banana split dishes. And I guess everybody is looking for the heart shaped heart footed ice cream dish, which went with the heart shaped dipper.
I guess one could add glass cone holders to this list, both the display jar at the point of sale, and the very unusual cone holders that held a single cone while the patron sat at the fountain. Ever tried to place a cone point down on a counter and not lose the ice cream?
Signs & Advertising: This is perhaps the best known area of soda fountain collecting as many tin signs survived for the many soda pops that proliferated in the 20’s and 30’s. Of course everyone is familiar with the major brand advertising such as Coke, Hires, Pepsi, who advertised in tin, paper, and cardboard but very few companies that produced products for the fountain or ice cream parlor advertised in this medium. Or so it seems as little has survived. I suspect that many ice cream companies didn’t direct their advertising at the point of sale or along the road as did the soda companies but instead used the popular press; newspapers and magazines.
There is some very nice rare advertising from the late 1800’s that was produced by the Tufts soda fountain manufacturer of Boston. Other early advertising directed to the trade was smaller specialty companies such as my favorite, the J. Hungerford Smith Company of Rochester, NY, who used the trade name “True Fruit” fountain requisites. Even though in business from the 1880’s to today, their major advertising period was from 1900 to about 1915 and thereafter limited to trade journals.
There is some interesting advertising from ice cream companies such as Hendlers of Baltimore, which used Kewpies as a trade identifier. Other product advertising to look for is ice cream cones, Eskimo Pie, and Popsicle. I should also mention trays but they have been well covered by the many collectable books on advertising.
Paper Items: This covers a wide area from the trade catalogs of suppliers such as Tufts, Puffers, Lippencott, Green, Walrus, Pick, etc., billheads, recipe booklets, advertising flyers, match book covers, etc. The list is endless and almost any interest can be accommodated. This doesn’t mean it's easily found but the search is fun. And don’t forget another of my favorites - the hand held advertising fan showing a soda fountain scene.
Ice Cream Molds: Can you imagine sitting down at a banquet and for dessert out comes the Statue of Liberty or a large railroad steam engine molded in ice cream? Or having a basket of individual fruits molded in ice cream for your child’s birthday party? I wish I could write more about these interesting objects but this is one area where I drew the line (and ran out of display space!)
Data Sources: One of the best collectable books on any subject is the one entitled “Ice Cream Dippers” by Wayne Smith. It is the only book I know of dedicated to a particular soda fountain related subject and is well written describing the history, marketing, and evolution of dippers without going into excruciating detail. Enough to tell the reader about the subject! It’s available from Wayne for $16.20 ppd. At PO Box 418, Wlkersville, MD 21793. For those of you wishing to learn more on a regular basis, I’d like to invite you to membership in the Ice Screamers, a group who share all of the above interests and more in this fascinating area. Membership is available at $15.00 per year for our bi-monthly newspaper from Ed Marks at PO Box 5387, Lancaster, PA 17601.
My wife Joyce and I will be happy to talk with anyone interested about this subject and always want to add items to our collection. We can be reached as follows: Harold & Joyce Screen, 2804 Munster Road, Baltimore, MD 21234, or by calling 301-661-6765.
Copyright: 2005 Harold Screen. Reprinted with permission.
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