Making out like a bandit in the world of antiques and collectibles means ferreting out things that the uneducated might overlook. This can result in something really cool for your own collection, or a collectible you can easily turn around and sell for a tidy profit.
Read about several colorful characters that were pop culture mainstays in years gone by, and then keep your eyes pealed for a bargain the next time you hit a local estate sale.
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While Andy Gump isn’t a household name anymore, and lots of folks have never even heard of him these days, his cartoonish likeness lives on through many vintage collectibles and almost-antiques. This fellow made his debut in a comic strip about a middle class family called “The Gumps” in 1917 and it ran through 1952.
During that period, lots of Andy Gump novelties were made including toy cars, banks, and nodder dolls. Even tobacciana such as cigar labels can be found with Andy Gump’s likeness. Most of them aren’t cheap either.
The Andy Gump toy car shown here sold at Morphy Auctions for $9,000 (not including buyer’s premium) in July, 2014. It is described as being in unbelievably nice condition and perhaps the nicest existing example. The value of Andy Gump toys vary with condition, but even those that have paint loss and perhaps a missing spare tire are still worth several hundred dollars at auction. The still banks featuring this charcter in near mint condition can also exceed $1,000 in value.
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Esky - Esquire Magazine's Mascot
Esky refers to Esquire magazine's original mascot – a foppishly dressed cartoon gentleman with a large blonde mustache and bulging eyes. He symbolized what the magazine envisioned, in a playfully mocking way, as its readership at that time. His likeness was used in counter displays and advertising in the 1930s and ‘40s where products advertised in the magazine were sold.
Products were also marketed with a link to this character. One example is Esky Cards depicting Alberto Varga's girls. “The Varga Girl” card packaging read, “In this package, there are 6 of the famous Varga Girl drawings—all different—from Esquire, The Magazine for Men, printed in full colors special oversize deluxe stock—suitable for mailing and worthy of collecting.” The connection to the cards is that Esky was often seen in his cartoon form oogling pin-up girls in the magazine.
Find one of those old store display pieces, including the Santa shown here, and it could easily bring hundreds at auction.
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The Yellow Kid
The Yellow Kid appeared on many different commercial objects in the late 1800s, including cigarette buttons, a type of tobacciana. Created by cartoonist Richard Outcault as part of Hogan’s Alley, the first successful comic strip published in a newspaper, the Yellow Kid actually took an ironic turn as an advertising icon since the text on his yellow nightshirt was originally meant to satirize marketing slogans of the day.
It’s also interesting to note that the image of the Yellow Kid is connected to the well-known term “yellow journalism.” This denotes publications that contained very little news, but used flashy graphics and gripping headlines to accompany less than newsworthy features simply to sell more papers. Both Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal ran cartoons featuring The Yellow Kid, and these papers are legendary for allegedly using sensationalism to drive up circulation.
Hake’s Americana & Collectibles notes that High Admiral Cigarettes began giving 1 1/4” Yellow Kid pinback buttons away with their product in 1896. There is a gap in the numbered sequence which goes from one through 94, and then resumes using flags as a theme from numbers 101 through 160. So, collectors should be mindful that there are only 154 buttons in a complete set rather than 160. Some have an open back with paper inserts promoting the company’s cigarettes. Others have a tin back with promotional text stamped within referring to High Admiral, the New York Journal, and Yellow Kid. These often sell for $50 to $100 each in excellent condition, so they're indeed worth digging through a box of junk to find.