By Tom Carrier
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brimfield, Mass., is a small New England town with a population of about 5,000 or so. Settled in 1706, it shows its traditional New England quaintness rather well. It has its large, steepled church, and with the leaves of autumn or the snow of winter, looks the part in any Norman Rockwell painting. And then for one week every spring, fall, and summer, the population doubles with 5,000 antique dealers converging on Brimfield to create the “Antique Capital of the United States.”
I had the most unique opportunity to go antique hunting with Will Seippel, CEO and founder of WorthPoint.com, and to learn about furniture and other things that caught his eye. Will is quite the collector himself, and he finds the most fascinating items.
That is certainly true today as I accompanied Will on his antique rounds at Brimfield. We came across dealer John Eagle, who specializes in a most unusual collectible—the face jug.
“These particular face jugs are all done by a gentleman called Bill Flowers from North Carolina,” Eagle says. “The slaves used the devil motif for their grave markers because the Africans believed that that would scare the evil spirits away.”
Will mentions that the origin of the face jug goes back to the early slaves in the southern United States, particularly in the Carolinas. “The makers are generally known of the old face jugs and can go up in value to tens of thousands of dollars,” Will says.
The ferocious and exaggerated faces on a face mug may easily drive the evil spirits away, but while I found them fascinating, I was ready to move on myself. That’s when Will came across something just as unusual and just as collectible—the early condom tin.
“When you come to Brimfield, you never know what you’re going to find,” Will says.
The condom tins of the early 19th century particularly are sought after primarily for their high-quality artwork. “These are extremely collectible. I have seen condom tins go up to $4,000,” Will says. Because the use of condoms in the early 20th century was strongly discouraged, even unlawful in places, the manufacturers needed to create artful names and colorful packaging to promote their product through the 1920’s. Now, of course, they are highly collectible ranging in value from less than $100 to several thousands.
And speaking of marketing, Will came across an unusual pair of advertising signage not normally seen in the United States—the male and female oil drips used as logos for Esso.
Esso was used as a brand for the Eastern States Standard Oil company after the breakup of the Standard Oil company under John J. Rockefeller in 1911. The Esso brand itself began its use in 1941 in the Eastern States, but because of litigation, was replaced by the current Exxon brand in 1973. Today, the Esso brand is primarily used only overseas. One oil drip logo sign featured in the Worthopedia sold at auction for $110 in 2006.
Walking with Will Seippel at the fields in Brimfield has allowed me to see all manner of antiques and collectibles through the eyes of a consummate collector. I’ll certainly look at condoms differently, that’s for sure.
To watch a video of Will Seippel’s tour of Brimfield, click here.
To see an example of n Esso sign with oil drip logo from Worthopedia, click here.
Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects, including vexillology, or the study of flags.
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