Automobilia, poster art highly collectible

By Terry Maurer, What's It Worth?January 12, 2014 

Q. Here is a photo of a clock I bought when an automotive service garage went out of business in Virginia about 35 years ago. The clock was old by then. It originally had a glass dome on the front, but that was broken moments before I bought it, so I replaced it with a plastic dome. The motor was replaced last year, so the clock runs fine. The clock has two lights inside, but I leave them off so that it doesn't fill up with dead bugs. The front of the clock says "AUTO-LITE Sta-Ful BATTERY"; the back has a sticker that says "Lackner, Cin., O." The clock is 18 inches in diameter. My question, of course, is how much is it worth? -- Gary in Pasco

A. Your clock falls into the collecting category called "automobilia" -- that is, things that have to do with cars. This covers items that are directly related to automobiles, such as old radiator caps, horns, lights, early radios and the like.

Automobilia also includes advertising for cars and items related to cars. In the early part of the 20th century, the English firm of Royal Doulton made a series of plates that showed humorous scenes of car breakdowns. Those are also considered part of this collector category.

And, signs, clocks, posters, gas pumps and many other items are of interest to those who follow the hobby.

There's a very large speciality show and sale in Portland every year where people buy, sell and swap pieces like this clock. The biggest swap meet in this field is the annual Chicagoland Petroleum and Advertising Show, which attracts buyers and sellers from across the country.

Your clock, made in the 1950s by a Cincinnati advertising sign company that's still in business today, is a desirable piece. We've seen it priced between $200 and $400. With the replaced dome, it would probably be sold at the lower end of that range.

Q. I have had this U.S. Navy Seabees recruiting poster for almost 50 years. It is paper on aluminum sheet and is 41 inches long. I obtained this poster from the Navy recruiting station at the Uptown Shopping Center in Richland in about 1965. The front is in very good condition, while the back is a bit torn. Do you have an idea of the worth of this poster? -- G.S. from Pasco

A. Posters are a hot items these days. All you have to do is watch any episode of The Antiques Roadshow on TV to confirm that. Poster expert, appraiser and auctioneer Nicholas Lowry seems to be featured in every show.

Posters have been used since the middle of the 19th century for many purposes. Cosmetics, cigarettes, wine and travel were just a few of the things touted on colorful posters. In the 20th century, every branch of the service had recruiting posters and the images were constantly updated.

Before we get to the value, here's a bit of history on the Navy's Seabees, perhaps one of the most interesting military organizations of all time.

The Seabees were founded in early 1941 and the Construction Battalions (the initials C. B. are where the popular name comes from) were not made up of ordinary sailors and soldiers who volunteered or were drafted for World War II. These men had construction work backgrounds.

They built dams, ocean liners, highways, airports and skyscrapers. They were all skilled craftsmen. In all, about 325,000 men from 60 trades served in that war. Although they technically were support units for the combat troops, the Seabees also were trained to fight.

Some of their actions in the war became legendary. Seabees were among the first ashore in the D-Day landings in France.

Their dangerous job was to destroy the enemy's steel and concrete barriers on the beaches, clearing the way for those who followed. Casualties were high, but the Seabee's motto -- "Can Do" -- carried the day.

The Seabees are still an active and reserve force of today's Navy.

Your poster is from the Vietnam era and such pieces are becoming more collectible all the time. Items from the period, such as uniforms, helmets and camouflage poncho liners, sell often in the secondary market. This poster is worth about $60.

-- Terry K. Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to

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