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 9 Vintage Sample Cases from the Days of Traveling Salesmen

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Say it’s the early 1900s, and you manufacture a good quality toilet. You want everyone to know about your toilet, to see how truly superior it is. But how? Catalogs and ads are OK, but they really don’t do the product justice. You’re happy to employ salesmen to go door to door, or shop-front to shop-front, but it’s not like they can lug your magnificent toilet along with them. What to do?

Salesman Samples. Small versions, crafted in exacting detail, of your product. They could be displayed in stores all over the country, or even taken directly to the consumer in specially crafted cases.

Today, salesman samples are hot collectibles, partially because of how rare genuine surviving examples are. Most of the objects being sold on Ebay as salesman samples are actually toys. Even the most experienced antique collector can have a hard time telling the difference between a masterfully crafted turn-of-the-century salesman sample stove and a masterfully crafted turn-of-the-century toy stove. We’ve done our best to distinguish true salesman samples below. Sometimes only the most basic information accompanies these old samples, so we encourage any readers who might know about these products to add to our collective intelligence in the comments section.

1. Swimming Pool

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These models of above-ground, less expensive swimming pools were made by Sears in the 1960s; marketing what was once a luxury for the wealthy to the thriving middle class. This sample is an example of a case that likely didn’t go door to door, but sat on display in the store.

2. Neon Assortment

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In 1935, you really had to peddle your neon. The competition was fierce. By 1940, there were over 2000 small shops in America producing neon light. A case like this would be far more impressive than any catalog, and would help “Dorwart Signs of Lancaster PA” outshine the competition.

3. Individual Mausoleum 

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I dearly hope this wasn’t a door to door salesman’s case. Offering me a coupon for a free carpet cleaning is annoying enough; having someone at my door peddling eternal rest would be very unsettling. This was listed as a 1940s-50s salesman sample miniature, "Wilbert Individual Mausoleum with Southern Gray Blue Granite Cover and Headstone."

4. Billiard Table

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This billiard table sample, dating from the early 1900s, would likely have been shopped around to gentlemen’s clubs of both fine and ill repute. A “poolroom” used to be the place you went to place bets (pool your money) on horses. The billiards table was an afterthought, to help patrons pass the time between races.

5. Bristol-Myers Products

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This collection of Bristol-Myers products, dated from about 1970, offers just about everything a modern woman needed to be happy, from dust spray to Bufferin.

6. Persian Rug Assortment

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Teeny little rugs!

7. Avon Sample Case

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This Avon case, listed on Ebay as “from the 70s,” offers a fragrance for every mood. Do you wish to emit an entrancing musk today? Because there are options for both rugged-yet-sensitive men and elegant women who apply their blush with a slashing motion. Or perhaps you’re feeling rather “Cordovan” (a color… and possibly also a shoe). With this Avon scent sampler, the possibilities are endless.

8. Safety Grating

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This object seemed to serve the double purposes of being both a salesman sample and a patent model. Miniature versions of a new (or improved) invention could also be shown to potential investors. This clever little protection box was designed in 1904 to incorporate the fledgling science of electricity. Exactly how it worked is beyond my engineering comprehension (as is, in fairness, the latch on my dog’s kennel), but the gist was, if you try to cut the bars, electricity causes the alarm to go off. A pretty great advancement in security for 1904.

9. Porcelain toilet

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I could find, sadly, almost no information about this Ariston Ceramics toilet. But it was too beautiful, with its natural wood and remarkably swanlike curvature, to leave out.

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13 Fantastic Museums You Can Visit for Free on Saturday
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On Saturday, September 23, museums and cultural institutions across the United States will open their doors to the public for free, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day Live! event. Hundreds of museums are set to participate, ranging from world-famous institutions in major cities to tiny, local museums in small towns. While the full list of museums can be viewed, and tickets can be reserved, on the Smithsonian website, we’ve collected a small selection of the fantastic museums you can visit for free this Saturday.

1. NEWSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. is an entire museum dedicated to the First Amendment. Celebrating freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the museum features exhibits on civil rights, the Berlin Wall, and the history of news media in America. Their latest special exhibitions take a look back at the event of September 11, 2001 and go inside the FBI's crime-fighting tactics.

2. INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum doesn’t just showcase America’s military and maritime history—it is a piece of that history. The museum itself is one of the Essex-class aircraft carriers built by the United States Navy during World War II. Visitors can explore its massive deck and interior, and view historic airplanes, a real World War II submarine, and a range of interactive exhibits. Normally, a ticket will set you back a whopping $33 (or $19 for New York City residents), but on Saturday, general admission is free with a Museum Day Live! ticket.

3. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Perfect for art lovers, history buffs, and cinephiles alike, the Autry Museum of the American West (named for legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry) offers up an eclectic mix of art, historical artifacts from the real American West, and Western film memorabilia and props.

4. MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

A massive art, science, and history museum located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the Museum of Arts and Sciences features the largest collection of Florida art anywhere in the world, as well as the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in all of Florida. Its diverse exhibits are alternately awe-inspiring, informative, and quirky, ranging from an exploration of 2000 years of sculpture art to an exhibition of 19th and 20th century advertising posters.

5. INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HORSE AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

The International Museum of the Horse explores the history of—you guessed it!—the horse. That might sound like a narrow scope, but the museum doesn’t just display horse racing artifacts or teach you about modern horse breeds. Instead, it endeavors to tackle the 50-million-year evolution of the horse and its relationship with humans from ancient times to modern times.

6. THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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The 160-year-old Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Museum Day Live! In addition to their vast exhibits of animal specimens and cultural artifacts, the museum will be hosting a live animal feeding and a butterfly release throughout the day.

7. OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART // NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art aims to teach visitors about the rich culture and diverse visual arts of the American South. Right now, visitors can view a collection of William Eggleston's photographs and check out the museum's 10th annual invitational exhibition of ceramic teacups and teapots.

8. BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY // BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

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Located in a 19th century oyster cannery on the Baltimore waterfront, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the story of American manufacturing from garment making to video game design. Visitors this weekend can meet video game designers and create custom games at the museum’s interactive “Video Game Wizards” exhibit.

9. SYLVAN HEIGHTS BIRD PARK // SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA

You can meet 2000 birds from around the world this weekend at the 18-acre Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Visitors to the massive garden can walk through aviaries displaying birds from every continent except Antarctica, including ducks, geese, swans, and exotic birds from all over the world.

10. DELTA BLUES MUSEUM // CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

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Visitors to the Delta Blues Museum can learn about the unique American musical art form in “the land where blues began,” with audiovisual exhibits centered on blues and rock legend Don Nix, as well as Paramount Records illustrator Anthony Mostrom.

11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NUCLEAR SCIENCE & HISTORY // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

America’s only congressionally chartered museum dedicated to the story of the Atomic Age, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History features exhibits on everything from nuclear medicine to representations of atomic power in pop culture. Adult visitors to the museum will delight in its impressively nuanced take on nuclear technology, while kids will love the museum’s outdoor airplane exhibit and hands-on science activities at Little Albert’s Lab.

12. MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN // PINEDALE, WYOMING

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Dedicated to the mountain men who explored and settled Wyoming in the 19th century, the Museum of the Mountain Man brings American folklore and legends to life. The museum features exhibits on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and tells the story of American folk legend and famed mountain man Hugh Glass (the man Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar playing in 2015's The Revenant).

13. BESH BA GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM // GLOBE, ARIZONA

Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum lets visitors connect with history firsthand. The museum is home to the ruins and artifacts of the Salado Indians who inhabited Arizona from the 13th century through the 15th century, and even lets visitors wander through an 800-year-old Salado pueblo.

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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