Fan fare: Collectors treasure local mementos

Preston Coiner grew up in Charlottesville, where he remembers Miller's Drugstore as the place to go for a milkshake after seeing a Western in the Lafayette Theater downtown. Miller's is no longer a drugstore, and the Lafayette is now the site of York Place.

His memories of those days have led Coiner, 62, to appreciate artifacts of early 20th century Charlottesville, particularly the advertising items that businesses gave away. "It's a nostalgia thing for me," he says.

If you remember the days before air conditioning, you remember hand-held fans, a big promotional item, particularly for funeral homes and churches. Coiner has a fan from M.C. Thomas Furniture, which is known today as Grand Furniture.

Ink blotters were a popular advertising medium. "A lot of people don't even know what they are," says Coiner. Up until the 1950s, when the fountain pen was supplanted by the ballpoint, absorbent rectangles of paper were used to dry the ink on the page. "I had one from Towe Insurance that was unusual because it had multiple blotters," says Coiner.

Pat Powell of Harlowe-Powell Auction Ltd. also collects Charlottesville memorabilia. He particularly likes real photo postcards, which were sometimes a one-of-a-kind giveaway, that show businesses that no longer exist.

His favorite is of Robey and Company on Main Street. "It was like a five and dime, carrying everything from vegetables and fruits to shoes," says Powell, who has other Robey novelties: a shoehorn and a ruler.

Businesses also used to ply their customers with paperweights. Powell, 54, has a paperweight of the original National Bank building. Today that building belongs to Wachovia. His Standard Produce paperweight (phone number 289) depicts its building with trucks from the teens and '20s in front.

Some banks cleverly gave away toy banks. Powell has a scale model of a 1954 Pontiac with the suggestion, "Finance your next car with Citizen's Bank and Trust Company Charlottesville."

"This was probably given away at a Pontiac dealership," perhaps to the child of a new car buyer, says Powell.

Apparently businesses have always given away calendars. Powell collects them from the '20s and '30s, and the vintage ones are actually calendar tops because the months have been torn away.

His especially likes one from C.S. Wells Garage and Paint Shop, 1200 East High Street, Phone 1408. The picture, entitled "Progress," features a Lady Liberty-like woman with an American flag in one hand and a globe in the other. Powell knows it's from the 1930s because the woman is surrounded by '30s models of a car, boat, train, and airplane.

Powell credits Coiner with having the rarest of advertising items, a tin Woolen Mills sign from the turn of the century that depicts different vignettes, such as a rowing crew on the Rivanna.

"I bought it from Preston," says Powell, "and now it's on loan to him because he has a place to display it." The sign hangs at Woolen Mills Self Storage.