Collectors eagerly scoop up ice cream memorabilia

 

A Borden’s ice cream porcelain double-sided neon sign achieved $27,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Rockabilly Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

A Borden’s ice cream porcelain double-sided neon sign achieved $27,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Rockabilly Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — July is National Ice Cream month in the United States, where the average American eats about 20 pounds of the frozen treat annually. Ice cream has come a long way since Alexander the Great reportedly enjoyed eating snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. More than 1,000 flavors of ice cream can be had today, from staples such as vanilla and chocolate to decidedly non-traditional and aggressively palate-challenging flavors such as garlic and pizza.

Ice cream is big business in the summer, but it is enjoyed year-round and has scooped out a firm place in collecting circles. Foremost among the objects collectors target are antique and vintage ice cream dippers and scoopers. They come in a variety of forms, from simple lever-action examples with a round bowl to those with more unusual shapes. Square versions were made for scooping brick-shaped pieces to assemble an ice cream sandwich, and triangular ones were designed for preparing pie a la mode. Other coveted forms of ice cream memorabilia include postcards, ice cream molds and spoons as well as ice cream store signs and even massive soda fountain-ice cream bars.

An ice cream dipper with a heart-shape bowl, designed by John Manos, sold for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Rich Penn Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

An ice cream dipper with a heart-shape bowl, designed by John Manos, sold for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Rich Penn Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

African American businessman Alfred L. Cralle (1866-1919) was working as a porter in a drug store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he noticed the servers had issues with ice cream sticking to scoops. He patented a round-bowl ice cream scooper that became the standard for many years. Companies and artisans have since tinkered with Cralle’s design and even changed the shape of the bowl. An ice cream dipper with a heart-shape bowl, patented by John Manos of the Manos Novelty Company in Ohio in 1925, is especially desirable. An example sold for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at Rich Penn Auctions. The dipper, made of nickel-plated brass and outfitted with a wooden handle, served a small heart-shape scoop of ice cream. The company also made a matching heart-shape ice cream dish.

The largest ice cream makers in the United States became iconic and beloved names: Turkey Hill, Good Humor, Borden, Blue Bell, Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers. Collectors of ice cream memorabilia are drawn to advertising signs for these brands, often favoring signs that deliver on the wow factor. A case in point is a Borden’s ice cream porcelain double-sided neon sign that attained $27,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022 at Rockabilly Auction Company.

A set of sterling silver Gorham ice cream spoons in the forms of fish realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A set of Gorham sterling silver ice cream spoons in the forms of fish realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Sterling silver flatware firms Gorham, Towle and Tiffany & Co. produced many specialty pieces designed to suit specific foods, and ice cream sets were always in demand, particularly back in the golden age of entertaining and fancy dinners. A Gorham set of sterling silver ice cream spoons and a knife, all fashioned in the form of fish, earned $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021 at Dan Morphy Auctions.

A Pevely Ice Cream freezer commissioned for the 1904 World’s Fair went for $3,750 plus for the buyer’s premium in March 2018. Image courtesy of Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A Pevely Ice Cream freezer commissioned for the 1904 World’s Fair went for $3,750 plus for the buyer’s premium in March 2018. Image courtesy of Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Ice cream memorabilia ranges widely in size, from postcards and sundae dishes all the way up to freezer units, which serve as the ultimate statement piece in a rec room, man cave or she shed. A notable example is a Pevely Ice Cream freezer that was commissioned for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, aka the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. Interestingly, many believe this World’s Fair to be the one where ice cream was first served in a waffle cone (but the freezer was probably not present at the historic moment, as Pevely is not named among the fair vendors claiming the innovation). The paneled pine freezer, touting 5 cent cones and sporting red, white and blue-themed advertising, brought $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2018 at Soulis Auctions. Crowning the freezer is a figural ice cream cone fashioned from stacked and turned woods, topped with a single composition scoop of ice cream, painted white to resemble vanilla. The featured dairy was founded in the 1880s by a St. Louis family.

A lithograph Soviet Union poster sporting the phrase ‘Buy ice-cream of Glavkhladoprom’ earned $1,210 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of ARTMAXIMUM and LiveAuctioneers.

This Soviet Union lithographed poster with the phrase ‘Buy ice-cream of Glavkhladoprom’ earned $1,210 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of ARTMAXIMUM and LiveAuctioneers.

Those with more wall space than shelf space often seek ice cream-themed posters, which are also prized by vintage poster collectors. A fine example is a mid-century style lithograph poster from Moscow, dating to 1952, depicting a penguin holding a tray of several ice cream treats above the phrase “Buy ice-cream of Glavkhladoprom.” It realized $1,210 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at ARTMAXIMUM.

Ice cream is savored around the world, whether it’s known as ice cream, gelato, frozen custard or kulfi. Collectors are equally passionate about ice cream memorabilia, which presents a generous and almost inexhaustible range of choices that are as tantalizing as the treat itself.