Treasure: Local collector always ‘looking for a sign’

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News
View Comments

The hit show “American Pickers” didn’t do Jim Chase — or any other lovers of vintage advertising signs — any favors. Since the show debuted on the History channel in 2010, it’s gotten harder — and a lot more expensive — for collectors to get their hands on the goods, he says.

That doesn’t stop the St. Clair Shores resident from hitting garage and estate sales in search of new pieces to add to his collection. As part of our ongoing series spotlighting local collectors, we toured Jim’s extensive collection and found out more about what he covets, and why.

What do you collect?

Just about any kind of advertising sign, but it needs to be pre-1960s if possible.

How long have you been collecting this?

Probably about 35 years. I have had an attraction to advertising for a long time and I like things that hang on the wall and don’t take up a lot of space.

What are your favorites?

I especially like Vernor’s stuff. ... I like the colors and that it’s local.

What has been your best find?

I found a really nice Vernor’s sign years ago in Grosse Pointe for $30. It’s pretty rare and probably worth about $400 now. I found another great sign in Detroit years ago and paid just $15. I also found a really nice Michigan insurance sign in Lexington, but I paid $200 for that. It was made with mirrors and mother of pearl, so it’s pretty ornate. It’s really a beauty.

What can’t you resist?

Anything that says Detroit on it. I’m always interested.

Do you have a “Holy Grail” piece?

A friend of mine has a Schaefer’s Bread sign I’ve always loved. I think he’d ask about $4,000 if he ever sold it, so it’s out of my range.

Where do you shop?

I’ve been to many sales already this year. I go to some estate sales during the winter and garage sales in the summer. I’m always looking forward to spring when the garage sales start. Generally, I just stumble across things. I shop mostly on Friday and Saturday at estate and garage sales. Grosse Pointe is one of the best places to find stuff.

Other tips?

Don’t go by the prices you see on eBay or “American Pickers” when you make an offer. The show has blown the prices out of sight.

Any tips on telling old signs vs new?

The condition of the paint or porcelain is key. If it’s chipped too badly I won’t bother with it but it doesn’t have to be in mint condition for me to like it.

Do you ever sell anything?

I do. I try to do the Armada flea market at least once a summer, usually at the end of the season. I’m also having a garage sale Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting, and to sell things I can’t use and, of course, to make room for more.

Attention collectors! Interested in having your passion profiled? Write to me at and tell me about what you collect and why. Please put “Collectors Spotlight” in the subject line. Send a few photos of you with your collection, and you may be chosen for a story.

View Comments