Mr. D. Upton's '37 Dodge. Enameled emblem restoration by Emblemagic.
Mr. J. Irwin's '52 Studebaker. Plastic insert emblem reproduction by Emblemagic.
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Badges of HonorHemmings Motor News - FEBRUARY 1, 2005 - BY JIM DONNELLY
Are you one of those people who perpetually consider the bank account, refrigerator or martini shaker to be half full, not half empty? Such a sunny disposition, and not a little of the explorer's chutzpah, will serve you very nicely if you want to branch out into an obscure, but highly rewarding, branch of the car hobby: Tracking down, and collecting, the emblems, badges and scripts that so grandly proclaimed the identities of yesterday's automobiles.
We should note from the start that this branch of collecting is going to involve a measure of pluck and perseverance on your part, in the sense that we're talking about original scripts and badges here. Reproduction emblems are produced for any number of old cars, but face it, putting them in a collection such as this would be tantamount to cheating, kind of like when Albert Belle got caught using a corked bat, or what Barry Bonds will be hearing when he breaks Hank Aaron's home-run record.
As for NOS emblems and badges, the older the car, the more precious the find. The best bet here is to start attending swap meets judiciously, especially marque-specific ones, to undertake your Indiana Jones treasure hunt. It doesn't happen at every event, but you will run into vendors who, in many cases, will lay out long tables stacked with symbols and scripts in no particular array of organization. That means you'll have to be thorough when rooting through it so something special doesn't fail to catch your eye.
Why, you implore, would anybody want to acorn-hoard pot metal emblems that may be rusted, pitted, discolored and above all, don't even have a car attached to them? Very simple: You can create an impressive piece of automotive artwork by mounting them within a frame or closed cabinet, or by building a shadow box holding a number of marque-specific pieces.
How expensive is this genre of collecting? Depends, as you might guess, where you shop and what you're looking to buy. Go to a local salvage yard that has a fair selection of pre-Seventies hulks and you might actually get your treasure free, especially if it's a pull-your-own kind of establishment. If you stop at one of the really big collector meets, starting with Hershey but also including events such as the AutoFair at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, or the AutoFests in Zephyrhills, Florida, you will likely run into scores of vendors selling jumbles of emblems or scripts for cars from the Thirties on up, ranging from as little as a dollar apiece to $30 or so, depending on the car and the piece's condition. In many cases, the metal prongs that attached the bright work to the car's body panels are either badly bent or broken off entirely, which limits their usefulness in a restoration project but fits wall decorating like a glove.
Like a lot of elements and sub-genres of the hobby, this one exists on multiple tiers. Collecting emblems and scripts, even from very rare and august cars, hasn't reached the lofty cachet of chasing radiator mascots, at least not yet. But a tiny handful of dealers specialize in stocking, and in some cases restoring, original badges and lettering for very old cars. One of these specialists is Ray Geschke, who operates Emblemagic Co. in Grand River, Ohio, not far from Cleveland. He focuses on early enameled emblems and later pieces, generally from the Forties and later, that incorporate plastic inserts. Geschke also restores emblems. His handiwork is both impressive and costly: A restored 1920s Nash Six radiator emblem costs $275. He recently sold a 1930 Marmon frontal badge for $250. A two-piece gold and purple nose emblem for a 1936 Chrysler Airflow is priced at $350.
"My experience has been that most of what we sell here goes to restorations that are underway," he said. "I have sold them to collectors, even European collectors, but this kind of collecting isn't that common yet."
Other sources for car emblems are auctions, online and otherwise. The private museum of the late S. Ray Miller included a huge collection of automotive badges and scripts, domestic and foreign, which reached back to the Brass Era and was big enough to cover most of a wall. When RM Auctions liquidated the estate last summer, the badges were packaged in numerous lots that sold, as a whole, well into the thousands.
And as long as we're discussing this sub-genre of car collecting, whaddaya say we invent a new sub-sub-genre right here? Go junkyard scavenging, and we guarantee you'll find plenty of the metal promotional tags from long-gone car dealerships, which used to screw them into the trunk lid before stick-on appliqués and license plate frames became popular. If anybody finds one from G.C. Becker Plymouth or Kardon Chevrolet (the "R" was reversed) of Mount Holly, New Jersey, let us know.
This article originally appeared in the FEBRUARY 1, 2005 issue of Hemmings Motor News.
Courtesy Hemmings Motor News