A sign of the times – for an electric Studebaker 100 years ago
Joe Adams’ 100 year-old Studebaker sign is a lesson in antique sign making – sand melted on tin, and automobile history – Studebakers ceased production in the 1960s.
It’s also a lesson in what you might find at an auction featuring something that came out of an old barn, covered in decades of dirt and what pigeons leave behind.
Today, the 10-foot sign is in the mail on its way home to South Bend, Ind., home of the long-closed Studebaker car factory. The sign, surmises Adams (who knows about such things), came from a dealership, likely in Richmond. The auction he went to last year was about 40 miles outside Richmond, and he was going to bid on a Dr Pepper sign. The price proved too high for that American memorabilia, so instead he bought the Studebaker sign, which calls it “The Studebaker,” which refers, Adams said, to Studebaker’s first car, an electric car and its first foray into cars after wagons. The dirty sign probably sat in that barn since 1912, Adams said, when electric cars ceased production and gasoline cars were sold instead.
He pegged the sign’s date to between 1902 and 1904, based on the production schedule of the car by what was then called the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. The second electric car made by Studebaker was purchased by none other than Thomas Edison, according to the Studebaker National Museum. The sign buyer is on the board of the museum, and told Adams that the sign would be placed at one of the privately-owned Studebaker factory buildings in South Bend.
Adams, who is 75, got his first car at age 12. It was a 1930 Chevrolet.
“I’ve been messing with cars my whole life. It’s fascinating,” he said. He was drawn to the Studebaker Avanti sports car in 1963. Alas, the automobile company didn’t survive the decade. Adams hasn’t forgotten, though. On his pick up truck is a take on the recent auto bailouts: a bumper sticker that reads “Bail Out Studebaker.”
He had his own Studebaker, a 1953 model, in 1957, but had to sell it for college tuition.
Adams received offers – price undisclosed – for his Studebaker sign from Kansas and Texas, but he decided that selling it to a man in Indiana was right.
“I’m a sentimental person. I think people and things, after 100 years, ought to go home,” Adams said. “If not for the guy in Indiana, I’d probably not let it go.”
Adams moved to Durham in 1979, and was told the old Durham Studebaker dealership was downtown.
His favorite older automobiles, though, are Chevys and Oldsmobiles.
“I just like the styling of them. The styling is gorgeous,” Adams said.