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Gilbert Rae's advertising sign.

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In the early 1980s I was in the vanguard of dealers specialising in early advertising material. One day I had a call from a dealer friend in Camden Town who had just purchased about 10 of the Gilbert Rae’s signs and was very excited.

A man unknown to him had come down from Scotland on the train with, I seem to remember, about 40. He had then visited several random antique dealers and sold each a batch, returning to Scotland, never to be seen again.

His story (not verified) was that he had stumbled across the then derelict factory illustrated on the sign and discovered them inside.

I purchased all the signs from my friend and in the next few weeks managed to trace several others. I believe I sold 20-30 of them in total. Those in the outside of the bundle were in varying states of distress, whereas the central batch was protected by individual tissue linings.

In my opinion, having seen literally thousands of advertising showcards, the Gilbert Rae’s sign stands head and shoulders above all others. It has everything going for it: the factory, train, the product, horse-drawn drays etc.

They do occasionally resurface and I believe the current value is around £1000-1500 for a good-condition example. Considering the quality of the piece, the price is relatively modest. However, I do believe that had only one or two examples been found they would have commanded many thousands of pounds.

David Griffith

David Griffith AntiquesCamden Passage, Islington