When I sew my aprons, I like to have a ruler to line up the pockets before I sew them onto the apron front. I now use a wooden ruler that I found at a thrift shop, since the cheap plastic rulers kept breaking. I also have a few yardsticks that were found in boxes at country auctions that play into making aprons and other items, too.
What is so unique about yardsticks that catches people’s eye? It could be the colors, since some yardsticks look like a crayon box of colors when displayed in a wooden box. The interesting lettering styles are also eye-catching, but what most collectors like is the advertising presented on the ruler.
Back when I was growing up, yardsticks were like a giant-size business card and long enough (36 inches) with name of the business, address and phone number, and some even had a catchy slogan. Some endorsed political candidates, and of course they all knew that these promotional items were a useful tool around the house and garage. I found them at home shows, and at county and state fairs, being given away by home builders and even the local hardware stores and more.
I now find them fascinating and other folks must, too, since many DIY projects are being done using rulers and yardsticks. Keep in mind that some can go from $10 on up to $50, depending on the advertising, location, condition and size. The common price is under $2 at flea-markets, antique and thrift shops, yard and estate sales and country auctions.
Looking for yardsticks? Check out the dark corners in antique shops and malls. At flea-markets, they can be placed in a crock or something else that the shop is trying to sell. I have found some very unique displays of colors at local antique malls to encourage the purchase of yardsticks.
I didn’t know this, but a black wooden ruler is considered rare. If you find it, keep it, since very few were ever made.
Unpainted natural wood yardsticks are easier to find. For colored yardsticks, you may have a longer search and have to pay a little more. If you want new wooden rulers, you can distress them using a rub on Howard Products Feed-N-Wax.
Where to find them
Joan Thilges, of New Generations of Harmony: “Right now we don’t have any items crafted from yardsticks. A quick survey of New Generations found a dozen or so vendors with at least several yardsticks. They are a fun advertising item to collect and also useful. They come in a variety of widths and thicknesses, and occasionally have both yard and metric measures. Ours typically range from $5 to $10 each.”
Chris Rand Kujath, Old River Valley Antique Mall, Stewartville: “We have sold so many and still have many. Vendor Brad Sissel used some in his booth as a ledge to display his merchandise.”
Al Chihak, Mystic Moon Antiques & Collectibles, Stewartville: “We sold hundreds of yardsticks last year and we have hundreds more for your special project. We are definitely going to re-open by Gold Rush and maybe for the Spring Flea Market, Stewartville, in our new location, so watch for this on our Facebook page and yes, we plan to carry a variety of items as we have in the past.”
Sarah Kieffer, Sarah’s Uniques & Jim’s ‘Man’tiques, St. Charles: “I do have a lot of yardsticks. I do get old ones with advertising on them from different towns and places. Many companies, as you know, would give these away to customers and they usually have the two-digit phone numbers. What I love about them are the different colors and sizes. They do make great tables or DIY projects! Mine range in price from $3 to about $15 at the shop.”
Sandy Erdman is a Winona freelance writer, dealer, speaker and workshop appraiser. If you have an antique shop, hobby collecting anything or restoring antiques or collectibles and want to share within this column, contact Sandy at email@example.com.