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When he was a child growing near Ottumwa, Iowa, Harold Canny began collecting baseball cards.

After he and his late wife Marge moved to Sioux City, the couple raised four children.

And yes, Canny’s collectibles expanded as quickly as his family.

Now, vintage baseball cards, obscure marketing memorabilia and advertising displays fill nearly every room of the retired Sioux City Community School District social studies teacher’s Northside home.

Harold Canny Collection

Everything from vintage signs to a grocery store scale can be found in Harold Canny’s kitchen. Canny, a former Sioux City Community School District social studies teacher, said such items act as both art as well as a history lesson to the way we lived during the first half of the 20th century.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

“My favorite pieces usually have a story or a local angle attached to them,” Canny, 79, said. “That’s what makes the pieces personal.”

SIGNS OF A TIME

Born into a working-class family, Canny takes pride in the work ethic of his dad, a longtime employee at a meatpacking plant.

That may explain the 1926 John Morrell calendar hanging on the dining room wall or the company’s metal sign that hangs in his kitchen.

On closer inspection, many items in Canny’s collection pay tribute to businesses that no longer exist.

Chances are you’ve heard of the Hires Root Beer Company. But what about the Nichol Kola Company, which advertised itself as being “America’s taste sensation”?

Or can you remember Kayo Chocolate Soda, which featured Kayo from the “Moon Mullins” comic strip as its namesake?

Signs for all of these brands are displayed prominently in Canny’s kitchen.

“I remember seeing some of these brands as a kid,” he said. “But most are simply too obscure, even for me.”

For instance, Canny can readily identify TV’s “Howdy Doody” from an old promotional sign hyping the nutritional value of Wonder Bread. However, the redheaded marionette’s human co-star Princess Summerfall Winterspring is less well-known.

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Harold Canny Collection

Vintage pieces of pottery are just a small part of Harold Canny’s collection. He began collecting baseball cards as a kid. Over time, Canny’s interests expanded to include all types of antiques.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

“It’s hard to miss Howdy,” he said. “But his Indian princess friend is a mystery to me.”

An advertisement for Ankle Deep Soda Pop led Canny to do some investigative work.

“I was intrigued in Ankle Deep Soda because it was a David City, Nebraska-based company that tried to play off the Nehi Sodas that were very popular at the time,” he said. “Also, I wanted to get more information on the model used in their ads.”

The swimsuit model turned out to be Marie Prevost, a former silent movie actress who died young after becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs.

“The actress’ best friend was Joan Crawford, who ended up paying for her funeral,” Canny said. “Like I said, some of the best collectibles come with a story.”

This is true for the Rube Goldberg-type cigar cutter that was used to promote Conway’s Fine Cigars, which had stores in Sioux City, Cedar Rapids and Lincoln.

“The cutter still works like a charm,” Canny said, showing off the metal contraption.

It’s also true for the miniature pickle barrel from the Monarch Pickle Company.

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Harold Canny Collection

From retro pickle barrels to Elsie the cow, Harold Canny can’t say no to an offbeat collectible.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

“Back in the day, you’d probably find this pickle barrel at some bar,” Canny said. “If you wanted to buy a pickle to go with your beer, you’d get it from it from this display.”

A TREASURE IN TIN

Placed on an upper shelf in Canny’s kitchen are tins that once contained oddball products. Did you know you could purchase Oscar Mayer lard or Peter Pan peanut butter by the can?

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Harold Canny Collection

A collection of vintage food tins are shown from a shelf in Harold Canny’s kitchen. These tins once stored anything from bubble gum to leaf lard.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

Canny knew that. This is why he scours antique shows throughout the Midwest. Up until recently, he also worked for a handful of local antique stores.

“Actually, it’s pretty common to see collectors working at an antique store,” he admitted. “That way, we get first dibs on the most interesting merchandise.”

QUIRKY ANTIQUES FROM A MORE INNOCENT TIME

Well, it’s clear that Canny has an eye for collectibles. Although he insisted he doesn’t have a favorite, a few items touch his funny bone.

“I love the old menu board that advertised Smile Orange Soda,” he said. “It featured the type of sandwiches you could get an any lunch counter from the 1940s. Anything from ham and cheese to roast beef to a cold tongue sandwich.”

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Harold Canny Collection

Have you ever had a cold tongue sandwich? Collector Harold Canny said the menu board, which also boasted a promotion for the Smile Orange Soda Company, probably came from a small town coffee shop or luncheonette more than 70 years ago.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

“I made sure to hang that sign next to my thermometer promoting Tums,” Canny added with a laugh.

Despite having a countless number of collectibles, he said he remembers the ones that got away.

“For the longest time, I wanted one of those old-fashioned strength machines,” Canny said. “You know, the ones where’s you grip a lever to see if you’re either a he-man or a wussie. I could have gotten it for a bargain one day. But I waited. When I saw it again, it was out of my price range.”

Still, he admits to more collecting victories than defeats.

Looking over Canny’s collections, you can see a remarkable slice of Americana from the age of the Greatest Generation to that of a Baby Boomer. You can spot obscure signs that would otherwise be cast aside.

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Harold Canny Collection

Longtime Sioux City educator Harold Canny has a passion for vintages signs used in grocery stores to promote items like breads, candies and sodas.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

That is, if it weren’t for collectors like Canny.

“You collect whatever captures your interests,” he said. “I love advertising because it’s art as well as history.”

“We can tell a lot about society through the products that we use.”

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