There was a time when you couldn’t turn on Antiques Roadshow without seeing a salesman sample being appraised. The popularity of salesman samples probably peaked in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, there is still a very active market.
Purpose: The concept of a salesman’s sample is very easy to understand. Travelling salesmen couldn’t very well carry a harvester or washing machine with them across the country for sales calls. At the time even something as simple as color copy was virtually unheard of and promotional videos or web-tours were still 100 years in the future. The alternative to all that was to make a miniature of whatever was being sold. They were portable and functional and had all the bells and whistles that the actual item had.
Mistaken Identity: Many novice collectors and dealers can mistake these small and odd items as toys or models meant for children. When you are dealing with unique and antique items it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two. Salesman samples will typically be branded in some way. Furthermore, the detail and craftsmanship used to make a salesman sample will be far better than what you would find in a mass produced toy.
Values: The absolute rarest items can be worth more than $10,000. Very rare samples sell for between $2,000 and $10,000. Most items that the average collector will see at an antique store or otherwise will likely be common and worth a few hundred dollars. It takes experience to accurately value such items. The trouble is that many antique salesman samples are unique. You can’t find a similar auction result or a book value in a price guide. You just have to use comparable sales for like items, even that can be easier said than done. Feel free to ask us if you need help valuing your item. We provide free appraisals.
The appeal of salesman’s samples can vary between collectors. These items are a unique blend of folk art and craftsmanship. Some people buy them just as decorative items. Other collects buy them because they tie in with a larger part of another collection. Whatever your motivation is, every good antique advertising collection can benefit from a salesman sample.