Bow Front Violano Nets Top Dollar at Showtime Auction

(Ann Arbor, Mich.) – A rare bow front violano music player, made around 1910 by the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago and professionally restored in excellent playing condition, soared to $137,500 at a three-day multi-estate sale held October 10-12 by Showtime Auction Services at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds. The violano, serial #195, is one of only 20 still known to exist.

The sale, which saw 2,340 lots cross the block over the course of the weekend, featured all three versions of the Mills violano. It might be the first time in auction history that all three Mills violano versions were offered in the same sale. The bow front sold had a midi player with wireless system that permits the user to operate it from 90 feet away. Included were three Mills rolls and four midi albums.

The featured collector of the sale was Sandy Rosnick, the founder of the Antique Advertising Association of America (AAA) and a dedicated collector of country store tins in many categories. A top earner from his collection was a very rare Mohawk Chief cigar tin with just some minor scuffs and scratches but otherwise in very good condition. The tin, once containing nickel cigars, brought $1,800.

“Sandy Rosnick was the featured collector, but we had so many items in such a broad range of categories this was our most diverse auction ever,” said Mike Eckles of Showtime Auction Services. “We weren’t sure what to expect, because the financial crisis hit the week before the sale, and things were still in is a state of turmoil that weekend. But I was very pleased with the outcome. It was great.”

A strong crowd of more than 400 people enjoyed the balmy weather and packed the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds. The Friday session was held solely for in-house bidders. On Saturday and Sunday, phone and absentee bidding was brisk, while about 2,500 registered bidders participated online via and In all, the auction grossed around $2.2 million.

Following are additional top lots from the sale. All prices quoted include a buyer’s premium that ranged from 10-20 percent.

A paper sign advertising Buffalo Brewing Company of Sacramento, Calif., and depicting a nude Indian maiden on the back of a buffalo, in a period walnut frame and in mint condition, hammered for $45,100. Also, a Brunhoff light-up Coca-Cola advertising sign, inviting patrons to “Lunch With Us” and depicting a fountain glass, in excellent original condition (12 inches by 14 inches) fetched $12,650.

An original oil painting by the German-born American artist Edmond Osthaus (1858-1928) realized $44,000. The hunting scene, depicting two Irish setters and a pointer, measured 24 inches by 36 inches (32 inches by 44 inches framed). Osthaus was commissioned by the major firearms and gun powder manufacturers of the day, such as Remington and Winchester, for their posters and calendars.

A Watling Cupid trade stimulator (coin-operated, five cents, with gum vendor) in excellent condition and with keys, went for $38,500. Also, a limited-production exact replica of a Mademoiselle Zita fortune teller, in excellent working order, hit $17,050. The original was made by Roovers Bros. Mfg., Brooklyn, N.Y., around the turn of the century. The replica was manufactured by Mike Gorski.

A “Happy Jap” gum vendor, coin-operated and made around 1902, in good original condition (10 inches by 13-1/2 inches by 10-1/2 inches), went to a determined bidder for $39,000. Also, a four-gallon mechanical butter churn with no chips or cracks – a wonderful example of grey stoneware pottery – made $3,000. The piece, 35 inches tall, was made by Jos. Hamilton Mfg. of Greensboro, Pa.

A Buster Brown Shoes tin sign, depicting Tig pulling Buster in a big shoe, measuring 40 inches by 24-3/4 inches and made by American Art Works Lithographers of Coshocton, Ohio, and in overall excellent condition, climbed to $20,900. Also, a Boyce Moto Meter die-cut tin flange sign, two-sided, measuring 21-1/2 inches by 18-3/4 inches and with a bullet hole and a few bb dents, brought $18,700.

A child’s sled intended as a Christmas present for a little boy in Pennsylvania in1893 who died before the holidays, retired to an attic ever since and in original excellent condition, with a beautiful hand-painted rendering of the Finger Lakes in New York, wood with iron runners and geese head pulls, coasted to $5,775. Also, a Popeye Bag Puncher tin wind-up toy, with the original box, reached $4,125.

Showtime Auction Services’ next big sale will be held the weekend of March 27-29, also at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds in Ann Arbor. Mich. The featured collector will be Fred Bahlau who, over the course of 57 years, has amassed an impressive accumulation of leaded glass windows, Nickelodeons, lamps, signs, country store, petroliana, advertising and other items – 1,800 lots in all.

Select items from other estates will also be offered. Showtime Auction Services is always accepting quality consignments for future sales. To consign a single item, estate or collection, you may call Mike Eckles, at (951) 453-2415. His e-mail address is To learn more about Showtime Auction Services and its calendar of upcoming sales, visit

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