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A fact-filled guide to Christmas collectibles offers information on and full-color photographs of Yuletide items from the Victorian era to the present.

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A Museum of Signs
Bob Brooke


Signs, signs, and more signs. Signs are everywhere in America. Theyíre ubiquitous, each straining to be noticed and in some places within a forest of signs. Commercial signage has existed since Roman times.

The American Sign Museum, the largest of its kind in the country, is dedicated to the art and history of commercial signs and sign making. Its collection covers over a century of American sign history. Visitors get to stroll through decades of sign design and technology.

Visitors view the recreation of a typical American Main Street as they walk through the Signs on Main Street display. Some may choose to use the Museumís audio tour via their smartphone. Itís the best way to understand the larger topics, as well as offers stories about the signs, themselves. The tour presents a clearer picture of the signs in the collection.

One of the most popular stops in the Museum is the workshop of Neonworks of Cincinnati, a full-time operation where visitors can see tube-benders working their craft making signs for sign companies today.

The Museumís collection honors the artistry and craftsmanship of American commercial signs that literally hide in plain sight.

Tod Swormstedt spent 26 years on the staff of Signs of the Times magazine, which was founded in 1906. He became the fourth-generation editor of the "bible of the sign industry," following in his family's footsteps. Tod parlayed all of his knowledge and contacts into a self-proclaimed "mid-life crisis project" that would eventually become the American Sign Museum. This was Tod's chance to preserve the 3-D craftsmanship of multi-generational sign companies, to tell their stories and bring these signs to life before they were lost forever.

In 1999, Tod founded the National Signs of the Times Museum. With accelerating support, the Museum was renamed and re-opened as the American Sign Museum in May 2005. Its temporary home within an arts center sufficed for several years, but growing pains ensued. The magnificent McDonald's and Holiday Inn signs couldn't be displayed to their full heights, and the collection was growing rapidly.

Tod began searching for a more permanent home for the ever-expanding collection. He needed a space that could fulfill his vision for an interactive Museum experience. He found the Museum's new home in Camp Washington, an appropriately historic area of Cincinnati. The century-old Oesterlein Machine Company-Fashion Frocks, Inc. Complex became the Museum's new home. Its doors opened in June 2012.

Throughout its existence, the American Sign Museum has continued to grow. From early, pre-electric signs adorned in goldleaf, to the earliest electric signs, to beautiful art-deco neon, to the modern plastic-faced sign, the museum covers it all. Expect to spend at least an hour exploring the history of this always-seen, but virtually unnoticed, industry.

Get an in-depth experience of the Museum with one of the tour guides every Saturday at 12:30pm & 2:30pm and once on Sunday at 2:30pm. The 45 minute walking tour will encompass 100 years of sign history, from the late 1800ís up through the 1970ís. Tour guides will tell the stories behind the signs as well as explain how signs were made and why different materials and processes were used.

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