General Store/Country Store is one of the most popular genres among collectors of antique advertising. The terms “general store” and “country store” are generally used interchangeably, although “country store” sometimes has a more rural connotation. General/Country Store collecting refers to any of the items or accoutrements that might have been associated with an old-time general/country store. That includes signs, posters, displays, fixtures, tin containers, boxes, packaging, wooden cartons, glass bottles, jars, crocks, equipment, paper products, and just about anything else that might have part of the general/country store environment.
General/country stores served the local populace in small towns and rural areas from the 1600’s until approximately the 1940’s. They were functional, one-room operations with few frills. They typically carried a broad range of products people needed for their day-to-day needs, including tobacco of all kinds, candy and chewing gum, bolt cloth, canned goods, agricultural products, coffee, flour, kerosene, biscuits, spices, soap, seeds, oats, baking powder, clothing, patent medicines, and the like.
General/country stores also often functioned as the hub of the community, where people would gather to socialize and discuss local events. The store owner was a respected and influential member of the community. General/country stores even served broader civic functions such as housing the local post office and extending loans to local farmers until the crops came in. While some general/country stores can still be found in remote areas, as a US institution, they were displaced by larger grocery and specialty stores in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Although there are a variety of ways to pursue general/country store collecting, fans tend to fall into two camps. Some collect by categories, for example, tobacco tins, display cases, candy containers, cigar boxes, oatmeal cartons, soda bottles, beer signs, advertising mirrors, etc. They may specialize in one or a few categories or they may enthusiastically pursue many categories. Their displays tend to resemble organized museum-type settings with the items attractively arranged with like items together. Such collectors may focus on “sets” and seek to acquire all items available within a particular grouping. They seem to particularly appreciate sought-out rarities and examples in pristine condition.
Other collectors are more interested in re-creating the charming “vibe” or atmosphere of an old-fashioned general/county store. They seek to capture that unique, crowded ambiance, where every inch of space was used and items were placed everywhere, often in a somewhat haphazard manner—on counters, shelves, tables, and the floor. This ideal may be pursued within a simple set of shelves or it may take form in an entire room or rooms that are faithful reflections of the general/country stores of yesteryear. In some instances, an entire building may be constructed or rehabilitated to bring the general/country store to life from the outside in.
There is a great degree of overlap in the types of items that might be collected by these two types of enthusiasts. However, their strategies differ in how they think about their collections and display their treasures. Of course, there are no rules against pursuing both approaches to the hobby!
General/country store collectors also differ in the periods they are interested in. The most popular period for such collectors is represented in the Victorian and post-Victorian era of the 1880’s to the early 1920’s. However, some also enjoy collecting later items from the ‘30’s, and ‘40’s.
One of the appeals of general/country store collecting is the enormous latitude that presents itself. As interest wanes in one area, enthusiasm often emerges in a different but related area. Whatever one’s penchant, collecting general/country store memorabilia can bring many hours of enjoyment and excitement.
General/Country Store, circa 1915
A Re-Created General/Country Store
A General/Country Store Collection by Category