Auburn, Placer County history for sale at Old Town antique fair

But finding Auburncentric antiques and collectibles is a tough task
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburncentric antiques and collectibles were out there amidst the plethora of everything from jewels to junk offered for sale Sunday at the Old Town Auburn twice-annual antique and collectibles sale. But finding those Auburn and Placer County treasures was the hard part. A simple question – “Do you have anything Auburn or Placer County?” – yielded mostly frustration during Sunday’s open-air show. But some few-and-far-between finds did emerge from the bevy of bric-a-brac. Al Travelstead’s show space held tables loaded with woodworking and machinist tools. He pointed toward a few bottles and said he once had a few old Auburn examples but had recently sold them in Sacramento. An examination of the few remaining bottles produced a pink-tinged olive-oil bottle with raised lettering showing it once held fresh-squeezed “Aeolia Olive Oil” produced by none other than “F. Birdsall” of “Auburn, Cal.” “I forgot I had it,” Travelstead said, as he showed off a $30 bottle tinged pink because of its magnesium content. Frederick Birdsall was an original 49er gold seeker who made money building railroads and hauling freight before moving to Auburn in 1887. In Placer County, he built a ditch system to carry agricultural water to Loomis – a system that was the precursor of today’s Placer County Water Agency. Before his death in 1900, he had brought over thousands of olive tree seedlings from Greece to start what would be a successful olive oil business. The enterprise would eventually boast 8,000 trees. Some of those trees still grow along the Aeolia Drive area. With the pink tinge and the bottle’s shape, Travelstead estimated the bottle was 90 years or older. One booth over, Auburn’s Dineen Anderson was selling fruit crate labels and was pleased to show that the offering included several brightly-colored, original Placer County specimens. The selection included “Our Pick” pear labels from Loomis, “Camel” mountain fruits from Placer County and “Mountain” Bartlett pear labels from the Colfax Fruit Growers Association, The labels are throwbacks to a time when Placer County was a national leader in fruit production. Anderson has a collection of 1,000 labels, including 25 from Placer County. Nearby, Tom Hawthorn of Hawthorn’s Antique Audio, riffled through some early 20th century sheet music to see if any of the business names stamped on their fronts were Auburn addresses. None were, but it’s common to see an imprint from a local store, he said. He also pointed out that old 78 rpm record players would include a dealer’s plate. And 78 records themselves would sometimes have a label from a drug store or other business they were sold at. But none from Auburn or Placer County immediately materialized. Not surprisingly, though, Hawthorn’s table contained several recordings with Auburn connections. Asked if he had any Andrews Sisters 78s, Hawthorn quickly pulled out the World War II-era calypso classic “Rum and Coca- Cola.” Andrews Sister Maxene Andrews lived in Auburn until her death in the mid-1990s and Hawthorn said he had met her, had her over to his house to sign some records, and even discussed restoring her own collection of 78s destroyed in a fire at her Bel Air home. The record, with Vic Schoen and his orchestra backing the trio on a Decca release, was for sale for $3. Looking even deeper into the stacks of tracks on the sales table turned up a 33 rpm album of vaudeville hits that included Eddie Cantor singing “Little Curly Hair in a High Chair” and a 78 of Bob Hope and Bing Cosby (again backed by the busy Vic Schoen and his orchestra) dueting on “Put It There Pal” from the movie “Road to Utopia.” Cantor, Hope and Crosby all stopped in at one time or another for a bite to eat at local restaurants. Crosby is said to have exclaimed that the Ikeda’s burger was the best he’d ever had. Hope brought his family to the old Koffee Cup on High Street for lunch. Cantor was another dine-and-dash celebrity sighting. Near the Hawthorn tables, a pile of old photos revealed one of Western movie legend Roy Rogers in full cowboy regalia hobnobbing with some local greenhorns at an unknown location. Rogers didn’t make it to Auburn in person but his presence at the head of the 1948 gold discovery centennial parade in nearby Coloma backed up traffic for miles. Another booth just missed the Placer County connection – with a First National Bank calendar from 1928 and 1929 that was found in the back of a store in Wheatland. Karol Kay Cain, who helped establish the Auburn outdoor antiques show in the early 1970s, said she didn’t have any Auburn or Placer County-related items to sell this year. When the show first started, there was a demand for Gold Rush-era finds and people would be hawking gold nuggets and even old ore carts, she said. “Today, young people would rather have something plastic from “The Simpsons,”’ she said. Penryn’s Cliff Kennedy had hundreds of post cards to sell but just one from Placer County – a view of Dutch Flat from about 100 years ago. A historical researcher and expert on antique photos, he said he’d rather keep those local images for his own collection. Kennedy said views of Auburn are rare when they come up at shows or on internet auction sites but do appear. Last year, a newly discovered stereo view of Old Town Auburn taken around 1859 was quickly snatched up on an Ebay site, he said. Even more modern views of Auburn show up at the sale. When asked if he had anything Auburn- related, Bill Thomas quickly left and returned from his van with a two-foot-by-three foot, large-format photograph of the city taken in about 1988, with part of the soon-to-be-demolished Champ’s Restaurant visible along what was termed Interstate 80’s “Blood Alley” in Old Town. “I found it at an estate sale in Sacramento,” he said. “It was with a bunch of papers and when I saw it was Auburn, I had to get it.” Thomas said he was selling the photo for $40 but was willing to negotiate. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at