A Lifetime Collection of Old Ads

Greenwich, Ohio, collector builds lifetime collection of old ads for tractors and farm machinery.

New Holland Promo Ad

This ad from a series of New Holland promotional material dating to the late 1950s and early ’60s is typical of pieces from the era, when ads more commonly featured members of the farm family.

Photo Courtesy Fred Hendricks

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If you’re tracing the evolution of farming in the past century, farm equipment advertising materials give a useful overview. In the early 1900s, manufacturers touted the advantages of mechanized equipment – especially in comparison to farming with horses.

By the 1950s, advertising copy focused on bigger, more powerful units. And while big equipment is still a selling point, today’s promotional messages push increasingly sophisticated technology.

Those old ads are more than a history lesson for Tim Putt, Greenwich, Ohio. “I always wanted to farm so I spent countless hours as a kid looking through my dad’s farm magazines,” he says. “When I was 7 or 8, I started going with Dad to the local farm machinery dealers. I took home as much sales literature as they let me have. I also started collecting advertisements. The early ads were mostly black and white. But the color ads really caught my attention when they started showing up. Those tractors shown off in bright colors were really special.”

Over time, Tim’s stash of advertising and literature grew. If it was related to farm equipment, he squirreled it away. “There was always free promotional stuff,” he says. “I couldn’t stand to throw it away. I’ve kept all the old tractor manuals that went with the equipment my parents and my wife, Betty, and I have farmed with.”        

Managing a collection

Eventually, Tim knew he had to get a grip. “Very early I had to decide if I was collecting or just hoarding,” he admits. “I made the decision to collect selected pieces and not keep everything.” His collection of old ads covers a wide time span. Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Tim is especially fond of equipment and literature from that era. He’s also a fan of local ties. “Our community of Greenwich, Ohio, is where the Centaur tractor was manufactured,” he explains. “Naturally, I have quite a bit of their promotional information. The Plymouth and then Silver King tractor were made a short distance away at Plymouth, Ohio, so I’ve gathered up some of their publicity.”

Collectors like the Putts routinely scour the area when hunting for the next addition to their collection. “Betty and I farm over 1,000 acres but we have available time during the off-seasons,” Tim says. “We’re constantly on the hunt or developing aspects of the hobby during slack times.” The couple has had good luck with flea markets, antique malls, estate sales, farm machinery auctions and paper dealers. “Betty is really good at spotting unusual items whenever we’re on the hunt,” he says.

And that’s a good thing. “Paper is becoming very difficult to locate,” Tim says. “Most of it is already in collectors’ hands or has been destroyed. And a lot of the new stuff is electronic. As the format of current electronic storage evolves, who knows whether it will be usable in the future?”

The nostalgia factor

One significant change in the evolution of promotional pieces has been the gradual disappearance of the farm family. Ads dating to the 1950s and ’60s, for instance, regularly featured family members. “I enjoyed those old ads when the family was included,” Tim says. “New Holland ran a series of promotion pieces showing several family members. You might remember those days when Mom would bring lunch to the field. We all gathered around whatever equipment was being used to share lunch together. Or a guy’s girlfriend would know about his fieldwork and drop by with a thermos of iced tea. The early New Holland promotion flyers captured those great memories. We don’t see the family involvement in the ads anymore. And yet, the entire family plays a role in many farming operations today.”

Ads in the past sometimes sounded an emotional appeal. Tim’s collection includes one from a seed corn company, showing a tractor pulling a planter headed to the field. “It read, ‘Once a year there comes a morning when it all begins again.’ The ad struck me as something special,” Tim says. “It’s a time of year when farmers trust the miracle of Mother Nature. It’s a reflection of a farmer’s faith that his efforts will yield a good crop, resulting in provisions for his family.” 

Organization makes it work

Paper items are frequently sold by the box rather than as individual pieces. Often the items have been in a damp environment and may be moldy. “If we’ve bought a box full, we’ll sort through and keep the good ones,” Tim says. “Then we slip fabric softener sheets between the pages to eliminate the musty odor.” Once the pieces are completely dry and odor-free, they’re trimmed from the magazine and smears are cleaned.

In big collections like Tim’s, housecleaning becomes essential. He’s culled duplicates and less desirable pieces. The remaining pieces have been carefully housed in plastic sleeves in three-ring binders. “Display of our advertising on bulletin boards or mounted in frames would cover the walls of our home,” he says. “The next best thing was organizing them in file cabinets.” Major brands are stored on shelves in designated areas and lesser-known brands are grouped together. Within a given tractor brand Tim organizes pieces by model and/or year of manufacture. “I also have countless newspaper advertisements dating back 100 years,” he admits. “Those may be tucked in binders or file folders.”

Displaying or sharing advertisements with others is an awkward process. Leafing through file folders to show ads can be very monotonous. And trying to market reproduction advertising is expensive. “Betty and I struggled with ways to display our collection with others,” Tim says. “We tried a number of different methods, including engraved plaques.” Then the couple came up with the idea of making jigsaw puzzles. Their first effort — puzzles featuring a single tractor — did not sell well. “So we enlarged the puzzle to include several tractors or implements of the same brand and similar era,” Tim says. “That worked really well. We’ve produced nearly 100 different puzzles like that.”

The Putts have also published parts of their collection. Their first book, Red Power, focused on International Harvester equipment from 1963 through 1984. Their second book, Choose Your Farmall, spans 1939 through 1962. Their latest release, AC/Power of the Family Farm, covers Allis-Chalmers equipment from 1922 through 1956. The couple is now working on another book featuring Allis-Chalmers equipment.

Through it all, the couple works as a team. “Betty provides great help in all phases, from the farming operation through the production, promotion and administrative efforts of our hobby and business,” Tim says. “We work closely in everything we do. We’ve made great friends through this fascinating hobby and enjoy every aspect of it.” FC

For more information: Email Tim Putt at puttfarm@accnorwalk.com.

Freelance writer and farm toy enthusiast Fred Hendricks owns SunShower Acres, Ltd., Bucyrus, Ohio, a dairy cattle consulting business. Email him at: fwhendricks@gmail.com