Advertising Illustrations of Edgar Church

While I’m a professional coin geek, I have plenty of amateur interests, including a small but growing collection of illustration art.

My search for quality illustrations on a bachelor’s budget led me to a famous name in many collecting circles: Edgar Church.

Mr. Church’s vast collection preserved some of the rarest Golden Age comic books in the highest grades, and the “Mile High” pedigree, named for the store whose owner purchased and distributed the collection, is the most famous in the hobby.

Edgar Church didn’t collect comics, though, the way the folks who have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the super-high-grade Mile High Flash Comics #1 do. Comic books were one of several print sources he used in his work as a commercial artist, as noted in this lot description for a Church painting. While I have a cool, almost academic appreciation of Mr. Church’s collected comic books, his advertising illustrations make me want to own them.

Here’s one made in 1935 for his primary employer, The Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph :

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Could an advertisement be more 1935? From the Art Deco lettering to the name-check of “liberal & progressive buyers” (shades of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal) and the desperate hustle to sell advertising during the Great Depression, it’s marvelously anchored in time and place.

Not all of my art-crushes go that deep, of course. Sometimes I just think to myself, “this would look cool on a T-shirt.” I can only imagine that advertisements with great vibes 70, 80, even 90 years on must’ve been great for selling goods and services back in the day.

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There’s enough awesomeness in the Edgar Church illustrations that a T-shirt line wouldn’t be entirely out of the question…if anyone could figure out the rights issues. U.S. copyright law is hard to understand, and I’m no lawyer.

Were the illustrations works-for-hire, like this blog post? Were their copyrights renewed before 28 years were up?

Were they even copyrightable when they first were created and subsequently published in their telephone directories? If the illustrations aren’t in the public domain and their copyrights were held by what was then Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph, the corporate chain gets…complicated.

No, I think I’ll just settle back and enjoy the illustrations. If I think about lawyer-stuff too much, my head might explode.

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By John Dale Beety

Posted by Heritage Editorial

This article was written as a collaborative effort by multiple experts within the category at Heritage Auctions.

  1. Church’s works are underestimated for their simplicity and effectiveness. His work reminds me of a simple classroom activity assigned by my college journalism professor.

    He asked each of us to devise an effective advertisement for a hat shop – including an image of a hat. Most of us just strung adjectives together like sausage links. After we all took turns writing our ads on the chalkboard (yes, they were still in use) he carefully erased all the unnecessary words. When he was done, our ‘ads’ looked like an Edgar Church illustration. Simple. Practical. Beautiful.


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