These are the “dog days” of summer, when it’s supposedly too hot and humid for canines (and people) to do anything but jump in the pool and stretch out in the shade.
Actually, the term originated in ancient Greece and referred to that time in the year when Sirius – in the constellation Canis Major, and the brightest star in the night sky – rose above the horizon just before the sun. Due to the 26,000-year “wobble” of a gyroscopic Earth (precession of the equinoxes), this occurred slightly earlier (during the hottest part of Greek summers) than it does now, and was associated with pestilence, war, and other disasters.
So, what has this to do with collectibles? Nothing, we just felt that with all the to-do about cats (YouTube videos, Etsy handmades, and cute kitties on everything else), you dog people were getting short shrift. And judging from current action in the collectibles markets, you are certainly due more consideration.
As with everything feline, the plethora of existing canine-themed items ensures that most sell for less (and in many cases much less) than $10, but there are a number of areas where dogs reign supreme.
Did you know that dog licenses and tags have been around since at least the 15th century, and that there are collectors who specialize in this area? Though tags (exonumia*) can be found around the world in a variety of shapes and materials (brass, copper, aluminum, plastic), pre-20th century metal tags are relatively rare. Depending upon origin and condition, many specimens sell for a respectable $20 to $50+, but some are worth much more, such as the 1940 Mazeppa MN tag that sold for $89.88; the 1912 Springfield, IL tag that fetched $149.49; and the 1898 Cedar Falls, Iowa tag that garnered a final bid of $360.55. (All prices mentioned in this article are from recent online auctions.)
Dogs fare even better when leashed to a cross-collectible, like the setter that appeared on a 1950s Town and Country Zippo lighter (never used and in its original box) that garnered a final online bid of $898.00.
Hubley cast-iron door stops are another cross-collectible. Though most genuine Hubleys (there are lots of reproductions out there!) demand high prices no matter what the subject matter, Hubley dogs can fetch up to $500+ at auction. How can you tell if it’s a genuine Hubley? There’s no substitute for experience, but look for large flat-head screws, tight seams, and air-brushed paint. Reproductions usually use Phillips-head screws and brushed on paint resulting in no overlaps.
Another subject popular with collectors is RCA Victor’s Nipper. Appearing on a variety of items from marbles to banks to Zippo lighters, window advertising display pieces are particularly desirable. Made in a number of sizes, the large 36-inch models are selling for $300 to $500+.
And, finally, who can forget Snoopy, Peanut’s favorite beagle? Snoopy’s image has graced everything from Gucci sweaters to Seiko watches. He’s even appeared as an astronaut doll, a specimen of which was inscribed and signed by Apollo 10 Lunar Module Pilot Gene Cernan, and which Sotheby’s recently auctioned for $22,000! Of course, the chance of coming across a similar item is, well, astronomical, but how about a Fire King “No Greater Friend than a Dog” glass coffee mug featuring Charlie Brown and guess who? If you see one at a yard sale, you might want to grab it, because specimens have been selling online for up to $77+.
Interested in learning more about these collectibles? Check out the resources listed below, and
*Exonumia are non-coin or paper money numismatic items.
The Doorstop Book: The Encyclopedia of Doorstop Collecting, by John C. Smith
Nipper Collectibles: The RCA Victor Trademark Dog, by Joan Rolfs and Robin Rolfs
Nipper Collectibles Vol. III, by Joan Rolfs and Robin Rolfs
The Unauthorized Guide to Snoopy Collectibles, by Jan Lindenberger
Beware! Antique Cast Iron Boston Terrier Doorstop Look! – Guide describes all the “tells” for identifying reproductions
Collecting Antique Dog Tags | The Bark – A good introduction to the subject.
Identification & Pictures ANTIQUE DOORSTOPS – Great site helps identify pre-1948 pieces. Includes identifying fakes, foundry markings, more!
Why Do We Call Them the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer? – National Geographic article explains.