Antiques Roadshow Insider

October 2003


[Unfortunately, Antiques Roadshow Insider doesn't archive their back issues. But this is the text of the article, and the picture displayed.]

School Daze

"Be true to your school," one old Beach Boys classic urged us. Today, collectors are taking that advice to heart, hunting for vintage items related to their alma maters and other popular universities.

By Erica Winter

If you were ever looking for a connection between Wedgwood ceramics and football, look no further. College memorabilia is it. Anything that doesn't move (and many things that do) can be stamped with a college or university logo and marketed to ever-loyal alumni. It's a collecting pursuit that appeals to our sense of pride and to our own past. And the range of items is wider than the uninitiated might think.

The first point to remember about college memorabilia, says Rudy Franchi of The Nostalgia Factory in Boston, is that there's a difference between souvenirs and authentic memorabilia. Mass-produced key chains and stadium cups are souvenirs, he says. On the memorabilia side are such popular - and more scarce - objects as old felt sports pennants, photos of famous football teams, vintage postcards, and Wedgwood dishes in a school pattern.

Whether you're nostalgic for your own alma mater or simply an admirer of such institutions as Notre Dame, Michigan, or the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), college-specific collections are easy to start and usually affordable, says Gary Sohmers of Wex Rex Collectibles in Hudson, Mass.

Other experts concur. Why? Collectors of college memorabilia usually look for items from one school and then narrow their focus down to a specific type of item from that school (Bryn Mawr College china, for example). As a result, there aren't many competitors for any one item, keeping most prices low and availability high.

That equation, however, doesn't dampen the enthusiasm of collectors. Consider Donna Albino. With more than 1,300 postcards from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., Albino has dedicated an entire room to her collection, and she's still buying. She's also parlayed her hobby into a book, having authored Postcard History Series: Mount Holyoke College. Albino also collects letters, photos, albums, programs, and yearbooks - any paper item from Mount Holyoke. "Postcards ... who would have thought?" she muses, saying she was never a collector before that fateful flea market she encountered 10 years ago.

That's where she saw her first card. Since then, she's found that postcard collecting isn't an expensive habit. Albino usually spends under $10 per card, with even rarities often costing under $30.

College-related Wedgwood dishes also fall into the category of the highly specific collectible. These dishes - which are not actually bone china, but pottery called "Queensware" - were made for countless colleges and universities between the 1920s and 1950s, says appraiser David Lackey of Houston, Texas. The dishes - mostly plates - enjoyed their greatest popularity in the 1930s but are still relatively easy to find today.

Wedgwood representatives would visit college campuses and propose a set of Queensware, says Lackey. Usually a set would include 12 plates, each with a campus scene in one color. Most schools ordered only these plate sets.

For schools with a greater interest, Wedgwood produced teacups, saucers, bread plates, and "tea plates" in addition to dinner plates. Some schools sold the dishes in campus stores, others through magazine ads designed to raise money for alumni clubs. Usually the plates could be bought individually, Lackey says.

You can tell the date of a college Queensware dish by looking at the back of the plate. There are five or six numbers pressed into the plate, and the last two are the year (so a number ending in "33" would indicate a 1933 piece).

Another company, Spode, also made plates for schools, including the University of Chicago, but those are much more rare, says Lackey.

A relatively small group of collectors pusue college dishes, says Lackey. Even so, they are "very collectible," he says. And they usually don't have to compete with general Wedgwood collectors, who don't seem to want college patterns because they're so specific, Lackey adds.

Like vintage postcards, college Wedgwood pieces don't cost much. Dishes with smaller schools' patterns can be found for $10-$20 each. Dishes from larger schools or old schools with enthusiastic alumni can go for $50-$75 or higher.

Ironically, some of the spirited competition for these Wedgwood dishes can come from sports collectors. One of the most popular plates from the University of Texas series depicts its old football stadium, Kyle Field, says Lackey.

In fact, sports memorabilia ranks as one of the largest niches in the college collecting market. Football is the sport of choice, says Simeon Lipman of Leland's in New York, because of its long history and dedicated fans.

The more dedicated the fans, the higher the bids on that school's memorabilia. Notre Dame fans are a case in point, says Lipman. At Antiques Roadshow's stop in Chicago in July, Lipman saw a collection that included a football signed by the 1965 Notre Dame team and a group of game programs from the 1930s. The lot's value, he told its owner: $1,000 - $1,500.

A hot subcategory in the college sports market involves stadium memorabilia. In 1997, Notre Dame cleaned out its old stadium in preparation for a renovation and expansion and auctioned off various items, including pieces of the old building, says Lipman. The pennants that had flown over the stadium since the 1930s sold for $5,000 - $10,000 each.

Another popular subcategory: football memorabilia related to Ivy League schools, where college football got its start. Lipman recently saw a set of Yale football photos from the 1880s that sold for $800 - $2,500 each.

But for the most part, he adds, "you can put together a diverse, interesting collection of college memorabilia" at minimal expense."

Erica Winter, a Northampton, Mass.-based freelance author, wrote about frame restoration in our September 2003 issue, art restoration in our July 2003 issue, and toy and doll restoration in our May 2003 issue.

  • Donna Albino, Author, Postcard History Series: Mount Holyoke College
  • Rudi Franchi, The Nostalgia Factory
    50 Terminal St., Charlestown, MA 02129.
    Phone: 617-241-8300
  • David Lackey, David Lackey Antiques
    2311 Westheimer, Houston TX 77098.
    Phone: 713-942-7171
  • Simeon Lipman, Leland's
    3947 Merrick Rd.,
    Seaford, NY 11783. Phone: 516-409-9700
  • Gary Sohmers, Wex Rex Collectibles
    Hudson, MA 01701
    Phone: 978-568-0856

If you collected Wedgwood, you can search for a specific pattern by registering with a china matching service, such as David Lackey Antiques' site, (see info above), or at Greensboro, N.C.-based Replacements Limited's site,

Look also at, which is an online directory to some 200 antiques dealers.



One arena where colleges and universities have made an impact is in the movie industry. Films with college themes cover a wide range of topics, from a talking mule attending a military school (Francis Goes to West Point, 1952) to Abbott & Costello runnign rampant at a women's college (Here Come the Co-Eds, 1945) to Clara Bow seducing professors both in and out of classes (The Wild Party, 1929) to 1970's Love Story with Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal.

There are more than 1,500 movies with a college theme, according to John Conklin, sociology professor at Tufts University in Somerville, Mass. Over the past 10 years, Conklin has collected lobby cards for about 400 of those movies. These 11x14-inch pieces usually come in sets of eight, with one "title card" and seven cards showing specific scenes from the movie.

Five years ago, Conklin refined his collecting of lobby cards to those with college-themed movies, his favorites being from the 1920s and 1930s. "The older the better," he says.

The cards have a median cost of $30 each, Conklin says. The most desirable examples go for $600 or more, such as a card for the Marx Brothers' Horsefeathers (1932) that sold for over $500. At a recent auction, Conklin bid $90 for a Knute Rockne: All American (1940) lobby card that showed the famous football coach and chemistry professor in a science lab. Conklin lost out, however, to a devoted Notre Dame fan.

Conklin currently is turning his collection into a book on college-themed movies.

- Erica Winter