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Historical Society puts old advertisements on display

Published: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 9:59 p.m. CST
(Jessica Bourque -
Grundy County Historical Society curator Debbie Steffes describes some of the pieces in the society's newest collection featuring old advertising gimmicks. One of the standout items is the The Game of Grundy County (pictured), which was likely handed out by the Chamber of Commerce in the 1980s, Steffes said.

MORRIS – Donating to the Grundy County Historical Society’s latest exhibit could be as easy as digging through your junk drawer.

Those piles of seemingly useless clutter could be historical treasure troves, society President Donna Sroczynski said.

“I’ve been telling people, look in junk drawers and desk drawers and think of donating those things you’re never really going to use,” Sroczynski said. “History is being thrown out. People don’t think that anything is important, but everything has some historical value.”

The historical society is collecting old advertising gimmicks: pens, pencils, matchboxes and other manner of bric-a-brac handed out by local businesses of yore.

Throughout the years, the society has accumulated enough advertising memorabilia to create a small display, but Sroczynski and Grundy Historical Society curator Debbie Steffes are asking residents to continue contributing.

“This is the first advertising exhibit we’ve ever done,” Steffes said.

As it is, the collection features memorabilia from throughout the decades, the oldest piece a 105-year-old ice pick from Melvin Matteson’s ice house, formerly located on the Illinois River.

A standout item is a board game titled “Game of Grundy County,” which looks noticeably similar to a Monopoly board.

Replacing properties such as Boardwalk and Atlantic Avenue are several Grundy County businesses from the time.

“From what I can surmise, it was probably produced by the Chamber of Commerce during the ’80s as a promotional thing,” Steffes said of the game. “On the board, it has businesses and mayors of the time from all over Grundy County.”

Matchboxes and ashtrays were two of the more popular gimmicks, illustrating a shift in cultural norms, Sroczynski said.

Today, businesses tend to steer away from smoking-related giveaways because they don’t want to offend their nonsmoking customers, but years ago, giving out cigarette accessories was the norm.

“The thing that you will never see as giveaways anymore are matches and ashtrays,” Sroczynski said.

“We’re not supposed to be smoking anymore,” Steffes added.

Kitchen utensils served as popular advertising ploys, targeting stay-at-home moms who spent hours a day cooking.

Sroczynski said women would order the utensils through a local business for a cheap price, and the cookware would come inscribed with a business’s name or logo.

The spatulas, spoons and knives in the historical society’s display are from Grainco, Steffes said.

“Utensils like that were good advertisement because the wife would tell the husband, ‘I got these nice new things and they were half price,’ or something, and the husband might go back to that business,” Sroczynski said.


Those wishing to see the historic ads or to donate to the collection should visit the Grundy County Historical Society, 510 W. Illinois Ave., Morris.

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