Ever since Douglas Dunn moved to Bisbee, he has quietly gone about collecting memorabilia from the mining town’s early days with a focus on, quite literally, signs of the times.
“Collecting is my passion,” he said with a laugh. “I have people say to me, ‘No matter how early I get to a yard sale, Doug has already been there first.’”
His collection of 40 years of Bisbee’s history in signage can be seen in the wrap-around storefront windows of the Copper Queen Plaza, home of the Bisbee Coffee Company.
Renowned photographer, graphic artist and set designer Michael Page made the suggestion to Dunn to bring his collection to the public last year at the popular site.
“It’s the perfect place to showcase them,” said Dunn. “I had them stored in the house and the workshop and moved them all here.”
The historic sign collection of Bisbee is on view at the Central School Project in Old Bisbee through Sunday, Feb. 2. Dunn will be available Saturday and Sunday to answer questions and give more information on the signs. His book “The Signs of Bisbee” will be on sale there from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this weekend.
After receiving many comments of old memories stirred from residents who lived in the town from boom to bust days and were part of the newcomer influx that came after, Dunn decided to put them in a book, “Signs of Bisbee.”
“It’s a unique book,” Dunn said. “It tells the history of Bisbee in a different way.”
Dunn has been a collector of antiques and has spent 22 years at Acacia Art and Antiques on Main St. in Old Bisbee, but his sign collection is special.
It captures moments of Bisbee’s history from the 1945 huge sign of the Bank of Bisbee to a spectacularly colored sign from a possible head and art shop serving the freer spirits of the 1970s transplants at 66 Brewery Gulch.
A calendar from 1891, a 1920 Good Will Soap wagon, a 1915 poster for a peep show, which was a woman dressing herself in men’s clothes, the sign from the F.W. Woolworth Co. store, even a 1909 clothing valet from the Fair Department Store and advertisements from a 1915 Grape Nuts and a 1950 Golden West Coffee poster are all captured in the book along with a brief description of each.
Dunn included more recent signs including the neon sign of Electric Dave’s Brewing Company and a poster for the late-Amy Ross at the Bisbee Royale.
A 1956 Artic Circle restaurant sign, still remembered today for its burgers and shakes, is a part of the collection.
Dunn also features extraordinary giveaways from the various businesses like thermometers on eye catching western landscapes, a wall recipe holder from the Independent Fuel and Feed Company and a copper trophy for the first place winner of the 1927 Pushmobile Race, now called the 4th of July Coaster Race, in his book.
He pointed out the Bisbee Review sign is the only existing original sign in Old Bisbee.
“Newcomers and residents get to see tidbits of Bisbee’s history and the feedback is it triggers memories,” added Dunn.
Dunn heaped praise upon Bridgette Shanahan for her remarkable photography and design of the book. It took two or three months to get all the photography done, create the pages and have it bound.
“The book is of the highest quality and that’s thanks to her. It’s been a joy to present this to the public and share it with others,” he said.
Dunn moved to Bisbee from Willcox where he worked at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, first as an agent, then as the county extension director. He met his wife Donna, who worked for the county library district, in 1978 and he commuted between Willcox and Bisbee for over 20 years before he retired.
Dunn also served on the city council for six years and now serves with the city planning and zoning commission.
Dunn’s book is normally available in hard cover or softback at Acacia, 69 Main St., Bisbee Books and Music and the Copper Queen Mining and Historical Museum.