Night Crawler

Dog Craze

"There is no intrinsic value in anything collectible, barring maybe gold and silver, except what it's worth to another collector," points out Jane Husain, schoolteacher and wife of 10 years to graphic artist and avid ad-character collector Masud Husain.

The Husain home, which doubles as Masud's very successful Studio West Design, opens onto a colorful wall display of ad-character paper masks -- fanciful table decorations from food chains like Sambo's and Pig & Whistle, and promotional handouts for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and the Amos 'n' Andy radio show. Along the walls, in glass cases and on shelves, is a small portion of the couple's vast ad-character collection.

"The rest are in three storage containers in the basement," says Jane, "along with the snow globe collection." (And the majority of the lawn ornament collection, and the Godzilla collection, and the vintage San Francisco souvenir buildings collection, and the antique aquarium mermaids collection, and the Dare DevilMarvel comics collection -- but that's another story.)

Dogged Determination: Sebastian Melmoth and his collection of Doggie Diner dog heads.
Brandon Fernandez
Dogged Determination: Sebastian Melmoth and his collection of Doggie Diner dog heads.

Still, a kaleidoscopic array of pieces is on display; they are as inexpensive as the cowboy menu-mask from Eaton's that Jane saved as a child, and as costly as the Mida Watch robot-clock that set Masud back $2,800. There is a GE Radio bandmaster designed by Maxfield Parrish and an early incarnation of Kermit created by Jim Henson for Wilkin's Coffee. There is a 3-foot RCA dog in lieu of a real one, and the Reddy Kilowatt man popularized in 1926; there are grinning characters for Florida citrus, Kitty Pan Litter, U.F.O. Japanese noodles, Dunkin' Donuts, Contact pain reliever, and Ritalin. There are ad characters from the '20s to the '70s, made of everything from real nuts and bolts to vinyl, styrofoam, and wood, with varying levels of craftsmanship and attention to detail. Like any fine, large collection, some pieces are interesting, clever, and pleasing to the eye, some are disturbing ("Happy Foot"), some are dismissible ("Burgie Bear"), and some are on loan, for public display (albeit at the San Francisco Airport).

"There is a sense of whimsy with the older ad characters, like the Doggie Diner dog head, that is very, very appealing," Masud says. "But there is also cultural relevance, and aesthetic relevance. I draw a lot of inspiration for my work from comic books, pop art, and popular culture. People can relate to these things. It strikes a chord with them, and with me."

As for the Doggie Diner dog head, Masud predicts it will be sold into a private collection.

"I wouldn't mind having it, but you need a lot of space to display something that size in a way that will promote intelligent discourse. Advertising can be completely overwhelming -- it's meant to be. How it's shown certainly affects how it's seen."

Andy Warhol put Campbell's soup cans in museums and Keith Haring turned his art into T-shirt marketing; as pressure increases it is as likely Warshauer will donate the dog head to a museum as sell it to a private collector. But given the choice between seeing a Haring on the underside of a bridge and a Haring behind glass ...

"I'd rather see the dog head restored," says Jane, "overlooking the zoo where it belongs."

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