Phillipson Heirs Give Us James Whitcomb Riley Sign

The James Whitcomb Riley sign painted by a musical vagabond before he became Indiana's best loved poet and treasured by the late Marcus and Ben Phillipson for approximately 80 years, it is now a permanent possession of the community.

It's a joint gift from Mrs. Jeannette Grawoig, of Chicago, and Joseph Rosenfield, of Encino, Calif., niece and nephew of Ben Phillipson, and the group of employees who became owners of Phillipson's, Incorporated at Ben's death. The group is composed of Russell J. Phillips, now living in Florida, Fread Douglas, Charles Miller, Mrs. Warren (Iva Marie) Rosbrugh and Theodore Rooy of Warsaw.

What does it look like, the sign that collectors from other cities coveted unsuccessfully? You may see it for yourself at the Warsaw-Wayne Township library where it is to be preserved and display for future generations.

Ornate Lettering
Painted on paper or cardboard which has yellowed considerably, in old-fashioned letters and ornate scrolls, it says: "A deposit of one third required on goods before cut." The signature of J. W. Riley is underneath to the right. Presumably it was a rule that anyone ordering a custom made suit must make a substantial down payment before the tailor took scissors in hand.

The sign itself is approximately 18 by 20 inches inside and is enclosed in a glass topped case measuring 32 by 24 by 5 inches.

No one knows exactly when the sign was painted. Marcus Phillipson founded the Warsaw store in 1864 and it's likely that he commissioned Riley to paint the sign sometime within the next decade.

Riley, born in Greenfield, Indiana, in 1849 was a restless young scribbler of verses who like to get up entertainments and declaim his poems whenever he could find an audience.

In Medicine Show
It's know that Riley first traveled through the state with Dr. McCrillus' medicine show, later with a group of young men led by himself. Sometimes he wandered alone, painting signs on barns and fences to earn his bread and lodging. He couldn't get any money for his poems, although sometimes they were printed in small-town newspapers.

People found the young poet a likeable chap. No one-especially in Greenfield where he was regarded as a charming "ne-er-do-well" who wouldn't study law as his father wanted him to --no "solid citizen" would have predicted the world-wide esteem and prosperity that Riley achieved in later years.

   Admiring the Gift - Librarian James Sloan and two members of the library staff. Mrs. Alice Siders, at left and Mrs. Grace Nye, examine the sign which James Whitcomb Riley painted for the Phillipson store in Warsaw long before he became Indiana's most famous poet.

Warsaw Times Union Saturday August 8, 1959

Drawn by Hoosier Poet

Sign made by James Whitcomb Riley is highly Prized
Lettering Done in Year 1872 Given Conspicuous Place at Phillipson's Store

Occupying a conspicuous place on a wall in the clothing store of Marcus Phillipson is a hand-painted sign by James Whitcomb Rilley the Hoosier peot, and which sign is highly prized by the owner. The lettering was done in 1872, when Mr. Riley spent several weeks in Warsaw doing similar work. This particular sign was placed aside and for ten years reposed among the rubbish in the basement. At last it was found by Mr. Phillipson, who gave it a place on the wall of his store. Mr. Riley was in Warsaw about a year or so ago and stepping into the Phillipson store he noticed the sign and commented upon his work of other days. It was said of Mr. Riley that during the time he was in this place that whenever he had painted enough signs to bring him the price of a pair of gloves, he bought the gloves. The sign in the Phillipson store reads: "A deposit of one third is required on goods before cut." Mr. Phillipson saw the Indiana author paint the card and he says that the work was done in an off-hand way and in an incredibly short time.

The Northern Indianian Thursday July 30, 1908 page 1

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