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Thieves steal vintage Coca-Cola signs from Van Wyck business

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Owner offers $400 reward for recovery

The owner of a historic Van Wyck building is asking for the public’s help in recovering two iconic Coca-Cola signs stolen from the building’s facade early last week.

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Van Wyck Sporting Goods owner Tom Foster said he estimates the pair of red porcelain Coca-Cola “button” signs have hung on the front facade of the former general store/post office for 50 to 60 years, maybe more.

The store, formerly Van Wyck Discount Guns, is located at the corner of Old Hickory and Steel Hill roads.

Foster said he believes someone stole the approximately 24-inch diameter signs sometime overnight Monday, March 17.

“I was off work Tuesday morning,” Foster said. “When I came in, I went over to the post office and when I came back I looked up and said, ‘My d--- Coca-Cola signs are missing!’”

Foster said he was stunned, and though he was nearly certain he’d seen them the day before, went back to the post office and asked postmaster Betty George about them.

George said she was sure the signs were still there Monday when she left, as usual, flanking each side of the gun shop sign above the front door

“I know when I left out of here Monday, they were there,” George said. “I can’t believe somebody had the nerve to steal them. They’ve been there a long time.

“Everybody’s wondering why anybody would want to steal those signs,” she said. “I said it’s got to be an outsider because nobody around here would do something like that.”

Porcelain Coca-Cola button signs are highly collectible, especially those that are in excellent restored condition like Foster’s.

The round signs, with only the classic “Coca-Cola” script on a solid red ‘button’, date from the 1940s and 50s, according to some collectors’ websites, and can sell for more than $500 apiece – even with bullet holes, flaked porcelain and rust.

Foster’s signs may likely have been hung above the front door of the building by former postmaster Sheron L. Thompson in 1943 when he took over the T&T Store/post office and named it after himself.

Foster said nobody ever paid much attention to the signs until a particular antiques show began airing on the History Channel in 2010.

“Really and truthfully, in the 20 years I’ve been here I’ve had one or two people ask about the signs,” Foster said. “But since ‘American Pickers’ came on, I bet I’ve had over 20 people a year asking about ’em.

“I wouldn’t have sold ’em for $1,000 since they’re part of the building, but I’ve had so many people ask,” he said.

One thing Foster and others aren’t clear on is how the thief, or thieves, got the sign down, since the front door awning has no damage from a ladder.

The two prevailing theories are either someone pulled up front in a boom truck and used a cherry picker, or climbed up a ladder to the roof on the more isolated west side of the building and simply leaned over the front and snatched the signs.

“Everybody around here’s been speculating about how they did it,” George said. 

“Monday night it was raining, and it had to have been late night. But there’s still cars coming through here from (S.C.) 5 to (U.S.) 521.”

Like others in town, Foster is angry someone would blatantly steal his signs, especially ones like his that are literally pieces of Van Wyck’s history.

So he’s asking for the public’s help.

He also has a message for the thieves.

“Give me my signs back,” Foster said. “I’m very angry, very disturbed. Stealing somebody’s signs off their building? How low can you get?”

Foster is offering a $400 reward for information leading to the recovery of his signs.

Anyone with information on the location of the signs, or who may have seen any suspicious activity in the area of the store Monday night, March 17, or the days and evenings leading up to the crime, is asked to call the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office can be reached at  (803) 283-4136. Those with information may also contact Crimestoppers at 1-888-Crime SC (1-888-274-6372) or email or text anonymous tips to www.midlandscrimestoppers.com.

 

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151