Howard Vance Collum painted the landmark wall ad for Niolon’s Coffee
Last week, while passing-through Meridian, Mississippi, I decided to exit the highway in search of interesting architecture to photograph. I found that in abundance! But I also found this nearly-illegible wall ad on the back of a three-story building at the corner of 8th Street and 23rd Avenue in Meridian. Since this fading, old ghost sign had a signature, I decided to research it. I wanted to know more about its creator — Howard Vance Collum.
But as I researched Collum, this turned into a story with two parts. It’s a story about Howard Vance Collum, the owner of a long-time Meridian sign company. But it’s also a story about his client in the faded ad — Niolon’s Coffee.
First, let’s look at the sign
The badly deteriorated ghost sign on 8th Street in Meridian is a vintage ad for Niolon’s Coffees and Teas. It took some deciphering and tweaking of contrasts to pull out enough detail to identify the ad. Below, we will learn a little bit about Howard Vance Collum, the creator of the sign, and also about Niolon’s Coffees.
The photograph above shows the Niolon’s Coffee ad in 1977, with large bold letters across a solid, white field. Assuming this is the final iteration of the ad, we can see that there are now many layers of previous ads now showing through in the mish-mash of the ghost sign.
Howard Vance Collum — Sign painter from Meridian, Mississippi
Howard Vance Collum was the owner of Collum Advertising, a sign and mural company based in Meridian during its glory years. In addition to manufacturing and painting signs, he also hand-painted large wall murals, he illustrated landscape scenes in church baptismals, and he even hand-lettered the side of an airplane.
In a 1987 newspaper article, Collum referred to himself as a “designer and manufacturer of signs,” with 50 years in the business. He recalls innovative signs he created for the Cosmopolitan Cafe, including an animated neon sign that was so unusual for its time that it brought traffic on the street to a stand-still. The article includes a black and white photograph of Collum’s large painted murals inside the “Cosmo.” Born in 1908, Collum would have been 79 – 80 years old at the time it was published.
Howard Vance Collum’s personal life
According to the 1940 census, he was 32 in 1940, and already earning a respectable $1,200 annual salary — not bad for that era, when the median U.S. income was $946 (NPR). He listed himself as the proprietor of an advertising business. By this time he was married to wife, Margaret, and they shared two sons — Max (age 6) and Joseph (age 2)
On a side note: Be sure to check out the example occupations listed by the census bureau — frame spinner, salesman, laborer, rivet heater, and music teacher. Things have certainly changed since 1940! In case you don’t know — a frame spinner is someone who operated a frame spinning machine making yarn or thread for the textile industry.
Collum served as a deacon at Highland Baptist Church in Meridian. A picture of him in 1960 can be seen here. He’s third from left on the back row, with mustache and goatee. Another photo of Collum in 1950 can be seen here on the back row at far left.
Margaret was also active in the church, where she worked with the children’s Sunday school programs, the W.M.U. ministry, and the Gideon Auxiliary. Margaret passed away at age 98, in 2005. Her obituary said she had been a homemaker and a bookkeeper for her husband’s business, Collum Advertising. They had five children.
Howard Vance Collum died on November 13, 1988 at age 81. His signs and murals continue to live on well after his passing.
Niolon’s Coffee of Meridian Mississippi
Locals old enough to remember when Niolon’s Coffee Company operated in downtown Meridian often remark about the smell of the roasting coffee beans, and the smell of fresh peanuts the company sold in front of its coffee building.
The Niolon’s Coffees ad is on the Niolon Coffee building
A.H. Niolon and Sons, Coffees, Teas, and Spices, started in a small shop in 1883, and became so successful that they eventually built the three-story brick building that displays their old ghost ad. The location originally held a church, which burned in 1913, allowing for construction of the Niolon’s Coffee building in 1914.
The company filed trademarks throughout the 1920s:
Niolon Coffees developed a reputation of quality around Meridian and beyond. They had standing orders to ship fresh-roasted coffee as far away as San Antonio, Texas. Niolon coffee was served at the finest restaurants and hotels in the city, including the highly-regarded Weidmann’s Restaurant, a Meridian staple since 1870. The 1960 book Great Restaurants of America listed Weidmann’s as one of only 5 notable restaurants in the South, with the other four being in New Orleans. In its review of Weidmann’s, the book called out Niolon’s coffee by name, “The European pastry maker’s chocolate éclaire with ‘hot Niolon’s coffee’ became an afternoon ritual for the employees at Marks-Rothenburg Store across the street.”
Founder Adolph Niolon, Sr. died in 1921, and his colorful son Adolph Jr. ran the company until his death in 1959. He was known for riding a motorcycle around town wearing a messenger boy cap. Adolph III sold the company to Royal Cup Coffee in 1976.
Description of the Niolon Coffee Building from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Architectural description quoted directly from the historic sites survey:
“Three-story red brick with white trim; four bays by nine. Projecting cornice between first and second floors; straight-headed windows rest on stone sills; stone lintel course above third floor windows. Brick-paneled frieze; overhanging cornice with dentils; short parapet.”
“The Niolon family members were early residents of Meridian and their business was established in 1883. A. H. Niolon and Son, Coffee and Teas, specialized in breakfast foods. Before this building-was constructed, Niolon and Company was located at 507 25th Avenue, within the historic district.”
The Niolon Coffee building is now occupied by a financial services firm.
Thanks for reading!