Valley Relics Adds Madison Avenue Mythology

Collector Ellen Havre Weis with items from the Museum of Modern Mythology, San Francisco. Don't count on seeing the big dog head in Van Nuys. Mascot of the defunct Doggy Diner chain, it was stolen and has never been recovered. (Photo by Roger Ressmeyer.)
The Valley Relics Museum, Van Nuys, has acquired the 3000-piece collection of 20th-century advertising character artifacts and ephemera assembled by Ellen Havre Weis and formerly displayed in San Francisco's Museum of Modern Mythology. The characters include Mr. Peanut, Mr. Clean, Cap'n Crunch, Colonel Sanders, the Michelin Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Big Boy, the Jolly Green Giant, Joe Camel, Charlie the Tuna, and Tony the Tiger. There are characters with problematic legacies (the Frito Bandito) and truly inexplicable ones (Rocky Taconite, "a smiling lump of coal in a miner’s outfit").

Weis' museum opened in 1982 and quickly became a Fisherman's Wharf tourist attraction with an intellectual edge. Weis studied literature and leveraged Roland Barthes' Mythologies (1957) to argue for cosmic meaning in the pop culture of capitalism. Weis talked mythology scholar Joseph Campbell and film critic Leonard Maltin into serving on her museum's advisory board. But the museum lost its home in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and gentrification prevented it from finding an affordable alternative. The collection has been in storage ever since.

Weis and her family considered placing the collection in the Smithsonian or the Henry Ford Museum. Shortly before Weis' death in July, the family came to an agreement with the Valley Relics Museum. According to VRM founder Tommy Gelinas, the Weis collection is to go on display in spring 2022 in its own gallery annex.

In 1987 Weis explained: "Certainly the Jolly Green Giant is more recognizable than Zeus – or your state senator."

"Pep Boys" Manny, Moe, and Jack figures at Valley Relics Museum