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i know this was greatly hand rendered - but i assume that the base font must have been somethign available at least in the photolettering days... anyone have any ideas?
Hand lettering is sometimes based on existing fonts, but not usually. It seems more likely in this case that it was based on or inspired by some old hand lettering.
That is gorgeous. You just might find something, sort of close, at Letterhead Fonts. And when I say sort of, I mean vaguely.