My World of Ephemera and Welcome to It
by Stephanie Dew
[Stephanie Dew's business, Designs from the Deep,
is located in Peekskill, New York. Her article appeared in Ephemera
News, volume 18, number 1, Fall 1999]
I am not your average collector as I collect a very wide range
of items. My interest in collecting antique papers and postcards
dates back to my childhood. My mother was interested in old prints
called mottos that were framed and hung about the house. She had
been an interior decorator and always enjoyed collecting unusual
antiques and prints. She also enjoyed decoupage and collected papers
from around the world to use in her projects. Her interest became
mine as I found myself attracted to any kind of craft project.
studied art and fashion design at Syracuse University. Upon graduation,
I moved to New York City and pursued a career in fashion design.
At a couture house in the garment district, I designed and made
bridal headpieces and veils. After a year and a half of staring
at white and ivory, I high-tailed it out of there. I happily landed
a job as assistant to my idol, Betsey Johnson. She had opened a
number of stores, often decorating interior pieces with vintage
scrap paper from England and Germany. As I worked for her, my interest
in scrap papers grew.
I joined Danskin as an assistant designer, working with colors
and fabrics as well as production. During my time in the garment
district, I started collecting antique paper scraps and ephemera.
My real love was always doing crafts, and I have always liked jewelry
and accessories. The whole while, in the back of my mind was the
dream of having my own business.
1985 my husband and I started our own wholesale line of handcrafted
decoupage jewelry and various gift items. My collection of ephemera
is directly used on our wholesale line. Almost everything I collect
is dated from 1900 to 1960. I'm always looking for particular items
that include dogs, cats, Christmas, Halloween, valentines, mermaids,
Thanksgiving, florals, fish, diners, Easter, romantic couples, and
hula girls. I search high and low for images that are either unusual
or make a personal connection. Recently I purchased a very unusual
card featuring a rather Gibson-looking woman sitting in a spider
web and looking very glum. It's a black-and-white photo that is
hand-tinted with pastel shades. I found her very odd, yet compelling.
I ended up using her image for a business card holder, and people
find her very interesting. I really love searching for unusual antique
images that people enjoy.
also love collecting images that make a personal connection with
people. Another item that I found was the image from the cover of
a board game, The Man in the Moon. Even though his image is peculiar,
people will always comment on it. At a recent trade show, a man
came into my booth and told me how he had purchased this original
board game for $5,000.
Sometimes people won't recognize where a particular image comes
from, but will find that it evokes a personal memory. Halloween
is one of my favorite themes to collect. Over the years it has become
increasingly difficult, not to mention more expensive, to find.
I have Halloween decorations from the early 1900s that I use for
pins and earrings. Of all the items I have made, these seem to elicit
the strongest reactions. People always talk about how their mothers
or grandmothers had these decorations hanging every year. Old holiday
images seem to remind people of their childhoods.
any collector knows, even when vacationing, your eyes are always
searching for possible sources of interesting ephemera. Recently,
I was at my family's cottage on the St. Lawrence River. We made
a trip to Clayton, New York, where I found an antique store. I went
in hoping to find some interesting cards and was happy to find some
great postcards of sunny beach scenes at great prices.
Another type of ephemera that interests me is kitchen decals from
1940 to 1950. My favorites are cherries that I picked up at the
Nyack Street Fair a few years ago. They are so cheerful that you
can envision the gingham curtains in the window. Old vegetable seed
packets have some really great illustrations. They are colorful
and amusing. I recently found a pepper girl to add to my collection.
I've always wondered just how many different vegetable characters
thing I have collected over the years is trade cards used for advertisements.
My favorite is a group of mermaids in an ad for hair tonic. I find
that people really love mermaids and other mythological creatures.
I have a fairly large collection of cover art from paperback pulp
fiction, most of which could not be reproduced today because the
subject matter is politically incorrect.
Although I don't collect actual signs, I have a collection of memorabilia
from diners, bowling alleys, and road stops. Currently, we have
several clocks in our line with reproduced photos of bowling alleys
am probably an unusual collector in that I don't collect from a
particular time period. My collection is based on themes of images.
The only common theme of my collection is a sense of whimsy or beauty.
My favorite time period is the 1950s. I love anything to do with
bowling, drive-in movies, cars, and pin-ups. As we get farther and
farther from this period, it becomes apparent that people long for
a simpler and gentler time reflected in this artwork.