October 14, 2011 by Ephemera Society
Each collector does things differently. Though many seek the same sorts of items, for each the pursuit is highly personal. Each looks through a different set of eyes, seeing ephemera through his or her own, highly individual filter. Each has personal favorites, personal condition standards, personal reasons for collecting certain things, a personal price limit, a personal degree of interest in pursuing follow-up research. Each has his/her own methods of filing and storage, his/her own amount of interest in sharing the collection, his/her own degree of interest in exhibiting or creating a web gallery. Some collect to achieve completion in a category, others seek an example or two of items from various categories.
Thinking it might be of widespread interest for individual collectors to describe just how each approaches collecting, the Ephemera Society has initiated this column, as a forum for participation. We are imagining an open-ended series of articles about along the lines of “Why I collect,” “How I search,” “Where I look,” “How I store items,” “Why I exhibit,” “How my collections relate to each other,” “How I approach research”…in short, anything on the subject a contributor wants to discuss. There are no rules.
We hope many collectors will respond to this, our plea: Please write a short piece for us and send it in! Or a long piece. With images or without images. We would love to have broad participation from all interested members and non-members alike!
How I Collect
By Max Hensley
|Some of my favorite certificates show people using antique products|
When I visited my grandfather’s bank box back in the 1950’s he would never fail to pull out a Swift and Co. stock certificate and wave it under my nose. “Let this be a lesson to you, Max. This cost me good money in the 20’s and it’s still not worth what I paid for it. These brokers just take your money and give you a piece of paper.” Being about 10 years old at the time, I was more interested in the paper than the lecture. It was big and bright and had a picture of the Swift stockyards on it. But I didn’t pursue this…it was easier to get into coin collecting.
But by around 2000 my coin collecting was causing more aggravation than a hobby should, what with all the condition hysteria (and severe money punishment for wrong judgments) and high prices. So I found myself branching out a bit. I got the idea of a coin show exhibit on “Mine to Mint” showing the progress of metals through ores, process intermediates, ingots, planchets and coins. I needed some graphics and something on the financing of mines. I noticed that an auction of old mining stocks was coming up, and mining vignettes on some of the illustrated lots looked perfect for my purposes. The auctioneer, Fred Holabird, was just up the road in Reno, so I drove up to preview the material. I never went back (to coins, that is).
|History comes at you from this politically incorrect vignette used by
J&L Steel at the turn of the last century.
I’ve always been interested in art, economics, technology and history, whether macro (geology, deep time) or micro (US 19th century). I soon found that collecting vintage stocks and bonds (“scripophily”) satisfied all these interests. In a way, each was a ticket to an armchair adventure into the past. The problem was that linking the past and the “ticket” was very difficult until Google came along, particularly its Google Books project that placed on-line old reference books and newspapers that are critical for stock and bond research but very expensive to buy or not available in local libraries.
The stories are now all there for you to read conveniently, with the dog at your feet and a cup of tea on your desk — the buccaneers of capital (JP Morgan, John D Rockefeller, John “Bet-a-million” Gates), hopeless and failed businesses, wars (Confederate bonds), technological dead ends (Direct Current utilities), frauds (Enron, the Keely Motor Co perpetual motion machine, the Casa Grande land scam), monopolies and trusts (Standard Oil), disasters (White Star Line and the Titanic), the triumphs (Computing Recording Tabulating Co, father of IBM) and, of course, that Swift & Co stock. The intellectual “richness” of this hobby is difficult to beat, and so I have been “hooked.”
Three other things got me interested in scripophily. First, unlike coins where every tiny variant is known and price guides to the 8th decimal are feely available, stocks and bonds are basically a black hole. By this I don’t mean the historical background, which as I say Google has helped with immeasurably, but the typical collector concerns of “Is it rare and how much is it worth?” are usually unanswerable, or nearly so.
|The twists and turns of technology — this company was just ahead of its time.|
The hobby is new, only going back to about 1978. Thus, rarity information is hard enough to come by, and reliable pricing data is very challenging. Oh, you can get a fair idea on the trivial stuff – the cancelled International Mercantile Marine and North Butte Mining Co shares that are everyday staples on eBay. But for 99% of scripophily, you have no idea. It could be unique, or there could be 25 or 50 of them.
But things are improving. Terry Cox (coxrail.com) has done a fine job of databasing N. American railroad bonds and shares, there are a few specialist guides (mostly out-of-date) in the automotive and mining co. fields and several general (but extremely incomplete) databases. But for new for the most part you make your own guide or you don’t have one. This doesn’t turn me off. On the contrary, it allows me to make better decisions on offerings, decisions that are better informed than others can make. As time goes on, however, this window of opportunity will close. But for now it provides entertainment not available in more established collectables.
If you think this is a problem rather than an opportunity, you can do what I did at first: Specialize. I picked mining shares because that’s how the project started, but others focus on things like autos, rails, shipping, agriculture, states or localities, printers (of the certificates), sports, retail, machinery, brokerages, electrical, dot.coms, frauds, topical subjects like depicted animals and so on. By starting with mining I could prepare a pretty good initial database on rarity and pricing because the scope was limited.
I now am a scripophily omnivore — almost anything is fair game if it is rare, decorative, not cancelled (for reasons of artistic sensibility), coming from the golden age of certificate art (1860 — 1935) and has no serious condition problems. Condition, by the way, is not much of a factor in pricing since most scripophily is about the same grade — a few fold lines and a little handling. However, major defects like tears and (especially) stains are to be avoided.
|Scripophily teaches that many popular consumer products started out as independent companies|
Another thing I found attractive about the field was the artistry of vintage securities. Serious companies were listed on the NYSE. The Exchange required that stocks and bonds be printed using engraving, or intaglio methods — the same ones employed to print US banknotes even today. The Exchange also required a vignette with a human figure, which meant that US stocks and bonds were freed from the penury of plain-Jane name-rank-and serial no. certificates used in some other countries such as Germany.
Bank note printing companies like American Bank Note vigorously competed for security printing contracts. In the process they created some wonderful works of art that seemingly jump out at you from the paper. Even the stone lithographs are graphically appealing, especially those that depict company products. These are also some of the most amusing or poignant. Security printing was the pinnacle of the printing arts but is now virtually a lost technology, what with dematerialization of stocks and bonds. Thus has another fine craft fallen victim to the computer and the complexity of modern society.
While German and much of British scripophily is painfully plain, French, Portugese, Spanish and Belgian work is riotously scenic and graphic. The French in particular considered their company share certificates to be an opportunity to spread style and grace, and they did it with abandon. Some were even designed by artists like Alfonse Mucha. European scripophily is far better established than here in the US, with much larger membership and local collector organizations than in the US.
One more thing on foreign scripophily – there has been a lot of excitement lately in pre-revolutionary Mexican Government bonds, following a trend that started in the 1970s with Chinese and Russian Government bonds and then with US defunct railroad gold bonds in the 1980s. A few of the Mexican bonds have brought tens of thousands of dollars on eBay. Don’t think this is scripophily. It is speculation at best. Bond redemption sugarplum fantasies seem to dance continually in speculators’ dreams. Still, it spices up the hobby, makes big paydays for a few lucky scripophilists and illustrates what can happen to scripophily prices when deep pockets chase our thin markets and rare material.
Finally, there was the value proposition. In the 1960s the US Treasury flooded the numismatic market with millions of US Morgan silver dollars from storage. Regardless of the volume of this material, many date-mint combinations having populations of over 100,000 were bringing upwards of $100 each (when silver was $10/oz). We often find the same story in other established collectibles hobbies – high prices without commensurate rarity.
|Many companies’ stock certificates are only known today from printer’s specimens like this
On the other hand, there are very few vintage securities with populations in the hundred thousands, and these go begging on eBay at 99 cents. A decorative 19th century US stock certificate with a population of about 10 would bring no more than about $250 today, and sometimes a lot less for unpopular fields like general industrial companies and utilities. The reason, quite simply, is that scripophily demand has not yet grown to levels comparable to main-stream hobbies.
We don’t have giant shows with hundreds of dealers and multinational exhibits. In fact, there is only one in all of North America, held annually in a modest hotel near Dulles Airport in Virginia during January. But it is a nice little community of enthusiasts, and we have a good time trading material and stories.
The International Bond and Share Society (www.scripophily.org), of which I am US Chapter President, had about 500 members around the world in 1990. It has around 600 now, after a spike to about 1000 back during the dot.com boom. Prices have followed this trend, having peaked at 2000 and slumped 30% or so since, more for common pieces subject to speculation. On the other hand, true rarities in popular fields such as mining, brewing, rails, autos and shipping have seen modest increases. In general, however, scripophily is for contrarians. I collect because I love the subject, not because Iâ€™m trying to beef up my 401(k).
I store my collection in Mylar sleeves. I accumulate about 100 certificates and put them in a resealable heavy plastic storage bag. I maintain a spreadsheet inventory where location is designated by bag no. This reduces the volume of the collection to the point I can store it in bank boxes yet still get to individual items when I need to. The bank box is more for fire and climate protection than concerns about theft. The certificates have serial numbers, the number of buyers is finite and values are limited, so theft would be more an idle crime of opportunity than a well-thought-out operation. Home fires and floods are a lot more problematic.
Oh, by the way, my father sold that Swift & Co stock when settling my grandfather’s estate. It was “live”, even though superseded by modern Swift & Co stock designs. Sadly, I’ve never seen another one with that design since.
Don’t expect to find many “live” (negotiable) stocks in old hoards and such. It’s a rare instance. In fact, stocks and bonds can only be sold as collector items (unless you are an SEC-registered broker/dealer). This is too bad because it makes certificates in successful companies, particularly older designs, hard to come by because they have mostly been redeemed and cancelled (and then, mostly, destroyed). Sometimes the cancelled ones emerge from corporate archives, but when they do there are usually a lot of them. Very few companies make certificates available anymore, and when they do they charge handsome fees for the privilege.
Hopefully this little piece has imparted to you some of the fun I have with this collection and the attractions of scripophily. I heartily recommend it to you – once I have already bought everything I want.
My Lifelong Love of Ephemera
By Mel Kolstad
In 1972, when I was four, my then three year-old sister and I discovered those little stamps that came with the Columbia House Record Club. She and I would use them as “postage” and send our mom and dad “letters”. For Christmas that year, we each got a box of envelopes to use for our “senders” (the name we called the letters we’d send them). Weren’t we easy to please!
From those record club stamps came a lifelong interest in all things ephemeral. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love getting the free address labels in the mail, or my stamp collection that my parents started for me when I was seven, or the joys in discovering that one could actually purchase old labels, which I gladly did when I discovered some Diamond Ink labels at an antique fair in 1982, when I was 14 (see below).
To this day, I marvel at how cheaply one can attain beautifully lithographed labels, cinderella stamps (a newer passion), ticket stubs, tobacciana, and all manner of antiquity. And what started as a mere collection has turned into something that has changed my life.
About four years ago, I began hearing about ATCs in various craft and art magazines. I had never heard of them before, and the magazine I was reading assumed I would know what that acronym was for (incidentally, ATC stands for Artist Trading Card). These are baseball card-sized works of art that one creates in any medium, but the ones that caught my eye were collaged works. Many of them used old photographs and bits of (reproduction, mostly) ephemera. But that got me thinking – if these cards looked that good with photocopies of vintage labels and the like, how would they look with the real thing?
Here’s where the giant leap came. I jumped head first into this exciting new adventure, but – GASP – would I actually cut up my old labels and magazines? I mean, isn’t that blasphemy?
I decided that no, it certainly is not. I am very lucky – I live in an age when it is still very possible (make that probable) that I am going to come across a plethora of vintage ephemera at every auction, estate, rummage or tag sale that I frequent. If I don’t use these dusty, forgotten items, then what will happen to them? If collectors such as ourselves don’t take or buy them or use them in artworks, will they just be discarded? When I asked myself these questions, I realized that if the ephemera is used in artwork then it is still preserved, albeit slightly altered. And it may cause people who otherwise wouldn’t think twice about an old tuna can label to look at “old stuff” in an entirely new way. With my art, I may entice people to start their own ction or make art of their own, possibly causing them to rethink what they consider throwaway’.
These little snippets of history are our link to the past. When I see a Diamond Ink label from 1909 I marvel that it is still here, resting in my hand, as pristine as it was the day it was printed. I try and imagine the world that this label was borne to and how much it has changed during the years it undoubtedly spent laying in a box in storage somewhere in Milwaukee. Then I think about this little label that will be in someone else’s collection (hopefully) in 2110, and wonder what the world will be like then. Maybe “paper” will be a forgotten substance; it’s mind-boggling. Until then, I shall safeguard these little treasures, whether they’re in binders or in my artwork. I am just a custodian until the next generation discovers their wonders.
You can find Mel Kolstad at http://www.ephemeraology.blogspot.com where you can link to photos, artwork, and her blogs.
How I Collect
By Dennis F. Marr
As a long-time genealogist and local history buff, I had become accustomed to scanning eBay periodically for items of interest in that regard. For some reason, I had never paid any attention to the charming Victorian Trade Cards that I would occasionally see listed. Then, in June of 2007, they grabbed my attention and have yet to let go!
Realizing almost immediately that there was a vast universe of these little beauties, I decided early on to limit my collecting to cards issued by merchants in my hometown of Troy, NY, the Home of Uncle Sam.
A short time into the project, I realized that I needed to obtain some reference material on these cards in order to get a fix on the various categories, motifs, lithographers, etc. I found Dave Cheadle’s Victorian Trade Cards to be entertaining as well as educational. I later was able to obtain from Dave a complete run of the now-defunct Advertising Trade Card Quarterly.
I then redoubled my collecting efforts and as of April 2010 I have about 900 cards issued by 235 different Troy, NY merchants. On the one hand, it is astonishing that our little city saw the issuance of these cards in such quantities. On the other hand Troy, in the latter half of the 19th century, was a bustling city with a population of a bit over 100,000; Troy was also one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. The first Bessimer steel converter was built in Troy, as were the plates for the Civil War ship Monitor. In addition, Troy was the birthplace of the detachable shirt collar and was the stove-manufacturing center of the U.S.
This industrial base is the source, directly and indirectly, of the large and varied population of Victorian Trade Cards. Many of these depict various types of stoves and ranges manufactured and/or sold in Troy. There was near full employment in those days and middle-class folks had money to spend on the latest shoes and boots, millinery and fine dry goods.
I still have no way of knowing the size of the ultimate universe of Troy cards, but I do note that I now find a new merchant’s card much more rarely. I have kept a printout of any cards that I did not win at auction so that I can seek them out for my collection.
I would be very interested to learn if many other collectors take this same approach. As a non-scientific comparison I also have saved searches on eBay for cards issued by merchants in nearby Albany, NY, a much larger city and the state capital. Interestingly, there seem to be far fewer cards from there than from Troy.
As fewer needed cards came up in my searches, I branched out somewhat to collecting Troy merchant invoices/billheads from the same approximate time period that saw the issuance to Victorian Trade Cards. I have obtained a number of these for merchants whose cards I also have, and the letterheads and billheads often bear a nice engraving of the merchantâ€™s store or building. In fact, many of these old buildings remain standing today, some remarkably unchanged from 100 or more years ago.
How I Collect
By Pat Laffin
HOW I collect……Hmmmmm…… I collect in a number of ways. Mostly, I purchase items at auction, paper shows, antiquarian book sales, antique shops, on the Internet, and of course, at the Ephemera Conference and Paper Show. I save any current advertising that appeals to me. I receive ephemera as gifts from dear friends. I make trades. I buy via mail, on approval.
Sometimes, I seem to accidentally acquire ephemera, such as an interesting item found in the bottom of a box that I received at an auction, or placed behind a print that has been framed, or contained inside an envelope that I bought, or rare moments when I find some amazing piece of ephemera on the street. Finding such grand items, I think “Wow! I want to find more of these.” Once I own at least 3-5 of any item, I then consider it to be a collection.
I also collect by sight (bold color, dots of ink, quality of paper, etc), by scent (ahhhh…… the scent of a truly fine tradecard — similar to the scent of an old book or manuscript), by touch (the feel of the paper or the rigidity of the piece in my hand). I sometimes collect by whom it is that is offering the piece, and the history behind it. History plays a large part in my acquisitions.
Of course, I also collect by category and what it is that I truly want. I mainly collect ephemera related to seed companies; although, that has expanded to include a number of related categories.
How I Collect
By Sandra Jones
Eclectically and as a ‘newbie’. Growing up in a home where Dad regularly read old letters to us kids at the dinner table probably put me in the ‘high risk’ category for having my ‘collecting gene’ emerge victorious about five years ago. Those old letters that Dad read were a varied lot from 1849 gold miners writing home about their day to day lives; Mormon settlers writing about the harsh realities of the trail from Illinois to Utah; to Civil War soldiers writing home. I marveled as a young teenager that people ‘back then’ seemed to worry about the same things that people currently were concerned about.
I love frogs. Why? I used to love to catch frogs as a child, wading through the muck and catching them and letting them go. I was fascinated by the eclectic collection of frog figurines that my grandmother treasured. I never thought to ask her why she liked frogs a woman raised in a Boston blueblood family in the late 1800’s who chose to leave a life of luxury and instead go to work in the settlement houses in New York City and then marry a farmer in CT. Why frogs? I will never know now. At my first Ephemera Show (Ephemera 25) I followed my Dad around and was puzzled by people’s asking me, “What do you collect?” I finally said, “Well, frogs.” Secretly I thought to myself, “Well, I haven’t seen any frog images in all this stuff, so I’m safe… I won’t have to worry about finding any and buying any and it’s an answer I can give to the inquisitives.” Little did I know what would happen during the next year. Ephemerist friends started finding frog images and they intrigued me. Then by Ephemera 26 I was ‘on the hunt’ for frog images. But I also have a strong interest in law enforcement and started asking for any ephemera related to police. That show netted an original wanted poster of Bonnie and Clyde and a box full of post cards of “Wanted”. Today when police are on the lookout for someone a ‘BOLO’ (be on the lookout) message is spread through radio and computers. Here was a whole box of early 1900 BOLO’s. Oh the hours I spent looking through those fascinated by the descriptions of the people and crimes they had committed. Theft of horses seemed the most prevalent. Fast forward just a few years to now. I’m still just a ‘newbie’. I go on collecting ‘sprees’ on a limited budget.
The things that fascinate me are the human connection, the commonality of the human condition and how social programs or conventions have changed. For instance, amongst a series of letters to and from a police department in rural New York State in the early 1900’s there are several poignant notes to the Chief of Police. One in particular, written in pencil on scraps of paper reminds me that police then, as now are often call upon to assist others not with crimes but ‘quality of life issues.’ The note is written by a mother in 1911 “I am a poor hard working woman and my husband goes out every night in the week and donâ€™t have any money to support the kids and myself. I found out that he goes up on State Street to see some Hattie Pelling that lives at 103 and who takes all his money (sic) she has got 1 or 2 more girls up there with her and they have men up there all the time and their poor wifes and children have to go hungry half of the time. I wrote to you to see if you can’t do anything to stop it for I need the support for myself and the children. If you don’t see about it I will write to the mayer (sic) to see what can be done.”
Another writer to the same Police Chief on Dec. 11, 1911 writes: “Would call your attention to saloon at corner of Wall and Division St. conducted by T.Barry. It seems funny he can keep open Sundays and people passing to three churches in this section having to see that class of people going in and out. You can even hear orders given for drinks from sidewalk. It is not very nice for our children in this vicinity to see drunks staggering from this place. We would like to have you take some action in this matter which we hope you will do.”
A second letter from this writer a week later seems to indicate something was done. December 17, 1911: “We the neighbors in vicinity of Thomas Barry’s place on Wall Street appreciate your efforts to better condition on Sundays in the locality. While we think it would have been better had Mr. Granery gone up stairs while he was there still we feel that a great deal of good has been accomplished.”
The other common thread and probably my most intriguing ‘story’ to me was my find at last years show (Ephemera 29). It was a frog image folded trade card from Roodhouse, Illinois (circa 1905 – 1917) for the Eli Bridge Company.http://www.elibridge.com/
The founder of this company, W.E. Sullivan had ridden the original Ferris Wheel at the Columbia Exposition. He was fascinated and determined to build one of his own. Ironically, my own great great grandfather from CT also traveled to the Columbia Exposition. OK, you might ask, why was this so intriguing? In the 1960’s living in CT on a family farm I wanted to go to a small college far away from CT. Unlike today, I made no trips to visit colleges, I chose Monmouth College in Monmouth Illinois based a college recruiter showing slide pictures of the school. After being accepted, I was asked to jot down a few interests and was then sent the name of my roommate. Julie and I corresponded that summer, finding we had things in common: we both collected frogs; we were both the only girls between 2 brothers; we both worked summers at Howard Johnson’s; we both came from families that owned unique businesses. I from a Christmas Tree Farm and she from a family that made the only domestic portable ferris wheels in America; Big Eli Wheels of the Eli Bridge Company in Jacksonville, Illinois. Several years ago I was allowed to look through the companies archives and found interesting letterheads, but I did not see any advertising materials. So when I happened to walk by a booth at Ephemera 29 my eye caught the frog image on the table. I then realized that it opened up and when I saw the inside advertisement for Big Eli Wheel of the Eli Bridge Company in Roodhouse, Illinois I had to have it. History and a connection had ‘hopped’ from Illinois to a booth at Ephemera 29 in Stamford, CT.
The collecting gene has been kept under some control, although, frogs and police ephemera have given way to many other images based on my menagerie at home of a donkey, goats and chickens. These images now jump out at me when I walk through the Ephemera Show. What started as an orderly filing of them, (my husband was kind enough to lug home 5 old photography filing cabinets someone gave me…) well those are full, and another closet is full. Today in everyday life, I now seem to view current images I see through the lenses of, “I wonder if in 50 years or more these will be interesting.” This lead me to recently ask the conductor of an Amtrak train if I could take several of their 8.5 by 11 security posters picturing various canine bomb sniffing dogs giving the message in the post 9/11 era about homeland security. Oh and that unique and interesting restaurant menu that I asked for from the Black Gryphon Restaurant in Elizabethtown PA, likely embarrassing my grown child by asking for one. Well, everything is stored in sleeves and somewhat labeled. In the beginning it was categorized… now, well when I retire I guess I’ll have enough to keep me busy!
How I Collect
By John G. Sayers
I collect ocean liner ‘stuff’. After many years of more or less random acquiring, I realized that I needed more focus. I started with three-dimensional artifacts, but discovered ‘paper’ and have never looked back.
A more specific focus in the ephemera is Atlantic passenger liners (as distinct from those who plied the Pacific routes). It’s a fuzzy focus, in that there are some Pacific menus, postcards, etc. that have great images (Dollar Line and NYK material specifically), and I can’t resist them.
Sources? I go to shows and malls — in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. There is ocean liner material to find throughout the world. I don’t buy on the Internet — I’m a tactile person who wants to see and feel the article before I buy. This approach also finds hidden gems — like the Second World War RMS Queen Mary officers menu that I acquired last month. Very little ephemera is available about the era when these liners were used as troopships, and I’m not sure that an e-bay listing would have included the date of the menu. And the dealer I dealt with most certainly didn’t realize what they had.
I collect to tell a story. The story is about a mode of travel that has disappeared and will never return. In the glory days of ocean liner travel, crossing the ocean was the only way to go from one continent to another. It was the only way that people (largely from Europe) seeking a better life could cross to North America. It was also the only way that movie stars, sports celebrities and businesspeople could go from one market to another.
During the two World Wars, there is another part to the story. Many of the ocean liners were requisitioned for service as troopships and hospital ships. Postcards of ships captioned as “The Ship That Brought Me Home” are poignant reminders of the relief of coming back from years on the battlefronts.
These are all threads of the tapestry that is part of our history. How do I collect? The answer is that I look for historical threads and collect them to make a more complete picture of the subject with which I have fallen in love.
John Sayers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
How I Built a World Class Collection Without Spending a Dime
By Frank DeFreitas
Like many others over the years, I have found various ways of obtaining pieces for my ephemera collection. What is perhaps most unique, is that practically the entire collection was assembled without spending a single dime. In this article, I’d like to share a few of those methods with you. However, readers should be forewarned: these techniques may no longer be practical in today’s modern, electronic â€œpaperlessâ€ world. Perhaps the more imaginative collector may still find a workaround.
First, an introduction to my collection: I collect ephemera related to the topic of holography. This is the Nobel prize-winning field that is responsible for those magical three-dimensional images called holograms. I’ve named my collection Antiquarian Holographica. The collection is made up primarily of ephemera from the latter half of the 20th Century: from the 1960’s onward. A good term for it would be contemporary ephemera. I use the term “antiquarian” in its title not for the world of today, but for the world of tomorrow into which it is going.
What little is known by the general public about holography and holograms usually leads to several misconceptions about the collection. I would like to take a moment to address these before we move on. The most common misconceptions are: (1) that my collection is primarily of holograms (the collection is primarily of paper); (2) that the collection is about the history of holography (it is about how old paper *documents* the history of holography); and (3) one needs to understand lasers, optics and physics in order to appreciate the items in the collection (one only needs to know about ephemera: the same as any other ephemera collection.).
Learn to Chase . . . Through Attraction
I have been very fortunate in that, over the life of my collection, it came to me, rather than the other way around. This wasn’t entirely accidental. What I mean is that I continuously discovered ways that would attract paper to me, rather than having to obtain the paper via the usual methods such as through dealers or other collectors.
One example, and perhaps the one that worked best for me personally, is that I began to publish a holography newsletter in 1983. This newsletter provided updated news and information about holography throughout the world. Naturally, if someone wanted information placed into the newsletter, they had to send it to me for publication. Soon I was included on just about every mailing list in the field . . . from the smallest galleries, to the largest laser hologram research facilities around the globe. This continuously added pieces to the collection, year after year (and yes, I’ve kept the stamped envelopes too).
From a legal standpoint, this also gave me the rights to publish and promote. After all, that is precisely why artists, scientists, research facilities and companies were sending the printed information in the first place. This is something that comes in handy today, especially on the Internet with my web sites, blogs and multimedia applications: there is no copyright infringement. I am just continuing the lineage of publishing and promotion begun by the newsletter, and by the original submission of printed materials for inclusion.
Other various methods for obtaining ephemera were almost second nature to me, such as: attending exhibit openings (postcards, posters, flyers, exhibition catalogs); conventions and conferences (industrial advertising, brochures, catalogs); visiting labs, production facilities and manufacturers (printed product samples, product advertising, actual holograms); social gatherings (gaining social familiarity, networking, trading); letter writing (personal printed correspondence, letterheads, billheads, envelopes, stamps); to name just a few techniques that I employed.
One should now begin to notice a pattern here: that in order to have a collection grow on its own, i.e. attract the pieces to come to you, one must have the collection integrated into the activities of their everyday lives. It doesnâ€™t need to be full time. It can be on a part time basis. But it needs to be there right there along with you, the collector. My motto was â€œevery day, in some wayâ€. For instance, I began my ephemera collection (1976) before I began my holography studio (1983), and before I made the jump to working with holography full time (1993). All throughout this time period, I continuously developed new ways to have collectible pieces flowing to me.
New World . . . New Thinking
However, that was then, and now is now. A lot has changed in our methods of communication. Many of the collection-growing techniques mentioned above are probably not as reliable in today’s modern world. The newsletter technique mentioned above is a good example of a method that may not provide a good ephemera return. The reason? Many newsletters are now, or soon will become, electronic. They are currently “delivered” either via a web page link or as email. Therefore, as a publisher of either an online or even a physical newsletter (take your pick), most of the news and information that one would receive for inclusion today would be sent electronically — not physically through the mail as in the past.
This begs us to ask: does printing out an email attachment turn that attachment into a piece of ephemera? Would the attachment itself be considered ephemera, whether printed out or not? Is a folder of digital photos ephemera? These are questions that no one has any clear-cut answers to at the moment, and are certainly beyond the scope of this single paper!
Meanwhile, this recent shift in communication technologies is one of the reasons why I have voluntarily ended my collection with the year 2000: there is simply not enough holography-related physical paper going around any longer to continue (holography, with its strong foundation in science and technology was one of the earliest adopters of Internet-based communication). Plus, from a marketing and promotional standpoint, it is much more romantic to say that the collection focuses exclusively on “Holography Ephemera from the 20th Century”. That has a nice ring to it!
As a collector, all of this sudden change has also had a personal impact on me as well, much of it positive (but certainly not all of it!). I continue to stay active with new ways of attracting paper, such as web sites, blogging, Internet radio broadcasting, online video, online social networking, and electronic newsletter(s). Every so often, I receive a package or two, delivered from a reader or listener, with their compliments, donating pieces to the collection. Unlike in the past, if I see a piece Iâ€™d like to add to the collection, Iâ€™ll buy it. But for the most part, I consider myself (at age 53) just now beginning to enter into my collection’s “maturing years”: years in which tasks such as sorting and database documentation, promotion and hopefully, exhibiting start becoming the driving force of the collection. My goal now is that I want to have it ready for its true purpose in life: to go far into the future. Maybe one day, perhaps in the 22nd Century or further, it will be exhibited on the Moon or another planet. Similar to the way it would be shown in Paris today. Donâ€™t laugh! Thatâ€™s what dreams are made of!
In closing, while we can be certain of what the future ultimately holds for each and every one of us, we can only guess at best as to what the future holds for our collections. In the end, for me and probably for you too, our ephemera collections are our legacies. To me, ephemera is the very DNA of our society and world: a cultural genetic code to be assimilated, and passed on, throughout history.
How I Collect
By Marty Weil
I’m interested in ephemera from the standpoint of its value to researchers, writers, artists, historians, genealogists, collectors, and others. The focus of my collecting is a blog ( http://www.ephemera.typepad.com ) designed primarily to showcase the ephemera collections of others. Although I own some ephemera, my personal collection is limited. Rather, I’m interested in seeing what exists in public and private collections throughout the world. The blog, which showcases items that I like and think my readers will find interesting, is a serious endeavor done in the spirit of good fun. Since its inception more than four years ago, over 400,000 people from around the world have visited to explore the world of old paperâ€”some discovering “ephemera” for the first time.
There are many definitions of ephemera. Of all the definitions of ephemera that I’ve seen, my favorite is “raw, unedited history.” There are a variety of reasons why certain old paper has survived to the present day. In some cases, it’s just a fluke or luck or happenstance. More often, people save old paper deliberately for a variety of reasons, such as sentimental value, nostalgia, reference, and/or for collecting purposes. As opposed to offering excuses, most people take pride in the items they’ve saved or collected, especially those people that consider themselves to be true ephemera collectors.
Marty writes about technology in manufacturing, education, data centers, and other industries. He edits his ephemera blog, and is the author of A Year in Asheville, a book of photography published in 2008.
Why I Collect Ephemera
by Moira F. Harris (as told by her husband)
A few weeks ago the webmaster of the Ephemera Society requested each of the members of the Board of Directors to prepare a short story on this subject for the Society’s website. My wife, known to all as Molly, was hesitant, shy perhaps about revealing something deeply hidden. But having been happily married to her for more than 50 years, I now feel free to do so, unrestrained, able to unburden myself of a family secret.
As many of you know, Molly is a born collector and she has engaged in this endeavor for a lifetime. She collects stamps, postcards, calendars, programs, breweriana advertising, beer and wine labels, coasters, trade cards, and many, many other things. As a specialization she collects Minnesota ephemera and has written a book on that subject.
And as a scholar she has lectured and written a number of articles about the items in her collection, and perhaps in recognition of this dedication to the hobby she was invited to become a member of the Board of Directors of the Ephemera Society.
These pieces of ephemera reside everywhere in our house, from attic to basement. One cannot walk about without stepping around things; they are either in sight, hidden in every nook and cranny, or apt to tumble pell-mell out of a closet when she, like another Molly, the wife of Fibber McGee in that old-time classic radio show of the 1940s, opened the closet door on every show. But organized chaos is acceptable to me. I cannot remember a day without paper ephemera being strewn about, even though I often was puzzled about the underlying rationale for the multitude of ephemera objects which our house contains.
About thirty years ago we attended a very forgettable comic opera by the American composer Dominick Argento. While I cannot recall the precise title, the subject matter was hammered home by each aria sung by the stars. They harangued, titillated, argued, and discussed, alone and with the cast, about boxes. Boxes? Yes, BOXES!!
At that moment the scabs fell from my eyes. It became crystal clear to me! Like a hamburger in a bun, Molly’s ephemera kept in boxes was merely the filler.
Ephemera was the stuff which merely gave substance to her real collecting interest!
Her collection began and has continued because of the boxes she treasured. Some were metal (the lavender colored Louis Sherry box and an imitation treasure chest), some were wood (made to house, originally, sausages or chocolate), and some were cardboard (used for shoes or grapefruit). All were treasured and filled, over the years, with matchbooks, postcards, tickets, valentines, Christmas seals, and beer labels. At first many items went into scrapbooks or other albums, but given the opportunity and the container, my wife’s detritus flowed, like the Mississippi River, into a delta of boxes.
I also note, in passing, banker’s boxes, candy boxes, jewelry boxes, cigar boxes, gum boxes, and acid-free collector’s boxes, all in a plethora of colors. I could go on and on and describe the remainder of these containers, but this is not for me to do. I think that boxes, yes boxes, should become a recognized area of collecting, and that Molly should be the first one to write them up in a scholarly fashion.
Molly was too shy to suggest this, but I feel compelled to do so.
Truthfully yours, John Harris
How I Collect: Bookmarks
By Lois R. Densky-Wolff
In the world of antique ‘smalls’ and ephemera illustrating the history of advertising art, I think nothing beats collecting bookmarks and pagemarkers. As a retired librarian and archivist, it is only natural I would be interested in book-related ephemera. I have been collecting new bookmarks since first becoming a librarian over thirty years ago and antique ones shortly thereafter.
My fascination with old bookmarks and pagemarkers began on a trip to London. At The British Ephemera Society’s annual collectibles paper show, I purchased my first antique paper bookmarks. They were so lovely; I’ve been hooked ever since. Having worked professionally in library special collections and archives where one of my responsibilities was the acquisition of rare books and manuscripts, it was imperative never to have a conflict of interest when deciding what to personally collect. Bookmark collecting was a perfect fit.
I really like printed ephemera – all those old, small historical materials that were made to be used once and then thrown away such as programs, menus, and tickets. My bookmark collecting made me even more receptive and sensitive to collecting ephemera professionally especially as they helped document the various historical subjects in the libraries where I once worked.
Paper bookmarks are classified as ephemera although they are intended for repeated use. My collection contains many examples of early paper and celluloid bookmarks. Most are in the category of ‘advertising’ or ‘die-cut’ – those cut in the shape of things, and I have great examples in the collection of both types.
The other category that I am particularly attracted to is metal pagemarkers – those bookmarks produced with a pierced blade which clips to the paper. I began collecting bookmarks and (mostly) English pagemarkers because I like things historical and bookish, but did not want to collect rare books. Many of my pagemarkers have fancy and unusually-shaped handles.
I have a particular affinity for New Jersey made bookmarks, and actively seek out Newark manufactured celluloid by Whitehead & Hoag, silks from the Paterson, NJ, silk mills, and advertising paper from the (formerly) Newark-based Mennen Company. At last count, my collection contains thousands of bookmark examples. I would classify myself as an ‘advanced’ collector now that I am very selective of which bookmarks and pagemakers I add to the collection.
My collection contains bookmarks and pagemarkers dating from the mid-19th century to the present and are made of paper, silver, gold, pewter, wood, brass, copper, ivory, mother-of-pearl, aluminum, chrome, tin, plastic, celluloid, leather, Fiberglas, silk, ribbon, woven and embroidered, and handmade originals. There are examples from around the world.
I find bookmarks in many places – at antique and book stores, antique and book shows, paper and collectible shows, and just free-for-the-taking new ones. My husband is the proprietor of the Old Book Shop in Morristown, NJ, and he is another welcome source of new and old bookmarks to add to the collection.
Over the years, I have had the occasion to exhibit parts of my collection, mostly at libraries including Princeton and Rutgers Universities, and several public libraries in New Jersey. I had the pleasant opportunity to present a lecture about the history of bookmarks and my collection to members of The Ephemera Society of America at the Ephemera 22 show in 2002, and exhibit a small group there the following year. It has been a most enjoyable experience sharing my collecting obsession with the public.
One great thing about collecting bookmarks: they are easy to store! Small and mostly flat, the pagemarkers are stored in miniature drawers and boxes, while the older paper and other materials bookmarks are stored in archival photographic negative sleeves and kept in binders. They are sorted into general categories but I could do a better job of cataloging them. A new retirement project in the making!
Once I Get Home
By Dick Sheaff
Whenever a new acquisition arrives, I immediately sleeve it. I look at collecting as temporary stewardship. Many of the things I collect were created long before I was born, and with good care they will exist long after I’m gone. So. A protective sleeve.
I have always greatly disliked looseleaf binders for storage (and for looking through in dealer booths, for that matter). Pages snag when turned, items slide out, overstuffed binders pop open. The more well-worn the binder, the worse these problems. Removing an item from a binder pocket to examine the back, then sliding sliding it back into place, can easily cause damage. Multi-ring binders from Germany work better, mechanically, but are expensive and have relatively small capacity. And in any event, I have always found storing items in binders far too constricting: just about the time some category of item has been put away in good order in a binder, a new addition comes along which logically should go right into the middle, and so everything after that point must be removed and re-inserting further along. The lack of flexibility is huge. If one wants to re-arrange a collection, or re-sort it in another way, or switch items between collections, or store duplicate or variations next to each other . . . the inconveniences go on and on. And a binder full of “stuff” is a heavy, messy thing, with other pages partially in view, items partially sliding out of pockets.
I prefer to put each single item into its own individual protective sleeve, to be stored in an archival box with topic dividers. The most important advantage of this is that each item can be stored anywhere, and moved to another place/category at any time. New additions can be slipped into exactly the logical place. Items like letterheads, for example, can be arranged chronologically (or by industry, or by company, or by style) and new additions inserted in place as they come in. Any item can be removed for examination, yet remain protected.
For things like trade cards, postcards, philatelic covers, small booklets, rewards of merit and all sorts of smallish items, I personally prefer SAFE brand’s heavier philatelic sleeves which come in various standard sizes (one is perfect for postcards and most trade cards, one is sized for US philatelic covers, one for #10 envelope-sized covers / brochures / maps, another for European standard envelopes and all sorts of small booklets and other paper items). Other companies also make sleeves of this sort. Depending on size, source of supply, etc. such sleeves cost @ 25 cents to 40 cents each, generally trivial compared to the worth of the item being protected. While these sleeves are not mylar — generally considered archivally best — they do offer good, reasonably long-term (i.e. as long as I’m alive) chemical protection and excellent protection from handling. Mylar sleeves are available in similar sizes but they are very thin, leaving the item floppy, less physically protected and less easy to handle. Thick mylar sleeves, if such can be found, are very expensive.
For letterheads, billheads, larger booklets, magazines, comics, sheet music and such, I do use mylar, 4-mil mylar sleeves with acid free backing boards. Again, each item is individual and can be stored and re-arranged at will. I store these sleeved and backed items in those inexpensive, white, covered boxes intended to store magazines and comic books.
Posters and other large paper items I generally store in flat files; likewise with fabric items, tapa, batik, flags, oversized booklets and the like. The one problem with flat storage in drawers is getting at (or even finding) an item again once it has been layered under other flat pieces. Some larger pieces I will want to find readily, I put into large rigid sleeves (like huge baseball card sleeves). Not truly archival but they provide excellent protection from the biggest problem with oversize pieces, physical damage from handling.
One of my favorite collections is that of photographers’ advertising “backmarks” on carte-de-visite (CDV) photographs. These I store in a fashion that is not really archival, but which made it possible — for me — to collect these things. The problem with CDVs is that, while they are all more or less the same size, they actually vary. Some are a bit different in size, some have been trimmed, some are substantially thicker than others. Probably the best way to keep them would be just as they are, loose in an acid free archival box, but they are difficult to work with that way. Some of the thin mylar sleeves often used don’t really fit closely to the card, are open on both ends, and make for awkward sorting, examining, etc. For me personally, I found that the way to make them all uniform, rigidly protected, easy to flip through and to sort was to use baseball card-type “rigid” top loaders. Those made for baseball cards are not tall enough for CDVs, but there is another standard size which has the same width (fine for CDVs) but is 5″ tall, even taller than a CDV. After inserting the CDV, I trim the excess top space to a standard height, and so all of my stored CDVs are of a common size and weight.
One of my favorite collecting tools is a cast iron, 19th century book press. Whenever a new “find” has a fold, crease or wrinkle I generally press it overnight between pieces of blotting paper, after wetting the creased or wrinkled area with clean water. I use a fingertip to gently apply the water along the fold. The cast iron screw mechanism of the press can exert a tremendous amount of pressure, and it is amazing how much fresher items look after a night between the blotter sheets. In extreme cases, a tremendously wrinkled and shabby-looking item can come out looking VF. I found my book press years ago at a Massachusetts neighborhood yard sale for $50. A peek at the eBay listings today revealed quite a few of them currently for sale. The styles, condition and prices varied widely, but they are available. New book presses, generally made of wood, can be found in archival supply, bindery supply and library supply catalogs.
I must confess that I also collect modern ephemera, and store it in exactly the same ways as with vintage ephemera. For those of you who may also collect the contemporary, I can report that for collecting business cards, credit cards and gift cards, black albums made by Rolodex (#67479 BC 108) nicely hold 240 cards, on 12 double-sided pages of 20 cards each. Around my location, OfficeMax stocks the books, which also can be found online.
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