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Author: John Sayers


It’s August 1943 and war is raging in the Pacific. You’re aboard a U.S. Army Transport headed into action on the next island that has to be recaptured. So, you’re checking your equipment and your rifle, totally focused on the next battle, right?

Wrong. On August 24, 1943 you’re being dunked by a ceremonial King Neptune as your Transport crosses the Equator, and you cross it for the first time! Anyone who has traveled by ship crossing the Equator will recall the traditional ceremony which is like – but in no way related to – baptism by immersion! What is surprising is that it would take place in the middle of a war.

And this isn’t a makeshift piece of paper. It’s a business-card size piece that is formally printed aboard the SS Noordam, a Holland-America Line ship that had been taken into military service as the United States Army Transport (USAT) Noordam. So Corporal Charles W. Hopkins received this card, signed by the ship’s Captain, and presumably carried it in his wallet for the duration of the war in the Pacific. That’s two more years!

As ephemera, it’s pretty beaten up and tired looking. As a tiny moment in history, over a year before ferocious battles on Tarawa and Iwo Jima, it’s priceless and quite likely unique. Did Cpl. Hopkins fight in any of those battles? Where did he go and what did he do after his induction into the realm of King Neptune? We will never know, but obviously he survived. And here’s why we know…

The website shows a Cpl. Charles W. Hopkins (1920-2001) in the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Springfield. If this tiny card was his, it survives as a quiet memorial to Cpl. Hopkins and his service to our country.

Charles Dickens Manuscript Surfaces

I was asked by an acquaintance to review a hoard of miscellaneous ephemera that they had been given by a downsizing friend. I discovered that there was a Charles Dickens First Edition apparently published in 1934!

The book itself wasn’t in my friend’s archive. But there was a six-panel single-sheet advertising foldover that promoted “THE LIFE OF OUR LORD – The hitherto unpublished work of CHARLES DICKENS”. All you had to do was send $1.75 per copy to John A. Lavender in Troy, NY.

Was this a 1930s scam? After all, it doesn’t take much research to find that Dickens died in 1870. The explanation in the flyer was plausible – Dickens had stated that the manuscript was not to be published during the life of his children. Still…Dickens was an author who published for his income. Why would he withhold this potential moneymaker?

I contacted the head of our local Dickens Fellowship, a global network of Charles Dickens enthusiasts and scholars. He had never heard of the book nor the ‘withheld manuscript’ story. Hmmm?

So I went online to, one of my go-to websites. Credible book dealers were offering copies of the 1934 book. One featured a copy with Dickens’s signature. This would have been a remarkable scientific feat, many decades after Dickens’ death, but there was a caveat that this was a pasted-in signature. Doubt was answered. In addition, very inexpensive reprints were on offer. I assume that no one would go to the trouble to reprint a book that was a fraud!

Then to my old friend Wikipedia for further enlightenment. It supported and expanded upon the manuscript, which Dickens had read to his family every Christmas after he wrote it. Reportedly the original manuscript is now in the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Contemporary technology makes it soooo easy to explore the information in ephemera. It should be obvious why I and my fellow collectors are excited about all the historical insights that can be gleaned from the ore in modest pieces of paper! Try it. You’ll love it!

The Roycrofters – The Roots of Protest?

Ephemera Detective

Were 20th Century art and antiques the expressions of protest – with Arts & Crafts representing a revulsion to the elaborate styles of the late 19th Century, and Art Deco representing a level of protest elevated even further? A publication purchased recently at a local Public Library Book Sale helps to explain the framework for this thesis, and presents some apparent contradictions.

The small 4 ½” by 6” booklet titled The Philistine sets its tone at an early stage through its subtitle A Periodical of Protest. Dated May 1901, and described as “Printed Every Little While by The Society of the Philistines and published by them…” the booklet carries articles such as Life and Art, About Right Thinking, and Church and State (by Leo Tolstoy).

I looked for signs of ‘protest’. I saw a full-page advertisement by the Henry F. Miller & Sons Piano Company of Boston, another full-page ad for Dorflinger Glass Craft by C. Dorflinger & Sons of New York, and other part-page ads featuring “This refrigerator $8.95; “Cocktails – How to Make Them”; Leadam’s Shoe Trees”; John W. Merriam & Co’s “Honest-Pure Habana Segars” and a host of other consumer opportunities. To judge from the advertisers, middle-class motivators trumped any substantive protest.Eph Detective Sept 2011 Mod II

The publisher offered the chance to subscribe monthly to Little Journeys – to the Homes of Great Musicians at 25 cents a month or $3.00 per year. A full page of offerings headed Sculpture included a BUST, in terra cotta, of William Morris for $5.00; a BAS RELIEF of Walt Whitman (“Round, 9 inches in diameter”) for $3.00; and a PAPERWEIGHT – Roycroft for 50 cents.

Readers will have realized by now that this periodical emanated from The Roycrofters of East Aurora, New York and their leader Elbert Hubbard. Personally, I love the products of the Arts & Crafts movement. The cleanness and purity of line is a delight. However, this piece of ephemera underscores one of the challenges of art and antiques of the 20th Century – the artist needs to communicate his or her ideas while still earning enough to put food on the table.

It appears that The Philistine was one of the means of supporting an art community while at the same time promulgating social ideas. A one-page article titled TIME WAS UP – It was Quit Coffee or Die purports to present a letter from a woman in New Haven who was suffering from serious liver, kidney and heart ailments. She reported that when she stopped drinking coffee, she recovered from her illnesses.

In its way, this piece of ephemera helps to explain why art thought and forms tend to evolve rather than change overnight. Thanks to the Roycrofters for helping to launch that evolution as the world moved forward from 1901.

Valentine Party Time – The Gospel According to Dennison’s

This article appeared in the most recent version of the National Valentine Collector’s Association periodical titled the “Valentine Writer”.

What do you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Perhaps a romantic candlelit dinner at a cozy local bistro? Is a bouquet of roses part of your day? How about a box of the finest chocolates? Your favorite perfume? Maybe even – a dream of dreams – a piece of fine jewelry?

Figure 1: The front cover of a delightful 1928 magazine by Dennison’s

Not according to the Party Magazine published in early 1928 by Dennison’s, which many of us think of solely as creators of crepe paper. Just into its second full year of publication, the magazine encompasses “Decorations – Costumes – Refreshments – Games“ – in other words, everything that you might need to put on a Valentine’s party that transcends mere chocolates and perfume!

Figure 2: 1928 was a Leap Year – time for a Leap Year Party.

With a knockout drawing on the cover by ‘Eggleston’ (Figure 1), the magazine promises to provide the recipes for “A St. Valentine Dance”; “A Leap Year Party” (Figure 2 – Yes, 1928 was a leap year – and a Presidential election year, too, with Herbert Hoover squaring off against Al Smith); and a description of “My Most Successful Party” by Mary Brian. Other, lower-profile, articles describe topics such as “Ivory Soap Carving”, “Games and Stunts”, “Crepe Paper Costumes”, steps to take “So We’ll Be Invited Again”, and even how to host a Valentine shower for a prospective bride. Although 20 cents was a significant amount of money in 1928, the contents dangled the prospect of upward mobility to the socially conscious, and 20 cents was a small price to pay for social success. Let’s look at the specific Valentine’s Day content to see how that success could be attained.

Figure 3: The wonderful outside back cover of the Dennison’s magazine, promotion the gift of chocolates for Valentine’s Day.

The outside back cover (Figure 3) advertises “Candy for a Valentine” with a Lonergan color drawing of a handsome, dashing gentleman proffering chocolates in a heart-shaped box to a beautiful woman, sitting in an elegant Victorian-era parlor. This generic industry-sponsored ad is attributed to the National Confectioners Association. Well, we’ve already suggested chocolates, so what about Dennison’s products?

A full-page ad on the inside front cover brings us closer to a Dennison-festooned party. Reminding readers that “A Modern Kodak is Part of the Party” the ad pictures a costumed couple bobbing for an apple suspended on a string. Reminding readers that “Half the fun of the party is living it over in pictures”, the black-and-white ad (cameras took black and white photos, so a color ad just wasn’t appropriate) gets us to Dennison’s and Party Time.

Figure 4: Inside back cover – Dennison’s presents many of its decorating gems

The inside back cover (Figure 4 – generally recognized as the third most valuable advertising placement) illustrates a wide range of enticing Valentine products under the heading of “Dennison’s Goods for St. Valentine’s Day” with a subtitle, “and the Patriotic Holidays”). There is an array of heart-shaped seals, cupid cut-outs, napkins, table covers, crepe paper borders, decorated crepe papers, napkins, and place cards.

Let’s look at the articles that tell us how to use these tools to skyrocket to social success, in an era where there was no electronic social network and the only leading-edge communications tool was the telephone. The illustration in the article on “The Valentine Dance” shows how a hall can be decorated to foster a great environment for Valentine’s festivities (Figure 5). The author, Dorothy Wright, sets out the rationale for such a dance:

“Sometimes we get tired of being ‘just us’ and welcome with joy an opportunity to masquerade, if just for one night, as some elfin Peter Pan; a swashbuckling cavalier; or a beribboned and bucolic Bo-Peep. A costume dance is never dull and St. Valentine’s Day, with its quaint atmosphere of patches and powder, of lavender and old lace, is just the time for such a party.”

Figure 5: Let the Valentine dance begin – in a hall beautifully decorated with Dennison’s products

The facing page illustrates novelties for further decoration; a crepe paper Valentine doll whose body is a bag of confetti [confetti! – so who’s cleaning up after this party is over?]; a life-saver doll “that will be welcomed alike by men and girls”; a Valentine clown made of red hearts and white crepe paper; a dainty fan fashioned of paper, wire and ribbon; a flapper doll made of wire and crepe paper to serve as a favor or prize at the Valentine dance; and a cupid cut-out “wearing a diaphanous bow of gauze ribbon and carrying in its quiver a gold arrow numbered for matching partners”.

The article is overflowing with ideas for party games and additional decorations. If you have any love of the charms of the Roaring Twenties you can’t help but be captivated by the descriptions in this article. I am. If you’re enticed by the thought of replicating a Valentine party such as this one, send me an e-mail, and I’ll send you a scan of the article!

Figure 6: A Valentine costume lovingly assembled from Dennison’s components

In our present era when you go to a dollar store to buy a ready-made costume for a costume party, it’s not easy to recognize just how much personal involvement there was in preparing for a party in the 1920s. In an article illustrating “Crepe Paper Costumes – that take less than two hours to make” the author illustrates costumes of Valentine Hearts (Figure 6), Valentine Cupids, a Valentine Clown, and an Old-Fashioned Valentine – as well as the Spirit of St. Louis (remember that Lindbergh’s nonstop Transatlantic flight was just the preceding year) and the Stars and Stripes. The drawings look wonderful, but one has to reflect that we may have lost something out of our lives in the intervening 80–plus years. Do we no longer take the time to do special things for our friends – such as spending two hours to construct a Valentine costume?

So you want your friends to ache to be invited back again to parties at your home? The article “So They’ll Want to be Invited Again” (Figures 7 and 8) tells you all that you will ever want – or need – to know. Author Katherine D. Bartlett advises you that “Dainty Accessories Will Add to Your Fame as a Charming Hostess”. She provides specific information about what you should do for a bridge party:

“St. Valentine’s Day suggests a host of the most fitting emblems and colors for a bridge party decoration – red or pink hearts, cupids, red roses, old-fashioned lacy valentines, and bouquets.

“The card tables may each have a cunning fat cupid bearing aloft a numbered valentine. The one that is illustrated is fashioned by cutting out a cupid that is printed on a design of crepe paper, mounting it on cardboard and fastening it to a large red heart with wire.”

Figure 7: Some ideas to “…add to Your Fame as a Charming Hostess”.

Figure 8: More ideas to build your reputation as a legendary hostess

Have you been to a bridge party recently – or any other party for that matter – where the hostess lavished this much attention on the decorations? At the risk of falling off the proverbial soapbox, I believe that we have become too busy to do special things for our friends. Pity. But this Valentine magazine gem by Dennison’s brings us back to a romantic lifestyle, and values which we should seriously consider returning to today.

John G. Sayers is a long-time ephemera collector and an active member of the National Valentine Collectors Association, the Board of the Ephemera Society of America, and the Council of The Ephemera Society (U.K.).

Larkin – The New Business Model

In this post, Dick Sheaff presents ephemera that points to a new business model – selling by mail. You don’t actually go to the target market yourself – you mail to it. An example of that model is The Larkin Company of Buffalo, which fine-tuned the model to a highly successful level. I guess that’s why I like to buy good examples of their marketing ephemera whenever I see them.

We’ve seen ‘Western’ films with the Medicine Salesman driving his wagon from town to town to sell his magical medical products (normally containing liberal quantities of alcohol) at the end of a Medicine Show. That’s very inefficient but it was the accepted way to market to those rural markets in the mid-to-late 1800s.

The model was simple – sell soaps by mail to agents who would take orders from their neighbors and friends. As well, incentivize it so that they were highly motivated to recruit other buyers. (I would note that this model was not unknown even recently to manufacturers of cosmetics and other products.)

With Larkin’s soap, they were selling convenience – for a price. Instead of making her own soap the housewife could free up some of her time by purchasing bars of soap from Larkin. And she could receive premiums by recruiting her friends to purchase fixed dollar amounts of soaps and an array of other Larkin products every month. Hey, what’s better than convenience at no net cost?

And it all began in 1875 when John Larkin launched his own soap company in Buffalo. His brother-in-law, Elbert Hubbard, provided the sales savvy. Not long after they were joined by a very young Darwin Martin, their first office person. They made a lot of money in the last part of the 1800s, to the extent that the company hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo in 1904. And Darwin Martin hired him to design the Darwin Martin House, which still stands. Larkin was a serious business generating serious money.

At the Madison-Bouckville Antique Week this past August, I spotted the type of box in which those money-spinning quantities of soap were shipped (Figure 1). It even had the original shipping label attached (Figure 2).

Figure 1
Figure 2

One of the keys to the success of the business was premiums. Reportedly one of the most popular ‘freebies’ was the Chautauqua Desk pictured in Figure 3. But there were more than desks. Even the basic pocket calendar was used to promote the company (Figure 4).

Ephemera - A New Business Model
Figure 3
Figure 4

A corporate magazine, as per the 1909 example illustrated in Figure 5, “The Larkin Family Magazine”, contained articles such as a well-illustrated report on the Company’s booth at the New England Food Fair in Boston in 1908, as well as patterns and other useful household information.

Ephemera - A New Business Model
Figure 5

Even the title reflects a degree of marketing genius – it’s a ‘family’ magazine in terms of its contents, but it’s sent to the ‘Larkin Family’ of salespeople. You weren’t just a member of your own local family at home – you were also a member of the vast ‘Larkin Family’ across America. And the cover, showing ‘Honest Abe’, associated the company with honesty and integrity.

Ephemera shows that the Larkin organization could also be petty and demanding. A 1921 letter to the postmaster at Enosburg Falls, Vermont (Figure 6) is somewhat rudely critical of the postmaster because they returned a letter from Larkin to an addressee in Enosburg and did not state the reason for non-delivery. A penciled note shows that this was done two days later. Presumably, someone from Larkin was responsible for tracking non-deliveries and the reason for same. For example, if a prospective recipient had died, there would be no sense in sending them any more correspondence. There was no question as to their organizational and marketing efficiency.

Ephemera - A New Business Model
Figure 6

The following year, another letter from Larkin (Figure 7) offers a financial incentive to the postmaster at Enosburg if they will provide Larkin with mailing lists. It’s very specific as to what they want and provides an interesting insight to Larkin’s target markets. Not quite a bribe…or is it? Abe Lincoln, where is your influence on Larkin integrity? Presumably still smarting from the implied criticism of the year before, and perhaps reluctant to sell address lists to Larkin, the Postmaster has noted on the letter in pencil “No one available”.

Ephemera - A New Business Model
Figire 7

Was the business model already beginning to fray? Products could be promoted in the 1920s through the new medium of radio. Even larger entities such as Sears were selling products by mail, featuring price rather than premiums, and selling to individuals rather than local ‘Clubs’. The business model was being tweaked and when founder John Larkin died in 1926 the creative and adaptive force may have diminished. He would have had to devise how to compete with department stores and the impact of the automobile which let customers drive to the source of their products.

Later on, the Larkin organization would have had to compete with television’s Shopping Channel. And one can see some of the Larkin genes in the Internet’s new giant retailer, Amazon.

Business models evolve and change to reflect technological and social changes. And ephemera can remind us of the ongoing impact of American marketing ingenuity to adapt to those changes.

John Sayers Donates Ocean Liner Collection

John Sayers Donates Ocean Liner Collection to John Johnson Collection in the Bodleian Library.

John Sayers is a longtime ESA member and a collector of ocean liner ephemera. In an interview conducted with Julie-Ann Lambert of the John Johnson Collection, he recalls what first drew him to the subject matter and gives advice for those who are just starting to collect. Read the full interview below and visit it on the John Johnson Collection’s blog.

Photograph of John and Judith SayersJohn and Judith Sayers

What sparked your interest in ocean liners and, in particular, the ephemera relating to them?

A combination of personal recollection and a lifelong interest in history. The personal recollection dates back to traveling with my parents on the RMS Queen Elizabeth; the interest was sharpened by my history major in university and in particular a fascination with both design and social history.

How (and with what items) did your collection begin?

I began with enamel souvenir lapel pins, like the one that I brought back to Canada in 1954 as an RMS Queen Elizabeth souvenir gift for my late aunt Beth (you know, the maiden aunt who has everything!). That interest expanded to other three-dimensional objects with enameling. That focus was then enlarged by the first foray into ephemera, to reminisce about meals on board [Figure #1], baggage labels [Figure #2], and all the other printed reminders of life on a great ship. However, I discovered such a broad information landscape in ephemera that I eventually divested my three-dimensional objects to become completely immersed in ephemera.

Cunard Children’s Menu Cover
Figure 1

White Star Baggage Label
Figure 2

What did you aim to achieve through the collection? Has that aim changed?

In terms of ephemera, the objective was to provide a record of what took place on board a ship; what happened beforehand to plan the trip; and any effects afterward where there is a relevant follow-up experience.

The change of the aim occurred when I discovered that there was a further enlargement to my scope. The scope had originally been established as North Atlantic steamships. However, I came to realize that those that plied the South Atlantic were also interesting and relevant. Then I discovered Pacific Ocean shipping.

Fushima Menu Cover
Figure 3

SS Manchuria Passenger List Cover
Figure 4

Part of the attraction was the beautiful artwork on the Japanese NYK Line ephemera [Figure #3], and the equally attractive designs produced by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company [Figure #4] and the Dollar Line. I believe that the way to describe this phenomenon is ‘topic creep’.

How has the collection evolved?

As well as the directions I have already mentioned, the collection has gained a greater reflection of social history and business elements. As with most collections that have evolved over 40+ years, there has been an increasing appreciation of the nuances.

Gallipoli Tour 1936 Brochure Cover
Figure 5

For example, as well as First War Hospital Ships that served during the campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean, there was a Cunard tour in 1935 to Gallipoli, advertised in a Cunard promotional booklet, to revisit the terrain and the landmarks of the First War [Figure #5]. I would guess that the primary participants in the tour would have been the next of kin of those that did not come back alive, but one speculates on the motivations of those who sailed in 1936 on that Cunarder. A similar event occurred in 1936 with the pilgrimage of over 5,000 people from Canada to attend the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial.

Are you still collecting?

Yes. Passionately. I have described my collection as a pointillist painting, that continues to need more ‘dots’ to add to the clarity of the image.

What are your favorite items?

Shipping ephemera with a tinge of social or design elements. For example, I recently acquired a Real Photo postcard captioned “On Board SS Grantully Castle en route to Capetown, 27.6.14” [Fig #6]. The beginning of the First War was only two months away. The young children pictured in the deck scene would not have been directly affected, but their fathers, if not already in the military, would certainly soon have been.

Postcard of SS Grantully Castle
Figure 6

What insights into social history does this material offer?

The material in the Sayers Collection touches upon issues such as; class differences; matters relating to the status of women; the struggles of immigrants; the habit of smoking; the treatment of children; racial stereotypes; and troopship life in both World Wars.

Specifically, the frustrations of women and the tinder for the sparks for the women’s rights movement are quite evident in some material. For example, a 1930s postcard image of a Smoking Room among the 100 or so of them in my collection was later displaced by an identical image on a card written by a woman bemoaning the fact that she is not allowed into this men’s domain.

What inspired you to donate your collection to the John Johnson Collection in the Bodleian Library?

We have been supporters of the John Johnson Collection for over a decade and during that time we have come to appreciate the professionalism applied to the Collection and their broad appreciation of ephemera. An emotional reason is my British parentage and the massive role that Britain has played in global shipbuilding and shipping operations over the years.

The Sayers Collection reflects the role of Britain as a major influence in global shipping operations, whether it be as the builder of Canadian Pacific’s 1930s premier liner, the RMS Empress of Britain [Figure #7]; as the operator of ships such as Cunard’s RMS Berengaria, originally the German liner Imperator, seized as war reparations after the First War [Figure #8]; or as a major global competitor to shipping companies of several other nations (whose ephemera is also well represented in the Collection for purposes of comparison).

Empress of Britain Brochure Cover
Figure 7

This collection will add extensively to the ocean liner material collected by John Johnson, to provide many more opportunities for study and research.

The Dining Room of Beregaria
Figure 8

How do you hope that future users/scholars will explore your collection?

For the design, business, history, or social history scholar, whatever their thesis, there is a good possibility that material in the collection will provide a valuable resource. Alternatively, the material may trigger a line of study for those seeking a fresh avenue to pursue.

Cover of Cunard 1876 Brochure
Figure 9

There are opportunities for study and research on many planes. As a Chartered Accountant, I can appreciate the opportunities to study the various business aspects of the industry, ranging from advertising and promotion (an elaborate 1876 Cunard commemorative book appears to represent one of the earliest examples of modern-day ‘co-operative advertising’) [Figure #9], to the costs of menu offerings over many decades. In regard to the latter, did costs increase using constant dollars, and did they reflect the same percentage of passage charges? What culinary offerings have been added and deleted over the years? Why?

It would be useful if at some stage all the Passenger Lists could be digitized and made searchable. As well as the Cunard ones already delivered to Oxford, there are more to follow from other lines. The end result would be a useful database for genealogists, students of patterns of military deployment, celebrity hunters (at one time they all had to travel by sea!), industrialists, and the frequency of the use of servants, to name a few topics.

What advice would you give people starting a collection today?

Collect something that has meaning for you. And make sure that you collect ephemera! The great delight of ephemera is that the universe is not defined, so (unlike postage stamps or cigarette cards, for example) you never know what you are going to find that illuminates your knowledge or memories of a particular topic. When a collector describes an acquisition as something that ‘speaks to me’ he or she is describing the impact that the piece has upon their memories or their knowledge. I never purchase anything online. I have to see it. That means going to postcard and ephemera fairs, which my wife, Judith, and I enjoy immensely.

Don’t feel that every specimen has to be many years old. All ephemera was new once! I like the 1920s and 1930s, and objects of that period such as menus [Figure #10] do not have to cost a fortune, while often providing fascinating cover artwork and food choices inside. Whether your interest is fashion, food, design, autos, ships, planes, social history – or even your local city or town – there is material out there to stimulate your interest.

Figure 10

The ‘Story’ Behind The Ephemera

Not All Printed Ephemera Is On Paper

by John Sayers

Not all printed ephemera is on paper. And not all ephemera is pretty. But the ‘story’ behind the ephemera can sometimes transcend any departures from the norm.

This promotional leather-trimmed cloth ‘wallet’ created by the legendary White Star Line is far from beautiful. But the disfiguring sweat stains tell us that it was actually used by someone seeking a new home in America many years ago. The White Star Line was subsumed into Cunard over 80 years ago, so this piece has had a long life – perhaps in some family’s ‘memory drawer’.

The back of the wallet lists the White Star Line’s offices in many major European cities. The intended immigrant could have purchased his or her ticket at any of these offices. This was well before online ticket booking and purchases, and everything had to be done in person. And inside is a clue to the diversity of the passengers. As well as English, there is information in Polish. German, and Hebrew. Was this an English-speaker from British shores – or someone who faced the long, uphill challenge to learn the language of America?

Beyond this humble artifact we know nothing. But we have seen the first step toward coming to America, and a clear indication of the sweat (and no doubt the hard work and tears) faced by the newcomers of almost 100 years ago.

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