Tag: Richard Sheaff

Knock Me Your Lobes

The Incomparable Jim Flora

Artist and commercial illustrator Jim Flora (1914-1998) had one of the most wildly imaginative twentieth-century minds. I started collecting his record album covers decades ago when finding these obscure items was a matter of haunting the record bins at every thrift store I could find. Great fun, and what a thrill to find a new one for 50¢! Nowadays, appreciation for Flora is widespread, and any interested reader can readily find a veritable plethora of Flora websites. Available are books, merchandise, limited edition prints, all sorts of things. The album covers are regularly offered on eBay.

Nowadays, there are art gallery shows of his work. Because of Flora’s talent, it is all wonderful.

Jim started his career at record companies in the 1940s, and over time designed album covers in every vinyl format: 78 rpm, 33 1/3 rpm, 45 rpm, singles, EP (extended play), LP (long playing) albums, mono, stereo, 7-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch. He did album design and other commercial projects from the 1940s through the 1970s. Much of his work was jazz-oriented . . . which makes perfect sense given the visual jazz his mind created.

Flora heavily influenced many modern illustrators, notably Michael Bartalos and Tim Biskup.

A number of years ago, Flora enthusiast Irwin Chusid—who had created the first Flora-dedicated website—connected with the Flora family after Jim’s death and began to unearth a treasure trove of previously unknown Flora pieces. Many of these works are now available, as merchandise and prints.

Here, to whet the appetite, are but a few Flora wonders . . .

A self-portrait . . .

Mt Washington Cog Railway

I recently came across a sketch I had made back in 1989 for a U.S. postage stamp which I had designed, issued in 1995. What caught my eye was a notation I’d put on it saying that it was the first time I had used my spanking new first computer in the process, a Macintosh II. From the perspective of 2014, the capabilities of that machine are totally laughable, but at the time it was considered the cat’s meow. Below is my 10-second quickie sketch (I cannot just now remember how I got the sketch into that rudimentary Macintosh system; perhaps I sketched it using McDraw, the rudimentary drawing program that came with the Mac), combined with some crisp type from a Boston typesetting firm. (Remember typesetters? Typesetting was a large industry, employing craftsmen whose specialized professional occupation disappeared very soon after the introduction of personal computers. Even highly successful typesetting businesses went out of business all across the nation, folding their tents with shocking speed. But I digress.)

The rough layout guidance was given to Boston artist Bob Brangwynne, who created the black-and-white line artwork (below), which in turn provided line-by-line guidance to the steel engravers at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

The issued stamp:

New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington cog railway was the first mountain-ascending rack-and-pinion railway. Derisively dubbed “The Railway To The Moon” by those who thought the concept insane, it was the brainchild of Sylvester Marsh of Campton, NH, who was granted a charter in 1858. At 6,288 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest mountain in the Northeast. Because of the Civil War, the railway could not be designed, constructed and opened for business until August 14, 1868. The first locomotive was named “Old Peppersass”.

Franklin, NH inventor and photographer (among other things) Walter Aiken was instrumental in designing the unique, vertical boiler locomotives. He built the original prototype model used to demonstrate feasibility to investors and legislators. He manufactured four of the engines used by the railway over time, acted as manager, and eventually came to have controlling interest in the company. As evidenced by the two trade/business cards below, Joseph W. Dodge served as manager at one point in time.

Colorful stationery—along with many other items for the tourist trade—was sold in the gift shop at the Summit House; most or all of the letterhead came adorned with a piece of attached local alpine flora . . .

The 1883 card below has on its reverse the full schedule of runs, upward and downward, between the Fabyan and Mt. Pleasant House resorts, the base station and the summit.

Part of a souvenir ashtray . . .

The Engine “Tip Top”. . .

The first engine “OId Peppersass”. . .

The Kilburn Brothers stereography business in Littleton, NH was one of the very largest in the nation. They documented in stereo photography every aspect of the cog railway, including all the stages of construction. Kilburn stereo views were sold as souvenirs at the Summit House. When Kilburn stereo views began to be converted to wood engravings for Harper’s Weekly, the Mt. Washington Cog Railway gained national prominence.

The Kilburn stereo pair below was titled Sliding Down Mt. Washington Railway.

Kilburn cropped this image at an exaggerated angle . . .

As I write this, somebody is offering on eBay an actual short section of the railway’s cogs . . .

Lizzie Bourne was a young woman who, in 1885, died of exposure while walking up the mountain dressed in inappropriate Victorian ladies’ wear. A memorial monument in the form of a stone cairn was erected alongside the cog railway line.

The view below is from a heliotype photograph published in 1879 . . .

Mt. Washington Cog Railway is alive and well today.

Finally, a modern oversized fundraising postcard . . .

America’s Future has always been achieved through American ingenuity

The Ephemera Society’s 2017 conference was entitled “AMERICAN INGENUITY: What’s The Big Idea?” The advances of “this American experiment” have always been dependent upon native inventiveness, and the conference will explore various aspects of American creativity. Our nation went from a rural agricultural economy in 1800 to an urban factory economy by 1900. It was a century of immense change, as we first experienced photography, full-color printing, machine typesetting, mass production in factories, bicycles, automobiles and thousands of other inventions and technological advances. The 20th century brought its own set of modern marvels, and in our current 21st-century progress continues apace.

Along the way, impressed by the speed of innovation, many could resist predicting what future decades and centuries might bring. And the process continues . . . currently in 2016, there is much talk about when mankind will colonize the planet Mars. Humans have been predicting the future since time immemorial. Nostradamus (Michel de Nostredame, 1502-1566) famously prognosticated about all manner of things. Galileo made astronomical predictions, Newton made scientific predictions. It is human nature to speculate about what comes next.

From an ephemera-collecting point of view, there is much such material to seek out, from published (and manuscript) paper to trade cards to newspaper supplements to magazines to various World’s Fair materials to chocolate company see-the-future cards.

One classic such collectible is the set of twelve “One Hundred Years’ Hence” trade cards, stock cards imprinted on the reverse by various companies (at least 14 American advertisers known). Shown below, these cards also appeared in Germany and France (and perhaps Italy). Both the American and European cards were clearly made from the same chromolithographic stones, most likely at the same printing plant, Kuntsdruck-Friedberg in Berlin. For the English language cards, a wider decorative border was added. The image area of the European cards and the non-frame area of the English language cards is exactly the same, 106mm (4.17 inches) x 66mm (2.6 inches).

With each of these cards, it is interesting to notice just which predictions did in fact come to pass, in one fashion or another . . .

This set is scarce; and for some unknown reason “Cruisers evading and enemy” is exceedingly scarce; in fact its existence something of a mystery amongst collectors for many years until a copy or two finally turned up (although its subject and design was already known from the European sets).

Hereby way of example are eight of the German language versions . . .

A thorough exploration of the “One Hundred Years Hence” and other futuristic cards, which I wrote, appears in the Winter 1999 issue of The Advertising Trade Card Quarterly. To borrow a bit from that article:

“A series of major expositions highlighted the nation’s—and the world’s—progress in mechanical invention, technology, industrial processes, products, packaging, marketing and household conveniences: the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 (dampened only slightly by the setback dealt by the Sioux to Custer in June of that year), the Paris Exposition of 1889 (featuring that amazing feat of engineering, the Eiffel Tower), the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Paris Exposition of 1900. A new and better day seemed upon us.”

“As the turn of the century approached, something unusual began to happen. In addition to looking ahead to celebrating the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, people around the world began to look ahead yet another hundred years to the Year 2000, the turn of the millennium. It became popular to make predictions about the Year 2000.”

The chromolithographed cover of the sheet music for the Dawn of the Century March & Two Step, by E. T. Paull celebrated an array of modern wonders, including the telegraph, telephone, typewriter, horseless carriage, Corliss engine, steam locomotive, farming equipment, modern camera, turbine, sewing machine and electric street railway.

There are a number of other 19th-century futuristic European card sets. Below are three cards from a set of twelve issued by Suchard, a Swiss chocolate and cocoa company . . .

In the nineteenth century, several youth adventure pulp magazines prominently featured futuristic technologies . . .

Newspapers were the Victorians’ television, and various newspapers and magazines put out fantasy issues pretending to have been issued close to the Year 2000. In the 1890s the Denver Times ran a now-rare chromolithographed poster datelined “December 31, 1995”. showing current and predicted future technological wonders. (not shown)

The chromolithographed cover of the sheet music for the Dawn of the Century March & Two Step, by E. T. Paull celebrated an array of modern wonders, including the telegraph, telephone, typewriter, horseless carriage, Corliss engine, steam locomotive, farming equipment, modern camera, turbine, sewing machine and electric street railway.

There are a number of other 19th century futuristic European card sets. Below are three cards from a set of twelve issued by Suchard, a Swiss chocolate and cocoa company . . .

An extensive set of blank-back stock cards in French was entitled En L’An 2000, shown here in uncut sheets from the Grossman Collection . . .

The Stollwerk chocolate company issued a set: here are some of them . . .

And there were various other predictive sets . . .

In 1936, the General Petroleum Corporation put out a set which celebrated current technological advances (but did not predict future developments) . . .

In or about 1950, Aiglon, a Belgian chocolate company, put out a set of 130 cards predicting advances by the Year 2000 (only 50 years hence, at that point), and an album in which to mount the cards as they were collected. In this shorter time frame such predictions may have been a tad less difficult to make accurately, and many of Aiglon’s prognostications have since come to pass. To me, the most striking one may be that the robot on the cover bears a striking resemblance to 3CPO from “Star Wars”!

Here are some US postage stamps I designed back in the late 1980s, anticipating some future modes of mail delivery . . .

And finally, for now, I note that there are many futuristic postcards . . .

This entire wild and wonderful world of technological advances and future science and/or science fiction will be grist for the mill in Greenwich, come next March! Join us!

THIS JUST IN . . . ESA Board member Tamar Zimmerman (who also supplied the Stollwerks cards shown above) sent along this great cover from the 1905 LIFE magazine Auto Issue, which takes a stab at looking ahead a thousand years; when, apparently, ladies would have pet lap horses . . .

You Dirty Rat

Cagney actually never spoke that line famously attributed to him, but no matter. Millions of others have said it. Though rats are said to actually make very nice pets, most people find them repulsive. Mankind has fought a losing bat with the rat populations of the world since Time immemorial. Much human ingenuity over the centuries has been applied to traps and poisons to beat back the clever and highly adaptable rodents.

Rats and mice can be an interesting collecting topic, as images of them have long been ubiquitous in American culture . . . dressed up and and acting human-like, as targets for pesticides and traps, as cartoon characters, as cute critters on greeting cards.

The Chinese have long been belittled by Westerners as “rat-eaters” and “dog-eaters”. Which, in fact, some are. Rodents and canines are consumed by humans in various parts of Asia, where protein is where you can find it. Rodents prepared there generally have fed off rice, not human garbage. In the USA, a widespread animosity toward immigrant Chinese developed in the mid- to late-1880s, after their critical role in our gold rush and railroad building days had been completed. The Chinese Exclusion Act, signed into law by Chester Arthur in 1882, mandated severe restrictions on any further Chinese immigration. Many, many examples of Victorian rancor toward Chinese in this country can be found. The expression “They (the Chinese) must go” was a phrase commonly encountered, here used to refer both to rats and to the Chinese . . .

Lyme, New Hampshire silkscreen artist Kate Holman turned cavorting rodents into a light-hearted greeting card (1980s) . . .

Call me! back in the day

The 19th century Industrial Revolution brought to the world a host of seemingly miraculous advances . . . photography, color printing, the X-ray, automobiles and a lengthy list of other advances.

One of these was a device which could send one’s voice anywhere and everywhere: the telephone.

The earliest telephone “systems” were simply a point to point connection, followed by small connected networks, then by increasingly widespread connections. With early devices, one needed to crank a magneto (as in the handset above) to generate enough electricity to power the call. When I lived in rural New Hampshire in the late 1960s, the neighboring town of Meriden still had a small, local private phone system with magneto crank units; calls went through a central operator, and folks had telephone numbers like “36” and “14”. I remember once calling someone, giving the central operator the number, and having her tell me that she would ring it if I wished but that if I was looking for Steve I was), he was over at Howard’s house and would I rather have her direct the call there? Our family doctor still made house calls in those days, too, but that is another story.

The area of telephony offers all sorts of possibilities for doing research and forming collections.

Interestingly (below), the telephone systems of the early 20th century were envisioned as a worldwide web “transforming the nation into members of a great, world-wide neighborhood” . . . the very role that is being fulfilled in the present 21st century by the internet, the worldwide web.

(From an undated booklet by AT&T/Bell, circa 1930.)

I Dreamed I Saw the Silver Space Ships Flying

Songwriter Neil Young, like many of us, grew up during intense worldwide fascination with rockets and satellites and space-ship-thinking in the 1950s and 1960s. Space travel fantasy had become quite popular in the United States in the 1930s with the exploits of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, and in the 1950s with Jim Corbett, Space Cadet. All along, science fiction books explored interstellar possibilities, as did magazines like Amazing Stories and Popular Science. But widespread space travel imagery really took off (sorry) with the successful Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite and the major powers’ space race that ensued. Related images sprang up everywhere.

Russians nationwide launched a space propaganda blitz, starting with Sputnik. Russian space vehicles, genuine and fanciful, were featured on all sorts of ephemera including postcards, Christmas cards, New Year cards, birthday cards, and shortwave QSL cards. There are hundreds of different ones to be found out there in the ephemera universe . . .

The United States, of course, responded in kind . . .

Cover of a pad of paper . . .

The naming of automobile models (and the adoption of tailfins and other flying/rocket features . . . this was also the era in which jet airplanes came into their own) . . .

Greeting cards . . .

“Don’t miss out on a great new hobby”, rocketry . . .

This elaborate modern card opens to reveal a robot (there is yet another fertile collecting area) walking down the gangplank . . .

And other countries certainly got into the act . . .

An atomic /space-age divided child’s plate

A Towering Eyeful

The Eiffel Tower in Paris celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2014. Built in 1889, the Eiffel Tower served as the entryway arch and, at over 1,000 feet tall, the centerpiece of the 1889 World’s Fair. It remains to this day an immensely popular tourist attraction.

The Liebig company put out a wonderful little set of six trade cards which detail the story of a family’s trip to the Eiffel Tower, no words needed to fully understand.

And a period French chocolate trade card . . .