The Wende Museum in Culver City, California has a fascinating collection of Cold War Era ephemera, including political documents, menus, and posters. The museum houses over 2,000 Soviet and Easter Germany posters, and many are from crucial first free elections in the German Democratic Republic a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Joes Segal, The Wende Museum’s Chief Curator, explains the value of ephemera in preserving Cold War history:
When asked what artifact most embodied the museum, Segal mentioned “Pink Lenin.” These Lenin busts were mass-produced in the 1960s and 1970s. In October 1989, this particular bust was spray-painted during “one of the so-called Monday-demonstrations in the city of Leipzig that helped pave the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall a few weeks later (on November 9, 1989).”
This bust is interesting, “not only because of its iconic quality but also because it shows how people with a simple gesture turned a symbol of political control and oppression into something completely different.”
While the spray paint may suggest an anti-socialist agenda, Segal thinks it is more about making a point that “socialism should be more fun and more creative.”
Here is a handful of notable ephemera from the museum, more of which you can see for yourself (admission is free and open to the public without an appointment on Fridays from 10 am – 5 pm, except on holidays. Guided tours through the galleries as well as the archives, which are otherwise closed to the public, are offered on Fridays at 11:30 am and 2 pm):
Cover of New Year celebration menu. Former East Germany, 1960.
“The 39th Brigade” (Hungary, 1959).
A Congressional fallout shelter medical kit from July 1962.
This postcard is from the 5th Peace Race, an annual bike race through the Eastern Bloc to promote peace.
We were discouraged by neither the tropical storm warnings nor the twisting back roads of rural Pennsylvania – the two intense days of tours were superb! We had chosen to meet around the Allentown Paper Show (that sprawling cornucopia of the full range of paper collecting, on the same campus as a world-class farmers market) but Barbara Charles discovered several surprising touring opportunities (and both she and President Nancy Rosin visited beforehand to prepare). Barbara also scoped interesting restaurants (scotch eggs, anyone?).
The Moravians, a pre-Luther Protestant sect, settled Bethlehem in 1741 and the very next year set aside a room in their main communal building for an archive. This piotist group believed in daily recording their spiritual history – which, perforce, included much of interest from the wider experience of colonial America and then the early republic. Binding coverings of paste paper were a craft unique to Moravians (see below: there is a resemblance to marbled paper):
Their successful communal living (many of the handsome buildings remain in both Bethlehem and Nazareth) gave way to private households but the church still directed businesses. And, for several generations, women (who were ordained in the 1700s) wore bonnet ribbons in colors to indicate their marital status (see below: pink for single, blue for married, white for widowed).
Director Paul Peucker (see below), who came to the Bethlehem museum (a modern building completed 1977) from the Moravian main community in Herrnhut, Germany, in 2004 has been cataloging the original library (one third of which was not listed in WorldCat) and creating finding aids for the Moravian papers that have been sent to Bethlehem for safety.
Director Paul Peucker (left), who came to the Bethlehem museum (a modern building completed 1977) from the Moravian main community in Herrnhut, Germany, in 2004 has been cataloging the original library (one third of which was not listed in WorldCat) and creating finding aids for the Moravian papers that have been sent to Bethlehem for safety.
In Nazareth, the historical society of the twin Moravian communities is housed in a very handsome stone communal building from 1740. Although their displays feature furniture, musical instruments, etc. to interpret early Moravian life (with documentation if possible – here is an 1870 sketch of the installation of a Moravian-designed pre-1776 parlor stove that is still in the upstairs meeting room), Derek Clark had brought out several treasures from their paper and bibliographic holdings.
Also in Nazareth, the Martin Guitar Factory, established in 1833, is the longest continuously-operating company in the country. The factory tour that they offer is stellar – our guide Bobbie (see below, explaining the origin of the fine woods used for Martin instruments) was entertaining and knowledgeable, and we truly were able to glimpse at close quarters almost all of the 100+ hands-on and machine operations that go into making even the simplest of Martin guitars. Their instrument strings are now made in Mexico but tested here. The director of their museum, archives, and special projects, Dick Boak (see at right with, from left, Robert Dalton Harris, Barbara Charles, Barbara Rusch, David Freund) who has worked for the company for 39 years, treated us to a behind the scenes tour of the company documentation and a personal tour of the museum that he lobbied for and helped create. He opened cases and took down rare and expensive guitars to play them for us – including the first guitar that C.F. Martin made in America (from Markneukirchen, German Martin set up in New York City in 1833, and moved in 1838 to Nazareth to set up among the Moravians who were known as fine woodworkers), and a powerful concert model (see below).
Who would have thought a vast steel mill would be ephemeral? Certainly not Don Trexler, third-generation steelworker of 33 years; not Susan Vitez, a third-generation employee of Bethlehem Steel; nor even Dale Kochard, who is too young to have worked for “The Steel” but delivered lunches to his father, a second-generation employee. After Bethlehem Steel stopped pouring in 1995 and failed altogether in 1998, a consortium of interests made it possible for the employees to organize a Steelworkers Archives, and to give tours of the site (as well as to develop the site as a multi-faceted event campus). Susan, who is program director, described the archives and Don gave us a wonderful, personal, talk about the rise and fall of steel in the Lehigh Valley (see below). They then took us on a wet and windswept site tour (a couple of days later in the sunshine, Oktoberfest drew crowds of locals and tourists – see below). Dale, who is President of the Friends of Saint Michaels Cemetery in South Bethlehem, gave us a talk (at Arts Quest) about the cemetery and its most iconic image by Walker Evans (see below).
All of our Ephemera Society tours are open to the general membership. But Noel Barrett invited just the Board Members and spouses to a special evening opportunity to see his extraordinary antique toy collection in nearby Carversville. Many of you would recognize Noel from his voluntary presence on The Antique Road Show. And all of you would have loved to hear his avid-collector-tales. See Noel below with Barbara Rusch of Toronto, Canada, and with Glenn Mason of Portland, Oregon.
“If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.”
W. Clement Stone
The Ephemera Society of America cultivates an interest in ephemera, and in the spirit of this fine November holiday, we want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.
The postcard fad of the early 20th century coincided with two other cultural forces–the introduction (and subsequent popularity) of the Rural Free Delivery, and the continuing flow of men and women from rural households into urban areas. Both help explain why Thanksgiving in postcards is almost always imagined as a rural festival. In card after card, families gather not in fashionable brownstones, city restaurants, or in bedroom communities along trolley and tram routes, but in rural farms and farmsteads. Rural Americans used postcards to help reaffirm their status in American culture, even as their ranks were dwindling; while urban Americans looked with nostalgia upon rural Thanksgivings, an idealized version of what was left behind, often only a generation ago.
Nancy Rosin is President Emerita of the Ephemera Society of America and the President of the National Valentine Collectors Association. Now in its 40th year, the National Valentine Collectors Association preserves and communicates the history of this beautiful material, and enable collectors to meet people who share their passionate interest. While raising four children, Nancy’s valentine collection evolved, and now reflects the comprehensive history and evolution of the subject. Sharing her knowledge about the ephemera of love has been paramount, most recently at the American Museum of Folk Art in New York City and St. Bride’s Library in London.
The John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library has a valentines Pinterest project this year that focuses on rebuses and puzzles. Many of the items are from Nancy’s collection and can be viewed here.
Nancy often shares her wealth of knowledge, and she recently wrote a lovely article in Victoriana Magazine entitled, “The Valentine – A Tribute to Love.”
Nancy says: “As Valentine’s Day approaches, sentimental remembrances dominate the shelves, and dealers entice with chocolates, jewels, and lingerie. While modern cards bear little resemblance to the paper confections of long ago, the concept survives, bearing visions of romantic love and blissful marriage. Collectors of valentines and the related memorabilia, however, celebrate their holiday every day, researching and sharing their passion. Displays and articles have brought long-cherished love tokens to new audiences, where they are being appreciated with respect and fascination.”
Puzzle Purse Valentine, dated 1816:
Found in England, but probably American. Watercolor on paper. A magical folding technique enables this to be folded into a secure packet — once opened, it is difficult to reassemble. The folds are numbered, and as opened, gradually reveal separate images and poems. The prize at the center is often a romantic image or poem, and perhaps — a special memento such as a ring or a lock of hair.
Nancy’s collection is awe-inspiring. She says, “Messages of love span the centuries, and are interwoven with culture and history to create a very poignant view of actual people and their sentimental values.”
“Maria French” Envelope: The lace treasure was preserved, carefully enclosed within the famous Romeo and Juliette envelope. Printed here in red, white and blue, it was also found in green and red. Factory Point, Vermont, now known as Manchester, happens to be the location of Hildene, the former summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. [5”x7”]
She gives insight into what it’s like to collect valentines: “Within this category, there is something of special interest for everyone, as Valentines are far from limiting. The preservation of sentimentality, love, artistry, elegance, and accompanying history make it an incomparable subject. Beyond the sugary open-outs, there is a wealth of beautiful material that is largely unknown. The subject permeated literature stimulated artists and passionately encouraged the creation of lasting treasures. They provide numerous areas for cross collecting, for the addition of these seemingly disparate items may actually enhance a collection. Impressive items appear on the market with surprising frequency, so even the rarest examples are not impossible to find.”
Elaborate lace quarto: Double-layered, openwork, cameo-embossed lace by the English firm of Joseph Meek, circa 1850, reflects the epitome of the workmanship of “The Golden Era.” The top layer is adorned with cabochon “faux jewels”, silk chiffon and silver Dresden die-cuts; a central window, bordered with a wreath of silvered leaves, reveals a subtle image of flowers — a message written in the Language of Flowers. When the top layer is lifted, the flowers are revealed as an exquisite watercolor painting. [8” x 10“]
The history of valentines is truly fascinating: ” Long associated with the exchange of Valentines is the delicious ingredient of mystery. Recipients were challenged to discover the identity of anonymous admirers, as mysteriously unsigned missives might be slipped under the door, tied to the doorknob, delivered by the postman, as well as transported by courier, coach, or rail. The tradition was an important aspect of nineteenth-century life, where romance and death were regularly feted in albums, poetry, and art. The holiday was so widely celebrated that by the 1830s, it is said that 60,000 valentines passed through the London post office.
By 1857, three million valentines were sold in New York City, the number reaching nearly a billion, by 2002.”
Winsch postcard – Design by Samuel L. Schmucker, and printed by the Winsch Publishing Company in 1910. Postcards became the natural evolution of the Valentine as the Industrial Revolution changed the styles in paper tokens of affection.
Please read Nancy’s article for more information about valentines and her beloved collection. She says, “These intensely personal and wonderful mementos demonstrate the relevance of expressions of love throughout history, how they have permeated art and life, and passionately celebrate the tradition of The Valentine.”
Digital ephemera is just that: ephemera that is created in a digital space, such as email, tweets, text messages, and so on. Adam Doster wrote a thought-provoking piece on the subject in American Libraries Magazine entitled, “Saving Digital Ephemera.” While one might assume that digital ephemera is easier to collect than the tangible kind (no need to traipse into an archive or scour antique shops), the sheer volume makes it difficult:
“Larger institutions also got involved in attempting to preserve digital ephemera. That includes the Library of Congress (LC), which reached an agreement with Twitter in 2010 to build an onsite research archive.
Archiving and preserving outlets such as Twitter will enable future researchers to access to a fuller picture of today’s cultural norms, dialogue, trends, and events to inform scholarship, the legislative process, new works of authorship, education, and other purposes.
Even if you do find a way to easily save it, how do you access it?
“’It’s getting less and less expensive to save things digitally; it’s less of an issue,’ says Rachael Bower, director of the Internet Scout Research Group, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. ‘On the other hand, storing oodles and oodles of digital material with no easy way to access it, to look through it and know what you have, doesn’t seem ideal either.’”
Also, you have to consider the ever-evolving nature of software:
“Librarians and archivists must also consider the speed with which technology evolves. An archival copy of a podcast, say, must include the relevant software to play the actual show, even if advances in computing will eventually make that software obsolete.”
While the Macintosh is over three decades old, strategizing ways to save digital ephemera is still a new business.
“Kari R. Smith, a digital archivist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that, within umbrella organizations like ALA and the Society of American Archivists, there are round tables and working groups that are constantly looking at how to describe and capture this kind of material and how to ensure like-minded people don’t waste finite resources on projects with duplicate aims. ‘Making sure you’ve got some sense of why you’re preserving what you’re preserving long term,’ Bower says, ‘is incredibly critical.’”
The Ephemera Society of America is exceptionally fortunate to have a Valentine’s Day ephemera collector as our President Emerita. Nancy Rosin wears many hats, one of which is as Volunteer Cataloger for Department of Drawings and Prints of The Met!
This year, she wrote about her expertise and passion for collecting valentines, particularly cobweb valentines. These 19th-century declarations of romance are typically mechanical or movable, with at least two layers of paper.
Let’s take a dive into a must-have beach staple: the swimsuit. From the Middle Ages through the 18th Century, swimming was strongly discouraged.
The term “swimsuit” was coined by Jantzen Knitting Mills in 1915. Over the next several decades, Jantzen transformed the swimwear industry, from material to design.
It all starts in Portland, Oregon. Carl Jantzen and Roy and John Zehntbauer knitted wool suits for a rowing team. They called this a “bathing suits,” later offering it in their catalog.
Consumers liked what they saw, increasing demand by 1918. Made from 100% pure virgin wool, Jantzen offered accessories to complete the outfit, like matching stockings and a stocking cap.
By 1920, billboards in San Francisco and Los Angeles promoted the swimwear. This was the decade that Jantzen’s “red diving girl” became an icon of cool, breezy summer wear across the world. In 1924, Olympians Johnny Weismuller and Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii endorsed Jantzen.
Moving beyond necessity, swimsuits were offered in a range of colors, often changing annually.
The 1930s brought a range of celebrity endorsements, including Loretta Young and Dick Powell. Advertisements were placed in publications like Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. George Petty illustrated these ads, featuring both men and women.
This can be seen as a time when swimsuits evolved into more of a silhouette we wear today. In 1931, Jantzen figured out how to give women the option of tanning sans lines by introducing The Shouldaire. Rubberized yarn was combined into the fabric to give the swimsuit a stretchier feel, while a “molded fit” defined the bustline and helped the swimsuit stay put. At this time, rayon was combined with cotton or silk as well.
The 1940s had its highs and lows for the swimwear industry. In 1941, Jantzen expanded their scope to include active sportswear. But following the Pearl Harbor attack, the demand for commercial swimsuits sank; however, Jantzen produced them for the US military. By 1946, French women donned the bikini, forever changing the swimwear landscape.
With the 1950s came increased mobility, which means international and domestic vacations were a must. Florida was often on families’ list of hot spots, providing a wave of swimsuit wearers. Designers were still innovating in terms of material, inching toward synthetics that dried quickly. By this time, Jantzen had studios all across the world, in 18 countries.
The 1960s couldn’t have been a more perfect time for swimwear, with the Beach Boys spreading catchy tunes about surfing and lounging at the beach. In terms of marketing, partnerships emerged. One campaign urged people to smile in their swimwear, and sponsors including Kodak, United Airlines, and Ford would send winners to Hawaii.
Sophistication and versatility were key to 1970s swimwear. Cover-ups and beach skirts gave women both comfort and an additional means to show off their personal style.
The 1980s launched new swimwear silhouettes, like the strapless bandeau, while the 1990s played with patterns and colors that would improve body confidence.
In 2002, Perry Ellis purchased Jantzen. The company continues to be synonymous with swimwear. To read more about the history and how the icon has evolved, click here.
Surveillance is often an integral aspect of every modern spy movie. From the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window to the Bourne Identity franchise. We’ve always been fascinated with spies. There’s even a museum dedicated to this secret profession!
In the late 19th century, C.P. Stirn’s Concealed Vest Camera hit the market, unbeknownst to most common individuals. Six inches round, it was plated in fine or oxidized nickel and had the ability to take up to 36 pictures using six plates.
When not in use, it could be carried in a walnut case that also doubled as a tripod. One simply carried the camera under a coat with only the lens exposed. According to advertisements, thousands were sold over the course of four years in New York and Berlin.
One individual who used this technology seemingly not for government espionage was a Norwegian 19-year-old student Carl Mülertz Størmer, who later became a renowned mathematician and physicist. He took about 500 secret photos total preserved at the Norwegian Folkemuseum website.
Below are just a handful of the secret photographs Størmer took. As many have noted, these images often feature individuals who are more at ease than the typically rigid 19th-century portrait photographs we are used to. They also allow the viewer to time travel back to Oslo streets in the late 1800s.
The Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds more than 10,000 vintage movie posters. From silent era film ephemera to current movie posters, you’re bound to spend hours exploring the collection.
A bulk of the collection stems from the Interstate Theater Circuit, which was a movie theater chain that spanned across the state of Texas. According to the Ransom Center:
In in its early period (1905-1920), Interstate was principally a vaudeville booking and exhibition company with theatres in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The South was slow to accept vaudeville as a legitimate form of entertainment; such theater was often characterized as a “Gateway to Hell” in the popular media of the time. Interstate is frequently credited with removing the stigma from theater-going and turning the theater into a center of family-oriented civic and community activity.