We Are All One

By Richard Sheaff

To make a personal long long story very very short, I was a stamp collector before I was an ephemera collector. But the more 19th-century stamps on envelopes I saw, the more I began finding my eyes roving to the left, finding myself less interested in the postage stamp at the upper right, or its cancellation; increasingly more interested in the words and graphics off to the left.

I grew interested in the contents found inside some vintage mail . . . price lists, letterheads, the occasional trade card. From there it was a short leap into paper Americana of all sorts.

Eventually, I came to understand that collecting stamps, collecting postal history, collecting printed broadsides, collecting trade cards, collecting quack medicine bottles . . . these are not separate and distinct hobbies; they are all aspects of the same visual and cultural history. Together they constitute a spectrum of Americana, a continuum of material chronicling our culture’s passage. Each of these blinders-on “niches” offers up historical information and perspective; taken as a whole much more can be learned.

Today there is an ongoing conjoining of these once isolated pursuits, so long considered as separate hobbies. Stamp dealers saw that the “paper” they happened to have was often selling better than their stamps and covers.

Customers asked for paper items.

Ephemera dealers found that some customers expressed interest in postal history and stamp material. Postcard dealers now routinely set up at both stamp shows and at paper shows.

Book dealers have also responded to the markets and begun to beef up their ephemera holdings.

We are all bozos on this bus!