What does a dealer in collectibles collect for himself? For me it was paper. There is something about printed media that interests me on many levels. Maybe it’s the pack rat in me. As I grew into the antique and collectible field I continually came across what is called in the trade “ephemera.” It fascinated me like nothing else in the profession. I like the way the name suggests something that is lacking in substance and liable to imminent decay. It suggests that not only our lives but the physical traces of our path through history are but dust in the wind. The great paper trail of society comes in many forms: advertising, books, maps, documents, trading cards, lithography, prints and engravings. The field is a grand combination of history and art.
I am fascinated with the artwork found on old documents. Check out an antique stock certificate. The engraved illustrations can be quite beautiful. A postage stamp album is an art gallery in miniature. Old checks and bank drafts often have very well done engravings or lithographed pictures. As an item to collect collect old paper can include a broad array of subject matter or be highly specialized. I have enjoyed maps since I was very small. they feed the imagination as well as keep one from getting lost. They record the locations of history and remind us of so many things now gone. I used to have a climber’s map of Mount St. Helens that I kind of took for granted until one day it became instantly collectible as it became apparent that they weren’t going to need to print anymore of them.
Remember when road maps could be had for free at any gas station? They are quite collectible especially if they have the right art work on the front panel. If you are new to collecting road maps be advised that the printers didn’t always place a date on them in an obvious way. Instead, they had a code in one of the margins. you can read the date codes at websites such as http://www.roadmaps.org/date.html. Maps were one of my first surprises in the collectible business. I had always appreciated them and enjoyed them and didn’t realize what a treasure they were until I put one on eBay for a dollar and it got bid up to sixty.
One of my other favorite items were Victorian trade cards. I had hardly known of their existence. They keep showing up in box lots and stuffed into old books as page markers. I admired the many charming lithographed designs and appreciated the historical detail they conveyed. The light soon came on in my head and I adopted them as a lively little niche market. They were doubly fun as I could gather them up at estate sales and flea markets. I kept the ones that interested me and sold everything else. It was the first hobby I ever had that paid for itself and then some.
Of course the category includes books but that is a huge subject I will leave for another day. There is so much more to cover in this fascinating area. The use of paper spans centuries and the printers art has been so important in developing civilization it can hardly be grasped. The invention of the printing press was every bit as world-changing as the invention of the Internet. Before photography brought every man’s eye view to printed pages the graphic arts flourished wherever ink landed on paper. Art in the hands of the common man is democratizing.
There seems an endless supply of ephemera stashed away in attics, basements and store rooms. A good specialty shop in the field is like a god mine. Back east I loved to go to Mr. 3L, Leonard L. Lasko’s shop on The Lincoln Highway east of Lancaster, PA. Mr. lasko is a character and he’s been in his business for a long time. The shop is not the neatest and if you like organization forget it. This is a place to adjust your attitude and surrender to the thrill of the hunt. You can find a staggering array of old advertising sometimes in new old stock wholesale units. I remember finding packets of old Seven-Up soda bottle labels that had never been used. They were just as they had come from the printer. I bought them for a good price and sold them in small lots on eBay for over a year for a healthy profit. Deals like that are just the ticket for steady cash flow.
Lasko doesn’t have much of an internet presence but apparently he is still in business if you are interested. You can find him at 2931 Lincoln Highway East, 17529 Gordonsville, PA, Phone: 001 (717) 687-6165. oddly enough his favorite advertising strategy is announcing a “going out if business sale.” he’s been going out of business for as long as I can remember. Maybe he will shutter his shop someday but it’s still worth stopping in sometime just in case. After all business in this day and age can be somewhat ephemeral.
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