this collection of bookseller labels was bought at auction many years ago. i usually recall what i paid for most everything i buy but i do not remember what I paid for this collection (which may mean i paid too much). this was the beginning of my bookseller labels collection. they are little jewels of typography. the play of typefaces, sizes, colors and breadth of originality is enormous. these are extremely hard to find. there are quite a few collectors of these jewels but i do not rate a phone call from a dealer when a collection becomes available. i have heard of one collector in holland who has thousands. this particular collection contains about 30 pages from a book long since fallen apart. i believe it was put together at the turn of the twentieth century. i have spent time looking through old books in hopes of finding an old label or two. often someone has beaten me to it. usually on the inside back cover there is a spot, lighter than the rest of the page where a label once resided, long since discovered and placed in someone else’s collection. enjoy!
tillie the toiler, gasoline alley, moon mullin, toots and casper—all cartoons before my time but lovingly memorized by hazel may cavanaugh in a 1932 composition book. it seems she was a freshman in high school in malta, montana. i looked to see where malta was located and it seems pretty isolated even today. i can’t image how much more so back then. her collection of cartoon characters spans 54 pages, all glued and labeled. i’m a sucker for anyone who cares enough to maintain a collection with such zeal. I collect lots of things but i do not categorize or collate any of my collection. i guess this qualifies as a scrapbook much like the cigar bands book in a previous post. my friend jessica who’s book that came out this year goes into great depth about the scrapbook. some names like felix the cat are familiar but I was never an avid reader of comics; not like hazel surely was. she seems to have been a devoted fan who earnestly collected each character. i am pleased to share the result with you.
many collections start with just one thing and this collection is no different. most new yorkers know about the 26th street flea market, now primarily in the garage with an annex on 39th street. my first cane was purchased at this flea market many years ago when it consisted of the garage and three large parking lots. these parking lots are now tall apartment buildings of little merit. i usually went to the flea market on sundays rather than saturdays. i used saturdays to clean the apartment and decompress from a long week. in case you didn’t know, a week in new york lasts longer than a week anywhere else. i would leave early, but not too early, in search of nothing in particular but mostly books. one day a cane made from a branch caught my eye. it’s simplicity was obvious. there were several but only one felt right. (picture on the far right) i loved it. the slope of the handle was the perfect angle. the shaft was curved just so. it truly made a wonderful cane. as you can see, i have acquired several more. my favorite is made from two twisted branches. simple and lovely. i stand each new cane up against the next and the collection grows ever so slowly. the main reason for this is that i paid five dollars for the first one and i vowed not to pay more than ten dollars for any thereafter. so far I have been able to stay within that budget. that is one way to limit my collecting. unfortunately, that rule doesn’t apply to everything else.
one of my favorite fairs to attend is the great paper chase in pennsylvania.(july 18th) it is next to a great farmer’s market where you can have a terrific lunch, which is not the case at most fairs. at this fair you see just about everything. there are many postcard dealers, specialists in political ephemera, in halloween ephemera and poster stamp dealers. the poster stamp is an odd category but extremely popular. more on this another time. in walking this show i’ve come across some remarkable items and this collection is truly the oddest i own: cigarettes. a few dozen cigarettes frozen in time in glass tubes. it appears these cigarettes date from 1900 to the 1920′s but i’m not completely sure. i was and still am intrigued by this, yet another of my “collections of a collection.” brands include benson & hedges, raleigh, tareyton, doublets, english ovals and there is even spud imperial. not sure if that brand would sell today. i love the careful way that the collector housed his collection by cutting the cork and adding a little red ribbon so as to retrieve the cigarette if necessary. each cigarette has such wonderful typography. sometimes the type runs the length of the cigarette. phillips morris’ logo is rendered in a stippled typeface. luckily, it seems interesting typography can be found anywhere.
as a member of the ephemera society, i run across all kinds of interesting people. one such character is gejus van diggele. i have not made his acquaintance but i certainly believe he is a remarkable man with a specific interest. he has accumulated thousands of antique playing cards, each with the most beautiful graphics you have ever seen. what mr. diggele finds interesting, however, is the secondary use of playing cards. if i could only be so focused. in an article for the ephemera society, i learned about his interest and discovered his website where he investigates and speculates on any secondary purpose a card may have served. he writes, “why did people use playing cards on which to write? in the first place, because there were a lot more playing cards than sheets of writing paper….the first playing cards were made completely by hand. the great demand for them required mass production, so playing cards became a real industry in which the many makers competed fiercely with one another. to keep costs down, the backs of the playing cards were left blank.” ah! I never new this. when i read his article i went through my playing card collection and found these two examples with writing on them. (of course i have a playing card collection! don’t you?) I remember buying them at a paper fair for their stark and simple beauty. mr. diggele tells a story of buying an old playing card at the paris flea market and complaining to the touchy dealer that it had writing on one side in order to obtain a better price—when in fact that was his main interest in buying the card. we all have our secrets. i have neither the knowledge nor mr. diggele’s passion but i do share the desire to discover. i am rewarded by the wonderful simplicity and beauty that these cards possess. i sent pictures of my cards to mr. diggele but never heard back. maybe you can help unravel my cards’ story?
this postcard, found on ebay, is a fine example of bauhaus-era typography. however most of my ephemera is usually found at paper fairs. i attend ephemera fairs whenever i can. early in our relationship, my wife would attend these with me. over the years she has grown bored with these fairs and possibly with me, too. to find the real jewels requires a desire and perseverance that many people don’t possess. dealers from all over come to these fairs. there are dozens upon dozens of categories of specialization. there are postcard dealers, too; a whole breed unto themselves. maybe you saw the exhibition of walker evans’ postcard collection at the moma. i missed it. I usually start with the miscellaneous category. i rarely choose to mention my interests. once you find something you like and ask the price, the dealers will generally pull out other items they think you might like. every dealer has a story to tell and, if you have the patience, it’s usually worth listening. in this same vein, i hope you find my posts worth reading. thank you.
in a previous post i shared a wonderful type specimen book from paul rand’s library. i also mentioned mr. rand’s habit of cutting up his books and using those pieces in his designs. here is one particular example. this is a brochure for ibm celebrating and outlining the company. it’s one of many brochures rand designed during his thirty-plus years working with the company. note the ‘i’ is cut from this exact page. i believe other letters are from this same specimen book but i have not made a systematic check. i own quite a few monographs on designers: max bill, richard lohse, and many others. two monographs on tshichold were published last year but i was most impressed by christopher burke’s. i learned so much and saw work of his that had never before been published. i am amazed how many simply do not dig very deeply into the designer’s motivation or references or inspiration. original research is so valuable and rewarding. it is not fascinating to see how the mind works? hopefully I can surprise you again.