Published: April 5, 2016
Review and Photos by W.A. Demers
OLD GREENWICH, CONN. — They may certainly not have been rare — but thousands of 2016 calendars were undoubtedly marked weeks before the Ephemera Fair came to the Hyatt Regency Hotel on March 19 and 20, as collectors eagerly anticipated what is regarded as one of the finest and largest paper shows in the United States.
In its first year under the management by Marvin Getman of Impact Events Group, the event was marking its 36th year with a timely theme of “Politics, Patriotism & Protest.” In addition to the two-day show that is open to the public, the larger event managed by the Ephemera Society of America features the organization’s annual convention with speakers and presentations examining the use of ephemera in promoting political, patriotic and protest movements as well emphasizing such issues as race, gender and war.
The theme of this year’s fair could not be more timely. Someday the items made from paper that were not made to stand the test of time and promoting today’s campaign platforms by the current field of presidential candidates — advertising, posters, speeches, etc — may be reexamined in light of a new material culture.
“With Hilary Clinton running for president, it’s interesting to note that she is not the first woman in US history to do so,” said Eric Caren, whose April 11 auction at Bonhams, Treasures from the Caren Archive II: How History Unfolds on Paper” features a rare satirical card of Belva Lockwood, who in 1884 was the second woman to run for president (her skirt lifts up to reveal Benjamin Butler, the Greenback Party candidate for president hiding beneath.) Although the point of the satire is not clear, it is surmised to reference Butler’s speaking on the floor of Congress in support of Lockwood’s 1874 petition to allow women to argue before the Supreme Court.
One hears a lot of complaints in the trade about the younger generations not having an interest in antiques. Caren was attempting to spark some of that curiosity by conducting a contest involving items in his booth and young visitors to the show under the age of 16. From 11 am until the show closed, they could win an original item, pre-1900, if they could correctly answer a question about something that was displayed there. “As a former director of the Ephemera Society of America, I am pleased to report that Marvin Getman did everything in his power as new promoter of the show to insure its success and the public responded in kind,” said Caren following the show. I can tell that he is a perfectionist and will only look to make it better.”
Available from James Arsenault & Co., Arrosic, Maine, was an early broadside, printed about 1840, describing the process of making daguerreotypes. Arsenault has been exhibiting in the show since the 1990s and said it is an event in which “the paper world puts its best foot forward.” The fascination folks had in Egyptian mummies, even predating the King Tut’s tomb discoveries in the 1920s, was evident in another item on display here, an early pamphlet on the mummies that came to America in the Nineteenth Century. It featured a wood engraving of a mummy.
A colorful collection of hand painted papier mache fasching or Mardi Gras masks from Germany, circa 1900s, sported a sold sticker early in the show in the booth of Sheryl Jaeger, whose Tolland, Conn., business is named Eclectibles. They numbered 12 and featured a variety of characters and expressions, each measuring approximately 7 by 6 inches. Interestingly and in keeping with the anything-goes nature of the German version of Mardi Gras, the eyeholes were covered with thick paper and painted eyeballs, with just a slit through which the wearer could see, so that his or her own eyes would not be visible.
Jaeger’s collecting theme is paper works that “have a secret” or perform a function beyond being two-dimensional artwork. This could be seen in a number of highlights showcased here, including a collection of 25 Victorian intricate cutworks from the 1830s and a 12-inch-high watercolor dressed Scotsman with articulated legs and a simple string mechanism that allows him to dance. “The crowds were spirited throughout the fair and sales were brisk,” Jaeger reported. “The fair was flawlessly promoted for his first year by Marvin. Items were selling from all price points. There was a spark in the air — one of the best ephemera fairs in several years.”
Again reflecting the politics theme of this year’s show, Resser-Thorner Antiques, Manchester, N.H., had as one of their highlights the scrapbook on the life of Congressman Thomas Jones (1819–1887) of Kentucky, containing a pair of tickets to the 1880 National Democratic Convention, one of which would admit the bearer to “Seats Reserved for Ladies.”
Along the back wall of the ballroom was a burgeoning display of primarily Nineteenth Century antique paper, books and collectibles. In glass cases and gauntlets of plastic bins, the exhibit was four times the size of most of the dealer spaces in this show. It belonged, of course, to the New Baltimore, N.Y., dealer Peter Luke, who remarked that the row-upon-row of overflowing bins represented just ten percent of his inventory. Underlining the fact that nationalism and xenophobia are not new concepts was a silk ribbon for an anti-immigrant nationalist party. There was a “Log Cabin” songbook supporting the campaign of William Henry Harrison among the historical paper and much more.
Formal and vernacular photography figured into merchandise offered by Tamerlane Books, Havertown, Penn. One was an Aesthetic Movement parlor stereoscope, circa 1890, featuring a large table top viewer. A selection of celluloid photo plaques from the Twentieth Century, created dream-like settings for vernacular portraits. Antique advertising was also offered, such as a circa 1890 varnished paper mounted on card advertising Aspinall’s Enamel.
Sure to solicit some playful head-scratching and chuckles was a broadside titled “The Art of Making Money Plenty in Every Man’s Pocket” by “Dr Franklin” shown by Old Print Shop, New York City, with its combination of script and playful rebus illustrations.
Posters aplenty were available from Bob Veder of Class Menagerie, Bolton Landing, N.Y., who brought colorful images of Native Americans in the form of Tompkins Wild West posters, among many other categories ranging from travel and film to architectural and entertainment. “Another good show for both buying and selling,” said Veder afterwards. “Also, it’s great to have Marvin Getman as the new show promoter, a real pro who takes excellent care of us dealers.”
After French emperor Napoleon was exiled there, the island of St Helena drew great public interest. So a royal naval officer William Innes Pocock created an oblong folio, “Five views of the Island of St Helena, from drawings taken on the spot to which is added a concise of the island” (London, 1815). The piece, with five hand colored aquatint plates, one of which was a double page, was on offer by Greg Gibson of Ten Pound Island Book Co., Gloucester, Mass. Gibson noted the scarcity of the folio, it having appeared at auction only once since 1938 and only eight libraries holding copies, according to one of his reference books.
Another rarity, a London 1754 edition of George Washington’s first published work that included a map relating to the French and Indian War, was getting a lot of attention at Bartleby’s Books, Chevy Chase, Md. Co-owner Karen Griffin gingerly unfolded the map for curious customers.
A to Z is the spectrum covered in this show Everything from Valentine cards, presidential documents, posters and vintage advertising, original movie scripts, manuscripts and music scores, daguerreotypes, stereoviews, cabinet cards, photos, broadsides, maps and catalogs. Its customer base is decidedly collectors rather than mom, dad and the kids out to see what’s new over the weekend — although an appeal to retail sensibilities is part of the mix. Said Getman, “Even people who don’t ‘officially’ collect ephemera will love this event. And odds are, they will leave with at least one item that catches their fancy! Walking through this fair is a walk through history. Visitors get to see how people lived before the digital age — long before our smartphones and computers today shaped the way people define friends, correspondence and communication.”
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