Date: Fri 24-Apr-1998
When A Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures: Ephemera Society Show And Sale
GREENWICH, CONN. -- Jacqueline Sideli is one promoter who really means it when
she says her show has something for everyone.
Sideli manages the Ephemera Society of America's annual conference, fair, and
exhibition in Greenwich, where prices start at just pennies for material
covering the entire spectrum of human endeavor.
That's nothing to sneeze at. At the March 20-22 event, ephemera's barely
scratched surface yielded broadsides, posters, invitations, postcards,
magazines, catalogues, and cards relating to art, politics, science,
entertainment -- you name it.
The inherent fascination of the field is demonstrated by who collects it.
There's Stephen Miller, a collector of Shaker ephemera who sits on the boards
of the Hancock and Canterbury Shaker villages. And Edward Atwater, a professor
emeritus at the University of Rochester Medical School. After collecting old
medical books and ephemera for years, Atwater began assembling AIDs ephemera.
The historically significant artifacts were recently part of "Graphic Alert"
at the Brooklyn Museum.
University of Kansas law professor Michael Hoeflich, the author of more than
50 articles and five books, collects printed and manuscript ephemera relating
to law and legal history. Currently, he is working on a photographic history
of the law in Kansas.
Particularly interested in picture engravers, vignette artists, and bank-note
companies, corporate attorney Mark D. Tomasko collects security engraving. He
has organized exhibitions on the subject for the Grolier Club and the Museum
of Financial History.
Miller, Atwater, Hoeflich, and Tomasko spoke at Ephemera Society of America's
conference, joining lecturers on the ephemera of scandal, automobile travel,
and Western land promotion. It was a wonder that shoppers could tear
themselves away to join the commerce on the floor, where 86 exhibitors from
England to California were set up.
"It was, as usual, wonderful for me," said Dennis Holzman, an Albany, N.Y.,
dealer in photographs, historical ephemera, and rare books. "At this show more
than any other people offer serious ephemera items, and the people who come
are serious about what they are looking and willing to spend money. I sold
almost across the board -- lots of autograph material, prints, watercolors --
and a whole range of lesser general ephemera such as trade cards, letter
heads, pamphlets, and manuscripts.
As is typical, the Ephemera Society's annual fair draws collectors from around
the country. Some, such as John Dan of the Clements Library at the University
of Michigan, represent institutions.
Some less intent buyers were deterred by the weather. "Our gate was off this
year because of the weather," said Sideli, who, like every other promoter in
the metropolitan area, coped with a messy early spring snow. "The really funny
thing was that people who came stayed all day and bought, so business was
"Sophisticated customers were looking for top-level things," continued Sideli,
who has organized the event for ten of its 18 years. Sideli may have had John
Reznikoff of University Archives in mind. The Stamford, Conn., dealer sold a
$35,000 letter before the show. The 1778 document signed by John Paul Jones
was addressed to Robert Morris, a New Yorker who helped finance the
Revolutionary War. "Only a handful of Jones letters are known," noted
The flotsam and the jetsam of the printed world, ephemera can look trifling
but can be quite valuable. "We sell political Americana, buttons, ribbons,
autographs, and portraits," said Peter Scanlan. In his stand was a Teapot Dome
button priced at $2,900. "Political buttons have sold in $50,000 range,"
acknowledged the Albany, N.Y., dealer.
"I buy account books, ledgers and diaries," explained Roy Kulp. The Hatfield,
Penn., dealer was happily pouring over a Seventeenth Century account book from
Massachusetts that he had just bought on the floor. His wife, a dealer in
children's books, was set up nearby.
Year after year, one of the Ephemera Society show's greatest pleasures is
Marjorie Parrott Adams and her husband, Michael. The Lancaster, Mass., dealers
specialize in some of life's greatest pleasures: food, wine, gardens, and
France. Marvelous for framing were pressed ferns from the 1860s, collected in
Madeira and Tenerife, $180. A French bread certificate dating to the third
year of the Republic, 1793, was $75. Most intriguing of all was a handwritten
list of gardeners' wages from Blenheim Palace. Dating to 1709, it was composed
by the stately home's head gardener, one of the most famous horticulturists of
his day and the designer of landscapes at Hampton Court, Kensington, and
Postcards are elevated to higher status by Martin J. Shapiro, a dealer from
Hamden, Conn., who handles, among others, Wiener Werkstatte, Art Nouveau, and
other art cards. Shapiro made a point to have currently fashionable Titanic
souvenirs. Manufactured by an Italian firm, a 1912 colored rendition of the
sinking was $1,000. Another view, a picture of the White Star Liner Titanic,
Rockland Bookman Thomas Cullen was also on top of current events. "Scholastic
people go with the trends," said the Cattaraugus, N.Y., dealer, who offered a
newspaper account of the Amistad affair for $150.
"I've been part of the Ephemera Society of America's show since the very
beginning. It is the only show that I can say is consistently wonderful,"
concluded Dennis Holzman, offering the highest praise there is.