Monday, May 27, 2013

Off to the Fair

As Co-Director of the Visual Culture Program, I am always on the lookout for new materials to add to the library’s visual culture collections. Ephemera has become a particular focus of my treasure hunting in the last year. Although online marketplaces certainly provide access to a trove of promising new additions to our holdings, a good old fashioned fair – of the paper variety – allows for a more personal experience.

In the last few weeks, The Ephemera Society of America and Allentown Paper Shows have served as opportunities to obtain a variety of commercial ephemera, including a circa-1875 advertising envelope for a local casket maker, a late 19th-century trade card for a Philadelphia burlap bag manufacturer, and a Victorian-era paper toy dining room set promoting the Cosmo Buttermilk Soap Co.

Philadelphia Burial Co. envelope, ca. 1875. Proprietors George W. Hanna, George. M. Hanna, and John W. Hanna.

Back of John T. Bailey & Co. trade card, ca. 1880.

Front of John T. Bailey & Co. trade card, ca. 1880.

Cosmo Buttermilk Soap paper toy promotion, 1895.

From my initial research into these pieces, I have learned a few interesting tidbits; an inevitability with these engaging materials. George W. Hanna and his sons, listed as the proprietors of the Philadelphia Burial Case Co., worked in the funeral trade for fewer than five years before relocating by 1880 to Kansas to farm. John T. Bailey & Co., a premier twine and bag manufacturing company, used this trade card to showcase the building to which their growing sewing department moved in 1880 to meet increased consumer demands. And Jonas J. Burns, the owner of the Chicago soap company that marketed the paper toy furniture in the 1890s, turned out to also be a railway magnate. Small tokens of historical popular culture such as these never cease to enlighten and delight me—as well as the Library Company’s researchers.

These items are just the newest additions to our illustrious collections of historical ephemera, highlights of which will be on display in Remnants of Everyday Life: Historical Ephemera in the Workplace, Street, and Home May 13-December 13, 2013.

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs

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