Tag Archive for: ephemera

Falling in love with vintage Valentine’s Day cards

NEW YORK – For New Jersey historian Nancy Rosin, her love affair with antique Valentine’s Day cards began while antiquing in the 1970s in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

“The first things I bought were the die-cut scraps that embellish many of the Victorian Valentines. I thought I would one day use them for decoupage, a popular craft, when my children were older,” she told Auction Central News. “When I discovered they were on Valentines, I started looking for Valentines – and then the serious collecting began. It was a combination of their beauty, the messages, and the history that drew me in.”

Cut‐paper Valentine card, British, circa 1810; made by Elizabeth Cobbold (1765‐1824). Image courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

After her collection numbered somewhere over 12,000 examples of Valentine, friendship and devotional ephemera, her son and his wife, to whom she had given it, entrusted the collection to The Huntington Library Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif., in 2018.

Rosin remains as passionate about Valentines as ever, cataloguing examples at such renowned institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and giving lectures on this subject.

The most striking of Valentine’s cards are the handmade ones, particularly those dating to the Victorian era, and the skills used to make cards that fold-open, boast three-dimensional features or have intricate designs cut out of paper lace are impressive to behold. Particularly desirable are those employing cobweb devices where one pulls on a string to lift up the cobweb, exposing a hidden image (sometimes several) or a secret message.

Cobweb valentine card (image detail shown), probably British, circa 1830‐1860. Pull a string attached to the castle, and a cobweb device lifts to reveal a mouse in a trap. All images except where noted are gift of Belle and Robert Rosin, Nancy and Henry Rosin Collection of Valentine, Friendship, and Devotional Ephemera. Image courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Garden

Themes and subject matter are endless, ranging from typical romantic subjects one might expect such as cupids, children, young women and couples, flowers, birds and more to the satiric and political.

There is even a genre of insulting Valentine’s cards known as vinegar Valentines with such snarky sentiments as, “On each Sunday morning to church you repair, And turn up your nose with a sanctified air, But see you at home what a different sight, As you read nasty books and drink gin half the night… ” These were commonly aimed at politicians too.

‘Vinegar’ Valentine card, American, circa 1870‐1885; maker unknown. Image courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

The more unique the card, either in sentiment or design, the more collectors will covet that particular example. Highly detailed Victorian paper lace Valentines are a favorite among many collectors. Often constructed of layers of scalloped and embossed paper, die cuts and paper lace in white and silver, the lace often is set on paper strings to give it a three-dimensional effect.

Among renowned card artists/illustrators are Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane, Elizabeth Cobbold, Frances Brundage, Ellen Clapsaddle and Grace Drayton, said Rosin, adding, “I imagine Frances Brundage was the most well-known, and her images of children were fabulous.”

Fold‐open valentine card, German, circa 1900, three‐layer construction of die‐cut, embossed and color lithographed paper with applied elements. Image courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

Collectors and even casual viewers are especially drawn to a card’s message of love. “They were sentimental and tender. Civil War Valentines, for example, were often the connection to home – the Sailor’s Farewell refers to the seafaring men who went off for military, or for whaling – and it was a popular theme that I especially love,” Rosin said. “The ‘Language of Flowers’ is an important component, as messages could be sent with a bouquet – no words necessary, if you knew their meaning.” Each flower had a particular meaning understood by both the sender and recipient in the 19th century (mixed bouquets can be a bit more challenging though for today’s viewers to decode) such as lilies signified purity, red roses were a declaration of love, white chrysanthemums equaled truth and so on.

This is a series from the 1920s featuring animals and figures eating hearts. Made in Germany, it has a rotating wheel and mechanical mouth. Image courtesy of Vintage Valentine Museum

Jolene Sliwka of North Carolina runs the website known as the Vintage Valentine Museum and says collectors vary quite a bit in what they consider most desirable. “For many this would mean the elaborate standup displays and fantastic characters created by known artists like Frances Brundage or Chloe Preston,” she told Auction Central News. “Some of these can be large and feature paper puffs or sections designed for light to shine through pieces of colored paper. These large, pull-down cards don’t have to be by known artists to be very desirable. There are examples of quite large pull-down boats that are so popular I haven’t been able to acquire one at a price I can afford for the museum.”

Valentine card, American, circa 1870, by Esther Howland (1828‐1904), who was said to be the first to produce English-style romantic, hand-decorated cards in large commercial quantities. Image courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Many collectors focus on a particular artist or sometimes a category such as mechanical cards or puzzle purse cards, Sliwka said. “For others, the paper lace cards, with exquisite embossing and cutout pieces, that the Victorians exchanged are what they most desire,” she said, noting in the latter genre, Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, as a woman in 1848 began showing her business prowess at a time unusual for women engaging in commerce, earning a strong following for her romantic cards.

Rosin suggested new collectors do their homework before buying their first Valentine. “Look at Valentines wherever you can – shows, auctions and museums. You don’t have to buy – first look, touch and see what you love and be knowledgeable.”

5 First Editions and Scarce Posters That You Will Love

This weekend we’re conducting a trio of auctions featuring books and ephemera. Major attractions of the curated collections include signed first edition books and rare advertising posters. Let’s take a look at 5 standout items from these sales.

Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Lonesome Dove is among the stars of the Literature and Editions Books Auction. The first state, first edition book is signed by the author on the front flyleaf.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove, signed first edition, first state, 1985, est. $700-$800


Though not a first, a 40th Anniversary Edition of To Kill a Mockingbird signed by author Harper Lee is certain to attract much attention.

Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1999 40th anniversary edition signed by author, est. $400-$500


Memorable images by Annie Liebovitz, who began her illustrious career, as a staff photographer of Rolling Stone magazine, fill her book titled Photographs 1970-1990. Liebovitz signed the title page of this first edition, first printing coffee table book, which is included in the Art, History and Reference Books auction.

Also included in this auction is another desirable book, Louise Saunders’ Knave of Hearts, which is illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. This is the Charles Scribner’s Sons 1925 first edition in spiral binding. All plates are present, bright and in remarkable condition.

Louise Saunders, The Knave of Hearts, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925, first edition in spiral binding, est. $500-$600


More than a dozen advertising and event posters are included in the 19th-20th Century Historic Ephemera Pop Culture auction. A classic bus/streetcar-size poster advertising Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum is a stone lithograph. The 1940s poster by Otis Shepard, a highly regarded American illustrator and artist for the Wrigley family and the companies, depicts a healthful young couple at the beach.

Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum bus/streetcar poster, circa 1940s, est. $1,200-$1,500


Formula One racing fans will be keeping their eyes on a poster for the 1970 Monaco Grans Prix. Michael Turner’s color stone lithograph juxtaposes the beauty of sailing with the exhiliration of road course racing.

Monaco Grand Prix May 9-10 poster, 1970, est. $1,200-$1,500


American History Packed into One Ephemera Collection

The dictionary defines ephemera as “collectibles (as posters, broadsides and tickets) not intended to have lasting value.” However, these items have indeed become valuable as snippets of history like those found in a time capsule, only in better condition. This week we present a representative collection of ephemera spanning the 20th century. Take a look at some of the outstanding pieces below.

Interest in space exploration and travel is firing up again, and demand from collectors is at an all-time high. A collectible from the NASA space shuttle era is a crew-signed STS-38 launch date cover. The commemorative envelope is dated Nov. 15 1990, the day Space Shuttle Atlantis, on her seventh voyage, carried a classified payload for the U.S. Department of Defense. The cover is signed by Richard O. Covey and crew.

NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-38 launch date crew-signed cover. Estimate: $80-$100. Jasper52 image


The resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974 as a result of the Watergate cover-up was a dark moment in U.S. history. A limited-edition commemorative broadside marking the swearing in of Vice President Gerald R. Ford as the 38th U.S. president on August 9, 1974 marked a fresh start for the nation.

Limited-edition broadside of President Gerald R. Ford swearing-in ceremony for the 38th president of the United States, Aug. 9, 1974, numbered 114/175, 15 x 22 in. Estimate: $115-$130. Jasper52 image


The broadside includes the full text of the president’s swearing in address, which reads in part: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice, but mercy. … let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.”

Going back to the early 1950s is a four-page sales brochure from the Ravenswood Novelty Works of Ravenswood, West Virginia, for its glass marbles. The cover photo features boys playing a game of marbles, while the other pages picture “American-made quality marbles.”

Four-page sales brochure for “American made quality marbles” by the Ravenswood Novelty Works of Ravenswood, W.Va., page size about 8 1/2 x 11 in. Estimate: $55-$75. Jasper52 image


Several lots date to the World War II era, including a group of 87 envelopes printed with patriotic scenes and mottos. All are unused and in very good condition. Some salute branches of the military, while others feature specific events or public figures. During the war patriotic mail was one of the many forms of support that helped sustain the morale of those abroad and at home.

Set of 87 different World War II patriotic envelopes. Estimate: $350-$400. Jasper52 image


Another WWII-era lot consists of four black and white photographs of U.S. Navy pilots in flight gear with their planes.

Early photographs of Native Americans are always of interest and this collection has two unusual examples. One is an 1880s magic lantern glass side of three girls from a Yuma, Arizona, tribe. Magic lanterns projected images on a screen for entertainment or educational purposes. No photographer’s name is stated, but the image is numbered “08” in similar fashion to Elias Bonine’s photographs of this era. A lesser-known photographer, Bonine established a studio in Yuma in 1881, where he produced images of local tribes in situations mostly staged for the benefit of the public.

Glass magic lantern slide picturing Native Americans from a Yuma, Arizona, tribe, 1880s, 3½ in. x 4 in. Estimate: $280-$300. Jasper52 image


The other photographic image of a Native American is the famous Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo, taken by W.H. Martin in 1905 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The postcard bears a 1909 copyright, the year the Apache leader died.

Postcard of Apache leader Geronimo, photographed as a prisoner in 1909 by W.H. Martin, 3 3/8 x 5 3/8 in. Estimate: $180-$200. Jasper52 image


Also featured in this curated sale, is a collection over 60 20th century road maps and travel brochures. Take a look at the full auction here and enjoy.

A Book Collection Spanning 500 Years

Great books from the early era of moveable type up to the 20th century are featured in this week’s Book & Ephemera auction ending on Sunday, February 19th. Topics in this eclectic collection range from the history of Queen Elizabeth’s England to mid-century modern furniture.

Perhaps the most colorful volume in the collection is titled Documenti d’arte d’oggi, an experimental magazine of M.A.C. (Concrete Art Movement). Offered in the auction is the last of four issues, published in Milan, Italy in 1958. The 152-page volume contains multiple serigraphs, lithographs, woodcuts, collages of several artists linked to the Concrete Art Movement, as well as an intact pop-up sculpture by Bruno Munari (1907-1998). The original hardcover is a color lithograph by Gianni Monnet (1912-1958). This scarce publication is estimated to generate international interest and sell for $4,000-$5,000.

‘Documenti d’arte d’oggi,’ magazine, first and only edition, published by MAC 1958, New York, George Wittenborn, 152pp. Estimate: $4,000-$5,000. Jasper52 image


Fans of mid-century modern furniture will delight in a near fine copy of Knoll Design by Eric Larrabee & Massimo Vignelli (1981: Harry N. Abrams). The large square quarto volume retains its dust jacket, which is also rated near fine. The book’s 307 pages are profusely illustrated in color and black and white. It carries a $300-$400 estimate.

‘Knoll Design’ by Eric Larrabee and Massimo Vignelli, first printing, Harry N. Abrams, New York 1981, large square qurto, 3078pp, profusely illustrated in color and black & white. Estimate: $300-$500. Jasper52 image


Elbert Hubbard, an influential exponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement, signed and numbered the book titled The Deserted Village, which was published by his Roycrofters in East Aurora, NY in 1989. The book offered in the auction is number 16 of 470 signed by Hubbard; only the first 40 copies of this limited edition were illuminated with extra original watercolor drawings by artist Minnie Gardner. No one knows how many of the original 40 yet exist, but they are considered scarce. This 56-page book is estimated at $400-$500.

‘The Deserted Village,’ by Oliver Goldsmith and illustrated by Minnie Gardner, No. 16 of 470, signed by Elbert Hubbard and Gardner, Roycroft, East Aurora, New York, 1898, 56pp. Estimate: $400-$500. Jasper52 image


From the same era and equally scarce is a first edition of George Bird Grinnell’s The Indians of Today (1900: Herbert S. Stone & Co. Chicago and New York). The 185-page book contains portraits of notable Native americans by photographer F.A. Rinehart. This important work is estimated at $900-$1,000.

‘The Indians of Today’ by George Bird Grinnell, photographs by F.A. Rinehart, first edition, Herbert S. Stone & Co., Chicago & New York, 1900. Estimate: $900-$1,000. Jasper52 image


Jurists will be interested in the first edition of Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Courts of Pennsylvania, Before and Since the Revolution by A.J. Dallas, published in 1790 by T. Bradford in Philadelphia. The 494-page volume, which shows wear, has a $400-$500 estimate.

‘Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Courts of Pennsylvania, Before and since the Revolution.’ By A.J. Dallas, first edition, T. Bradford, Philadelphia, 1790, 494pp. Estimate: $400-$500. Jasper52 image


In amazing condition for its age is a book published in London in 1569 on the history of England up to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Like most surviving copies, this extremely scarce book is not perfect; missing the title page through page 12 (estimated at $4,000-$5,000).

‘A Chronicle at Large, and Meere History of the Affayres of Englande … ’ by Richard Grafton, London, 1569, full leather cover. Estimate: $4,000-$5,000. Jasper52 image


Also worthy of note is a first edition (second state) of The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson by James Boswell, published in London in 1785. Bound in full calf – quite possibly the original binding – it is in overall good condition and expected to sell for $500-$600.

There’s something for everyone in this collection – view the fully illustrated catalog of book and ephemera here.