My new novel, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures, is a replica of a flapper-era scrapbook. In creating this book, I collected over 600 pieces of vintage 1920’s ephemera. I found treasures in antique stores in Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, and Louisiana, and of course, on eBay. Each item tells part of Frankie’s story—the books and magazines she read, the clothes she wore, the letters she wrote, the movies and plays she saw, the trains and ships she traveled on.
My book comes out on October 25. I thought it would be fun to highlight some my favorite finds, the places I found them, and what I paid. Sometimes I made an unbelievable score, and other times I paid through the teeth (alas). All part of the adventure of collecting ephemera!
In the 1920’s, Americans tourists crossed the Atlantic in droves to take advantage of the dirt-cheap exchange rates for the almighty dollar. The Cunard Line offered two of the largest and fastest ocean liners, the Aquitania and the Mauretania refurbished in the latest Art Deco style. Nothing captures the glamour of Jazz Age ocean travel like luggage tags collaged across well-appointed steamer trunks.
Source: Ebay, $5.25
Vintage luggage tags are some of the most desirable and collectible items of ocean liner ephemera. So desirable, in fact, that vintage tags are widely reproduced on everything from note cards to refrigerator magnets. I found these two spectacular vintage labels at such a low price because one was glued on top of the other, so they both looked ruined. I was able (with some effort) to soak them apart and flatten them.
In the little-remembered 1920 election, Republican hack Warren Harding soundly defeated James Cox and running mate Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The 1920 election was also the first one to allow women to cast a vote.
Source: JR’s Antique Center (Queenstown, Md.) $7.50 apiece
Vintage campaign buttons are a nifty slice of political Americana, featuring oddball slogans for obscure candidates (James Cox?). The prices can vary widely from $2 – $200, depending on rarity and condition. I found these in a jumbled box of campaign buttons, mostly from the 1960-70’s.
Judge was a weekly humor magazine published from 1885-1947. It’s covers during the 1920’s often featured flappers up to the latest trick—drinking bootleg liquor, listening to a new-fangled radio, smoking, or in this case, getting picked-up at an automat.
Source: Whiting’s Old Paper, $12
Even though Judge featured some of the best magazine illustrators of the time, it’s been largely forgotten. As a result, issues cost a fraction of a 1920’s New Yorker, Vogue, or Vanity Fair.
Victor Emerson started a record company in 1912, and produced a 2-sided 7” record before WWI which sold for $.25. This one has two versions of the “Hawaiian Foxtrot.” “Hawaiian” style dance music featuring ukulele and steel guitar became the rage in the early 20’s.
I fished this quaint little record out of a bin of old big band 78’s at my favorite vintage shop. It’s worth rummaging through the stacks of scratched old records found in every antique mall for the odd gem of early recording history.
Description: The 954 page catalog lists every single consumer item available in the United States in 1925. There’s a Russian fox woman’s coat for $35.98, men’s denim overalls for $1.19, a solid oak dining room set for $24.99, an electric egg hatcher for $8.95, and a four bedroom Colonial-style house complete with columned porch for $2094.
Source: eBay, $84
It took me a few weeks of searching to find a complete vintage Sears catalog on eBay. Sears catalogs are always in demand because they can be split up and sold by the page. After being outbid several times, I bit the bullet and paid up for this one. Probably the single most expensive item I bought besides the Corona 3.
First published in 1861, Authors was one of the most popular children’s card games in America for fifty years. There are 4 cards each for 13 famous authors (ie Dickens, Shakespeare, Louisa May Alcott). The game is played like Go Fish, and the object is to collect as many complete sets as possible. The game is also educational—teaching children about authors and their books. This version was published by Whitman.
Source: Whitings Old Paper, $9
I was always an avid card player and started collecting vintage card games when I was 10. My oldest set is Dr. Busby, the earliest American card game, from the 1870’s. Vintage cards (especially ones in
less-than-perfect-condition) are easily found in antique stores and on eBay for a few dollars.
Source: Cattail Creek Antiques, (Rutgersville, Va.) $8
The Corona 3 was one of the most popular typewriters ever made. It was the first portable affordable for the average consumer and the Corona Company marketed them to housewives, students, and businessmen as a way to stay competitive in a fast changing world. Teddy Roosevelt had one, so did Ernest Hemingway who called it “the only psychiatrist I ever submitted to.”
Source: eBay, $105 (including $15 shipping)
I wanted a period portable typewriter to write the captions for Frankie Pratt. At any given time, there are dozens of Corona 3’s for sale on eBay ranging in price from $25-200, but buyer beware! My typewriter arrived with a broken spacebar, worn platen and sticky keys. I had to get it professionally restored, cleaned and tuned (by the typewriter whisperer Ted Wood at Charlottesville Office Machine) for $100. I would have been better off buying one of his restored Coronas for $145.