Advertising items have always been popular collectibles. Advertising collectibles include any item that promotes a product, a service or a company brand/logo. The most popular categories include signs, cans and tins, display items, packaging such as boxes and wrappers, and promotional giveaways.
This field is very broad; the focus of this column will be on ephemera, which are written or printed items that were meant to be used and then discarded.
In general, advertising collectors consider any paper or cardboard items to be ephemera. Further, they also classify items such as trade cards, which were meant to be collected, as ephemera.
At Shady Lawn Antiques, we have a section devoted to anything that has “Walla Walla” printed on it or that is related to the town and area. This section is not limited to ephemera; it also includes books, yardsticks, milk bottles, beverage bottles, cans and tins, advertising, ice tongs, cups, mugs and plates.
Collectors and price guides typically divide ephemera into general categories. These categories are not all encompassing, but they provide a good framework to begin this discussion on collectible paper and cardboard items.
Cardboard signs were created for indoor use and often had folding easel backs. They were detailed, and their nuanced colors were used to draw attention to a product. They also identified products — “We serve Shady Lawn Ice Cream.”
Cardboard signs were not durable, so it is rare to find them in good condition. One would think this would make cardboard signs more valuable than metal signs, but that is not the case.
Calendars have been popular promotional items from the 1880s to the present. Printers sold “stock” calendars to businesses with their name prominently printed on them. These were given away, and they reminded people about the company every time someone looked at it.
Calendars that are at least 50 years old are the most sought after. Many early calendars were cardboard with small tearaway paper month pages stapled to them. Especially sought after are calendars with all of the months still intact.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, merchants often gave away trade cards to their customers. There are two types of these cards. One has a pretty scene with the merchant’s name printed on it; the other features a product (such as Calumet baking powder), and perhaps a scene, as well as the merchant’s name.
Postcards showing Walla Walla buildings, life or scenes are popular locally. While some postcards may be advertising in nature, most are not; they are included in this list because they are pieces of Walla Walla ephemera.
Among the most collectible of these are real-photo postcards (RPPC). In the early days, photos were printed on postcard stock, in addition (or as an alternative) to being printed on photo paper. These are generally rare because they weren’t printed in relatively large quantities.
An interesting aspect to collecting Walla Walla postcards is that they were often mailed out of town. Thus, they have had to make their way back to the Valley.
Any type of office supply with printed logos on it is collectible. This includes business cards, letterhead, envelopes, receipt pads, order books, checks and shipping labels. Product catalogs, packaging, marketing items and promotional giveaways (such as Shady Lawn cardboard fans) also are included in this category.
In the days of the dip ink pen, heavy paper blotters were necessary to blot the ink dry so it didn’t get smudged. Blotters with advertising on the back of them were popular giveaways. Every time that a blotter was used, the merchant’s name would be seen.
When paper matches came into use, it was obvious the cardboard cover was an ideal advertising space. Many local businesses had matchbooks printed with their name. Today, unused matchbooks are the most popular. it is prudent to carefully remove the staple and the matches for long-term storage. This does not seem to affect their value.
This column presents ephemera categories in roughly descending order of value, with cardboard signage being the most valuable. In general, a nice cardboard sign might worth $100; a postcard or blotter $5; and a matchbook one to two dollars.
An especially great item might be more valuable than an item in the category above it.
The value of advertising collectibles definitely has a local/regional bias. That is to say that Walla Walla items will always be more sought after and therefore more valuable in Walla Walla than anywhere else.
The current antiques trend is toward the acquisition of functional and decorative items rather than collectibles. But it seems that the exception to this trend is the collection of regional and local advertising pieces. After all, there is something to be said for local pride.
Nice historical, collectible pieces of ephemera can still be found for fewer than $5, so it is not too late to begin a collection. At this
price point, it is still fun to hunt for these items.
This is also a good time to collect Walla Walla winery and brewery coasters, stickers and signs. Many people who don’t even think of themselves as collectors probably have a number of different Balloon Stampede items, or beer or wineglasses with logos on them … Just saying — maybe people are still building collections even though they don’t realize it and “collecting isn’t currently popular.”
There will always be fewer total Walla Walla items available than Seattle pieces due to the difference in population.
That said, there was an early time when Walla Walla and Seattle were a similar size. The number of advertising items from that time are roughly the same.
Fifth-generation Walla Wallan Dave Emigh owns Shady Lawn Antiques. Glimpses of the store’s ever-changing inventory can also be seen on Facebook. Shady Lawn Antiques is open for business Wednesday through Saturday afternoons.