Blog: Ephemera

From the reference box # 88

#88 - Getaway Peak Miles Check. It's been a while since I've bought a vintage dial, but I found this beauty at the weekend and couldn't resist.

It was produced by National (a petrol station chain) and BP as a useful conversion guide. On the front the yellow dial helps drivers calculate the average speed required to achieve a certain number of miles in a specific time. Whilst on the reverse it gives a 'see-at-a-glance' list of conversions from metric and English stocking sizes to Gallons and Litres, to help you 'cruise your way through the metric system'.

I'm not sure of the exact date, but an educated guess would be late 70's when the UK announced it was to drop the use of non-metric measures. Although it wasn't mandatory until the mid 90's I imagine the announcement created widespread panic with companies using it to their advantage for their marketing.

If vintage dials and auto ephemera are your cup of tea, there are lots more examples nestled away in our reference box - check it out here.

Julia Trigg at Castor + Pollux

Julia Trigg's large digital collages of gorgeous typographic ephemera are packed full of giant numbers, letters and graphic elements in bold, bright colours. Her new exhibition at Castor + Pollux showcases pieces created from her collection of 1920's - 1950's ham radio cards:

"These amateur hams could have been the first 'techno geeks', making contact with each other through radio, long before telephone was accessible.

They sent each other signals using a type of morse code called Quebec Sign Language and developed their own shorthand - a kind of early text language. They would send each other these letterpress printed 'QSL' cards via post to confirm receipt of the signals - eventually all over the world."

The exhibition previews on Friday and will be open to the public from 18 September to 17 October 2010.

Images copyright Julia Trigg.

Warning - Sensory overload!

These matchbook labels from Kindra Murphy's (kindra is here) wonderful collection of uncut Czechoslovakian matchbox labels have just been uploaded to Flickr.

It's so great to see full sets totally unmolested and as new - the graphics are absolutely fantastic. I love the little vegetable characters. Thanks for sharing these Kindra, we can't wait to see more!

Images copyright Kindra Murphy.
Via the always inspiring World Famous Design Junkies.

Thu 09 Sep 2010

Posted under: Design , Ephemera , Inspiration


When Beans were Bullets

When Beans were Bullets is an exhibition of US World War I & II posters curated by designer and public historian Cory Bernat.

"Combining the eye of a graphic designer with the research skills of a historian, curator Cory Bernat highlights the dramatic differences in style and content that emerged between the two wars. She displays copies of over seventy posters on fence panels instead of in frames to highlight their mass-produced quality. She uncovered the posters over the last two years among unprocessed holdings within NAL’s Special Collections, where the originals are still held."

There's something charming and homely about wartime posters and it's funny how the same slogans to reduce wastage and grow our own food are still topical today.

View whole exhibition online here or if you're lucky enough to live close by, you can see it in person at the National Agricultural Library until 10 September and then at the USDA South Building in Washington, D.C. from 6 October until 10 November 10, 2010.

Images copyright Cory Bernat.
Via Sell! Sell!

Flickr updates

We've finally got organised and updated our Flickr sets with more Auto Type, Matchbook labels and Racing numbers as well as adding a Vintage stamp set. Check them all out here.

From the reference box # 86

#86 - Vintage Catarrh Pastilles packaging. I love the colour combo of this Boots packaging, not what you would expect for throat sweets.

I had thought it was circa 50's/60's but after looking at the Boots timeline I think it's more likely to be from the early 70's as it has both the original name 'Boots Pure Drug Company' and 'The Boots Company' (which it became in 1971) on it?? Still not convinced, but it's a great example never-the-less.

See more fabulous packaging and items of ephemera here.

LA TImes 50: Cigar Bands

From the LA TImes 50, these Cigar Bands "Gilded momentos of pre-revolutionary Cuba" are fantastic. I love the bright colours and detailed designs, it's great to see all the specialist print on such small labels. There's some really nice type on some of them too.

Other LA TImes 50 collections worth a look at are Matchbooks, Soda Pops, Crime Rags and LAPD Badges.

Images copyright LA TImes.
Via The Silver Lining Blog.

Tue 03 Aug 2010

Posted under: Design , Ephemera , Inspiration


From the reference box # 82

#82 - Temporary Individual Liquor Permit. Issued on 13 December, 1943 by the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission in accordance with the provisions of The Nova Scotia Liquor Control Act, it's a temporary permit valid for only one month.

I love the red overprinted date in the top left corner and the little leather wallet it came in -it's a great bit of ephemera and one I was given!

There are lots more gorgeous items of ephemera in the reference box - take a look here.

Mon 26 Jul 2010

Posted under: Design , Ephemera , Reference box

1 Comment


Whilst browsing the Ephemera Society website yesterday I discovered a great article about 'carte-de-visite' written by their secretary, Graham Hudson. I've collected carte-de-visite (example shown above) for years and always referred to them as photographer's cards - I had no idea they had an official name!

Graham has very kindly given his permission for me to post his article, so here it is. Make a cup of tea and get the biscuits, because it's much longer than my usual posts, but it's well worth a read...

Among collectors the term passes without comment - carte-de-visite. At antiques fairs and collectors’ markets they are ubiquitous, these little photographs, on the one side perhaps a fashionable young man in elegant topper or young woman in voluminous crinoline, or (less commonly) a small family group: on the other the elaborately presented studio address of the photographer. As records of costume they are invaluable, but as more personal records they are not without poignancy. In old shoe boxes amid the pots and pans of the boot fair, divested now of the family context that once brought them into being, we buy them at 50p a card. Who are these people whose eyes now touch ours across the years? We cannot know.

But why carte-de-visite, literally ‘visiting card’? In an article in Antiques Journal Lou McCulloch noted ‘The mounted card was approximately 2½ by 4 inches, slightly larger than a calling card, and, correspondingly received the French equivalent for a visiting card as its 'nom de plume’, McCulloch thus assuming the term adopted through simple association of scale. Yet if one puts a carte-de-visite photograph actually side by side with a range of nineteenth-century calling cards, then the difference in the simple look of them makes such a transference of nomenclature unlikely.

The great populariser of the carte-de-visite was André Disdéri, who in 1854 was granted patent for a means whereby several smaller images could be exposed on to a single 10 x 8in plate, thus reducing overall processing costs. It is not clear however on what Disdéri’s patent was based, for central to the process must have been the camera, and the camera Disdéri first used was one invented by Antoine Claudet, and shown by him at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Claudet’s instrument, the ‘multiplying camera-obscura’, had a plate holder "Which could be mechanically moved both across and down to allow different areas of the emulsion to be covered by successive exposures through the same lens, to represent on the same surface a number of different pictures, or the same in various aspects, the portraits of several persons, & c".

Later cameras adopted by carte-de-visite photographers included those with four independent lenses which, working with a simple shift mechanism, could double up to take the usual set of eight images on the one plate, and those of the London manufacturer Routledge, which worked on the Claudet principle but with which no fewer than twelve cartes could be taken.

The great period for the carte-de-visite was from 1859 to the later 1860s. It was in May 1859 that Napoleon III riding at the head of his troops, actually halted the French army en route to the war in Austria whilst he called at Disdéri’s Paris studio. The Emperor had shrewdly realised how effective as personal publicity such cheap portraits would be among the populace; and what the Emperor did the whole of fashionable Paris was quick to emulate. Disdéri made a fortune, opening studios in Toulon, Madrid and London. At the height of the craze, in 1866, it was estimated that between three and four hundred million of the small-scale photographs were sold in England alone. But after that year the fashion went into quick decline, though the carte-de-visite as the accepted format for run-of-the-mill family record was to last well into the century. Ergo those countless little sepias we find today in every fleamarket.

They are worth collecting, and not least for the sake of their often richly decorated backs, photographers in effect turning their very products into tradesman’s cards for the businesses that produced them. Most frequently the backs were printed by lithography, exploiting the freedom and intricacy in design afforded by the process, and rich in invention though they were it is not uncommon for the collector to come across the same basic imagery employed on the photo backs of quite different establishments. The designs were created of course not by the photographers but by commercial printers, who had access to ready-drawn imagery in the form of stock litho transfers in the same way that letterpress printers had the facility of stock blocks, and it is these stock motifs that one finds recurring.

Though photography was in very essence part and parcel of the science and technology of the period - collodion, silver nitrate, anastigmatic lenses et al - the theme of photo-back imagery is essentially that of ‘Art’. There is scarce a chemical in sight. The underlying art theme of A & G Taylor’s photo-back illustrated here, with its flowers, birds, abstract patterning and one little putto actually creating a picture by drawing is not untypical, and that the imagery in this case does include an incidental camera is sufficiently uncommon to put this example into a distinct sub-category known to collectors as a ‘camera-back’. Rare indeed is a design such as that of Lambert Partington of Southport showing the whole paraphernalia - camera, dark slide, developing dish, retouching brushes and even painted studio backcloth-virtually the complete kit.

But still, ‘visiting card’? Could these little photographs ever actually have been so used? I had this question in mind for a long time. Helmut and Alison Gernsheim in their History of Photography quote Ernest Lacan, editor of La Lumiére writing in the issue of 28 October 1854 regarding two Parisian amateurs E Delessert and Count Aguado who, it appears had at least the idea of photographic calling cards: "For formal calls, the visitor should be represented wearing gloves, the head bowed in greeting, as social etiquette requires; in bad weather he should be shown with an umbrella under his arm; for farewell visits, a portrait should be furnished in travelling costume." The Gernsheims take this at face value, without further comment, but there is a hint of tongue-in-cheek they overlook. Shown with an umbrella in bad weather indeed!

However, in 1857, photographer T. Bullock of Macclesfield was actually advertising address cards ‘with a splendid photograph on the reverse side’ (have any surviving examples been located, one wonders?) and a chance find at an Ephemera Society bazaar was the carte of Charles Tomlinson, of New Britain, Connecticut (above), where, with its combination of tasteful engraver’s black-letter and discreet script, the back has all the appearance of a gentleman’s calling card rather than the up-front display of the photographer.

The clincher though must be the Punch cartoon of 1862 (above), only recently noticed. There is your young man about town, young Tomkins, card case in hand, attempting to leave his undoubted carte-de-visite. The joke is that the little photograph, scarce glanced at by the flunkey, is taken for a mere tradesman’s card and Tomkins peremptorily dismissed. Evidently the fashion of the carte as card was uncommon even then.

Thus a little light is thrown on a forgotten and ephemeral fashion. How briefly must those cartes have manifested on the card trays of those who made and received calls, to have left so little impression on the historic record and in the collections of the ephemerist.

As for Disdéri, reputed in 1861 to have been the richest photographer in the world, money ran through his fingers. With the decline in the carte-de-visite craze his fortunes too went into decline and he ended his career as a beach photographer in Nice, dying in the poor house there in 1890.

© Graham Hudson 2003. All Rights reserved.

Modern British Posters offer!

Vintage poster lovers, here's a great offer for the weekend!

The very kind people at Black Dog Publishing have been in touch to offer our lovely readers 40% discount on their new publication, Modern British Posters by Paul Rennie.

"The book is drawn entirely from the prestigious graphic collection of Paul and Karen Rennie, with posters from artists including Paul Nash, Edward Bawden, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Abram Games, Peter Max and Tom Eckersley amongst others."

It's a great source of design reference filled with vintage posters from the likes of London Underground, BOAC and Shell (all below) as well as badges, books and items of ephemera from the same era. I really love this BOAC poster with the overlayed arrows making up the BOAC logo.

To oreder the book and claim the 40% discount, email jess [at] blackdogonline [dot] com with your delivery address, quoting ‘Delicious Industries Offer’ as the subject and Jess will process your order. The face value of the book is £29.95.

Here are some spreads to whet your appetite...

Images copyright Black Dog Publishing.

Fri 02 Jul 2010

Posted under: Design , Ephemera , Inspiration , Books


From the reference box # 80

#80 - BOAC First Day Cover, celebrating the their first flights between London and Mexico back in April 1966.

The stamps are not that spectacular, but the graphic on the envelope is great and caught my eye. The orange and blue are really strong and I love the BOAC logo.

I didn't realise when I bought it, but inside there's a card with information about the first flight and cover. Apparently all the First Day Covers travelled 6246 miles on a Boeing 707 for 14 hours 55 mins during the inaugural flights. What a well travelled First Day Cover!

See more items from our wonderful reference box here.

Fri 25 Jun 2010

Posted under: Design , Ephemera , Reference box , stamps


From the reference box # 79

#79 - vintage bulb packaging! Niche I know, but vintage bulbs always seem to come in great packaging.

The Fischer Autolicht (above) is a spare for a 50's/60s Helphos spotlight. It's so gorgeous - simple 2 colour, with the 50's type and the bulb graphic.

However, the Neon Crucifix* (below) is my favourite - how many neon crucifix bulbs have you ever seen?? The packaging is fantastic and looking at the type I'm guessing it's also from the 50's/60's. Such a random item it's hard not to love it.

*update to this post*
After a bit of research I've discovered that these neon crucifix bulbs are manufactured for churches and are still available (although not in red as the one above or with the retro packaging) here.

If you like looking at random vintage items of ephemera, take a look through the rest of our reference box.

*Big thanks to Carl Rush of Crush for giving me the neon crucifix a few years ago!

50's Posters discovered at Notting Hill Gate Tube

How fantastic are these vintage posters discovered in the depths of Notting Hill Gate Tube Station during some recent maintenance work?

In 1959 Notting Hill Gate Tube Station underwent modernisation - the original passenger lifts were replaced with escalators and the passages to the old lifts were sealed off and long forgotten.

That is until recently, when they were rediscovered along with these wonderful advertising posters still very much in tact. What a great find!

Hopefully they'll be saved and put on display in the London Transport Museum (fingers crossed), but at present they remain in-situ and this section of the station remains closed to the public :(

Huge thanks to Mike Ashworth, Design & Heritage Manager of London Underground for sharing these pics!

Via Kuriositas.
Images copyright Mike Ashworth.

From the reference box # 77

#77 - More matchbooks! Here's a selection of 70's and early 80's matchbooks I managed to get my hands on last week at an autojumble?!

The typography is great, especially on the BEA and Berni logos, but most of all I'm loving the thick black outline of the Wesson illustrations and the delicate skier illustrations on the Wyoming one.

This collection is getting pretty big these days - check out more here, here and here.

Energy Conservation stamp, 1974

Even in 1974 Energy Conservation was a concern. Thought I'd share this great block of USPS commemorative stamps from Karen Horton's wonderful Flickr stream.

The stamp was designed by Robert W. Bode and issued on 23 September 1974 to promote the importance of Energy Conservation and to coincide with the 9th World Energy Conference: 'The Economic and Environmental Challenges of Future Energy Requirements', held in Detroit, Michigan from 23-27 September.

I love the big, bold pink 'ENERGY' type (pink & orange are one of my favourite colour combos) - what's not to like!

Whilst doing some research I found a cool 70's poster on Etsy that features this stamp.

Image copyright Karen Horton. Via Vintage Postage Stamps.


Welcome to the Delicious Industries blog. We're an independent design studio based in Brighton, UK and this is our scrapbook packed full of design, illustration, photography & typography inspiration. Check out our work here.

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