Vintage Ephemera and Paper Collectibles

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The Moline Plow Company 1911 letterhead (second from top) was to the point: "Please note that there are twelve letters in our name – an even dozen. Address all correspondence to the company. None to individuals."
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Letterheads, billheads, invoices, checks, contracts, stock certificates, ledgers, stamps, newspapers and magazines, sales catalogs and manuals, implement brochures, postcards, and photographs

So. You’re interested in tractors and engines, and you’d like to be a collector, but a few things get in the way … things like time, money, and storage space. Why not consider ephemera? Ephemera’s just a fancy name for photographs, documents, advertising materials and the like. Paper can be a good choice for the collector whose budget and facilities won’t allow the real thing.

“Really, there’s not much involved to getting started with it,” said Tony Mitchell DeZago, a California auctioneer/collector who’s built a huge collection of farm-related vintage ephemera in just the past two years. “Even if you’re just collecting copies of letterhead, there just aren’t as many collectors in paper. Literature – manuals and those kinds of things – yes. But the number of paper collectors? Slim to none.”

That doesn’t, of course, mean it’ll be easy.

“Farm letterhead’s real hard to find,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll find it in box lots at swap meets. You’ll get home, and go through the box, and find something related to farming. There’s some bookstores that cater to paper collectibles, and you can get some through correspondence with other collectors. Some collectors advertise in the antique trade magazines, and if you request a specific interest, they will usually send you a list of what they have.”

Compared to what engines and tractors are selling for these days, the price is right.

“Prices vary, anywhere from 50 cents to $100,” Tony said. “It just depends on the piece and the person who’s selling it. Of course if it’s framed, it will sell for more.”

With many other collectibles, an unused, still-in-the-box piece is the most valuable. But with letterhead, the most desirable piece has been used.

“Those with correspondence on them are more valuable than the plain sheets,” Tony said. “The messages might relate to somebody’s tractor. And signatures are very important, because you might have the signature of the president of the company.”

Black-and-white letterhead is more common than colored pieces. Much of the time, letterhead has been folded for mailing.

“It’s hard to find without creases,” Tony said.

Age can be paper’s enemy.

“The older it gets, the paper, the pigments can change,” he said. “And the paper can deteriorate, too, after a period of time.”

He recommends storing letterhead in plastic sleeves, or in boxes in drawers.

“You want to keep it away from light and air and moisture,” he said. “And I try not to stack sheets together. Heat will sometimes transfer ink to the next page.”

Tony’s seen his own collection go from two pieces to nearly 2,000 in two years.

“When you get involved in something like this, it just comes to you,” he said. FC

For more information: Tony Mitchell DeZago, 757 Wells Fargo Trail, Shelter Valley-Julian, Calif., 92036.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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