Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The New Phone Book is Here!

 I love phone books.  I always have.  I don't know what it is about them - the ease of use, their ubiquitiousness, their decline into obsoleteness - I just think they're cool.
My growing collection of phone books and pages.

I remember in high school discovering that our library carried other cities' books as well - looking through them, I got the same feeling that I'd get when watching local TV in other markets.  I wish there was a word for that feeling (maybe there is) - it's that thrill you get, on a much smaller scale, of the realization that things are different in other places. The restaurants are different; the street names, schools, car dealerships, department stores, libraries - all these places are essentially the same, yet they offer a slightly different experience.  That's the feeling I would get when poring over "foreign" phone books (yeah, I was a weird kid).

I remember being over at my friend Laura's house in the fall of 1980 - I had just turned 12.  I was there for a sleepover and although I can't remember the specifics, I'm sure we did all of those stupid girl sleepover things - freezing bras, conducting "seances" with a Ouija board, etc.  Here's the thing:  earlier in the evening, I had spotted two ancient (like, from the Fifties!) phone books propping up the TV in the kitchen.  I so badly wanted to just take them and find a corner and devour them.

Before you worry too much about my antisocial tendencies, rest assured that I outgrew them.  For the most part.  :D

Fast forward to 2008.  You know how it is when you start thinking about something, and then you start seeing that something everywhere you go?  Well, that happened to me and phone books.  I got my first taste at the Paper Flea Market, when I saw that Trina and the gang were selling vintage phone book pages for a quarter apiece - from Czecheslovakia.  *GASP*  Of course I snagged a whole bunch of those (good thing, too - she eventually ran out!).  Then, on one of my trip to the fantastic Fox River Antique Mall in Appleton, I saw an Oshkosh phone book from 1960, which still had the "ED5- 2356" numbers in it.  And then, one of my Flickr contacts has posted a photo of something, I can't remember what it was now - but what I do remember was that she had used phone book pages from the Netherlands as her background.  I asked where she got them and she laughed and said, "from my phone book?".  So I asked if I could pay her for some and she not only sent me some, gratis, but threw in some Icelandic phone pages as well.  Be still my heart!  We wound up doing a nice ephemera trade so that I could repay her somehow.  I also snagged some Italian phone book pages circa 1989 off of Manto Fev's marvelous online store - it's getting to be quite the collection!

My all-time favorite phone book story, however, happened in February of this year.  I was reviewing my Flickr stats, as I do frequently; I like to know how my photos are being used in the Virtual Universe.  I noticed that one of the views came from The New Yorker (you can stop reading here if you remember me talking about this on my other blog, Much Ado About Stuff).  Turns out that my "Yellow Pages" ATC was used on their site for a story about phone books!  It was quite a thrill.

And speaking of ATCs, I do enjoy using phonebook pages in my art!  Here are a couple of examples:

"Ring" ATC

"Powerful" ATC

"Yellow Pages" ATC (used by The New Yorker!)

"Staccate il Telefono" ATC

"Groovy Icelandic Phonecall" ATC


  1. I was a traveling artist for the Yellow Pages for years, and still have a phonebook sized reference guide for directory style clip art. This might be something you would take me to the ground for, but I cannot give it up. That said, I may be convinced to share a few things.
    That's yet another bond between us Mel.

  2. And you like maps, too. You are a true ephemerologista!

  3. Jill - incredible! Our paths have merged so often, and on so many planes - truly a gift to have met you. :D It sounds like such a fun job - was it? I laughed out loud at the mental image of the two of us duking it out over clip art! :D

    Eileen - I think the you are the pot and I am the kettle. And we're both black. Ephemerologistas unite! :D

  4. I love the way you use images of people (without being photos - arrgh bit tired of the scrapbooking craze). But retro and vintage people - just creates stories for us. Love your ATCs.

  5. Thank you so much, Vonny! I love poring over old magazines to find new "stories" to create! :D