Friday, May 6, 2011

Ephemera Exists EVERYWHERE!

Those of you who are longtime readers of the blog know that I ADORE estate sales, flea markets, ebay, rummage sales - anywhere I can get my hands on vintage paper.  I figured, in my own narrow view, that these types of sales were strictly a North American/European culture thing....after all, a lot of the world hasn't collected a lot of "stuff" like we have because they either didn't have the means or the space.

Turns out I was WAY wrong - see for yourself!

My friend Suze was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Beijing with her partner Lindsay (he does business over there and this time she went along).  They saw the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, temples, and many open-air markets.  They ate rice three times a day (but passed on the fried scorpion-on-a-stick).  They experienced the rush of being in a taxi, China-style (I will never complain about Milwaukee traffic again).  I've only heard the beginning of the stories and have only seen a few photos - I can't wait to hear more!

Yesterday we had our weekly "lunch ladies" date and Suze handed me a colorful bag - inside were all of the little books you see here.  Aren't they INCREDIBLE?!?  Not one word is in English but judging by the photos some are tales of ancient dynasties and some are Communist propaganda.  My absolute FAVE one is this one:
Even though it looks older the copyright on the little pamphlet is 1970.  I'm only guessing here, but it seems to me like it's showing how brave and strong the Chinese worker is.  Then again, perhaps it's a tale of a young Chairman Mao and his superhuman traits?  I just don't know (can anyone here read Chinese?)

Suze said one of the most interesting things about China was how the people really weren't at liberty to talk about certain things.  One of their tour guides was too young to remember the Cultural Revolution and apparently they don't teach it in school, because the guide had no idea what Suze and Lindsay were talking about.  Days later, when they had an older tour guide, she talked about it at great length - whether or not she was actually allowed to do so is another story.

Can you imagine trying to piece together a country's history based solely on their propaganda?  If I knew nothing about China and only had these little books as a reference, I'm sure my view would be skewed!

The next time you're in a foreign country, see if you can't discover some vintage ephemera of your own.  What a great memento of your trip!  In the meantime, I'll have to use this space to thank Suze again for her amazing generosity and be grateful for thoughtful friends who travel to exotic locales.  :D


  1. My cousin, Kirrill, who lives in Taipei, speaks Chinese. I've asked him to translate.

  2. I have been lucky to happen across a couple of auctions where the person was a traveller and have some lovely pieces from Japan, Egypt and Russia- all dating from the late 20's. Love this stuff!

  3. Thanks Gayle! Laura - that ephemera sounds AMAZING! :D Thanks for the story!

  4. Hi Mel, here is what my cousin (the Phd in Oriental Studies) said:
    Kirill wrote:
    "hi gayle, the words speak of striking at the waves in fighting for the people! very mao-zian. ha. the painting might be based on the old story of mao swimming in the yangtse river when he was in his '70s. that was part of a myth to present him as a sort of eternal ruler."

  5. Great post! One thing I like about ephemera is that you can "sort of" travel all over the world and through the decades by researching the history over pieces of paper. .... But I also would love to do more traveling and pick up the local ephemera of other regions, states and countries!

  6. Gayle, thanks so much for the translation! Just about what I expected. :D

    Chris - that's a great analogy - time travel! I do have a tendency to want to visit other eras probably more than I should. :D I'll be doing a post on my Canadian ephemera coming up and possibly one for my Austrian collection as well. I would love to get my hands on some obscure stuff from places you never hear from, like Luxembourg or Upper Malta! :D