I am often asked where I get all of my vintage paper. My answer is usually, "Everywhere!" because it's the truth. I certainly don't have one go to source for the ephemera I find, although I wish I did. However, I know the "Everywhere!" answer isn't terribly helpful so I've pulled together a few tips to help you on your own paper chase.
Get lucky. Like any other form of antiquing, searching for vintage paper takes a good deal of luck. You can know all of the thrift stores in the area and have the inside scoop of all of the flea markets, but you can't control what you're going to find when you're out looking. Sometimes you might come up empty, but other times luck will be on your side and you'll find more ephemera than you ever expected.
About two years ago I stopped at an estate sale on the way to a fitting for my wedding dress. The ad, found on Craigslist, said a couple who had owned a stationery store was retiring and clearing out everything from their store and the apartment below. Most of the ad focused on the contents of the apartment. The pictures in the ad showed a few neat things, but nothing too special. I didn't have my hopes too high and stopped in to kill some time on the way to my appointment, but was shocked and thrilled when I arrived and found box after box of new old stock from the 1950's and 1960's. I literally had never seen so many boxes of Dennison labels at one time. I scooped up a car full and even returned the next day. While I don't anticipate running into this kind of sale again, you never know when luck is going to strike
Know your area. I can't really tell people the best places to look for vintage paper because it varies so much by area. Look up all of the thrift stores and flea markets in your city, and check out garage sales and estate sales in various parts of your town. Try them all out a few times and see where you find the most. For me, I know I usually find the most at one particular thrift store in my neighborhood and estate sales so I skip the rest.
Also, I love review sites like Yelp, but wouldn't use them in this instance. Everyone is looking for something different at second hand and vintage markets so a well reviewed thrift store might have nothing for you. Likewise, a thrift store with bad reviews might be perfect for what you're looking for. Give them all a shot.
Go to the office and garage! Estate sales where an entire house is open often work well for me. If this is the same for you, my big piece of advice is to go to the office and garage right away! Most people like to look through the dining and living rooms, but I disagree. The office is obvious. You have a good chance of finding some old labels, notebooks, and other office essentials. The garage is a little less obvious, but I've found many vintage tins and boxes that were being used to hold nails and other tools. You'll probably need to give these a good cleaning, but might also get a good price!
Go often. I've heard people say there just isn't anything good in their area. While it's possible, it's more likely that they don't go often enough. Inventory is constantly changing so you can miss the good stuff if you don't check in often. Try to set aside some time each week, maybe Wednesday after work or early Saturday morning, to make your rounds at the places you've pinpointed as your best bets. Never knowing what you're going to find and having to shop often can be a little frustrating and take some time, but it's also the best part!
Dig in! You might come upon a good selection of vintage ephemera nicely displayed and at reasonable prices, but chances are you're going to have to dig for it. Don't be put off by vendors with jumbled displays and isles of overstuffed boxes. You'll probably have to dig through a lot of boxes, but will also find some good treasures.
Similarly, don't be put off by ugly packaging. If you find a box that appears old, open it. An ugly, dirty box might be filled with gorgeous flashcards in pristine condition. The box took a beating to protect what was inside. You also might find an old box or tin in which someone stored their ticket stub / airmail label / postage stamp collection!
Let people know what you're looking for. Make sure your friends and family know the type of old paper you collect; you never know who might have some for you! My parents collect antiques so they're frequently out and about shopping and nearly always pick up something they know I would like and might be good for my shop. Similarly, a family friend was an estate sale recently and picked up a bunch of vintage postcards that she knew I collected.
Obviously it helps if your friends and family also like vintage and might already be out at thrift stores, flea markets, and antique shops. However, you would also be surprised at what people might already have had home and don't have a use for. My father in law came upon some old flashcards while cleaning out some boxes and knew I would love them. If he didn't know I would be happy to take them, the flashcards probably would have ended up in the trash because he's more into modern electronics than vintage paper! Your parents and grandparents might have old collections stored away that they would love to share with if they only knew you wanted them.
Does that help at all? I hope so! Do you have any of your own tips and tricks you'd be willing to share? Any stories of lucking out and finding the ultimate ephemera stash?
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