Jay Jennings is a Los Angeles native who graduated Beverly Hills high school and studied film production at Columbia College of Film in Hollywood. Jennings is a screenwriter and filmmaker by profession, having directed a few features and many short films over the past 10 years. He's been collecting Knott's Berry Farm memorabilia for almost 40 years now and is currently working on a documentary about the history of Knott's Berry Farm and it's founder, Walter Knott. You can check out Jay's memorabilia collection here.
ephemera: My wife loves Knott's Berry Farm. She was excited to hear I was interviewing you for the blog. When did you become interested in Knott’s ephemera?
Jennings: I started going to Knott's Berry Farm in 1969 when I was very young and whenever we went on a family trip there, I would always save a souvenir to remember my visit--popcorn bag, menu, brochure, etc..., and I did that for many years throughout my teens and up until adulthood. In the last 20 years, I've really started to collect Knott's ephemera with a sense of purpose. The reason is, unlike the huge world-wide following that Disneyland has attained over a 50 year period, including it's huge array of collectibles and ephemera, I discovered, much to my dismay, that there really wasn't a big market for Knott's collectibles, let alone any preservation society that was dedicated to preserving the 80+ year history of Knott's Berry Farm-- the exception being the Orange County Archives recent acquisition of vintage Knott's newspapers and photographs. So I have taken it upon my self to collect as much Knott's memorabilia and ephemera as I can--menus, tickets, brochures, postcards, snapshots, guides and envelopes--mostly for historical purposes, and of course, because I truly enjoy collecting Knott's Berry Farm ephemera. The artwork on these items certainly reflected their eras--1940's, 50's and 60's--with a distinct sense of style, and always with an Old West theme.
ephemera: That's the true spirit of ephemera collecting, Jay. What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in collecting? How do you overcome these challenges?
Jennings: The obvious challenge is where to find these rare Knott's items. And are they for sale? Of course, you've got you're online auction sites, you're local swapmeets, flea markets and garage sales. Then there's the occasional collector or two that you might run into, but for the most part it's really tough to find vintage Knott's memorabilia, because alot of people just didn't save any souvenirs themselves when they went to Knott's, or if they did, they're very old now and after all these years, they still live in Buena Park or Orange County--where Knott's is located--which makes it very difficult to find anyone with Knott's memorabilia. However, throughout the past 20 years, I have met a lot of fellow amusement park collectors who would know somebody who had Knott's collectibles and they would help get me in touch with them. What eventually started happening was that word had spread around that I was this Knott's collector/historian, so over time, I would be introduced to an ex-Knott's employee here and there and before you knew it, they would pass on their small memorabilia collections to me for safe keeping. But I must admit that in recent years, various online auctions sites--such as eBay --have definitely helped me find what I've been looking for.
ephemera: You have an excellent strategy--something I think others can apply to their unique ephemera collecting challenges. What are your favorite items in your collection?
Jennings: As far as ephemera goes, I have a wide selection of favorites, mostly from the 1940's and 50's, including my collection of vintage Knott's menus, where not only can you see how the food items and prices change over the years, but you can actually see what attractions were featured at the farm for that particular year. Knott's menus also featured great covers with color photos inside, as well as, employee profiles and a map of how to get to there. Another favorite is a 1950's Knott's restaurant table mat with four different sketches by Knott's artist and Ghost Town designer, Paul von Kleiben. A third favorite of mine would be a small 1950's brochure from the Haunted Shack, which was this four-sided leaflet that explained the history and mystery of one of Knott's Berry Farm's most beloved attractions, which was sadly torn down in 2000.
ephemera: These are great items. I had no idea that Knott's had such cool stuff associated with it. What’s your advice for achieving success as a collector?
Jennings: I'd say that once you start collecting, stay with it and don't give up, even if you go through dry spells and you can't find what you're looking for. Sometimes finding what you need can take months and even years, but you should always be on the look-out for collectibles that are related to, or have something to do with your particular area of collecting. Also, don't stray away from your main interests and start going off in different directions. Stay focused and don't spend all your money on one great item. Instead, for the same price, buy a bunch of items, that way, in the long run, you'll have more of a collection to show for.
ephemera: If someone wanted to join in the fun of collecting Knott's ephemera, what resources and tools do you recommend?
Jennings: There are many more resources today for people who collect stuff than there were 10-20 years ago. There are tons of magazines and books on collecting--both online and in hardcopy--plus you can also do Internet Web searches for collectibles and people who sell them. Depending on what you collect, conventions and paper shows are more popular than ever as well. As far as tools of the trade go, I highly recommend putting all paper collectibles and ephemera in plastic sleeves with cardboard backing, so they don't bend. You can either put these sleeves all together in a three-ring binder scrapbook, or you can store them individually as separate pieces.
ephemera: Thanks, Jay. I'm sure this interview will bring back a lot of fond memories of days spent with family and friends at Knott's. Thanks for sharing your collection and your expertise on collecting.