Jamie Bradburn is a Toronto-based writer and collector who pens a weekly column on vintage ads for Torontoist. In the following interview we talked about his collection and allure of vintage advertising.
ephemera: When did you become interested in vintage ads?
Bradburn: About as far back as I can remember. When I was little, I loved diving into my father's collection of sports magazines and yearbooks and sat transfixed by the odd array of advertisers.
I've also had a long-running interest in the evolution of pop culture. Advertising reveals much about the period it was produced in, for better or worse. Old ads allow long-defunct businesses and products to live again and demonstrate why some had longer staying power than others. There's also the question of how dead one's taste buds had to be to work in corporate test kitchens, based on some of the recipes that made it to print.
ephemera: I've featured many old ads over the years in past posts. A post about a 1937 ad for Marmola remains one of the this blog's most popular posts. I marvel at how much vintage ads reveal about pop culture--warts and all. Did you begin consciously, knowing what you would collect, or did you just one day discover what you were doing?
Bradburn: It began as a housecleaning exercise. After my father passed away, there was the question of what to do with the piles of magazine sitting around the house. Rather than send them immediately to the recycling bin, I spent several years slowly going through them all to clip out some of the ads, which I figured would be useful for a post or two on my blog.
It was also a slight tribute to my father, a high school history teacher who spent 30 years clipping all of the newspapers and magazines that passed through our house, filing them in large boxes for his students to use for research material.
The ball really started rolling when I found a box of early 1970s issues of Maclean's, New Yorker, Saturday Night, and Ramparts by the curbside walking home from work one evening. Reaction was positive when I began posting this material, and the rest is history.
ephemera: What challenges did you encounter when compiling this collection? How do you overcome these challenges?
Bradburn: Using source materials whose dimensions are larger than those of my scanner. Working with anything larger than modern standard magazine sizes is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, where two or three scans are necessary to create a useable file.
Library equipment can be an issue, especially when looking for older local material to use. Reproduction from worn microfilm is a challenge, especially if the source material is streaky or I have to rely on malfunctioning copiers.
Time is a factor. I've reached a point where I should declare a six-month moratorium on buying old magazines to play catch up!
ephemera: I've been there, Jamie! Scanning old ads is a nightmare. What are your favorite items in the collection? Do you have a 'crowning jewel' or 'show stopper' in your collection? If so, what is it?
Bradburn: Tough to choose. There's an early 1950s ad for Heinz Soup that is wrong on so many levels, including the suggestion that canned soup is a surefire way to prevent spousal abuse. A series of ads for Swift's canned meats, with appetizing names like Speef. A campaign ad for a politician who modestly describes himself as "the greatest Canadian of all times."
ephemera: For some reason the sexists ads of a bygone era seem to be particularly telling. What resources do you recommend to people interested in starting their own vintage ad collection?
Bradburn: General interest magazines are a good starting point, especially those from the 1930s through 1980s. I'm not fussy about condition as long as the ad is legible and doesn't suffer from heavy water/food/you-don't-want-to-know damage. Finding used book stores that don't charge an arm and a leg for back issues doesn't hurt. Public libraries with a decent newspaper collection are a key resource - Toronto is lucky in having a fantastic library system and digitized versions of the back issues of two of its major dailies.
For display I use Flickr - their Pro accounts are cheap, have plenty of storage space and allow for easy copying of images into other websites I write. Photoshop helps in fixing faded or flawed source material.
ephemera: This has been a lot of fun, Jamie. Vintage ads are one of the most popular ephemera niches, and I'm sure a lot of readers will enjoying hearing about your collection. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise and advice.