Tom Schifanella is a senior vice president and executive creative director at the Robin Shepherd Group, a full-service advertising agency located in Jacksonville, Florida. Tom collects luggage labels, and we talked about this exciting area of ephemera in the following interview:
ephemera: Tell me about your interested in luggage labels.
Schifanella: As a graphic designer, I've always had an interest in the history of my profession, especially poster design. Posters reflect our culture and are like visual graphic icons of the times in which they were created. The design styles they represent are rich and diverse, everything from Art Nouveau to Mid-century modern. I really enjoy collecting posters, especially travel posters but prices began to escalate in the late 1980's. With a limited budget, I began to look for another form of travel ephemera that was interesting to me and more affordable.
ephemera: Did you begin consciously or did you just one day discover what you were doing?
Schifanella: Everything began to come together when I started purchasing some luggage labels at local antique shows for a few cents each. There were usually considered an afterthought by dealers, as there was not much collecting interest in them at that time. After doing some research, I began to realize that may of these labels were miniature versions of the same travel posters that I admired. However, you could buy a Richter & Co. label signed by Mario Borgoni for a few cents, and the same poster would cost hundreds of dollars! I quickly realized that you could amass a pretty significant collection on a limited budget and began to acquire as many as I could get my hands on.
ephemera: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in compiling this collection? How do you overcome these challenges?
Schifanella: Probably the biggest challenge early on was finding new material to collect. Florida is a great place to live but not the best place to find ephemera. Frequent travel to New York and London allowed me to find new labels, and for the first time meet other collectors and view what they had. I met a dealer in London who had an incredible collection, and also was able to view a collection in the archives of the the Victoria and Albert Museum. For the first time, I realized how many interesting labels were out there, so it motivated me to look harder. After that trip, the London dealer and I began to trade duplicate labels. Trading is a fun way to build on a collection and it costs nothing!
ephemera: What are your favorite items in the collection?
Schifanella: I would say that some of the favorite items in my collection are those produced by the great label printers and artists of the 1930's. Printers such as BRÜGGER of Meiringen, Richter & Co and A. TRÜB & Cie of Aarau produced some fantastic labels during this time period using stone lithography, engraving and chromolithography. Artists such as Roger Broders, Jan Lavies, Erik Nitsche, Mario Borgoni, J. Pashal and Charles Kuhn worked with these printers to produce label designs of exceptional quality. On my Flickr web site there are several image sets that have brief descriptions of these printers and artists. Within the descriptions I've also included links to some in-depth articles written by fellow collector Joao Mimoso. Joao has one of the most extensive luggage label collections in the world, and by sharing his knowledge he has elevated collecting interest in these beautiful works of art. For more info you can visit his label page.
ephemera: Yes, Flickr is where I first stumbled upon your collection. It's an amazing resource for ephemera collectors--something I've written about in previous posts. What resources and tools do you recommend for someone interested in following in your footsteps?
Schifanella: For me, some of the best resources on collecting labels are reading books on graphic design history, especially poster design. The connections between labels and posters in many cases is strong. In addition, my goal with the Flickr site is to create an online visual resource for collectors that will educate and inform. Eventually I would like to have one of the most comprehensive and complete collections of luggage labels on the web. One of the best ways to do this is by encouraging other collectors to add to the images to the site. In fact, several other collectors have already contributed and their participation is helping to expand the content.
ephemera: Thanks for sharing your collection here on the ephemera blog. Good luck in the further development of your collection. It seems you're well on the way to reaching your goal.