Earlier this year, Deanna Dahlsad, a Collector's Quest contributor, posted an interview with this blogger on the CQ Web site. Today, I'm turning the tables and posting an interview I did with her. Deanna is a well-respected writer and collector in her own right. Her collecting interests span from vintage clothing, pin-up art, Gene Dolls, nudie magazines, pulp novels, cosmetic jars & compacts—anything that documents the history of women—as well as vintage textiles and random collections as whims allow. Deanna says she "wishes there was a government grant or something which would allow her to spend her days researching, scanning and reporting on all the stuff she's accumulated--and will continue to accumulate."
ephemera: How did you become interested in ephemera? How did the fact you grew up with parents in the antique business influence your tastes?
Dahlsad: Coming from a family of people who valued not only the objects but valued the historical, artistic, and craftsmanship of the objects, I learned to appreciate the secrets that objects held. Quite young I learned to imagine what it would have been like to be the former owner or creator of that object--and if I didn't know, there was a library to do research in and find out. As I grew older, my sense of wonder and appreciation only grew.
I began with simple kid things, like old Barbies & horse figurines. As my tastes changed, I knew that there was money in dem dere collections and even as a child I learned to sell them at collector values and use the money to buy more "mature" items such as books and jewelry.
I would imagine that it was my "Marilyn" phase which first got me into paper though... I could only afford modern prints or books, and then I discovered that old magazines often had stories with photos. From there I snatched up empty wig boxes with her name and likeness and then it was a hop-skip-and-a-jump to things like vintage patterns for dresses from the time period. That led to a love of classic film, other stars... And again, I couldn't afford "the real stuff" so I started settling for paper.
As I got older, all collecting roads seemed to lead to paper. No matter what the collection--and I have many of them--there's a paper trail, and I like to follow it. And often that paper would send me on new, unexpected trails for things & people I'd never heard of before... It was limitless! All I needed was a bit of paper, and owning it was the surest way.
But I still didn't consider myself an ephemera collector. That didn't happen until I met my husband, Derek. He was the one who, having boxes and boxes of it, convinced me that that's what I was. It certainly was what I was doing, but until then I thought of myself as just going the affordable route as a research addicted person who couldn't bear to throw out anything which might prove useful in later research. It was Derek's encouragement (enabling) which really led to the recognition that what I had, ephemera, was valuable in and of itself. Or maybe that was just me buying into his own rationalization philosophy. *wink*
ephemera: Talk about your early experiences antiquing and treasure hunting?
Well, naturally, coming from such a family who hunted regularly, I just thought everybody did it. It wasn't until I grew older and my sphere of influence widened, that I learned this was not the case. Perhaps more upsetting than discovering a general lack of interest in hunting for such things, was learning that the perception was that old stuff was "junk" and that it had no value at all. Not only didn't they look for it, they didn't save it to sell it to others. Hearing how folks just threw things away made me blanch.
And then it made me dive in. Literally.
As my income grew, so did my ability to move from garbage cans to rummage sales and thrift stores, then auctions and estate sales.
ephemera: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in compiling your own collections of books and ephemera? How do you overcome these challenges?
Dahlsad: Money and space are the biggest issues. The money issue is a struggle; but space is quite a bit more finite. While paper is a lot easier to find room for compared to figurines or furniture, the amount we've amassed is staggering... Especially since I cannot tolerate my books in boxes…they must all be accessible & visible. But we do have two plans which address issues.
1) From time to time we establish moratoriums on purchasing & purge as best we can. We find new appreciative homes for our stuff (resell), and use the money to buy new-to-us old stuff—just like when I was a kid.
2) Paid writing gigs on collecting. I don't know if we're actually overcoming the space problems; but the cash helps and writing on the objects helps rationalize it all more. *wink*
ephemera: What are your favorite items in your personal collection? Do you have a 'crowning jewel' or 'show stopper' in your collection? If so, what is it?
Dahlsad: It sounds a bit lame, I'm sure, but I'm very much in the moment with my collections and individual items within my collections. This is because, for me, so much of the thrill lies in researching. And so whatever piece of the puzzle I am working on is my favorite at the moment. And what it's connected to. We're often surprised, in that delighted way, to discover we already has other pieces to the puzzle in our possession! Quantity helps with that, but it's still amazing. Of all the collectors' joints in all the world, here it is in
I'm still greatly enamored with the Hollywood Glamour Cookbook, mainly because I have hit a stall on the author, Mariposa—for now. (Hint to your readers!)
ephemera: What resources do you recommend to collector interested in ephemera?
Dahlsad: I'd be the last person to really help organize someone's things. Paper at this quantity is an organizational issue we likely won't be at peace with anytime soon.
I love Fine Books & Collections mag, but other than that, there's no bible. Personally, I dislike most collector guides because they miss the point--or at least my point for collecting. But there are many other publications and resources—and with the number of collections I have, in so many areas, that list would be long. But virtually any area a collector is interested in has at least one fan publication. And those are the best resources, I find.
ephemera: Tell us more about your work with Collector's Quest and any other projects that might be of interest to readers of the ephemera blog.
I write at Collectors' Quest and have a blog, Kitschy Kitschy Coo that I run with my husband. (Deanna's husband, along with being a writer at CQ, also runs Infomercantile.) The latter is more hysterical than historical; but sometimes what we discover is funny and that deserves to be shared too. As it's usually more 'retro' than not, it's quite popular with the younger pop culture crowd who are now beginning to not only get a sense of nostalgia but start seeing the value in saving something as silly as old magazines. And I just started Things Your Grandmother Knew, a blog based on thrifty home ec tips in WWII magazines and other vintage publications--the current economy seemed to beg me to do this.
At CQ I get to interview other collectors, like yourself and Wes Cowan, and attend great events. But am inspired most by the vast amounts of salvation & preservation which is going on with individual collectors. Hallelujah!
Little by little we're saving and documenting what we've got. No matter how little the snippet, we're taking care of it and with the Internet, we're sharing it too. As a researcher, this is invaluable. As a writer, when I hear from readers how my research or sharing has helped them learn or discover more about their collections—or even their own families—I am thrilled to no end. Recently, a woman from Mexico contacted me regarding a piece I wrote.
OK, so it's not as miraculous as Mary Ann Cade finding silent film footage presumed lost all these years, but it meant enough to that family for her to contact me. It's stuff like that which makes me feel that all the effort which goes into saving ephemera, researching and sharing it so worth it.
ephemera: Thank you, Deanna.