A native of San Francisco, and a former Marine, Carla Cushman is now blogging about Theater ephemera on Stage Whispers. In the following interview, we discuss her fascination with old theater paper and highlight some of the interesting things she doing on her blog.
ephemera: How did you become interested in theater history ephemera?
Cushman: Over time, I first became an ardent fan of the performing arts which, over more time, fostered my deep and abiding passion for entertainment history. But I never thought to collect theatrical memorabilia. I'd never even saved a playbill from a production I'd seen! However, because I'm our family historian, I wanted to buy a set of cigar box labels that had become available, depicting my ancestor, Charlotte Cushman, a popular 19th century tragedienne. When I found them, I found my hobby, or rather, my hobby found me.
After I went to a few paper shows and met a few collectors of cigar box labels, I was amazed not only by their beautiful art work, but especially by how many theatricians lent their images to promote cigars. And when I discovered that their images could be found on tobacco silks, cigarette cards, postcards, cabinet cards, pamphlets, magazines, posters, etc., I was really hooked.
ephemera: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter as a collector? How do you overcome these challenges?
Cushman: When I was actively collecting, my only obstacle was an occasional shortage of funds. Usually I got the price down to what was workable for me. I stopped collecting about seven years ago, however, and now I'm trying to sell my collection.
ephemera: The process of assembling and then selling a collection. That would be a great blog guest post for someone. Tell me, what are your favorite items in the collection?
Cushman: For vivid color, superb design, and artistic beauty, with lots of embossing and gold leaf, I think the stone lithographed cigar box labels are unbeatable. But the Burr Mcintosh Monthly Magazines from the first decade of the 20th century put you in the era, introduce you to the productions and performers of the day, and offer some of the finest photography you'll ever see.
Cushman: Resources change periodically, and magazines go in and out of business. Catalogs and price guides are good, so long as you buy the latest editions. But back when I was collecting, the paper shows were the best resource. Now, as I watch my daughter so deftly manage her many on-line projects, I'm convinced that the key to everything exists in cyberspace.
As to the second part of that question, I never really put my stuff on display. But I stored everything next to acid-free paper in plastic sleeves, and put them in deep three-ring binders, so I could enjoy looking at them or showing them to friends. And of course, I created a digital photo catalog of all my collectibles.
ephemera: Thank you, Carla.