You Find The Darnedest Things...

Remember Trans-Canada Air Lines? The graphics on this baggage label are great, and wonderfully Canadian, and Bermuda was very much a ‘dream’ destination.
When you go to antique and collector shows, sometimes you find the darnedest things. You know, something that you don’t actually collect, and you probably can’t use, but it piques your curiosity and stimulates your interest…something that you can’t leave behind because it might fall into the hands of someone less appreciative.

Remember Trans-Canada Air Lines?

Surely it happens to you, because it certainly happens to me. For example, there are keen collectors of baggage labels. I collect only a specific genre (ocean liners) but sometimes there’s one that resonates. For example, Trans-Canada Air Lines labels. For those younger readers it was the precursor to Air Canada, and an era when flying was a real novelty - and a real treat. Meals were served in china dishes, there was metal cutlery and real glassware, and there were lots of souvenir items like baggage tags, labels, menus, playing cards, and the like.

So when I saw a Trans-Canada Air Lines baggage label designated for the Bermuda service, I couldn’t resist it. Bermuda always seemed to be an exotic destination, so it just added a little bit of extra mystique to the memory.

This library sign is a real visual charmer, but it could take you a long time to memorize when the Library is open and when it isn’t.
Signs of the Times

That was the title of an article that I wrote for this magazine some years ago. Well, I still collect interesting signs. How does one define ‘interesting’? Sometimes, they’re just a little bit quirky. Like a sign that sets out ‘Library Hours’.

First, it’s got a nice shape – like a shield – not just your standard square or rectangular versions. Second, the message is at the same time charming and bizarre. Look at the illustration. Could you read this sign even a few times and later remember just what the hours of service were? “Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri 2:45pm to 5:15pm; Tues 10am to Noon; Wed 7pm to 8:30pm; Sat 9am to 1pm; Closed Thur.” Got it? Probably not. However, after a few years it might have made sense – if they didn’t change it in the interim.

Hard Labour?

My wife Judith and I sometimes go to shows south of the border, and this photo (not a postcard) was a real attention-getter, particularly after reading the caption on the back. It states that this is the band at San Quentin. San Quentin? That was reputed to be a tough prison. And this photo was taken in an era when prison was supposed to represent serious punishment for offenders – no swimming pools, squash courts, self-improvement courses…that sort of thing. Instead, the media pictured a stint in prison as an episode of breaking rocks and other manual labour designed to make the incumbent repent his ways.

So why was there a band? And how could a group of talented musicians be at the same institution? Where did the instruments come from? And where did the band perform – just in prison, or at venues on the outside?

The San Quentin Prison band. In an era of hard labour in the prison system, why and how did the prison come to have what might have been seen as a frivolous activity for convicted criminals?
There’s a lot of questions here, and one of these days I’ll have time to search out the answers. In the meantime, I had to spend the 3 dollars the dealer asked for this curiosity so that I had the genesis for some future research.

A Memoir of a Famous Publisher

The Tuck publishing company was a global standard for the publication of greeting cards, postcards, and other printed material during the first part of the 20th century. Their postcards were charming and their other publications were iconic. So when I saw a Tuck advertising sign at a paper show I was captivated. However, I wasn’t captivated enough to pay the rather steep price that the dealer was asking, so I just took a photograph of it instead – but periodically regret not making the purchase.

Taking photographs is a great way to relive some of the more expensive highlights of a show when they aren’t something that you collect. I got the idea from a friend who says that he can’t afford to buy and maintain exotic vintage cars such as Packards, Rolls Royces, Auburns and Duesenbergs, so he takes photos at car meets and collects the photos. He can still look at the classic vehicles, but he doesn’t have to have a garage for them!

If you like dolls, then you’ll love these Norah Wellings sailor boys with the name of their ship on their hatbands. The expressions on their faces are priceless. This cancellation from the USS Idaho in Tokyo Bay on the day of the Japanese surrender is one
Ahoy There!

I can’t resist sailor boys – well, dolls that is. They have a range of expressions on their faces that spans the spectrum of emotions. Many are made by the famous Norah Wellings, who made similar dolls as Mounties, hula dancers, and mountaineers in their lederhosen.

The version that I collect has been bought on a ship in the gift shop, and has the name of the ship – or shipping line – on the band of the sailor’s hat. The vintage of the ship helps to date the doll, since they were popular over several decades. The most prized ones are those that have a ‘Norah Wellings’ woven label stitched to the doll.

You can find them at antique shows and malls from time to time. The only problem is that some dealers don’t know how to price them and get carried away with their prices. Once a price is north of 50 dollars we shudder a little, and generally don’t buy yet another doll to add to the 50 or so that we already have.

Tuck is an iconic publisher, so who wouldn’t want this charming sign to add to their ephemera collection?
Bundles of Paper

Bundles of paper – love ‘em. You never know what you’re going to find there. We recently made an interesting cover find while vacationing in the U.S. An antiques dealer had several packages of miscellaneous ephemera for a modest price each. Always into modest prices, and curious about several Second War letters, we purchased a few packages.

Back home, we found that one of the letters was in an envelope cancelled on board the USS Idaho. I looked at the location - Tokyo Bay. Then I looked at the date – September 2nd, 1945 – the date of the Japanese surrender. A little excursion in Google confirmed that the USS Idaho had indeed been one of the ships anchored in Tokyo Bay that day,

Was this a unique item? A fellow Ephemera Society of America member Dick Sheaff, a collector who lives in Arizona and is one of the designers of U.S. postage stamps (including the recent Baseball commemorative), advised that each of the ships in Tokyo Bay that day had its own separate commemorative cancellation, and that there are collectors who specialize in these Tokyo Bay cancellations, the objective being to have a complete set. One would assume that the smaller the warship, the fewer examples of their cancellation there would be.

This cancellation from the USS Idaho in Tokyo Bay on the day of the Japanese surrender is one of several from various warships. Were there any Canadian ones present that day?
But were there warships of other countries in Tokyo Bay that day. Maybe Australian? British? CANADIAN? Were there other special cancellations from any of these countries – including our own? Can anyone shed any more light on this fascinating area, which may well have a Canadian aspect?

Bigger is Not Necessarily Better

In the category of gems that we photographed rather than bought is a fabulous 1950s chrome and plastic breakfast set, along with a matching refrigerator and a stove. The photo just shows the chairs and table and refrigerator, but - trust me - there was also a stove with the same green faux marble finish.

This complete set must have been made for a special home or appliance show. One of our readers may have seen another set like this, but I doubt it. For someone who wants a ‘retro’ kitchen, this has to be the ultimate trophy.

But we don’t need a retro kitchen, and it wouldn’t be easy to bring this set home unless you had a truck, but I have a fascinating photo to look back upon, and to share with others. Have you ever seen another complete set like this? I’d love to hear from you.

This matched set of kitchen furniture and appliances would have been the apex of fashion and modernity in its day.
The Darnedest Things

There are so many really neat things out there. You don’t necessarily have to collect them, but whether you buy them or merely take a photograph, you can always enjoy them.

John G. Sayers is a member of the Board of The Ephemera Society of America, the Council of the British Ephemera Society, and the Executive of The Toronto Postcard Club. He has been a keen collector for many years, and can be reached at (All illustrations are from the author’s collection and photo files.)