200 Years of Premiums, Promos, and Pop-ups
When I started collecting dimensional paper objects over 35 years ago, my focus was on pop-up and movable books. At book fairs, I would pass up or leave for last booths with postcards and ephemera. After joining the Ephemera Society and attending their conferences and book shows, I learned of the scholarship and variety involved in ephemera. Sadly, I didn’t begin cataloging them until about four years ago.
What has become clear to me is that, paradoxically, the material that was the most fragile and meant to be discarded often demonstrated the most complex mechanicals. Knowing, as I do now, that greater complexity entails the greatest cost, I am astounded at the time, effort, and money poured into many of these objects, mostly advertisements.
It made perfect sense that movable and three-dimensional ads would be made by those industries that have the biggest advertising budgets, like pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and automobiles. Food and tobacco are right behind. Preparing for this exhibition has given me the opportunity to learn about the history of advertising and the social pressures and advances in technology that shaped the industry.
This exhibit is about the use of movable paper elements in advertisements. To sell a product, idea, or announce an event, one’s attention must be grabbed and retained. Graphic designers, with the support of paper engineers, design dimensional advertisements to make them interactive, commanding the attention of the end user.
I’ve tried to highlight social changes and dramatic progressions in printing and manufacturing technology and how they shaped the ads of their times. I’ve sought to include different mechanisms, languages, and points of view even including those objects that have incorporated the nonchalant use of racism, colonialism, and abuse of children. I have come to treasure and be grateful for these ephemeral objects, by definition intended to be discarded, which are decades, if not centuries old, and were kept, valued, and passed down through generations. I wish all visitors to appreciate the foresightedness of collectors. The objects are here for your appreciation only because they were treasured. Every exhibition gives me the chance to “shop and share,” for as Nathaniel C. Fowler said, “What’s the good of unknown good.”
This exhibition and catalog demonstrate the employment of mechanical and dimensional paper and their unique and varied uses for advertising purposes. These premiums and promotional items are but the tip of the collection. I find them exciting in their creativity, clever in their messages, and staggering in their survival. It pains me to think how this digital age will rob the future. Without these corporeal examples, what material will there be to handle, maintain, and study?