Thursday, 23 July 2015

Vintage Treasure: 1920s index cards. A history of trade waiting to be reinvented, re-imagined, reclaimed.

This photo was a mistake.

I was playing with shutter speed settings and this was the blurred result. So, in theory it was a mistake. And yet ...

... in its atmospheric mistiness; in its resemblance to old, double-exposed, images; in its sense of time passing ... it's less of a mistake and more a reflection of the age and romance of the subject matter: an original, unused, 1920s index card file. 

If you're one of those people [and, in all likelihood, if you're taking time to visit me here, I think it's safe to bet that you are] whose pulse quickens when in the vicinity of office supplies then imagine coming face to face with this when you're really not expecting to.

Surprise office supplies are a treat in themselves. But surprise VINTAGE office supplies ... well ... that's approaching dangerous excitement levels!
Bundles of original 1920s index cards are available in my shop. Click for more details. 
I came face to face with these delights while browsing around the vast Hemswell antiques centre in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire earlier this month; apparently it's Europe's largest antique centre [think thousands of ceramics, paintings, furniture, bibelots etc] and yet, somehow, my paper-loving eye managed to find rare papery treasure in among it all!  

Perhaps paper-tracking is my super power.  

This is what I first saw; a closed box:
With its worn edges it was sitting, quietly, humbly, on a highly polished antique table in between shinier trinkets and more colourful collectables and, to the un-stationary-obsessed eye it could have just remained 'a box' and a brown, scuffed, box at that. But I had a feeling ... 

... so I glided nearer, with my blood and my hopes both rising and slid my index finger beneath the smooth curve of its handle, then gripped it with my thumb ... and pulled ... to reveal ... 
And I knew

I knew I wasn't going to be able to leave without them. [Even after those same fingers turned over the price label ... !!]

I knew that the next leg of their life's journey was with me ... and with you, here, and with the vintage paper-lovers [the paper's vintage, not the ever-youthful and glowing lovers!] who visit my shop because they recognise that I 'get it'. 

I knew that, like me, you would be stopped in your tracks by a box of old cards that most people wouldn't look at twice. And you too would start thinking about filling in the blanks ...

Because it is all blanks. Literally and figuratively. 
Each card is blank:
  • They're untouched.
  • They're just waiting for a new story to be written on them.
  •  be that through handwriting, typing, collage, sketching, art journaling ... 
And their history is a blank too: 
  • Apart from the description of tham as '1920s index cards' I have no further details on them.
  • Where did they come from? 
  • Why were they left unused? 
  • Where have they been since? 
  • Was I really the only person who wanted them? 
  • Or had someone else wandered past, had their heart stolen, but then ... pondered and paused ... and left without them
Unlike me maybe that person didn't feel herself surrounded by a likeminded community who would 'get' why she'd spent all that money on an 80 year old box of stationery!

My first attempt to fill in the blanks sees a 1920s shop clerk, in his smart waistcoat with pocket watch leaning on the polished counter top of the shop, filling out the details with his fountain pen and returning the index card to the divided storage box. And the bell above the door rings alerting him to another customer heading his way ...
Well ... those are my first thoughts on the back-story of these gloriously understated and yet rare papery treasures ... how about yours?

If you can think of a scenario involving these cards I'd love to hear it. Which 'trades' were these used to record? Which 'goods'? What kind of customers had their details on record here? 

It's a world of creative possibilities.

Ultimately that's why I love working with, collecting and selling vintage paper supplies; they may well be a fresh starting point for creating something new and yet ... they resonate with preexisting character, they bring with them a history waiting to be reinvented, re-imagined, reclaimed ...

... and where better to begin creating than with something inherently inspiring?



  1. You really know how to tell a story! Aren't they super? Yes, I thought 'draper's shop' at first. But then i was wondering about the word 'trade', which was clearly important for them to know ... So I wondered about an ironmonger's, perhaps, or a builder's merchant? Where builders, electricians, plumbers, joiners, roofers etc might visit, each needing a particular sort of goods ... So I saw a middle-aged man in a brown shop coat, possibly with a flat cap, and a pencil tucked behind his ear... Not one of those smoothly sharpened items fresh from a pencil sharpener, but the thick flat sort, sharpened with a penknife on the old scratched and scored pine counter ... :).

  2. Ooops, that should be 'builders' merchant'. Need to watch my apostrophes. They would have, in them thar days ...

  3. For a moment I thought you'd been rummaging around in the stationery cupboard at the school where I work. Our school's over 100 years old and let's just say that cupboard isn't cleared out very often! I 'liberated' a book which someone dared to say would never be used and needed throwing away. What? It was A4 sized, covered in maroon leather with gold corner protectors. The edges of the pages were coloured in subdued tones which made a chevron effect when the book is closed. Now I know I will never use it but it is safely stored away in my desk!

  4. Oh my gosh I love this! I remember back in the"library" days...those card files were amazing! and flipping through the cards and dividers like this. It was mezmerizing! SO much more fun and personable than scrolling a computer screen!!! I miss stuff like this! Even at work... a much funner and gave the feeling of "importance" when going through instead of typing first 3 letters of the contact and it popping up for you on a screen! Thanks for the memory!

  5. What a fab find Julie.

  6. julie
    you have a wonderful imagination and a lovely way with words ... thank you for sharing your talents ... i've enjoyed visiting since finding your blog during your altered book series ... :)

  7. Ooh what a truly delicious post! Photos, words oozing nostalgia, dangerously exciting stationery (indeed!).....PLEASE don't break it up: the cards and the box belong together!! LOVE this post!! LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT....thank you!!

  8. Drool! Yes stationery does quicken my pulse somewhat! What will you use them for Julie? Oh the possibilities....


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