Martha Lane Adams, Fashion Entrepeneur 1917
|Why It's Interesting|
This is the cover of the 1917 catalog of Martha Lane Adams Co., one of the first large mail-order fashion houses operated by and in a woman’s name. It is one of the best looking fashion-covers of that era. The contents are quite ordinary, except that it heavily emphasized credit rather than cash sales. Most interesting is a printed “letter” from and “signed” by Martha Lane Adams. It stated that “the Spiegel, May, Stern Company handed me your request for a Style Book.” It added that “I have opened a charge account with you, and your Credit Card goes with this book.” A special plan it offered let customers “divide the bill into seven payments.” [I wonder if this company was a branch of Spiegel geared to women consumers].
The letter urged immediate orders because in the previous year many orders had to be return unfilled. Red text concluded the letter, declaring: “Easter Sunday falls on April 8th this spring much earlier than usual. So you better order early this season before my best styles are gone or my prices advance.”
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.