WARSHAW COLLECTION OF BUSINESS AMERICANA, ca.
Scope & Content of the Collection
The Warshaw Collection
consists of approximately 1,020 cubic feet of material currently
contained in 1,863 vertical document boxes, 214 flat oversize boxes, 34
map case drawers of oversize materials, 56 volumes of photographic photo
prints, 17 boxes of 4 x 5 color transparencies and black and white
photonegatives, 11 boxes of stereographs, and a videodisc. It
consists of a large body of business ephemera. Ephemera is used to
refer to the transient everyday items which are usually printed on paper
however in some cases fabric, leather and wood have been used. This
material is manufactured for a specific limited use and then meant to be
thrown away. The collection also contains samples of ephemera that
were meant to be saved for a short period of time and discarded later
such as stock certificates. This material dates from the late
eighteenth century to about 1977, but the bulk of the material is late
from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The largest advertising
history collection in the Archives Center, the Warshaw Collection is
organized into five major categories: I. Business Ephemera -- - Vertical
Files, II. Business Ephemera - - Oversize, III. Other Collection
Divisions, IV. Isadore Warshaw Personal Papers and V. Photographic
Reference Materials. Scope and content notes and a detailed
description of the contents for all of these divisions are found in the
following sections of the register.
I. BUSINESS EPHEMERA - - VERTICAL FILES, ca. 1724-1977, makes up
the largest portion of the collection. It is divided into 538 subject
and geographic categories created by Mr. Warshaw and is contained in
1,863 vertical document boxes. Materials include vast numbers of
advertising cards, scraps, stock cards, trade catalogs, price lists,
menus, pamphlets, labels, lithographs, photographs, business
letterheads, bills, receipts, greeting cards, post cards, calendars,
printed advertisements, periodicals, newspaper clippings, broadsides,
shipping documents, handbills, premiums, promotional items,
announcements, business cards, packaging and point of purchase
II. BUSINESS EPHEMERA - - OVERSIZE FILES, ca. 1850-1960, consists
of 213 flat oversize boxes and 34 map case drawers of materials.
Materials include posters, newspapers, point of purchase displays,
packaging, printed advertisements, periodical illustrations,
lithographs, labels, shipping documents, promotional items, trade
catalogs, pattern sheets, maps, art reproductions, fashion design
drawings, membership certificates and price lists. The material is
organized by the same subject and geographical categories as materials
in the vertical document boxes.
III. OTHER COLLECTION DIVISIONS, ca. 1790-1957, represents a
significant accumulation of one type of material rather than a mix of
various types of ephemera. Materials generally relate to one subject.
Most of the material is stored in flat oversize boxes. Materials
include business records, cinema lobby cards, fire insurance maps,
photographs and scrapbooks of liquor and wine labels.
IV. ISADORE WARSHAW PERSONAL PAPERS, ca. 1917-1966, consists of
three document boxes of materials relating to how Mr. Warshaw
maintained the collection as a business. Most of this material is
correspondence sent to him in response to his research inquiries. A
smaller portion of the material is printed advertisements and
circulars created by Mr. Warshaw to advertise his services and the
collection. Magazine articles, letterhead stationery and photographs
make up the remainder of the material.
V. PHOTOGRAPHIC REFERENCE MATERIAL, consists of photographs, slides
and transparencies of items found in the collection. These
materials were created for a number of purposes. Some were created in
response to requests by researcher for images to be used in
publications, exhibitions, and for other purposes. Others were created
as a quick reference source for researchers. Several thousand
photographic images from the Warshaw Collection were also transferred
to an experimental videodisc by the Institution's Office of
Photographic and Printing Services (OPPS). The videodisc is available
for viewing on equipment in the Archives Center.
Use of the prints, slides,
and videodisc reduces wear and tear on the collection, permits rapid
searching through many images, and assures the researcher - - in most
cases that a photographic negative of transparency already exists, and
that copies can be reproduced relatively quickly and inexpensively.
Searching the collection's photographic reproductions is especially
appropriate for researchers who want to see general images of subjects
such as "women in advertising" or an advertisement from a
The Warshaw Collection
originally contained books, three-dimensional objects and food crate
labels. Those books that did not directly relate to the collection were
transferred to the Smithsonian Libraries. Remaining publications are
stored in the Business Ephemera-Vertical Files document boxes within the
appropriate subject category.
Mr. Warshaw collected
three-dimensional objects to illustrate packaging, to convey information
about product content, shape and size, and to document advertising in
three-dimensional forms. Such items included hair product packaging,
games, patent medicine containers, cosmetics, tobacco tins, food
containers, and liquor bottles. There were also a number of objects,
mostly made of glass, tin, and wood, including trays and stained glass
signs advertising products such as patent medicine, tobacco,
phonographs, refrigerators, stoves, hair products, meat, agricultural
tools and implements, whiskey, bakery goods, and beer. Some of these
objects were framed. All these objects have been transferred to the
appropriate divisions in the Museum. Information on the locations of
these items can be obtained in the Archives Center reference room.
Food crate labels were
once an important advertising device. Used to develop loyalty to
particular growers, these labels were appealing because of the
commercial artwork. Some of the labels were mounted on wood. These
labels also were transferred to a curatorial unit. The un-mounted labels
are in the "foods" section of the Business Ephemera - -
Research Strengths and Limitations
The strength of the
Warshaw Collection lies in its size, its variety, and its
extraordinarily rich visual imagery. These images illustrate how
Americans perceived themselves or wished to be perceived, how they saw
others, their work patterns, their recreation habits, and other aspects
of American culture from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth
centuries. They provide an alternative source to written and printed
historical materials, sometimes conveying information about values and
practices not otherwise documented. These images stand as a powerful
reminder that the origins of modern, visual mass communications go much
farther back than the invention of television.
Most of the imagery, of
course, is a vision of American life as seen through the eyes of
advertising agencies and of the businesses they represented. Researchers
working with the collection find it an especially rich source for
examining the dynamic relationship between advertising and American
culture over the centuries.
There are some problems,
however, interpreting American culture through these materials. Most of
the advertisements in the collection represent Anglo-American mainstream
culture. African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and
members of other ethnic groups are only occasionally depicted in the
advertisements. Much of this imagery is stereotypical and fails to
recognize ethnic groups as consumers. Despite these limitations
the ethnic imagery offers penetrating insights into American culture and
its changing values and tastes. The Archives Center's Ethnic Imagery
Project has identified thousands of items within the Warshaw Collection,
and in other Center collections, which depict race and ethnicity.
The Project also is seeking to expand the range of such imagery within
the Center's collections to provide a better rounded view of how
Americans see themselves and each other.
There are few indications
in the collection of consumer response. The materials mostly consist of
end products, what customers received. Testimonials and celebrity
endorsements are among the materials but do not constitute a large
portion of it, nor do they appear in every subject category. There is
also little documentation on the success or failure of advertisements.
Evidence about advertisers' decisions to use specific advertisements is
There is no complete
history of any one company represented in the collection. For many of
the businesses, the material consists of fragments of the advertising
materials created to sell their products or services. Biographical
information on founders or the early developments of the company may be
included on letterhead stationery or bills and receipts but not always.
Occasionally one finds company publications that discuss the history of
the business. These were usually produced for anniversaries and more
often for larger companies that had existed for a long time, such as
Proctor & Gamble.
Most of the businesses
represented in the Collection were east of the Mississippi River. This
is probably due to the collecting possibilities for Mr. Warshaw. It also
may be due to the concentration of many industries in this region.
Despite its limitations,
the Warshaw Collection is the most heavily used collection in the
Archives Center. Researchers in the Collection often find information
unavailable elsewhere. Researchers in the Collection have included
academic historians, Smithsonian curatorial staff , and outside museum
staff interested in the collection for exhibition purposes.
Smithsonian Shops buyers and others interested in motifs for licensed
products, collectors and hobbyists find the collection a rich source for
Go to List of Collection Divisions