A movie poster from Brandon Neff Design
A movie poster from Brandon Neff Design
While he was decorating a family room for a young husband and wife with little money for original art, Brandon Neff proposed breaking out the box of vintage postcards the couple had inherited.

The vibrant, colorful and kitschy illustrated collection of 1950s to '60s-era postcards featured almost every state in the U.S.

"I made the suggestion that we use them as both a unique piece of art and the inspiration for the color of the room, because they have lots of ochre and brown and aqua and green in them," says Neff, a Beverly Hills-based interior designer.

Vintage ephemera like this can be found at Hal Lutsky’s Vintage Paper Fair in Glendale.
Vintage ephemera like this can be found at Hal Lutsky's Vintage Paper Fair in Glendale.

Displaying a group of souvenir postcards, drive-in menus, "Mad Men"-era ads and other paper stuff - what's called ephemera - is widespread among many collectors who source eBay, garage sales, flea markets and specialty shows such as Hal Lutsky's Vintage Paper Fair, Jan. 14 and 15 at the Glendale Civic Auditorium. That may seem like a rather curious idea to build a fair around except that postcards - which make up 70 percent of the merchandise exhibited and sold there - are the third most collected item after coins and stamps.

The Vintage Paper Fair draws novices and serious collectors also looking for old car manuals, pinup girl posters and found photography. And most items are pretty cheap.

Prices can range from 25 cents to more than $100 depending on the pieces, which Lutsky describes at his website as "all manner of curious, beautiful and interesting old paper."

That includes rare and highly collectible Halloween greeting postcards that may fetch between $50 and $100, as well as historic photo cards, which were often made by amateur photographers.

"People like those because most are one of a kind," says Lutsky, who recently sold one such rarity of a deserted Alaska town, circa 1902.

"The other side of that is that because it's amateur, the quality is all over the place."

And while some people keep their paper stored away in binders or shoe boxes, there are others who prefer to show off their collections.

"I know several collectors who have taken menus and displayed them in their kitchens, or who have rooms dedicated to the work of a specific cartoonist," says Jim Heimann, the executive editor for Taschen America and a historian whose private collection of ephemera has been featured in museum exhibitions and books he's authored. "If they have a beach house in Carpinteria, they'll collect postcards from there and have them framed and hung.

Postcard art
Postcard art

"So it translates from being a collection to these things you want to display in your house," Heimann says, adding he keeps a framed 1920s illustrated map of Honolulu in the living room of his Mid-Wilshire home.

Large-scale French movie house posters are a favorite of Neff. He has one of the 1942 film "The Glass Key," which starred Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, hanging on his bedroom wall.

"It was hand-painted by a French artist and so it looks different from anything else that came out of America," he says. "It really speaks to me because I'm a huge old movie buff."

Vintage ephemera
Vintage ephemera

Neff likewise incorporates items that speak to his clients' personalities, histories and interests, whether it's Victorian-era soap labels, old photographs or souvenir postcards -- like the collection he divided with a pair of shadow boxes that he then hung above the sofa of the young couple's family room.

"They had visited most of the states represented in the postcards so they really had an affinity for them," he says. "And from a graphic design standpoint, the fonts, saturated color and the way in which they display the uniqueness of each state through illustrations are unlike anything you'll find these days. They really are unique."

Hal Lutsky's Vintage Paper Fair

What: A wide selection of antique and vintage postcards, Victorian-era trade cards, photography, transportation and sports memorabilia and more.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 14 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 15.
Where: Glendale Civic Auditorium, 1401 N. Verdugo Road.
Admission: Free; parking is $6 in the garage.
Information: 415-814-2330 or www.vintagepaperfair.com.