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Proper storage of vintage film star paper collectibles

Updated on October 10, 2017
Arcade card. Tom Tyler and Frankie Darro, film scene, "Cyclone of the Range" (1927).
Arcade card. Tom Tyler and Frankie Darro, film scene, "Cyclone of the Range" (1927). | Source

Chances are that anyone who has collected film star memorabilia such as autographed photos, film stills, presskits, film booklets or arcade cards, has encountered the question: How should these be stored properly? Film star collectibles that are classified as vintage or antique from the early 1900's through the 1930's may want to give particular attention to the preservation and conservation of their collection. Keeping these collectibles stored properly does not have to be expensive or space consuming at all. Ideally, each type of film star collectible should be stored in a group, versus combining the items by film star name or movie name. The main purpose of doing this is to keep track of each item type the collector owns, especially if the further step of cataloguing is desired in the future. Following are a number of film memorabilia types which might be found in a film star collection:

Arcade/Exhibit cards

These collector cards, manufactured by the Chicago Exhibit Supply Company, were dispensed through vending machines for a penny each back in the 1920's and 1930's. Western stars were very popular subjects on these cards. Many times film scenes were reproduced on these cards too, especially silent films. Each arcade/exhibit card measured 5.2” x 3.2” in size, about the same size as a postcard produced during the same time period. What makes arcade/exhibit cards stand out is the number of colors a single image would be available in. These cards usually came in duotone; for example, an arcade card of Tom Tyler and Frankie Darro in a scene from “Cyclone of the Range” comes in yellow/orange as well as gray/purple. A very wide range of colors were used to manufacture these cards, which range from red, blue, green, yellow, magenta, lime green, navy, even aqua. A small photo album with acid-free plastic sleeves is an ideal way to store these intriguing film collectibles.

Cigarette, chocolate and biscuit cards

Also referred to as tobacco cards, a number of companies used to produce film star photos on these small cards, using bright colors, although very early cards were produced in black and white. The original purpose of cigarette cards was to provide a stiff package so the product would not get crushed. Cigarette companies like Rothmans (England), Player (England), and Ogden's (England) are just a few names popular among cigarette card colletors. The average size of these cards was usually 2” x 3” in size, sometimes even smaller. Some companies like A & M Wix issued several different sized cards with film stars on them. In addition to cigarette cards, film star cards like those produced by Cloetta, a Swedish candy company, were included in their chocolate products, and similar cards produced by De Beukelaer found in their biscuit (cookie) packages, were very close in card size. Most cigarette cards are stored in baseball card plastic pages, especially those seen at ephemera shows.

Film stills and film star photos

Most film stills and film star publicity photos measure 8” x 10” in size, on glossy photo paper. Those which contain autographs of a star are usually worth a few bucks. Film stills have long been used as marketing tools for recently released films and are sought after by favorite film collectors. Depending upon the age of the film still or publicity photo, there may be a little surface wear, as well as wear along the edges of the photo. There might also be writing along the edge either in pen or pre-printed on the film still to identify which movie it is from. Acid-free plastic sleeves that measure 8 1/2” x 11” in size are an ideal way to store a large collection of film stills. One particular favorite still, or publicity photo, might also be framed and hung on the wall.

Film booklets

Often seen at ephemera shows and in antique shops, film booklets come in a variety of sizes depending upon the publisher, and nation of origin. Basically, a film booklet is a thin publication with a stapled binding, containing a film story. Usually, several film shots are also included in the publication. One of the most popular film booklets in English is Boy's Cinema, published in the UK from 1919 to 1940 and contained several film stories, often profiling one film on the front cover. Spy films, war dramas, and westerns were favorite genres for this publication. An issue of Boy's Cinema measures 7 1/2” x 10 7/8” in size. Another popular film booklet was Biblioteca Films, published in Barcelona, Spain. In this case, each issue was devoted to an entire movie, with the film title in Spanish. For example, the film booklet for “Galloping Thru”, a 1931 Tom Tyler talkie, translates as “Deuda de Sangre”. These film booklets measure 4 3/4” x 6 7/8” in size, smaller than Boy's Cinema. Spain also came out with a series of western film booklets, Los Films del Far-West, numbered in a series. Other examples of film booklets also include Photo Aventures, in French, similar to the Biblioteca Films, and Film-Kurier, in German. Like film stills, 8 1/2 x 11” acid free clear plastic binder sleeves are the ideal way to store film booklets. If a film booklet is starting to separate from its binding, or the paper is frail and crumbles when touched, it can also be stored in an acid-free envelope that is 5 x 7” in size.

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