Like all addictions, Bella Landauer’s taste for ephemera started small, with a scrapbook of bookplates she purchased in 1923. She took up collecting after she was advised by a doctor to take it easy after her tireless work with the American Volunteer Field Service during World War I took a toll on her health. This was the beginning of a lifetime of collecting printed ephemera.
A lifelong New Yorker, Landauer continued to collect ephemera until her death in 1960. After acquiring the bookplates, she expanded her collection to include trade cards and advertising as well as lottery tickets, posters, sheet music, cameo cards, and matchbooks. When she moved from a townhouse to the Drake Hotel in 1926, she no longer had the room to house her ever-growing collection and thus donated a portion of it to the New-York Historical Society. Landauer continued to add to the N-YHS collection that she organized personally (though never as a paid employee), and The New-York Historical Society Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera now holds over 800,000 items that are an invaluable record of their times.
Although Landauer donated items to many other institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the New York Public Library, Dartmouth College library, Library of Congress, and Baker Library at Harvard University, the N-YHS collection remains one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of advertising ephemera in the world.
In 1976, N-YHS mounted an exhibition of selected items from the collection entitled, “Selling New York: Advertising from the Bella C. Landauer Collection” The show and the accompanying catalog entitled “American Advertising Posters of the Nineteenth Century,” featured advertising from companies as varied as Barnum’s American Museum, H.L. Ettman and Company, importers of sponges and chamois, and The Resolute Fire Insurance Company of the City of New York. As a matter of fact, the poster for the show itself probably qualified as part of the exhibition, as it was sponsored by none other than Mobil Oil!
From the NYBB Bookshop:
Landauer, Bella C. My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.
New York Historical Society, New York, 1951, 25 pages. Presentation copy signed by Mrs. Landauer. Descriptive checklist by Landauer with a black and white frontispiece and 80 plates of rare sheet-music. Bound in orange cloth, blue cover titles; some light edge, tips wear to binding, little soiling, else very good. An in-depth coverage of sheet-music by one of the premier collectors and preservers of ephemeral material. Limited artist’s edition with specially designed type.
For further reading and research:
Black, Mary. American Advertising Posters of the Nineteenth Century: From the Bella C. Landauer Collection of the New-York Historical Society. New York: Dover Publications, 1976. Print.
Landauer, Bella C. Leaves of Music by Walt Whitman: From the Collection of Bella C. Landauer. New York: Priv. print. [at the Harbor Press, 1937
Landauer, Bella C. Some Aeronautical Music from the Collection of Bella C. Landauer. Paris: Priv. Print, 1933.
Landauer, Bella C. Upward Not Downward!: From the Collection of Bella C. Landauer. New York: Privately printed, 1936. Print.
Landauer, Bella C, and Adele Jenny. Early American Trade Cards: From the Collection of Bella C. Landauer. New York: W.E. Rudge, 1927. Print.
Landauer, Bella C, Diane DeBlois, and Wendy J. Shadwell. Cameo Cards & Bella C. Landauer: A Monograph of the Ephemera Society of America. Schoharie, N.Y: Ephemera Society of America, 1992. Print.