Since I’ve started blogging about art and junk journaling, I’ve been getting really interesting mail. I’ve received a pile of paint chips and scraps of wallpaper uncovered during a renovation. But the biggest surprise came this week from a friend who is clearing out some of her late husband’s art supplies.

The vintage artist paper sample books that came in the mail.

I can’t tell you how astonished I was when I opened this package. I constantly see amazing vintage materials on YouTube and wonder how people come by them. But I’ve never seen anything like this: professional art paper samples from the 1960s. I was excited as soon as I saw the retro type face on the booklet covers. The papers themselves are glorious, a bonanza for a paper artist.

The papers that came in the booklets.

There are some plain papers for drawing and painting, but most are decorative in some way. Printed papers, colored papers, and metallic foils are included. Some of the handmade papers have silk fibers, leaves, and confetti in them. One even has a butterfly embedded in it!

Curious about the companies that made these samples, I searched online. I found the 132-page sample book for sale for $165, but couldn’t find anything else, except one obituary (1964) and one wedding announcement (1978) for people connected with two of the companies.

This book includes 132 samples.

This left me asking myself: do I use these papers or not? They are eighty years old. Someone thinks the sample book is worth some money. Should I try to sell it, keep it for myself as is, or use it to make new things?

First page of “Oriental Printing, Fantasy, and Art Papers”.

This question comes up all the time for artists who use found paper. There are people who scream at the idea of cutting up a book to use it for something else, and old materials might have historical value. To date, I’ve gotten around this by using books that are common and damaged, like my 3-in-1 Brontë collection that has pages falling out of it. No one is going to bother to rebind a paperback of classics that exists in thousands of other forms, so why not use it for art?

I just discovered how reluctant I am to cut up books, however. At the thrift store, I looked at volume after volume — dictionaries, gardening books, travel books — and then put nearly every one back, convinced that to take it apart would be to destroy information someone could use. In the end I only got two things I might add to my paper stash: a book on horse genetics and a book of piano exercises. The genetics book is from the 1970s and so out of date that it really has no technical value. But I’ll be trying the exercises in the piano book before I decide whether or not to cut it up, just in case they’re useful.

The papers in these booklets were pretty cool, too.

None of the materials I’ve received are in collector condition, however. The papers are no longer attached to the folders, and many pages are missing pieces. The paper sample book is uncommon, but badly damaged. The cover is chewed up and torn. Whatever held it together originally is gone, replaced by a green metallic pipe cleaner. To really have value for a collector, the book must be in pristine condition.

One way around this dilemma is to use photocopies instead of the originals. This works especially well with hand-written documents that you long to use but hesitate to destroy. But I’m not sure that will work for with these art papers. They have weights, textures, and elements that won’t carry over into a copy.

Sample papers that didn’t belong to any of the booklets I received.

Because of the damage, I will probably turn these papers into something else. I want to make at least two journals, one for me, and one for my sister, who also received this gift but doesn’t have time right now to do anything with the papers herself. Given how gorgeous they are, it’s tempting to hoard these samples. But I’d like to challenge myself to do the opposite. What if I used up every bit of them in making other things?

I’m going to document everything first. Then we’ll see if I can actually bring myself to cut up these papers. I have a feeling it’s going to be harder than I think.

What would you do with them if you had received these paper samples?

5 thoughts on “To Use Or No To Use?: Vintage Art Paper Dilemma”

  1. Holy Moly! These papers are gorgeous. What a wonderful gift. I’d probably hold them on my lap and look at them, touch them and try to convince myself to use them. It’s hard enough for me to actually use the papers I’ve purchased. Photos and maybe adding texture might be a good first step. That way you can play without guilt! 🙂

    1. My Mom just reminded me that art materials can be very expensive. $20 for a sheet of paper and so forth, so maybe this is actually a deal…

      It might be easier to start with photocopies. I like the idea of adding texture to copies to see if I can imitate the original paper. It would be an interesting challenge.

  2. Kit, I’m not a paper artist, even if I seem to be collecting envelopes with interesting interiors! The piano exercise book sounds interesting. Who wrote/published it? I have one written by my Grandfather! Have fun with all these papers!

    1. The piano book is Hanon-Schaum for Piano, Book Two, published by Belwin Inc. I already have Hanon exercises, and was curious to see that these are modified. I wanted to be able to compare them and see if they were useful or not. But it’s lovely yellowed-with-age sheet music (copyright 1946) so it may turn into collage paper in the end. And I’m curious: who was your grandfather? Maybe I have one of his books?

      1. His name is Arthur Olaf Andersen. Norwegian. Composer. Dean of the Fine Arts College and Head of the School of Music at the University of Arizona. Believe he was educated in Europe. I’m sure I knew at one time but that was a long time ago! Thanks for asking.

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