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Guide to the Bella C. Landauer Writings and Reference Collection
Ca. 1856 - 1972 (bulk 1926-1950)
 PR 149

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 02, 2022
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Bella Landauer was born Bella Clara Fackenthal in New York in 1874, the only child of a profitable corset manufacturer. She attended classes at Miss Hewitt's, and became proficient in several foreign languages. Her father disapproved of college for women, so Bella educated herself with her inquiring mind and interest in many different subjects, including opera and theater. In 1900 she married Ian Nathan Landauer, a fabric importer and salesman, and a first-generation immigrant from Germany. The Landauers' sons were born in 1902 and 1906, and Bella devoted her intense energy to the task wife and motherhood. During World War I Mrs. Landauer volunteered for the New York chapter of the American Volunteer Field Service, which took a toll on her health. A doctor ordered her to rest, and Landauer looked to find more suitable activities for herself.

Bella Landauer first began collecting ephemera in 1923, when she bought a portfolio of bookplates and other prints for one hundred dollars. Though that portfolio was later revealed to have been stolen from a dealer, Landauer was permanently hooked on the idea of collecting printed ephemera. She first embarked on a quest to discover and acquire new bookplates. The next year she added tradecards. Subsequently, as she encountered new genres of material, her interests expanded and her collections grew. She traveled to Europe in search of ephemera, and began to create special collections on specific advertising themes.

In 1926, when Landauer moved from her brownstone at 11 West 74th Street into an apartment in the Drake Hotel, she no longer had space to house her already quite large collection of ephemera. She offered part of her collection to the New-York Historical Society, initially presenting a group of trade cards and bookplates, but never stopped adding to and expanding the collection. Landauer was first given a former kitchen in which to store and organize her collections. However, when the Society's building was expanded in the late 1930s, a special room was created on the third floor to house the Landauer Collection.

Landauer was made an Honorary Curator of the collection but was never on the Society's payroll. She spent hours at the Society organizing her various materials, and members of the public were invited to view them on Sunday afternoons. Landauer continued to collect and donate items, including lottery tickets, posters, sheet music, cameo cards, and matchbooks, until her death in 1960. Her son James D. Landauer donated more items to her collections.

Landauer often referred to her collections as "scraps of old paper," but these ephemeral items have proven to be valuable graphic records of their times. The New-York Historical Society's Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera holds over eight hundred thousand items. Landauer also donated ephemera to many other institutions: 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.

In 2001, Landauer's reference materials were separated from the ephemera collection material, and PR 149 was created. All three-dimensional items (such as milk cartons, matchbooks, and paperweights) were transferred to the New-York Historical Society's Department of Painting, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts, with the remainder of the Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera (PR 031) left intact and continuing to be administered by the Society's Library.