Collecting Vintage Travel Souvenirs

by Lynne Constantine
Antiques Market Place

sou·ve·nir  – (noun)  a token of remembrance; a memento.

For decades Americans have been collecting souvenirs of their summer vacations. Some are so tacky they end up in the trash; while others are saved and loved for happy memories that they bring back. Here is a list of some of the most searched for vintage souvenirs. Remember, the fun is in the search!

1. Postcards – Vintage postcards are probably the most sought after travel souvenir and can be purchased for as little as $1. The first postcard to be printed as a souvenir in the United States was created to advertise the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and a collecting craze began soon after.

2. Stereoview Cards – In the late 1800s photographic images were sold on cards called “stereoviews.” These are cards with two nearly identical images, which became 3D when viewed through a special stereoviewer. Glens Falls photographer, Seneca Ray Stoddard, glorified the Adirondacks with his photographs, which are found on stereoviews and postcards.

3. Roadmaps Vintage – Roadmaps are collected by automobilia collectors. Service stations handed out free roadmaps from about 1913 until the 1970’s oil crisis. Some maps have great colors and graphics and images of old automobiles.

4. Pennants – Felt souvenir pennants can be found from most of the Adirondack towns and tourist attractions. For years they have decorated Adirondack camp walls and more recently have been sewn into interesting pillows

5. Souvenir Drinking Glasses – From the 1930’s through the 60’s glasses with state maps were sold at souvenir shops in tourist towns across the country. They came in 8 oz size, which at that time was the typical serving size and in shot glass size.

6. Bottles – Although not intended as souvenirs, milk bottles, drug store bottles and others with town’s names can be found from almost every small town. Some milk bottles have colorful designs and some of the medicine bottles have interesting paper labels.

7. Snow Domes – Although the first glass snow dome had an Eiffel Tower inside and was made for the 1889 Paris Exposition, most people collect the inexpensive plastic ones made in Hong Kong. When grouped as a collection, they make a fun display.

8. Textiles – Colorful souvenir maps screen printed on kitchen tablecloths and dishtowels are beautiful and collectable but are very hard to find for upstate New York. The most often found states are Florida and California. Hankies embroidered as souvenirs and scarves with printed N.Y. maps are also hard to find.

9. Luggage Labels and Travel Decals – They were first used on ocean liner and airplane luggage to show the destination of the traveler. Suitcases with many foreign labels were a status symbol showing how adventurous and well-traveled people were. Eventually the decals showed up on the windows of the family station wagons.

10. Salt & Pepper Sets – The heyday of souvenir salt and pepper sets was the 1920’s to the 60’s when families often took road trips for their vacations. The sets come in almost every shape imaginable and were inexpensive, colorful and easy to carry home as a souvenir. The sets had small decals with the names of towns added to make them into souvenirs.

11. Charms – Vintage silver and enamel travel charm bracelets are making a huge comeback. During WWII soldiers sent home charms from the places they had been, and soon women added charms from the states that they visited. Most charms have enameled pictures of landmarks, state flowers, birds or animals along with the name of the destination on the front.

12. Cookbooks – Local church groups and women’s clubs have printed cookbooks with their best regional recipes since the late 1800’s. People that love to cook collect cookbooks as souvenirs of the places that they visit.

13. Spoons – Probably the most sought after souvenir in the early 1900’s was the souvenir spoon. They were compact and beautiful and were decorated with a wide variety of travel motifs. There are hard-to-find sterling silver Lake George spoons from around 1900 that have embossed Indians, fish or canoes.

14. Scenic China – Vases, plates and cup & saucer sets were often sold as souvenirs from almost every town from the late 1800’s on. Also called “picture china,” they usually have a local scene and the name of the town on the front.

15. Glass – From the 1890’s to the 1920’s red ruby flashed glass and other colored glass mementos were often sold as souvenirs. Ruby glass had fancy gold lettering telling the town and date. Clear glass paperweights were also sold with paper photographic images of tourist stops.