treasure hunting: vintage flashcards


We received a request on Facebook from D*S reader Lauren Proux for a Treasure Hunting post that tackles vintage flashcards. Well, ask and you shall receive! There’s one booth at my favorite local flea market that always has a huge array of old flashcards and educational posters, and every time I go, I like to browse through and snag a couple. They are great inspiration for typography lovers, designers and anyone looking for some unconventional wall art, but with a little creativity, flashcards can be used for so much more than learning your multiplication tables. — Kate

CLICK HERE for the full post (including tips for collecting + creative display ideas) after the jump!

Images above, from top: Framed flashcards from Sundance (no longer available); Flashcard grid display at Ipso Facto on Apartment Therapy; DIY flashcard frames from Chez Larsson

Flashcards as Wall Art: With vintage typefaces and illustrations that range from the beautiful to the peculiar, flashcards can easily be displayed on a wall, either alone or as a collection. For real impact, try hanging an entire set in a linear or grid composition. If you don’t have a whole set to fill the desired size, try adding a few different types of patterned or colored papers cut down to the same size as the flashcards. It will provide a pop of color and contrast to the set while allowing you to fill out the composition.

How to Get the Look:

1. Collect flashcards that you like.

2. Plan out the composition on your wall, using measuring tape and a pencil or masking tape to mark out your plans.

3. There are lots of ways to hang the flashcards: you can frame them all individually or together, or use small pins to secure them to the wall. For invisible hanging, use a non-damaging adhesive on the back of the cards.

Images above, from top: Vintage flashcard set (similar to shown) from Vanessa Boer; Flashcard garland from Handmade by Ann Potter (no longer available)

Flashcard Banners & Garlands: Flashcards can also be hung as banners and garlands to spell out a specific message or just to provide a compelling display. I love Ann Potter’s sewn version, but if you want to keep the flashcards intact, you can simply pin them up to a rope using clothespins or bulldog clips.

How to Get the Look:

1. Arrange your flashcards in the order you want to display them.

2. To create a sewn banner, use a sewing machine to stitch through the top of the flashcards, continuing the stitch for a few inches between the cards. For a regular banner, simply pin the cards up to a length of rope, yarn or twine.

Image above: Flashcard poetry installation in the home of Chris & Stephen Harris-Smith

Flashcard Installations: I love the unconventional flashcard display in the home of Chris and Stephen Harris-Smith; not only does it provide a lovely pause-point in the home, but the design can also be refreshed whenever they feel like a change. If you have a combination of text and image-based flashcards, you could set up a fun wall-mounted game of Mad Libs or another unique interactive display in a kid’s room or any other room in the home. The best kind of decor often breaks with convention, and the lightweight, inexpensive nature of flashcards makes them the perfect tool for this kind of experimentation.

How to Get the Look:

1. No rules on this one! Use any kind of adhesive to stick the flashcards on walls, shelves, doors, etc. and make up sentences, stories — whatever you like best!

2. If you prefer a bit more order, you could hang a shallow picture ledge like this one on the wall and prop up the cards to create a rotating display of flashcard poetry.

Images above, from left: Oversize vintage flashcard at Lanis Vintage; Enlarged letter print from Southern Living magazine

Oversized Flashcard Prints: Although this is an adaptation of the original card, I still think it puts the flashcard to great use. You’d be amazed at the incredible details that come out when you greatly enlarge printed materials, and if you have a large wall space that needs attention, an enlargement of a flashcard can make a simple, graphic statement without costing a fortune. 

How to Get the Look:

1. Scan your flashcard at a very high resolution (300 dpi and higher is better). You can use Photoshop or other photo-editing software to fix any imperfections in the scan or enhance the color and contrast if you wish. Adjust the file size to 150 dpi and change the dimensions to the desired end size (2′ x 3′ for example). Save the file as a bmp or jpg.

2. Take the file to a copy shop or sign shop (they usually have large-format printers) to be printed at the desired size. You can choose different kinds of paper, but I personally think that matte or semi-gloss paper, which is usually the cheapest, also looks the best.

Where to Find
Flashcards can be fairly easy to find with a little digging. Most large flea markets should have a vendor who sells old paper goods; if they do not already have flashcards, try chatting with them and mentioning your interest. Most vendors at flea markets are constantly searching for goods between events and might be able to deliver beyond your expectations if you get to know them a bit. Also, there’s plenty to be found online on sites like eBay and Etsy. Here are a few promising auctions/sales that are going on right now:

Happy Hunting!!

  1. Lauren says:

    What great ideas! Thanks for doing a post on my request :)

  2. Sheree says:

    I’m obsessed with these! Am on a hunt to find flash cards now.

  3. wow so much you can do with flashcards… so inspirational. i loved the framed ones

  4. That enlarged letter print is particularly brilliant. Fabulous post!

  5. Chrissy says:

    Oh…new fixation starts now. My son is learning to read and I can dream up a TON of fun ways to use vintage flashcards! Darnit! I was trying to stay away from Etsy shopping for a while ;)

  6. Josiana says:

    Lindo dseu blog, conheça o meu e gostar siga. obrigada.

  7. Jamie says:

    I love the old educational posters. I scored some here in Austin for 3 bucks each.

    pics here: http://leachstreet.blogspot.com/2011/04/weekend-treasure-hunt.html

  8. Shannon says:

    These are such great ideas! I’ve always been attracted to flash cards and not totally sure how to arrange them once I get them home. Thanks!

  9. Maru says:

    Now I feel bad for all the flashcards I threw away after I learned how to read :(

  10. Fiona says:

    Great, another vintage item to become obsessed with! Thanks again!! ;-)

  11. Nowvintage says:

    I have a bunch of Spanish Language cards that are so amazing! they are place mat size and all done by seven or so different artists. I have tried to find out more about them but have never seen anything about them Other than what is printed on them that they were done in California, were commissioned by the government and created at a college (can not think of which one right off). I have put some in my shop mostly hoping someone will come forward and tell me more about them…

  12. Clare Pirie says:

    Great post! I am selling some vintage number flashcards in my new shop and they also look great for displays. This post has fed my addiction! Thanks for sharing.

  13. Janet says:

    When I was in Portland I bought flash cards from a store called noun (i believe I heard of it from design sponge). I got cards that added up to the month and day of me and my sweetie’s birthdates.

    I have yet to frame them yet.

  14. Kat says:

    My grandma was a grade school teacher and she had a lot of these flashcards at home. My mom in turn had those number cards for us to use. Not sure where it is now, but I’d love to have something like this, especially for the cards with pictures on them.

  15. These are great. I have y great grandmothers spelling book from school. I love it.

  16. Zoe Jeanne says:

    There are great ideas! They remind me of Spanish flash my teacher had in high school for the uses of por and para. They were gorgeous. I haven’t been able to find anything like them, but these ideas inspire me to try!

  17. katie says:

    i found French to English flashcards with charming illustrations while digging thru a favorite consignment shop…thanks for the post…reminds me to put them up!!
    One more item to look for when i head to Brimfield in May! thanks again for super post.

  18. Oh. My. God. This is such a cool post! Vintage flash cards, I think you’ve just sparked a new obsession in me! My other half will not be pleased ;p

  19. carolyn says:

    i love this! i’ve had a set of vintage french vocab flash cards lying around. feeling inspired to piece together some phrases and get them framed up! thanks for the lovely ideas :)

  20. Tori says:

    For those in Chicago, there’s a great place called Two Sided in Lakeview. They have vintage flashcards, alphabet letters, and a lot of other great finds.

  21. Laura says:

    Hi!
    i have the same little horse that in your image called “flashcards_wallcomposition” maybe you can say more about this object…
    The pictures are very nice and i love the possibility to do poems on wall! (sorry for my english, i’m just parisian!)
    Thank you

  22. Liz says:

    I saw this done in a brew pub in Monterrey (see here: http://justabouthome.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/brewery-inspiration/) and I’ve wanted to try it ever since! Thanks for the nice round up!

  23. Mandy says:

    Love the “let them eat cake”

  24. Love the “let them eat cake”

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