The dictionary defines “ephemera” as “things that are important or useful for only a short time; paper items that were originally meant to be discarded, not meant to have lasting value.”
Contrary to expectations, lots of these items were saved by collectors. It became so popular that the Ephemera Society was formed by a New England historian.
Ephemera is everywhere. Much of it comes from advertising and packaging. A short of list of the hundreds of examples are tickets, letterhead, labels, trade cards, handbills, wrappers and postcards. One goes further by collecting certain subject matter such as dogs, cats, trains and steamships, dolls – the categories are endless.
The intriguing feature of vintage ephemera is the artwork and design, as the producer wanted to attract attention and retain interest. Another feature of collecting this medium is that it can become an inexpensive and historically satisfying collectible.
When one gets into this activity, one wants to expand their interest and search for the unusual.
Back in 1981, this writer, a member of the Ephemera Society, heard that the Library of Congress was going to auction off all printed packaging and labels in its collection, as they had made microfiche copies of each item to save space.
We put in a bid for all 1929-1930 materials and waited for the results. About a month went by and, lo and behold, we were notified that we won the lot. We paid considerable shipping costs and awaited delivery. Not long after, a tractor trailer pulled up to the house and unloaded 56 cartons of paper materials!
It took two weeks to sort out what was the most exciting find of our collector lives. Fortunately, we were scheduled to exhibit at the Ephemera Convention in Hartford, Conn., where we sold 90 percent of the collection.
Peoples’ need to collect and connect has given ephemera a new life beyond its original purpose. For instance, a friend who collected travel-related items started a collection of airline playing cards. In the 1950s, decks of these cards were given free to travelers. The cards showed cities of destination, types of airliners, and logos of airlines.
The search, the research and satisfaction of learning the history of ephemera is another example of how much fun collecting can be.
Jerry Glenn is co-owner of Reminisce in Bluffton, where sports collectibles are bought and sold.