• archivist97

Ephemera...What is ephemera?

ephem-era | \ i-ˈfe-mər-ə , -ˈfem-rə \

plural ephemera also ephemerae\ i-ˈfe-mər-ē , -ˈfem-rē \ or ephemeras

Definition of ephemera

1 : something of no lasting significance -usually used in plural

2 ephemera plural : paper items (such as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles


Restaurant or diner paper placemat designed by the Nelsons of Stony Brook from the collection of TVHS

“It comes to us through Latin from the Greek epi (about), and hemeris (day)...The word, ephemera, is used to denote the transient everyday items of paper-mostly printed-that are manufactured specifically to use and throw away...Above and beyond its immediate purpose, it expresses a fragment of social history, a reflection of the spirit of its time..(Rickards, Maurice, This is Ephemera: Collecting Printed Throwaways, Grossamer Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, 1977)

At the time of his death in 1998 Maurice Rickards was working on a much more detailed work about ephemera. In 2000 his The Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator, and Historian was published, having been edited and completed by his associates. This 400+ page book contains over 1000 categories of ephemera with detailed descriptions, histories, and examples. This new volume reflects an expansion of the “categories of ephemera that have emerged since the 1980s” but, as pointed out by the authors, is by no means a complete list. “Another important aspect of ephemera…is the fascination they hold for the collector, either for their content, their appearance, or both. There is, of course, a link between the use of ephemera as evidential material by historians and the interests of collectors…..Collectors provide a useful service in preserving items and, thereafter, making them available for historians to study.”

As with many collection categories there is an organization for collectors of ephemera. In 1975 The Ephemera Society was founded in the UK by Maurice Rickards. http://www.ephemera-society.org.uk/

In 1980 the Ephemera Society of America (ESA) evolved “to serve as a link between and among collectors, archivists, researchers and dealers, and to encourage interest in all aspects of vintage paper.” https://www.ephemerasociety.org/. The organization hosts an annual conference and Ephemera Fair in Old Greenwich, CT. Checkout this link for some great examples of ephemera and other information. https://www.ephemerasociety.org/definition/

How, what and where to collect?

Where can you find ephemera? Check out your local antique shop, flea market, online auction site, or specialty collector’s fair.

With so many choices how could one get started collecting? Think about a particular topic.

An example of just one of the many themes of cigarette or tobacco trade cards. (front and back)

If you love gardening how about collecting gardening or flower related items. For example,

seed packets, catalogues, trade cards, or cigarette cards.

Of course, many of the specific categories have their own collecting organizations. Paper and postcards have a huge following with shows throughout the country with several shows a year in Manhattan and the tri-state area. There is also a Long Island Postcard Club.

What do you like to collect? Search the internet for your favorite collection topic and look for organizations or collector’s groups.

From the obvious to the obscure, ephemera has something for everyone. Among some of the categories that are readily identifiable:

Advertising material including posters, trade cards, labels, etc.