Ephemera Society Archives

The archives of the Ephemera Society of America–some would say its corporate memory–reflects the society’s activities since its founding in 1980 and includes a growing number of publications focusing on various topics of ephemera.

Like any archive, the society’s holds records of an administrative nature. Our incorporation papers and bylaws, names and addresses of members of the board of directors, forms required by the IRS to maintain our non-profit status, copyright papers, correspondence, etc. are all included. But, beyond these routine records are many more that detail the society’s past activities.

Perhaps the most important component of the Archives is a full run of issues of Ephemera News, the Society’s quarterly newsletter. Anyone who is interested in finding out more about the inception and formative years of the organization and in identifying who became involved would do well to examine back issues of Ephemera News. Also, it is interesting to look at the pictures that were used to illustrate Ephemera News to see what our fairs and other events looked like just as they were taking place. Show venues may move from location to location, but the look of dealer booths has remained remarkably constant over time.

In addition to offering a glimpse into the development of the society and its programs, Ephemera News contains informative articles, some relatively short and others much lengthier, concentrating on a number of subjects. Publication of Ephemera News began in the summer of 1981, and one year later articles researched and contributed by members began to appear. Some of us may recall reading the first one, "A Short History of the Paper Ballot," By Richard C. Maxson in volume 2, nos. 2 & 3.

Apart from telling us about the development of the society, Ephemera News is a useful way to track the larger world of ephemera exhibitions and publishing since most issues have contained notices of shows and reviews of recently issued books.

Ephemera generated by the Ephemera Society makes up another part of the Archives. We held our first fair in 1981, and the Archives has the poster that announced it. During the weekend of March 3-5, 2000, we held our 20th fair, and to mark the occasion we offered our members mugs, buttons, and shopping bags; they, too, are in the Archives. As well, keepsakes distributed at our banquets, such as playing cards in 1997 and 1998, have been kept. Other ephemeral items include conference schedules, postcards, membership meeting announcements, lists of dealers participating at shows and roadmaps showing where they were located on the floor, and old membership brochures.

And, we have a complete set of membership directories, published over the years as a benefit of membership.

Writings–magazines, books, exhibition catalogs, and auction catalogs–not published by the society constitute another section of the archives. Before it ceased publication early in 2000, AB Bookman traditionally devoted one issue every year to ephemera, and it coincided with the society’s annual fair/conference. In addition to promoting our event, over the years it had articles on such topics as circus ephemera, sheet music, Carnegie Hall ephemera, and ephemera associated with advertising the breakfast food Cream of Wheat.

Book length studies on Halloween ephemera, playing cards, posters, games, puzzles, Valentines, toy soldiers, photographs, and a host of other topics are in the archives. Likewise, we have the exhibition catalog from a show held at Princeton University in 1992 entitled Graphic Americana: the Art of Printed Ephemera from Abecedaires to Zoetropes, and six catalogs published in conjunction with exhibitions drawn from the resources of the Wolfson Collection in Miami, Fla.

Auction catalogs, many of which are illustrated and contain prices, are helpful for charting the changes in value of ephemera. Printed ephemera itself, including a wonderful poster printed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Fenway Park in Boston, rounds out the contents of the archives.

As an organization dedicated to keeping the past alive by promoting the importance of ephemera in the understanding of our nation's past, the society is fortunate to have established an archives to track its own history. We look forward to its growth, both to chart the progression of the society and to serve as a research center for people studying ephemeral publications. It is on long term deposit at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.

E. Richard McKinstry

[This article originally appeared in the Northeast Journal of Antiques & Art.]

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America