Collecting and Caring for Ephemera
All of the members of the Ephemera Society are in some way collectors.
We collect for personal enjoyment, we collect for institutions,
and we are vendors who collect so that we can bring what we have
to the attention of others. The first step in collecting is to find
out what is available, and we thank our dealer members and friends
for telling us what they have. Once we learn what exists, we sift
through the possibilities and then make our choices.
But, it does not stop here. What we do next is organize, store,
and use our paper ephemera.
paper ephemera collections can be done in several ways. If collections
consist of a variety of formats, the organizing principal might
be by form. That is to say, all postcards would be filed together
and all posters, illustrated billheads, chromolithographs, etc.
would, likewise, be kept together. On the other hand, collections
might be organized by what they illustrate. For example, a collection
of paper ephemera that has been assembled to show different kinds
of fish would be organized by the sort of fish shown, regardless
of what the depictions were on. Alternatively, a collection could
be organized chronologically.
Large collections like those in museums or libraries are often
organized by format, irrespective of subject, chiefly because public
institutions serve a wide clientele, and it is difficult to anticipate
what topic each user will focus on. In addition, museums and libraries
generally have the space that is needed to house different formats
separately. Consequently, finding aids or indexes--today often computerized--assume
great importance in leading researchers to what they want to see.
Categories chosen for finding aids are limited only by the compiler's
imagination. A finding aid for trade cards might contain the name
of the firm that advertised on the card and its address, the date
of the trade card, the card's printer and his address, the name
of an agent for the product if there was one, subjects describing
goods advertised, and so forth. Allowing for a free text field gives
the compiler an opportunity to describe the trade card further,
adding particulars that predefined categories do not permit. Sometimes
computer programs are designed so that thumbnail images are associated
with descriptive text.
Housing is best done with acid free folders and boxes and high
quality plastic enclosures. In addition, particular attention needs
to be paid to the temperature and humidity in which a collection
of paper ephemera is stored. Considering that personal paper ephemera
collections are mostly kept where people live, a stable temperature
of 68-70 degrees with relative humidity at 40-50 percent is recommended.
In addition, items should be away from light sources, both sunlight
and manmade illumination, to prevent discoloration and embrittlement.
collections are often housed the way institutional ones are. Ephemera
Society member Bryant Tolles keeps most of his collection of items
on the White Mountains in a small library just off his living room.
He uses acid free containers and envelopes, as well as Mylar plastic.
Some of the prints and maps that he has assembled over the years
are on display in his house and in his New Hampshire summer home;
they have been matted and framed with protective backing.
Bryant's White Mountain collection is organized following the organization
of Bent's Bibliography of the White Mountains, compiled originally
by Allen H. Bent and first published in 1911. Not every collector
has the luxury of such an opportunity.
Bryant based his own book, The Grand Resort Hotels of the White
Mountains, published by David R. Godine in 1998, on his collection.
He has not computerized it yet, but looks forward to doing so in
the years to come.
As Bryant, we collect because we want to look at, study, and enjoy
what we have. In order to ensure that our collections will last
so that future generations can use them profitably, it is important
to follow a few simple handling guidelines. First and foremost,
clean and dry hands are very important. To avoid staining and attracting
insects, food and drink should not be consumed near collections;
pencils, not ink pens, are for note taking; and "sticky notes"
should be avoided because they leave harmful residue. Finally, never
trace or write on top of your paper ephemera.
For further guidance on storing and using paper ephemera collections,
you may wish to consult The Winterthur Guide to Caring for Your
Collection, published in 2000 by Winterthur Museum, Garden &
Library, and the Internet site of the Regional
Alliance for Preservation.
E. Richard McKinstry
[This article originally appeared in the Northeast
Journal of Antiques & Art.]