Internet Databases

The Internet includes many web sites that are of interest to ephemerists. People buy and sell ephemera through commercial sites, are informed and entertained on educational sites, keep up to date with forthcoming sales and auctions by reading online versions of trade journals, and follow the activities of organizations devoted to the study and appreciation of ephemera by looking at web sites such as the one created and maintained by the Ephemera Society of America.

In addition, individuals interested in research can access an incredible amount of information by using the many databases showing ephemera. Although there are countless databases from all over the world, three stand out because of their design and content.

Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls documents the history of dime novels and story papers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is located at Stanford University at The home page of the site points out that “Stanford's Dime Novel and Story Paper Collection consists of over 8,000 individual items, and includes long runs of the major dime novel series (Frank Leslie’s Boys of America, Happy Days, Beadle’s New York Dime Library, etc.) and equally strong holdings of story papers like the New York Ledger and Saturday Night.”

Three online “guided tours” provide information on the black and white print processes used to produce dime novels and penny dreadfuls, an explanation of the elements typically found on their covers, and other collections housed at New York University, Syracuse University, Brandies University, and the Library of Congress.

Users of the site can browse by title, subject, and image (there are almost 2,400 of them), or read selected full texts of nine novels. In addition, it is possible to search the texts for any word.

Collage is an image database containing over 30,000 works from the Guildhall Library and Guildhall Art Gallery in London and is available online at and at, which shows a connection to the first URL. In addition to paper ephemera, Collage includes information and images of oil paintings, watercolors, and sculptures. However, its acknowledged strength is its 25,000 prints and drawings, as well as over 1,000 maps devoted primarily to London topography and London life from the fifteenth century to the present day.

With a specific inquiry, Collage can be searched by keyword. The database can also be searched by artist, engraver, publisher, people, and places. Further, users can browse through the collection by selecting a theme: history, leisure, politics, trade and industry, etc.

Collage’s exhibitions section features eight shows, including one of truly ephemeral items: discarded designs and rejected plans of London buildings.

Finally, the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music is part of the special collections department of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins University. Its online database contains approximately 30,000 items and focuses on popular American music spanning the period 1780-1960. All pieces of the collection are indexed in the database and a query retrieves a catalog description, as well as an image of the cover and each page of music if the item was published before 1923 and is in the public domain. The Levy collection is located at

Lester S, Levy was a musicologist, graduate of Johns Hopkins—class of 1918, and a Baltimore businessman and philanthropist. As his collection grew, Levy acquired the expertise to write four books, culminating in a study of the lithographer's art, Picture the Songs: Lithographs from the Sheet Music of Nineteenth Century America, published in 1976 by Johns Hopkins.

Users can both browse the collection and search for specifics. For example, an engraver/artist search for Charles Magnus results in seven hits; George Gershwin is represented by 43 titles; Sousa yields 170 documents, including some colorful sheet music covers; and “Star Spangled Banner” produces 82 results.

Each of these databases is accessible through the Ephemera Society’s Web site. Please plan to visit!

E. Richard McKinstry
Past President

[This article originally appeared in the Northeast Journal of Antiques & Art.] Photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall Archives

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America