Ephemera News

In 1981, just a year after it was founded, the Ephemera Society published the first issue of Ephemera News. This quarterly publication was intended to bring society members—all 375 of them at the time—closer together within the organization. As president, Jack Golden wrote in the inaugural issue: “We now have the wonderful opportunity to present our members news of national and regional interest, as well as the opportunity for everyone to exchange their views and comments with other members.”

The big news in volume one, number one was that the society had achieved non-profit status with the IRS. In addition, Ephemera 2, the society’s annual conference and fair, had been “an outstanding success in every respect,” and plans were in the works for Ephemera 3, which would be held in Windsor Locks, Conn. Also, society officials were hopeful that a special trip, the Piccadilly Special, would attract members to travel to England for several special events planned by our English counterparts.

Volume one, number one was all of four pages and it appears to have been produced on a photocopy machine. One full page was devoted to photographs taken at Ephemera 2. Interestingly enough, the leading one showed two subsequent Maurice Rickards Award winners, Marcus McCorison, the director of the American Antiquarian Society, and Ephemera Society co-founder Calvin Otto. In contrast, volume twenty, number two, published in 2002, was 32 pages long, had two inserts, and displayed a touch of color.

Even though Ephemera News has changed in appearance over the years, the nature of its contents has remained surprisingly constant. Issues from the early 1980s contained a letter from the society’s president, announcements about programs, book notices, reports about society fairs and conferences, auction notices, articles by members, and advertisements. Today, Ephemera News includes these items plus a classified section for members and non-members alike, which contains questions about specific kinds of ephemera, as well as collecting wants and offerings. A members’ forum spotlights the activities of personal and institutional members; longer member profiles highlight the collecting and research interests of individual society members. Names and addresses of new members are provided to supplement the society’s annual membership directory.

During the 1990s, there were theme issues. Coinciding with our own election of directors, articles about ephemera in the fall 1998 issue were entitled “The People’s Choice: Advertising White House Candidates” and Political Campaign ‘Stamps.’” In the fall of 1996, Ephemera News featured articles entitled “Nineteenth-Century Seed Catalogs” and “Advice for Gardeners: Vick’s Monthly Magazine.” Most recently, a single issue of Ephemera News was devoted to the conservation of ephemera.

Members who are unable to attend the society’s annual conference can catch up with some of the presentations by reading Ephemera News. In advance of speaking about the ephemera of salmon fishing, Charles Wood wrote about it, and after speaking about ephemera associated with Baker’s chocolate, Anthony Sammarco submitted an article on the topic. In 1997, Will Shortz, New York Times crossword puzzle editor and puzzlemaster for National Public Radio, informed and entertained society members as banquet speaker about the history and popularity of crossword puzzles. Four years later, in 2001, he committed his words to paper for Ephemera News.

Current editor Eric Johnson is optimistic about the continuing prosperity of Ephemera News. “I enjoy working with members of the Ephemera Society in putting out the magazine,” he says. “Their enthusiasm is catching, their interests are broad and deeply held, and all of this makes for a lively publication. The only difficult part is deciding what to cover—it’s like putting a chocolaholic in front of 100 pounds of M & Ms and then forcing him to choose two favorites.”

A recent reader survey was instructive. Eric notes that the responses were important because they gave the society’s board a clear indication of the value members place on the magazine. Eighty four percent read all or most of Ephemera News, half pass it on to one or more readers, and the overwhelming majority (79%) save each issue. Of those who recycle it, some readers leave it in their office waiting rooms or local libraries.

What is in the future? Thirty-eight percent of members would like to see Ephemera News online. Apart from the immediacy of an electronic version and the potential of using it as a vehicle to increase membership, a digital version would mean full color. Right now, selected articles that first appeared in Ephemera News are part of the society’s Web site.

Together with its customary news and communications, the next issue of Ephemera News will contain an article on vintage baggage labels, by Ian Nicholson, and ephemera associated with Philadelphia department store entrepreneur John Wanamaker, by society board member Bruce Conner. If you are not a member already, become one and see what everybody is reading and talking about!

E. Richard McKinstry
Past President

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

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America