Worldwide Ephemera Societies

The first ephemera society to have been established was in England in 1975. Five years later the American society came into being and afterward societies were founded in Canada, Austria, and Australia. Right now nascent efforts to organize a society seem to be taking place in France.

Other columns have featured the activities of the English and Canadian societies. What is happening in Austria, Australia, and France?

The Austrian society started in 1990. Its members have a marvelous web site ( that includes a variety of features and provides news of society activities. Clicking on its archive results in seeing thirty different images, including examples of Austrian ephemera, images of ephemera fairs, and short magazine articles. Another click brings the first pages of the organization's publication, Ephemera: Journal der Ephemera Gesellschaft Österreich. A section on regional groups lists names, photos, and addresses of people to contact, and there is a calendar of events.

Perhaps the most interesting—certainly the most lively—part of the web site is a video just under two minutes long showing many kinds of Austrian ephemera and a few minutes of an ephemera fair. Scored, with narrative and brief interviews of dealers at the fair, the video is an inventive way to promote ephemera collecting.

The Australian ephemera society has been active since 1987 and is not surprisingly "devoted to the preservation, study, and display of items of a transient nature."

Its 2002 symposium, "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe … Three, Four, Ephemera Evermore," brought together ephemerists from Down Under to hear papers on a special photo collection at the State Library of Victoria and ephemera associated with cricket, as well as talks entitled "Hats Glorious Hats: Miniature Hat Collection of a Travelling Salesman" and "A Shopping List of My Favourite Grocery Items." For those who missed the presentations, they were summarized in a booklet distributed afterward.

With a penchant for inventive titles, another symposium in 2002 was called "Moving and Grooving: Ephemera a Go Go."

A decade earlier, in 1991, members of the Australian society visited an exhibition together at Monash University Gallery that saluted the work of the many commercial and graphic artists and photographers whose talents were used by travel companies and government agencies to promote travel to and within the country. That same year a member did a presentation on ephemera associated with the recording industry, and the society sponsored fairs and auctions.

Only in Australia would there be a Wattle Day. Beginning in the 1890s and held to celebrate the wattle in flower, over the years it has also produced badges to commemorate activities associated with the day, and members of the Australian ephemera society find them collectible.

In a recent article in The Ephemerist, the quarterly newsletter of the British ephemera society, Julie Anne Lambert of the John Johnson Collection at Oxford wrote: The French have long been interested in printed ephemera, the traditional French term vieux papier (literally, old paper)… . In 1900, a journal called Le Vieux Papier… began its publication run, and it still exists today. More toward our time, Nicolas Petit in 1997 issued L'éphémère, l'occasionnel et le non livre, and in 2002, the revue of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France was called L'éphémère.

As Julie points out, the change in terminology from vieux papier to l'éphémère "is as much a desire to endow printed ephemera with respectability as it is a falling in line with Anglo-American terminology."

In addition, Michael Twyman offers a course in ephemera in Lyon that is an offshoot of his course at the University of Virginia's Rare Book School. As well, in 2001 and 2002, the Printing Museum in Lyon staged an exhibition entitled Ephemera: Les imprimés de tous les jours, 1880-1939.

Who knows who and where the bug might strike next? In Sweden, the Royal Library in Stockholm collects ephemera as a result of a government directive, and in 2002, librarians mounted a highly successful exhibition there called Ephemera—det okända trycket, issuing a 32 page color catalog to accompany the show. A native of Japan, Prof. Yoriko Iwata of Chukyo University, recently joined the English ephemera society, becoming the first person to become a member over the Internet; her interest is in Punch & Judy. Finally, Aneta Firlej-Buzon of the Institute of Library and Information Science at Wroclaw University did her doctoral dissertation on Polish ephemera and summarized her findings for an article in volume X of Ephemera Journal published by the American ephemera society.

E. Richard McKinstry
Past President

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

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America