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Our History

History of The Ephemera Society of America

A small band of collectors interested in promoting the collecting, study, and preservation of ephemera established the Ephemera Society of America (ESA) in 1980, to serve as a link between and among collectors, archivists, researchers and dealers, and to encourage interest in all aspects of vintage paper. Five years earlier, in 1975, Maurice Rickards and his associates in England had established The Ephemera Society of the United Kingdom., and similar organizations have arisen in Canada, Austria, and Australia.

Shortly after ESA was formed, it was granted 501(c)3 non-profit tax-exempt status as an educational organization. The society embarked upon a publishing program to educate its members and the general public about the world of ephemera. Issue #1 of our Ephemera News newsletter came out in the Summer of 1981, and this regular newsletter continues its unbroken publication run to the present time. Printed as ink-on-paper until mid-2011, it is now entitled eNews and sent electronically each month to every member. eNews delivers news, details on conferences and other activities, a calendar of upcoming shows and events, auction notes, new book notices, links to stories of interest, announcements and other content of interest to ephemerists.

ESA publishes The Ephemera Journal, a highly regarded print publication devoted solely to illustrated scholarly articles on many different topics. Journal authors have included faculty and staff from a long list of distinguished institutions including the American Antiquarian Society, Winterthur, the Huntington Library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, Colonial Williamsburg, the Clements Library, Brown University and many other distinguished organizations. Many fine articles have come from independent scholars and collectors.

In 1994, the Ephemera Society published a book, Rewards of Merit: Tokens of a Child’s Progress and a Teacher’s Esteem, by Patricia Fenn and Alfred P. Malpa. In hardcover, over 200 pages long and profusely illustrated with hundreds of images, this volume is the definitive study of these tokens of teacher esteem.

Early in our existence we sponsored a number of modest regional shows, and since 1980 have sponsored a major conference and fair, holding an all-day conference on a given topic on the Friday and a two-day selling show on the Saturday and Sunday, widely considered to be the finest paper show in the country each year. Some paper shows may be bigger, but none better. This annual gathering includes seminars, exhibits, and auction, presentations by college students, a members meeting and other events. Our 40th consecutive such event will be held March 27-29, 2020 in Old Greenwich, CT. There have also been five special symposiums over the years, held at such places as Colonial Williamsburg, Winterthur Museum, and the American Antiquarian Society, with papers presented at the symposiums have later appeared in The Ephemera Journal.

For the past several years, we have also held a mid-year meeting in various parts of the country, featuring behind-the-scenes visits to collections and archives, as well as a meeting of the Board of Directors. We are also working to participate in various other events around the country in conjunction with paper shows, books shows and stamp shows.

Other membership activities have included trips to London for joint activities with our English counterparts including conservation workshops, shows, auctions, and museum visits.

ESA members are justifiably proud of the accomplishments of our Society, and we look forward to the coming years with great anticipation.

A more detailed recounting of the early, formative days of the Society can be read here.