Categories and examples

by Richard McKinstry Advertisement

Printed and manuscript advertisements have existed ever since craftsmen, storekeepers, and other business people realized that is was advantageous to promote themselves and their merchandise. In the world of eighteenth-century artisans, a furniture maker would paste a rudimentary label on one of his tables or chests to show the public the kind of work they could expect from him. Broadening the range of promotions further, a craftsman regularly placed advertisements in newspapers or city directories, noting his address, detailing his products, and frequently including illustrations. Sometimes these ads were also circulated on their own. Likewise, a general store proprietor would distribute small-scale ads to announce the arrival of new products or to proclaim special sales. By associating his name with his product or place of business in an advertisement, the craftsman and businessman hoped to enhance their reputations, and they at least implied to buyers that they would stand behind their work and goods.

Air transport labels

by Daniel Kusrow

Air transport labels are more popularly known as airline baggage labels, stickers, or tags and can include airline freight labels and poster stamps. These small graphic works of art have been used to advertise the services of the world's airlines since the beginning of commercial aviation in the immediate post World War I years. Early airline baggage labels in the 1920's and 1930's provided spaces to write in passenger details, similar to labels issued by shipping lines and railroads, but more often the labels featured solely strong graphic poster images. The issuance of these labels by the airlines reached its zenith during the inter-war era.

Following World War II, commercial air travel became more democratic, and the labels that had bedecked the luggage of wealthy travelers as badges of prestige, began a decline in popularity. Baggage tags became more utilitarian devices to ensure the proper identification and routing of the mushrooming amount of airline passenger baggage. In the last 30 years, baggage labels have continued to be issued by the airlines but primarily for special marketing purposes, such as the start of new routes or the addition of new aircraft types to airlines' fleets.

The collecting of air transport labels dates back to around 1930 when those interested in aerophilately acquired labels to add color to their flight cover collections. Several catalogs were issued in the mid 1930's, and a specialized collecting society (Aeronautica & Air Label Collectors Club) was established in 1941. In the mid-1970s, the club began issuing updated catalogs that it continues to do to the present.

For some airlines the only piece of ephemera that survives for them are their baggage labels. One can trace the history of many of the well-known, established airlines by making a survey of the labels they have issued over the years.

Transadriatica 1926 Delta 1929Royal Nepal Airlines 1980Eurasia-Aviation 1930Deta 1950
Bank checks

Definition needed

Baseball cards

by Richard McKinstry

Baseball cardsTobacco companies first issued baseball cards during the 1880s to promote cigarette sales. These cards found a welcome audience among adults who followed America's emerging national pastime. Today's baby boom generation became acquainted with baseball cards not because of tobacco advertising, but because they chewed bubble gum, and bubble gum came packaged with cards. Children, and probably some adults as well, eagerly looked forward to adding to their ever-growing card collections by trading duplicates with their friends. From year to year baseball cards changed in appearance, but they always offered portraits of players at bat, in the field, or on the mound along with their statistics. Modern cards are not confined to major league players as minor league teams and special leagues also issue sets of baseball cards.

Bill heads

by Richard McKinstry

Billheads contain vignettes that illustrate products associated with a business and sometimes fairly wordy descriptions of a concern's activities. Often, the vignettes provide clues on what a business thought about itself. For instance, a manufacturer from the 1870s told customers that it was busy, prosperous, and successful by depicting its building's chimney billowing smoke into the sky, railroad cars being loaded with countless shipments of its products, and people bustling around its factory building. As America expanded economically during the Gilded Age, this message was not uncommon. In addition, when products are shown, vignettes provide clues about the design of goods being made and sold. Besides serving as an bill, these pieces of ephemera often did double duty as stationery. As a result, businesses were able to advertise to prospective customers through letter writing and complete their sales by using the same kind of sheet of paper as an invoice.


by Patrick Sweeney

Ink blotters are an interesting historical ephemera category that were once in universal use but have now virtually disappeared. Not only would typical 2012 teenagers not recognize a blotter, they could scarcely imagine a world that depended on messy liquid ink instead of ballpoint pens.

While they could be purchased as a stationery items, blotters were mostly distributed as advertisements of products and services of every description. The advertisements appeared on the normally smooth top side of blotters while the plain absorbent side helped dry the wet ink on a check or an envelope. Up until ballpoint pens became reliable and inexpensive in the 1950s, countless quantities of blotters were distributed over desks, sales and service counters like banks and post offices where they were stacked free for the taking.

The attached samples can only hint at the range of blotter advertising, produced both for national distribution and as well blotters with local dealer or retailer imprints. Like today's teenagers' disbelief at the story of yesterday's blotters, imagine a 1940's adult learning that a give-away Kelloggs cereal blotter was selling today on Ebay for over $400!


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by Lois R. Densky-Wolff

For answers to your questions about bookmarks send an email to Lois Densky-Wolff

A. W. Coysh in his work Collecting Bookmarkers, a history of English bookmarks, states:

The need for some device to mark the place in a book was recognized at an early date. Without bookmarkers, finely bound volumes were at risk. To lay a book face down with pages open might cause injury to its spine, and the crease on a page that had the corner turned down remained as a lasting reproach. With the rise of printing in the fifteenth century, books were published in limited numbers and were quite valuable. The need to protect these precious commodities was evident. One of earliest references to the use of bookmarks was in 1584 when the Queen's Printer, Christopher Barker, presented Queen Elizabeth I with a fringed silk bookmark.

Common bookmarks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were narrow silk ribbons bound into the book at the top of the spine and extended below the lower edge of the page. The first detachable bookmarks began appearing in the 1850's. Most nineteenth century bookmarks were intended for use in Bibles and prayer books, and were made from silk or embroidered fabrics. Not until the 1880's, did paper and other materials become more common.

The great period of bookmark design and the use of luxuriant materials were during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The idea that a bookmark be used to keep one's place and protect one's book caught on, and bookmarks have been produced in a variety of materials ever since.

A.W. Coysh divides the history of bookmarks into four main periods: Ribbon, 1850-1880, Victorian Advertising, 1880-1901, Pre-World War I, 1901-1914, Publicity and Greetings, 1914-Present.

Another way to categorize bookmarks has been promoted by Joan Huegel, editor of Bookmark Collector; the only newsletter published in the United States devoted to bookmarks. Huegel identifies thirteen categories, which classifies old and new bookmarks as: Advertising, Commemorative, Foreign, Government, Handmade, Libraries, National Organizations & Chains, Novelty, Other Materials, Publishers & Booksellers, Religious, Silk, Woven & Ribbon, and Souvenir.

Bookmarks and pagemarkers are made from a variety of material including paper, celluloid, silver, gold, pewter, wood, brass, copper, ivory, aluminum, chrome, tin, plastic, leather, Fiberglas, ribbon, and silk.

Victorian and Edwardian paper and celluloid bookmarks were a favorite medium for publicizing goods and services, and as publicity for non-profit organizations. Booksellers, publishers, stationers, insurance companies, and manufacturers were quick to utilize the medium. Products such as soap, pianos, stoves, furniture, perfumes, patent medicines, shoes, clothes, tobacco, and foodstuffs were all promoted on bookmarks. The travel and entertainment industries also publicized their services using bookmarks. Highly colorful and decorative, often given away free, they were distributed by the thousands from Victorian and later merchants to their customers. The upsurge in the use of chromolithography, developed in the mid-nineteenth century, was a boon in the creation and marketing of these small works of the printer's art.

Advertising bookmarks were often produced as sets or series, usually produced in groups of four, six, or eight. They were offered as a give-away or product premium with proof of purchase. Soap makers, perfumeries, insurance companies, and food and furniture manufacturers all produced bookmark sets.

Celluloid, the forerunner of plastic, was first introduced into the United States in 1869 as a cheap substitute for ivory. Products made from celluloid were inexpensive to purchase, and popular with the public. Like paper, celluloid bookmarks advertised products, services, and events, and were also inexpensively marketed for sale. Many celluloid bookmarks were die-cut, as were paper-advertising bookmarks.

Pagemarkers are another name for bookmarks; typically referring to those made of metal with pierced blades and manufactured in England. These markers were crafted in novel shapes and often had ornate handles many bearing the monograms of their owners. During the Victorian era, publishers commonly bound books with the pages uncut. Book buyers had to slit their own pages, and it did not take long for combination bookmark-page cutters to appear on the market.

Some of these bookmarks were made of heavy paper but were not very effective. Bookmark-page cutters, or pagemarkers, began appearing in other materials such as tortoise shell, wood, sterling silver, gold, brass, copper, and ivory. In addition to slitting book pages, they were used as letter openers. When book pages no longer needed to be individually sliced, separate letter openers were manufactured that were distinguishable from pagemarkers.


Coysh, A.W. Collecting Bookmarkers. New York: Drake, 1974.

Coysh, A.W. and R.K. Henrywood. Bookmarkers. Buckinghamshire, Great Britain: Shire Publications, 1994.

Evans, Sally. Bookmarkers: an Independent View. Published for the 43rd Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Old Grindles Bookshop, Edinburgh, undated.

Godden, G.A. Stevengraphs and Other Victorian Silk Pictures. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1971.

Hechtlinger, Adelaide and Wilbur Cross. The Complete Book of Paper Antiques. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972.

Huegel, Joan L. "Antique Bookmarks," Paper Collectors' Marketplace, 11:7, July 1993: 20+.

Huegel, Joan L. "Collectors Put Bookmarks in Their Place," Antiques & Auction News, 27:18, May 3, 1996: 1-2.

Jonker, Abraham. The Bookmarkers of the Scottish Widows Fund. Torquay, Great Britain: Neopardy, 1981.

McClinton, Katharine Morrison. "Stevengraph Bookmarkers," Antiques & Collecting, 91 (1), January 1987: 51-54.

Makespeace, Chris E. Ephemera: a Book on its Collections, Conservation, and Use. n.p. Gower, 1985.

The Picture of Health: Images of Medicine and Pharmacy From the William H. Helfand Collection. Commentaries by William H. Helfand. Essays by Patricia Eckert Boyer, Judith Wechsler, and Maurice Rickards. [Philadelphia]: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Distributed by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

Quale, Eric. The Collector's Book of Books. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1971.

Rickards, Maurice. Collecting Printed Ephemera. New York: Abbeville, 1988.

Rivera, Betty. "Bookmarks (Collecting Now)," Country Living, 19 (1), January 1996:43+.

Roberts, F.X. "Bookmarks: Silent Sentinels," Wilson Library Bulletin, December 1993: 40-42.

Staff, Frank. The Valentine & Its Origin. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Stevens, Norman D. A Guide to Collecting Librariana. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1986.

Tharp, Mel. "Marking the Page: Bookmarks," Treasure Chest, January 1995: 10-11.


by Richard McKinstry

The bookplate, sometimes referred to as an ex-libris, denotes the ownership of books, and they are customarily glued onto the inside of a book's front cover. Many early bookplates featured a family crest, but in more recent times, they have included just about any illustrative design that strikes the fancy of a book owner; thus, in addition to indicating ownership, they reveal something about the individual they stand for. Like printed books themselves, the earliest bookplates originated in Germany in the fifteenth century. Over the years they have been made using such techniques as etching; copper, wood, and steel engraving; lithography and chromolithography; and just about any other printing process that allows for the duplication of a single image. Surprisingly perhaps, there were more than 1,000 different bookplates used in America before 1800, the earliest likely belonging to Steven Day, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, printer, and dating from 1642.


by Richard McKinstry

Broadsides are pieces of paper printed on one side, and they were issued to convey messages. Usually published without illustrations or downplaying them in favor of text and vignettes, broadsides were customarily posted in prominent locations for as many people as possible to see. They promoted sales of countless forms of merchandise, announced the arrival of new products, proclaimed when meetings would take place, reminded their readers of current events, and served a host of other purposes. Broadsides were an inexpensive way to reach a wide audience and were a major instrument for communicating before the development of mass media. Truly ephemeral in nature, broadsides were mostly intended for immediate use and then discarded.


Definition needed

Business cards

by Patrick Sweeney

Vintage business cards provide a look back into the commerce of yesterday. Business people have been exchanging basic information via printed cards long before there were zip codes and telephone numbers, let alone e-mail addresses. Here are some samples of the many perspectives that make makes vintage business cards particularly interesting collectibles.

Vintage business cards are reasonably available, comparatively inexpensive, and offer wide opportunity for commercial, social and geographical research.


Definition needed.

Cameo stamps

by Thomas Beckman

Cameo stamps are an early form of trademarks or logotypes, produced between 1850 and 1880 for use by merchants, manufacturers, service providers, and institutions. Called "stamps" originally, these corporate identity emblems were nicknamed "cameos" by modern collectors due to the embossing present on many examples. Simultaneously embossed and color printed from brass dies, cameo stamps are most often found on envelopes, billheads, business cards, and as advertisements in city directories and related publications.

Blue is six or seven times more popular than green or red, the next most frequent colors. Imagery usually features a manufacturer's or merchant's products, machinery, or building, but text-only examples are also common. All cameo stamps are tightly bordered, often with cartouche-like frames. About forty percent of cameo stamps are signed by their diesinkers, the most prolific being William Eaves of New York and the McClement Brothers and Thomas B. Calvert of Philadelphia. They, and dozens of others, made cameo stamps for customers in all parts of the country, as well as Canada, which had several cameo stamp diesinkers of its own.

Illustrations in this article are from the extensive cameo collection of Jose L. Rodriguez, who can be reached at


by Richard McKinstry

If it were not for chromolithography many items that we consider ephemeral would not exist. Trade cards, die cuts or scraps, bookplates, calendars, greeting cards, prints, sheet music, rewards of merit, and other forms of paper ephemera were all produced using the chromolithographic process. The first chromo in the United States, a portrait of Rev. F.W.P. Greenwood, came from William Sharp's printing shop in Boston in 1840. By the mid-1860s, New York had become the center of chromolithography, and ten years later most of the larger cities in the U.S. had printers who could produce chromolithographs. The most successful chromolithographer of the nineteenth century was Louis Prang. His company found a receptive audience during the Civil War when the public demanded depictions of battle scenes. Afterward, Prang published a wide variety of chromos, showing birds and butterflies as well as fine art reproductions from the works of noted artists of the day.

Cigar box labels and brands

by Orlando Arteaga

By the middle of the 19th Century the big cigar manufacturers devised to place printed labels on the outside of their containers and a paper band around each cigar to improve the presentation of their products and to protect themselves against counterfeits. The cigar industry was already a highly productive one so they decided to hire the best lithographers who, using advanced printing techniques, made elegant cigar box labels and bands. This got the attention not only of customers but also of people with artistic sensibility who began soon collecting these beautiful objects considered as true art work. The first society of cigar bands collectors of the world was the International Cigar Band Society, founded in the United States in 1934, and one of the first worldwide known collectors was Louis Rubin, a New Yorker, who collected more than 100,000 cigar bands by 1957. Before dying he asked that his collection be conserved in one of the museums of the city.

Images below provided by Ron Schieber

NOTE TO SELF: Add images here once reduced in size. Check inbox.

Clipper ship cards

by Bruce Roberts

Clipper ship cards are cards that were issued by dispatch lines to advertise specific voyages of clipper ships from one port (usually New York or Boston) to another (usually San Francisco). They were distributed primarily during the late 1850s and early 1860s. Many people quite naturally associate clipper ship cards with the frenzy of the California gold rush, but in fact most clipper ship cards were produced during the decline, not ascent, of the clipper ship industry. Most clipper cards were printed in full color, on coated stock, and represent some of the finest early American color advertising artwork.


Definition needed.

Greeting cards

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by Richard McKinstry

One of the first labels used in association with a domestic product was the linen label. Produced beginning in the 1840s, they represent some of the finest American embossing and printing in gold and silver of the period. Other labels that got an early start in the United States were affixed to liquor bottles. Before labels were used, liquor bottles had been distinctively shaped to identify their contents: gin came in square bottles and brandy bottles were round, for example. Manufacturers began to use labels when they realized that they could identify their products better by using them. In addition, they came up with informative and colorful labels for advertising reasons. Canning labels, orange crate labels, and cigar labels, among others, are also highly prized by today's collectors.


Definition needed.

Luggage tags

by Patrick Sweeney

As interesting ephemera, hotel luggage labels are a mix of contradictions. For example,a cluster of hotel labels on the scuffed leather suitcase in the photo is today's almost universal graphic symbol of travel. Yet, new luggage labels simply don't exist. Try asking for one at the front desk of the next hotel you visit.

And while hotel luggage labels pasted on a trunk or suitcase might be the commonly accepted format, the labels desired by collectors and ephemerists are unused, pristine specimens that were never attached to luggage. Presumably, the early traveler got one label for the suitcase and another one for the scrapbook. It's the ones from the scrapbooks that collectors prize.

The golden era of hotel luggage labels ranged from about 1875 to the 1950s. Hotels designed and printed them to promote their establishments. Travelers gathered and pasted them as honor badges of their wide-ranging experience. As labels grew in favor, hotels tried to outdo each other with ever-larger labels and elaborate designs. Labels started to disappear as soft sided luggage came into favor and chains replaced individually owned and managed venues.

Hotel luggage labels make for interesting history. For example, consider the composite image of various Bristol Hotel labels. As Victorian-era travelers grew more discerning, individual venues needed to convey a quality image to promote themselves. The many worldwide Bristol hotels of the golden age of travel were unaffiliated as the different independent establishment assumed the name Bristol to attract new customers.

Vintage hotel luggage labels are widely available. However, new collectors need to be careful choosing their supply sources as reproductions and newly-printed labels are commonly promoted, often by inexperienced dealers.


by Richard McKinstry

Philadelphia printers Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Bradford vied to issue America's pioneer magazine. Through a bit of stealth, Bradford won out with his American Magazine, or a Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies, the first issue of which was published just three days before Franklin's General Magazine in 1741. The periodical press in the United States developed from this time, but not along a straight line, for it would be impossible to name a typical American magazine. There probably have been as many as there are personal interests and professions. Pulp magazines have existed alongside scholarly quarterlies, National Geographic Magazine is on the store shelf near the New Yorker, and as we enter a new millennium, Reader's Digest and Playboy survive, appealing to two very different audiences. Historian James P. Wood concluded, "the magazine today is not essentially different from the magazine in 1741. The magazine is, as it has been, a vehicle for communication among people, a medium for the transmission of facts, ideas, and fancies."


by Richard McKinstry

Maps tell us how to get from point A to point B or give us details about what a particular landscape or cityscape looks like. Because of changes in road systems and alterations in the natural and manmade environment, they can be out of date in a relatively short time; thus, they are truly ephemeral in nature. Maps exist for a variety of purposes: to show us roads and railroads, to reveal the most recent finds as the result of exploration, to help sailors navigate the oceans and seas, to record construction details for insurance purposes, to help stage battles in war, to chart geological and mining details, to record the progress of immigration, and the list goes on. Small illustrative vignettes often appear on maps, and sometimes maps are wholly pictorial, such as the ones produced by Charles Magnus. Today's collectors value maps for their artistic merit, as well as for what they can tell us about the physical development of America.


by Henry Voigt

Menus first began to appear in the late 1830s with the early arrival of hotels and restaurants and the growing popularity of service à la russe, where dishes were served in courses rather than put out on the table all at once. They were developed to fill the need of letting diners know what to expect whether ordering a la carte or simply looking over the set menu for a banquet.

Menus provide historical and cultural information about the manners, mores, and food habits of a given time and place. They originate from a wide variety of venues, ranging from restaurants and hotels to various private organizations, ships, trains, and military units. Some are beautifully crafted by leading stationers to celebrate a special event. Others merely illustrate the routines of everyday life. In either case, menus are designed to be pleasing.

As with other forms of ephemera, menus are one of the minor documents that we commonly use that are meant to be useful for only a short period of time. Even though they are occasionally saved for some personal reason, perhaps as a souvenir from a special event, they are frequently discarded by subsequent generations for whom they have no value or special meaning. As a result, old menus tend to be scarce. One aspect of their appeal lies within the notion of their improbable survival.


by Richard McKinstry

The most common title for an American newspaper published between 1704 and 1820 was Gazette, chosen by various printers 488 times. Close behind was Advertiser, used 440 times and reflecting the importance of people who paid the local printer for newspaper ads. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a newspaper from a magazine; however, many observers agree that a newspaper has a characteristic format, contains current news, is published more frequently than magazines, includes advertisements, and covers local events. Early American newspapers were both general in nature and targeted to a specific audience such as individuals engaged in mercantile trade. Because they were printed on better quality rag-based paper, newspapers issued before the Civil War are far more likely to survive today. Newspapers are invaluable for their immediacy, recording history as it happened.


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Paper dolls

by Richard McKinstry

Genealogical research reveals that the ancestor of today's paper dolls were pantins, first popular in France during the mid-1700s. Pantins were cardboard human figures whose limbs came detached, later to be fastened to the torso with string. Children and adults would then make them dance or otherwise perform. Louis XV banned them, according to his edict, because he was afraid that women, "under the lively influence of this continual jumping, were in danger of bringing children into the world with twisted limbs like the pantins." In time, paper dolls developed as a way for children to amuse themselves and for grownups to discover what the current fashion trends were. Many were handmade; others came from commercial printers. During America's Gilded Age, paper doll production markedly increased, and such firms as McLoughlin Brothers, Dennison Manufacturing Company, and F.A. Stokes Company created countless paper doll figures. In the late twentieth century, paper dolls were customarily made to portray public figures, especially movie and television stars and other people in public life.


Definition needed.


by Richard McKinstry

Building on earlier scientific advances, photography as we know it today progressed from the 1830s when, according to Journal des Artistes, Frenchman Louis Daguerre, was successful in creating an "image produced by the camera obscura, so that a portrait, a landscape or view of any kind, projected upon this plate by the ordinary camera obscura, leaves its impress there in light and shade." Thanks to photography, today we have images of former leaders from various eras, public figures of all kinds, the natural and built environment of years past, historical events, our families, and scores of other subjects. We collect photographs for what they show, for the messages they convey, and for their artistry. In America, we identify photography with such luminaries as Matthew Brady, George Eastman, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, and many others. We prize their work alongside anonymous photographers who have all contributed to the evolution of this important form of communication.


by Richard McKinstry

Postcards seem to be everywhere, and from their advent in the mid-1800s they have been prized by collectors. Who among us has not seen nineteenth and twentieth century scrapbooks filled with them. Some are comical in nature, others portray historical figures, some were issued for advertising purposes, others are important because they commemorate a special event. Valentines and New Year's greetings are postcards, too. Picture postcards owed their early artistry to the popular print, and as chromolithography and printing technology developed, they became more intricate and colorful. The best postcards of a century and more ago were produced in Germany and England, and notable artists, including the Czech Alphonse Mucha and American Charles Dana Gibson, found success as postcard designers.

Poster stamps

by Richard McKinstry

Poster stamps are just what their name suggests: posters in the form of postage stamps. Small, colorful, appealing to all, the first poster stamps to appear are generally credited to printers from Germany who called them reklame marken. In the United States, businesses first benefited from poster stamps, using them for advertising purposes. They were distributed by the thousands, cost little, and reached a wide audience easily. Subsequently, they were used to promote expositions, sporting events, charities, and other activities of public interest. By 1915, Americans were avid collectors, leading to the publication of The Poster Stamp Bulletin in Yonkers, New York. During World War II, civil organizations used poster stamps for patriotic purposes. Prominent artists lent their talents to designing poster stamps, including Edward Penfield and Maxfield Parrish, who both worked for the Funk & Wagnalls Company, and Rockwell Kent, who designed a poster stamp to commemorate the centennial of the state of Arkansas.


by Richard McKinstry

While words are predominant on broadsides, pictures are supreme on posters. Whoever coined the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" may not have been thinking of posters, but he or she still provided an apt description of them. Posters were found in antiquity when individuals in Pompeii and other cities and towns used them for such purposes as announcing combat by gladiators and local electioneering. When movable type was invented, posters began to be produced in quantity, and after chromolithography was invented, they were truly appreciated as fine art. As with many printed items, posters in the United States developed in tandem with two events, the burgeoning economy of post-Civil War times, which required vehicles for advertising, and the evolution of printing processes. Over the years posters have been used for propaganda purposes and have included many now famous depictions during wartime. In the United States, James Montgomery Flagg's work came to the fore during World War I.

View the article The Poster Wave Reaches America’s Shores


by Richard McKinstry

Programs, whether they are for concerts, plays, baseball games, or other events, are used for the occasion and then routinely discarded. Thankfully, many spectators and audience members retained them as keepsakes over the years, and we now have them to enjoy as collectors. Programs from years past tell us who the stars of sport were, who played what part when, and what music was in vogue at any particular moment. Since they customarily featured advertisements, programs also offer a glimpse into popular products of the day, their prices, and how retailers promoted their sale. An afternoon or evening's entertainment that first featured a meal would undoubtedly contain a menu as part of its program. Menus provoke thought about the kinds of food that was considered appropriate for the function, as well as change in diet over the years.

Rewards of merit

by Patricia Fenn & Alfred P. Malpa

"Rewards of merit, tokens of a pupil's progress and a teacher's esteem, have been an enduring aspect of American education for more than three hundred years. Most were small pieces of paper--printed or hand written documents which were the bearers of a potent message. A child went to school, did well, and was praised by the teacher. "Merit," "approbation," and "esteem"--these were the words which appear on countless of these certificates. The phrasing varies, but it was the message behind the words which mattered to 18th and 19th century children and their parents. Whether given for a month's, a week's, a day's, or even a single lesson's scholarly accomplishments, these small documents were valued highly, and retained proudly. That is why we can examine so many of them today." This description was taken from the Introduction of the book Rewards of Merit, written by Patricia Fenn & Alfred P. Malpa, and published by The Ephemera Society of America.

Seed company ads

by Pat Laffin

What better way to spend a sunny spring afternoon at the turn of the century, when all the morning chores had been completed, than to sit on the veranda and leaf through a multitude of seed catalogues? It was not uncommon to find four- or five-color plates of some species of flowering plant in each publication. Some of the most colorful and profusely illustrated lithographs appear in the catalogues such as John Lewis Childs of Floral Park, New York and Wm. Henry Maule of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Most of the larger seed companies did their own printing, while smaller companies employed others to do this work.

All seed companies did not sell seed packets, which were introduced by the Shakers. Many companies shipped seed in bulk or only sold plants and bulbs. For collectors, there are some companies that have beautiful 150-page catalogues, yet have no seed packets; while others have scores of packets, yet the catalogues (if any) are lacking in illustration and information. Jerome B. Rice, having a variety of beautiful packets, did not publish catalogues; while John Lewis Childs, with his catalogues containing numerous chromolithographed plates, did not print a large amount of packets. What few Childs’ packets remain, tend to be plain, with no illustrations. The same is true for Wm. Henry Maule’s company.

Aside from catalogues and packets, collectors can find an array of other advertising items, including yet not limited to posters, broadsides, displays, tradecards, postcards, blotters, billheads, advertising envelopes and booklets, and of course, the boxes with those fabulous interior labels that were designed to be given away after the packets were sold. Many schools gave these boxes to children for fund raising, to sell the packets, and keep thereafter. Others were used for counter-top sales in general stores.

NOTE TO SELF: Make slideshow of seed packets


by M. Stephen Miller

The Shakers--or the United Society of Believers--are a celibate, Christian society which has been living communally in America for some two hundred and twenty years. By the early nineteenth century they were living in eighteen relatively self-sufficient villages in New England, New York, Ohio, and Kentucky. Almost from the beginning, the Shakers developed industries to help support their communities; garden seeds in individual packages being the first of these. Soon the raising and processing of medicinal herbs became a major enterprise followed by the production of brooms and brushes, chairs and stools, dairy products, storage boxes, preserved foods, women's cloaks, and "fancy goods"--usually sewing items. Each of these industries required ephemera to support it--both in packaging and advertising. The seed industry, for example, needed small paper envelopes, boxes with labels to display them, receipts, billheads, invoices, catalogs, and broadsides for accounting and promotional purposes. In the 1860s, at just the New Lebanon, NY, community, as an example, more than two and a half million seed envelopes were printed. Today only a few hundred of these survive. The Shakers are a singular phenomenon in American culture; the longest lived of the many communitarian groups which once dotted the landscape. For anyone interested in their history, ephemera--even the minute fraction which has survived--provides a unique window through which to study their economic life. In most instances the products themselves have long since vanished and the ledgers, journals, and shop records are incomplete. Ephemera, alone, is the most tangible remnant of the various and invaluable Shaker industries.

Sheet music

by Richard McKinstry

Pictorial sheet music covers were uncommon until the mid-nineteenth century when three things happened: popular music grew to attract a wider audience, largely through the proliferation of music halls; lithography was invented and perfected; and there was an upsurge in the appreciation of typography. By the time the Victorian Age was in full swing, the sheet music of the day contained skillfully produced and attractive illustrations. Today, it is possible to study and appreciate any time period in American history by looking at a piece of illustrated sheet music. Music is reflective of its era, and illustrations mirror the time they were created. Compare, for example, a piece of sheet music for a tune by Stephen Foster with another by Scott Joplin. And, contrast the illustration depicting Little Red Riding Hood for "Little Red Riding Hood Galop," ca. 1870, with the one used for "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" popularized by the Ziegfeld Follies in 1919.


Definition needed.

Stocks and Bonds

Old stocks and bonds represent a near-limitless opportunity for collectors and hobbyists. Perhaps unique among ephemera categories, interest in old financial documents even carries its own special name. The term Scripophily emerged from a 1978 naming contest conducted by the Financial Times of London.

Here are some of the reasons for the broad appeal of vintage stocks and bonds to collectors:

Fine Graphics
Better bonds and stock certificates are true works of art. Careful design, typography, and engraved vignettes all combine to produce documents that can be framed and enjoyed strictly from the standpoint of their visual appeal. Also, because of the fine paper stock and the printing processes used to make them, most pieces of financial ephemera remain in very good physical condition long after their creation.

Interesting Companies, Industries and Locations
Stocks and bonds are living history. Collectors can track the origins and development of railroads, mining ventures and corporations of every description.

Notable Industrial Figures
A diligent search - along with considerable cost - will turn up bonds and stock certificates signed by famous people during the early years of financing their businesses. Hobbyists seek out documents carrying the signatures of such industrialists as Henry Ford, John D Rockefeller, Walt Disney and Thomas Edison.

Wide Availability
While the rare and valued items can be quite expensive, there is a huge supply of fine financial ephemera available for very modest prices . Bulk lots of 19th century stocks and bonds can be easily obtained for prices in the range of a dollar or two each.

There is a wealth of online information and resources available including organizations, books, and websites. Simply start your search with "Scripophily" and get carried into an interesting universe.


Definition needed.


Definition needed.

Trade cards

by Ben Crane

Trade cards evolved from cards of the late 1700s used by tradesmen to advertise their services. Although examples from the early 1800s exist, it was not until the spread of color lithography in the 1870s that trade cards became plentiful. By the 1880s, trade cards had become a major way of advertising America's goods and services, and a trip to the store usually brought back some of these attractive, brightly colored cards to be pasted into a scrapbook. The popularity of trade cards peaked around 1890, and then almost completely faded by the early 1900s when other forms of advertising in color, such as magazines, became more cost effective. Although trade card collecting began over 100 years ago, today's strong interest in trade cards began relatively recently. Trade cards that were bought for ten cents thirty years ago frequently bring ten dollars or more in today's market--and some have even sold for over a thousand dollars.

Be sure to view the online exhibitions Dolls as Advertising Gimmicks and Japanesque Trade Cards.

Trade catalogs

by Richard McKinstry

In his Guide to American Trade Catalogs, Lawrence Romaine discusses the usefulness of trade catalogs to researchers who were trying to understand our country's past: "Manuscript material and printed reports are indispensable, " he wrote, "but the catalogs that actually sold the nation the inventions and improvements are the backbone of business history." In addition, individuals interested in the appearance and cost of household goods of years past, architectural details, old hand tools, antique medical instruments, agricultural implements, the development of printing technology, and a host of other topics would do well to collect and study trade catalogs. Although they were originally intended as a short-lived merchandising tool, trade catalogs are now an important source of delight and information about the life of our forebears. Common forms are the mail-order catalog, catalogs that offered premiums to their readers, specialized catalogs geared to specific events like world's fairs, and catalogs issued "for the trade only."


by Richard McKinstry

We identify St. Nicholas with Christmas, St. Patrick is recognized by all who are or who would like to be Irish, and we are forever grateful to St. Valentine for being the patron saint of lovers. To celebrate St. Valentine's day our colonial ancestors made their own valentine cards, complete with illustrations and original verses. Early valentines were done in watercolor or pen and ink; they often included cutouts; and rebuses, acrostics, and other kinds of puzzles were commonplace. Absent envelopes, these valentines were folded, sealed with wax, and often hand delivered. As printing developed and as America's postal system matured, valentines became an accepted way to convey one's love. During the late nineteenth century companies headed by McLoughlin Brothers, Louis Prang, Charles Magnus, and others owed much of their prominence and success to their production of valentine cards. To learn more, read "Valentines — The Language of Love" by Nancy Rosin

NOTE TO SELF: Fix formating on linked article

Victorian Scraps

By strict definition, a die cut paper item simply means that the finished shape was stamped out of a printed sheet using a steel-rule die. The process is much like a cookie-cutter that makes shaped cookies out of a sheet of dough. Some ephemera items found in die cut shapes include greeting cards and trade cards.

But what hobbyists usually intend when referring to a "die cut" is a particular category of ephemera that was originally called "scrap"; the "die cut" adjective was added in recent years.

Victorian-era scrap were colorful small paper figures including people, flowers, animals, plants. ships and almost anything else you could imagine. Scrap became popular at about the time stone lithography color printing came into vogue in the 19th century. Scrap rarely carried advertising and were typically purchased at stationary and gift retailers. Continuing the interesting word development, what we today call a "scrapbook" originated in Victorian times when people pasted their scrap in plain paper books for safekeeping and easy viewing.

Another interesting characteristic of Victorian era scrap is that it came on sheets that combined a group of related individual scrap items. The buyer or user needed to tear apart the individual scrap items for mounting in their books. Today, original sheets of un-separated scrap are quite rare and prized by collectors. See image of minstrel band musicians in a vintage sheet of un-separated scrap.

For many examples of die cut scrap, here are Google image links for Victorian Scrap and Victorian Scrapbooks.

Watch papers

by Richard McKinstry

Watch papers are small printed round paper inserts that were placed in pocket watches to protect their inner workings from dust. They were printed on one side with the names and addresses of the watchmaker or fixer, and a manufacturing or repair date was often handwritten on the paper. Some bore intricate illustrations, often showing allegorical figures and even timepieces. Despite their importance as a practical complement to watches and examples of printing art, a modern Webster's dictionary slights them, proclaiming that a watch paper is "an old-fashioned ornament for the inside of a watchcase made of paper fancifully cut or printed."

Images and text below provided by Ron Schieber

Size of the watch papers shown is approximately 2 inches in diameter. Papers/Labels are hand dated about 50% of the time and are often found with considerable ageing and wear. I have yet to see one with a printer's I.D. The first pocket watches originated in 16th Century Tudor England. The first reliable time piece for ocean navigation was developed for Queen Anne in the 1700s by John Harrison. At that time pocket watches were a prestigious item, and at one time in America they were taxed by some state governments. Fourteen carat solid gold was taxed at a higher rate. The first wristwatch was developed by Patek Philippe in the 19th Century (1868). Wristwatches were considered a ladies item until World War I, when soldiers began using them. For more clock, pocket and wrist watch information check Wikipedia.

    The Ephemera Society of America is a member of The Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS). 2013 Ephemera Society of America.    GloryHorse