Historical Sketch of the Ephemera Society
was very good to hear from Harold Hanson, editor and publisher of
Northeast Journal of Antiques & Art, offering the Ephemera
Society space in the Journal for a regular monthly column.
I hope that it will prove to be of interest, and Harold, many thanks
for this opportunity and your generosity. In this first column,
I would like to sketch out the history and activities of our organization.
A small band of collectors who were interested in promoting the
collecting, study, and preservation of ephemera established the
Ephemera Society in 1980. Early on, the society looked forward to
serving as a link between and among collectors, encouraging the
ever-growing interest in all aspects of ephemera; indeed, our activities
during the last 20 years have been focused on these tasks. We were
not the first organization devoted to ephemera, though. Five years
earlier, in 1975, Maurice Rickards and his associates in England
established the Ephemera Society of the United Kingdom. Today, there
are also societies in Canada, Austria, and Australia.
Shortly after we formed, we received our tax-exempt status as an
educational organization. With this, the society embarked upon a
publishing program to educate its members and the general public
about the myriad forms of ephemeral material. Our first publication
was Ephemera News. Issue number one came out in the Summer
of 1981, and it continues its unbroken publication run with the
Fall 1999 issue, volume 18, number 1, just mailed to members. Ephemera
News regularly features articles, member profiles, a calendar
of events appealing to ephemerists, a current news column, auction
notes and comments, ads, a section devoted to research questions,
and new book announcements.
We also issue Ephemera Journal, a publication devoted solely
to illustrated scholarly articles of some length on many different
topics. To date, the society has issued eight Journals, and
recent article titles include "The Heritage of Victorian Progress:
American Advertising in Historical Perspective;" "The Values of
Industrial Society as Expressed by Board and Card Games;" "Consuming
Passions: Scrapbooks and American Play;" "Automobile Advertisements
and the Changing Role of Women, 1905-1929;" and "Benjamin Franklin's
Job Printing." Journal authors have included faculty and staff from
Brown University, the American Antiquarian Society, Library Company
of Philadelphia, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, William L. Clements
Library, and other distinguished institutions.
In 1994, the Ephemera Society published a book entitled, Rewards
of Merit: Tokens of a Child's Progress and a Teacher's Esteem as
an Enduring Aspect of American Religious and Secular Education,
by Patricia Fenn and Alfred P. Malpa. In hard cover, over 200 pages
long, and profusely illustrated with hundreds of images, this volume
can be appreciated on a number of levels. Individuals interested
in the history of education and religion in the United States, the
artistry of printing and calligraphy, and American social life and
customs, would be drawn to this volume for different, but equally
Not all of our energies have been given over to publications, though.
The society has long been involved in staging ephemera fairs where
collectors and dealers might enhance their respective collections.
Early in our existence, we sponsored a number of modest regional
shows, and more recently we have focused our energies on a single
large event, now held every March in Old Greenwich, Connecticut,
where next year we will be hosting Ephemera 20, March 3-5. Simultaneous
with the annual fair, the Ephemera Society schedules a conference
where as many as seven papers on a variety of topics are delivered.
There have also been five special symposiums over the years, held
at such places as Colonial Williamsburg, Winterthur Museum, and
the American Antiquarian Society. Papers presented at the symposiums
have later appeared in Ephemera Journal.
Other membership activities have included a trip to London, termed
the "Piccadilly Special" to join our English counterparts at one
of their meetings; a conservation workshop, a hands-on seminar on
the proper techniques for the care, cleaning, repairing, and restoration
of ephemera; silent auctions to raise funds for society programs;
and local meetings.
The society has grown in its twenty years to number approximately
1,000 members, and the annual fair/conference has come to represent
the finest event of its kind in the United States. Members are justifiably
proud of the accomplishments of the society, and we look forward
to the coming years with great anticipation.
E. Richard McKinstry
[This article originally appeared in the Northeast
Journal of Antiques & Art.]