Historical Sketch of the Ephemera Society

It 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 compelling reasons.

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.]

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America