Institutional Members

Although most members of the Ephemera Society carry individual or family memberships, we also have about 60 institutions that are on the rolls. Five are from other countries, including the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, England; the Metropolitan Toronto Library in Canada; the National Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa, Canada; St. Bride Printing Library in London; and the State Library of New South Wales, Australia. Most of the American institutions are historical agencies or colleges and universities.

As well, there are institutions whose purposes, at least on the surface, belie an interest in ephemera. Two are located in Delaware, and both trace their beginnings back to the du Pont family.

Hagley Museum, set amid more than 230 acres of trees and fields, is located along the Brandywine River on the site of the first du Pont powder works. Exhibits and working models at Hagley highlight the history of the economic and technological expansion of the Brandywine region and nation. Visitors tour Blacksmith Hill to see a workers' community and "Eleutherian Mills" to see the du Pont family home. In addition, the Hagley site is interpreted through the powder yards, millraces, gardens, machine shop, and other buildings and displays.

But ephemera? Yes! The Hagley Library has a treasure-trove of ephemera assembled to document the history of American business, technology, and consumerism. Its growing trade card collection, numbering about 3,500, shows business transactions of all kinds; its postcards illustrate mills, factories, and railroad stations; and its letterheads and billheads document hardware stores.

Posters cover a variety of topics, including safety in the workplace, employee motivation, and the many expositions that have occurred over time. The bulk of Hagley's collection of photographs came from the Dupont company's textile information office, and many images show the latest fashions of the day. Trade catalogs number in the thousands and emphasize the development of American technology and mechanization.

In such a collection it might seem strange to find paper dolls. But, they are here, especially for the 1950s, as part of the Miss America section of the Bancroft Mills Co. collection. The company co-sponsored the Miss America Pageant, and its contract stipulated that the winner had to wear clothes made from Bancroft manufactured fabric. Paper dolls were then created for advertising purposes, and Hagley has a set of them.

Other forms of paper ephemera at Hagley include salesperson's samples, poster stamps, and napkins bearing the names of businesses.

Just three miles away is another institutional member of the Ephemera Society. The H.F du Pont Winterthur Museum, known as an historic house museum and naturalistic garden, was established by its namesake and opened to the public in 1951. Its collections of decorative arts made and used in America from 1640-1860 and outdoor flora are acknowledged to be the best of their kind anywhere in the country. Two hundred thousand visitors come to Winterthur each year to enjoy the museum’s period room displays and plantings.

Winterthur, too, features an extensive collection of paper ephemera. Its holdings have been put together to further the study of domestic life and art in America from colonial times into the 20th century.

The collection features the kind of ephemera that Hagley has, but it is collected for different purposes. Trade cards, for instance, depict commodities used in a home, musical instruments, clothing, and food. Posters and broadsides, likewise, advertise household goods. A particular strength of Winterthur' growing poster stamp collection shows early 20th century advertisements for footwear. Illustrated billheads and letterheads are particularly valuable for their vignettes of products.

Printing as an art form is represented at Winterthur by a collection of items from the shop of Charles Magnus. The Magnus collection includes patriotic envelopes, city views, board games, and stationery.

The trade catalog collection at Winterthur serves as a surrogate museum of objects used in everyday life in America a century and more ago. Anyone interested in the design and construction of furniture, for example, can rely on trade catalogs as a source since the artifacts they represent have not often survived the years. Nineteenth and early 20th century photographs show architectural detail, period costume and dress, and scenes associated with the Shaker religious sect.

These two institutions and their printed ephemera collections are open to the general public year round. Hagley can be contacted at 302-658-2400 and its Web site is at Winterthur’s phone number is 302-888-4600, and its Website is at As they share an interest in ephemera, they also hope that their collections are used profitably. To this end, Hagley and Winterthur have established a joint fellowship program. For particulars, contact either institution.

E. Richard McKinstry

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

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America