Report on Ephemera 20

Question: What does the Ephemera Society of America have in common with the Montclair Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Elvehjem Museum of Art, and the Musée Carnavalet, in Paris? Answer: All of us have taken part in an exhibition on the Exposition Universelle, more familiarly called the Paris World's Fair of 1900. The Ephemera Society's exhibition was at Ephemera 20 on March 4 and 5, 2000 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. The museum exhibit, organized in Montclair, New Jersey, is a traveling show scheduled for five different venues before ending its run later this year.

The traveling exhibit highlights the fine and decorative arts and paintings associated with the Paris fair, while, as might be imagined, the society's display focused on ephemera generated for the exposition. Our exhibit primarily included poster stamps depicting a variety of fair scenes and such products as tea, watches, and sewing machines sold at the fair. It is said that 4,000 poster stamps were created for the Paris World's Fair. In addition, the society's show featured a lively selection of postcards, tickets, brochures, playing cards, billheads, advertisements, and maps.

The society's exhibition was just one part of Ephemera 20. Over 70 dealers had reserved booths, and we had record attendance for our two-day show. Our dealers came from as far away as Pine Grove, California, and from as close as Westport, Connecticut. As well, there was an international contingent represented by Canadian and English vendors.

The first day of the show recorded a 20% increase in attendance over the first day of 1999, and more than 125 Ephemera Society members took advantage of an early admission hour before the gates were opened to the general public. Many customers remarked about how pleased they were with the opportunities they were given to add to their collections.

Saturday evening the society held its banquet, a splendid buffet at Condés Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency. Everyone who came received a commemorative mug and button. In addition to a presentation by our banquet speaker, Peter Jackson, who talked about his collection of ephemera on London, England, the society gave its Maurice Rickards Award, bestowed on individuals who have made important contributions to the field of ephemera. Maurice Rickards was one of the founders of the Ephemera Society of the UK and is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of both the American and Canadian ephemera societies.

This year's recipient was Marcus A. McCorison, longtime head of the American Antiquarian Society and since 1992 retired. During his distinguished career, Mark served on many boards and held many impressive fellowships and affiliations. One of his greatest contributions at the antiquarian society was his development of its library's collections, including its holdings of ephemeral items. By the time he retired, Mark had acquired nearly 115,000 items, ranging from a single broadside to voluminous runs of newspaper files.

Coincidentally, in 1980, the year that the American ephemera society was established, Mark received the Samuel Pepys Award from the English ephemera society for his outstanding work in the collecting and study of ephemera.

Georgia Barnhill, the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts at the American Antiquarian Society, spoke at the banquet about her years working with Mark. She reminisced about his involvement in collecting, his scholarship, and his love of the printed word. She said: "Mark understood that ephemera documented everyday life effectively, even before the field became defined."

After the general membership meeting on Sunday, society members treated themselves to a second exhibition, a show made up exclusively of Ephemera Society memorabilia, dating from 1980 to just a few years ago. On display were posters, conference programs, early issues of Ephemera News, flyers, our first membership directory, and a floor plan showing where dealers were located at Ephemera 1. It is gratifying to note that at least six dealers from our first show were also with us at Ephemera 20.

Next year we have scheduled Ephemera 21 from March 16-18, 2001. Friday the 16th features most of our conference speakers, and on Saturday and Sunday, the 17th and 18th, is our fair. We will return to the Hyatt Regency on Old Greenwich, Connecticut. See you there!

E. Richard McKinstry

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

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America