What is ephemera?
e·phem·er·a : virtually anything printed on paper or card intended for one-time or short-term use.
Ephemera in the collecting sense has come to mean anything written or printed that should have been thrown away or destroyed but has somehow, against all odds, survived to this day.
Ephemera includes everything from legal documents to cigar labels, advertising posters and showcards, luggage labels, theatre bills and programmes, rail tickets and bank cheques, recipe booklets and travel guide brochures, packets and paper bags. And virtually everything else in between.
You've held many items of future ephemera in your hands without giving it a thought - bus tickets, till receipts, door-drop leaflets, items received in the post. All of which you've swiftly put into the bin. Imagine that special offer from Readers Digest one hundred years on!
For collectors, enthusiasts and those who simply like to know more about our past, these 'minor transient documents' offer not just a unique glimpse into how we used to live and work, but also chronicle such areas as changes in design, style, layout and typography. And there is still a surprisingly large quantity of items around.
What to collect? Some collect items referring to famous personalities. Nelson ephemera is highly sought after, for instance, with collectors snapping up everything from articles owned and letters signed by the Admiral, through to prints, books and articles. Others collect items as diverse as billheads, advertising showcards, First World War correspondence from the trenches, Xmas cracker box labels, Victorian scrapbooks and more.
There are no rules. You collect what takes your fancy. And why not? After all, once you have three 19th century soap inserts you have a collection - and one that you can build on virtually for ever.
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