What Is Ephemera? Paper By Another Name

Vintage Halloween Postcard

Ephemera is a beautiful word for what some people depending on who you ask would call plain old paper.  According to Webster’s dictionary, ephemera is defined as “something of no lasting significance” or “collectibles (as posters, broadsides, and tickets) not intended to have lasting value”.  Since paper items are easily torn, mangled and susceptible to sun and humidity they don’t often survive the ravages of time.  Yet exactly some of those authentic old papers are bringing in big prices on Ebay and other similar auction sites.  Take Barnum & Bailey original posters for example, (you know the colorful posters that the company would post on fences and walls to let townspeople know that the circus was coming into town) a c.1898 Barnum & Bailey Coney Island poster sold for $700.00 on Ebay.

And  the word ephemera has extended itself to include all manner of paper items including:  postcards, vintage costume jewelry advertisements, fashion ads,  famous concert and opera tickets, sheet music and turn-of-the-century stock certificates which are all highly collectible.  A Clapsaddle Halloween postcard depicting a young African-american boy holding a pumpkin sold for $290.00 and seven 1946-1952 Miriam Haskell costume jewelry ads sold for $122.50 on Ebay.

If you are interested in this type of collecting or you just need this type of material for your altered art or digital scrapbooking projects, you  can search completed listings on Ebay for these items and find out the going current prices.  In fact, there are even greater valuations for paper items especially if you were related to some historical person or someone famous and can prove the provenance, the history of ownership of a valued object or work, of the item.  Television shows like “The Antique Roadshow” and others often feature great stories about people finding valuable paper treasures in a dumpster or at a garage sale for a few dollars.  While these stories are more the exception rather than the rule, it pays to think twice about throwing out those circa 1950s fashion magazines or any other paper item you might find when cleaning out the garage.

You will get better prices if the condition of the item is “like new” although some yellowing is acceptable; however, even greater damage, tears or spotting are acceptable to some altered art designers it just depends what the final use of the paper will be.

You could find a local dealer who might give you a fair price for the item or try selling it on Ebay yourself.  It just might be worth your while and put a little extra paper, the green kind, in your pocket!


Image Credit: Flickr by riptheskull

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