Ephemera is endlessly fascinating to Diane De Blois of aGatherin’ located in West Sand Lake, NY (ABAA), who is also a founding member of the Ephemera Society of America and editor of its journal. She notes that this category of collectible is more time consuming than books because “we seldom get the same thing twice. It takes time to catalog, describe and price. These items are often fragile and need more specialized care and handling.”
Asked about areas of growing interest she names rare and scarce posters, trade cards, and notes chromoliths are still climbing in value. Of course there’s still interest in the standbys like California, the Gold Rush and the Civil War, adding “there’s another postcard revival brewing.” Personally she finds letters from ordinary people with details of everyday life fascinating.
“Today we’re seeing younger people. It used to be that most of the interest came from those over 50. Now more collectors are in their 30s and 40s. Younger people are often drawn to some aspect of their own life or childhood. There’s increased interest in the ephemera of the American road, early camping, national parks, trailers, tourist brochures.
As might be expected she’s keen on the benefits of the Ephemera Society of America, calling it an umbrella organization with a strong on-line presence including a sprawling web site, augmented with Facebook and Twitter.
For an annual fee of $50 members receive a full color journal three times a year, twelve email newsletters, and a useful physical directory of members and what they collect. Members also get early entrance to the Society’s annual show and conference held each March in Greenwich, Conn.
The ESA site is certainly one of the more interesting and diverse in the world of collectibles. It includes links to members and their web sites (see the end of this piece for links and details), also articles, blogs, exhibits, and quite a bit of bibliography. Among the more unusual features are a mentoring program and the Philip Jones Fellowship for travel and study related to ephemera, which is now accepting applications for 2012.
“ESA membership fluctuates but it’s presently around 750,” says Dr. Arthur H. Groten, the organization’s president. Groten has been a collector 60 years (“I started when I was 8”). His personal interests include stamps, postal history, books and now ephemera. “I collect things that I like and find visually appealing.” He observes that more museums, schools and institutions are getting interested in ephemera. For example on a recent visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland “90% of what I saw on display was ephemera.”
As far as trends go Groten thinks collecting areas like Disney and Coca Cola seem to have reached their peak, but other things, especially mid-20th century nostalgia in all of its incarnations, World’s Fairs, trade cards are growing in interest. He sees a resurgence of interest in pull tabs and moveables, be they popular contemporary pop up books like the work of Robert Sabuda or antique advertising pieces with multi-dimensional parts.
“It’s a field that is welcoming to younger collectors. The internet has made it more accessible, to be able to see and find things that otherwise don’t show up. Often they are things that are found in the street from the rock and roll band posters of the 60s to a recent serious collection of handbills and flyers found in NYC directly after 9/11.
“People find the Ephemera Society of America on the internet or by word of mouth,” he continues. “We’re a good place for people looking for the next step: they’ve found something that fascinates them and now they’re ready to get organized and do the research and study. Ephemera is significant history; it’s the story of you and me. It’s the story of every day life.”