What Is Ephemera?

What Is Ephemera?
Don’t we all have that special box, packed away somewhere safe in our closets? You know the one with the old football game ticket you saved when you were in high school? A favorite movie stub, receipt for your wedding dress? Some special treasured memento that bring us back to a time and place of a memory not forgotten but cherished forever.

We often save a special box or album filled with old letters, postcards of favorite trips, tickets, receipts, brochures, and other special cards and pieces of paper that we just could not throw away.

Those things that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away, and seem to keep forever. That is what we collectors call Ephemera. Pronounced e-PHEMM-era and derived from the Greek term ephemeros, or for the day. Webster’s Dictionary defines ephemera as 1: something of no lasting significance usually used in plural. (Yes, definitely in plural). 2: paper items (as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles.

A solid definition of the field has been argued among collectors for years with no clear decision. Purists define it as the collection of two dimensional paper articles, either handwritten or printed, such as stamps, post cards, ticket stubs, receipts, and programs. Others include things such as scout pins, campaign badges and even egg cartons under the umbrella of the term. So, clinging to that shoe box on the top shelve makes you a collector of sorts instead of a run of the mill pack rat.

But why do we collect ephemera? Why do we treasure these precious pieces of paper? Well they mean something very special in our hearts and minds to us, and they remind us of a cherished memory of days gone by.

Can you imagine that many of these precious receipts and other ephemera that we have saved from generation to generation have managed to show up in museums, and been sold off to sellers as priceless artifacts and treasures.

But the commonness of man, and his devotion to the steady march forward in time, is documented in the Unremarkable, a program from a first grade play, the program to a high school graduation, a post card from a honeymoon in Hawaii and, in my case, the stub from the parking lot the day my son was born. Our lives and simple joys are captured and preserved in these special pieces of ephemera. For the collectors, they are able to see our culture and history and ephemera comes alive with a voice telling us what was and when and it fascinates us. Yet had we never saved those little tickets, brochures, and special letters, and receipts, we would never have told that story about that time and place in our culture and history.

Alana Morgaine

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