What is Ephemera?

What exactly is Ephemera?  Why collect it and what can we learn from it?  This is the story of the little pieces of paper that fly in and out of your life on a daily basis.  Right now you are probably surrounded by it!

‘Ephemera’ is a word that I’m likely to be using a lot on this blog so I feel it deserves an introduction followed by an explanation about why I have this little obsession.

The word has Greek origins and it means “anything short lived or ephemeral”.  By that definition arguably human beings are themselves ephemera, as we are certainly ephemeral, but in the collecting world it usually refers to printed ephemera.

Ephemera is all around you. The receipts and coffee cards in your wallet are ephemera.  Also the pile of bills and pamphlets in your letterbox, the parking ticket you received last week and the ticket stub for the last film you saw.  The work Christmas party invitation you threw out or even the sick bag you nearly threw up into during your last flight.  These items may seem ordinary and boring, but they preserve important human stories.  They show how people lived their lives, how they communicated and what was important to them.

One thing I love about ephemera is it was never meant to survive so can be a very honest historical record.  The kinds of ephemera I collect include postcards, greeting cards, receipts, tickets, menus and much more.  My photograph and letter collections might also be considered by some to be ephemera.  Over the upcoming months I will share many examples from my personal archive.

Another reason that I find collecting ephemera so exciting is that there are no rules, no catalogs and no list of what exists and what does not.  An ephemera collector is often forging their own path; they are often the one writing the guidebook.

So here is a challenge for you.  Have a look around wherever you are sitting.  How much ephemera is within reaching distance from you right now?

© Lemuel Lyes

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