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Caring for Your Vintage Paper/Ephemera Collection

Writer, poet, and blogger. I enjoy writing about all things vintage, gardening, cooking, working from home, poetry, books, and more.

Vintage Shoes Ephemera

Vintage Shoes Ephemera

Caring for Vintage Paper

Do you love looking through boxes of old paper, magazines, and vintage ephemera at garage sales, swap meets, and flea markets?

Scraps of paper and other ephemera tell the history of our past.

There are lots of old paper to peruse at every garage sale, online auction site, thrift store, or flea market at every garage sale, online auction site, thrift store, or flea market.

Railroad posters, vintage magazines, antique calendars, holiday postcards, paper dolls, stock certificates, and familiar magazine advertisements. Also, calling and business cards, sheet music, children's books, exciting paper collectibles including die-cuts, menus, bookplates, and gummed Christmas and holiday seals.

Some collectors look for specific holidays trendy are Halloween and Christmas. Some are drawn to the history of a specific era.

Artists generally use the less expensive lots of ephemera for collage, assemblage, and mixed media projects, and it has little value except the artist's creative vision.

Generally speaking, each type of paper collectible is graded in its way, but you might see the following ephemera grading scale related to condition:

  • Mint
  • Fine
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Poor

What is Ephemera?

Think of all of the paper bits and pieces you use everyday. These items weren't meant to be collected or saved but they are a fascinating glimpse into history. Some examples of paper ephemera: ticket or concert stubs, dance books, bridge tallies, trade cards, postcards, ledgers or farm journals, diaries, used checks, paper menus, matchbooks, magazines, holy cards, travel ads, handbills, pamphlets, deeds, greeting cards, children's books, puzzles...the list is endless.

Vintage Valentine

Vintage Valentine

Vintage Valentine

Urban Couple

Archival Envelopes and Acid-free Boxes

  • Look for clear archival envelopes or sleeves that will prevent further damage and let you view your piece easily. I found these work perfectly to keep a postcard collection from damage. Look for acid-free or archival in any piece of ephemera storage.
  • Use acid-free boxes and storage boxes on shelves that allow for air circulation.
  • Use a soft clean brush to clean your ephemera before storage.

History Lessons

Our Connection to history

Because I collect vintage postcards I am not only drawn to the front image but also the text on the back of the card. On one Halloween postcard I bought recently, the message was from a young child to her father, a doctor on a ship in 1919.

I wondered who this doctor was and why he was on a ship docked in New York City harbor. Doing some light research led me to the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic (The Great Pandemic) and what was going on in America at that time. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services during the week the postcard was written, the week of November 1st, there was a total of 12,357 influenza related deaths in New York City alone.

Ephemera can also give us a taste of the language of the era. For example, in the Halloween postcard, the young child told her father that the pumpkins looked like they were running on the links. A term for a golf course back in 1919 but modern readers have quite a different definition for links today.

When we study history we learn about what happened in our country and our world at a certain time, ephemera brings us closer to people's intimate details about their lives. As a lover of history and vintage I am fascinated with these glimpses. As a writer these details inspire poems, essays, short stories and novels.

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Real picture postcards including this one of an urban couple can give you details about the era, their station in life, the clothing, shoes and even the way they are posed can provide information.

Journals either personal or store journals can dispense valuable particulars about a part of the country or world we can't possibly learn from a history book.

Ephemera for Collage

Many artists use ephemera for a collage piece or to inspire their mixed media art.

For example I have used inexpensive pieces of ephemera, including vintage postage stamps, ticket stubs and copies of photographs and Mod Podge to collage a heavy paperboard box for my desk. The box holds stamps. It's an inexpensive, fun craft project to create a useful and one of a kind container.

Where should I store my ephemera?

Keep paper and ephemera in a clean, dry space stored in archival-quality products. Moisture, time and light destroy paper and ephemera. Most paper conservators recommend wearing white cotton cloves to avoid transferring the natural oils from your skin to the paper. If you plan on using your ephemera for a collage project this would probably not be necessary.

What destroys paper?

Allow many of these enemies are hard to prevent if you have an especially valuable piece of ephemera avoid the following:

  • Dust
  • Pollution
  • Insects and Rodents
  • Eating or Drinking around your collection
  • Handling without white cotton gloves

And seek help from an archivist if your intent is to preserve the ephemera for future generations.

Collecting Paper

Lovers of paper and paper ephemera are drawn to visually appealing graphics, design and their favorite illustrators. But keeping this collectible paper from damage is an important part of saving and protecting the value of your collectible.

Join The Ephemera Society of America to learn more about the history of ephemera.

Free Ephemera for Art Projects

What's My Ephemera Worth?

Research your particular paper collectible in reference books and price guides. These will usually provide more indepth caring instructions and give you a general idea what a collector would pay for your ephemera. But like all collectibles collect what you love because worth changes and what is popular and collectible today might not be in the future.

Generally speaking the rarer paper items will bring more money but condition plays a big part of the price. If you have a rare item but the condition is not good don't expect to receive a high price.

Buying Ephemera

Before purchasing ephemera look for signs of damage including foxing, creases, small tears, dirt or water damage. Usually these pieces aren't worth buying as further damage will happen. Most paper collectors will use a magnifying glass and a strong light before purchasing an expensive piece of ephemera. Use resource books to avoid purchasing reproductions, especially on expensive or rare pieces of ephemera. Use white cotton gloves to handle ephemera to avoid damage to the piece from the natural oils in your hands.

If you plan on framing your ephemera the mat and backing need to be acid free. A professional framer will be able to offer advice on how to properly store, mat and frame your ephemera collection.

There are books available on the proper storage techniques for each type of ephemera. But as a general rule light, moisture and temperature need to be monitored carefully. Insects, rodents and dirty hands will also damage ephemera.

Ephemera Collections

Vintage Wine List

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Patricia Biro

Do you collect or use ephemera in collage art?

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on November 16, 2016:

I collect vintage valentines, though I haven't added to my collection in years. There's a group for that on Facebook and I enjoy seeing all the lovely old ones there. In February, I get mine out to display each year.

editionh on September 03, 2013:

I fear I collect paper ephemera :) , I haven't used it in collage yet.

AstroGremlin on August 30, 2012:

Terrific lens. And thanks for blessing mine!

pawpaw911 on April 30, 2012:

I have a small collection of Ephemera. I just enjoy certain old paper things.

John Dyhouse from UK on April 19, 2012:

I collect lots of paper and ephemera for my collage art, storage is one of my biggest problems. Interesting and informative lens.

NC Shepherd on April 17, 2012:

I love vintage items, but I don't have space to collect any. I only keep what I have from my family.

Natalie W Schorr on April 04, 2012:

I love paper; I have boxes of vintage wallpapers!

Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on March 26, 2012:

I love paper! I always check out the paper items in the thrift store or garage sale.

Brandi from Maryland on March 19, 2012:

I love pages from old books, postcards and sheet music. I don't currently have much old paper, but it's nice to know how to properly store what I do have! :)

Gayle Dowell from Kansas on February 18, 2012:

I collect paper too. Mainly to use in collage work and other art. Great lens!

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on February 05, 2012:

I love paper too and collect books, postcards, greeting cards, etc., but don't store it properly after reading this! Thanks for the advice.

miaponzo on January 24, 2012:

I had never heard of ephemera before!!!

Laraine Sims from Lake Country, B.C. on December 21, 2011:

Very interesting! I have quite a bit of ephemera but I fear it is not in the best condition. I have not tried to sell any. Perhaps it would be good for collage art. Thank you for sharing this information.

Gayle Dowell from Kansas on December 10, 2011:

I collect and I use ephemera for collage art along with decorative papers.

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