Before you discard any paper items, take a second look. They may be valuable. Paper collectibles have become one of the most popular fields in the world of antiques.
The list of paper items sought by traders and collectors is almost endless. It includes posters, manuscripts, paper dolls, timetables, broadsides, valentines, post cards, letterheads, trade cards, almanacs, and various kinds of books. All of these items are referred to as "ephemera." The term encompasses any printed or handwritten items that were meant to be used once and thrown away.
Printed ephemera can be traced as far back as Gutenberg's invention of movable type. Some of the paper items in highest demand were produced by famous printers. Currier and Ives, two of the best and most prolific lithographers of the 19th century, produced thousands of hand colored lithographs that portrayed the American lifestyle.
Some of the most sought after Currier and Ives items are their more than 100 trade cards, some of which bring prices of $65 or more. Currier and Ives set printing trends in their time, and hundreds of large and small printers produced literally thousands of colored trade cards.
A genuine trade card is one that had been produced for a particular product such as a stove. These cards pictured the actual stove, the model number, etc. Each distributor for a stove company had his name imprinted on the card for advertising. Trade cards seem to be readily available from most ephemera (paper) dealers. They range in price from 50 cents to $10.
The most sought after and rarest cards are clipper ship cards. They spanned more than 30 years of the great ships, from the 1840s to the 1870s. These cards command the highest prices of all, from $100 and up.
Several manufacturers had large lithographs designed to advertise their products. These are a form of ephemera now in great demand, since they didn't last long especially when nailed to the side of a building.
Broadsides are usually thought of as being printed on one side and used for display purposes for an announcement, sale, auction, or election. Throughout history the broadside has revealed important social information that aids the historian in research.
Ephemera items cover thousands of different areas and subjects that represent every kind of lifestyle in the social history of mankind. This is the main interest which attracts the collector as well as the dealer, for there is no telling where and what will turn up at any one time.
Very early evidence of ephemera collecting is shown through two pioneers: Bella C. Landauer and Jefferson R. Burdick. Both were founders of major collections of ephemera now in the New York Historical Society and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
One of the earliest reference books, "Early American Trade Cards form the collection of Bella C. Landauer," was published in 1927. This gave collectors reason to build in their own areas. The J.R. Burdick 1953 "American Card Catalog" supplied a great deal of information and was the first price guide to buying and selling. It created a much broader spectrum of the trade card market for both collector and dealer.
Since that period other ephemerists have published a number of guide and reference books on subjects ranging from valentines to posters and post cards. These catalogs and book served to strengthen interest in paper collectibles. Paper antique shows are springing up all over the country.
The first American Conference and Fair, Ephemera USA 1, also sponsored by Sotheby Parke Bernet, will be held at the Harrison Inn, Southbury, Conn., on May 9, 10, and 11. There will be more than 60 participating dealers at the event, a production of Morgenstein Enterprises Ltd. An estimated 100,000 pieces of ephemera will be offered by dealers from the US and England.
One must keep in mind that all ephemera can be of any age. In other words, ticket stubs to the 1979 World Series or Super Bowl are now pieces of ephemera. Look closely before you throw anything away.