Some guidance for would-be collectors of Ephemera.
I doubt that anyone would have thrown away items that are on the American list of Ephemera and, anyway, one person’s junk is another person’s collection – so to speak!
Junk? There are collections worth considerable sums that are specialist or those that have rare items. A number of people of considerable substance who have made their pile in business own such collections. Institutions that are increasingly finding ephemera collections to be a resource overhead are at the same time increasingly realising the potential of these collections for future generations interested in social history, design and etc and ideal for access through electronic medium. Institutions are keen to see collections kept together or recorded before they are broken up.
Victorian bill heads with pictures of factories with gushing chimneys and fonts which stretch the printers ability; Victorian & Edwardian greetings cards and more recently, replacements to comics thrown away in our own childhood – all are now sought for and can exchange hands for considerable sums of money.
Greetings cards and scraps all found their way into scrap books along with newspaper cuttings and just about anything that was printed and took the scrap book owners fancy – all and much more are collected today. As the UK Ephemera Society says ‘some are interested in the social-history content; some view specimens as items of printing history; others collect them simply as evocative reminders of the past’.
The Ephemera Society of America says ‘the list goes on’. There is a difficulty here to know what to include, for as the list becomes wider so the areas become more grey or blurred and what one person might include another might exclude.
But you don’t need a fortune to collect ephemera. There are some great retro-look labels on packaging of food, confectionery, toiletries as well as drinks labels. If nothing else, they make a great display framed and hung in the kitchen.
I have not provided a price guide against items shown on this site as it was never intended that it should be a catalogue and, of course, valuations are soon out of date. However, I feel something ought to be said generally about valuations (although any or all of it may change in the future) and about care of items.
Values for cigarette, trade cards and trading cards can be found in annual catalogues produced by reputable large dealers who will also try to value non-catalogued items, postcard catalogues tend to give broad values for a genre of card. Searching antique fairs, flea markets and the Internet will provide current market values on other items – remember, read widely (use the library and Internet and talk to others interested in the subject but remember that some dealers are more happy to talk than others who may think that if you do not have an interest in buying then you are wasting their time).
Age can be an issue. For example, there are distinct time zones that seem to affect cigarette card valuations that generally speaking are pre-1900, pre- World War 1, pre- World War 2 and post war with the earliest period the most expensive. This is reflected to some extent in other ephemera.
Desirability can be based not just upon the more obvious criteria of condition but also the more subjective issues of quality of artwork & printing and the image portrayed and thence to rarity.
The lowest in value ephemera item are run of the mill but they should not be sneezed at - these can still be top of the printers trade.
Average ephemera is in the next price bracket and can still represent a modest purchase - vintage greetings cards for example are currently comparable to special greetings cards (Happy Christmas Mum type) purchased in the High Street.
The low priced items will surely go up in value as they disappear from the market place and they may possibly outstrip my comparison to High Street prices. Traditionally in the world of collectables the low end of the market will have price rises less steep than the high end.
Premium prices will be paid for quality artwork and printing. This is reflected in the products, for example, of Raphael Tuck, publisher, England; Ernest Nister, printers, Germany, Currier & Ives, printer/publisher, USA. Particular artists will also be sought and their names will be found referred to throughout this book, although compiling a list would by no means be exhaustive and someone would complain that their favourite artist has been missed.
A particular subject matter may also command higher prices – for example, Santa Claus postcards generally fall to the same price range as other cards but Santa shown with a vintage car, vintage aeroplane or air balloon or vintage phone such as a candlestick type will, command double, triple and more in price against another subject with card in comparable quality of condition and printing finish. Another particular subject matter is adverts for a specific company such as Coca Cola or Guinness.
Reprint postcards (including books of these to tear out and send) are readily available from specialist shops and on the Internet. It is unlikely they will reproduce fully and faithfully the original fine detail. Trading cards are also available from specialist shops, the Internet and dealers, but their size makes fine detail difficult to see. At this point they will have a retail value. But once stocks have been cleared they will take on the price of the second hand market and go up according to scarcity. Such scarcity may depend upon the number printed in the print run and subsequent demand – trading cards for example may say they are a limited edition of so many sets.
Condition of earlier cards is variable. Almost all cards will have been written on and these will be in ink pen (pre-biro days) or more likely pencil. The cards could be dog-eared, creased, corners clipped and/or edges trimmed as well as tears. The back may have residue of glue or be thinned. The whole can be affected by ‘foxing’, rust marks caused by humidity reacting with agents in the paper. Provided the main picture is unaffected one should not be over critical. Major tears, creases or damage to the central picture from glue on the front surface would mean such items hold little or no value.
Scrap albums may not only include scraps but also the small Victorian and Edwardian cards, pictures and articles cut from magazines and newspapers as well as letters and drawings received or done in the owners own hand. All will have been stuck with animal glue into the album and are notoriously difficult to remove from the page. The covers to both scrap albums and Postcard albums are often highly decorated. Unfortunately, after all these years, the albums are often falling apart with spines broken and leaves loose and the paper brittle. Dealers will take these albums and break them down selling the individual items or original pages from the album.
If, as a private individual, you are removing scraps and cards from pages you face the same difficulties as a dealer but you may have more time and patience to take greater care. Using water to soften the glue to remove backing paper means floating the item or placing it on a wet surface of blotting paper or rag. All very well provided items are only one side of the page. Writing inks on the reverse may well run but not affect the front picture of the item, I have never heard of the printers ink running (once set) but may stand corrected in the future so caution is advised. It is unlikely the item and page will separate without the intervention of the human hand before it all becomes papier mache. Peeling from the backing paper needs to be done with care to avoid tears and thinning of the item that may itself be in a delicate condition. Once done blot dry. Using tweezers and/or scalpel can be done when wet or sometimes it just needs to be done dry.
If you have an original album cover why not slip this into a (thicker than normal) plastic sleeve which you could stick with clear glue or even a smear of silicone onto the new binder for your collection.
If you are lucky enough to have early cards handed down in the family then price is not an issue but they are cherished as part of the family ephemera. They give a link to generations past – their handwriting and term of endearment penned is all very personal.
If you are buying old cards to give, then give some thought as to how you are going to treat it. How about writing the new greeting lightly in pencil. (Remember that pencil does not fade like ink – including biro). How about leaving the original greeting or message - regard it as part of the history of the item rather than erase it.
You then need to consider storage. Items of ephemera are affected by light, especially sunlight that will yellow the paper and make it brittle. Items should be stored where they will not be creased or marked by pressure from items place on top of them. A regular temperature and humidity is ideal (garages, lockups and attics/lofts spell the death of so many collectables).
It is preferable to use an album available from a specialist dealer. The plastic pages of some types come with different size pockets to suit different size items. Otherwise mounting smaller scraps on paper using stamp hinges or a water-soluble PVA adhesive is acceptable. A word of caution, however, is not to use a photo album with the sticky page to hold the item in place as this damages the paper surface (it will stick). For extremely rare/valuable items acid free paper should be used and a check made on suitability of plastic pages.
Whatever, remember you should enjoy what you have but also that you are only the keeper for the present and that you will hand it onto the next person, another generation.