Ephemera is a popular area of collecting and even decorating these days. But what is it?
The word “ephemera” basically means something that is short-lived. Unlike the original meaning, collectible ephemera is not a short-lived organism, but instead represents objects that exist, or are used or enjoyed, for just a short time. These objects are what most collectors consider consider to be “fragments of everyday life.”
Catalogs, newspapers, & magazines were only intended to be kept until the next issue arrived.
Receipts, billheads, invoices, and the like, were only meant to be kept for customer returns, tax filings, or until product warranties ran out.
Despite what your great aunt may have intimated, not every greeting card, Valentine, postcard, or letter is deemed worthy of saving for eternity. But those which have been saved are now delights to collectors!
Maps were only meant to be kept a year or so, until the next map was made - and road maps often didn’t survive past the first road trip as people often can never quite fold them back neatly again!
Calendars, typically, are expected to only be kept for the year. The same can be said for many licenses and certificates. Even baptismal and marriage certificates, school attendance cards, and other items really weren’t intended to be kept forever -- even if they were supposed to go on your permanent record!
Matchbooks were presumed to be kept for as long as there were matches to be found in them (or, perhaps a bit longer, if you were saving that special phone number written in it!)
Posters, restaurant menus, travel brochures, advertising booklets -- even those little old cookbooks, they were all designed to be temporary items, with new editions updated frequently.
Kids toys, such as stickers, paper dolls, baseball cards, and coloring books were only intended for temporary play, and were not intended to be kept for so many years.
Ink blotters, product labels, trade cards, decals, placemats and napkins, wrapping paper, packaging and product boxes, shipping and postal labels, envelopes, stamps -- all ephemeral bits of our human lives.
Even photographs are considered to be ephemera. In part because most of them are printed on paper, true; but also because, as you can see at an estate sale of auction, it’s a sad fact that many families do not pass down old family photo albums (let alone the snapshots, slides, and movies) through the generations.
All these items were originally intended to only have a short-term usefulness, and therefore expected to have short lives.
Yet, as ephemera expert Maurice Rickards has noted, the temporary intent or lifespan of these items is the actual appeal. “The essential appeal of most forms of ephemera lies in their fragility, their vulnerability – the very improbability of their survival.”
As a category of collecting, ephemera is often used to describe various forms of paper, as shown and noted in this blog post. The fragility of paper or cardboard certainly limits the number of these items which survive into their old age! But this area of collecting isn’t necessarily limited to paper items only.
Some pieces of ephemera are printed not on paper or cardboard, but rather are printed on wood, plastics, metal, cloth, leather, and other materials. Other pieces are not necessarily printed on at all, but molded into shapes and logos as well.
Examples of these other items not intended to be kept which are now collectible include: cigar boxes, feed and seed bags, swizzle sticks, cocktail or food picks, hangers, plastic and paper cups, buttons, bookmarks, bottles, bottle openers, playing cards, luggage tags, and keyrings.
Pens, pencils, pinback buttons, and other promotional items, be it from companies or political parties and candidates, had temporary lifespans -- or term limits, if you will.
It may be easier to think of ephemera as memorabilia from businesses, organizations, and persons, usually of the past. But new ephemeral items are made every day too!
At Fargo Antiques & Repurposed Market, our dealers offer an array of retro, vintage, and antique pieces of ephemera. Whether you’re a collector looking to add a great find to your collection, a family historian looking for pieces to complete your family's story, a decorator looking for something special to frame or otherwise show off in your home, or the artistic type looking for old paper for DIY projects, you’ll find unique items at F.A.R.M.
Our shop has plenty of collectible ephemera from North Dakota & Minnesota, of course, as well as regional pieces. And we also have quite a number of national and international ephemeral objects too. As always, we invite you to come down to the F.A.R.M. and see what we have to offer. With nearly 60 vendors, items arrive fresh to the market daily!
If you're new to shopping for antiques and vintage, you might be confused by some of the terms used. One of the most common confusion points is understanding the difference between what's antique and what's vintage.
In the strictest sense, the difference between an antique and a vintage item is its age.
Antiques are items which must be at least 100 years old. That means, as of the date of this posting, an antique item was made on or before April of 1918.
The 100-years-or-older rule applies to any of these items no matter what they are made of. So even though it may seem less likely for a book or glassware to survive 100 years than a piece of furniture, therefore making the fragile stuff seem like it should become an antique earlier; but it doesn't work that way. *wink*
Items over 300 years of age generally fall into one of two categories depending upon whether they are manmade creations or natural finds. If they are not manmade, if they are the remains or impressions of formerly living things, they are fossils. If the items are manmade, they are called antiquities or artifacts (also spelled artefacts).
Typically, items over 300 years are dug up either in the process of modern land development and construction, or by archaeological work. And they are also unearthed in attics, basements, and private collections too.
Given the relatively short history of writing systems in the United States of America, the word prehistoric is often attached to any unearthed items older than 300 years. Naturally, in our Fargo-Moorhead area, this includes a number of Native American artifacts. Though it should be noted that not all Native American artifacts are so old.
Vintage items are not as old as antiques. However, unlike the definition of an antique, labeling something vintage is far more subjective. The word vintage literally means "of age." With such an open meaning, there are many interpretations. Most antique dealers consider an item to be vintage if it is at least 40 years old. So, in the context of this blog date, a vintage item would be made between 1918 and 1978.
Even though many vintage items are nostalgic, they are sought after for many reasons besides their age. This includes decorating and collecting. And, because so many of these objects are still useable, they are often practical pieces with a unique flair.
In order to cover additional time periods, perhaps, many of those who buy and sell antique and vintage objects also use other words. Among them, the word "retro."
Retro is an affectionate shortening of the French word "retrograde." Like the word "retroactive," the original meaning references the past -- but is not from the past. Instead, retro goodies imitate the styles of the recent past. They are not copies or fakes; but items which give a nod to the past. Think of classics such as bowling shirts and letterman jackets.
However, over time, the definition of retro has also come to encompass things from the recent past -- things not old enough to be authentically vintage, but not merely "just used things" either. They are just old enough to be nostalgic. Many of these things still can be used -- or in the case of records, tapes, and CDs, played.
Typically, the term retro is given to items which are at least 20 years old (but not yet 40 years old). Again using today's posting date, retro items would be those made between 1979 and 1998.
Also found in antique malls like Fargo's F.A.R.M. are items which are not necessarily old at all, but still collectible. Among these things are what are called reproductions (sometimes called "repros" or "repops" in the antiques business). Reproductions are copies of older items. They are not "fakes" as they are not trying to pass themselves off as older or anything other than what they are: copies of, usually, much older things.
Some of these things, such as reproduction drawer pulls and hardware, allow for folks to more readily and affordably restore their old houses. And, in fact, many reproductions, including reproductions of antique Coke A Cola trays and old cast iron toys, have real value unto themselves.
Additionally, many antique malls -- the Fargo Antique & Repurposed Market included -- sell collectibles and curios. Collectibles and curios need not be old at all. They just have to be desired. Think of things like Breyer horses
Of course, often collecting new items leads to collecting the older variations... That's often how that collecting bug starts! You've been warned!