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Ephemera and Your Rare Book Collection

By Kristin Masters. Nov 7, 2019. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, Book Care

If you've chosen a theme or focus for your rare book collection, eventually you'll want to move beyond books and collect related items as well. These may include magazines, posters, or other paper objects. Known as ephemera, such items can add depth, interest, and value to a personal collection.

The Ephemera Society of America defines ephemera as everyday documents created for single or short-term use: think newspapers, flyers, bookmarks, and even matchbooks. Generally made of paper or other inexpensive materials, ephemera are not designed to stand the test of time; they require careful preservation as part of your rare book collection.

You may discover ephemera serendipitously among the pages of your rare books. Common finds include pressed flowers, letters, and bookmarks. If your rare book is an association copy, the ephemera could actually add more value so don't discard it! A few suggestions for maintaining ephemera found in your rare books:

  • If you find an item of ephemera in an association copy, leave it where it is if possible. Document where the item is located in the book.
  • Isolate items from the book's pages with acid-free tissue or a Mylar envelope. Doing so will protect both items from chemical damage.
  • Some items are thick enough that they may damage the book's spine if left in place. If that is the case, remove the item, document its location, and preserve the item as appropriate.



Meanwhile, many collectors find that they want to bring exceptional depth to their already-focused collections. For instance, if you've built a collection around Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan series, the 40th-anniversary issue of Argosy All-Story Weekly would complement your collection wonderfully; it features artwork and mention of Tarzan of the Apes.

Tips on caring for ephemera:

  • Store items in containers and tissue made from acid and lignin-free materials. No plastic!
  • When storing items flat, stack items largest to smallest. Place acid-free tissue between items.
  • You can also use archival manuscript boxes to store items upright in folders.
  • When a manuscript box isn't completely full, place a stabilizer in the box to keep items from leaning or slouching.
  • If items are displayed, use archive-quality materials for encasement.
  • Protect your ephemera from UV light, especially sunlight.
  • When labeling items, use pencil and write on the acid-free paper around your item. This will ensure no ink will bleed through.
  • Larger ephemera can be rolled into an archival core and secured with string.

If you have questions about preserving your ephemera, it is best to ask an experienced preservationist. To enhance your collection with ephemera, also consider a subject-specific bibliography that includes related ephemera.

Browse Ephemera

Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


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