Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2011 Issue

Ephemera: Values and Interest on the Rise

Leekirk

Lee Kirk of The Prints & The Paper in Eugene, Oregon started in antiques, continues in ephemera.

One of the exceptions to the decline in antiquarian values is the increase in interest, sales and prices for ephemera. Though no two people seem to have exactly the same definition of what exactly the word ephemera means, there is a widespread consensus that almost all non-book paper falls into this category.

The Ephemera Society of America defines ephemera as ….“a broad range of minor (and sometimes major) everyday documents intended for one-time or short-term use. The 402-page Encyclopedia of Ephemera lists more than 500 categories from bookmarks to fruit wrappers to posters to theater tickets.” 

Whatever the definition most agree that ephemera comes in many forms including photos, maps, letters, manuscripts, stamps, posters, labels, postcards, valentines, and trade catalogs to name a few. And yes the many enthusiasts all agree - collecting can be habit forming. 

Many think that the pursuit of this kind of material helps expand awareness, highlight a field of interest and often - in the case of book collections, shed a new light on interesting aspects of an author or subject.

With scholars, libraries, collectors, dealers all in hot pursuit of these interesting and often one-of-a-kind historical nuggets it’s not surprising that interest is growing, and because ephemeral items are often unique the pricing seems to be what the market will bear.

Ephemera includes a myriad of categories. For example Don Conner of Don Conner Fine Books (ABAA) in Sacramento CA specializes in natural history, the life sciences and all the “ologies.” He has a keen interest in trade catalogs, especially American and English fishing gear of the 19th century, including “rods, reels and all the paraphernalia.” He also keeps an eye out for 19th century nursery catalogs with illustrations of flowers and fruits which he says can vary in price from $50-$500.

As in all collectibles, he says, “the interest comes from people who have a passion for the subject - the more uncommon the better.”

According to Conner while the Internet has tended to homogenize the prices of books, it has left ephemera largely untouched. But, he points out, “while you usually can find another copy of a book, this is seldom the case with ephemera. It isn’t as widely available and often not even listed on book data bases or other on-line sites.”

“My interest in ephemera just grew and grew,” says Lee Kirk, owner of The Prints & the Paper in Eugene, OR. She calls the genre “a way to look beneath the surface, to see how one thing connects to another.” Kirk started out in antiques, went into books and is now an ephemera specialist. She calls her inventory a “mish-mash” and she’s not quite sure how big it is: “Just say “boxes and boxes.” Every once in a while somebody will find something that is really meaningful in those boxes, like the waitress who found the menu from her old employer: “She was browsing and all of a sudden I heard a whoop…. that really made my day.”

Kirk is “gradually easing out of books” because books are heavy, take up space and there’s always going to be another copy. “Even though ephemera is harder to value and more difficult to catalog, it is more likely to be unique or uncommon.” She does four or five shows a year, has an on-line inventory in both books and ephemera and also writes a popular blog. Her customers are apt to be museums, archives, and collectors.

Some of the areas she sees with increased interest are: trade catalogs, urban archeology, stereo view cards, real photos, small town views. As for her personal taste, “I like the strong colorful graphics of the 1930s, art moderne-streamline.”

Kirk’s advice to those just coming to the field is to “focus on one or two areas and really learn about them. You’ve got to throw yourself into it if you’re going to do it successfully.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions