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>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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