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Ephemera - General

In the collecting world, ephemera refer to items that were only meant to be used for a short time. Ephemera collectors primarily collect paper ephemera, such as letters, tickets, stereopticon cards, labels, and greeting cards.

Collectable ephemera may have colorful graphics in certain vintage styles, depicting scenes of the culture or fashion of a particular era. Items may also document historical events. For example, letters written in the '20s from Germans to their relatives in the United States often refer to the poor economy and the brown-shirted socialists who were trying to make things better.

Ephemera items jump in value if they include an autograph or signature from a famous person. In 2014, an original autographed manuscript of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" sold at auction for $2,045,000. A letter from United States President Ronald Reagan to Mayor of New York Edward Koch sold for $3,750 in 2013.

Quick Facts

  • An unusual but popular category of ephemera is airline sick bags. Collectors seek out these items for the airline logos and interesting graphics
  • Many ephemera collections have been donated to libraries all over the world and can be viewed by appointment in the library archives. The Ephemera Society of America has compiled a list of links to online images of many of these collections that anyone can view
  • The highest price ever paid for a letter at auction was $6 million in 2013. The letter was written by Francis Crick, one of the co-discoverers of the nature of DNA, to his son Michael, explaining the "secret of life"

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