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Vacationing for treasure

Do you have receipts lining your purse? How about a mountain of advertisements for drug companies from your recent visit to the doctor’s office? Do you have so many postcards from when you traveled to the beach throughout the years that if you sold them back, you could afford another trip to the beach? Do you find yourself holding onto stickers, afraid you may stick them to the wrong thing and ruin that sticker for all time? If you answered yes to any of the following, congrats – you have ephemera!

Ephemera is printed material that was not meant to be retained or preserved. The term can also include objects and audio-visual material like your favorite tin lunch box from fourth grade. This blog is to celebrate ephemera. I hope to inspire you to collect your own ephemera, or if hoarding paper is not your thing, maybe you will learn something new.

My love of ephemera started young. When my aunt moved out West from Philadelphia, she would send me letters filled with advertisements and scraps of paper. I loved imagining where she was and what she was doing by looking at them. My uncle also kept my interest when he began to travel for the Coast Guard, he would send me postcards, patches, and flags from areas he was visiting.

I continued to collect little bits of pieces throughout my life, thinking these scraps would open a world outside of my own to me. Confetti from the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade I sang in? Better grab it! A funny flyer handed to me outside of a local punk show? In the pocket it goes.

As I got older, I began to realize not only was collecting a hobby many participated in, but it was also an actual area of study for some, a gateway to social constructions, social influence, and history that may have been lost if ephemeral items were not kept. Looking at images, looking at the words, looking at how something was printed and why it was printed all reflected something about the moment in time, it was up to us in the modern day to make those connections and see what it reveals.

It also was a connection to the humans that held that ephemera. This became clear to me as I began to explore ephemera from travel and health resorts from the late 19th century. I saw a collection of postcards and advertisements from Atlantic City portraying men and women going to the seaside for the smell of the pines and sea air to escape the city heat and disease; this was not much different from the reasons why I visited the shore today. Sure, the pines have been replaced with casinos, but taking the drive in through the pine lined Garden State parkway gives me an idea of what the landscape was like. As I thought more and more about my visits, the reasons I went, my needs, I realized the men and women that held these postcards in 1895 were not much different than I. It made me feel more compassion and connection to people before me and made me think of others today taking their trips to the shore, we go for the same reasons, regardless of our backgrounds, race, gender, and values.

For my first few posts I will go through some ephemera found in my old journals. I was an active journal writer in my teen years and one way I filled up the pages was by collecting magazine clippings, stickers, and other scraps. At the time, I did not realize exactly what I was doing; however, my journals captured social movements and cultural trends. It also captured some really embarrassing poetry which I will not post here.

Researchers trying to find information about the average life in a demographic may look to journals to see what an individual was documenting. The items pasted on the pages are cultural markers signifying the values, practices, and beliefs of a society for a group of people. It is important to remember that journals do not reflect ALL members of a culture, making it crucial for diverse groups to collect and document.

Look out for my next post next week!

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Jul 14, 2021

Love it! I collect as well, mostly from travels and big events. I have confetti from the eagles parade in an envelope with a map of the parade route that dad had cut out of the Inquirer and brought with him. Meggan, Binny and I chuckled and thought it was cute because we all had our smartphones for maps. (Dad still had a flip phone). Service was so bad that day, that the newspaper clipped map was more useful.…. I had to keep it!

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