Postcard with Photograph of Pensacola High School


By: Carla M. Summers, CRM, CA

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 2009

“… for it is in the ephemera, really, that a culture truly reveals itself; such artifacts are its unguarded moments.”  Lucy Rollin

Individual collectors along with archives, libraries and historical museums gather, preserve and make available the record of human activities. The materials in historical collections are documentation providing evidence and information concerning people, events, activities, objects, and ideas. They can take many formats and types. For instance, a collection of documents relating to a wedding may contain invitations, a marriage license, menus, catering bills, a registration book, photographs, and a video recording of the marriage ceremony and reception. Many of these types of documents are called ephemera.

According to Society of American Archivists’ A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pierce-Moses: "ephemera are materials, usually printed documents, created for a specific, limited purpose, and generally designed to be discarded after use. Examples of ephemera include advertisements, tickets, brochures, and receipts.. A repository may collect ephemera as examples or specimens. Individuals often collect ephemera as mementos or souvenirs because of their association with some person, event, or subject; personal collections of ephemera are often kept in scrapbooks."

Ephemera are not printed books but they are almost always printed. They are not art but they are almost always beautifully illustrated. They are not manuscripts or personal papers but are often found in these collections. And they are not antiques but they are often as evocative of the time period they were created as these objects and much easier to store. Ephemera were produced to sell and inform.

As printing technology advanced in its golden age before television and the Internet, what we now call ephemera was produced to be circulated then discarded. And despite television and the Internet, thousands of examples of ephemera are being produced today. You get ephemera in the mail everyday as both junk and welcome mail (think credit card offers and Christmas cards). You can pick up examples at every stop along the road of life. Of course, knowing what to keep from today is the hardest thing of all as most of us lack an historical perspective of our own times.

Collecting Florida ephemera is a delightful and a sometimes free activity! There is a tremendous variety of material offered for sale and many paper items are thrown aside as worthless in thrift and even book stores.

Prices are within the reach of both the inexperienced and experienced collector.

Playing Cards

Children can safely scrapbook more recent historical items from their schools or towns. Experienced scrapbook makers can add an historical feel to their creations without guilt. But as it is for all things, the older the example of ephemera is and the better condition, the more it is worth and the more it should be preserved.

As much of ephemera was printed and produced on acidic paper and often glued to surfaces, preservation of the more valuable examples should include housing in archival paper/plastics and obeying temperature and humidity rules for storage.

The real question is not, should I collect Florida ephemera but how should I narrow my collecting focus? As alluded to in the Pierce-Moses definition, and true for all collecting, selecting an area to collect must resonate with personal associations or interests. Here are some ideas.

American collectors and dealers put great emphasis upon pictorial content and graphic design and you can find wonderful content and design when selecting Florida ephemera. The most ready examples are cigar and citrus labels. Before 1900 the big cigar manufacturers placed printed labels on containers and cigars to promote brand loyalty. They hired some of the best designers who made truly beautiful box labels and bands. These have always attracted collectors as they are true works of art produced in many thousands of multiples. The first society of cigar bands collectors was the International Cigar Band Society, founded in the United States in 1934. Citrus labels are also quite beautiful and are tied to producers and regions in Florida.

Historical phenomena provide the most fodder for selection. Collectors have always been attracted to the railroads and examples of railroad ephemera are evocative and informative, documenting the changing face of Florida commerce and tourism. Tourism itself is as rich an area as possible for collecting ephemera. It seems that everyone has marketed Florida, since before 1870 when Henry Sanford purchased 12,547 acres in Sanford. Focusing on hotels in a certain region or camping maps or motoring maps can help limit selection and provide learning about that region or events of interest.

Collecting a particular format is also fun. My interest is in collecting Florida broadsides. Again from the SAA glossary: "A broadside is a single sheet with information printed on one side that is intended to be posted, publicly distributed, or sold." Broadsides were an inexpensive way to reach a wide audience. My favorites have been announcements for political rallies and rodeos. Like all ephemera, broadsides were never intended to last but I love the old fonts that were used and the costs recorded, such as shrimp dinners for a quarter. Posters are more heavily illustrated than broadsides but are also used to advertise or promote something. Both broadsides and posters are usually printed on a large sheet. The American poster market really developed after the 1960s with relatively low prices until the last few years.

Citrus Label

Postcard of Lee Square, The Confederate Monument and Pensacola High School

An article about ephemera would be incomplete if postcards weren’t mentioned. Of continuing significance to even the most casual collector of Florida history, postcards can be found in everyone’s holdings. Of special interest are those postcards that are really photographs that were turned into postcards, some of which contain images of places that have disappeared. Postcard collecting is usually focused on a particular town or region. More sophisticated collectors look at the printer’s imprint or search for rare examples of certain types of agriculture or plantings.

Postcard of The Confederate Monument, Pensacola

Or how about collecting ephemera from a time period, say Contemporary Florida, beginning in 1960? Quoting from the Central Florida Memory website: "Since World War II, Florida’s economy also has become more diverse. Tourism, cattle, citrus, and phosphate have been joined by a host of new industries that have greatly expanded the numbers of jobs available to residents. Electronics, plastics, construction, real estate, and international banking are among the state’s more recently-developed industries. Several major U.S. corporations have moved their headquarters to Florida. An interstate highway system exists throughout the state, and Florida is home to major international airports. The university and community college system has expanded rapidly, and high-technology industries have grown steadily. The U.S. space programs its historic launches from Cape Canaveral, lunar landings, and the development of the space shuttle programs brought much media attention to the state. The citrus industry continues to prosper, despite occasional winter freezes, and tourism also remains important, bolstered by large capital investments. Florida attractions, such as the large theme parks in the Orlando area, bring millions of visitors to the state from across the U.S. and around the world."

Central Florida Memory is a digital repository of ephemera, photographs, books, periodicals and manuscripts documenting the Central Florida region. It is only one example of many Florida ephemera collections online. These websites are great places to access the varied collections in Florida repositories, search for information on existing collections or start planning to collect Florida ephemera. Happy hunting!

Central Florida Memory

University of Central Florida Libraries

University of FL Libraries Ephemera Collection

About the author:
Carla M. Summers is a Certified Archivist who has worked for over 30 years to identify and preserve archives and manuscript collections in Florida. She is available to consult with archives, libraries, museums, individuals, families, corporations and organizations on developing archival systems, special collections and collecting rare and unique materials. She can be contacted at

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