Collections Crossover: Ephemera and other Odds and Ends
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Collections Crossover: Ephemera and other Odds and Ends

Ephemera is an all-encompassing term but it basically covers all the papery, throwaway stuff that helps us build a multi-dimensional picture of the past. Whenever we have visitors to the library, it's always fun to bring out examples of ephemera, which Mary and Hilary had the foresight to collect, keep and treasure, knowing that these items were as eloquent in telling history as any engraving or press photograph.

Starting with our own collection, we have several shelves of small ring binders, many of which hold series of cigarette cards, a bountiful source of brilliant pictures on myriad subjects from Aviation to Zodiac signs. Also squirrelled away in these binders are ration books, old driving licences, mourning cards, membership cards, certificates, theatre tickets, programmes, menus, contracts, invoices and billheads, while in another room is a set of drawers holding a variety of odds and ends; a recent rummage revealed a small 1970s window poster urging voters about the benefits of the joining the Common Market, and a set of rare 'Panko' suffragette-themed playing cards designed by E. T. Reed in the 1900s.

Among our contributors are fellow magpies, all of whom recognise the value in collecting ephemera. Terry Parker has spent decades amassing his collection which includes everything from fireworks labels to grocers' paper bags or vintage record sleeves and Victorian invoices, the latter with exquisitely engraved decorations of factories, stores and other buildings (see our header image above). Maurice Collins's Gadget Collection holds all kinds of oddities including promotional theatre fans and a 'sanitary envelope sealer'. And let's not forget Robert Opie, one of this country's great collectors; we're delighted to have a variety of material from him ranging from WWI memorabilia to 1950s consumer trade cards.

Ephemera is undoubtedly a brilliant way to preserve the minutiae of past lives but also represents major historic themes and events. The Historic Royal Palaces collection offers images of coronation invitations, court presentation cards, or letters from kings and queens while The National Archives, whose collection we've represented for some years, covers a wealth of key moments; Caxton's printed indulgence, the will of William Shakespeare, Anti-Poor Law pamphlets, records relating to slavery and the American Declaration of Independence. Elsewhere you'll find an illuminated WSPU certificate designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, share certificates from the Yukon Goldfield, letters, menus and records from the Titanic, Flying Scotsman luggage labels and even a membership card for Liverpool's Cavern Club.

This set of 300+ images gives you a taste of our ephemeral holdings and is a reminder to us all that, in this era of obsessive de-cluttering, thank goodness there remain some people who know the value of keeping hold of 'stuff'.

We hope you find our newsletters a fascinating and useful window into our unique library. If we can help with a project, do drop us a line. You can reach us by emailing or calling 020 8318 0034.

Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
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