A Spotlight On Ephemera

Ephemera. The term in collectibles relates to printed matter, mostly, that was here today and gone tomorrow—years ago. Such items were important in their time—newspapers, trading cards, political rally announcements, advertisements, letters, bills, concert programs, posters, and more—but were often discarded and replaced by new things. The Ephemera Society of America ( is a group of people interested in these things.
In numismatics it is often interesting to acquire a piece of ephemera, a go-with item, such as a book, advertisement, card, or something else that is related to a coin, token, medal, or piece of paper money itself. The field of encased postage stamps, little advertising items that were very popular in 1862 during the Civil War, when coins were hoarded, offers an excellent chance to acquire items related to them. The most prolific issuer of encased postage was Dr. J.C. Ayer, patent medicine king of Lowell, Massachusetts. Several varieties of his advertisements are known on encased stamps, with denominations from one cent to 90 cents. These are readily available today, and a nice example will cost just a few hundred dollars, if that. Much more plentiful are colorful trade cards featuring the same products, such as Ayer’s Pills and Ayer’s Sarsaparilla. At an ephemera show these usually sell for about $10 to $20. Ayer’s Almanacs are seen with some frequency as well.
Recently at the annual Antiquarian Book Fair held in Concord, New Hampshire we were on the lookout for numismatic ephemera, or go-withs, and landed a nice copy of an 1860 almanac put out by George G. Evans. He was very prominent in the book trade in Philadelphia, doing an extensive mail order business as well as having a walk in trade. His unique selling proposition, or at least an unusual one, was to offer premiums when books were bought, these being in the form of additional books or else inexpensive jewelry, souvenirs, and the like. Evans was an issuer of encased postage stamps. Today his encasements are fairly rare. The 1860 almanac contained his advertisements in the front and back, with a standard interior giving information about facts, weather, and the like.
Go-with items relating to regular federal coins are interesting to collect as well. Brochures and advertisements issued by the U.S. Mint are not widely collected, but are colorful and interesting. Some commemoratives were given out as souvenirs, such as by Wells Fargo for the World’s Columbian Exposition, consisting of a half dollar in a little container. These come on the market with some regularity and are quite fascinating.
The next time you go to a show featuring antiques, books, or old paper, look around for items related to coins, tokens, and paper money. Chances are you’ll come home with something interesting, no doubt quite inexpensive in comparison to the numismatic item to which it relates.

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