Ephemera refers to written or printed material that may contain artwork or designs that make it collectible and valuable. Historically, important artistic items falling within the spectrum of ephemera have included postcards, posters, trade cards, and greeting cards. Today, many artists and crafters alike employ vintage ephemera to create collages and other works of art to form contemporary pieces that are sold or collected.
Various artists have been associated with works of ephemera like postcards and posters. The Golden Age of Postcards, usually dated from the mid-1890s to World War I, is represented by outstanding postcard designs and artists / publishers like Raphael Tuck, Ellen Clapsaddle, and Raphael Kirchner. Postcards from this period, even those marked with postal stamps, can be quite valuable. Real photo postcards from the early nineteenth century through the 1950s are also highly collectible. There are many postcard collectors who specialize in a particular genre such as real photo postcards of roadside America, Halloween postcards, or transportation-related postcards to name a few.
Modern poster art dates to the mid-eighteenth century when printing techniques became advanced and allowed for the mass production of colored lithography. Various artists became famous for their poster designs that typically represented advertisements for events as well as products. Some of the best-known poster artists include Jules Cheret, Alphonse Mucha, Jan Toorop, Georges de Feure, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Many poster artists also designed postcard art. The poster design of the Art Nouveau period is particularly revered and constitutes highly collectible and valuable memorabilia.
From a contemporary standpoint, ephemera and vintage images borrowed from examples of ephemera have been popular in art. Vintage papers are employed in scrapbook pages or even hung on walls. Aside from posters, many examples of vintage ephemera art are small-scale items like newspaper clippings, magazine etchings, trade cards, and small advertisements to name a few. The advertising element is inherent in many examples of ephemera.
Ephemera may also constitute small-scale works by artists that include sketches, doodles, and designs. Depending on the artist in question, these works can be incredibly valuable. Some celebrated works of ephemera include letters depicting sketches and drawings from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother. Worldwide, there are many collectors of ephemera. Many may collect ephemera of specific artists or artists of a particular era. Other collectors specialize in posters, postcards, or trade cards. Greeting cards are popular pieces of ephemera that are still sold today; however, while associated with particular brands and publishers, they are not often associated with particular artists.