Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Art Online. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 25 February 2021

Ephemera, printedlocked

  • Julie Anne Lambert
  •  and Maurice Rickards


Term used to describe heterogeneous, insubstantial, printed (and less commonly manuscript) matter that was produced for short-term use and then disposal. It may embrace such disparate material as valentines; bill-headings; posters; trade cards; advertisements; temperance and electioneering literature; street ballads; book prospectuses; bookmarks; noteheadings; concert and theatre bills; tickets; seedsmen’s lists; religious broadsheets; labels; and packaging. The precise parameters of the term have occasioned much discussion, but the distinguishing feature of ephemera is that it was not intended to survive. (Souvenirs and cigarette cards, produced for collectors, should properly be excluded, although in practice they seldom are and thus are included in this discussion.) Interest in ephemera is predominantly British and North American, though in Australia in the late 20th century enthusiasm was growing significantly. This article therefore draws mainly on British examples in its discussion of interest in printed ephemera.

The appeal of ephemera is in the glimpse that it affords of the past, devoid of any interpretation. Historians increasingly value these rescued evidential data, through which human nature is seen in all its various aspects: from the cruelty of exhibitions of ‘freaks’ to the benevolence of charity; from the mundane label for chutney, for instance, to the entrance ticket to a coronation. To take one isolated example, a Covent Garden playbill of ...

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Please subscribe to access the full content.