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Ephemera collection

EP001 (RS97545)


Ephemera are materials that are meant to be used once and then discarded, not kept permanently. The Ephemera Collection contains over 5,000 items of a wide assortment of materials: advertising matter, billheads, calling cards, games, greeting cards, menus, pamphlets, playing cards, programs, sheet music, tickets and cards of admission, trade cards, and trade catalogues. These resources provide a wealth of visual documentation for the study of New England's material culture in the nineteentth and early-twentieth centuries. The focus of the collection is concentrated on products used in the construction, finish, or interior decoration of the home, including millwork, wall and floor coverings, paints, furniture, lighting, heating, and wallpaper. Several rare furniture and lighting catalogues are found in this collection.

Additional material is filed among the financial records of various family manuscript collections, especially the Codman Family Papers, as well as throughout the Local History document boxes, in which advertisements from approximately 1850 to 1920 frequently appear in promotional brochures or publications issued for special events. The subjects section of the Clippings Files should also be consulted for the period of approximately 1910 to 1930.

Advertising matter in Boston guidebooks and in a collection of nineteenth-century carpenters' manuals and house plans has also been indexed by subjects. The inventories to these collections supply references to illustrations. After 1848, the Boston city directories are an excellent source of detailed line engravings of buildings and products.

Source: Guide to the Library and Archives, 21.


Collection Name
Ephemera collection
Collection Code
Date Notes
Physical Description
ca. 5,000 items
Collection Type
Description Level
Reference Code

Historical/Biographical Note

William Sumner Appleton had a passion for saving not only New England architecture but also the artifacts typical of the region's daily life. To that end, he began collecting ephemera for the organization almost immediately upon founding it in 1910. In the ensuing years, the organization has steadily added to its ephemera holdings. The approximately 25,000 documents that currently make up the collection constitute a major resource for the study of New England's social and cultural history.

Appleton's concern for “things” was less for their rarity than for their value as documents of cultural history. He saved and solicited small paper memorabilia - postcards, clippings, programs, broadsides, advertisements, guidebooks, menus - rightly anticipating they would interest future historians and shed light on contemporary popular culture. Tickets, greeting cards, rewards of merit, invitations - scraps not intended to be saved but happily escaping destruction - bring historical events and personal daily lives into focus.


The trade cards and billheads are arranged by subjects and are indexed by the names of Boston businesses, pre-1835 advertisements and works by Boston printmakers. Otherwise, these items have not been separately cataloged. Trade catalogues are individually listed in a separate inventory, arranged by subject.

Record details

Descriptive Terms
furnishings (artifacts)
interior decoration
Material Type
admission tickets
card games (game sets)
greeting cards
playing cards
programs (documents)
sheet music
trade cards (advertising)
trade catalogs
visiting cards
Boston (Suffolk county, Massachusetts)
New England (United States) [general region]
Related Items
Locke-Ober Cafe collection, undated
Ephemera collection, 2011 donation

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Sapolin Promotion Badge #

AvatarPosted by Larry McCully on February 4, 2016
I have a Promotion Badge that was introduced into Australia early 1900 to promote Sapolin Paints and Varnish into Australia. If you wish to view it , please forward a email address and i will forward a photo. Thank you....... Larry

RE: Sapolin Promotion Badge #

AvatarPosted by Abigail Cramer on February 22, 2016
Hello Mr. McCully,

Thank you for contacting us about this item. We can be reached via email at archives[at] I look forward to receiving an email with a photograph of the item.

Abigail Cramer
Historic New England

Maxwell Motor Co. postcard #

AvatarPosted by Dee Onnen on April 30, 2016
I have a postcard from 1919. Does it have any value?

RE: Maxwell Motor Co. postcard #

AvatarPosted by Abigail Cramer on May 2, 2016
Hello Ms. Onnen,

For ethical reasons, we are not allowed to provide estimates or assessments of value. I recommend that you contact an ephemera dealer to appraise the item.

Abigail Cramer
Historic New England