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Condon began collecting ephemera as a child. “Whenever I went to a play, a sports event…whenever I did anything, I put it in a scrapbook,” she says. After earning a Master’s of Library and Information Sciences, Condon began working with ephemera professionally at Historic New England’s Library and Archives.
She says that ephemera usually includes paper goods that were “generally expected to be discarded.” Examples include bus tickets, calendars, package labels, party invitations, and brochures. But the term is difficult to define because ephemera can include many categories of documents, not all of which are disposable. Birth and marriage certificates and banknotes may be ephemera too. According to The Ephemera Society of America website, ephemera is “made of paper, generally printed but sometimes handwritten; generally two dimensional…[and] generally transient.”
Historic New England’s extensive collection of ephemera includes more than 20,000 pieces. The collection dates all the way back to the organization’s founder, William Sumner Appleton, who recognized the value ephemera would hold for future historians. Appleton filled large scrapbooks with ephemera for much of his adult life, saving items such as a ticket from his ride on the Boston subway on its opening day in 1897.
Condon says ephemera is a way to understand history by studying the mundane materials people keep from everyday life. For example, in the Historic New England-published book The Camera’s Coast, the Library and Archives team found materials such as postcards, brochures, and advertisements to accompany photographs of life on the New England coast. In the upcoming Everything for the Garden, readers can browse ephemera such as vintage advertisements for garden furniture and informational brochures about cultivating seeds. As Condon says, “You can get a sense of how all the material comes together to tell a story.”