Advertising cards to shopping bags…

By James DaMico, Graphics Project Archivist

Ephemera. What exactly are they?

According to the Ephemera Society of America, ephemera are “…everyday documents intended for one time or short term use.”[a.] In addition, the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM) defines ephemera as “Transient everyday items, usually printed and on paper that are manufactured for a specific limited use then often discarded. Includes everyday items that are meant to be saved, at least for a while, such as keepsakes and stock certificates.”[b.] The Society of American Archivists definition is closely tied to the TGM: “Materials, usually printed documents, created for a specific, limited purpose, and generally designed to be discarded after use.” [c.]

The Encyclopedia of Ephemera [d.] lists over 500 categories of ephemera that have been created over the years. Ephemera have always been a challenge to archivists and librarians not only in how items are cataloged but how they are stored. Often, the research value is not fully seen in items that were produced to be thrown away once their usefulness was attained. An example of this can be seen in something as basic as a restaurant menu. While the informational value, such as pricing and options to choose from, in a menu is designed for the here and now, the long term research value can be seen as demonstrating how many Thai or Italian restaurants were in business during a certain time period and what types of food are offered for sale. The RIHS has cataloged a portion of its Menu Collection and it can be found in our online catalog, NETOP. For example, in Providence, one can see how many Japanese restaurants were serving delicious food in the early 20th century.

Ephemera such as advertising cards, document the growth of the city and the explosion of technology such as telephones, streetcars and appliances. Likewise, the farm was shown during the transition from manual to mechanized labor. Everything from fashion to shoe and stove polish is documented in often brilliant chromolithographic prints to appeal to consumers and to convince them to buy a particular company’s product. An example of this appeal is The Kendall Manufacturing Company’s Soapine line of French Laundry Soap advertising cards which is well documented in the RIHS Ephemera Collection.

Examples of ephemera abound in society today also as in the past. That ticket in your pocket from last nights movie would be considered ephemera as well as the political sign that was placed on your front lawn during the last election cycle.

The Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS) has a substantial number of ephemera consisting of individual items to entire collections of advertising cards and Civil War envelopes compiled by individuals. The Society’s collection contains over 200 greeting cards; 1,000 advertising cards; and 100 calendars. We also have political paraphernalia such as bumper stickers and invitations from Rhode Island politicians. Retail shops and industry are represented on bill heads, menus and a host of other ephemera used to advertise their services. Postcards, valentines, Christmas and birthday cards are also represented in abundance.

Recently, the collection was reorganized as part of the Graphics Inventory Collection Survey. Inventories were compiled in order to provide access to researchers that may be interested in the collection. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our reference librarian by email, reference at, or by phone, 401-273-8107x 10.

Some examples from our Ephemera Collection follow:

RHi X17 516

Chromolithograph souvenir advertisement from Fraser Bros. Company, importers of teas, coffees and baking powder. Located at 297-299 Weybosset Street, Providence, R.I., [ca. 1900]

RHi X17 508

Advertising card for Vilen S.W. Parkhurst’s Bookstore, 47 Westminster Street, Providence, R.I. [ca. 1855]

RHi X17 509

Chromolithograph advertising card for Columbia Bicycles – Ordinary [ca. 1878] Typical cost for a 60 inch Ordinary/Hi-Wheeler, $125.00. In 2010 dollars that same bicycle would cost $3,731.98. [e.]

RHi X17 514

Compliments of J.H. Gregory, 247 Main Street, Pawtucket, R.I. “The Dude Uncle”, ca. 1890-1892.[f.] (front) Hand colored lithograph advertising card for J.H. Gregory’s mens clothing store. Illustration of a man wearing a monocle and holding two crying babies.

RHi X17 515

Compliments of J.H. Gregory, 247 Main Street, Pawtucket, R.I. “The Dude Uncle”, ca. 1890-1892.[f.] (verso) Text only. Best $2.00 Hat in the City.

A little Providence baseball history…

Batter up! The Providence Base Ball Club’s Official Scorecard from a game played on May 31, 1892 at Adelaide Park in the Elmwood section of Providence shows a game between the Brown University varsity baseball team and the Providence Clamdiggers (Grays), an Eastern (International) League Club in which the Clamdiggers (Grays) won the contest 4-0 [g.] . Frank Joseph Sexton, captain and pitcher and Frank Tenney, left fielder of the May 31 game are notable Brown players that went on to play with the Boston Nationals [h.]. Based on this Providence team roster which includes Pat Friel (Patrick Henry Friel) and according to Baseball[i.], this team is the Providence Grays.

RHi X17 520

Official Score Card – Providence Baseball Club May 31, 1892 (front)

RHi X17 521

Official Score Card – Providence Baseball Club May 31, 1892 (inside)

To continue with the baseball theme, here is an example of a cigarette card for chewing tobacco…

RHi X17 512

“Smoke and Chew Little Rhody Cut Plug”. (front) Chromolithograph advertising card for Little Rhody Plug chewing tobacco. Illustration of a woman catching a baseball bare-handed, ca. 1880.

RHi X17 513

“Smoke and Chew Little Rhody Cut Plug”, ca. 1880 (verso) Text only. Baseball schedule for Sept. 1-30.

RHi X17 510

Chromolithograph advertising card for Hoyt’s German Cologne, ca. 1890. Illustration of a frog sitting on a mushroom pouring Hoyt’s German Cologne on a bouquet of flowers. (front)

RHi X17 511

Chromolithograph advertising card for Hoyt’s German Cologne, ca. 1890. Text only. Sold by H.L. Hough & Co., 1029 High St., Olneyville, R.I. (verso)

RHi X17 517

Advertising souvenir with an animated cartoon strip for the Hotel Blackstone, 317 Westminster St., Providence, R.I., [ca. 1915-1935?]. Made by G. Felsenthal & Sons, Chicago, IL.

RHi X17 518

Printed envelope from C.S. Bush Co., photographic processing, printing and enlargement firm, ca. 1919. (front)

RHi X17 519

Printed envelope from C.S. Bush Co., photographic processing, printing and enlargement firm, ca. 1919. List of “Failures in Photography” and ways to avoid them by making correct exposures. (verso)

a. The Ephemera Society of America. (accessed 2010_12_28)
b. Ephemera. (accessed 2010_12_29)
c. Pearce-Moses, Richard. SAA: Glossary of Archival Terminology. (accessed 2011_01_04)
d. The Ephemera Society of America. (accessed 2011_01_05)
e. Tom’s Inflation Calculator. (accessed 2011_01_05)
f. Hurd, Beth. RootsWeb: RIGENWEB-L [RIGENWEB] J. H. GREGORY, Pawtucket, RI. 2001. (accessed 2011_01_05)
g. Harris, Rick. 2006. Rhode Island’s Baseball Legacy : the data base book (1827-1960) [Cranston, R.I.: The Author]. Database V, pg. 29-30.
h. Mitchell, Martha. Encyclopedia Brunoniana Baseball. 1993. (accessed 2011_01_04)
i. 1892 Providence Grays Statistics — Minor Leagues – (accessed 2011_01_04)


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