Ephemera can be some of the hardest props to research and produce accurately, but thanks to the falling prices of bandwidth, storage, and digitization technologies, we see more and more scanned images of ephemera online everyday. It can be daunting to go through all the galleries and collections, and search engines are still less than ideal for finding the perfect image. Here are some sites I’ve discovered to help aid your search for the minor transient documents of everyday life. A lot of sites post a ton of links to other sites, but it can be frustrating as many places do not post images online, their images are unusable, or the navigation and search are just too complex and esoteric to use. Remember to search my blog in case you don’t see one of your favorite sites listed; I may have listed it in an earlier article.
The Ephemera Network has a lot of images uploaded by users. Because it is a community, there is also plenty of discussions and interaction concerning other places to track down ephemera. If you are a die-hard fan, you can even join in and share your interests or ask questions with other members.
The Ephemera Society of America has some nice links to online exhibitions displayed elsewhere on the web.
The Ephemera Catalog has a very large and very varied selection of ephemera for sale. The great thing about sites that sell ephemera is that they offer high-quality scans to entice buyers. The site also has a fantastic selection of ephemera links which should give you a few hours of entertainment.
Quadrille Ephemera shows a rotating selection of what they offer for sale. The shop specializes in more hand-written and personal ephemera, like invitations, checks and holiday cards.
Scott J. Winslow specializes in selling American historical memorabilia, mostly from the nineteenth century. The images on the site are pretty high-resolution.
Sheaff: ephemera has a lot of great images in a variety of interesting categories. Be sure to check out the “links” on this site; you’ll never leave the internet.
Beer Labels has nearly 5000 beer labels. The images on the website are watermarked, but they say they can email higher-resolution files without watermarks.
This huge collection of Wine Labels is organized by subject as well as brand.
The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum has documents, stocks and bonds, stamps, and other ephemera related to railroads.
The Ad*Access Project has over 7000 American and Canadian advertisements from 1911-1955.
A Nation of Shopkeepers is a collection of trade ephemera from 1654 to 1860. Check it out if you need business-related items from old-timey Britain.
Scrapbooks are great because they preserve many types of ephemera of lesser importance and pedigree that would normally be passed-on by collectors, but are nonetheless vital to adding detail to the world of the play. Heritage Scrapbooks has images from 21 scrapbooks of various ages. You can also check out Marion’s Scrapbook, from a young woman during her college years of 1913-1917.
If you’re interested in medical and surgical imagery, you can browse several thousand images at the History of Medicine.
I like this collection of holy cards left in books in the Ireland Library collection.
Arms, crests and monograms began to be used on stationary in England in the 1840s. They replaced the wax seal in many cases, which is oh-so-popular as a theatrical prop device. For the prop-maker obsessed with utmost historical accuracy, you can browse crests organized by topic to add to the stationary in your show.
Like stamps? Who doesn’t like stamps? Though images of stamps aren’t terribly difficult to search for, you can save time with this comprehensive index of stamps from around the world. Browse by country or topic and narrow your search by year.
Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders is an interesting collection; in 18th and 19th century Britain, broadsides were sold at public executions with an account of the crime or description of the criminal. They’re like an old-timey (and more gruesome) version of a program at a sporting event.
The Brooklyn Public Library has an interesting collection of ephemera related to the history of Brooklyn.
Likewise, the Kentuckiana digital library has paper stuffs related to old Kentucky.
Similarly, the Roscommon Historical Research site has ephemera from County Roscommon in Ireland. They do not have many examples online, and the pictures are too small to print directly, but they have such a great range of items that are often overlooked at other sites.
If you are interested in learning more about ephemera rather than merely looking at it, the articles at the Ephemera Society of America delve into the histories of all sorts of fascinating categories and subcategories of printed paper materials.
As always, one of my favorite sources for ephemera is Flickr. Do you have any favorite sites or sources? Leave me a comment and let me know!