The term ephemera refers to items, usually printed paper, which are meant to have a very short lifespan. These include tickets, flyers, advertisements, event posters, programs, menus, news clippings, bookmarks, business cards, handbills, pamphlets & brochurs, greeting cards, invitations, labels, postcards, trading cards, photos, drawings, letters, stickers, and other paper opbjects of small size.
Promotional items, may also be referred to as tchotchkes, such as pens, buttons, and matchbook covers may also be considered ephemera.
But literary ephemera serves its own master.
Literary ephemera is that which is associated with literary figures or subjects. The obligatory posters and handbills, theater tickets, bookmarks, or photo of an author apply, but such unique items as Bookplates, especially when signed by an author and not attached to a book, are a unique trinket specific to literary ephemera.
Ephemera is more than simply trinkets. On a much broader scale, ephemera documents history, “recording the small, and often subsequently lost, details of events, cultures and lives,” becoming bits of history in themselves.
Often overlooked by book collectors, literary ephemera exists in very small quantities, making this one of the few collectibles that exist in rarities and is relatively inexpensive to collect. And since there isn’t set checklist to follow, it can be like opening a mystery toy inside your favorite cereal box, discovering an ephemeral item you never knew existed.
The New York Times Book Review Department has shared a few of its own collected bits of literary ephemera.