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What Exactly Are Ephemera And How To Make Your Own

What Exactly Are Ephemera And How To Make Your Own main article image
Posted on February 28, 2021 by Julie Richards

Using Ephemera in scrapbooking is very popular as it adds a unique flair and vintage feel to your project. In this article, Ephemera will be explained, you will gain tips on where you can get ephemera and how you can make your own inexpensive ephemera.

Ephemera Defined

Merriam-Webster defines ephemera as this:

1: something of no lasting significance

2: paper items…that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles

The second definition is my favorite because now I can claim all my paper craft supplies as “collectibles”. My family would beg to differ and calls it “mom’s hoarded trash”. The kids change their tune when they see how I use my ephemera in my journals. Then they “ooh” and “aah” over it.
If you have ever made or seen a junk journal, then you have seen ephemera in use. As someone who does paper crafting on a daily basis, my definition of ephemera are vintage pieces of paper that tell a story about the previous owner.

Types of Ephemera

This could be a very long list, but I will try to explain the various types of ephemera according to category.


Old letters, notes, invoices, receipts, and legal documents would fall into this category. Most of these types of ephemera are hand-written and look old and worn. Often this type of ephemera are from the 1800’s to early 1900’s time frame. Someone who uses this type of ephemera in their paper crafts may refer to it as “original ephemera” or just “originals”.


Just like the name implies, this type of ephemera are vintage photos found in local thrift stores or antique shops. Some people sell these antique photographs online. Others may find the old photos in a family album. Some of the most popular images are black-and-white photos of children, women, and animals taken in the 19th or very early 20th century.

Cards and Tags

This category covers greeting cards, cigarette cards, tickets, things of this nature. Post cards are listed under this heading. Valentine’s day cards from the late 19th century are in high demand. School flash cards, trading cards and playing cards from games are an extremely popular form of ephemera. Old Victorian die cuts, with their beautiful colors and amazing artwork are hard to find but a notable prize when talking about ephemera.

Books, Book Plates and Music

Books and sheet music now in the public domain are sought after for use in paper crafts and journal making. When you make a handmade journal with a vintage theme or feel, these old, stained book pages and papers add so much interest to the journal. Often a book plate with floral prints or beautiful art work becomes a page in the journal.

Miscellaneous Ephemera

Sometimes overlooked are the tidbits of normal life from days gone by. Trading stamps (S&H green stamps), business cards from the early 20th century, product labels, recipe cards, and used envelopes are all items I love to have in my collection when I make my journals. Clothing catalogs and magazines that are no longer in copyright are pieces to treasure now when gathering ephemera for paper crafts. Original old world maps are also in this category.

Finding Ephemera Today

Now that you know what ephemera are, where do you find it? Authentic ephemera are expensive because people who own it, don’t usually want to part with it. You must realize that some of these items may have been passed down for generations. However there are some places you can locate great pieces at an affordable price. Local thrift stores, small antique shops, estate sales and garage sales are four places you may be able to find some of the items mentioned earlier.

There are online vendors who specialize in genuine ephemera pieces. Some of them are quite reasonable in their pricing. As with all online purchases, read the reviews about the vendor before making any purchase. You also want to make sure there is a return policy if the articles you bought are not what was advertised.

The Inexpensive Alternative

While genuine ephemera are a great thing, sometimes it is impractical to use in paper crafts. There are much more affordable ways to add vintage-looking ephemera to your project. Creative Fabrica has a group of very talented graphic artists who specialize in vintage designs. You can find replicas of maps, product labels, book plates and more.

Other artists have been able to transform magazine covers and pages into digital prints which are very affordable. Once you purchase the file, you can print it out as many times as you wish. It’s like a never-ending supply of ephemera for your paper crafts.

Make Your Own Ephemera

You may not be able to buy the genuine article but that doesn’t mean you can’t recreate one of your own.

There are so many types of ephemera that it is almost impossible not to find something you can make with common items you have at home. Let me show you how I turn a regular envelop into a vintage piece of ephemera.

Supply List:

  • Square envelop
  • 8 ounces of brewed coffee
  • Scissors
  • Pen
  • Fine tip black marker
  • Postage Stamp


Soak the envelop in the brewed coffee for about 5 minutes.

Remove and let the envelop dry.

Use the edge of the scissors to rough up all the edges of the envelop

Address the envelop with 19th century type address in script writing.

Add postage stamp.

Create a canceled stamp mark across the postage stamp.

You can make all types of ephemera for your paper crafts with simple techniques like this one. Study some of the images of old documents and other pieces of ephemera and think of ways you could create a piece of paper to look like the originals. Once you are satisfied with your copy, scan it into your digital files so you can print it out any time you need something for your project.

Using Ephemera in Paper Crafts

I use different types of ephemera in every one of my handmade journals. Sometimes it is the real thing and other times it is a digital copy. One of my favorites to use are pages from a book entitled The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. Her drawings and hand-written account of her days in the country were copied into book form. I insert an entire page into my journals so others can share the beauty and elegance of her handwriting and her images.

Vintage dictionary pages are very useful in paper crafts. Not only does the text add interest to a journal, sometimes there are small images on those definition pages. They also work well as background pages for watercolor paintings or collage work.

Other types of ephemera I use are old library cards from a time when you had to have the card stamped with a checkout and return date. I make copies of the originals that I have and dye them with coffee or tea for a vintage look. I use these as journaling cards or tags.

I love using a copy of an original product label as a corner pocket. I generally try to find a label that coincides with the theme of the journal I am making. If the theme doesn’t match, I look for one with the same color combinations so it coordinates with the rest of the journal.

Once in a while, you may stumble on an old envelop when searching for ephemera. These are probably one of my favorite pieces. I don’t have to alter the envelop in any way to use in my journals. I use these as pockets in which to tuck other tags and cards. I may even leave a personal note for the recipient of the journal to find at a later date. It’s always a wonderful surprise to find something hidden in a book. And it just might be a great piece of ephemera one day!

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Loving the MAGIC you are doing turning the new envelope into a vintage style envelope!

Julie Richards's profile picture
Julie Richards

March 6, 2021


Thank you so much! I love being able to age paper and make it look vintage!

Ronda Cook

March 2, 2021

Excellent article!

Julie Richards's profile picture
Julie Richards

March 2, 2021


Thank You Ronda! I'm So glad you liked it!

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