Definition of ephemera





play\i-ˈfe-mər-ē, -ˈfem-rē\ or


  1. 1:  something of no lasting significance —usually used in plural

  2. 2: ephemera plural :  paper items (as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles

Above you’ll see the Meriam-Webster definition of “ephemera”.  The 1st definition suggests that ephemera is of “no lasting significance”. The transient nature of the ephemeral is precisely why the 2nd definition of the word has passed into usage . Ephemera: little slips of paper, owners manuals, advertisements in magazines, automotive periodicals, posters and so on and so on. With the the sharp 20/20 vision of hindsight these things become snapshots of history, containing the rarefied essence of their time and place. Gazing upon them, studying them and collecting them can be the next best thing to a time machine.

They’re also the next best thing to owning the actual cars, especially when spatial and budgetary constraints impede one from buying the objects of one’s desire. To wit, I will probably never own a Triumph Herald, but I DO own an original factory workshop manual for one. I don’t recall the last time I saw a Renault LeCar anywhere but the internet, but I bought a LeCar Haynes manual at a swap meet just the same. I had to shell out four whole dollars for it, but that was a small price compared to even a seriously knackered example of the car itself. Now I can thumb the pages to my hearts content and marvel at the insight into the workings of what now seems an odd little car. Although, the Renault 5 as the LeCar was known elsewhere in the world, was very influential indeed. Many examples of ephemera have splendid graphics too, even owners manuals meant to live out their days in glove boxes can have delightfully designed covers in period style. Especially interesting are books from Petersen Publishing. I recently acquired Petersen’s Complete Book of Pinto (sic) which delved not only into basic repair and maintenance, but owner’s experiences, driving impressions, development history, performance tuning and customization. As it turned out, many custom paint shops at the time wouldn’t even work on the Pinto because they didn’t know how to handle its truncated looks. There was even a section on how to color stripe your Pinto wagon ! Neat stuff.

The beauty of collecting automotive ephemera is that for once the old chestnut “something for every purse” is actually true. I’ve unearthed such interesting pieces as an owner’s manual for a 1985 Ford LTD at a wrecking yard and I had to pay zero, zilch, nada, nothing $0.00 to add it to the burgeoning Malaise Motors Archive. Do I make my point ? A fifty cent National Geographic at a thrift store can yield a wealth of delightful period advertisements. Swap meets, yard sales and estate sales usually have old issues of automotive periodicals for a few dollars an issue or less. Online auctions like Ebay are infested with affordable pieces. Ephemera is as interesting to the seasoned Malaisian as to the novice. If you’re unsure of what cars you like best, start your education with the ephemera. Be wooed by prosaic add copy and fall in love with it. Maybe Lee Iacocca was right and there are no better cars than a Chrysler to be bought ? And the best part, a substantial collection of automotive ephemera can take up a couple drawers of a file cabinet or a plastic tote. You don’t have to register or insure old dealer pamphlets and workshop manuals and they don’t leak oil or break down. If you’re  reading this you probably have an embryonic collection already, and if not, what are you waiting for !

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