I became interested in ephemera in my mid teens. During the 1960s, I remember my mother dropping me off at an old antique dealer’s shop in North Scituate, Rhode Island, where I would go through file cabinets full of letters and documents. That was where I read Civil War letters for the first time.
I continued to look for similar items throughout my high school years. When I went to the Hartt College of Music for my music degree, I took a history of education class with University of Hartford Professor Ed Sullivan, of political history fame. It was in that class that Sullivan showed Rewards of Merit from his own collection. At the same time, in a psychology class, I learned that the theory of positive reinforcement in education went back to the 16th century, although psychologists and behavioral theorists Edward Lee Thorndike, B. F. Skinner and Jean Piaget wrote about positive reinforcement during the first half of the 20th century. That exposure was the beginning of the “Rewards of Merit” book that Pat Fenn and I wrote, which was published by the Ephemera Society of America in 1995.
As an early Chairman of the Board of the Ephemera Society of America, I worked alongside Ephemera Society founders Bill Mobley, Jack Golden and Calvin Otto, who were all seminal figures in encouraging research, preservation and collecting of old paper. Speaking at an early Ephemera Society of America banquet dinner, Marcus A. McCorison, president of the American Antiquarian Society, described the study of ephemera as “looking through the keyhole of history.” His words made a lasting impression on me, guiding my collecting efforts ever since.
Since the mid 1970s, Bill Mobley has made a special effort to teach me all he could about ephemera, for which I will be forever grateful.
My partner, Cary Hull, and I are now doing about 6 shows per year. We also sell online and look to fulfill collectors’ request for certain types of ephemera.