Ephemera Demistified

Confessions of a “Antiques” Blogger


 1864 Civil War Soldier’s Letter written on an Illustrated Broadside Song Sheet

I have been working with the Walnutts team now for… Well lets face it, my whole life. As the daughter of the Walnutts Antiques founders, I grew up sitting around the Antique shop, traipsing around flea markets and snoozing through auctions while my parents hunted for good finds. As I grew older I eventually became more involved in the business, and began slowly but surely learning more about the antiques that I had been surrounded by for as long as I can remember.

For years I have heard (and in turn repeated) that one of Walnutts specialty’s was “Ephemera“. I threw the word around feigning confidence, but if ever asked what exactly it meant, my reaction tended to be something like “Ummm… Like paper stuff…”. Well about a week ago I was reading a book, and came across the exact question that I had been too embarrassed to ask. “What is ephemera, exactly?” The answer was so perfect, that I decided that I had to share it, and finally confess my ignorance, and embrace my new knowledge.

 ”What is ephemera, exactly?” 

“Ephemera refers to the kind of materials intended to be short-lived or discarded, such as brochures, catalogs, menus, billheads, mining certificates, theater programs, bylaws, political flyers, travel guides, wine labels… and sometimes letters. Precisely because they weren’t created to last, they sometimes contain information that is not otherwise documented.”

(As written in book by Juliette Blackwell)

Wow… it seems so clear now! I can’t believe that after all this time I have finally come across such a concise and easy to understand definition for something that I have always been a bit ashamed to admit that I didn’t already know! But you learn new things all the time, and I am thrilled to have this piece of knowledge now in my toolbox! I hope that I may have cleared some questions up for some as you as well!!


Some other examples of Ephemera:


1876 “Buffalo Bill”  and “Texas Jack”  related Printed Silk Souvenir Broadside Playbill



1864 Civil War Soldier’s Letter



original 1860’s Civil War Patriotic Envelopes



1904 Illustrated and Priced Catalog of Kodak Cameras and Photography Supplies



1905 Real Photo Postcard written and addressed to William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody


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Buffalo Bill Cody : Personal Photographs from His Family Collection

bbill-6fEvery once in a while, we are lucky enough to come across items that are truly “Fresh to the Market”. So what does that mean exactly? “Fresh to the Market” is a term used to describe an item (or items) that has previously not been available for sale, most likely because it was part of a private collection, and / or it was on display in a museum. These items can be very exciting to come across, because oftentimes they are quite unique. We were just lucky enough to recently purchase a group of items that fall into this category.

bbill-8d1904 large format Card Mount Photograph of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Cowboy Performers including William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody himself taken while the Show was performing in Scotland.

The photos pictured here were a part of a collection which was the personal property of Buffalo Bill Cody and his family, and which descended directly in the Cody family to his great-granddaughter Patricia Ann “Patsy” Garlow – granddaughter of Cody’s daughter Irma.

bbill-7cca1894 Cabinet Card Photograph of the daughter of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody – Irma Cody taken in the studio Brooklyn photographer Stacy.

Provenance: These fantastic Photographs descended directly in the family of Irma Louise Cody Garlow, Buffalo Bill Cody’s last surviving child. Buffalo Bill and his wife Louisa Frederici Cody (1843-1921) had four children but only their two daughters – Arta (1866-1904) and the baby Irma (1883-1918) lived to adulthood. Irma married Frederick Harrison Garlow Sr. (1880-1918) and had 3 children – Frederick Harrison Garlow Jr. (1911-1985); William Joseph Garlow (changed name to Cody) (1913-1992) and Jane Cody Garlow (1909-1987). When Irma and Fred Garlow Sr. died within three days of each other during the influenza pandemic of 1918, the three young children were cared for by their Grandmother Louisa, wife of Buffalo Bill Cody. Fred Garlow Jr. married Margaret Southerland and they had two children Patricia Ann (b.1948) and Mark Frederick (b. 1952). The Photographs that we acquired were the property of Patricia Ann “Patsy” Garlow, Buffalo Bill’s direct great-granddaughter. It was among the property of the Cody-Garlow family and was originally the property of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and his wife.


1894 large format Card Mount Photograph of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and his wife Louisa Federici Cody taken by Brooklyn photographer Stacy.

Many of these Photographs spent most of the last half of the 20th century on loan to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of the West and bear BBHC index numbers on the versos. We were also told that any of the items with tack holes were displayed on the walls of one of Cody’s homes including the TE Ranch, the Bobcat Ranch (usually Irma’s home), the Pahaska Tepee and his residence in North Platte – Scout’s Rest Ranch.

bbill-10cca1910 Real Photo Postcard / Photograph of the Yellowstone Hunting Lodge of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody known as the “Pahaska Tepee” in winter.

The photographs included in this collection varied greatly, from some likely one of a kind Photographs taken with a snapshot camera and printed out as Real Photo Postcards, photos which were likely given as a mementos to Cody by the photographers,  a number of personal photographs taken by Stacy in the photographer’s studio and at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show grounds during the 1894 Season (during which the Show performed at Ambrose Park in Brooklyn, New York for the entire summer), etc.

bbill-9dca1910 Real Photo Postcard / Photograph of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody with his close friend Native American Lakota Chief Iron Tail and a man believed to be Captain Jack Crawford on the show grounds of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

One postcard pictures the “fairgrounds” at Bourg, France with a herd of livestock grazing on the small plot. The Postcard is addressed to “Col. Cody Buffalo Bill” at Reims. The message and the Postmark are dated July 10, 1905 and the message appears to have been written by an Advance Man for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West named Dean.  Apparently “Dean” was scouting possible locations where Buffalo Bill’s Wild West might be able to appear during the European tour that was taking place in 1905. It seems that the fairgrounds at Bourg was too small to accommodate the show and “Dean” was reporting this directly to Buffalo Bill.

bbill-11c1905 Postcard written and addressed to William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody from an advance man of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Europe regarding a possible location for the Show to perform in Bourg, France. This Postcard was sent to Cody while the Show was performing at Reims.

We feel truly lucky to have been able to hold some of this history in our hands, and hope that you have enjoyed reading about it – and perhaps buying one of the items for yourself! We will be offering selected items from this collection over the next few week as part of our weekly eBay auctions.

For more information, please see our eBay listings.

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Battle of Gettysburg: The Children of the Battlefield


Pictured above is an  original, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg / Civil War subject CDV Photograph, which was sold to support those children orphaned by the Civil War. This fascinating  CDV is titled “The Children of the Battle Field” and features a fantastic Albumen Photograph taken from the famous Ambrotype Photograph which was originally found clutched in the hands of an unidentified Union Soldier who died on the Battle Field at Gettysburg.


The three young children pictured here are identified in printed text on the card mount below the photo as “Frank. / Fredrick. / Alice.”. Printed text on the back of the mount reads: “The Children of the Battlefield. / This is a copy of the Ambrotype found in the hands of Sergeant Humiston of the 154th Regiment of New York Volunteers, as he lay dead on the Battle-Field of Gettysburg. The copies are sold in furtherance of the national Sabbath School to found in Pennsylvania an Asylum for dependent Orphans of Soldiers in memorial of our Perpetuated Union”. Further text on the reverse reads “This Picture is private property and cannot be copied without wrongdoing the Soldier’s Orphans for whom it is published”.



Here is a “Sketch” written in 1863 detailing the story of “The Children of the Battlefield”:

“Few readers of the public journals will fail to remember that, after the battle of Gettysburg, a dead soldier was found on the field, clasping in his hand an ambrotype of his three little children. No other incident of the present fratricidal war is known to have so touched the heart of the nation. For months after the battle, the soldier’s name, and the home of his family, were a mystery. The ambrotype found within his clasped hands was obtained by J. Francis Bourns, M.D., of Philadelphia, who had the picture photographed, in the hope that its circulation might lead to the discovery of the family, and the soldier’s own recognition, and, at the same time, that the sales of the copies might result in a fund for the support and education of the little ones thus left fatherless. Publicity was also given to the incident in many newspapers throughout the country. From various quarters letters of affecting inquiry were soon received; but still the mystery of the soldier was unsolved. At length, in the month of November, a letter arrived with the intelligence that a soldier’s wife at a little town on the Allegheny River, in Western New York, had seen the account of the picture in a religious paper, the American Presbyterian, of Philadelphia, – a single copy of which was taken in the place. She had sent her husband such a picture, and had not heard from him since the sanguinary struggle at Gettysburg. With trembling anxiety she awaited the reply and the coming of the picture. A copy of it came, and was the identical likeness of her own children, and told the painful story that she was a widow and her little ones were orphans. The unknown soldier was thus ascertained to be Amos Humiston, late of Portville, Cattaraugus county, New York, sergeant in the 154th N.Y. Volunteers.”.


A glass plate showing the aftermath of The Battle of Gettysburg titled “A Harvest of Death.” This image was taken by Timothy H. O’Sullivan for Alexander Gardner circa July 5-6, 1863. It is courtesy of the Library of Congress.

For more information, please see our eBay listing.

Posted in 19th Century, American Tragedies, Civil War, Gettysburg, Past Auction, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Staten Island Semaphore Station / Optical Telegraph Signal Book: Just How Did They Communicate?

bk-1cPictured here is a fantastic, original first edition of the first comprehensive Signal Book detailing a system of communication between ships in the harbor of New York City with the Staten Island Semaphore Station / Optical Telegraph published in 1822. This fascinating, extensively illustrated little volume is titled “‘The New-York Telegraph and Signal Book. / Signals Established between the Telegraph on Staten-Island and the Shipping Belonging to the Port of New York”. By Samuel C. Reid. New York, 1822. “Printed For The Author”.


This volume is the first published “code-book” relating to telecommunications in the United States and is one of only 3 known copies in existence (Worldcat finds one example at Harvard’s Houghton Library and one other held by the Peabody Essex Museum). The system of communication was devised and this Volume written by Samuel Chester Reid, an officer in the United States Navy who commanded a privateer during the War of 1812. He is also noted as having submitted to Congress the design of the flag of the United States, which first established the rule of keeping thirteen stripes and adding one star for each U.S. state in 1818. Reid’s design is still in use today.


This exceptionally rare, Merchant Shipping / Nautical Code Volume measures approx. 3 3/4” by 6” and contains 72 profusely illustrated pages. The first section of the Volume is titled “Description of the Telegraph and the Manner in Which it Communicates With the Shipping in the Lower Harbour”. These 11 pages detail (with text and illustrations) the form and function of the Optical Telegraph located at Sandy Hook on Staten Island which was used to relay messages to and from ships entering the harbor of New York and the Merchants’ Exchange Building in Manhattan.


Within these first pages there is a complete detailing of the positions of the mechanical parts of the Telegraph that represent each letter of the alphabet. The text tell of the manner in which the Telegraph first identifies which ship it wishes to communicate with (New York’s lower harbor was a busy place in 1822 with many ships coming and going), the manner in which the subsequent communication is to be made and the manner in which the ship would be able to communicate with the Telegraph Station.


Of special interest in this Volume are the next 52 pages titled “Signals” which presents a VERY detailed code to be used by the Vessels when communicating with the Telegraph. By the use of a combination of flags commonly found on all merchant ships along with a black ball, a vast array of information can be conveyed through vertical combinations of the signal flags and ball flown from the flag staff or other pole.


The ships ensign (in most cases a variation of the National Flag), the jack, pendant and burgee along with a square white flag and the black ball were all that was need to communicate everything from “I want a cable” to “I have several persons on board taken from a wreck” to “My crew is so exhausted that they are unable to work the vessel up”.


There are specific communications meant to be relayed to the individual ship’s owners as well as general news and communications and specific needs and desires of the ship’s masters and crew. Each message is illustrated with the combinations of flags and ball that represent that message and these illustrations use the flags of an American vessels – hence the American Naval Flag, the star jack and the American Flag form pennant!!


This exceptionally rare and wonderful Volume is a treasure trove on information regarding the state of the U.S. Merchant Marine Fleet of the early 19th century as well as a fantastic insight into what types of communication were deemed important and how that information was communicated in the years before ship to shore telegraph / radio. Also included are “signals” that could be used by the ships in the harbor to communicate with each other!!


At the back of the Volume is a “Telegraphic List of Vessels” which is a part printed and part manuscript list of all of the American Merchant Ships along with their one or two letter designation for identification and communication purposes. The list is extensive with many Ships and Brigs printed into the original work but with many of the two letter designations left bland and with the names of other ships added in manuscript as they joined the merchant fleet.


This historically important Volume is bound in its original half red leather and marble boards which are intact and sound with some edge wear and a partial split at the bottom of the front hinge.  There is extensive, period manuscript entries in the List of vessels at the rear that appear to be all in the same hand.



For more information, please see our eBay listing.

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Rare Collection:1906 Native American Crow Indian Photos by Alfred Baumgartner


An early Billings, Montana photographer, Alfred Baumgartner had a studio on Minnesota Avenue which opened in 1906 and closed just a few years later. Little is known of his work except that he was certainly a true Western Photographer – had a “cowgirl” in his employ at the studio and most of his surviving works are in studio portraits of local Billings, Montana residents. We recently purchased a small collection of simply fantastic and stunningly beautiful, Art Photo style portraits of Native American Crow who lived on the expansive Crow Indian Reservation south of Billings, that were taken and copyrighted in 1906 by Alfred Baumgartner.

As far as we can tell Baumgartner, never published this or any of the Crow Images in this wonderful collection as we can find only a single example of a Native American Photograph by Baumgartner in any museum or library collection (that photograph is of Crow Chief Plenty Coups and is held in the collection of the Yellowstone Western Heritage Center- image can be found here). We believe this beautiful Photograph may be the only known example or at the very least exceptionally rare.

Each Photograph in this collection is very much in the style of Carl Moon with a soft, warm “feel” to the Image and a respectful treatment of the subject, and most features a wonderfully appropriate and beautiful painted backdrop and the high quality and stunning beautiful, embossed card mount that complete the artistic presentation. There is text in a number of the negatives, or stamped on the recto, that reads “Baumgartner Studio, Billings, Mont.”.


indian-5cStudio full length Photographic seated portrait of an unidentified Crow Woman    dressed in a beautiful, elk tooth tunic and wearing a multi-strand necklace and agency blanket.


indian-7c Photographic portrait of an unidentified Crow Warrior dressed in traditional garb with an elaborate, multi-strand necklace and with typical Crow hair style along with his wife. Also in the Photo is a second Crow brave dressed in much more western style clothing with his wife and young child . (We feel that we have seen this Crow Brave at the left before but we have been unable to identify him. Any information regarding his identity would be greatly appreciated.)


indian-6cStudio full length portrait Photograph of an unidentified Crow Warrior dressed in traditional garb with an elaborate, multi-strand necklace and with typical Crow hair style. (We feel that we have seen this Crow Brave before but we have been unable to identify him. Any information regarding his identity would be greatly appreciated.)


indian-8cThis Photograph is a half figure, studio portrait of Strikes the Iron dressed in a wonderful, elk tooth tunic.  (The subject is not identified but the wife of Chief Plenty Coups was photographed numerous times in her life and she is easily recognizable.)


indian-1cThis Photograph is a full figure, studio portrait of the Plenty Coups and his wife Strikes the Iron dressed in a combination of traditional and western garb with Plenty Coups wearing his full eagle feather war bonnet and a pipe bone breastplate.


More information on Chief Plenty Coups:

The last traditional Chief of the Crow Nation, Plenty Coups was a visionary that led his people from the ‘Buffalo Days’ into the 20th century. He was an accomplished statesman and ambassador well known by several US Presidents and foreign leaders. Chief Plenty Coups best illustrated the close bond between the US and Crow Nation when, in 1921, he offered his war bonnet and coups sticks at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In his speech, he promised the allegiance of Crow warriors to fight any enemy of the United States. His promise has been upheld countless times in wars or armed conflicts since that gathering. The Chief was a leader by example – he was a productive farmer and stockman, expert steward of his 1885 allotment, and a supporter of education. In 1928 Plenty Coups and his wife, Strikes the Iron, willed their home and land as a place for all cultures to come together in a cooperative nature. Their homestead is now Montana’s Chief Plenty Coups State Park. The Chief did not dedicate this location to glorify himself or his deeds, but to honor the culture of the Crow Nation and to bring people together.

For more information, please see our eBay listing.

Posted in 19th Century, Native American, Native American History, Past Auction, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment