The term ‘ephemera’ covers a wide range of documents including leaflets, tickets, programmes, printed tins and packaging, advertising inserts, posters, newspapers and much more. In terms of nursing history it will also include letters, postcards, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, and original official documents.

What they have in common is their ‘transient’ nature. They were produced to be consumed ‘at the time’, and without much thought to their longevity. As such much ephemera is destroyed, either by accident or by design, damaged or simply stored away ‘somewhere safe’ and never found again. Where historical ephemera exists it is likely to be fragile and will require careful handling and storage if it is to be preserved for the future. In this section we look at some of the more common ways of finding ephemera related to the history of British Army Nurses, and basic steps any of us can take to preserve what we find.

Finding ephemera

Online book stores
One of the most well known online book store for old and original books is Abebooks. Launched in 1996, AbeBooks is an online marketplace where you can buy brand new books, secondhand books, rare books and out-of-print books, as well as cheap textbooks. They are an aggregate seller, connecting you with thousands of professional booksellers around the world and have millions of books listed for sale.

It is possible to find old and rare books listed on Amazon, but there are fewer second-hand book sellers associated with Amazon.

Online auctions
eBay is the most well known online auction site, especially for smaller and lower value objects. In order to buy from eBay you do need to have an account. The search engine is very straight forward although the search terms ‘nursing’ or ‘nurse’ can bring some strange results! As eBay has matured it now offers a protected service so if an item does not arrive, or is not as described it is relatively simple to sort out. As with all auctions it is easy to get carried away and bid more than an item is worth. Our advice is to place the highest amount you feel you want to pay at the start. eBay will then bid on your behalf until your limit is reached. Do not go back and add more to your limit!

If you want to try your hand in a general auction, but from the comfort of your living room, you can use aggregator sites like, to find and enter general actions. As with eBay, you need to know your limit, and you need to take into account any service and delivery charges before making a bid. Auctions like this are ‘as seen’ so you cannot send something back because it isn’t what you thought it was.

Antique and Militaria Fairs
There are a huge number of Antique and Military Fairs countrywide. Do not be afraid to haggle with the dealers, they will always have marked up items for a profit and will have some leeway with prices. Also do not be afraid of taking out a magnifying glass and giving items a good examination. An honest dealer will not mind that you want to be sure about an item. Generally speaking we find prices slightly higher at fairs than on auction sites, but you do generally get to meet dealers who know what they are selling and are usually willing to give advice on collecting ephemera.