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Jean McClelland: Mardi Gras ephemera is rich, festive collectible

Mar. 05, 2013 @ 08:23 AM

No city in America is quite as distinctive as New Orleans with its French, Spanish and American heritage. From its special culture sprung the world famous Mardi Gras celebration. The historic party season begins on the Epiphany, Jan. 6 and ends on the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday that ushers in the Christian Lenten season. Fat Tuesday is historically a day of feasting, drinking and partying before the lean season of self-denial begins.

Many balls and parties have come and gone since New Orleans began the carnival of carnivals thus generating lots of collectibles. One of the reasons the carnivals have been so successful and continuous were the Krewes or organizations that put on the parades, parties and balls for the season. These different groups at one time sent out elaborate Parisian invitations to their functions. Today collectors covet these lovely works of art along with other Mardi Gras party ephemera.

Prior to World War I the complex and ornate invitations, admit cards and even dance programs were commonly ordered from Paris. The early die-cut chromolithographs designed to illustrate the theme of the ball were beautiful imaginative presentations. Not only were they creative but part of their appeal were intricate folds that offered delight and surprise with each turn of the paper. Needless to say they were very expensive not only to make but to hand deliver. After World War I most of the excessive paper goods were pared down but their calmer replacements are still very collectible today.

Parade papers were published describing the floats, invitations and all the details the publisher could garner from the designers and the Krewes. Many a newspaper would come up with individual renditions along with some very colorful advertisements. Something this interesting had to have books commemorating the events, and thus there are vintage books to collect about the yearly event.

The high season of carnival ephemera collectibles was 1870 through the era of World War I. The older and more elaborate the invitation or other ephemera the more expensive it will be to the collector. Some of these beauties go for hundreds of dollars but the more recent ones usually sell for less than $100. Prices usually depend not only on age but on condition and rarity as well.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.