Organizations often produce very dry and seemingly worthless records and publications. I remember an early book show where my young daughter and I felt sorry for the woman next to our four table spread, as she only filled up part of a single table with a handful of Alcoholics Anonymous books. It really looked pretty pathetic until she sold the first one for $15,000 or so.
One of the biggest surprises I have had in what might be called the “organizational ephemera” market is the value of early Jehovah’s Witnesses material, as the literature they currently push falls somewhere on the paper food chain between scented cards that fall out of magazines and last year’s phone book, and it didn’t seem like aging would help all that much. I almost recycled a few boxes of it, as there was little pricing information out there, even utilizing eBay’s market research feature where you pay more to look back further at the record of completed auctions. I floated some test pieces but instead of sinking they walked on the water, with most averaging over $25 and some going in the hundreds.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a nice website, but I will reprint the first three paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry, without all the hyperlinks.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses are an international Christian denomination which originated in the United States with the 19th century Bible Student movement. They adopted their present name in 1931 under the leadership of Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Believing that all other religions are false, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject traditional Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, eternal torment in hell and the immortality of the soul. The central theme of their preaching is God’s Kingdom (that is, God’s rule over the Earth) with Jesus Christ as its king. The Witnesses believe this rule began with the Second Coming or presence of Christ. Originally, this was believed to have occurred invisibly in 1874, but this date was later revised to 1914.
“Witnesses believe that their faith is the restoration of first-century Christianity. In areas where they are active, they are commonly known for their door-to-door preaching and their objection to blood transfusions, and for not celebrating birthdays or holidays. Their most widely-known publications are the religious magazines The Watchtower and Awake!. Official membership of the organization, counted as those who preach each month, is 6.7 million as of August 2006.
“Other Witness teachings include the recognition and use of a personal name for God, translated as Jehovah in English, as vital for acceptable worship. They believe that Jesus’ death was necessary to atone for the sin brought into the world by the first man, Adam, thus opening the way for the hope of everlasting life for mankind. It is also taught that 144,000 people will receive immortal life in heaven with Jesus Christ as co-rulers guiding the rest of humankind to perfection on a paradise earth during the 1000 year reign. More specifically, Witnesses believe that in the war of Armageddon, which they believe to be imminent, the wicked will be destroyed. The survivors of this event, along with individuals deemed worthy of resurrection, will form a new society ruled by a heavenly government and have the possibility of living forever in an earthly paradise.”
Anyway, most of this material was from the 1930s through the 1940s. It included broadside sheets titled Informant, Bulletin for Jehovah’s Witnesses, Kingdom News, and the apparently very rare Director for Field Publishers; periodicals such as The Scope and The Golden Age; interesting foreign material including issues of the large format German
language Trost magazine from 1940 that was probably not tolerated much after that date; annual worldwide assembly programs and convention reports; JW examinations and applications; printed songs of praise; little solicitation and testimony cards they used to hand out; instructions on how to behave while being arrested; fliers for radio broadcasts; letterhead correspondence; and all kinds of printed matter. “Riches of Jehovah’s Kingdom,” for example, was described as follows. “Four page pamphlet, does not give the dates (just days), but looks late 1930s or so, measures 4.25″ by 5.75″ closed, inside is a list of Nassau County towns and the times and home addresses of study meetings, one in Freeport for ‘Colored’ members, list of five minute Judge Rutherford radio lectures by radio station.” This nondescript little thing went for $169.49. The jewel in the crown was an original linen cloth banner used at the August, 1944 St. Louis Assembly where Judge Rutherford made one of his earthly appearances. On the down side, anything after the 1940s got low or no bids.
Buyers of organizational ephemera are typically nice paper people. They tend to be focused, knowledgeable in their field, prompt in all dealings, and polite (though chances are some of them don’t like each other). The JW buyers were especially swell. Some of these items went into private collections (which will perhaps be made more public some day), some went to institutions (including a donation I made), and others were headed for display cases in new Assembly Halls. All that collection and construction makes one feel a little better about the nearness of Armageddon. In the meantime, always check on the collectibility and value of these kinds of things before discarding or passing them on. Especially early 1900s stuff, which was truly ephemeral, and not really meant to be witnessed again.
Shawn Purcell operates Balopticon Books & Ephemera and can be contacted at http://www.balopticon.com