Published: February 16, 2021
CHESTER, CONN. – In January 2021, the Ephemera Society of America (ESA) bestowed its top honor, the Maurice Rickards Award, to Al Malpa of Chester for “sustained, outstanding contributions to the field.” On February 6, Al died at his Chester home after a short battle with ALS. He was 71 years old.
The award announcement read, in part, “The Ephemera Society of America owes much of its early vigor to Al Malpa. He not only served in several capacities on the board of directors from our beginnings in 1980, but also gently persuaded others to become more than just members. His legacy includes collections now at the Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, the Huntington Library; and a reference work on printers and other tradesmen involved with rewards of merit.
“Al became interested in ephemera in his teens. In the 1960s, his mother would regularly drive him to an antiques shop in North Scituate, R.I.,, where he would search through drawers full of Civil War letters, documents and other ‘paper Americana.’ Enrolled in the Hartt College of Music as a trombonist, he also took a class at the University of Hartford, where the professor introduced him to rewards of merit from his own collection. To Al, this tied directly into another psychology class discussion about theories of positive reinforcement.”
Al was a member of the ESA for decades, often serving on the board or as an officer. He was president from 1987 to 1990.
In his first published presidential letter, Al said, “The greatest reward I’ve found in being a member of the Ephemera Society has been the ability for new relationships with people who share the same excitement about ephemera. Ephemera, being an important social medium itself, is a most suitable means for helping us learn more not only about those who came before us, but also assisting us in better understanding our contemporaries.”
Al’s article, “For the Faithful Scholar … An introduction to collecting Rewards of Merit,” appeared in the fall 1984 Ephemera News and prompted Al and mentor Rockwell Gardiner to plan a book based on their combined collections. When Rocky died in 1986, the society established a publication fund as a tribute. Al spent untold hours with co-author Patricia Fenn to provide a scholarly text, Jack Golden provided the book design and supportive financial lenders made possible this labor of love. The book, Rewards of Merit, Tokens of a Child’s Progress and a Teacher’s Esteem as an Enduring Aspect of American Religious and Secular Education, went on sale in 1995, and is still available through Oak Knoll Books.
To this day, this is the only scholarly work on rewards of merit. Key to its usefulness as a reference book is the “Directory of Booksellers, Engravers, Printers, Publishers, Stationers and related tradesmen who were involved in the design, production, and distribution of Rewards of Merit in the United States” that Al produced.
The ESA’s award announcement concluded, “Al’s career has been in real estate; his avocation in ephemera and friendships. He worked as a newspaper photojournalist, winning a Society of Professional Journalists National Award; and also as an independent professional photographer. During recent years beset with health problems, Al re-ignited his interest in collecting and dealing in ephemera – a truly dedicated collector gaining strength from, and sharing, his passions.”
Al’s Chester-based partner, Cary Hull, will be selling Al’s many ephemera collections through their website, www.almalpa.com; virtual shows run by Marvin Getman; and through their connections to dealers and institutions.
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