Organizing the Everyday

Ephemera are traces of the everyday—materials, usually printed, designed to be read or consumed in some way and then discarded. From bus tickets to party invitations, dance cards to matchbooks, these items form the texture of social and commercial exchange. Ephemera such as the samples displayed in this exhibition can also reveal the different cultural values of the past. For instance, chapbooks fill us in about popular reading habits in the fifteenth century, advertising trade cards reflect consumer preferences in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and paper samples show trends in paper production and use in the mid-twentieth century. Every piece of ephemera is a small demonstration of a certain printing technology or artistic sensibility, and so has a place in the history of design. The material in this exhibition is grouped by genre or theme, such as Type Specimens and Technologies of the Trade, which conveys the range of purposes ephemera can serve as well as the various printing processes from which they emerge.      


In December 2013, the Newberry was awarded a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to process 29,800 items from the Newberry’s John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing. The Wing collection embraces numerous kinds of ephemera, including type specimen sheets and booklets, advertising trade cards, the David Meyer Collection of Letterheads and Stationery, and the Wing Ephemera File. This last is the largest, containing more than 20,000 items created by individuals and companies in the book arts and publishing industry. The ephemera on display is a small sampling of what the project staff have encountered during the first year of this two-and-a-half-year project.