This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life.  Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all.  Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these.  I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.

I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America.  The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.

I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful.  Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera.  I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason. will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors.  Please contact me with your impressions of the site.

~ Saul Zalesch


Dyeing for a New Wardrobe and Home Decor

Booklet, gallery
Why It's Interesting

Before World War II, American women were encouraged to update their wardrobes and home decors regularly using dyes.  Diamond Dyes, the issuer of this lovely booklet from the turn of the 20th century, was preeminent in this market.  Other companies competing included Rainbow Dyes, Gypsy Studios, and E-Z-Dye.  I recently submitted a paper proposal on this dyeing phenomenon to the regional art-history conference that I usually attend, but the session chair saw insufficient historical interest in it.  [I have been in art history 30 years now.  I consistently try to expand the scope of what we consider art history.  I must be a pathetic salesman because it remains the case that my proposals on novel subjects are usually rejected by chairs who are not friends.]

This booklet has one feature I have not run across before.  The dresses and outfits shown in line drawings all have a horizontal dotted line running through them.  The title page states “Cut across each page, having dress pattern, along the dotted line and get thirty-two new dresses by combining the different waists with the different skirts.”  Thus mixing and matching outfits is nothing new.   [The use of the word Witch here is also unprecedented and rather puzzling.]

Besides telling us how Americans kept changing the colors and look of their surroundings, these catalog/manuals remind us of just how relatively poor most people were before the 1940s–how low prices were by our standards.  For example, Diamond offered here an American Birds coloring book, along with 10 crayons of different colors, for 2 2 cent stamps.  Their artistic ribbon book could be had for one such stamp.