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


Gymnastics and Dumb-Bell Exercises 1864

Book, gallery


Why It's Interesting

The full title of this remarkable book is A Manual of Free Gymnastic and Dumb-Bell Exercises for the School Room and Parlor.  The author is James H. Smart.  The book was published in Cincinnati and began by quoting the resolutions passed by bodies of educators in Ohio on the importance of exercises in molding young bodies and minds.  Is it coincidental that this fitness movement emerged during the Civil War–perhaps comparable to how Americans were told during World War II that fitness contributed to national defense.  Would women have been included in a push for physical exercise outside of wartime exigencies?