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.

Ephemerastudies.org 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

Title

Oil Painting for Girls 1883

Category
gallery, Magazine
Date

1883

Why It's Interesting

This issue from 1883 of the Girl’s Own Paper provided instruction in the helpful avocation of oil painting.  Young ladies were expected to be competent amateurs in a wide range of cultured activities, though they were not supposed to master any to the point of unladylike professionalism.

This journal was one of tens of thousands published during the late 19th century, when mass-media first emerged.  Scholars have long looked to periodicals for information about an era, but so often they kept consulting the same major titles: the Century, Scribner’s, Harper’s etc.  The material in these favored journals became canonical.  Were less famous journals deservedly so?  Were their contents so inferior in some way that they can be safely ignored in reconstructing history?  I leave answering that question to future writers.

But I believe strongly that scholars should at least be familiar with a fair sampling of the “other” journals.  For this reason, I have begun buying stray issues of forgotten titles, in many subject interests.  I know that I am not foresighted enough to deduce which, if any, will prove important to researchers in the future, so I simply buy all of the titles that I can get reasonably.

I have arranged part of my magazine collection chronologically, the idea being that scholars researching any topic will find it useful to consult a range of journals from a particular year or era, to have a better sense of what was going on and seemed important then to writers and readers.

Though it hardly needs to be said, I will say it anyway: in addition to the information preserved in these journals that is probably unavailable elsewhere, one finds there countless illustrations, drawings, paintings, and photographic imagery, that also exist nowhere else.