Summer Widowers 1910; Poker among the Boys
|gallery, Sheet Music|
|Why It's Interesting|
I end this summer–my school starts up next week–with an evocation of summers 100 years ago. This is the cover, badly cropped because of its large size, of the sheet music from the 1910 Broadway Show The Summer Widowers. In the days before air conditioning–when so many cities suffered plagues each summer–the women and children of affluent families left cities for mountains or the shore for the entire summer. Male breadwinners stayed behind, joining them for weekends, or for a few weeks. An interesting souvenir of this is the contemporaneous Irving Berlin song My Wife’s Gone to the Country, made famous by Al Jolson, about a man who expects to live a fast, wild life while his wife is away. Or more recently, this phenomenon was satirized in the late ’50s in the Marilyn Monroe movie Seven Year Itch.
This is one of my favorite sheet music covers, and one can just picture it hanging in and presiding over a poker den. It is fairly rare.
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.