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

The Great Face Off: Hattie McDaniel and Oliver Hardy, 1939

Category
gallery, Illustration
Why It's Interesting

This strikes me as one of the truly great screen pairings and confrontations.  The image is the cropped center of a still from the film Zenobia (1939).  [In this movie, Hardy, playing a country doctor, cures a circus elephant, which becomes his inseparable friend.]  McDaniel, of course, is shown playing her stereotypical maid/mammy role [in the same year when in Gone With the Wind she became America’s iconic Mammy and earned the first Oscar awarded to a African-American player.]  [ Stepin Fetchit, the first black movie star, also plays his usual demeaning roles in this film.]

I was a huge Laurel & Hardy fan growing up.  I even once joined the Sons of the Desert, their national fan club.  But as much pleasure as Hardy gave me in the comedies, he was a native Georgian, and there is no evidence that he possessed or even developed ideas on race distinguishable from those that simply came along with being a typical white Southerner/American of the ’30s.  This is definitely not an “enlightened” film.  And yet I see in the faces of these two larger-than-life veterans a dynamic tension, and a complexity of attitudes and feelings, that promise rich rewards to knowledgeable students of gender and race.