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

Trompe L’Oeil 1886

Category
Almanac, gallery
Date

1886

Why It's Interesting

This cover is a fine example of the trompe l’oeil [fool the eye] painting/design that was so popular in America during the late 19th century.  The effect of torn paper recalls John Haberle’s Torn in Transit (1880s)(Amanda K. Berls Coll., Brandywine Museum).  Burdock Blood Bitters sponsored a major quack-medicine almanac.  Apart from this issue, which is hard to obtain, the almanacs generally used simple, cute line drawings of children and are readily available.  The back cover of this issue, also in bright color, shows a John-G.-Brown-like street urchin distributing copies that reveal both the front and back covers.  They were given out “compliments of your druggist.”  This particular copy originated in West Southport, ME.  This is one of the few quack almanacs to have no illustrations within its text.  Later issues of this series have a few cuts of customers giving testimonials but no other illustrations.  This may be why there exists little interest in this series apart from this trompe l’oeil issue, copies of which can be found on websites ranging from one devoted to “freaks” to one in Australia called “your treasures.”

Promised Gift to the Winterthur Library, October 2010