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


White China for Decorating 1900-1910

Catalog, gallery
Why It's Interesting

China painting was one of the most widely practiced arts in American homes at the start of the 20th century.  At least a hundred thousand artists, mostly women, were believed to decorate china for personal use, as gifts, and to earn extra income.  Thayer & Chandler of Chicago was the leading purveyor of the china blanks that were painted, and of the supplies, including paints and kilns, used.  This catalog from circa 1900 has the widest assortment of blanks I have ever seen in a china-painting catalog.  It includes forms and kinds of china I have not seen in any of the dozen plus other catalogs I have from T & C.  For example, forms included “celery dips,” “mustache cups and saucers,” “mayonnaise dishes,” and a whole page of “celery trays.”  Six pages display Belleek china, including several huge, complicated vases. Kinds of objects for decoration not seen in later catalogs included: “china shirt-waist buttons,” “Fine Gold-Plated Backs for China Buckles, Brooches, etc.,” and “Fine Gold-Plated Novelties with China Medallions for Decorating.”

To provide some example of the prices then: one page showed 11 pieces of A “Vincennes” shape complete dinner set of 110 pieces costing $32.00 and kilns cost between $34 and $141.

China painting remained strong until World War I cut off the supply of the blanks painters used.   Changing circumstances thereafter completed its destruction.