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


Soap Sculpture Contest 1948; Post-War Shortages

Booklet, gallery
Why It's Interesting

This booklet was issued by the National Soap Sculpture Committee in connection with the revival of its annual soap carving competition, following a wartime hiatus.  [It notes that there remained a shortage of soap fats; that "soap sculpture does not waste soap.  Soap cut away in carving can be used for all washing purposes."]  The Contents page  described soap sculpture in terms of “self-expression for everyone,” “soap sculpture and education,” and “carve what you see.”  Suggestions and hints for beginning and carving the sculptures, along with illustrations, make up the bulk of the booklet.  Awards of up to $250 were given in three categories: Advanced, over-18, non-professional; Senior, ages 14 to 18; and Junior, under 14.

The Jury of Awards included several major sculptors still admired today, including Alexander Archipenko, Robert Laurent, Paul Manship, and William Zorach, and architect Ely Jacques Kahn.  The Sponsorship Committee included artists Aaron Bohrod, Grace Turnbull, Paul Sample, and Edward W. Redfield,

Soap sculpture had been very popular in the 1920s and 1930s, sponsored first by Proctor & Gamble.   Numerous booklets survive documenting the vogue and competitions.  This postwar effort to revive interest in the art did not seem to have much success.