“a little museum of common printed things, to illustrate at one and the same time the historical development of our social life and the development of printing”
The term ‘printed ephemera’, although used privately by the great English collector, John Johnson, was established in the public consciousness in 1962 by John Lewis’s work of that name which drew on Johnson’s collection, among others, to illustrate the range of ephemera.
Inspired by his career as a papyrologist, Johnson began collecting in the 1930s and viewed collecting ephemera as excavating the waste paper of the recent past. Unlike previous collectors, Johnson collected everything.
He wanted to make “a little museum of common printed things, to illustrate at one and the same time the historical development of our social life and the development of printing”.
Johnson succeeded spectacularly but failed to deliver a ‘little museum’ – he assembled about 1.5 million items, divided into 680 subject headings. It is held at the Bodleian Library, the main research library of the University of Oxford.
The term came into use in the 20th century but the material collected is often older
But while the term printed ephemera came into use in the 20th century, it refers to material produced from the 18th century onward.
The great collections like that of John Johnson collection was chiefly made up not of contemporary material but of ‘old material’ with the aim of preserving a record of the past made up chiefly of mainly printed, mainly single sided material.
At the end of 2013, Wikipedia refers to the defining characteristics ephemera as: being transitory; and written or printed. It updates the examples of ephemera with a reference to zines.
It also considers the collection and management of video ephemera.
In 1973, New Jersey’s favorite son, Bruce Springsteen, used a linen Tichnor postcard (although with a more generic, and boring, background) for the cover of his first album, making it the most recognized large-letter postcard out there.
From the 1930s through the 1950s, tourists taking their first road trips in their newfangled automobiles would frequently stop along the way to pick up a few colorful postcards to mail to the folks back home.
The most popular form of eat-your-heart-out greeting was the large-letter postcard, which had been around since the first part of the 20th century but whose heyday was during what we know today as the linen-postcard era.
Made of textured paper rather than actual cloth, linen postcards were printed by companies such as Curt Teich & Company of Chicago, Tichnor Brothers and Colourpicture of Boston, E.C. Kropp of Milwaukee, Beals Litho & Printing of Des Moines, and Dexter Press of Pearl River, New York, among many others.
Their souvenir postcards for states, cities, military bases, and tourist attractions were usually heralded at the top by the words “Greetings From,” below which were large, blocky, dimensional letters filled in with illustrations or photographs of the destination’s most scenic or noteworthy sights.
Radiations of color was a popular background treatment on many large-letter postcards. This Fargo card was printed by Curt Teich in 1942.
Since 2009, the primary resource for fans of this popular postcard genre has been “Large Letter Postcards: The Definitive Guide, 1930s to 1950s,” written by Fred Tenney and Kevin Hilbert. Published by Schiffer, “Large Letter Postcards” features more than 2,200 examples, from several dozen versions of Atlantic City cards (Curt Teich’s first linen large-letter) to cards for Coney Island, Niagara Falls, and Death Valley.
Also included are several examples of how large-letter postcards were created, from the card’s initial sketch to its final design, courtesy of materials loaned to the authors by the Curt Teich Postcard Archives.
Hannibal, Missouri, is the birthplace of Samuel Clemens, who can be seen within the letter A. Printed by Curt Teich, 1944.