On Saturday 29 November 2003 a small group of enthusiasts met at the rooms of the Royal Australian Historical Society for an informal conference on printed ephemera. The event was organised by Alan Ventress (former Collection Development Librarian, State Library of New South Wales, and now Associate Director-City, State Records, as well as Vice-President of the Royal Australian Historical Society) on behalf of the RAHS and the Ephemera Society of Australia. The latter is largely Melbourne-based and some were hoping this event might broaden the New South Wales membership, perhaps seven to the extent of starting a New South Wales branch here in Sydney.
Printed ephemera is the collecting and study of, I can only say: of printed ephemera. Opinions on the nature of the beast differ, though published sources certainly point to a definition based on the physicality of the item, more so than its philosophical intent which is a vague concept at best. Like so much printed matter, printed ephemera while boasting many enthusiasts, is still largely uncharted territory, and thereby presents a good area both to commence collecting and to do research work in. Those interested in some thoughts on the matter illustrated with examples drawn from the printing trades and private presses can refer to my article “We slice cheese” in the Royal Australian Historical Society’s journal History, no. 78, Dec. 2003, p. 12.
An illustrious group of enthusiasts presented papers on a wide variety of topics in what was a very full day:
Gary Wotherspoon* commenced with his personal collection (and recollection) of a gay man in Sydney.
Colin Warner,* Australia’s only official Ephemera Librarian (at the State Library of New South Wales), talked about its collection of printed ephemera history, content and collection policy.
John Thompson (ex National Gallery of Australia) presented a detailed paper on theatrical ephemera and the AusStage web site
After lunch, Craig Mackey, also from State Records, presented a very interesting talk on railway history based on the State Records Government Railway’s records, especially highlighting the value of printed ephemera for research.
Ed Jewell from the Ephemera Society of Australia had come up from Victoria to recount his experiences collecting ephemera from the visit of the Great White Fleet in 1908.
Mark Ferson gave a very polished talk on what must be his great professional love bookplates.
And, finally, Richard Stone (ex National Library of Australia) concluded the afternoon’s session on his passion, performing arts ephemera, with special reference to the Library’s famous collection in this area. He closed exhorting us all to collect today’s ephemera today for it will not be around for us to collect tomorrow.
Some of these speakers, here marked with an asterisk, have published versions on their topics in a special issue of History (no. 78, Dec. 2003) which featured printed ephemera for this occasion. In addition three further papers were published:
• Rosalie Nice, The ephemeral sailor. On the image of the sailor as displayed in printed ephemera
•Janette Pelosi, Ephemera at State Records
•Jürgen Wegner, We slice cheese. On the ephemerality or otherwise of printed ephemera.
For me the most interesting thoughts from the day were about how “fuzzy” some ideas on the concept of printed ephemera were. Some seemed to be founded on the precept that everything that isn’t published AD and much that is! AD must therefore be printed ephemera; or on the feeling that, as this is what I/we collect and as it doesn’t go in with the regular books, it must be printed ephemera; or we’re not a library therefore what we collect has to be “the other”, i.e. printed ephemera. This is something certainly worth elaborating, but at another time.
For those interested in contacting the Ephemera Society of Australia, write to Edwin Jewell, PO Box 479, Warragul VIC 3820 or phone (03) 56234275. The Society also publishes a journal, Ephemera news