Rare Book School

In 1972, Terry Belanger established the Book Arts Press (BAP) at Columbia University as a laboratory for programs associated with the history of books and printing, descriptive bibliography, the antiquarian book trade, and special collections librarianship. Twenty years later Terry and the BAP moved to the University of Virginia (UVa) in Charlottesville, and in 2000 the name of the program changed to Rare Book School (RBS).

Now firmly part of UVa's academic community and a longtime supporter and institutional member of the Ephemera Society, RBS stages exhibitions, publishes materials on the history of the book and related subjects, offers public lectures-most notably the Sol M. Malkin Lecture in Bibliography, maintains a library of books and prints, has a collection of printing presses and equipment, and offers a number of five-day courses on subjects ranging from medieval bookbinding to modern fine printing. In 2001, RBS added to its curriculum by including a course entitled "Printed Ephemera."

The teacher of the course is Michael Twyman, emeritus professor in the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading in England. Michael is the author of numerous books and articles, including The British Library Guide to Printing: History and Techniques, published in 1998, and Early Lithographed Books, issued in 1990. He lectures widely and most recently edited The Encyclopedia of Ephemera, compiled by the late Maurice Rickards and published by the Ephemera Society of the UK in 2001.

Underpinning this course is the view that printed ephemera deserves serious attention from a variety of people. The course focuses on nineteenth century English-language ephemera, though the general issues raised relate to all time periods and languages. Classes consist of a mix of illustrated lectures on specific topics, student discussions, and hands-on work with original pieces of ephemera. Topics covered highlight the processes used in the production of ephemera, printers, collecting, describing and cataloging ephemera, and such associated issues as dating, terminology, and digitization.

Individuals engaged in the many disciplines of history, graphic designers, and curators of institutional archival collections, as well as collectors benefit equally, but for different reasons, from the course. Adding to the overall structure of "Printed Ephemera" are short presentations by the students on the collections they personally own or oversee if they are in an institutional setting.

Students are given the opportunity to prepare themselves for the course by studying from a bibliography of readings listed on the web site of RBS. Indeed, anyone interested in printed ephemera would benefit from referring to this bibliography. Very few general works, with the notable exception of The Encyclopedia of Ephemera, have been written about printed ephemera, but there are books and articles on the history of advertising that deal with ephemera tangentially, and other writings approach the topic through the history of printing and graphic design. Many other items focus on a particular kind of ephemera, basing their discussions on personal collecting.

Items mentioned in the bibliography fall under four headings: general works; printing, graphic design, and letterforms; categories of ephemera; and producers of ephemera. Students are advised to read selectively based on their interests and backgrounds and to feel comfortable that they have a solid grounding in the full range of ephemera covered in class.

During the March 2001 class, participants benefited from seeing the personal collection of Ephemera Society member Calvin Otto, a resident of Charlottesville. In addition to making his collection available for the class, Cal has curated special exhibitions presented by RBS, including "Eureka: There's Gold in Them Thar Books," in 2000; "Only in Cloth: Publishers' Bookbindings, 1830-1910," in 1997; and "Wastebasket Archaeology: American Ephemera, 1876-1995," in 1995.

As with many college and university courses, students fill out evaluations once classes end. They were glowing for "Printed Ephemera." There were high grades and praise for the reading list, syllabus, and field trips. The course met or exceeded everyone's expectations, and the intellectual level of the course content was, as one student said, "entirely appropriate." What did you like best about the course? "Hands-on work," "the instructor," "the originality of the subject," and "encouragement to contribute to the conversation" were several responses. How could the course have been improved? Almost universally, the reply was "more time!" Student evaluations of the course are available in their entirety on the web site of RBS.

The "Printed Ephemera" class is limited to twelve students, but serious applicants have a good chance of being admitted if they submit their applications in time for complete evaluation. To learn when the next "Printed Ephemera" course will be offered and to get an application go to the RBS web site at http://www.virginia.edu/oldbooks/ or write to Rare Book School, 114 Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903.

If you would like to support RBS, consider membership in Friends of Rare Book School. Since 1976, individual friends have contributed more than $500,000 to RBS, and more than 200 libraries have donated deaccessioned old and new books to the RBS collections. As Terry Belanger says, "our relationship toward these gifts tends to resemble that of Bedouins toward their camels: very little goes to waste."

E. Richard McKinstry
Past President

[This article originally appeared in the Northeast Journal of Antiques & Art.]

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America