Ephemera at Winterthur Museum
An exhibition on ephemera from the Joseph Downs
Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera at Winterthur Museum
will open on January 9, 2004. The Downs Collection was established
in 1955 and named to honor Winterthurs first curator. Today,
nearly fifty years later, the collection includes about 2,500
record groups of original manuscript material, art work, ephemera,
and other sources used to document various aspects of everyday
life in America.
called Ephemera, the exhibition will be up in the
foyer outside the main doors of the library until March 2.
A variety of items make up the display. The first
exhibit case shows six trade cards with Japanesque images issued
by thread maker J.P. Coats & Co., all relating to Gilbert
and Sullivans Mikado. In addition, there are
stereo cards illustrating the Shakers at Canterbury, New Hampshire,
a dinner menu from 1894 from the restaurant at the Lakewood Hotel
in New Jersey, and a piece of sheet music with an illustrated
cover from 1879, The Quilt that my Grandmother Made.
Further items are an ornately engraved invitation to the laying
of the cornerstone for the headquarters of The Commercial Travelers
Home Association of America in Binghamton, New York; bookplates
by graphic designer Louis Rhead; and some patriotic envelopes
from the Civil War.
Case two features other kinds of ephemera: poster
stamps, cigar box labels, comic Valentines from McLoughlin Brothers,
a broadside for a carnival in New York City, and a trade label
used by clock and watchmaker J.C. Rowley of Philadelphia.
The work of Charles Magnus is highlighted in the
third case. Magnus, a favorite of collectors and a lithographer
of interest to historians, produced hundreds if not thousands
of items during a career that spanned most the second half of
the 19th century. Included in the exhibit is a wonderful board
game, New Game of Snake, a piece of sheet music whose
illustration portrays Jefferson Davis wearing a dress, and several
colorfully illustrated letterheads and city views. Perhaps most
intriguing is a set of cards printed by Magnus in the 1860s portraying
Confederate officers and soldiers. These cards were a precursor
of the recently issued deck of playing cards depicting wanted
former Iraqi leaders.
In addition to the exhibition, people who attended
Fall Institute at Winterthur in September 2003 were given the
opportunity to study the printed ephemera in the Downs Collection
through two 75 minute workshops. For many of the participants,
the workshops were eye-openers. Several had a passing acquaintance
with ephemera, while others had never regarded ephemera important
enough to value as historical artifacts. Some people, however,
were dedicated ephemerists and offered their own perspectives
to the class.
The workshops opened with a basic definition of
ephemera taken from the writings of Maurice Rickards, author and
founder of the ephemera societies of England and America, and
the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary. Next came a discussion
of the importance of ephemera to historians followed by suggestions
about where individuals could find ephemera to build their own
collections, including an online visit to the web site of the
Austrian ephemera society to see a short video of an ephemera
fair in that country.
Bibliography is important, and there is no shortage
of books and articles on ephemera. Workshop participants learned
about a number of general writings as well as some specific studies.
Neither is there a shortage of web sites focusing on ephemera.
Several, including a broadside site at the College of William
and Mary, baseball cards at the Library of Congress, and sheet
music at Duke University, were visited.
The heart of each workshop was a hands-on look
at samples of ephemera from the Joseph Downs Collection, ranging
from trade cards to greeting cards, candy wrappers to printed
billheads, almanacs to paper dolls. The workshops ended with suggestions
about the best way to house personal collections and how to organize
ephemera through databases.
Winterthur is located about eight miles northwest
of Wilmington, Delaware on Route 52. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday
and on Monday holidays. Call 800-448-3883 or visit Winterthurs
web site at http://www.winterthur.org
for further particulars and information.
E. Richard McKinstry