Each autumn for many years the Society has organized tours in different parts of the country, to coincide with a Board of Directors meeting. These events are valuable not merely for the enjoyment and education of the attendees who are, in a sense, ambassadors for the Ephemera Society. By bringing together collectors, dealers, librarians, and curators (and even enthusiastic fellow-travelers) we participate in the building of cultural capital for ephemera.
In October 2019, we were invited to the Kemlers in Alma, Michigan for a day, and to the Clements Library and the Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John Kemler opened his home and outstanding trade card collection, welcoming us with his family (brother Dale who is also a collector, wife Kris, daughter Katie, and son Nathan who is a curator at the Grand Valley Museum). John has been collecting for over 40 years, and credits Bob Stoker with stimulating his interest. Other enthusiasts: Kit Barry, John Dilg, George Fox, and Bob Staples visited his growing collection. We browsed his 150 albums of cards organized by subject – finding rarities that enhanced our understanding; and were treated to a family lunch.
At a nearby farm, David Kemler showed us some of his collection of steam engines and the agricultural machines they pulled, firing up the one most recently restored (apple wood fire; roaring steam whistle). In his home, he opened one of the fireproof boxes holding his huge collection of advertising for the Advance Threshing Machine company. A personal album revealed his lifelong fascination for these behemoths. In retirement after working as an art teacher and a railroad engineer, David restores machines following original blueprints that his father was able to buy.
Clayton Lewis, the first curator of graphics at The Clements Library (since 2002) gave us an overview of the library’s history: beginning with the personal collection of William Clements who was a graduate of the University of Michigan in engineering, and who earned a fortune with the Panama Canal project. Mr. Lewis and Emiko Hastings, curator of books, and Jayne Ptolemy, curator of manuscripts, had laid out many examples of their varied collections for us – both in a meeting space and upstairs in the elegant reading room.
At the Hatcher Library Special Collections, Julie Herrada, curator of the Joseph A. Labadie Collection of protest ephemera, and Juli McLoone, curator of the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive, had spread out representative examples. Labadie’s collection came to the University in 1911 in the form of archived material from his printing business. He was an anarchist and a friend to labor – and the curators have acquired protest ephemera of all persuasions to add to his collection. Jan Longone’s collection consists of 50 boxes of menus and other ephemera arranged by subject. Both collections have been ‘mined’ for dissertations, documentary films, and regional research.