October 27, 2010

The real Scoop on Collecting Vintage Paper

Memorabilia and Ephemera Scrap Book
P.T. Rider 19th C

If you are into collecting vintage paper, advertising, memorabilia and ephemera blame it on the Greeks, who coined the word ephemera, meaning something that was transitory or lasting no more then a day. In fact any material that was written or printed was intended to be thrown away, as we do today with junk mail. However, enterprising and industrious people found other uses paper material rather than throwing the product away. Still, it wasn't until an Englishman named John Johnson who was born in 1882, changed the way the world viewed printed material.
            Johnson studied at Oxford and after his studies joined the Egyptian Civil Service, became interested in Arabic and fell in love with papyrus. A forerunner of parchment, papyrus was much easier to use then clay tablets or steal and could be rolled up for ease of use. Although paper is derived from papyrus, the first paper making is attributed to the Chinese in the 2nd century AD. It wasn't until 1844 that a machine for milling paper out of pulped wood was invented that paper products became more available and affordable. Even after the field of Library and Information Science was established in 1887, libraries described the term ephemera as "the class of published single-sheet or single page documents which are meant to be thrown away after one use."
            Thankfully, John Johnson changed this way of thinking. After discovering a 900-year-old papyrus by Theocritus, and became a papyrologist - the forerunner of a paperologist (which may have other meanings then to those of us who collect paper material). When WWI broke out, Johnson left Egypt and returned to Oxford where he was given a job at the Oxford University Press, becoming Printer to the University from 1925 to 1946. Johnson began collecting printed ephemera or the "ephemera of printing" immediately and defined printed ephemera as: "Everything which would ordinarily go into the waste paper basket after use, everything printed which is not actually a book …"
            When Johnson died in 1956, his collection was massive and was acquired by the Bodleian Library in Oxford. So impressive was Johnson's ephemera collection, that the material inspired John Lewis and his seminal work, Printed Ephemera. The Changing Uses of Types and Letterforms in English and American Printing and was published in 1961. This book literally set the design industry on its heels because even those who studied graphic design did not have access to 19th century examples primarily because most printers were localized and not national. The book gave further rise to legitimizing paper hoarders across the globe and convinced these collectors to come out of the closet thus proving the Greeks in their ever philosophical musings wrong; Ephemera may have meant transitory and lasting no more then a day, but "Viva La difference" becaus one man's trash is indeed another man's treasure (okay more specifically - a woman's treasure).

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