Monday, July 2, 2012

The Stuff of Everyday Life at the Library Company

Page from volume 1 of Joseph Breintnall, Nature Prints of Leaves, ca. 1731 - ca. 1742.
Francis Stearns & Co. Manufacturing Pharmacists, Detroit, Mich., U.S.A. ([Detroit], ca. 1890). Line photoengraving.  Gift of William Helfand.
Flash card from Illustrations for the Berlitz Method ([United States?], ca. 1895).  Chromolithograph.  Gift of Helen Beitler.
After two years of dedicated work, the Library Company has completed an extensive National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)-funded project to catalog, conserve, and selectively digitize our uncataloged collections of 18th- and 19th century printed and graphic ephemera.  A rich resource for the study of the everyday life of past generations, ephemera has begun to emerge from the shadow of traditional primary source material in the past few years.  The Library Company's holdings have great significance for the study of early American visual, material, and popular culture, economic history, and Philadelphiana and, thanks to the NEH, we are at the forefront of providing access to these materials.  

Nearly 30,000 items from our ephemera collections, including such things as broadsides, blank forms, trade cards, advertisements, almanacs world's fair souvenirs, and post cards, as well as more than 7,000 representative digital files of these materials, are now included in our WolfPAC catalog and ImPAC digital catalog.  Philadelphia amateur scientist Joseph Breintnall's nature print leaves, given to the library in 1746 and one of our earliest acquisitions of ephemera, can now be perused page by page on line.  Other newly accessible material includes itemized billheads for patent medicine dealers active in the Progressive era, such as Frederick Stearns & Co., as well as more esoteric materials, such as circa 1895 color-printed flash cards to teach foreing languages through the Berlitz Method.

Although cataloging work under the grant has been completed, efforts to disseminate these intellecutally and visually engaging collections to a wider patron base continue.  In May 2013 an exhibition examining the life-cycle of ephemera in the home, the workplace, and the street will open in the main gallery.  The following September, the Library Company's Visual Culture Program (VCP at LCP) will co-sponsor a conference on the scholarly study of ephemera with the Ephemera Society of America.  In addition, reproductions of items from our stereograph, postcard, and broadside collections will be featured in a temporary exhibition about "Life in Philadelphia" at the Philadelphia International Airport this fall.  Without the support of NEH these programs showcasing the historical importance of the Library Company's ephemera collection would not have been possible. 

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