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Ephemera includes all those paper materials meant to be used and thrown away. For the student of printing, engraving, or lithography, ephemeral specimens can be studied in their own right. For broader historical questions, ephemera can shed new light on the times in which the ephemera was made, distributed, and used. Also, many pieces of ephemera have genuine artistic merit and continue to please the eye. Designed to be transitory, ephemera nonetheless has enduring value.
At the DeGolyer Library, we have both broad and deep collections of ephemera, some more accessible than others. Among our collections are such things as almanacs, advertisements, bank checks, billheads, bonds, bookplates, broadsides, brochures, business cards, calendars, catalogs, comic books, currency, greeting cards, invitations, labels, menus, newspapers, pamphlets, passes, postcards, posters, programs, rewards of merit, sheet music, songsters, stock certificates, tickets, timetables, and trade cards.
Some of these collections, such as currency, railroad passes, timetables, and broadsides, contain items of great rarity. For example, the Rowe-Barr Collection of Texas Banknotes is without peer in terms of depth and breadth. Other ephemera collections are simply accumulations of ordinary items that librarians, curators, and individuals have assembled over the years. These piles and boxes of materials may have no great monetary value, but we believe they have great usefulness for historical inquiries.
Access to the ephemera collections varies. Our broadsides, pamphlets, and almanacs are generally catalogued online. For other materials, we rely on various in-house checklists. Some collections have been loosely arranged by subject (“Yellowstone Park,” “California,” “Mexico”) or type (trade catalogs). In addition, many manuscript and archival collections contain ephemera. For example, a complete set of the J.C. Penney Co. catalogs is a part of the J.C. Penney archives. Our ongoing task is to arrange our ephemera collections by format and to create descriptive records and inventories online. Researchers are encouraged to discuss their interests with the library staff.