Humble: the life of 100 small objects
Our series of related events will include sessions on the graphic design processes involved in producing effective ephemera, the productive role of printers, and the ways in which the study of historic ephemera can support research.
L-R: Grand Hotel (Eph-A-HOTEL-Wellington-1940s-01), Greeting card (Eph-A-CARDS-Christmas-1890s-01), Jolly Christmas (Eph-A-CARDS-Christmas-1900-03), Dunedin citizens' ball (Eph-A-BALL-1898-01-cover)
Permission to interview the Beatles, a tender message from the Western Front, an offering of choice at dinner, or an expression of outrage at discrimination. These small but effective pieces of ephemera, produced for short term use, have helped shape the lives of their owners, nurtured circles of friendship, allowed privileged entrée to rarefied company, argued for principles, persuaded and promoted, guided consumers, or rewarded merit.
Some became treasured keepsakes, while some survived more by chance than design; perhaps their small size helped them survive in a dark and neglected corner. Indeed one small card was discovered in the wall of a house more than 60 years after the event it advertised. And some have suffered damage before arriving here, such as a little invitation to a Wellington roller skating rink.
Luckily, all have become part of the Library’s Ephemera Collection, and now have a different life, as testimony and evocation of past times. Some were likely produced in small numbers, while others have been published in their thousands. Whatever their past status they are now kept in perpetuity for their documentary value. The exhibition shows my choice of 100 small objects, all measuring less than 150 mm. In some, you can see how the publishers have used the latest design trends and typographic styles to appeal to their audience by visual means. Others are plain and functional.
I have arranged the material roughly by the vital function it performed. Nowadays functions such as those performed by paper tickets, cards and timetables have been at least partly replaced by online functions. Future exhibitions of “humble” ephemera will have a different look and feel.
Barbara Lyon – Curator, Ephemera