Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Return from ephemerality

Ah, back to alpine Portland, Oregon--although the Baltimorean weather seems to have followed me home from the 48th Annual RBMS Preconference. This year's theme, From Here to Ephemerality: fugitive sources in libraries, archives, and museums brought together hundreds of librarians, archivists, dealers, collectors, and scholars to discuss the state of ephemera in institutions as well as in private collections. I can't remember ever hearing eBay mentioned so frequently in such a short span of time!

The opening plenary on Wednesday morning featured Michael Twyman, father of ephemerology, speaking on "The Long-Term Significance of Printed Ephemera." Displaying a small handful of the thousands of ephemeral items in the collections of the Centre for Ephemera Studies at the University of Reading, Twyman easily demonstrated the significance of the content of ephemeral materials. He then moved on to a discussion of the typographical significance of ephemera, noting that posters, handbills, advertisements, et cetera led to developments in:
  • Bold typefaces
  • "Street reading" design-- layout, typography, and punctuation meant to catch the eye of the passing reader
  • Blank forms
  • Technical innovations such as embossing and lithography
  • Printing on colored papers
  • Innovative combinations of text and image
Most of these developments cannot be usefully tracked in book production, so ephemera become crucial to the study of the history of printing and design. Ephemera also provide evidence of orthographic and linguistic changes, with ephemeral examples often predating the appearance of new forms in books or newspapers. The next time you discard junk mail flyers from your inbox or steal a glance at the latest billboard posted next to the highway, give a thought to the creative minds who have worked and still work to bring you the latest announcements in the fastest, most fashionable way!

For more on ephemera, check out The Encyclopedia of Ephemera, edited by Maurice Rickards, Twyman et alii in 2000.

For more on the conference, stay tuned: I'll recap more sessions tomorrow.

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