“If you take mankind’s five centuries or so of printed record and divide it roughly down the middle, you find half of it on library shelves and the other half in the wastebasket.” –Maurice Rickards
I bet that collecting is, small or big, definitely a part of everyone’s life. To remember, to revive, to feel and to understand, we collect things that belong to a specific point in time. Most of us do this unconsciously, but as we all know, some people call themselves collectors. It is in our nature that we can’t break the bond with our past. We need photographs, postcards, tickets, reports, posters and many other material that can document our experiences. So, what I’m really saying is we need ephemeras. Not because ephemera is a temporary paper item, but because ephemera means time itself.
Maurice Rickards, who is one of the early ephemerists, redefined the concept and opened a new window to study and research on ephemera collection. His definition for ephemera which is “minor transition documents of everyday life” is now accepted by ephemerists around the world. So, thanks to him, the seeds of ephemera collection as a movement was sown.Ephemera collection is enormously common in Turkey as well. I found a great catalog which was published after an auction in 2011. It has almost anything that can come into your mind! And the sections are divided into interest areas like advertising, TV, cinema, war, education, politics and so on.
But, why particularly ephemera matters? Yes, it is about history, about our very personal past, but in what way it is plausible to collect ephemeras? Well, to me, first thing that is appealing about ephemera is the appearance. The nostalgic beauty and authenticity of a piece of paper. The design and typography which is very unique to its time-slice. Who doesn’t get pleasure from a special presentation of time which is full of history and has interesting visuals? It is even more interesting if this piece of paper is somewhat related to your past. A package of chocolate you used to eat when you were a child, your first concert ticket, the first letter you ever got from someone special. This list can go forever, and I’m sure you agree with me as you read through this; just the appearance of ephemera items can be evocative.
Besides their beautiful look, the content of these items are very much valuable as well. They glimpse into the social clues of a particular time and place. They can be used as a source for academic researches to find out how people communicate, what words and expressions they use, what kind of art is popular etc. Ahmet Yüksel, Sanat Kitabevi’s owner, says “Ephemera collection is a part of our job, postcards, letters, maps, stamps…And these are very important materials for researchers”. The main reason is that these materials are direct sources from the past. They are vulnerable, but also carriers of the history since they actually existed in that part of time.
As I was rummaging through the ephemeras in Sanat Kitabevi, I found some postcards that were actually sent to someone in the past. Having access to these very personal documents made me feel like I was being witness to someone else’s private life. Well, some of them were quite hard to read because of the hand-writing, but it’s another beautiful part of ephemeras that you need to decode some vintage hand-writing.
Anadolu Kitabevi has also a considerable amount of collection. The most interesting part of it was the ones written in Arabic and Romaic. I asked the Sahaf, Gökhan Tuğ, how they got these very old pieces. He says “Most of the time, people find these papers from their parent’s stuff. And they don’t understand what’s written. Then, they bring them to us and we help them decode.”. He also told me how hard it is to decode these items from different languages. Despite its difficulty, he says that it is really enjoyable to find out different stories and be able to transfer them.
Another collection which is one of the most popular ones includes postcards from Europe. The pictures are so authentic and have very high historical value. They keep these postcards in a photo album as they are more valuable comparing to others. Anadolu Kitabevi gets these postcards from the libraries they purchased.
So, where can we find these special items? The first way is to go to a sahaf for sure. But you can also find them online! There were some auctions in the past, hopefully will be many more in the future, and you can also go to the museums to see ephemeras. There will also be a book fair between 8-12 January in Congresium. Don’t forget to visit the sections for special ephemera collections that will be presented in there!
References and more information:
- “Books. Cats. Life is Good” -Edward Gorey
- Galactic and Animal printed style