Archivists deal with all types of materials in collections, from maps to letters to books and other priceless materials. Many of the materials that archivists work with on a daily basis are one of a kind and simply irreplaceable. With so much history to keep and preserve, what happens to things like a brochure you would pick up at a convention or symposium or the travel information you find as you pass through a town?
Ephemera is defined as any transitory written or printed matter meant for eventual repression; or paper items (such as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles. These items may seem insignificant to us right now; however, in the future they will give archivists and historians a glimpse into the past.
Over the course of my summer internship at the Montana Historical Society, I have had the chance to work with and organize the large collection of Ephemera that resides here. With nearly one-thousand different topics covered in the Ephemera collection, there is something of interest for everyone. Topics range from cities in Montana to railroads to wars and even sled dog races.
While adding to these ever growing files, I have found a few of my favorite items. The first would be a ration booklet (above) that was distributed during World War II. These booklets were distributed by the U.S. Office of Price Administration after the U.S. entered the war. The purpose of these booklets was to dictate the quantity of certain goods a family or person was allowed to buy. Two of these booklets, issued to Montanans, reside in the Ephemera files.
In 1937, a gentleman wrote to the State of Montana requesting information about the state. He was answered with a packet full of information concerning all parts of Montana. While only a small portion of the packet is shown (right), the entire contents of the packet, as well as the original envelop, are housed at the MHS Research Center.
A customer walking into Helena’s Holter Hardware in 1915 might have seen a stack of colorful John Deere catalogs sitting on the counter. Many of these catalogs include brightly colored illustrations as well fold outs of the newest products John Deere had to offer. This catalog (below) and many more are in the Ephemera files.
This is just a small sampling of the thousands of items that are included in the Montana Historical Society’s Ephemera collection. This collection is ever growing as theater tickets, catalogs, tourist brochures, menus, train schedules, and more are continually added to this form of historic record.