September 2, 2011

Ephemeral Summer

 This summer we had the pleasure of working with Sean Leahy, an intern from the Pratt School of Information and Library Science in New York. Sean's focus over his 8 week stay was the Library's Ephemera Collection. Sean worked on clarifying the organization of the collection, and on digitizing a sample of the collection. Below is an excerpt from his end of project report.

"Part archival object, part work of art, and part printed matter, the items that make up a collection of ephemera can be difficult to define and therefore difficult to organize and describe. Though the history of collecting ephemera is centuries-old, it is only in recent years that ephemera has become the focus of serious research. Particularly when investigating the social life and customs of a particular group, era, or region, examples of ephemera can illuminate what historians in the past have overlooked or obscured."
The Ephemera Collection dates to the 1980s and its primary focus is materials deemed to be fragile, rare, or unusual. Generally, the items are more than thirty years old and of some graphical interest. The collection is particularly strong in materials related to Helena. These range from political campaign materials to tourist information brochures, hotel menus to shoe store ads. The bulk of the items date from 1885 to 1910, documenting the end of the territory and the early years of statehood, as Helena grew to be one of the richest towns in the United States and an important destination along the Northern Pacific Railway. The strengths within the Helena materials are the programs from various social clubs, the extensive collection of theater programs, and the amazing variety of business advertisements. In addition to the Helena files, there are a number of folders devoted to tourism in Montana in general. The materials, many of which were published by the Montana State Highways Department, suggest routes, sights, and activities (mainly fishing) to travelers. These date mostly from between 1930 and 1950 and offer a researcher some especially interesting graphic material and a sense of Montana identity in the age of automobile travel, i.e., the last place to get a taste of the Wild West. Finally, there are two folders related to the Montana Club that contain a number of fascinating items. While the majority of the items are invitations to various events hosted by the Club (particularly their annual New Year’s Eve “Smoker”), they contain interesting caricatures of club members and humorous songs and toasts, all displayed on well-designed, nicely printed sheets.

We really appreciate the work that Sean did on this collection and hope that you find the collection useful in your research.

The Ephemera File Index can be found on the Montana Historical Society’s online wiki. To see more of the MHS Library ephemera collection, visit the MHS Library Collection on the Montana Memory Project.