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Roscommon Collectibles.

Occasional Series. Booklet No. 1

What is Ephemera?

Liam Byrne

This booklet was produced from information first posted on the collectibles website www.roscommonhistory.ie.

What is Ephemera?
The word "ephemera" is the plural form of the Greek word ephemeron meaning on or about a day. Ephemera includes junk mail, election material, receipts, railway tickets, newspapers, posters, labels, telephone directories etc. most of which is discarded immediately and forgotten and only a small portion survives long enough to become an important tool in studying the past.

Posters by Thomas Morahan of Strokestown. From Irish Country Posters. Catalogue for Dublin Exhibition 1982. Not many people in Ireland value ephemera and even fewer collect it. Apart from some exceptions - the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, the National Library in Dublin, Ireland does not have many public ephemera collections. A search of the internet will bring little joy. Yet large public collections do exist in England, in Europe and in America, and there is even a Centre for Ephemera Studies at the University of Reading! While there are a number of groups in Ireland that accumulate ephemeral material as part of their collecting, the nearest society specifically devoted to the subject is in the UK. The Ephemera Society is a non-profit body concerned with the collection, preservation, study and educational uses of hand-written and printed ephemera. It has many Irish enthusiasts amongst its members. The Ephemera Society has a website and their email is: info@ephemera-society.org.uk.

Maurice Rickards was an expert in this area up to his death in 1998. His collection forms the basis of the University of Reading archive and from this collection comes the best source of information on ephemera from this part of the world. "The Encyclopaedia of Ephemera - a guide to the fragmentary documents of everyday life for the collector, curator and historian" by Maurice Rickards, edited and completed by Michael Twyman. The British Library. 2001. (ISBN 0 7123 4679 1) is a must for anyone with any interest in the subject.

The nearest thing to an Irish account of ephemera is Toby Barnard's "A Guide to Sources for the History of Material Culture in Ireland 1500 - 2000" Maynooth Research Guides For Irish Local History: No. 10. Four Courts Press. 2005. (ISBN 1 85182 951 2). Though concentrating primarily on "physical goods" like furniture and kitchen ware, it does stress the importance of advertising, including billheads, and mentions other documents like wills, directories etc. In 2009 An Post (the Irish Post Office) published "Robbery on the Road" a catalogue of Post Office Reward Notices from 1820 to 1870. Also noted in the Bibliography is "Early Irish trade-cards & other eighteenth-century ephemera" by D. Fitzgerald, Knight of Glin, in "Eighteenth Century Ireland" ii, (1987) pp. 115 - 132. Ephemera is also to be found in the pages of the Journal of the Irish Society for Archives (left). The Society was founded in 1970 and has published a magazine since. This issue is Winter 2009 - vol 16. More details www.ucd.ie/archives/isa/isa-index.html

Other interesting publications on the subject include "The Design and Printing of Ephemera in Britain and America 1720 - 1920" by Graham Hudson. The British Library : Oak Knoll Press. 2008. (ISBN 978 0 7123 4904 8) which covers a large range of materials, including a few from Belfast. The Public Notice - An Illustrated History by Maurice Rickards. David & Charles (Holdings) Ltd. Newton Abbot. 1973. Collecting Printed Ephemera by Maurice Rickards. Phaidon Christies Ltd. Oxford. 1988. This is Ephemera - Collecting Printed Throwaways by Maurice Rickards. David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd. London. 1977.

A small number of essays on Roscommon ephemera have appeared in Roscommon Life the magazine of The Roscommon Association in Dublin. This one from Roscommon Life 2005 2006 edition.

The collection of ephemera relating to Percy French that is housed in Roscommon County Library is documented in a booklet produced by the library in 2012. Echoes of Percy French The William Percy French collection in Roscommon County Library was compiled by Liam Byrne and printed by Printworks, Boyle.

Roscommon musical ephemera: Premier Aces Showband promotional cards.

An advertising postcard for the opening of the new roller skating rink in Athlone. Early 20th century.


Nineteenth century Scottish Business Card.

Booklet compiled, edited and produced by Liam Byrne. First Edition 25 Sept. 2012.