Moving on from rocks to paper today, as it is time for a more ephemeral and less serious topic. I am by no means a serious collector, but I seek out and purchase ephemera pretty consistently, generally but not exclusively Salem items. Things have to appeal to me both aesthetically and historically, and I love unusual fonts and illustrations as well as things that are architectural or zoological. I have several folders of stuff, but certainly not boxes. Trade cards continue to be an ephemeral favorite, but I seem to be buying a lot of programs lately, as well as various “visitors’ guides” to Salem: these serve as my guide to the city’s changing identity over time. Is the emphasis on Witch City or “Old Salem” or the China Trade or the city of Hawthorne? Somehow it doesn’t seem possible for Salem to be all of these things simultaneously for the authors and editors of the guides in my collection, but the programs of the various historical “pageants” that occurred over the period from 1890 to 1930 reflect a more comprehensive (though wildly historically incorrect) approach. One of my favorite recent purchases is the program for a concert/pageant sponsored by Salem’s G.A.R. Post in 1895 entitled Historic Salem Illustrated. Representing Epochs in the History of Salem from the Time of its Settlement up to the Present Year with really cool illustrations of each “epoch” (“Indian”, Colonial, Revolutionary, Commercial, “Patriotic” (basically the Civil War), and “the Present or Electric Period”) by George Elmer Browne (1871-1946) who later emerged as an important Cape Ann/Provincetown artist. The historical vignettes, set to music, include “Chief Naumkeag welcoming the Puritans”, a tableau of Colonial punishments, and “The Blue and Gray of 1895”. What better way to tap into this particular historical perspective?
So here is a random sampling of some recent additions to my ephemera files, along with some things I haven’t featured before and some notes about why I like these scraps of paper and what I have learned from them, starting with some items I chose completely for their aesthetic qualities, and more particularly, their fonts: even though Salem: its Representative Businessmen and Points of Interest is from the “Electric Age” (1893) and the menu from the Calico Tea House (in the Hawthorne Hotel) is from the Atomic Age (1953) they have a similar aesthetic quality. On the menu in 1953: “Witch House Chicken”, “Derby Wharf Scrod”, and “Seven Gables Salad”. Still in the realm of color, a few trade cards from the first decade of the twentieth century (I think): the first is a very unusual view of the Custom House, and the second features cute rabbits. And how can you beat insects and architecture! A program for an Essex Institute “Social Evening” in 1868 at Hamilton Hall which featured all these creatures viewed under a microscope with musical interludes (LOVE this snail), followed by a program for the annual meeting of the members of the Salem Club in 1914 and a ticket (multiplied) to the 1952 Chestnut Street Day house tour which was held sporadically from the 1920s to the 1970s (it would be great to revive this event).
It’s a lot easier to find things that our intended for an external audience–advertising and tourism pieces basically–than the entomological item above, or the G.A.R. or Salem Club programs. Salem really crafted and disseminated its image from at least the 1890s on and so there is a sea of promotional materials out there: brochures for walking, trolley and automobile tours, little pamphlets of photographic “glimpses” of Old Salem (besides postcards of which there are oceans). Witch City is nothing new, but it was definitely less all-encompassing a century ago, or fifty years ago, or at any time before the 1980s. One thing that you definitely notice when you look over older promotional materials is a consistent emphasis on Revolutionary Salem that is absent now. If you want to be a specialist collector, you could form a collection out of paper items created for the 1926 Salem Tercentenary alone, and at its center would be the Highlights in the History of Salem pamphlet published by the Salem Evening News, which has the perfect title for an ephemeral history.