"I Like Ike": Collecting Political Ephemera
ephemera in the United States appeared centuries earlier than the
popular campaign slogan of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.1
Since the beginning of the colonial era, political ephemera existed
to promote a political cause or belief.
"Extrait des Régistres, des Audiances du Conseil Superieur,
de la Province de la Louisianne. Du7. May 1765. Entre LAbbe
de LIsle Dieu, Vicaire General du Diocese de Quebec, &
de cette Province, Demandeur en Requete, le Procureur General du
Roi, joint" may be one of the first items of political ephemera
printed in Louisiana. This reprint of a law passed by the Superior
Council of the Province of Louisiana forbid any further printing
of the "Catechisme pour la province de la Louisianne"
which may have been printed in New Orleans.2 Since the
1765 publication of this reprint, politicians and their supporters
have inundated voters with handbills, offprints of speeches, broadsides,
proclamations, and other types of political campaign and election
ephemera. These materials are collected by libraries and museums
because of their research and artifactual value. Researchers use
the materials to prove or to disprove historical facts, to grasp
the flavor of Louisiana at a particular time, or to illustrate other
aspects of American culture.
Types of Political Ephemera
Printed political ephemera are varied in format and type, but all
are "...materials which were produced to be used once and thrown
away."3 Posters, proclamations, reprints of speeches
and laws, forms for official appointments, convention and party
platforms, and even automobile bumper stickers are examples of printed
political ephemera. Political ephemera is created to advance a cause,
and reprints of speeches furthered this purpose. Printed as early
as 1817 in New Orleans was the "Speech of Julien Poydras, Esq.
the Delegate From the Territory of Orleans, in Support of the Right
of the Public to The Batture in front of the Suburb
St. Mary. Friday, February 2, 1810" (see Figure 1).4
Other items were printed to remove purported blemishes from the
character of politicians. The third governor of Louisiana, Thomas
Boiling Robertson, in 1820 had printed a letter to the people of
Louisiana, "In consequence of a publication in the Orleans
Gazette of the 8th inst. entitled Extract of a Letter From
Henry Johnson, Senator in Congress, to a Gentleman in Louisiana,
Dated 19th April 1820, I find myself called upon to address
my fellow citizens in relation to its subject. This I do with great
reluctance, and solely to repel a strange & unmerited imputation"
(signed & dated in type, p.2: Thos. B. Robertson. New-Orleans,
10th June, 1820).5
the eighteenth century many other varieties of political ephemera
have been printed in Louisiana. Newspapers, which researchers do
not think of as ephemeral, are just that. Newspapers are printed
on very poor quality paper and are not meant by the publishers to
be kept permanently. In the 1930s the American Progress was
a newspaper printed to publish the political aims and views of Huey
Long and his supporters. Today, because of the preservation of those
newspapers, researchers have a valuable resource for studying Huey
Purposes of Political Ephemera
Political pamphlets were also printed to promote diverse political
attitudes regarding certain topics. Those who had political speeches
and laws offprinted considered their opinions to be of great importance.
The printed battle of the "Batture" did not begin in 1810
with the publication of Julien Poydrass speech, but began
several years earlier as a debate between Louisiana lawmaker Edward
Livingston and President of the United States Thomas Jefferson.
Perhaps neither Mr. Jefferson nor Mr. Livingston felt that the newspapers
would give thorough coverage of their opinions. Therefore, Livingston
and Jefferson wrote and had printed such items as Edward Livingstons
1808 pamphlet, "Address to the People of the United States,
on the Measures Pursued by the Executive with Respect to the Batture
at New-Orleans."6 Only a few hundred copies were
printed for private distribution by Livingston to present his viewpoints
of Mr. Jeffersons actions. Although such pamphlets begin existence
as ephemeral items, their survival provides researchers insight
into the questions of the ownership of alluvial land in the Mississippi
River near New Orleans, and even more insight into the thought processes
of Livingston and Jefferson.
Political ephemera items are as varied as the political views they
present. Included in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley
Collections of the Louisiana State University Libraries are an 1844
invitation to the national Whig Convention, election tickets from
1868 and other years (see Figure2), broadsides from 1874-1980, and
a Whig Party campaign song.7 Each item was printed to
promote the issues important to the Whig party or other parties
or to make it possible for voters to cast their ballots. None were
printed to become permanently preserved historical documents.
Preservation of Political Ephemera
Printed ephemera gave way to audio and video ephemera in the twentieth
century. Beginning in the 1950s, political campaigns were conducted
with the aid of television, and the trend continues today. Offprints
of speeches have been replaced by videotaped campaign commercials.
These are the political ephemera of today and present even more
of a preservation problem than printed materials. Although seldom
made available for libraries, when videotapes are acquired for archival
preservation they are found to be made on low quality tape, poorly
processed, and damaged from abuse by users.
of ephemera on substandard paper or other mediums is the major problem
faced by collectors and libraries. As well as being printed on poor
quality paper, ephemera is flimsy and insubstantial, has poor ink
quality, sometimes is crumpled and torn. The items can also be stained
with food or liquids. Ephemera may be printed on textiles instead
of paper. Maurice Rickards, chairman of the British Ephemera Society,
has defined ephemera as "Everything that would normally go
into the waste paper basket..." if private collectors, librarians,
and archivists did not preserve it.8
Librarians and archivists who collect those ephemeral items that
were created to end up in the trash must be concerned with their
preservation and conservation. Preservation requires proper storage
containers in a temperature and humidity controlled environment
with excellent security. Conservation consists of never doing anything
to the item which further damages it. The old saying that "a
little knowledge is a dangerous thing" is critically true in
conservation of archival materials. Before attempting to repair
items, librarians and archivists should refer to a conservation
manual. Recommended is George and Dorothy Cunhas Library
and Archives Conservation: l980s and Beyond.9
Collecting Political Ephemera
The overriding problem with political ephemera, however, is collecting
it. "Ephemeral items are usually difficult to acquire after
an event, and the librarian must be prepared to seek them at the
event or immediately thereafter.10 Political pamphlets
and reprints of laws often can be found in college and university
libraries. Other printed materials such as posters, broadsides (see
Figure 3), and handbills as well as campaign buttons and bumper
stickers may be found in museums such as the Smithsonian. Serendipitous
collecting is acceptable but donors do not always appear to give
the library political ephemera items. The librarian must attend
functions at which ephemeral items are handed out, request other
colleagues and friends to acquire materials for the collection,
contact politicians and political organizations to request copies
of their printed brochures and flyers, and seek to be placed on
mailing lists of those publishing ephemeral materials. Collection
development policies of libraries and archives should include plans
for collecting ephemeral and gray literature.
difficulty incurred while collecting political ephemera is natural
political bias. Librarians and archivists hold personal preferences
for political persons and organizations, as do all citizens. Collecting
ephemera of third party candidates or fringe organizations is not,
however, condoning their beliefs; it is instead maintaining comprehensive
coverage of American life.
Today more universities are developing popular culture libraries
and collections to preserve all types of ephemera. One of the earliest,
Bowling Green (Ohio) State Universitys Popular Culture Library,
founded in 1969, holds within its varied collections numerous printed
and non-print political ephemera items.11 Other items
of political ephemera found in popular culture libraries and other
types of libraries and archives include voting ballots, political
convention handouts, bumper stickers, campaign buttons (see Figure
4), and other artifacts.
Uses of Political Ephemera
Although printed only for limited use, those political ephemera
items which survive provide researchers with extensive knowledge
about political issues and activities throughout Louisiana history.
"Ephemera is often of marginal research value while a collection
is small, but it can illuminate other materials in a larger collection."12
The Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections contain
numerous collections of political manuscripts. Within these manuscript
collections are a variety of all types of political ephemera. The
Seymour Weiss Collection, for example, is comprised of political
ephemera referring to Huey Long. Included are handbills and broadsides,
and cartoons drawn by Trist Wood (see Figure 5), whom Huey Long
hired to work for the Louisiana Progress. The items are,
unfortunately, printed on very poor quality newsprint which presents
a continuing preservation problem. Researchers using these cartoons
in conjunction with other records in the Huey Long Papers, the T.
Harry Williams Papers, or the Russell B. Long Papers have a varied
and more nearly complete body of primary source material to study.
Historians use ephemera to tell the story of political campaigns
as well. "Louisianas 1959-60 gubernatorial elections
occurred against a backdrop of sensationalism and intrigue"13
Five major candidates entered the first democratic primary.
Most had printed handbills and posters distributed throughout die
state. Using these ephemera, a historian was able to show campaign
attacks and counter attacks. Gubernatorial contender New Orleans
Mayor deLesseps S. "Chep" Morrison was criticized as a
supporter of Teamster racketeers in handbills circulated by supporters
of former governor Jimmie Davis, also a candidate. Morrison defended
himself in another round of ephemera printed for the campaign. Whatever
the research use of political ephemera, printed and non-print, it
is the responsibility of librarians and archivists to collect and
to preserve the material and to make it available to the public.
Political ephemera represents a unique slice of American life.
1 See Hudson River Museum, Yonkers (New York), Packaging
Memorabilia from Campaigns Past (Yonkers, NY: The Museum,
1984); Roger A.
Fischer, Tippecanoe and Trinkets Too: The Material Culture of
American Presidential Campaigns, 1828-1984 (Urbana, IL: University
of Illinois Press, 1988).
2Florence M. Jumonville, Bibliography of New Orleans
Imprints, 1764-1864 (New
Orleans: Historic New Orleans Collection, 1989), 1-2.
3Enid T. Thompson, Local History Collections: A
Manual for Librarians (Nashville, TN: American Association for
State and Local History, 1978), 30.
4 (Printed in the City of Washington, 1810 and Re-printed
by J.C. de St. Romes, New-Orleans, 1817). Jumonville, New Orleans
5 lbid., 89-90.
6 (New-Orleans: Printed by Bradford & Anderson,
1808). Copies of Livingstons pamphlet can be found at the
Historic New Orleans Collection, the Library of Congress, the Howard-Tilton
Memorial Library at Tulane University, and the Louisiana and Lower
Mississippi Valley Collections of the Louisiana State University
7See the Hursey Family Papers, the Benson Family Papers,
the Thomas Butler Papers, the deClouet Family Papers, Miscellaneous
Manuscripts, the Huey P. Long Papers, and the Russell B. Long Papers.
8 Quoted by Chris E. Makepeace, Ephemera: A Book
on Its Collection, Conservation, and Use (Brookfield, VT: Gower
Publishing Co., 1985), 7.
9 (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1983).
10 North Carolina Libraries 46 (Summer 1988):
11Fannie Weinstein, "At Bowling Green State University,
PC Stands for Popular Culture," American Libraries 20
(June 1989): 578-582.
12 Thompson, Local History Collections, 14.
Glen Jeansonne, "Racism and Longism in Louisiana: The 1959-60
Gubernatorial Elections," Louisiana History 11 (Summer
Faye Phillips heads the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi
Valley Collections at Louisiana State University Libraries in Baton
The Ephemera Society acknowledges with thanks the editor of Louisiana
Libraries for granting permission to reproduce this article from
Volume 53, Number 2, published in Fall 1990.