Letter From France
December 8, 2001 to April 28, 2002--and currently on its web site
and in a catalog--The Museum of the Art of Printing of Lyon staged
an exhibition called "Ephemera: Everyday Printed Matter,
1880-1939." In its promotional literature, the museum invited
people to enter the rich universe of exciting and memorable ephemera,
everyday companions that marked the joys and sorrows of life and
that affected both studies and leisure time activities. Covering
the time period between the Belle Époque and World War
II, the exhibit displayed paper artifacts that were outstanding
for their artistic achievement, colorful designs, and typographical
accomplishment-in short, masterpieces of printing skill.
Included in the show were such items as menus, certificates
commemorating the passages of life from birth through death, handbills,
bookplates, diplomas, letterheads, page markers, bills, stock
certificates, theater and concert programs, and visiting cards-or
cartes de visites, a French language term adopted by speakers
of English,. All were reminders of an "art of life"
lost to time, but still alive for us today in the paper ephemera
of the period.
The ephemera on display came from four regional
Lyon printers: Audin, a family firm in business since the 1920s
whose current owners collect ephemera dating from the eighteenth
century; A. Waton, in business 1875-1970 and which produced much
advertising ephemera for industry; Gougenheim, which specialized
in labels, especially wine labels; and Perreyon, established in
1884, now run by the fourth generation of owners, and the last
firm in existence in the Lyon area using traditional printing
The catalog of the exhibition, which shares the
title of the exhibition, is 64 pages long and contains nearly
100 color and black-and-white illustrations. Michael Twyman, director
of the Center of Ephemera Studies at the University of Reading,
wrote its foreword. Ordering information is available via the
web site of The Museum of the Art of Printing of Lyon.
The French Army Museum in Paris at Hotel des Invalides
features an exhibition on World War II that uses many kinds of
ephemeral items to help tell the story of France's participation
in the conflict. Arranged in thirty sections on several floors,
the exhibit effectively portrays life in France and on the battlefield
Shades of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in
"Casablanca" and the importance of letters of transit
are recalled when seeing a small pass that allowed Martial Valin,
Commander of the Free French Air Force, to move about freely.
Sheet music from 1941, leaflets about BBC radio broadcasts dropped
by the RAF, and manuscript code books all focus on the efforts
of resistance forces. A case of newspapers, including such titles
as Victoire, Front National, France d'Abord,
and La France show how news from clandestine presses circulated.
Le Courier de l'Air, published in London on January 28,
1943 reported on the Casablanca conference and pictured Franklin
Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, and French leader
Charles de Gaulle.
Especially intriguing are several very small pocket
sized sabotage manuals parachuted to resistance soldiers in France
that had covers completely unrelated to their contents. Two are:
Je Sais Cuisiner (I Know how to Cook), and Adolf Hitler:
Discourses de 1943. Allied soldiers obviously hoped that German
forces would consider the tiny manuals too innocuous to open up
for further reading.
Other items include envelopes used in Africa by
the Free French, posters, a sheet of paper containing directions
for using a gas mask, and ration cards and coupons dating from
January 1942 for bread and clothing. Relating the work of French
prisoners of war are four blank menus with decorative headings
and vignettes that they printed while in captivity, presumably
to be filled in later by hand and used by restaurants.
Those who are interested in seeing an Internet version
of the World war II exhibition should go to http://www.invalides.org
and follow the links to World War II. The site is in English as
well as French.
E. Richard McKinstry