Rare Book School
In 1972, Terry Belanger established the Book Arts Press (BAP) at
Columbia University as a laboratory for programs associated with
the history of books and printing, descriptive bibliography, the
antiquarian book trade, and special collections librarianship. Twenty
years later Terry and the BAP moved to the University of Virginia
(UVa) in Charlottesville, and in 2000 the name of the program changed
to Rare Book School (RBS).
firmly part of UVa's academic community and a longtime supporter
and institutional member of the Ephemera Society, RBS stages exhibitions,
publishes materials on the history of the book and related subjects,
offers public lectures-most notably the Sol M. Malkin Lecture in
Bibliography, maintains a library of books and prints, has a collection
of printing presses and equipment, and offers a number of five-day
courses on subjects ranging from medieval bookbinding to modern
fine printing. In 2001, RBS added to its curriculum by including
a course entitled "Printed Ephemera."
The teacher of the course is Michael Twyman, emeritus professor
in the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the
University of Reading in England. Michael is the author of numerous
books and articles, including The British Library Guide to Printing:
History and Techniques, published in 1998, and Early Lithographed
Books, issued in 1990. He lectures widely and most recently
edited The Encyclopedia of Ephemera, compiled by the late
Maurice Rickards and published by the Ephemera Society of the UK
Underpinning this course is the view that printed ephemera deserves
serious attention from a variety of people. The course focuses on
nineteenth century English-language ephemera, though the general
issues raised relate to all time periods and languages. Classes
consist of a mix of illustrated lectures on specific topics, student
discussions, and hands-on work with original pieces of ephemera.
Topics covered highlight the processes used in the production of
ephemera, printers, collecting, describing and cataloging ephemera,
and such associated issues as dating, terminology, and digitization.
Individuals engaged in the many disciplines of history, graphic
designers, and curators of institutional archival collections, as
well as collectors benefit equally, but for different reasons, from
the course. Adding to the overall structure of "Printed Ephemera"
are short presentations by the students on the collections they
personally own or oversee if they are in an institutional setting.
Students are given the opportunity to prepare themselves for the
course by studying from a bibliography of readings listed on the
web site of RBS. Indeed, anyone interested in printed ephemera would
benefit from referring to this bibliography. Very few general works,
with the notable exception of The Encyclopedia of Ephemera,
have been written about printed ephemera, but there are books and
articles on the history of advertising that deal with ephemera tangentially,
and other writings approach the topic through the history of printing
and graphic design. Many other items focus on a particular kind
of ephemera, basing their discussions on personal collecting.
Items mentioned in the bibliography fall under four headings: general
works; printing, graphic design, and letterforms; categories of
ephemera; and producers of ephemera. Students are advised to read
selectively based on their interests and backgrounds and to feel
comfortable that they have a solid grounding in the full range of
ephemera covered in class.
During the March 2001 class, participants benefited from seeing
the personal collection of Ephemera Society member Calvin Otto,
a resident of Charlottesville. In addition to making his collection
available for the class, Cal has curated special exhibitions presented
by RBS, including "Eureka: There's Gold in Them Thar Books,"
in 2000; "Only in Cloth: Publishers' Bookbindings, 1830-1910,"
in 1997; and "Wastebasket Archaeology: American Ephemera, 1876-1995,"
As with many college and university courses, students fill out
evaluations once classes end. They were glowing for "Printed
Ephemera." There were high grades and praise for the reading
list, syllabus, and field trips. The course met or exceeded everyone's
expectations, and the intellectual level of the course content was,
as one student said, "entirely appropriate." What did
you like best about the course? "Hands-on work," "the
instructor," "the originality of the subject," and
"encouragement to contribute to the conversation" were
several responses. How could the course have been improved? Almost
universally, the reply was "more time!" Student evaluations
of the course are available in their entirety on the web site of
The "Printed Ephemera" class is limited to twelve students,
but serious applicants have a good chance of being admitted if they
submit their applications in time for complete evaluation. To learn
when the next "Printed Ephemera" course will be offered
and to get an application go to the RBS web site at http://www.virginia.edu/oldbooks/
or write to Rare Book School, 114 Alderman Library, University of
Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903.
If you would like to support RBS, consider membership in Friends
of Rare Book School. Since 1976, individual friends have contributed
more than $500,000 to RBS, and more than 200 libraries have donated
deaccessioned old and new books to the RBS collections. As Terry
Belanger says, "our relationship toward these gifts tends to
resemble that of Bedouins toward their camels: very little goes
E. Richard McKinstry
[This article originally appeared in the Northeast
Journal of Antiques & Art.]