I love ephemera.  When I open a book and discover a pressed flower, or a newspaper clipping, or a scribbled note on a torn envelope carefully tucked between the pages, I feel a nerdy thrill at the (albeit trivial) historical mystery before me, and an inexplicable connection to the unknown predecessor who placed it there.

The non-profit Ephemera Society, which promotes the collection, preservation, and study of printed and handwritten ephemera, describes ephemera as:

…documents including leaflets, handbills, tickets, trade cards, programmes and playbills, printed tins and packaging, advertising inserts, posters, newspapers and much more.  In the words of the society’s founder, Maurice Rickards, “‘the minor transient documents of everyday life.”  Essentially produced to meet the needs of the day, such items reflect the moods and mores of past times in a way that more formal records cannot.

The manufacturer’s recipe pamphlets collected by ISU Library Special Collections are themselves considered ephemera, so when I opened the booklet Delicious Desserts and Milk Foods Made with Junket (1923) to find half a dozen yellowed newspaper clippings and a much-folded mimeograph, the experience of discovering ephemera within ephemera reminded me of Winston Churchill’s famous observation about Russia, which he called “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”


I’m charmed by the evidence that this recipe booklet was once treasured by someone, and consulted often enough that she (in 1920s America, it was almost certainly “she”) used the pamphlet as a housing for other clipped recipes as well.  One of the newspaper clippings is not a recipe at all, but a Christmastide poem, which had perhaps struck her fancy as she was cutting out recipes.  The greater mystery is how (and why) Mr. Robert Ryan’s mimeographed sheet of Lab Exercises for Physical Geography came to be among these other documents.

The mimeographed lab exercises had split along several of its fold lines into fragments.  Mimeograph ink is very sensitive to moisture, so the document was mended and lined with heat-set tissue instead of paste.

The newspaper clippings were washed in an alkaline bath to remove acid degradation products before mylar encapsulation.  The recipe booklet and its encapsulated ephemera were then housed together in a CoLibri pocket large enough to accommodate them all.

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