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Ephemera of the Month: An Introduction to Bookbinders’ Tickets

Few things as brazenly flout their etymological origins as the idea of collected ‘ephemera.’  In Greek, ephemera lasts only a day, and the word was often specifically used in reference to short-lived creatures, like mayflies. Printed ephemera, too, was meant to be transient–one-off or single-use items that were expected to be discarded after serving their function, like tickets, invitations, package labels, calendars, and other everyday documents. However, the impermanence inherent in the term has been challenged by a knack for preservation, whether of the historical or sentimental order, and collections of printed ephemera, like that of the American Bookbinders Museum, defy their intended temporary existence to become important depositories of rich material culture.

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In the bookbinding world–a world of printed material by definition–ephemera is everywhere. Containing both the mundane and extraordinary alike, the Museum’s collection consists of business cards, bills of sale and invoices, advertisements, legal documents, instruction manuals, catalogues, union pamphlets, bookplates, and more. Most ubiquitous, however, are the bookbinders’ tickets,  either scattered across albums or grouped together in small plastic baggies. The bookbinder’s ticket is both trademark and signature, an indication of provenance or authenticity and an important source of information. Teeny-tiny (smaller than a postage stamp) and usually tucked away on the front or rear endpaper of an edition, the tickets at most provide all relevant details of the bookbinder/bindery responsible–name, address–and at the very least are often lovely bits of aesthetic branding.

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Usually salvaged from books needing to be rebound, these tickets are a nod to posterity (as all printed ephemera oxymoronically ends up being); even removed from the object whose fine craftsmen they attest to, bookbinders’ tickets leave their proprietor’s mark on the history of the trade.

By Emma Drew, Volunteer