Special Collections copy: ephemera laid in

One of my favorite things about cataloging Special Collections materials is finding little treasures left in the book by its owner. Often they have nothing to do with the subject matter and seem to be placed there for safe keeping or out of convenience: notes, shopping lists, book lists, bookmarks. However, sometimes the ephemera in the book not only provides additional primary sources on the subject, but tells us about how important this book once was to his owner. The collection I most often deal with is André and Catherine de Saint-Rat collection of Russian history, literature and art, in which every book was carefully selected, sought after, taken care of, and researched. Nothing, with the possible exception of the “Pill Book” (guide to medication), is out of place and every book has a history. A very large number of books contain related newspaper clippings, notes related to their publication, or inscriptions on the inside cover with their provenance. My favorite ephemera are the ones that document a controversy or special value of the publication. One such book is a catalog of an exhibition titled “The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives.” Laid in the book is a newspaper clipping from “The New York Times” with the review of the exhibit, the program, a journal article by a prominent Russian art scholar and a personal friend of Mr. De Saint-Rat, John Bowlt, and a letter from a former student, by then a history professor. All these items, carefully cut out, copied, or stapled relate to the event of the exhibition. The letter is particularly touching. A part of it reads: “It’s a remarkable exhibition, made even more so by your contributions. I have a sense of pride at having been one of your students and I realize how fortunate I am to have seen many of the treasures in your collection.”

Another example of ephemera providing additional research value and history of the event it describes is “Russian and Soviet Painting: An Exhibition from the Museums of the USSR.” This catalog, in particular, has a wealth of material documenting the controversy of the exhibition held in 1977. Clippings from American newspapers acknowledged the big steps art museums of both countries were making with an art exchange in the middle of the Cold war. Articles from Russian immigrant papers chronicled the outrage of the Russian American community regarding the choice made by the Soviets to send mostly little-known socialist realism rather than paintings of higher artistic value. A passionate letter to the editor of one of these papers by John Bowlt defended the cultural value of the exhibition, showing great tact and expertise.

While I get very excited by such finds, as a cataloger I am faced with the issue of preserving the connection between the book and its ephemera without damage to either of them from paper acid and the bulk of materials straining the spine of the book. All the ephemera is usually separated from the book and kept in acid-free envelopes clearly marked with its original location. A project is being started to edit the bibliographic records of books that had related materials inside and to organize the ephemera so it can be found easily upon request. I believe that this material and the respect for each of these books is what makes them valuable as research sources, as well as objects.

Masha Stepanova
Cataloging & Processing