The Rare Book Collection of Monash University Library has been collecting ephemera since the early 1990s. By ephemera we understand the printed material which is used for various purposes in everyday life and then disposed of. Apart from notable individuals such as John Johnson at Oxford University in the period between the wars, most curators and institutions have overlooked this field of collecting, but the situation has changed rapidly over the past twenty or thirty years, and it is now eagerly sought after with Ephemera Societies and Ephemera fairs in most large centres.
This part of our collection helps support research by social historians who require documentation of the most immediate kind for their study of the texture of contemporary life. I first became aware of its importance when I was working as a Librarian in the La Trobe section of the State Library of Victoria during the 1980s. One of the main projects at that time was assisting the people involved in the Bicentennial History Project. In particular, images were being sought for illustrations, and often the source for these was the ephemera from the various periods. When they were published in 1987, the Bicentennial History volumes broke new ground in presentation of Australian history, partly through their emphasis on ephemera.
Rare Books Librarian
Monash University Library
Although the strength of our ephemera collection lies in our holdings of comparatively recent material, we have not limited ourselves to the modern period. The earliest pieces we have on display are pamphlets and broadsides dating from the late 17 century an illustrate hysteria of the mob during the Popish Plot. This was supposedly an attempt of the English Catholics, with the backing of the Jesuits, to assassinate Charles II and install his Catholic brother James on the throne. It was widely believed there would be a massacre of the Protestants.
1. Staley, William, d. 1678.
The tryal of William Stayley, goldsmith : for speaking treasonable words against His most sacred Majesty, and upon full evidence found guilty of high treason, and received sentence accordingly on Thursday, November the 21 1678. [Dublin] : Reprinted, 1678.
2. An Account of the digging up of the quarters of William Stayley, lately executed for high treason, for that his relations abused the King's mercy / imprimatur Novemb. 30th 1678 William Scroggs. (London : Printed for Robert Pawlet at the sign of the Bible in Chancery-Lance [sic], 1678) 1 broadside
Thirty five people were executed as a result of the trials of those supposedly involved in the plot. The first to suffer was William Stayley. He was the son of a Catholic banker, but was overheard talking in French in a tavern in London, saying of the King,
He is a great Heretick, and the greatest Rogue in the World; there’s the heart and here’s the hand that would kill him.
This constituted treason. Stayley was informed upon, arrested, tried and found guilty. He was sentenced,
To be hanged by the Neck, cut down alive, your Quarters shall be severed, and be disposed of as the King shall think fit, and your bowels burnt, and so the Lord have mercy upon your soul.
That was not, however the end of the story. William Stayley, “having behaved himself very penitently from the time of his conviction to the time of his execution”, his relatives petitioned the King that Stayley’s “quarters might be delivered back to them to be privately buried and not to be set upon the Gates of the City: Which his most Sacred Majesty, out of His Princely Clemency and Compassion, was pleased to grant.” Staley’s relatives, however, trespassed on the King’s good nature and “caused several Masses to be said over his Quarters.” They also held a funeral procession, and Catholic burial. As a consequence, the King ordered the quarters be dug up, “and set upon the Gates of the City of London, and his Head upon London Bridge.”
3. The Solemn mock procession of the Pope, Cardinalls, Jesuits, Fryers etc. through the Citty of London, November the 17th. 1680. (London : Printed for Nathaniel Ponder, at the Peacock near the Stocks Mark[e]t ; Jonathan Wilkins at the Star in Cheapside, next Mercers Chappel ; and Samuel Lee at the Feathers in Lumbard-Street, near the Post-Office, 1680) 1 hand-coloured broadside.
Pope-burning processions were held on 17 November 1679, 1680 and 1681. The date was significant as the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I’s accession. Elizabeth was seen as a Protestant heroine. The procession parodied the Papal Coronation ceremony. The figure of the Pope was stuffed with live cats, and after the procession had paraded through the streets of London it finished at Temple Bar. The effigies were tossed onto a bon-fire and the screams of the cats added greatly to the sinister effect. It was estimated that 200,000 people watched the parade.
Political broadsides were essentially ephemeral. They were composed and printed as comment on particular events, then would be discarded like out-of-date newspapers.
4. The Motion. Printed for T. Cooper, 1741. 1 sheet, broadside : ill. ; 32 x 38 cm.
A satirical poem referring to a motion to address the Crown for the dismissal of Sir Robert Walpole which was defeated in the House of Commons in Feb. 1741. The satire was directed against Lord Carteret, the Duke of Argyll and other opponents of Sir Robert Walpole. The engraving is by Gravelot.
5. Time's lecture to man. [London, 1750?] 1 sheet : col. ill. ; 21 cm. "Sold in Bow-Church-yard and in Queen Street, Southwark." Engraved, and hand-coloured. Begins, "Why start you at that skeleton".
This was a memento mori. The illustration shows Time, the reaper, pointing to a grinning skeleton which has its hand out in greeting to a fashionable gentleman.
6. The babes in the wood. [S.;l. : s.n.,] ca. 1790. 1 broadside : 1 ill. ; 22 x 32 cm. Begins, “Now ponder well you parents dear”.
A broadside of the popular ballad about a wicked uncle who has two orphaned children killed so he could rob them of their inheritance. It was meant as a cautionary tale to,