Category Archives: Ephemera

Woody Guthrie’s Songbook

IMG_0000Somewhere in the late 1940s, Woody Guthrie gave his mimeographed 25 Cent Songbook to Charlie Weiner, my late father-in-law. Typewritten and decorated with Woody's cartoons, the songbook contains ten songs, including "This Land Is Your Land," "Grand Coolee Dam," and others. It's pretty fragile, so I made a quick scan of the whole thing here. (This German site has kindly typed it up already.)

Charlie knew Woody well enough to report riding trains with him, though they were 19 years apart. When Woody printed this in 1945, Charlie was 13 or 14. He left home a few years later, so I suspect it was 1949 or later when their lives intersected. 

Anyway, I'm glad to have this little slice of time. Happy 100th birthday, Woody.

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Feltron 2010 Annual Report

Feltron Nicholas Felton is a talented New York-based graphic designer who, since 2005, has turned the mundane statistics of his year into a series of annual reports that are beautiful and entertaining.

This year, he memorialized his father using 4348 records, from the record of his father's birth in 1896 to a dentist appointment in 2010, including tickets, passports, calendars, and more. It's all presented in a thoughtful format that somehow makes the stoory of his life more remarkable. 

(found on

Today’s ephemera: Little Red Wagon (1949)

LittleRedWagon-01The Little Red Wagon, illustrated by Clare McKinley. A Rand-McNally Book-Elf Junior, whatever that means, from 1949. I've put the whole book up, but my favorite pages are below.

I love these old children's books. The illustrations are so joyful. Yes, yes, everyone lives in an all-white world of picket fences and friendly grownups, and these two little parentless six-year-olds are apparently free to wander around the town, accosting toddlers and unescorted women. Still, bright and shiny happiness in a time before irony or zombies.

Shakedown Random thought number one: the image of Mrs Porter (see below), with her bursting bag of groceries, visible celery, and imminent leash entanglement, reminded me (uncomfortably) of the celery and loose underwear illustrations of Art Frahm, especially, say, this one. Was Frahm inspired by The Little Red Wagon? Was he thinking, Ho ho, if only Mrs Porter's bloomers had fallen impossibly to her ankles?

Random thought number two: I looked up "Mason and Lang," the name of the delivery service in the book, but the only reference is to a historical novel from 1899, "Parson Kelly." I have no idea what it means.

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Today’s ephemera: The Circus of Dr Lao (art by Artzybasheff)

DrLao-01 Found this at my library's used book sale, a 1964 Compass paperback edition of a 1935 book, The Circus of Dr Lao by Charles G. Finney. Fifty cents well spent!

Apparently well-known enough to rate a Wikipedia entry, the book sounds fascinating (it was later turned into a movie, 7 Faces of Dr Lao starring Tony Randall and with special effects by George Pal).

I haven't read it yet, but I picked it up because of the cover, and bought it based on the few illustrations inside, drawn by a master: Boris Artzybasheff. They are terrifically surreal, and it's hard to imagine the book living up to their promise.

DrLao-02I don't think they were originally in color, but the Wikipedia article shows a slightly different treatment for the cover art. Also, possibly reflecting his fame in 1964 (the year before he died), the cover of my copy says "with additional interpretations by Boris Artzybasheff."

Anyway, enough of that. Just look at this art! This is all of it — the two-page spread had the single-page illustrations on either wide of it, and the last illustration was on the final page of the book. Also, each was listed on a separate page, with titles like "A Lecture on Lusus Naturae" (on the illustration above) and "Soft Music on the Piccolo" (on the two-page spread).

Here's a great page of Artzybasheff's art, for everything from Time covers to ads for Shell motor oil. I think I see a little Jim Woodring in his work.


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Today’s ephemera: Popular Sports (1935)

Popularsports-01 I haven't been able to learn much about this book or its illustrator. "Frank D. Collins" only seems to have been involved with this book. 

The whole page format and style is taken directly from Ripley's Believe It of Not, but no one by this name seems to have drawn for them.

Popularsports-04 That aside, it's a sort of treasure trove of 1930s sports trivia. In Auto Racing, we learn that only five men ever drove a car over 200 miles per hour. Their names aren't given, but below that is this statement:

"Speed demons" may come and go — but such names as De Palma, Mulford, "Jimmie" Murphy, De Paola, Burman, George Robertson, Louis Chevrolet, Eddie Hearne, Armour, Joe Dawson, "Caley" Bragg, Tetzlaff, and Milton will live wherever "benzine jockeys" are gathered together.

Yes, indeed they will. One, anyway.

Popularsports-07 The book repeats the fictitious story of baseball, and includes such popular sports as cockfighting, dicing, falconry, and fox-hunting. But there are some interesting historical artifacts, such as a "Field and Track" blurb on Jesse Owens, "Ohio State colored athlete" who broke three world records and tied a fourth at a Big Ten track meet — this was a year before the Berlin Olympics.


Today’s ephemera: Outdoor Cooking with Reynolds Wrap

ReynoldsWrap-01 Another fine example of corporate largesse: we only want to make your camping experience better, and it’s especially better if you use yards and yards of Reynolds Wrap!

This pamphlet is from 1950, with methods “field tested by recognized camping authorities.” I like the dark green they use for cover and the two-color illustrations, the better to evoke that deep forest Scouting vibe. I especially love the black-and-white photos with green illustration behind.

The opening photo-illustration (see at bottom) is the best: two fun guys getting ready to eat… something, I don’t know, over some furniture hewn from the living forest around them. No Coleman gear here, nor even a semblance of neatness or order. They’re using what looks like paint cans and buckets, and Mr Serious on the left has his sleeves rolled up — good thing, too, because his hands are filthy. Mr Clean and Smiley is preparing a cookpot, because “pots, pans, and dishes are no longer necessary on a camping trip.”

ReynoldsWrap-09 You see, pure aluminum foil isn’t just for wrapping food, ho no! You can make a quick drinking cup from a small piece while on the trail. You can wrap matches to keep them dry, and wrap film to avoid exposure, and wrap small objects to keep them from getting lost. You can wrap your hunting rifle for the off-season. Wrap wrap wrap wrap wrap.

Feeling more ambitious? We can make an aluminum foil cookpot from a bent sapling — make sure you double the foil for extra strength! Or make a small, multilevel baking oven from sticks and foil.

ReynoldsWrap-05 Really, they only missed having us construct a canoe, a lean-to, or a suspension bridge.

The best part is the disposal advice: Used Reynolds Wrap MUST be buried as it will not deteriorate for many months if left above ground. So, put the used wrap in the fire to burn off the food, let it cool, and roll it into a small ball. Dig a hole with your boot and bury it! Voila, no more unsightly trash in the campsite. Brilliant.

ReynoldsWrap-08 A little company history: Reynolds was started by the nephew of the tobacco baron, R.J. Reynolds, who needed a lot of foil wrapping to wrap the suddenly popular of cigarettes he was pushing. Just before WWII, they expanded when they deduced that Germany had increased its aluminum capacity in preparation for war, but after the war they found lots of other exciting aluminum opportunities, including the aluminum can in 1963.

I haven’t learned the origin of the terrific logo on the back cover, a stylized St George and the Dragon motif.

Some more scanned excerpts here:



Today’s ephemera: Flowers of Kleenex

Kleenex-01Have Fun with Flowers of Kleenex Tissues! From 1961 — what, you think ReadyMade invented this stuff? This fine book tells you how to make all the popular flowers — roses, tulips, poinsettias, and more — as well as how to makes wreaths, tabletop trees, and even parade floats! 

I'm particularly fond of the Chevy logo among the suggested ideas. Won't your boss be pleased when you show up at the next all-hands meeting with your company logo made of Kleenex flowers? He'll probably walk it right into the next board meeting and take all the credit, and what will you have to show for your 30 hours of tissue manipulation and wire-mesh-forming? Bupkiss. 

Kleenex-07 And, what's more, now you don't even have any Kleenex brand tissues left to wipe your tears away. You'll have to use Scott brand paper towels (another fine Kimberly-Clark product), which will give you a rash if you rub too hard, so be careful.

It's probably best just to make a wreath of poinsettias for Aunt Clarissa, because she always loves those kind of things, even though it means you'll have to listen to her advice about your hair and clothes and weight. But, she's family, whaddyagonnado?

Below are some spreads from the book.



Today’s ephemera: NASA Project Gemini

NASA_Gemini-01 The first astronauts – the Mercury Seven — went up alone in a 9-foot x 6-foot-diameter capsule. Project Mercury got the United States into space, but once JFK announced the goal to get to the moon, the remaining Mercury flights were cancelled and Project Gemini was born.

Gemini — the astronauts all pronounced it "jeh-MEE-nee" — was so named because two astronauts would go up (gemini is Latin for twins). The capsule was a little larger (11 feet x 7.5 feet diameter) and could support the crew for two weeks or more. The astronauts could maneuver it more, dock with another spacecraft, and even take a walk outside. These were all necessary steps to prepare for the Apollo missions.

Gemini was the first spacecraft with an onboard computer, the Gemini Guidance Computer. Made by IBM, it weighed 59 pounds and had a 7000-calculation/second processor with (as I figure it) 159,744 bits of memory. That equals about 20KB.

NASA_Gemini-astronaut I'm not sure where I picked up this book, or where you would have picked it up in 1966. It's a fairly straightforward description of the Gemini program, with sections on the spacecraft, the space suits, the astronauts, the launch vehicles (for some reason, the word "rocket" is never used), the missions (the book seems to have come out after Gemini 8, Neil Armstrong's first mission), and a page at the end on the upcoming Apollo program.

Graphically, it's also fairly conservative. Black-and-white photos, photo-illustrations, paintings, simple graphics, and some excellent line illustrations, maybe in pencil. Only the back cover has color, which makes the striking cover even more unusual.

NASA_Gemini-arabs Among the amusing entries is an illustration (see left), probably from a photo, of eleven men in Arab garb posing in a group shot. A pair of large crossed knives is visible in the foreground. On the next page, four rough-looking guys are watching a guy with a machete and a piece of bamboo during Tropical Survival School — I'm sure this had some connection with being in space, but there was hardly room to even swing a machete inside the capsule.

I scanned the whole book, but some sample pages are below. 


Today’s ephemera: NASA X-30 Glider Kit

NASA_X-30-01 This four-page flyer isn’t particularly old (1990), but still exciting. The X-30 — officially the X-30 National Aero-Space Plane (love that hyphen!) — was a single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft (that is, it wouldn’t have needed those great big booster rockets that seem sort of necessary).

According to Wikipedia, Reagan called for “…a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport, accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low-earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours.” It was going to be built by Rockwell.

It never got built. There’s all sorts of history available on why, but it’s safe to say that Mach 25 wasn’t achievable, plus they decided to spend the $10 billion on homeless shelters and school lunch programs.

85278main_X-30_lgSo, sadly, you can’t fly to space in the X-30, but you can make a paper airplane that can attain low-living-room orbit and crash into the ficus in about two minutes. And that’s almost as fun as popping up to the space station for some Tang and space sticks.

Here’s an artist’s conception of, I don’t know, vapor trails in space or something. Below are the rest of the pages, including the never-cut-out, fold-and-glue-it-yourself glider kit.

UPDATE: Here’s a full-size PDF of the glider page.


Today’s ephemera: Housewife’s Year Book (1937)

Housewifes01 Love this! It's a sort of Old Farmer's Almanack with an obsession: it's really concerned with constipation. 

"Prepared by recognized authorities and at considerable expense" by Kellogg Company of Battle Creek, Michigan, this is really long advertisement for Kellogg's All-Bran.

So, amidst the advice for curing the common ailments of your livestock, current postal rates, party games, and crop seed info, we have such vital pages as:

Important Information about the Neglected Ailment (page 3),
What Constipation Means (page 6),
All-Bran Cleanses Like a Water-Softened Sponge (page 14),
Answers to Questions People Ask about Bran (page 21),
Ten Helpful Beauty Hints (page 22 — avoid constipation!),
The Cathartic Habit (page 26 — a cathartic in this context is a synonym for a laxative). 

This last page starts off, "There is nothing more damaging than the habitual use of laxatives." You get the idea.

Housewifes21Other than that, I love the art and layout of this little book. I love the full-color cover pages and four-page insert with All-Bran recipes (pages 17-20), and the little line illustrations of happy home life throughout.

The first page has an explanation of the zodiac, and the calendars all contain the moon signs — as well as all the important Christian observance days, including less-common days like Quinquagesima–Shrove Sunday and Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity.

I've scanned the whole book, if you feel the need to catch up on life and branding in 1937. And, for God's sakes, make sure your meals have plenty of "bulk."

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