Barwon Booksellers - Secondhand and Collectibles


  • Tides Of Ephemera In A Sea Of Books

    3 February 2017 -

    We forget sometimes, in our contemporary world of brand, pitch and spin, that blowing the trumpet is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps that's partly due to the fact that there's nothing like the passage of time to make even the most blatant example of marketing cheese seem a little less on the nose.

    Here on the shores of Corio Bay the inexorable tide of books coming our way at times feels decidedly lunar. But one of our favourite aspects of the daily seek is the unexpected small fry that, amongst all the zeitgeisty bestsellers and the gilt & deckle edged volumes, gets washed up on the BB beach. This stuff - tourism pamphlets, brochures, recreational maps and government promotional material from the deep and feckless past of flogging stuff - is aptly called 'ephemera' by collectors and those in the trade. As promotional material, it was generally intended to have a short life and was never built to last. Which of course is crucial to the allure.

    Ephemera items are invariably flimsy, to the point of being delicate. They boast none of the immediate legibility of bookish spines announcing their contents or stating their importance to the shelf-scanning eye. Typically this kind of material consists of stapled paper booklets or folding-out concertina brochures printed in a golden age for printer's inks. They hide themselves deep amongst their more respected bound companions but often reveal secrets and subliminal tragi-comic messages from our cultural history.

    To continue the littoral metaphor, the BB stock of ephemera has very much to be combed for amongst the hummocks of more mainstream wrack that we see. And yet, despite the difficulty of finding such gems, or perhaps because of it, we have developed over the years a real taste for the dulled glint of a rusted staple, or that shy sliver of old paper or buckram, which, when plucked from the tideline, reveals itself to be archaeology moonlighting as advertising, and yes, a whole lot of visual fun.