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Wednesday, 1.19.05: Ephemera

I spent way too much time yesterday morning staring into the past -- not into my ancestry, but into tiny brochure produced by a hotel in Switzerland in 1871.

There is a category in the collecting world called "ephemera." Ephemera are short-lived things, from the Greek word for mayfly -- advertising circulars, coupons, train schedules, tickets to events long past. There is also a school of thought that says if you keep something long enough, it becomes valuable. And there are packrats who live by this philosophy, although I suspect that most packrats live less by economic calculations than by sentimentality.

I swear I'm not a packrat but I do have folders of ticket stubs and such from a few trips I've taken. I always promise myself that I "make something" of them one of these days. But then once you start saving something like that, it begins to absorb spirit and becomes impossible to throw away without a sense of loss.

Hannah H. Silsbee also saved her trip memories, which fell into Jim's hands at a photo show in 1982. Recently Jim pulled a packet of them out of a far corner of an upper closet shelf. A note in the plastic bag in his handwriting said his few items were pulled from a collection of about 350 stereo views and cartes-de-visite - which he may or may not have tucked somewhere else. From dates on timetables, etc., he deduced that Hannah must have taken a tour of Europe in 1871. (From some other evidence, he got the hunch she might have been from Maine, but who knows.)

Among the mini-albums of souvenir photos of Switzerland, I found a brochure from a hotel in Luzern, Switzerland. A throwaway that never got tossed - one of those things that hotels give their guests to orient them to their surroundings. Sixteen small pages on cheap paper, in German. But the booklet also contained 3 maps, lithographed on better paper. They were amazing. One pulled out from the center, a full 20 inches wide, with a panorama of the view outside the hotel -- the lake, with sailboats, and each mountain of the nearby Alps, labeled with its name and height. The detail on the right shows a tiny corner of the map, enlarged for my appreciation of the craftmanship.

Hannah had a sense of herself, but tread lightly. She wrote her name or initials on everything, but did it in pencil. Who knows if she was really a packrat. Maybe her trip was simply the most exciting thing she'd ever done and every memory was precious.


Nothing is more ephemeral than an ebay listing, but for a few days you can see the listing for this item here.



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