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Printed Ephemera

Literature which is more lowly even than a pamphlet is termed ‘ephemera’, and the Museum contains a great deal of this elusive type of historical source material. Except for certain clearly defined categories (like trade catalogues, or lecture syllabuses), it mostly forms part of the collections of prints or manuscripts, with which it has many overlaps.

Printed ephemera can include trade literature – such as price lists, instruction leaflets, advertisements, and trade cards; educational ephemera – like syllabuses, lecture notices, and examination papers; documents issued by institutions and societies – their brochures, menus, membership cards, and circular letters; and any of the other printed by-products of historical activity. Unmounted printed-paper instruments, and ‘broadsheet’ publications (single large sheets, popular in the 18th century, typically describing astronomical events or new inventions), are other examples.

A group of 18th-century auction catalogues for the sale of scientific instruments was transcribed in 2007 and the transcriptions are available on this site.

18th-century auction catalogues of scientific instruments

18th-century auction catalogues of scientific instruments

Lecture notice issued by the Oxford professor Thomas Hornsby, in 1766.

Lecture notice issued by the Oxford professor Thomas Hornsby, in 1766.