Monday, October 14, 2013

Historical Ephemera

Earlier this year Oklahoma City's oldest (established 1930) and arguably its best used and antiquarian book store, Aladdin Books, closed up shop. Like all central Oklahoma bibliophiles, I both mourned its passing (a stop at Aladdin was a ritual of every visit to OKC) and picked over its carcass during the inevitable liquidation sale.

Although I brought home several grocery bags full of nice books, I didn't score anything particularly valuable or collectable, mainly because I'm not in the "valuable and collectable" tax bracket. But what I did find, in a dime-a-copy clearance box, was a treasure trove of historical ephemera dating back to the turn of the century and beyond. Things like 1920-30s-era playbills from Parisian and New York theaters, vintage American road maps, a program from the 1904 World's Fair for a historical libretto on the "Anglo-Boer" war (complete with some cool old gun ads), historical pamphlets (you may recall this blog post about early Oklahoma gamebirds. The pamphlet described in that blog post came from this same haul...) some really cool old photograph negatives that show early American sporting scenes, old Allied war progress maps from WWII, etc.

Just random, endlessly fascinating bits and pieces that, taken together (for I strongly suspect that all this material came from the same source, as I got it all from a single box that had apparently been picked up from an estate sale and never sorted) paint a picture of a life lived fully and well. In addition to all those Parisian and New York playbills from the teens, 20s and 30s, there was a copy of "Paris Weekly" from 1930, sort of a "what's happening about town" guide, published in English for American tourists and ex-pats, a schedule of the Paris Orleans Railway and guide to the castles of the Loire, a copy of the "New York Standard Guide" from 1917, European cruise ship literature from the 1930s, etc. With no killer apps to distract them, I guess people really knew how to engage the world around them back then...

But perhaps the two most interesting things in the lot were a French book and a pamphlet from the Santa Fe Railroad advertising land for sale in SW Kansas (I'm guessing around the 1910-15 timeframe). The Santa Fe Railroad brochure is particularly fascinating (and something of an anomaly to the other material), given my interest in plains and Dust Bowl history, and it will get its own blog post soon.

The book is pretty interesting, too. It's really more of thick, bound pamphlet than a book. I am, of course, fluent in Google Translate, and "Memories on the Sculptures of the Parthenon" is the name of the book, published in 1818. It's full of ancient, spidery, hand-written footnotes, and the inside front cover has a small stamp from a bookshop in Strasbourg.

I imagine, at least I like to imagine, that the same person who collected all those playbills and maps and railway schedules and cruise ship brochures and other tidbits from the Golden Age of travel and adventure, also picked up this book as a souvenir, perhaps in that Strasbourg bookshop, or more likely from one of the famous Parisian "Les Bouquinistes" while strolling along the Seine on a beautiful, sun-dappled spring day sometime during that fascinating and utterly doomed inter-war Jazz Age period. Lost Generation, indeed.

And now, decades later, all past associations, memories and meaning wiped clean by war, death, and the passage of time and distance, that souvenir of an unknown, probably long-dead person somehow finds its way to my bookshelf here on the plains of Oklahoma. Odd, isn't it, and a bit sad, how things like that work out?      

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