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Print Collection 17: Ephemera in the Zinman Collection of Canvassing Books

The word "ephemera" derives from the Greek word "ephēmeron," which translates in English to mean something that is short-lived. The ephemera in the Zinman Collection of Canvassing Books includes a wide variety of materials, some of which have no direct relation to canvassing. This assortment of items adds another dimension to the collection, providing researchers with information about 19th- and 20th-century publishing, as well as the people who owned these canvassing books.

Application forms represent the first step in the process of becoming a canvassing agent. This form, dated November 14, 1898, was completed by an agent wishing to begin canvassing for a set of books printed for the upcoming holiday season. The application also states the contractual agreement between agent and publisher, and shows that there is to be a fifty percent discount on these books for the canvassing agent.

Subscription publishers required their agents to complete daily or weekly report forms updating the publisher about their progress in the field. This Weekly Report form from the Hampden Publishing Company supplied publishers with data about the types of customers their agents reached, the amount of time their agents spent in each region, and the number of canvassing books their agents sold. In essence, these forms served as early market research tools for the subscription publishing industry.

Cards like these promoted the authenticity of the publisher; in this case, the Hartford Publishing Company. In the height of the canvassing era, less scrupulous publishers sold shoddy copies of canvassing books in an effort to take advantage of the public's demand for cheap and timely books.

This testimonial acts as a letter of recommendation for the quality of the subscription book. In this example, the canvassing agent charged with selling King's Handbook of the United States has solicited a recommendation from A.A. Cambridge of North Billerica, Massachusetts on February 14, 1893. Subscription publishers would instruct their canvassing agents to obtain testimonials from the most prominent members of the region to which they were assigned. Agents would then present these testimonials to potential subscribers in the region as evidence of the canvassing book's worth. In this sense, testimonials acted like the reviews from well-known writers or personalities on the backs of present-day books.

This back wrapper from The Poetical Geography, a canvassing book published in 1852, shows an early example of the famed "Agents Wanted" phrase. By the end of the nineteenth century, "Agents Wanted" was a widely used and recognizable form of advertisement for subscription publishers looking to recruit new canvassing agents.

This slip of paper was once included inside a canvassing book as an aid to the canvassing agent. These slips highlighted the features of the canvassing book most likely to entice subscribers and convince them of the value of the work.

Webster & Albee, a company based out of Rochester, New York, produced a variety of stereoview cards to be sold by canvassing agents. When viewed through a stereoscope, the two photographs on the card took on a three-dimensional appearance. This example shows an image of the famous London Bridge.

Subscription publishers offered special prices on other items for canvassing agents to sell. Here, the George G. Clows Company of Philadelphia advertises Kimona Slippers as a Christmas gift for agents to offer subscribers. As usual, the publisher assures agents that no experience is needed to sell such a product, and presents the item as a necessity to all.

The publishers of Massacres of Christians by Heathen Chinese and Horrors of the Boxers offered this complimentary map exclusively to subscribers of this canvassing book. Bonus features like these made the book more attractive to potential subscribers, and gave the work additional value though a geographical representation of the region the book discussed.

Canvassing books could take on new life through the people that owned them. From the mid-19th-century book Arctic Explorations, an unknown owner has transformed a page normally reserved for the names of subscribers into a scrapbook of recipe and household advice clippings.

This page comes from the canvassing book The Rocky Mountain Saints . Presumably, it came into the possession of a farmer, for it has been turned into a scrapbook for clippings of cures for ailments of farm animals.

These photographs were placed inside a canvassing version of a family Bible published ca. 1870. This represents another way canvassing books have taken on greater significance through the people who came to possess them.

This page is from the canvassing book The Story of the Philippines, an account of the Spanish-American War. Traced onto the page are images from the cover of the book. Interestingly, impressions from another book, Carpenter's Geographical Reader: Asia, are also included. This book was part of the Carpenter's Geographical Reader series, a set of geography textbooks popular in early 20th-century America. H.C. Ryan, whose name appears at the bottom of the page, was probably a child that owned both of these books. This sketch thus indicates the role of a canvassing book in the life of one particular owner.

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