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Ephemera : Telegrams


The nature of ephemera is that it is often not preserved because it is seen as replaceable. Ephemera include a large variety of material types often representing physical manifestations of communications of a commercial speech or other non-privileged physical formats. Ephemera items include: telegrams, receipts, tickets, calling cards, programs, advertisements, menus, broadsheets, postcards, and invitations. These items when found in libraries and archives are usually rare or unique items, often personalized with marginalia from the collector, and individually and collectively can provide great value to Biographers, Sociologists, Economist and Social Historians. The Sherman-Thackara collection in Villanova’s Digital Library provides access to some very illuminating examples of ephemera. Digital libraries have not in the main embraced the digitization of these format types largely concentrating instead on photograph, book, journal, and newspaper formats largely because these are the formats that are most privileged, and traditionally collected formats, in academic and public information institutions. In this issue of the Blue Electrode we will look at two examples, other examples are available for browsing in the collection, of one type of more common ephemera: the Telegram.

Sherman Telegram

This telegram from A. M. Thackara, Sherman’s son-in-law, by the American Rapid Telegraph Company, sent to General Sherman on the occasion of his 61st birthday shows that the cultural practice of sending a brief message of celebration on a birthday when friends or relations were not physically present was already well a established practice in the America of the 1880’s.

Sherman Telegram

Another telegram this also to General Sherman by the Western Union Telegraph Company gives a health update on an ill loved one and announces the death of child and the transportation of his remains: a grim counterpoint to the above joyous birthday greeting, demonstrating that the telegraph brought both news of weal and woe to the individual household. What a short step it now seems to a post-9/11 world, where watching wars as they happen has become a commonplace.

The telegraph service called the “Victorian-era Internet” served to provide individuals nearly instantaneous, albeit mediated by the telegraph company staff, communication to even small and rural population centers. Truly a communication media of the age, the last telegram was delivered by Western Union in February 2006.

This article appeared in a different form in Compass at:


Compass Blue Electrode article : The search for Lincoln’s Assassin

The latest issue of Compass has a Blue Electrode article written by our own David Burke.

Check out the piece at:


Partners in Digitization


Falvey Memorial Library has partnered with the American Catholic Historical Society to digitize a collection of rare Catholic documents and records.

The signing of this limited partnership took place on Oct. 17 at 10:30 a.m. in Falvey Memorial Library, on the campus of Villanova University.
Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library and the American Catholic Historical Society (ACHS) will forge a historic association Oct. 17 when the two organizations meet to sign an agreement which authorizes the library to digitize and post on the internet its collection of rare Catholic documents and records.

The digitization archival project will make available a wealth of print Catholica that would otherwise be inaccessible or lost to scholars, researchers and the public. It will also enhance Falvey Memorial’s growing digital library, which already includes 81 collections containing 2,073 records, archives a range of irreplaceable volumes and documents from original 15th-century illuminated Augustinian manuscripts to 3,000 monographs on Irish and Irish-American history.

Joseph Lucia, MA, MS, University Librarian and Director of Falvey Memorial Library, and ACHS president Louis N. Ferrero, PE signed the legal documents forming a limited partnership at a ceremony in the Special Collections Room on the second floor of the library. ACHS Executive Director Monsignor James P. McCoy and Rodger Van Allen, Ph.D., ACHS vice-president, Villanova University professor and co-editor of “American Catholic Studies,” the ACHS journal published at the University, attended.

As part of its agreement with the ACHS the University will first digitize “The Records of the ACHS” in their entirety, moving on to issues of the society’s journal, “American Catholic Studies.” The journal, published at Villanova University is the oldest American Catholic periodical in continuous publication.

The ceremony has special historical significance for both Villanova University and the ACHS since the Rev. Thomas C. Middleton, O.S.A., the University’s first librarian and 10th president was a founding member and the first president of the ACHS.

Text based on Press Release from Villanova Office of Communication at:



Last Modified: October 31, 2007