Historical Prints & Ephemera
Graphic images have long been valued for their ability to pictorially document the past, but it is only in the last quarter century that printed images have been regarded by historians and other scholars as important historical sources in their own right. More recently prints and other visual material have been understood as contributing to the way we remember the past. The Huntington’s extraordinary historical prints collection invites scholars to explore prints in this light, and to further their understanding of the ways in which the visual is reflective of cultural perceptions, preoccupations, and change over time. Many of these prints and ephemera belong to the Jay T. Last Collection which encompasses a large range of subject matter from beverage labels to firefighting prints.
Historical Print Collection
The historical print collection at The Huntington consists of over 250,000 images, which portray aspects of British and American cultural and political life between the 16th and 19th centuries. Depicted in separately issued prints and in extra-illustrated books are portraits, historical scenes/events, political and social caricatures, theatrical and literary history, illustrations to Shakespeare’s plays, Biblical illustrations, British and American views, and British and American trade cards.
The work of various well-known engravers and the output of key American, British, and European publishers is also available for study, and 1,000 extra-illustrated book sets feature prints on a wide variety of subjects. For example, the Kitto Bible contains 30,000 prints, and Granger’s A Biographical History of England, 1769-1774 numbers 14,000 portraits of British notables.
The collection also includes a selection of tools and equipment involved in early printmaking, illustrating the history and technical development of printmaking processes through the mid-20th century.
Printed ephemera (material produced for a one-time, limited purpose) can be understood generally as transient documents of everyday life. Visually compelling, it speaks with a particular directness that at the same time contains multiple layers of meaning.
The Huntington’s archive of ephemera includes several hundred thousand pieces. The collection emphasizes Western history and culture, especially that of Southern California, though the variety of subjects and formats support historical research in general American and British cultural studies.
Subjects include but are not limited to American politics, the development of Southern California, theatre and performing arts history, 20th century American railroads, commerce and advertising.
Noteworthy collections include the L.E. Behymer Archive of early Southern California cultural events, Citrus Labels, and California Promotional Literature. Significant collections with a more national scope include Korzenik Art Education Ephemera, Trade Cards, and Kemble Maritime Ephemera.
Jay T. Last Collection
The Jay T. Last Collection is an unparalleled archive of printed paper artifacts that documents American lithographic history. The collection began in the early 1970s when Silicon Valley pioneer Jay Last started collecting citrus box labels he found at local flea markets and rummage sales after moving to southern California. As his collection grew, Last realized that these labels conveyed important information about commercial printing, graphic design, and social history and expanded his collection to include other forms of American visual culture.
Today this collection contains more than 185,000 lithographic prints, posters, and ephemera of mostly nineteenth- and early twentieth- century American origin and represents works by more than five hundred lithographic companies.
This collection of commercial prints and ephemera forms an important scholarly resource for studying the American histories of lithographic printing, business, and social science, as well as for illustrating the evolution of commercial advertising, visual culture, and graphic design.
Highlights from the collection are available online or through the Huntington Digital Library.