Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ephemera Fun

Greetings, good folks.  I thought I'd chat today a bit about ephemera, and the place it can have in steampunk.

Ephemera is the transient paper detritus with which we have surrounded ourselves for generations, and which were never meant to be kept beyond their short time of use ... tickets (train, omnibus, airship, fair, exhibit), receipts, postcards, pamphlets, notices, posters, etc.  I have taken this also to include, for my steampunk purposes, other paper items (not necessarily included in the dictionary definition) which have a temporary lifespan (passports and other travel documents, and letters) or which don't tend to endure, such as paper money.

Ephemera can be an excellent enhancement to a costume or persona, if you really want to get into a character's world.  What would your character have upon his or her person, in addition to clothes, shoes, hat, gloves, parasol, goggles, pocketwatch, and other obvious decorative accoutrements?

Below are a few cool vintage images of Victorian ephemara I've found while prowling online (yay image Google!)
Visitor Pass to Photographic Society meeting
Football match ticket c. 1880
Assorted railway tickets and passes (specimens)
Chicago-Northwest Railway Ticket c. 1880
Steamboat and ferry tickets - early 1900s
Telegraph form
Undoubtedly your steampunk persona would have money, paper and or coin, tucked in a purse or wallet, or in a document case or pocket.  She also may have a ticket, if she is traveling, for the conveyance she took or will be taking (train, airship, omnibus, ship).  If traveling in a different country, she may well be carrying a passport.  Passports have been in existence in for centuries - for a brief timeline of United Kingdom passport history, look here:  She may be carrying tickets for a show, exhibit, or fair which they have seen or plan to see.  Maybe her purse is crammed with receipts (just as it is nowadays!) or she has a hotel bill tucked in his wallet.  Perhaps she has a postcard from a friend or loved one tucked in their valise.

I have decided to try to create some of my own ephemera.  My first experiment was in November.  Since I was going to Steamcon II in Seattle, I decided to create airship tickets to get there and to leave, and decided to play up where I was coming from and where I would return to.  Some browsing online found me passenger Lady Drummond Hay's 1928 airship ticket for the Graf Zeppelin's first trans-Atlantic flight. 
I used this as my template, downloaded some cool Victorian/Edwardian style fonts, played with wording, and came up with an airship line for the Girl Genius world, Luftshiff Wulfenbach Transkontinental.

I left some fields blank to be completed by hand, and the cabin details in the top right will be manually completed as well, with circles around the selected options (as per the original.  I also filled in some fields with a mock typewriter font, to simulate the form being partially completed by typewriter.
Apologies for the weird large spacing of these - conversion from pdf to jpg resulted in large borders.
My next, more recent project, in the past month, was to create a passport for my character.  Attached below is the only United Kingdom passport I could find from the era when I did an  image Google.  
I also found this United States passport from 1916 (with extension stamps dated for 1917 and 1918).  
I elected to combine the two, with my preferred elements of each, to create my own.  At the top is the UK coat of arms as of Victoria's reign.  I removed the  excess verbiage in the body, and modified it slightly, using some elements from the American passport.  I also decided to include a descriptive section, as in the American example, and I will be attaching a photo on the upper left, as in the American, since photos existed then, and it seems a good step.

I decided to have the lower coat of arms be the City of London arms, since the Foreign Office was based there, and it was the main place to have passports issued.  Alternately, one could decide on other cities allowed to distribute passports, and modify accordingly.

Below is the final product.  The first one is blank, which I will complete manually, once I've mastered a decent Victorian hand, and the other is an example of it completed, using another computer font to fill out the details.

I also hope to add some stamps and images showing the passport has been "viséd" by various country consuls, as shown on the reverse side of the period passport above:

My future plans include creating ticket stubs, pamphlets, and flyers, and likely more.  

I want some period reproduction paper money for my character.  I looked into producing my own, but realized I wasn't interested enough to go to the work of making it and then making it look worn like real money ... so I went the easy route, and purchased some from Professor Otto.   I am eagerly awaiting its arrival by post!


  1. Hey, folks, I was thinking (scary!)... maybe I could start a file, with my ephemera documents in word or pdf format, and folks that want access can contact me, and if anyone has stuff they've created and want to share, you can let me know, and I'll give you upload access.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  2. I think making a file would be a fantastic idea, I actually came here hoping there was one since I have a convention to go to in a couple of days and wanted a pasport lol

  3. Hi Jenna, I think you can email me via my profile - send me your email, and I will send you the word document of the passport. If you aren't able to email me, reply back here, and I will try to create a file today.