Objects & Ephemera


'Ephemera' is the transient printed matter that accompanies our daily lives. Produced and distributed cheaply in many forms, ephemera advertises, attracts attention and informs in the immediate context.

The Library's Ephemera collections provide important evidence relating to Australian social history.

Ever since printing commenced in Sydney Cove in 1795, ephemera has been revealing the way we live, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, the products and appliances we use, the entertainment, ideas, and events that claim our attention at any given time in our history.

The collection includes:

  1. A 1612 Dutch translation of the de Quiros pamphlet containing the earliest printed reference to the word 'Australia' that has survived.
  2. A fanciful broadside ca. 1789 including a description of a large wild man or monstrous giant, brought from Botany Bay.
  3. Oldest piece of Australian printing in the collection. A playbill advertising a performance of the comedy The Recruiting Officer and a musical entertainment called The Virgin Unmasked on Saturday 8 March 1800 in Australia's first theatre.
  4. A playbill advertising the first truly Australian play, staged in London in 1821. This was "Michael Howe, the terror of Van Diemen's Land" by J. Amherst with music by T. Hughes.
  5. The only known copy of a pamphlet ca. 1826 recording the rules and regulations for the conduct of the Australian Subscription Library. The genesis of the State Library of New South Wales.
  6. Rare propaganda leaflets in English and French, dropped from a Turkish aeroplane into allied trenches at Gallipoli during World War I, ca. 1915.
  7. An album of invitations, menus, tickets etc. related to the Inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 compiled predominantly of material addressed to Mr. Alfred Lee.

Top image: One of the library’s treasures is an album of federation ephemera compiled predominantly of material addressed to Mr Alfred Lee, one of the great book collectors of the federation period. Detail from inaugural celebrations programme cover, 1901

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NSW 2000, Australia
Tel: (02) 9273 1414

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