Vast But Little Known Printed Ephemera Archive Is Digitised

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 18 April 2008
a poster about an execution with a drawing of hanged man on it

Full and true particulars of the trial and execution of Thomas Chamberlain. © Bodleian Library

A vast archive of printed ephemera that stretches across the centuries has been made available for study online by the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

Approximately 65,000 items from the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, housed in the Bodleian Library, have so far been catalogued, conserved and digitized in collaboration with an electronic publisher called ProQuest.

a poster for oats with a picture of Queen Victoria on it

Ask for Golfer Oats, 1897. A single-sheet advertisement printed for John Hunter & Son, Edinburgh. © Bodleian Library

The two-year collaboration which began in spring 2007 will eventually allow users full access to over 150,000 high-resolution full-colour images, each accompanied by detailed descriptive metadata, searchable text and introductory essays delivered in an interactive interface.

Consisting of over 1.5 million items, the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera is one of the largest and most important collections of such material in the world. It provides extensive documentary evidence of our cultural, social, industrial and commercial history over the last five centuries.

Assembled by John de Monins Johnson (1882-1956), Printer to the University from 1925 to 1946, it was transferred from Oxford University Press to the Bodleian Library in 1968.

a poster with a dancing woman on it

A gaiety girl, 1894. © Bodleian Library

“Regarded as the most significant single collection of ephemera in the UK, the John Johnson Collection has been one of the Bodleian’s least known treasures,” said Richard Ovenden, Associate Director and Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian. “Through the digitisation programme we are now able to make this valuable primary resource available to researchers and the general public worldwide.”

The John Johnson project is part of a £22m digitisation programme being managed by JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee), with funding from HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England).

It seeks to make available a wide range of heritage and scholarly resources of national importance available for use by the UK further and higher education communities.

a poster for a hairdresser's with lots of writing and a woman's portrait in the middle

Harrison's ladies artistic hairdressing advertisement, with prices© Bodleian Library

The resources include sound, moving pictures, newspapers, maps, images, cartoons, census data, journals and parliamentary papers.

Information about JISC, its services and programmes can be found at

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