Special collections: printed ephemera

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera at the Bodleian Library is one of the most important collections of printed ephemera in the world and is a very rich source for social and printing historians. Assembled by John de Monins Johnson (1882–1956), papyrologist, and Printer to the University, it contains about 1.5 million items. Spanning from 1508 to 1939 (and beyond in some areas), the strengths of the collection are in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The John Johnson Collection (formerly called the Constance Meade Memorial Collection of Ephemeral Printing) was transferred to the Bodleian Library from Oxford University Press in 1968.

We continue to collect modern ephemera.

Subject headings

John Johnson aimed to collect ephemera (retrospectively) representing a wide range of social and printing history. He grouped his material into 1,000 subject headings, the main themes of which are:

  • Advertisements
  • Artists
  • Authors
  • Booktrade and Publishing History
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Form (genre of ephemera)
  • Political, Religious, Social and Economic History
  • Printing Processes
  • Private Presses
  • Transport and Travel.

Accessing the collection

There are four principal access points for the John Johnson Collection:

  • the lists of the main headings, grouped alphabetically and by theme.
  • the links from these lists to PDF indexes: based on Johnson’s original indexes, these show the scope of the material in a given section and its physical arrangement.
  • the online catalogue: this is (and will be for many years) incomplete. It contains 117,774 records, many accompanied by digital images.
  • online exhibitions, including the 2020–2021 exhibition The Art of Advertising.

Visit the John Johnson Collection webpages for more information about searching and accessing the collection.

The John Johnson Collection: an archive of printed ephemera (ProQuest)

This JISC-funded project provides extensive metadata and images for over 65,000 items (c.170,000 images) from the following subject areas:

  • Booktrade
  • Advertising
  • 19th century Entertainment
  • Crime, Murders and Executions
  • Popular Prints.

The Crime section was further enhanced by an add-on project, Mapping Crime. All are available free of charge throughout the UK.

Other projects

See more