Sport Collections

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What is ephemera?

The term ephemera, according to the Oxford English Dictionary online, has Greek origins, translating to ‘lasting only for the day’. This helps to explains a truly diverse area of the Library’s collection that encompasses advertising flyers, cards and invitations, programs, tickets, electoral material and any other item produced for temporary use.

Belying the name ephemera, though, many of these items have continuing importance, offering insights about a society or culture at a particular moment in time. The State Library of NSW has a longstanding commitment to collecting ephemera relating to any aspect of life in NSW. 

Want to know more about ephemera? Visit the website of the Ephemera Society of Australia.

Where can I find ephemera?

Due to the varied nature of material that could be classified as ephemera, it appears in a few different places in the Library’s collection. The Library has a dedicated ephemera collection, which is still growing. You may also find examples of ephemera in items such as scrapbooks, which are found in our manuscripts collection.

The ephemera collection

The Library’s ephemera collection comprises over 1000 boxes, including about 30 catalogued as sports ephemera. The boxes are arranged by subject and then chronologically, often separated into time periods, eg. Box 2a, Cycling (pre-1990).

Access to the ephemera collection requires a Special Collections card, and requested material will be issued in the Special Collections area of the Mitchell Library Reading Room. Ephemera can be requested through the Library catalogue or via an Access to Special Collections Request form
Collection of booklets, stickers, posters and programs relating to cycling activities

Collection of ephemera on sports, outdoor games and leisure activities. Box 2: C (Pre-1990)

Scrapbooks in manuscript collections

As discussed on the scrapbooks page of this guide, scrapbooks often contain multiple formats. In addition to news clippings, notes and photographs, they may contain nominally ephemeral items that interested the scrapbook’s curator. The scrapbooks of Harold Matthews, secretary of the NSW Rugby League, for example, feature match tickets, dinner menus, luggage tags and even beer labels. 

Scarpbook containing pictures and various invitationsHarold Matthews scrapbooks, 1923-1946

Arrangements like this tell us something about the person collecting the ephemera, as well as the society they lived in. 

Building our collection

Do you have any ephemeral items that might belong in the Library’s collection? We would love to hear from you. Get in touch by completing our Collection Offers form

For more information on our collections, visit the Building Our Collection page.

Collection highlight: Unboxing ephemera

The Library’s ephemera collection is large and varied, defying attempts at straightforward description. The material found inside each box is determined by factors such as the person collecting or donating material, the time period in which an ephemeral item was produced, and the sport being collected.

We selected a box of sport ephemera titled ‘Sport, Box 3: D-M (Pre-1990)’ and opened it up. Inside were nine individually labelled folders, beginning with ‘Fishing’ and ending with ‘Motor sport – pre-1990’. We then opened one of these folders, titled ‘Sport, General – Pre-1990’. Among an assortment of ephemeral items, the folder included the following highlights:

• A ticket to the Army vs Navy (American) football match, played at California Memorial Stadium on 11 November 1931.
• A program for the 3rd Australian Division’s Farewell Sports Meeting, held at Gamaches, France on 25 April  1919.
• A program for a Jai-Alai event, held in the Philippines in 1951.
• Minutes of a meeting of the Sydney University Women’s Sports Association, held 25 September 1984.
• A 1980 advertising catalogue for the Sportscene sports store, on King Street, Newtown.

These are but a few items found within one folder of one box, of nearly 30 boxes of sporting ephemera held at the library.

Want to unbox your own ephemeral treasures? Get in touch!