Nineteenth-century printed ephemera brought color and design innovation to the masses. Thousands of fine examples of this blossoming graphic design will join the Archive.
The first artists and printers to call themselves “designers” advertised their work in the mid- to late nineteenth century. This period of the industrial revolution marked a peak of experimentation and extravagance in the trade, when printed ephemera flourished to meet the demands of expanding commerce and increasingly urban populations. Engravers, lithographers, and letterpress printers used a wide variety of opulent colors, lettering styles and typefaces, illustration techniques, and production methods to attract customers—both companies and consumers. They added dazzle and vibrancy to the stuff of everyday life: advertising, calling cards, invoices, labels, packaging, postcards, and tickets.
Up to that point, most people experienced printed material that was relatively dull, drab, and monochrome. Innovation in technology and craft changed everything. It was as if someone switched on the light.