Repository of American Legal Ephemera, vol. 1., no.1.


This is the first issue of an occasional feature I call the Repository of American Legal Ephemera, where I’ll pull an item from my motley of legally oriented artifacts, mostly printed but once and a while something more three-dimensional, and show it along with a few sentences (or more) about its context.  Readers of this blog will not be surprised; I’ve already featured a 1960s era flyer from a Jefferson County (Ky.) judicial race, a poster of an Eastern Kentucky magistrate candidate with a penchant for poodles, and an Illinois political button rendered ironic by time.

Maurice Rickard, author of several works on the phenomenon, defined ephemera as the "minor transient documents of everyday life."  Tickets, flyers, broadsides, advertisements, identification cards, these are the butterflies for the ephemera-collector's net.  Librarians and curators tend to limit the category to nonbook print materials, using the term realia for artifacts, but I like Rickard's definition because it reflects the most interesting quality of most ephemera--their immediacy and single-mindedness.  A ticket is to keep out gate-crashers, an advertisement to promote Saturday's sale.  When the ball game is over and the furniture is sold, the ticket is dropped on the floor and the ad is thrown away.  Except one or two survive and (unwittingly to the item's makers) these fragile bits of paper become windows into that moment in time.

This week’s entry is a button from Judge Janice Martin’s first campaign.  Janice Martin was appointed to the Jefferson District Court Bench in March 1992 by Governor Brereton C. Jones, becoming the first African- American woman to join the Kentucky judiciary.  She was later elected to the bench in November 1992 in a campaign in which the following button was distributed to supporters. (As I recall, I picked it up one evening when I joined several fellow law students to staple together a huge batch of yard signs  in Judge Martin’s basement).  Martin received her B.A. in 1977 and her J.D. in 1980 from the University of Louisville. Sadly she, along with colleague Toni Stringer, retired to the senior status program in early 2009, leaving Jefferson County (which is 19% black) without an African American on its judicial bench. (This could be remedied by Governor Beshear who must name her replacement).