"Everything which would ordinarily go into the waste paper basket after use"

What is Dead Paper?

shredded paper

I have been writing about print on paper for more than 20 years. In that time I’ve learnt a little bit about how it is made, how it is used and what happens to it when it’s no longer wanted.

Much of what appears on paper exists only briefly and goes largely unnoticed – rather like life in fact – but I’ve always appreciated the skill and and effort that goes into producing something so instantly disposable.

More than anything, I’ve enjoyed the heterogeneity and ubiquity of print on paper, the fact that it appears everywhere in many wondrous forms, both good and bad.

Ephemera (ἐφήμερα) – for a day

One day I was writing a story about the Oxford English Dictionary and I came across the figure of John Johnson who was the printer at OUP when the first edition of the OED was published in 1928.

Johnson was also a collector of  printed ephemera and founded The Constance Meade Collection of Ephemeral Printing which today is housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. His definition of ephemera was…

Everything which would ordinarily go into the waste paper basket after use, everything printed which is not actually a book …

In other words, rubbish – anything that would normally be discarded because it has no intrinsic value nor historical significance.

So in the spirit of Johnson’s definition, I give you the Dead Paper collection of ephemera – transitory, fragmentary and practically useless, of little interest or value to anybody other than myself.

A load of old rubbish indeed.