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American Broadsides and Ephemera

Rare, printed documents illuminate the history and culture of the United States
Learn what makes this product unique
  • Thirty thousand searchable images of rare, printed items that weren’t intended to last
  • Includes colorful political notices, confessions, songs, menus, advertisements and much more
  • A powerful resource that captures the daily lives of earlier Americans for modern researchers

Broadsides and ephemera were an affordable way for many 18th- and 19th-century Americans to express their views, share news, or distribute their writings publicly, and they vividly capture the daily lives of earlier Americans in a way that no other material can. Nearly every town had a newspaper printer, and these printers kept their presses busy creating inexpensive material like broadsides, advertisements, trade cards, billheads and ballads. Much of this ephemera was subsequently destroyed by the elements, reused, or simply tossed away. 

Built in partnership with the American Antiquarian Society, American Broadsides and Ephemera features searchable, full-color digital facsimiles of these rare, locally-printed documents from across the country. This digital collection includes 15,000 broadsides printed between 1820 and 1900 and 15,000 pieces of ephemera printed between 1749 and 1900. Many are graphically stunning, in contrast to other contemporary printed items. 

Fascinating documents on local and national subjects 
The remarkably diverse subjects of the broadsides in this collection range from contemporary accounts of the Civil War and natural disasters to government proclamations and town meeting reports. The collection also offers confessions of convicted criminals, theater playbills and concert programs, publishers’ prospectuses, patriotic and popular songs and poems, campaign literature, items illustrating political party organizations and controversies and much more. 

An unfiltered glimpse into 18th- and 19th-century America 
The ephemera in this digital edition include a large number of detailed advertisements, often with full-color illustrations. Among them are image-rich ads for the clipper ships that sailed between the east and west coasts after the discovery of gold in California. Others include early trade cards—generally a printed notice of available goods or services—which offer insight into the consumer culture and business practices of the period. Billheads not only offer information about tradesmen’s products and prices, but also document what consumers purchased. In addition, there are hundreds of stock certificates illustrated with manufacturers’ vignettes, invitations and agendas for civic, political and private meetings, and other image-rich items. 

Seamless integration with all Readex collections 
American Broadsides and Ephemera is fully integrated into Readex AllSearch for a seamless searching and browsing experience with all other Readex collections to jumpstart research and quickly navigate results.

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“…increasingly important…
“Broadsides and ephemera....are visual, easy to get a quick sense of, and have an immediate impact on students.”
J. Andrew Armacost, Collection Development Librarian, Duke University
Areas of Study
This product supports the following subjects
American Studies
Early American Studies
Literature & Theater
Religion & Theology
US History
Women's Studies
Title List
Reviews & Accolades

American Broadsides and Ephemera….provides an invaluable and unique perspective on American history and culture. There are three ways of searching this collection: browsing, searching or an advanced search.…Looking at the genre browse clearly indicates the extent of this phenomenal collection. One can browse by a wide variety of genres including ship cards, burlesque, cookbooks, riddles, sermons and many others. This alone indicates the complexity of this collection; complex and in-depth, but easy to search….The end result of all these options is that the researcher has control over how the searching is done and can make the search process as simple or as complex as they wish.
“The scanning of the items is of the best quality.…With high-quality scans or reproductions, an incredibly complex and powerful array of search capabilities and an overall structure and nature that highlights ephemeral resources that were never intended to survive, American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 (1749-1900) is to be highly recommended as a primary source for the study of American history.”
— Scott Millard, Administrator, Library Services, Halton Catholic District School in Reference Reviews (Vol. 29, No. 1, 2015)

“… an extensive archive of documents relevant to early U.S. history, offering full-color facsimile images of approximately 30,000 broadsides and ephemera. Advertisements, campaign literature, poems, juvenile literature and civil war envelopes comprise the bulk of the collection, making the archive especially valuable for those interested in early American consumer culture, political campaigns and literary life. The collection also contains rich information on slavery, Native American relations and local events—plays, gatherings, religious events. Users can browse the archive by category: Genre, Subjects, Author, History of Printing, Place of Publication and Language. Simple and advanced searches are available, enabling easy access into this large collection of documents. For those with access, this site provides an extensive resource for researching 18th- and 19th-century North America.”
— History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1: 1760-1900 makes it very easy to search the entire collection of broadsides and ephemera in seconds. This gives these items a new life that was impossible before. It is a unique collection, with often surprising material that will open new research avenues for faculty and both undergraduate and graduate students. This collection of primary source material is now available to much larger audiences and can foster new interpretations of life and events in the 17th-, 18th- and 19th-centuries. ... Historians will find American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1: 1760-1900 an excellent complement to other titles in the Archive of Americana. Cultural historians will find it indispensable. A wide variety of academic disciplines can benefit from it also, including American studies, history, journalism, political science and religious studies.”
— Norman Desmarais, Providence College in The Charleston Advisor (April 2007)

“The interface for ABE is thoughtful, helpful and a learning experience in itself. … All searches and browses located extraordinary materials. The navigation paths are logical, and the extensive browsing capabilities add value that will make this product very useful for all levels of researchers, from the novice to the scholar … its content and design are superb. …

“THE BOTTOM LINE: This remarkable file offers enormous research value to libraries. American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, 1760-1900 is highly recommended for all collections serving researchers in American history.
— Cheryl LaGuardia, Harvard College Library in Library Journal (October 15, 2006)

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 contains approximately 30,000 digitized broadsides and pieces of ephemera from over 40 states and more than 20 countries. Broadsides are single-sheet print materials created in response to a particular event with the purpose of conveying information to the general public. They take the form of government proclamations, personal accounts of an event or advertisements. Many broadsides have been destroyed, but those that have survived and are available in this collection provide a different perspective on local and national events. Ephemera included here are as varied as trading cards, invitations, musical programs and restaurant menus. This database offers useful insights into the daily life of the 18th and 19th centuries.

“The main search screen gives users the option of either browsing the collection using six predefined tabs, or searching using a simple search function. An advanced search feature allows users to limit search terms by fields. This screen also permits limiting searches by a specific date or date range. Results, which are sorted by date in ascending order, provide a brief description of the item and the capability of viewing the full citation or the first page of the item. The ability to search within results allows for fast access to desired material. A zoom feature allows one to view the intricacies of each unique item; a convenient printing option is provided. In addition, users have the ability to view digitized items as PDF documents. The database saves searches for quick reference, and allows users to save desired items together using the ‘my collection’ feature. This resource will be particularly useful for libraries supporting graduate programs and undergraduate programs with extensive research requirements. Summing up: recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty.”
— M. A. LaMagna, Cabrini College in Choice (September 2006)

“Of the other important archives bundled in the Archive of Americana ... the American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 archive promises to contribute most directly to an understanding of early American performance. The archive, which includes broadsides printed between 1820 and 1900 and ephemera printed between 1760 and 1900, includes a wide range of artifacts that shed light on performance practices. Often tied to specific performances, as in the case of playbills, or describing specific instances of performance, as in accounts of treaties, the broadsides were also sometimes themselves performative texts, for instance the 720 invitations included here, or the 162 proclamations. Many broadsides include important visual elements, for instance, the cartoons, the chromolithographs and the photographs.
— Sandra M. Gustafson, University of Notre Dame in Early American Literature (June 2006)

“Readex’s most recent offering—the American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, 1760–1900—fits neatly into their overall product line for the Archive of Americana. This particular collection of near 30,000 individual items was scanned directly from the materials of the AAS. … Thus the documents that Readex offers in this database are a much cleaner, full-color representation of the item. Certainly this difference between the American Broadsides and Ephemera product and databases from other vendors is invaluable for the historian or researcher where the clarity of the image is essential.

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, 1760–1900 by Readex is a very well designed, content-rich product. The searching and downloading/printing options are simple and easy to use; a big plus when trying to get students to become familiar with and comfortable using primary sources. … This product is recommended for any institution with an interest in American history.”
— Bill Sleeman, University of Maryland in Microform & Imaging Review (2006)


“We still know too little about the ways in which commerce and consumption remained politically meaningful for citizens in the wake of the Revolution. Despite excellent scholarship on the debates between politicians and political economists in this era, the ways in which these policies and ideas took root among the broader population is still something of a mystery. Using the incredible array of ephemera, now digitally available through Readex’s database of American imprints, some of the ways in which American consumers navigated the political challenges of getting and spending in the early republic are finally becoming more clear.”
— Joanna Cohen, School of History at Queen Mary, University of London

“Students and scholars can search and browse more than 2,300 Civil War envelopes in American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, published by Readex in cooperation with the American Antiquarian Society. This unique collection provides a rich resource of information about this crucial era, shedding light on military battles and life, attitudes towards slavery and the South in general, politics and hero-worship and life at home. Civil War envelopes offer invaluable information about both the material culture and the intellectual attitudes of and towards the Civil War, which cannot be duplicated by any other medium.”
— S.J. Wolfe, Senior Cataloguer and Serials Specialist, American Antiquarian Society

“... the clipper ship cards now available in American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 ... rare and colorful pieces of ephemera ... offer fresh opportunities to explore diverse aspects of American history and culture. ... The American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 digital archive contains 129 different genre-based repositories, one of which is Advertising Cards. Entries for nearly four thousand trade cards reside therein.”
— Bruce D. Roberts, author of Clipper Ship Sailing Cards (2007) and Mechanical Bank Trade Cards (2008)

“Print culture, particularly ephemera, has much to teach scholars of 19th century gender, race, nation and empire. Researchers interested in these topics will find that Readex’s collection includes hundreds of Clipper Ship Sailing Cards displaying a dynamic variety of images and messages. This catalogued collection represents an ideal source of ephemera just waiting to be explored. These cards tell a story of maritime transport, the conquering of the oceans, and the expansion of the West, as well as the importance of racial, class and gender divisions in national citizenship discourses. Within the scramble to settle California, the cards themselves participate in a commercial and imperial expansionism that implicates them in transcontinental empire-building of the 1850s. Their illustrations were vital to the ship companies who built their riches on the dreams of men who took to the sea dreaming of land, women, authority, and multiple visions of imperial manhood.”
— Jeffrey Gagnon, Ph.D. candidate in Early American Literature, University of California, San Diego

“Broadsides and ephemera offer a view of daily life in historical America that cannot be recreated through other textual sources. Providing greater access to these kinds of materials can only broaden and enhance our understanding of the past.

“I use broadsides in my class presentations whenever possible. They are visual, easy to get a quick sense of, and have an immediate impact on students. As research interests move more towards interdisciplinary subjects, visual culture, and popular culture, broadsides and ephemera are increasingly important.”
—J. Andrew Armacost, Collection Development Librarian at the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 invites researchers into the rich and rewarding archive of print materials among the American Antiquarian Society’s outstanding collections. Web-based archives like the Readex Archive of Americana have revolutionized visual, material and textual inquiry in recent years. Full-text indexing allows creative searching and browsing and makes broadsides, calendars, charts, city directories, trade catalogs, print illustrations of many sorts, photographs and children's literatures, for example, accessible in facsimile from a distance. I have found this wonderful resource immensely useful in my own work as a historian of American visual and material culture.”
— Sally M. Promey, Professor of American Art History, University of Maryland

“Like previous electronic offerings from Readex, American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 provides an outstanding resource for scholars and students alike. This unique resource greatly enhances undergraduate and graduate curricula by providing new perspectives on the material and print cultures of early America. The formatting and search methods make sense to Net-savvy students who might otherwise have difficulty navigating traditional microform indexing and access. What I find most extraordinary about a resource like Readex’s American Broadsides and Ephemera is how it raises the bar for the questions students ask about literature. The unexpected discoveries students make in this newly accessible archive provoke deep critical engagement with the central texts of all my early American courses. You couldn’t ask for a better lure into the early periods of literature, history and culture.”
— Meredith Neuman, Assistant Professor of English, Clark University

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, is absolutely amazing and should be consulted in depth by anyone working on early American culture. The intuitive interface—featuring improved search, display and print capabilities—enables researchers quickly and efficiently to explore this valuable new resource.

“Holding an abundance of scarce and often surprising printed materials, American Broadsides and Ephemera is a must for every library serving students of 19th-century American history and culture. Now, no study in these areas will be complete without a search of this immensely rich collection. As a complement to the Archive of Americana’s Early American Imprints and Early American Newspapers, this new collection is hugely important in presenting a balanced view of early American life.

American Broadsides and Ephemera contains the scraps and pieces of society—programs, announcements, promotional pieces, schedules, trade cards—anything that was printed to get immediate attention and then be thrown away. Because they are not necessarily polished products of elite writers, broadsides and pieces of ephemera reveal society as it really was. Extraordinary and wondrous phenomena are described in local terms. Quack promoters prey on naive beliefs and superstitions. Slang phrases and expressions spill out from hack writers whose output would never reach print in a sophisticated setting. Dramatic illustrations and headlines vie for the attention of the wondering multitude. Researchers can observe changes in commercial approaches over time as different typefaces, headlines, illustrations, poetry and songs are used in new ways. And because the materials in this collection are all scanned in color, the reader can see handwritten notations, hand-colored engravings and early color prints.

“With full-text indexing, document images can be quickly retrieved by topic, location and even by a single word. Imaginative and thorough cataloguing by the American Antiquarian Society lets students and scholars select from many hundred categories as well as search for specific items directly. This kind of research was unthinkable only a few years ago. Now it is a reality and indeed a requirement for valid American historical scholarship in many fields.”
— Kate Van Winkle Keller, Independent Scholar

“Readex’s American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 is an outstanding resource for the study of early American print and visual culture. I have used the collection extensively in my dissertation research and have found the interface easy to use and the subject and genre indexes invaluable in locating relevant materials. This Web-based collection is an excellent way to make the rich holdings of the American Antiquarian Society accessible to a broader community of researchers.”
— Bill Wagner, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Berkeley

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Readex’s Web-based edition of nearly 30,000 items held by the American Antiquarian Society, is crucial to my research in art history. Instead of sifting through material unrelated to my projectas one often has to do when doing archival workI was able to search the collection digitally, call up the image and get a clear sense of whether or not the object was what I was looking for before taking a closer look. For students and more advanced scholars producing work that is interdisciplinary in nature, access to such a broad range of visual and material culture is invaluable.”
— Jennifer Greenhill, Doctoral Candidate, Yale University

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 was a valuable resource for my research on the history of probability and statistics. In this very easy-to-use online collection, I found various first-person accounts about statistics in the 18th century. American Broadsides and Ephemera will be helpful to anyone researching not only the history of science, but any historical topic.”
— Brian Duncan, Student, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

“This fully catalogued collection brilliantly reveals the social, cultural and daily life of late 18th-century and 19th-century America. … Broadsides and ephemera serve to illuminate the American past in profound and unique ways.”
— Georgia B. Barnhill, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

“Broadsides are the most vivid exhibitions of the manners, arts and daily life of communities and nations. They imply a vast deal more than they literally express, and disclose visions of interior conditions of society such as cannot be found in formal narratives.”
— Samuel F. Haven, Librarian, American Antiquarian Society (circa 1872)

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 is spectacular. The zoom capacity makes it quite easy to read even small and sometimes unclear print; I looked at both German- and English-language examples, and there’s no question that students could find their way around these materials for research projects without much difficulty. A valuable complement to Early American Imprints, American Broadsides and Ephemera offers researchers working on 18th- and 19th-century North America many items of great interest in several disciplines. This new resource is really one of a kind for looking beyond the printed book or newspaper.”
— A.G. Roeber, Professor of Early Modern History and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University


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