Junk mail: from trash to treasure

Mailers for DEKA (1989), Haywrights (1975) and D.I.C (1980). Photos: Ephemera Collection, Hocken...
Mailers for DEKA (1989), Haywrights (1975) and D.I.C (1980). Photos: Ephemera Collection, Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka O Hakena, University of Otago
Most people consign junk mail to the recycling bin without a second thought, but at the Hocken Collections, University of Otago, it is actively collected, carefully organised by year and stored in archival packaging in climate-controlled stacks.

Brunchcoats advertisement in FTC Farmers' Trading Company Limited spring news, September 1983.
Brunchcoats advertisement in FTC Farmers' Trading Company Limited spring news, September 1983.
The ubiquitousness of junk mail means its rich research potential is often overlooked and undervalued, and it receives little appreciation as direct evidence of New Zealand's social and economic culture at a certain point in time.

Thanks to some long-standing donors, the library has a comprehensive collection of local advertising matter held in the Ephemera Collection from the 1970s to the present day.

Noted ephemerist Maurice Rickards defines ephemera, a Greek word that refers to something that lasts for a day, as the "minor transient documents of everyday life".

The Hocken's Ephemera Collection includes a large variety of printed posters, leaflets, menus, tickets, packaging and programmes that mostly relate to Otago, however, collecting is nationwide for general elections and tourism. There are a few early examples collected by Dr Thomas Morland Hocken, whose books, manuscripts, maps and paintings originally formed the library's collection, but the majority of ephemera dates from the mid-1960s onwards.

For any researcher interested in New Zealand's recent history, junk mail provides ample evidence of trends in fashion, design and pricing, marketing techniques, technological and industrial change, domestic life, and it is a tangible reminder of our dynamic local business communities.

Take for example the pre-1967 flyer from Self Help's Oamaru store that is directed "to the lady of the house" and advises her to "Pin me in the kitchen". A 12-ounce can of fly spray, costing 11 shillings 2 pence, is easily the most expensive product listed and it is more than double the price of a pound of bacon.

Some readers may fondly recall the hot bread deliveries from Holsum Bakery on Sunday mornings as seen in the 1980 advertising for the new Mornington A-1 Dairy, 167 Eglinton Rd, operated by Mr Stewart and Mr Mack. Perhaps it was eaten by the lady of the house in her aqua polycotton brunchcoat (only $9.38 from FTC Farmers Trading Company in 1983).

Hot bread advertisement in Mornington A-1 Dairy flyer, (1980). Donated by Ray Hargreaves, 1980.
Hot bread advertisement in Mornington A-1 Dairy flyer, (1980). Donated by Ray Hargreaves, 1980.
Marketing techniques include free home trials of stereo systems and colour televisions, the organisation of qualified tradesmen to install household appliances, and free replacement of any Crown Lynn china broken within 12 months of purchase.

Mailers survive for now defunct local department stores that once were household names, such as Smith and Brown, Haywrights, DEKA, D.I.C. and Arthur Barnett, and that sold almost everything, including the kitchen sink! Using these circulars, we can track the evolution of washing machines from wringer washers to Hoovermatic twin-tubs, where a full load can be spun damp-dry in one minute, and on to fully automatic washing machines run by smart electronics. They provide direct evidence of shrinking confectionery bag sizes and the perseverance of ever-youthful Briscoes lady Tammy Wells.

Hocken staff are working to make this material more accessible, but can easily retrieve it for consultation in the reading room during library hours (open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm). For a tour of the stacks, there are public tours on Wednesdays at 11am and 2pm.

Visit otago.ac.nz/library/hocken/ for more information.

Katherine Milburn is liaison librarian and curator Ephemera Collection, Hocken Collections.

Add a Comment

 

2202013-620x80.jpg

2202013-620x40.jpg