Ephemera / Robert Van Nice

Echoes of Trips Past

Written by Beth Bayley, Archivist Assistant

I’m Beth Bayley, and I have been continuing the work that Clare Moran did last year on the Robert Van Nice collection. Clare was able to assess the collection and complete a draft arrangement, as well as maintain an excellent processing blog. I have been using her notes to expand the finding aid and finish up the processing. It is a big collection and we want to do it justice, and as we edit the finding aid, I will be posting a few more items from the collection that are worth sharing.

It is officially summer here in DC, which means humidity and thunderstorms and, for some of us, vacation and travel. But a modest trip to the beach is nothing compared to the schedule that Robert Van Nice followed for many years. His travels began in 1935 when he left Oregon to attend MIT, and continued when he left Boston to work in Iran, surveying  mosques in Isfahan, Shiraz, and Ashtarjan.

But it was when he started the Hagia Sophia project that the big travel began. With very few exceptions, Van Nice spent every year from 1937 to 1969 (plus a few more trips in the 1970s) traveling to Istanbul to spend the season working on the architectural survey of Hagia Sophia. A list in the collection gives us an idea of what this schedule was like:

Moves in Istanbul and U.S. due to Job

The very mobile Van Nices moved 19 times between 1937 and 1954.

In the early years of the project, Van Nice (and often his family) would travel by boat to Istanbul. As plane travel became more common, he would fly. Van Nice was a scrupulous record-keeper, and saved nearly every receipt, every itinerary, and every boarding pass, which means his collection contains quite a bit of ephemera.

The Ephemera Society defines ephemera as “a broad range of minor (and sometimes major) everyday documents intended for one-time or short-term use.” Wikipedia says that the “word derives from the Greek, meaning things lasting no more than a day” – like certain flowers and insects. Gum wrappers, bookmarks, advertisements, and even things most people think of as collectable, like baseball cards, are all considered ephemera.

Ephemera is a common presence in archival collections. Some archives deaccession (i.e., recycle) it, but that is not necessarily our policy in ICFA. We would prefer to keep things as the creator of the collection intended, which is why we have envelopes from Van Nice’s boarding passes…

TWA boarding pass envelope

Braniff International boarding pass envelope

Pan Am boarding pass envelope

Allegheny Airlines boarding pass envelope

National Airlines boarding pass envelope

Pilgrin Airlines boarding pass envelope

All this travel must have been expensive at the time, but it doesn’t look so bad today. Van Nice saved a 1970 promotional brochure from the Turkish North American Association, showing that round trip tickets from New York to Istanbul were $258. Today they are at least $1,200.

Turkish North American Association Travel Brochure, cover

Turkish North American Association travel brochure, back cover

Travel to Turkey was a lot less in 1970.

For contrast, here is some contemporary ephemera, from ICFA Assistant Jessica Cebra’s recent trip to Turkey. Her flight may have cost more than $258, but at least all the passengers weren’t smoking cigarettes.

Turkish Airlines boarding pass envelope

Envelope for a plane ticket purchased by Jessica Cebra for her recent fieldwork trip to Turkey.

But envelopes are only the beginning. We have enough ephemera in the Van Nice and Thomas Whittemore collections, such as tickets, cards, and catalogs, to write a whole series of posts. We will be sharing more ephemera from our collections soon!


3 thoughts on “Echoes of Trips Past

  1. Pingback: Friday Quick Hits and Varia | The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

  2. Pingback: Ephemera in the Archives, Part 2: Thomas Whittemore’s Travels | icfa

  3. Pingback: In-between mosaics: Getting to know North Africa | icfa

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