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printing for the people: Domestic

Walker Library / Special Collections / Printing for the People

Print on the Domestic Front

It is difficult to neatly compartmentalize the myriad ways print impacts our daily lives. Printed tools once found in every home, such as telephone directories, for example, have now been almost completely superseded by ubiquitous internet access. Other items, like direct mail catalogs, persist and flourish—12 billion are mailed annually and 90 million Americans use them every year to purchase items. However, there are many other, less ephemeral, types of printed pieces that serve a useful function in the domestic sphere. Books containing medical advice and other helpful tips have long been produced for household use. Home reference works also included encyclopedias and what could only be described as precursors to another familiar genre, the self-help book. Bound printed materials have a good chance of being preserved and passed along to future generations but less durable ephemera, including magazines, almanacs, trade cards, announcements, and greeting cards were more likely to be discarded. Fortunately, the mass quantities and variety of items ensured the plentiful survival of pre-twentieth-century examples.