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Jack WaugmanEphemera

From an article by John Kelly in the Washington Post

Kensington's Jack Waugaman retired 15 years ago from a career in data processing and started A Rare View Books and Prints, dealing in what's known in the trade as "ephemera."

Said Jack, 65: "Basically, if you look up the definition, it means something fragile that's printed for that moment and can be tossed."

The first definition in my dictionary for "ephemera" is actually "mayfly," the insect that hatches, mates and dies in a single day. That pretty much describes the life cycle of a newspaper, except normally there's not as much mating.

But some newspapers survive beyond a day. Jack has more than a thousand of them, which he sells at the Kensington Row Bookshop and at an antiques mall in Frederick.

"World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Dillinger shot, Huey Long shot -- anything dramatic, like the Kennedy assassination," he said. "They're big on that. Probably the biggest paper is the sinking of the Titanic. I could sell that newspaper over and over and over. People just never get tired of it."

Why? If a newspaper is the first rough draft of history, wouldn't the second or third draft -- a book, say -- be better? Didn't the history happen whether you possess a sheet of cheap paper covered in some hack's imperfect prose?

"There's something so special about holding a newspaper," Jack said. "It's something that existed at that moment in time. . . . You put it away like any treasure, and as years pass, you take it out."

Not all newspapers are treasures. The moon landing, Nixon's resignation, the Kennedy assassination -- these editions are commonplace, saved by so many people that they have almost no value. So, too, the final edition of the Washington Star from 1981. Jack said the Star flooded the city with thousands of extra copies. Last year someone gave him 20 just to be rid of them.

What will people collect in the future? The Christian Science Monitor just stopped publishing a printed paper, choosing to focus on its Web site instead.

"I can't imagine a world without newspapers," Jack said. "I sometimes reproach my friends for reading the news online. I say 'Come on, buy a newspaper, for God's sake. You're hurting it.' "

He figures people might print out a Web site to remember a big story but thinks that's a poor substitute for an actual newspaper.

"But, you know, that's my generation. I have three sons, and they couldn't care less."

Jack said he'll save his Washington Post from yesterday. He'd been hoping for Wednesday's New York Times, too, but it was sold out everywhere he looked, another old media dinosaur experiencing a brief blip of popularity.




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