The William A. Speck Collection of Goetheana: General Ephemera is an artificial collection of miscellaneous, non-book materials long associated with the Speck Collection but previously uncataloged. These are artifacts that were not considered important enough to catalog separately or to include in the William A. Speck Collection of Goetheana: Original Artwork. The quality and interest of the material vary widely. There are historical souvenirs of some significance, such as pens used by Goethe or his grandfather Textor’s seal, as well as cheap tourist items, probably purchased in the streets of Weimar around the turn of the twentieth century. The inflation money printed the 1920s is oddly moving: in the throes of an economic crisis that wiped out fortunes large and small, German cities and towns adorned their “Notgeld” with quotations from Goethe and illustrations from his works. Some of the items in the collection could be loved only by the dedicated Goethe afficionado—the illustration of his coach, for instance, or the pressed flowers from his garden, gathered decades after his death.
If the collection has significance, it is to demonstrate how Goethe and his works entered into the popular culture in the late nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth. From costume jewelry to lithopanes to cigar boxes and candy wrappers, Goethe must have been present to the popular imagination, as reflected in the products and advertising of the period. Certain themes predominate in the collection: Faust in his study, Gretchen at her spinning wheel, Faust and Mephisto in conversation, Faust and Gretchen walking in the garden, Goethe and Schiller together—these iconic motifs recur again and again, on matchboxes, in wall hangings, on postcards, in jokes.