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Michigan State University

Artifacts in Special Collections: Popular culture

Technically, everything in Special Collections is an artifact. But here are some of the more unusual ones!


Special Collections is the library's department for rare, valuable, and fragile materials.

Materials from this department do not check out, but we welcome you in the Special Collections Reading Room in the Main Library lobby, across from the Circulation Desk. We're open by appointment.

Kate Greenaway Almanacs

Kate Greenaway Almanacs

Kate Greenaway Almanacks are tiny illustrated calendars with important dates for the years 1883-1895. Kate Greenaway was an enormously popular British artist known for her images of idyllic childhood.


Hornbooks were used to help children learn to read, from the 1500s to the late 1800s.

A hornbook was a flat piece of wood with a handle, on which was pasted a sheet with the alphabet and short texts for the child to practice reading. In many cases, the text was a Christian prayer.

We have a beautiful example of a late 19th century hornbook in Special Collections.

19th century textbooks

1822 textbook with handwritten notes

MSU has an extensive collection of 19th century schoolbooks. Like the 1822 arithmetic book shown above, most of them passed through the hands of many young students over the years.

Realia in the Sliker Culinary Collection

The Sliker Culinary Collection has a few examples of food advertising objects, in addition to thousands of recipe pamphlets:

Floral conversation cards

Floral conversation cards

Floriography or "the language of flowers" was immensely popular in the United States and Great Britain in the 1800s. This set of floral conversation cards from 1837 explains the meaning of 50 different blooms.

Sliker Culinary Collection

Jell-o recipe booklet cover

The Sliker Culinary Collection "Little Cookbooks" website has thousands of commercial recipe pamphlets dating back to the 1860s.

These are the cards or booklets you'll find in the grocery store advertising a particular product, like evaporated milk, Jell-o, or canned broth. Appliances like blenders or crockpots often come with a recipe pamphlet too.

Use the Advanced Search to locate items of interest. Some will have images (we're halfway through digitizing the collection) but all can be used in the Special Collections reading room.

WW2 greeting cards

We have a collection of two dozen greeting cards from World War II. These were marketed to women to send to their husbands in the armed services. All but one in the collection have actually been used, and some contain handwritten notes.

Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree

Punk band flyers and posters, 1972-1992

Three posters advertising punk rock band concerts

The Punk Band Flyers and Posters Collection has about 50 items advertising appearances by punk bands on the West Coast in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

Manuscript collection 279

Autoworld theme park souvenirs

The Autoworld theme park opened in Flint in July, 1984 but closed the next year. The Ben Hamper Archive includes two magnets and a porcelain bell souvenir of the park.

Manuscript collection 391, box 2.

Michael Moore documentary souvenirs

The Ben Hamper Archive includes pinback buttons advertising two of Michael Moore's documentaries: Roger & Me and Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint.

Manuscript collection 391, box 2.