Spam Faxes and the Wonders of Ephemera

In 2002, a father in the UK gathered up a pile of fax paper from his fax machine and took it home. Was he looking at some treasured writings and gathered cultural touchstones and wanted to preserve them? No, he had gotten a pile of spam faxes and wanted to bring the paper home so his kids could have something to draw on the back.

Decades later, he found the box and scanned in the contents.

And that’s how we have the 2002 Junk Faxes Collection. Over 500 pages of fax-based spam messages gathered from across a few months in 2002.

For the younger members of the crowd; Fax machines used to be very ubiquitous, and calling a lot of random phone numbers would reveal fax machines by the dozen, connected to all sorts of businesses. Many companies would also list their fax machine numbers as part of their information. For some industries and areas, a fax number was even mandatory for transactions. (And still are, in some cases!)

This, therefore, became an attack vector for all sorts of sales departments, political mailers and scammers. People could send, basically, anything. And they did!

The faxes are scanned and readable in the item in our online book reader; going to full-screen mode turns them into a very readable exhibit of pitches, come-ons and scams from the UK around that period of time.

This is an example of the power of ephemera, the parts of life and culture that are normally meant to be used for a short time, or disposed of quickly. Even though the faxes were intended to convince a small portion of the receiving audience to sign on or throw away the faxes, having them all in one place brings all sort of unintended value. We see what priorities existed for sales, what items cost, and what sorts of things could be bought. Some of the spams, like the ones asking “Yes or No”, are mostly intended to cause reaction or to call a for-pay “voting” line, but the choices and language will be of use to historians and researchers.

Thanks to Rob for keeping this material all these years, and taking the effort to scan them and bring them online!