Before They Had Tape
We deal with many documents at Jenks Library of various ages and in conditions ranging from pristine to tattered. After a while, it is easy to lose the awe that one first feels when working with something “old.” Recently, though, we looked at an item and realized how much we take for granted. One of our volunteers has been going through a gold mine of donated records from the Tenney family. Some date back to the 1700s. Along with providing details about an old Acton family, they also made us think about a problem we don’t have, what to do when an important document rips and there’s no tape for mending. To our delight, we discovered a deed from 1798 that must have ripped long ago; someone had carefully stitched it back together with thread.
In the same batch of documents is an account book. We have a fair number of those at the Society from the mid-1800s on, usually a purchased, blank book that a person used to keep track of receipts, expenses, debts, wages or important facts. The 1783 Tenney book is different, however, because it wasn’t a bound volume. Instead, someone had taken paper, stitched it by hand and folded it several times, creating a custom book in which to jot down significant details.
Little discoveries can jolt us out of the present to think more deeply about the people whose items we are handling. In this case, seeing threads holding together fragile papers made us think of the person wielding the needle, someone who needed to preserve valuable documents and had to make do with what was available. The person's mission was accomplished; the deed, the account book, and the stitching have survived, probably much longer than the owner ever envisioned.
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