Friday, February 27, 2015

Between the Pages: Hidden Histories from the Skinner Museum's Rare Book Collection

The Skinner Museum is home to several hundred books on a variety of topics including everything from 19th century geography textbooks to collections of fashion magazines. While these books are fascinating in their own right, what truly makes them unique are the inscriptions, letters, and tokens that can be found hidden between their pages. The following are some examples of the unique, and often mysterious, items that these books contain.

For almost two hundred years, a small flower has remained pressed between the pages of The Psalms of David. This book, which was published in 1813, once belonged to a woman named Pamela Smith.

The Psalms of David, 1813.

In a copy of Night Thoughts by Edward Young, published in 1824, two ribbon bookmarks still mark a reader's place. It is possible that this reader was Ann Marks, whose name appears on several pages. 

Night Thoughts by Edward Young, 1824.

In The American Universal Geography published by Jedidiah Morse in 1796, the remnant of a letter is attached to the back of a map of New Jersey, perhaps to act as a support for the delicate print.

The American Universal Geography by Jedidiah Morse, 1796.

The majority of the letter, which is dated June 6, 1804, was cut away and is presumably lost. However, a few lines remain from the very end of the letter that give us some clue as to who wrote it. The surviving piece of the letter reads: "as I remain your Brother & friend, Rufus Clapp."

In a copy of The Course of Time, written by Robert Pollock and published in 1828, a former reader made coin rubbings on the front inside cover. The rubbings are taken from a one-cent coin that would have been in circulation during the 19th century.

The Course of Time by Robert Pollock, 1828.

In some cases, books were used to record the lives of the people who owned them. In a copy of Lessons in Elocution by William Scott, a man named E.W. Thwing wrote a short note about his cousin, Lucy Scollay who had once owned the book. 

 The note reads:
"Springfield. Oct. 30, 1877. This book was once the property of my late cousin Lucy Scollay, eldest daughter of my aunt Esther who married a Scollay. They lived in Newton, had two daughters, Lucy and Sarah. Lucy passed over the silent river many years ago. Sarah still survives in Newton Mass., her husband's name I have forgotten. E.W. Thwing."
Lucy Scollay was born on October 30, 1808 to John Scollay and Esther Thwing. It is possible that her cousin, Ebenezer Withington Thwing, was the one who wrote this note.

Lessons in Elocution by William Scott, 1820.

 Among the recipes, stories, and fashion plates of Frank Leslie's Fashion Book, is an inscription that seems strangely out of place: "My darling Jean. Died Oct 2nd 1889 at 4 P.M. Wednesday. 20 [illegible] Place." Why, on an obscure page of a fashion magazine, would someone record such a personal piece of information? Was it the only piece of paper at hand or was there some other reason they chose to record this information here?

Frank Leslie's Fashion Book, 1857.

Although we may never know for certain who many of these people were, these small tokens and inscriptions can give us some clue regarding how these books were used and the significance they held for the people who owned them.

Emily Wells is the Special Collections student assistant and a senior history major at Mount Holyoke.

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