One of my hobbies is antique collecting, but I often gravitate toward collecting pretty specific things. One of those collections, which continues to grow and grow, is that of paper ephemera from times past. Specifically of interest to me are pieces that hold handwriting; human evidence of the daily, the banal, and the easily forgotten. When a lot of people talk about really being into antiques, they often talk about the really rare things, items that are historically important, or fetch a high price or are very sought after. Those are almost at the exact opposite side of the spectrum from what I collect. I very often am drawn toward household items; things of little monetary value, but objects that were touched, written in, read, and engaged in day-to-day life.
Recently I acquired a "Pocket Diary", which was a promotional booklet from a Washington D.C. Patent Attorney's office, that once belonged to a Fred Coleman, who at the time of writing (1907), lived on South Freedom Street in Alliance, Ohio. I have no idea how old Fred was when he started this daily journal. He was obviously a boy, and as the first page of writing states, he was 3'6" tall and weighed 70 lbs.
He kept up with daily entries pretty well until about April, when he stopped writing. At the beginning, we get some facts and figures about him, and for four months we can read an extremely abbreviated collection of moments from his life.
|Fred Coleman's Pocket Diary.|
January 1: Oats horse dropped dead. Looks like rain.
January 2: Homer came over in the forenoon. A horse got stuck in the mud.
January 3: I got a calendar with a sailor boy on it.
January 4: It snowed a little. We went down to grandmas.
January 5: It is a fine day.
January 6: A cat came to our house this morning.
January 7: I average 88 on my report card. I started to school after a two weeks vacation.
January 8: I went over to Homer's.
January 9: I went down town after a calendar.
...and so on. In the four months that are documented, we see that someone in Fred's circle/family died and had a funeral, he played with his sled, his household got another telephone with a party line, he saw a picture show, hopped bobs, ice skated, the groundhog saw its shadow that year, his dad caught a wild rabbit and they ate it, flew a kite, and earned $0.82 in the month of January.
I did some cursory Googling but couldn't find much information about Fred. The address he lived at doesn't seem to exist anymore in Alliance, and I have no way of knowing how long he lived there. The thing is, Fred - who was maybe 7 or 8 years old here - is no longer living. He'd be about 115 years old now. To me, to have this little glimpse into his life, is just so interesting. Even if he were still living - would he remember all of this? Maybe, maybe not. Artifacts like this are just little scraps of a whole life. How many of your scraps would you ever remember? These things were never archival, never protected, never destined for an art museum or the Library of Congress. They're just dingy, water-damaged, bits and pieces of life.
|Dr. Pierce's Memorandum Book (with pharmaceutical advice) from 1933, Mrs. Winslow's Domestic Receipt Book from 1874.|
In Mrs. Winslow's Domestic Receipt book, among the recipes for Liquid Glue, Apple Cheesecake, Wash Balls, and directions for how to make hens lay more eggs, are advertisements for Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, an "Old nurse for children, which regulates the bowels, soothes teething pain, and promotes sleep". It was probably really effective, since it contained 65mg of Morphine Sulfate per fluid ounce. I imagine quite a few adults found it "effective" as well.
|Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery will keep young ladies looking exquisite!|
I suppose this little obsession of mine is pretty voyeuristic at its core, but truly, I think I just like to see bits and pieces of people's lives. Not famous people or important historical figures, but everyday people, writing about everyday things. And knowing that in a small way, though they may have moved on from this mortal world, something of theirs is living on. I often wonder if any of my work will be found in some dusty antique store someday, dirty and falling apart, waiting for someone like me to scoop it up and wonder about its origins. I like to think so.