Each month, we select one collection item to share in our virtual display case and this month we’re combining that with Preservation Week to feature an item that needs a little bit of work. We’ve been working remotely since March 2020 so hands-on preservation work has been paused until we resume on-site, but one of the last items to be sent to the preservation lab was a small book published around 1774. In its current state, a past librarian made a cover out of regular office paper for this pamphlet, since it had lost its original title page, and the cover and book are stored together in an acid-free envelope. According to the handwritten cover, it is Letters Regarding Affairs in Boston, Mass. From the Point of View of the British Government, 1774. An additional notation reads that pages 1-2 and 119-end are missing. But with the original title page missing, we wanted to try and confirm the actual title of this pamphlet. While working remotely, we were able to use the few images that we had, and the text within those images, to search for and then compare our content with a digital copy of a pamphlet held in the collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. From that comparison, we believe that this pamphlet is Sagittarius's letters and political speculations. Extracted from the Public ledger. Humbly inscribed to the very loyal and truly pious Doctor Samuel Cooper, Pastor of the Congregational Church in Brattle Street by John Mein and Samuel Cooper, printed in Boston “By order of the Select Men and sold at Donation Hall, for the benefit of the distressed patriots.” Historian and author J.L. Bell has written about this collection of letters over on his blog Boston1775. While being an interesting and historically significant item, this pamphlet also highlights the need for preservation work within our library.
But what caused this damage in the first place? We can make a guess that general handling and poor storage largely contributed to the deterioration of this pamphlet. Dust, grime, and oil from hands can build-up over time and lead to the discoloration of the pages. Handling it too roughly can cause dog-eared pages and tears, and storing it in an improper enclosure, or without one completely, will expose the item to fluctuations in temperature and humidity, light, and dust. After the item has been repaired, we’ll try to limit any further damage by doing a little bit of preventative preservation. This comes in the form of training our library staff and researchers on the best practices for handling fragile Special Collections materials. And we’ll also try to digitize the pamphlet so that the original can remain safely stored while the content can still be accessed electronically.
This week we’ll be posting preservation content daily on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We hope that you’ll follow along as we celebrate Preservation Week 2021, and if you have any preservation questions, reach out to us by email or comment on any of our posts!