Hello, esteemed readers! This is Dawn Aveline reporting to you from the summer after completing my first year in UCLA’s MLIS program. Since last fall, I’ve had the good fortune of working with Jake in the Preservation Department, as a preservation assistant. The job encompasses a variety of preservation-related duties that often change from week to week. My tasks range from querying WorldCat holdings, searching for out-of-print books, gathering environmental data, to helping coordinate digitization projects. On occasion I’ve even been known to jump in as a pinch-hit pamphlet binder in the Conservation Lab. It’s always interesting around here! Exposure to this broad range of issues in preservation administration has become an essential part of my education.
Earlier this year I tackled one of my more intriguing assignments and I am excited to share some images of it with you. This project involved examining a number of craft paper bundles that had been sent to Preservation. At some point in the past, these newsprint materials had been gathered together and wrapped up in preparation for a move; it was up to me to open each bundle and provide a condition assessment of the contents.
Within each package, the newspapers were arranged by year of publication and then sandwiched between binders board. The 53 bundles contained a selection of 19th century weekly periodicals known as “story papers,” relatives of the “penny dreadful” and ancestors to pulp fiction and comic books. The collection includes runs of varying lengths from eleven different titles, including The Boys of New York, Golden Hours, Saturday Night, and The Youth’s Companion. The earliest issue in the group from Flag of our Union, dates from 1855. The most recent item is an issue of publisher Frank Tousey’s Happy Days, dating from April 1904. The longest run of the collection, the New York Ledger spans 34 years from March 1856 to January 1890.
Given that these papers were all printed during the heyday of acidic paper, the collection shows advanced deterioration, rendering most of issues unusable. In some cases they’ve even sustained damage from fire and smoke. Some of the worst problems encountered were the charred edges of a few bundles of Golden Hours (especially disappointing since it appears that we may have a complete run of it). Almost all issues show extreme embrittlement, with ragged, flaking edges. Between the binders boards, as one might expect, the first and last issues within any given volume were typically the most damaged and discolored, while the insulated interior issues retained some flexibility and good contrast between ink and paper.
Although the bundles were heavy, unwieldy (most of these papers were around 22″ by 15″), and extremely crumbly, surveying these materials was fascinating and I became absorbed in the task. I’d previously known little about this period of American literature. Through this collection of story papers I can see how the popular idea of the wild West took root and flourished in the industrial centers of the East.
The papers also demonstrate the growing popularity of the bicycle at the time, with many advertisements for bicycles and bicycling accessories. Our modern concerns about the harmful effects of standard bicycle seats are not as new as we might assume, as evidenced by this advertisement from the Youth’s Companion (Nov. 23, 1893). “No pressure against sensitive parts. Your doctor will endorse it,” the ad claims; further “it is an especially good ladies saddle.”
Indeed, for the ladies, this 1895 advert captures something of the liberating influence of the bicycle:
The bicycle took a starring role in this thrilling cover illustration for the story “Bicycle and Gun, or, the Search for the Seven Diamonds,” appearing in the January 23, 1897 issue of Golden Hours.
On closer inspection, you may notice that the bicycle and the gun were one and the same, top tube doing double duty as a gun barrel.
In a future post I’ll discuss the disposition of these fragile papers from the preservation perspective (can they be saved? How?). (I also have a few more pictures I’m anxious to share). Thanks for reading! – Dawn