Sunday, August 14, 2011

Material Culture Minute: Checking Between the Pages

I like boxes. I like the anticipation that mounts before opening them up to see what's inside. Dust and bugs? Remnants of snuff? Deeds and wills? Empty space?

I play the same game with books. For instance, what seemed like an ordinary mid nineteenth-century Bible with fading gilt edges and a worn leather cover in Tyler's collection...

The Holy Bible (Philadelphia: Miller & Burlock, c.1856), 4.5 in H x 3.25 in W x 2 in D.

...turned out to contain thoughtfully preserved scraps of fabric and printed ephemera.

Martha Jane Baird's inscription--rendered carefully yet awkwardly--on the Bible's flyleaf indicates that Martha purchased this Bible for 75 cents in 1856.

But who was Martha? The first several passes through this treasured book turned up a scrap of newspaper I tried to use in identifying the Martha Baird who owned this Bible. According to a wedding announcement jammed among three pieces of fabric, James W. Beckford of Cumberland, Ohio, and Sarah E. Ruby of Claysville, Ohio, wed in 1894. I thought that perhaps Martha, then, would be easy to find among Martha Bairds who lived nearby. Not so.

Until I went through the pages for perhaps the tenth time this afternoon and came across another narrow strip of newsprint that read, "...[t]ravel and Adventure."

And on the reverse,"Leeper-Baird-Dec. 21, 1882, by Rev. I.N. White, Mr. Joseph Leeper of North Salem, and Miss Martha J. Baird, of Washington, Guernsey co., O."

Yet what I thought would be the key to Martha's identity proved to be unhelpful in identifying definitively (in the federal census) the Martha who owned this Bible.

Despite this, the Bible provides a glimpse into Martha's world. We encounter scraps of textiles:

romantic verses: "You are the fair whom I love best/Consent to wed and make me blest." and "Nay, blush not, fair one, when I own/My life, my bliss, depend on thee alone."

a used 3 cent stamp (circa 1851):

and, as noted above, wedding announcements.

Martha used this book from childhood through (at least) her marriage as a convenient and safe repository for tokens that surely meant something to her. I'm glad I took a moment to check between the pages.


  1. wow...! a friend of mine just went through some peterson's magazines she received and found, among ads and pressed flowers, a lock of hair!

    i'm very intrigued by the red and green jacquard rose ribbon in the first image. it is strikingly similar to some silk fabric that katie (jacobs) gave me.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it! I emailed overall shots of the green and rose fabric. Too bad we don't have the design repeat.

  3. I am so intrigued by this. I tried to search for Martha, too, but the only thing I found remotely close was a marriage record for a Joseph Leeper and a Mary J. Baird. Interestingly, though, they were married in Guernsey County, a month after Joseph and Martha, and by the same Reverend! Here is the link (with picture of record):