Tuesday, April 7, 2015

By Jupiter!

Some years ago while making clamshell boxes for the Library, I came upon this logbook of the H.M.S. Jupiter, which is one of my favorite items in our collection. Admittedly I have interest in weather and transportation, and these topics intersect in the weather entries found in ships’ logs. But this logbook drew my attention as a physical object. So many of the marks of its history are upon it and not just on the pages. The layers of dirt, oil, and ink spills all contribute to the patina of the warm, natural, earthy tones of the cloth cover, leaving clues to the book’s past life.

It’s surprisingly light and feels good in the hand, despite its larger size. At first glance it appears to have cloth-covered boards, but the fabric is actually sewn over the boards as a protective jacket, which acts much like a modern dust jacket. Though it’s not waterproof this added protection reinforces the notion that this logbook was an important item aboard ship. This home- (or ship-) made imaginative reuse of materials to protect the book highlights the ingenuity of the maker of this jacket. As a book conservator I welcome such historical evidence of protection and repair.

Closer inspection reveals a number of other things about this protective cover, but most of them bring more questions. There is an even sewing pattern where the folded cloth attaches at the fore edge, and it is particularly well executed on the back cover. Whoever sewed this certainly had some knowledge in working with cloth and cord. Was it a sailmaker on board ship? Did most sailors have real skill with a needle? And there is writing on the cloth that looks like it was there prior to its current use, including some numbers and a notation, “I promise to pay… the sum of 20,000…” What is this about? Was the cloth a piece of sailcloth at hand when paper was not? Or was it a grain sack on board for a long journey at sea?

Why do I like this book so much? Perhaps it’s the admiration for the man with the needle, combined with my own imaginings about past voyages, adventure, and the unknown. Come see the book yourself. It is on display with some other Rauner books in conjunction with the Geographies: New England Book Work exhibition in Berry Library’s Main Street exhibition cases through mid-August. After that, you can find it by asking for Codex MS 807107.

Posted for Stephanie Wolff, Preservation Services

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