Charissa Schulze

HIstorical Society of Pennsylvania

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In the age of e-readers and mass paperbacks, it is easy to forget that books were once a very scarce and expensive commodity made by hand from materials equally costly and difficult to acquire.  In the distant past, before the prevalence of paper, book pages were most often cut from vellum, a parchment made from calfskin; depending on the size of the book and number of pages, a single volume could require the laboriously prepared skins of several, even dozens, of animals.  It was therefore not unheard of for such pages and books to be scraped down and


Anyone familiar with paper will doubtless know that it tends to tear quite easily.  Mending such tears is therefore among the most ubiquitous of treatments performed by book and paper conservators.  In contemporary practice, the use of natural, time-tested, and reversible materials is of paramount importance.


In the field of conservation there are degradations and vulnerabilities that are brought about by circumstance and environment, and then there are those that are endemic to an object, and fall under the poetic epithet of “inherent vice.”  Perhaps one of the most infamous and widespread potentialities of inherent vice in the realm of historical manuscripts is that of iron gall ink.  So named for its composition of gallotannic acid and iron salts, iron gall ink was the writing ink of the Western world from the late-Middle Ages up through the 19t

To continue the theme of curiosities or treasures that lie hidden in the pages of the Bank of North America Collection, I am currently performing conservation treatment on a volume that includes several examples of revenue stamps from the years of, and surrounding the American Civil War (1861–1865).  The ledger, dating from January of 1855 to January of 1872, is a book of dividends from the Lexington branch of the Northern Bank of Kentucky (Collection 1543, volume 617).  There are actually a number of ledgers titled after other financial institutions within the collection,

The financial records that fill the 671 volumes in the Bank of North America Collection offer up a veritable goldmine of historical information, vital and pertinent to more areas of research than can be readily imagined.   And yet these pages, being written out by hand, also contain a sort of history that goes beyond the academic. 

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