The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
A Glimpse into the Past: A look at the contents of an early 20th century diary
During my time as a pre-program intern within the conservation division of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I have learned a great deal about the preservation of scientific journals, field diaries, and specimen lists, through my work with The Field Book Project. Over the summer, I have been splitting my time between preparing various field books for digitization and surveying the collection of field books to see what treatments are needed. Through these activities, I have discovered many unique materials and have had the opportunity to treat some of them.
One such item is a diary of Leonhard Stejneger from July 26–November 26, 1901, written while he was traveling in Germany. When I first examined the volume, I found seventeen items in ten different locations loosely inserted within the book. The inserts are interesting because they provide a look at everyday life in Germany in the early 20th century.
This lovely little poem found next to the page dated April 1st, 1901 is a clipping from a magazine whose last two lines are cut off. Curious as to how the poem ends I googled the text of the poem and found it! Here is the link to the full poem To a Tortoise, though I warn you it has a startlingly dark ending and I prefer it in the version found in the diary.
Other inserts, such as these two restaurant tickets, are especially fragile because they are connected along a perforated edge that has survived over 100 years! To ensure their long term preservation I placed them in a Mylar L-sleeve. Each of these tickets allowed one person to enter the restaurant. If you did not have a ticket you could not get in!
A wine label for the wine EST EST EST VERO VINO DI MONTEFIASCONE, found next to the page dated November 2nd, 1901, is a wonderful little piece of artwork, with a great story to boot! The story goes that Johannes Defuk, a bishop following King Henry V of Germany to Rome in 1111, really liked wine. On their way to Rome, Defuk sent his butler ahead of him to find good wines in the villages along the way. If the wine was good he left the message "Est." If it were very good he left the message "Est, Est." But when he came to Montefiascone the wine was so good he left the message "EST! EST! EST!." Johannes Defuk settled in Montefiascone until his death in 1113 leaving a large sum of money to the city with the only stipulation that every year on the day of his death they pour a barrel of wine over his grave. This tradition kept up until the 18th century when they city began giving the barrel of wine to the local priests instead. (Please note that this means they poured a barrel of wine on his grave every year for centuries!)
Lastly, I wanted to share with you a shipping receipt found inside the back cover that had to be flattened and mended. The receipt is for a manuscript and photographs that Leonhard Stejneger shipped to Richard Rathbun, assistant secretary at the Smithsonian.
While this treatment represents only one example over the course of my internship, I have come across and conserved many items for the Field Book Project that are equally as diverse as this one. If you are ever in the need for something interesting to study, I highly recommend the Smithsonian's field books as a great place to start!
- Record Unit 7074 - Leonhard Stejneger Papers, 1753, 1867-1943, Smithsonian Institution Archives