by Angelica Seaman
This semester I have been working with the Museum of Science and History‘s archive collection by updating the Past Perfect entries for the museum’s books. Books from the past are not only valuable due to the factual information they contain, but can also enlighten us as to how people from the past viewed the world. In the MOSH archive I have worked with everything from German Bibles from the 1800s to Little Golden Books from the 1980s. Often times, books can reveal personal details about their owners through inscriptions, notes, or even items left inside of the book.
Last week I examined a simple cookbook published in the 1920s; by the time I was finished, I felt as if the book encapsulated many moments of the owner’s life. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book written by Fannie Merritt Farmer was owned by Mabel Williamson from Forsyth, Georgia. Throughout the book Mabel added hand-written recipes, likely from friends and neighbors, such as her note about Mrs. Stalling’s cookies scribbled on the title page or a note from Ruth with tips for cleaning china. In between pages 346 and 347 Mabel wrote down a recipe for Applesauce cake written on official Firestone stationary. Perhaps she was a secretary at the Firestone office, or she borrowed the stationary while she was waiting for her car to be repaired. I also found a piece of lined paper with a list of ten prompts: “name of a song,” “something denoting self,” “weapon of war,” etc. The list appeared to be some type of party game or trivia quiz. I like to imagine that Mabel left the game inside her cook book as she looked for recipes for her pending dinner party.
Sometimes you can find primary documents or artifacts inside the book. The most interesting thing I found inside the cookbook was an advertisement from Pillsbury. At the bottom of the advertisement was a notice stating: “Thrift Star Offer Discontinued.” The company could no longer redeem the offer due to war shortages. As the ad had a copyright of 1944, this pertained to World War II. Protecting books inside of secure archives is important because they can offer so much insight into the past.