Ancient Documents

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February 14, 2001: We had a few warm spring-like days and Farris and I took advantage of one of them to do some wildlife habitat maintenance chores.  We checked and cleaned out our nest boxes around The Lair, and found that all our bluebird boxes had been used and all but one of our wren boxes had old nests in them. The one that did not, had a large wasp nest in it. The birds are feeding heavily right now and it keeps me busy keeping the feeding stations full. I have made and put out their favorite suet recipe and they have run through it swiftly. We have had heavy fog and gray, dreary days, though temperatures have been mild. The rains have come at the right time to suggest that we will have a beautiful wildflower season in the Texas Hill Country in the spring. That is such a treat. One has to see how beautiful the acres of wildflowers are, pictures and descriptions don't do them justice.

Using the dreary days to do some cleaning out, I found some old papers that my Dad had given me years ago. He handed me a large envelope one day when I was visiting him and said merely, "Here. You like old things. Here are some of your great aunt Amelia's papers." Busy with school-age children, I put them up in a closet when I got home and promptly forgot them. Camilla and I found them when we were cleaning out preparing for a move. We went through them and discovered we had in our possession some very old documents, indeed. One is dated 1745, and another 1751, with others running the gamut between then and the late eighteen hundreds. The oldest are on thick rag paper. One refers to someone living in the Colony of Virginia who paid a certain amount of pound sterling for some land to someone in the Province of North Carolina. The other one ends with these words: ...the said William Dinon have here unto set my hand and Seal this ninth Day of January anno Dominie one thousand seven hundred and forty five and in the Nineteenth year of his majesties reign.  Checking my history books, I learned that  would refer to Great Britain's King George II, whose reign extended from 1727 to 1760. The penmanship on these documents is something to behold. The ink is sepia and the script is fancy. On most of the papers the ink is still quite vivid. I am amazed that the documents survived, for they were bundled together in an ordinary large envelope full of acid content. I called an archivist at the museum in New Orleans to talk to her about these papers and learned some interesting tidbits. She felt the documents had survived at all because they were not handled much and were kept in a closed container in the dark. She advised me to open each folded document and to store them opened, as folding and unfolding causes them to deteriorate at the seams and fall apart. Above all, the documents should not be framed and exposed to light.  She suggested I keep them between PH neutral papers or get some archival supplies. Since I already had the neutral PH slip sheets to protect some of my prints and paintings, I stored these ancient documents between some of  them and have kept it all in one of my art paper files, safe from light. We are taking them out now to scan them and archive the scans on CDs so we will have a permanent record of them. Then we will purchase appropriate archival storage containers for them. 

I had talked to the archivist about the possibility of contacting one of the universities in North Carolina to see if they would be interested in having the papers, but she was not too encouraging about that, stating that most museums and universities have hundreds of such things and the cost of authenticating the papers probably would be more than they were worth, that the process took a long time and I should think about whether it might just be best for me to enjoy having them.  To me, they are priceless. It truly touches me to know that I am holding in my hand a piece of paper used, written on, and handled by someone who lived in 1745, a mere 125 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, and only 31 years before our War for Independence was fought and our country established! And it amazes me to think the oldest document was 256 years old on January ninth of this year! Paradoxically, it also reminds me how very young our country is.  

Other documents are also of interest, listing such things as inventories and values of goods before estate sales; it is surprising to compare the value of certain objects such as the cost of a mule versus the cost of a bedroom suite, for instance. I found a partial piece of very ornate paper on which was written the commissioning of a Schooner, and with a picture of one of the multi-masted sailing ships printed on the paper. 

One of my treasures consists of three pages of an 1898 calendar, the year my Dad was born. He gave me three of the pages and I think he give the others to Lynette and Ed. I consider them treasures not just because of the sentiment of Dad's birth year, but also because on them are exquisite prints of orchids. These prints are one hundred and three years old, and the colors are as vivid as can be! The background papers are yellowed, especially the January/February page, which I suspect served as the cover page for years, but the flowers are bright and lovely. I wish I did not have to be concerned about page download times so I could show them to you full size so you could enjoy them as I do. I have not restored or changed them in any way, in deference to their age.  Here is the first one:

calendar pageThe months are outlined in delicate little vines. The calendar was given with the compliments of Jung and Sons Coal company of New Orleans, Louisiana. It was printed by the  Gray Lithograph Company of New York.  

calendar page


Each page had the year 1898 on it in ornate figures.








The name of the artist was Paul de Longpre' and his work is still lovely.  Here is the last one:

1898 calendar page

When I looked at the backs of the pages I found that the inks had affected the paper in such a way as to have a dark imprint of the general shape of the flowers on each page. The brilliance of these images is amazing, considering that the pages are so old and for years no archival care was taken to protect them. 

As we go through the papers stored in my aunt's house we are finding more and more pictures of ancestors and delightful descriptions of births, marriages and even old letters from relatives in Switzerland. I can see a trip to Switzerland and Germany coming in the future for Tresa and Mitch as Tresa pursues the genealogy of these family members.

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Last revised: November 26, 2010

Copyright 2001-2010 Rheba Kramer Mitchell. All rights reserved.