Library Blog

Our Melville Materials Hit the Road

Monday, November 18, 2019

If you find yourself growing grim about the mouth, allow me to suggest a trip to Philadelphia to visit the marvelous exhibit American Voyager: Herman Melville at 200 at The Rosenbach museum and library. Several treasures from the New York Society Library’s collection recently made this same voyage, where they will be displayed until April 5, 2020. (A Rosenbach gallery is shown at left.) As we know, Melville was one of the Society Library’s most famous members

One of the more exciting items we were able to contribute is an early NYSL circulation ledger in which Herman Melville's name and loans are recorded. Covering the years 1847-1850, it provides fascinating insight into Melville’s research for Moby-Dick. We were, of course, delighted at the prospect of sharing this bit of our history with the world. Sadly, the book was showing its age, and it was not nearly in good enough shape to survive the rigors of travel. Which is where I came in. (...cue dramatic music)

The book was plagued with torn pages, broken sewing, brittle and broken leather, and a missing spine. Picking it up was always a slightly harrowing experience. One ran the risk of having little bits fall off and flutter away. (Or worse, large bits.)


As you can see, the book was broken into several pieces.

The poor condition of the leather made handling impossible. My work was cut out for me....


After some significant paper repair and re-sewing, the book was beginning to feel like itself again.

The most labor-intensive part of the repair was dying and paring new leather to match the original. I rebuilt the spine, infilled the missing sections on the cover, and consolidated the old and flaking leather. (I’m not sure if it’s possible for a book to look smug, but this one looks pretty pleased with itself.) After a long convalescence, the ledger was judged fit and ready for travel. 

It was time for us both to quit the good city of old Manhatto, and we duly arrived in Philadelphia.  I helped to make sure the logbook was comfortably situated in its temporary new home.  

As one final, happy consequence of this exhibit, once our book returns in 2020, we will be able to enjoy it in its newly rejuvenated state. Researchers are welcome to schedule an appointment to view this or other gems from our Special Collections.

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