Odd historical curio in my mom's belongings: Henry C. Folger's sec'y's notebook. What to do w/ it?

Note to mods: This might really belong to Cafe Society, but I waffled back and forth before deciding to place it in GQ. Though it’s technically about a (sort of) book, there’s a GQ at the end, and it’s more a historical document than actual literary or even non-fiction work. But if I guessed wrong, could you please move it for me? Thanks!

Bit of background first: every now and then I go through my late mom’s books (she was a collector as well as the owner of a used/rare bookshop) and find some interesting and unusual pieces. Some I’ve mentioned here before when I was asking whether it would be worth seeking an appraisal for any of the more obscure works. (The upshot: maybe, maybe not; the conditions being so poor in many cases, alas.) Anyway, this question isn’t about valuing a book financially, but rather historically, and what best to do with it.

I was straightening up my bookshelves and came across this-- well, it’s not a book, more like a curiosity or mildly interesting piece if you’re into the Gilded Age oil baron period. It’s a notebook (lined pages, just as we had when we were growing up!) but covered in standard book boards (with that maroon, melted pattern that is so often found on the inside covers of 19th century books), with multiple pieces of carbon paper at the front, including one that had been used God knows how many times.

The notebook itself contains the dictated version of Henry Clay Folger Jr.'s business correspondence from 1883-4, when he was a fairly lowish employee of the Standard Oil Company; Folger would eventualy become President of the company, and of course he’s also the benefactor of the Folger Library in DC. These letters were apparently copied down by Folger’s secretary for later typing, and are addressed to various refineries and Standard Oil business committee members.

I’d forgotten all about this notebook, having noticed it for the first time just shortly after my mom died in 1986, when I was 20 and pretty ignorant about American history, especially when it came to business or industry. I never thought to equate H.C. Folger with the Folger Library, which I had heard about of course, having read the Folger editions of Shakespeare’s plays in high school. And Standard Oil meant nothing to me either.

Anyway, my favorite part of this notebook – other than its fascination as an object that was so… mundane, I guess, or an object used in actual work 130 years ago – is actually a separate, inserted carbon copy of a typed letter from then-Standard Oil President John D. Rockefeller to Folger, which reads as follows:

That second paragraph kills me, because I can’t imagine an internal memo written today by the head of an oil corporation applauding his manufacturing department for providing cheap oil for poor folks. I’m not saying they’re all venal fatcats hoping to push prices up as high as they can, but… still. Even if he’s just bullshitting to sound noble, it’s a rather quaint bit of historical rhetoric to use in a company’s internal letter not for publication.

**Anyway, at long last, here’s my GQ: ** does this notebook have historical worth at all? Again, I know it’s not valuable to me financially or anything, but I just feel that something like this should be in some collection somewhere. Or is it too banal to be of interest? If these were originals with Folger’s signature then I can understand whoever-owns-his-collected-correspondence being interested, but… the equivalent of a steno pad? Maybe the Rockefeller letter’s of interest but even that’s just a dictated carbon (the text is purple).

Any ideas where I might go looking for a good repository for this notebook?

Gotta say I wish I knew where the heck my mom found it; some garage sale box of ephemera, probably. Also, does anyone find this as interesting as I do, or am I just weird? (It’s not even just interesting, there’s a bit of eerieness to it, too. Can’t figure out why…)

Really interesting OP.

A quick google search doesn’t seem to indicate any kind of obvious “Folger Archive.” (I’m sure you looked for that already.)

I don’t know where his present-day descendants are. They aren’t announcing themselves online. They’re probably still stinkin’ rich and working in oil somewhere, though, right?

Would it be crazy to contact Exxon-Mobil and ask them if they want it or know who would?

BTW maybe I’m optimistic but, I’d get it appraised.

First thanks, and second, ARCHIVE! That’s the word that I couldn’t think of since finding this book. :smack: No, I didn’t look for it already, because I kept searching for “research library” or “collection” or whatever, and that just popped up the obvious Folger Library materials themselves, not biographical stuff.

I’m pretty sure if I offered it to Exxon-Mobil, my literally communist mother (voted for Gus Hall every election, bless her heart!) would rise up out of her grave and give me a million instances of that arm-pinch that was her only rather wimpy method of corporal punishment. :smiley:

Trivia I learned today: Apparently the Folgers are also related to the Folger branch of the family responsible for Folger’s Coffee. Would not have thought that!

Now that I have the right vocabulary word for the day (archive) maybe I’ll have better luck searching for a home, or at least knowing what to ask for if I contact anyone.

Well, you could contact the Folger Library itself, and offer to donate it. Maybe even get a tax deduction for it.

Or see the guys at Pawn Stars.

The Folger Library is managed by Amherst College (which was his alma mater). An article from the Spring 2007 issue of the alumni magazine says, “Preparation for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s 75th anniversary this spring has involved many trips to our archives, where information about the original dedication and the Folgers’ own papers reside. The latter collection includes not only all correspondence between London book dealers and Henry Clay Folger, Class of 1879, but other personal papers of both Henry and Emily Folger.”

So it sounds like something that the Folger Library might be interested in.

They may not be interested in it, since it’s not really closely connected with the main subject matter of the Folger Library (i.e., Shakespeare). However, it is possible that they would be aware of a library or archive that would be interested, so it would be worth getting in touch with them.

It’s a marketing strategy – sell enormous amounts at a mass-market price, versus smaller amounts at a premium price.

The Hawaiian island of Lanai has been in the news because Larry Ellison just bought it.

When James Dole owned it, he made a fortune growing and canning pineapple at a price even the humblest household could afford.

When David Murdoch owned it, he got rid of the pineapples and build some golf courses and Four Seasons hotels. He has been losing $20-$30 million a year.

So the poor can be a more lucrative market than the rich.
Oh, and, yeah, Folger Library. They will either want it or know someone who does. Everyday contemporary documentation is gold to historians.

Scan the pages, and send it to Project Gutenberg.

You might also consider that for the other rare old books that are in poor condition – then at least they will be available to future generations.

Thanks so much, guys. This has been really helpful!

I’ve actually kinda struck gold at the University of Texas at Austin, which is the home of the (sigh, sorry mom) ExxonMobil archives. The university has an extensive document archives consisting of the beginnings of the Standard Oil Company in its earliest forms until the ExxonMobil present. Check this out in particular, from A Guide to the ExxonMobil Corporation Archives, italics mine of course:

Obviously the letter mentioned above is a couple of decades later than the version I have, but it’s fascinating to see that Rockefeller’s mind hadn’t changed regarding how best to keep his customers. And apparently he felt the need to repeat the thought twenty-five years later, heh.

The era in that Series V is where my notebook would fit best, i think. There’s a lot of stuff in this notebook that’s way over my head (and also the writing is a little hard to read), but there are some interesting charts that Folger included regarding the precise use of different fuel sources by the pound in Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, how much was being spent on these different fuel sources, and so on.

BTW, the minutiae that’s discussed among these men is almost amusing, although obviously it shows an eye to detail that’s laudable for good businesspeople. Here’s a quote from a letter basically going over some minutes of a meeting between Folger and a few other executives:

I have no idea what this last sentence means but I’m assuming it’s not what it looks like to our modern eyes. If it were, though? Awesome.

  • This letter was addressed to a Mr. Van Winkle, the superintendant of the Bayonne Refinery. I dunno, I think he slept through the whole thing, ha ha.

Anyway, I guess U of T/Austin is the best option for contact here, because this notebook does seem to fit right in. They probably have the originals but there are gaps in the archive box lists according to the above-linked page, so maybe this will be useful, who knows!