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 Though it’s technically about a (sort of) book, there’s a GQ at the end, and it’s more a historical document than actual literary or even non-fiction work.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…)