One of the things I like the most about processing manuscript collections is the detective work it takes to figure out just what the document in my hands actually, well, documents. When we started in on the first series of the Alexander Family Papers, we quickly determined that not only were these the largest (size-wise) items in that collection, but they were also the least likely to be in English. I don’t know about you, but it has been years since I dusted off my Latin, and my Old English, Gaelic and Old French are pretty non-existent. So just determining what each document is, is a bit of a problem. And can we talk about 17th century dates and abbreviations?
I am not sure which intrigues me more, the people or the documents. For right now I will focus on the documents. They are pretty cool! The oldest we found in the collection is a document from 1509. Yep, you read that right: the 16th century! It appears to be in Latin, so we are putting out the call to language scholars and enthusiasts: Please help us translate it!
At a time when everyone takes Office Max for granted, I find the evidence of the way things were kind of intriguing. Many of the 17th century documents have a stamp in the upper left hand corner that says “Tenn penny quire.” I had to go back to my library school texts to remind myself of this phrase. A quire is a sheaf of 24 sheets of paper. Apparently, this was how you purchased them and the stamp tells you the price. Imagine buying 24 sheets at a time.
The signatures on these old documents are fantastic, with embellishments and curlicues and whatnot. Interestingly, on the really long documents made up of multiple sheets of paper glued together, the signers also signed the seams. This seems to be a sort of 17th century security procedure to keep unscrupulous people from adding to contracts without the signer’s permission.
Well, I should probably get back to processing now. As we complete these series, we are digitizing specific documents for inclusion in the Digital Collections, so stay tuned for when these amazing treasures go online!