About Donna Brandolisio

Manuscript Cataloger, Special Collections Processing Center

Copy Contraptions

When I first encountered this weighty, iron and steel book-like device with a locking mechanism, I had some apprehension about opening this tightly, hinged trap.  I soon discovered, after carefully opening the metal contraption, a letterpress copybook was housed inside.  The metal container is a portable, personal copy press.  This particular press was used by George Müller of Germany from 1885 to 1890 during his travels in Mexico, California, Tahiti, and Christmas Island.  Müller’s copy press and letterpress copybook is Ms. Coll. 1341 at the Kislak Center.

The copy press was created by Friedrich Soennecken (1848-1919), inventor of the round tip pen nib, the hole punch, and three ring binders.  This portable copy press weighed about eight pounds and was made to copy outgoing letters for professional and private use at home or while traveling.  One would write a letter with special transferable ink, slip it under a thin, translucent leaf in the copybook with blotter paper, place the copybook in the metal copy press, and close the hinged lever.  Pushing down the metal lever produces the pressure for the ink to adhere to the leaf in the copy book.  This creates a copy of the outgoing letter.  Below is Müller’s letterpress copybook and an example of a copied letter.


Treasures of the Sea

What do you collect from the sea?  Days at the beach let us wander along the coast and discover the bleached bones that once housed mollusks or crustaceans.  We bring home remnants of our journeys to the coast: seashells, stones, rocks, driftwood, feathers, and sea-glass small tokens reminding us of ocean sights, sounds, and smells.  These objects lived in a realm of another place and time other than our day-to-day lives. The objects serve as a remembrance of a past event or journey and end up displayed at home on a table, a shelf, or in a glass jar becoming small mementos of time spent with the vast ocean.

Sometimes we stumble upon living objects like starfish, sand dollars, or coral left stranded on the sand.  Seaweed also drifts its way on shore in tangled clumps of various colors.  These flora from the sea can be pressed and dried like wildflowers or plants transforming them into vibrant keepsakes.

Here at the Kislak Center is an example of beautifully preserved ocean life from a seaside journey; a scrapbook containing carefully collected seaweed.  Who created the album is unknown to us, but clearly much care was taken to save and keep these treasures of the sea. The specimens contained in this book are in fact entitled Album of Beautiful Seaweeds, Souvenir de Torquay and dates from between 1860 to 1870 (for more information on this scrapbook see the finding aid).


Dried seaweed on title page.

Below the hand written title is a specimen that at first glance appears to be a pressed hydrangea bloom with a pinkish hue.  The color was so vivid I wondered if it had been dyed, but on further inspection it appears the original color has been preserved!

These seaweeds were carefully pressed and preserved and their scientific names recorded.  This collection of botanical specimens from the sea gives us a glimpse of what the creator held dear from his or her journey.  The variety of seaweeds (see below) have retained their colors ranging from pale to dark green, shades of burgundy, and almost black.  There is also an array of leaf type from singular wide strands, fine short wisps grouped like a bouquet, and sparse evergreen-like strands.

There are other souvenirs in the album, botanical postcards and pressed ferns and leaves. One curious memento laid into the scrapbook is a flying fish wing mounted on a small slip of paper with the note “captured in Oct. 1861.”  Was this vacationer on a boat?  Did he or she catch the fish stranded on the sand as the tide was going out?


In addition this keepsake album of seaweeds are Ships’ logs, sailors’ diaries, and travelers’ scrapbooks are all mementos of treasures preserved from the sea you can find at Kislak Center.





The Rogue Volume

A nine-volume diary, started by a fifteen-year old boy was one of my assignments to research and catalog.  I began to read the idyllic day-to-day life of Jacob Edward Schmidt (1891-1986) known as Edward living in Lebanon, Pennsylvania with his parents and brother above the family jewelry shop J. C. Schmidt, Jeweler and Optician.  (For more information on the J. Edward Schmidt diaries, see the finding aid). I expected to skim through the pages and read what would be a daily report of weather, school, siblings, and parents.  If I was lucky, maybe I would encounter some teenage angst.  I learned quickly Edward was serious about his diary.  He began writing it on his fifteenth birthday 18 March 1906, and included a “Preface” at the end of the first volume about the responsibility of keeping a diary.  Edward wrote: “Maybe the rear end of a book is not the proper place for a preface, but in this case it can’t be helped . . . The keeping of a journal or diary is not the easiest thing in the world, for it is often very troublesome to attend to it correctly . . .”

Edward was faithful in his daily entries.  He recorded everything about his day.  His interactions with his parents and brother, the daily chore of waking early to open the jewelry shop his father ran and one day he would inherit.  He wrote of attending school and going to church on Sundays.  Edward loved photography and wrote of taking and printing photographs.  He also talked of the weather and activities of the seasons, spending summers at Mt. Gretna and Exmoor, Pennsylvania.  The one thread throughout diaries that compelled me to read more was his Mary.

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