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  • Mon, 30 Dec 2013 09:31:38    Permalink

    N. & W.W. Billings Archive (see below)Everybody knows how to research an old book. You go on the Internet and type the title in Google. After a few minutes of fumbling around you come upon Addall, or Bookfinder, or viaLibri, or ABE or Amazon or any of dozens of sites with searchable databases. On this site, you find a copy of your book for $2500 and you realize you have discovered a great treasure (the other 32 listings for this title, ranging down to $5, are obviously defective, and therefore you ignore them.)
    But it’s much harder learning about other kinds of printed material. Not only is it a challenge to find ways to evaluate such things as broadsides or specialized documents, it’s often difficult to figure out what they are.
    That’s why Doug Stein’s American Maritime Documents. 1776 – 1860 is one of the most useful books in my reference library. (ViaLibri, my favorite book search resource, shows 16 copies available at prices ranging from $12 to $174.)
    American Maritime Documents pictures and describes dozens of documents, and gives a succinct explanation of the purpose each served in the maritime world. Thus, if you happen to find a funny looking sheet of paper headed “Enrolment,” Stein’s book will tell you that they spelled enrollment with one “l” back then. Also that, as of 1793, all commercial domestic vessels had to be enrolled in order to enjoy the benefits of being under US protection. “A cash bond, the amount of which depended on the size of the vessel, was necessary to enroll a vessel.” Stein’s informative text won’t give values for the items it describes, but it will provide clues.  “Enrolment certificates are fairly common…” (Bummer!) but “they can provide valuable information about a vessel and her owners.” (Cool!)
    However, when it comes to manuscript material, you’re on your own. Such things as diaries and letters are easy to figure out, but in my world of maritime history, there are a blizzard of other, highly specialized, types of handwritten records. That is why I plan to write Types of American Maritime Manuscripts when I retire. (I will retire when my present debt is paid off which, I calculate, will be some time after 2050.)
    One of my favorites, for example, is called the “Waste Book.” The first time I encountered one I was baffled, and I had to examine several more before I tumbled to what they were. Now there’s a Wikipedia entry for it. “A waste book was one of the books traditionally used in bookkeeping. It comprised a daily diary of all transactions in chronological order”
    Waste Book of a Castine, Maine Shipping Company Or how about an Outfitting Book? (A sort of shopping list for ships, often whale ships.)
    Or an Instrument of Protest? (An insurance document providing particulars of a loss, often a shipwreck.)
    A Charter Party? (Not as much fun as it sounds. An owner and a captain agreeing to what the captain’s mission on a voyage will be.)
    There are many, many types of manuscripts, each composed for a particular purpose.  Stay tuned, friends. My book will be forthcoming in thirty-six years.
    Meanwhile, here’s an interesting archive that contains several of these sorts of manuscript records. It is obviously a fragment of a larger business archive that broke away and found a path to safety.
    Manuscript. ARCHIVE OF CORRESPONDENCE AND BUSINESS PAPERS FROM N. & W.W. BILLINGS, NEW LONDON, 1820s - 1840s. This New London whaling agency flourished in the 1820s - 1850s, and operated at least a dozen whale ships. In addition, the company operated a soap and candle making business that used oil and spermaceti from company whale ships. This archive consists of the following record groups: Approximately 30 letters from whaling captains, at sea, Hawaii, South America, etc, 1830s. Approximately 10 miscellaneous documents relating to cotton duck sailcloth, 1840s. Approximately 35 final accounts and summaries for crewmembers and laborers (including kanakas) on the whale ship Isaac Walton, 1844-47. Approximately 70 business related letters to the Billings firm, including a proposal to light Philadelphia with whale oil, 1828. Approximately 100 business related letters to the Billings firm, 1829. Approximately 50 insurance policies and related correspondence, 1830s and 40s. Cash book and accounts of whale ship Phoenix, folio, 22 pp., 1827. Cash book and accounts of whale ship Phoenix, folio, 10 pp., 1834-37. Outfit book and accounts for whale ship Flora, folio, 14 pp., 1834. Accounts for crew of whale ship Commodore Perry, folio, 46 pp. 1827.  $5500

    Next week (speaking of paper) – Papermania!!

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