As a Lennox Foundation intern, one of my projects over the past few weeks has been to prepare seven Civil War diaries for digitization. Before the digital surrogates go online, I’d like to share images of some common features and conditions for these items, as well as discuss some of the treatments that I’ve employed to ready them for imaging.

Nearly all the items in this group have been inscribed in both ink and graphite pencil. Over time those pencil markings have transfered between adjoining pages, resulting in kind of a palimpsest of letter forms (seen below). Knowing that getting a clear image of the original text will be quite difficult, I spent some time going over each of these pages ever so gently with a dry-cleaning sponge – trying to remove the surface grime without rubbing away any of the text. After going through each diary, I noticed that apart from pages here and there that have come loose from the binding, several of the smaller volumes have had leaves cut or torn out at some point in time. It appears that in addition to documenting their thoughts and everyday events, the authors of these journals would often use pages for accounting or doing sums. It makes sense that when in need of a scrap bit of paper, one would tear it from the journal in their pocket.

Graphite text has become hazy over time.

In other cases, individual lines of text that have been physically removed (In the image below, white paper has been placed behind the lacuna for emphasis).  I’m always intrigued whenever I come across this particular approach to editing text; was the editor so offended by that particular line that striking through was insufficient or were those words removed and put to some purpose in another volume?

Pages have come free and text has been removed.

Some of the diaries in this collection require a little more TLC than others. In the case of the diary of L. Stone Hall,  only the front board of the binding remains and many of the pages have insect damage. The most peculiar aspect of its condition, however, is the means by which a previous owner kept the pages together. Self-adhesive white hole punch reinforcements have been strategically placed along the front and back sides of the spine edge of the extant signatures. It appears that these were originally intended to reinforce the two sewing holes that they encircle; yet, even though the sewing is now completely gone, the migrating adhesive of these reinforcements was actually holding the entire signature together.

Because these little stickers are damaging to the pages and obscure parts of the text, they were removed. Luckily the adhesive of the hole punch reinforcements easily released with a methyl cellulose poultice, and Hall’s diary can now be safety and easily scanned as single sheets. When the journal returns to the lab after imaging, the individual leaves will be rejoined into signatures with japanese tissue and those signatures re-sewn to form a single, consolidated text… kind of like this:

The diary of Charles Chapman, written between 1862 and 1869, also presented a “sticky” pre-digitization treatment challenge. In this case a portion of the last page was adhered to the fore-edge flap of the back cover. The two photos below of the back cover with that flap folded in and folded out illustrate the situation.

Pages torn in half and stuck to the cover.

With the cover lifted, revealing the back side of the stuck page.

Quite a bit of text was obscured by the cover, and because the spine material for the binding is completely gone and the sewing broken in several places, we decided after some deliberation to completely disbind the journal. Once the back board and page were separated from the rest of the text, I was able to employ a Gore-Tex pack to slowly humidify and lift the partial leaf from the cover. When it had dried, I re-attached it to its companion stub. You can see the repaired leaf and the separated back cover and fore-edge flap below. Like the Hall diary, this item will be scanned as single sheets and return to the lab for rebinding so that it can be safely handled in the reading room.

Same page after lifting and repair.

Cover after the leaf was lifted off.

When digitizing bound special collections materials, it can be difficult to fully capture both the information printed on the individual pages and the more dimensional characteristics of the artifact. Since the digital surrogate that will be available to scholars will focus specifically on the text of these diaries, I thought I would take this opportunity to show a binding structure common to four items in this collection. Three diaries by James Robertson, written between 1856 and 1861, are remarkably similar in style to Chapman’s diary. All of them have thin, flexible bindings covered in dark leather with a fore-edge flap that secures under a strip of leather on the front cover. They are all decorated with blind stamping; in three cases with a mesh of small lozenges, not unlike Russia Leather.

Looking at the style and structure of these bindings, I can see why Chapman and Robertson would prefer them. Their small size and flexible boards make them easy to stow in a pocket. The fore-edge flap protects the pages from wear as the volume is retrieved and put away. The Robertson diaries from 1858 and 1861 also exhibit convenient features built inside the cover. The fore-edge flap of the earlier volume has a leather slot that can hold a writing implement.

The diary from 1861 has a tiny pocket with a cloth accordion hinge attached to the back cover in which one could hold receipts or other loose bits of paper. The photo below does not do the best job of showing off this pocket, but here it is represented with the cloth hinge fully expanded.


The thing that I find most fascinating about these particular journals is how little their size and functionality differs from the typical Moleskin Notebooks that are so popular today. Sure, the materials have changed over the past century and a half – but a good pocket journal still does all the same stuff. It keeps your pen or pencil handy, holds itself closed when not in use, and fits nicely in your pocket. After being subjected to endless streams of iPad advertising for 6 months, there is something very comforting about being able to come to work and realize that some pieces of  writing technology will never become obsolete.

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