Item of the month: Scrapbook of Doctor John T. Nagle, One Album, Three Perspectives

By Christina Amato, Book Conservator

Our item of the month is a scrapbook compiled by Dr. John Nagle from the years 1868-1900.  Dr. Nagle was an employee of the New York City Bureau of Vital Statistics, and the album mostly consists of newspaper clippings concerning births and deaths, diseases, methods of disposing of bodies, etc.  It is an interesting item on many different levels.  When an item comes into the conservation lab, the first thing we naturally see is damage.  The album’s spine had fallen off, many of the newspaper clippings inside were crumpled and broken, and the front cover had warped in a particularly exuberant fashion:

Foredge before treatment.

Foredge before treatment.

Most visitors to the lab who encounter the album, however, just see the charming artwork on the cover:

scrapbook after

A student of book history might be more inclined to see it as a typical example of a publisher’s cloth binding.  Starched bookcloth, which was invented in the 1820s, allowed for the mass production of embossed covers such as the one above. A heated brass die would be used to stamp the cover, and even as late as the 1870s, when Dr. Nagle started compiling his scrapbook, each detail of the die would have been hand carved.

A researcher might have a different take on this item altogether. Though mostly consisting of statistics, which are fascinating in their own right, there are several small clippings that provide intriguing clues into the nature of Dr. Nagle himself:

promenade

In addition to sunny afternoon promenades, Dr. Nagle was known to engage in daring, maritime rescues, and heated competition over the title of “handsomest man”:

swimming

handsomest man

Depending on who you ask, the most interesting thing about this album could be its physical structure, the details of the cover design, or the content.  Regardless of where your interest may lie, conservation treatment has rendered the book accessible to all.  If you are interested in seeing this item, contact us at (212) 822-7313 or history@nyam.org.

Scrapbook after conservation treatment.

Scrapbook after conservation treatment.

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