In Their Own Words:
Family Museum

Sarah Tatnall's Cyphering Book

This delightful child's workbook from the mid-18th century reveals much about children, arithmetic, and the unchanging nature of both. Along with tedious computations (yes, remember to "show your work") this handmade notebook is adorned with artistic doodles -- flowers and vines and men in powdered wigs. Little girls two centuries ago were as inclined to deal with boredom as their modern counterparts.

It has always been my family's philosophy that purloined preservation is a noble act. We have removed items from harm's way, not for greed, but for the need to see such items saved. The Tatnall Book is a case in point.

The book might have been lost forever due to carelessness. Left in a stack of old papers it was in danger of being thrown out by the servants until my great aunt (the one we called Aunt Bill) thought perhaps she should look through the pile destined for the dustbin. That event caused my mother concern that the book would eventually be lost, so she quietly removed it from Rose Hill and stored it in the cottage where we lived. Sometime in the next two decades the book was passed to me because of my interest in conservation.

The notebook has suffered over the years. The acidic iron gall ink has eaten through the paper in some places and caused image burning throughout. Foxing and stains are prevalent as well. To prevent further disintegration I had the book professionally conserved by Julie Biggs of the Folger Library in DC.

To move through the book simply click on the page displayed to see the page that follows.

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Copyright 2011 Ellen Wilds, all rights reserved. Redistribution and/or reuse terms of license.