Object Lesson | Newberry

Object Lesson

A copy of the big old book the British Museum put together, telling the history of the world in 100 objects, came by. Between that and the recollection of the Newberry’s Quasquicentennial exhibition, showing 125 objects from its 125 years, I wondered how we would do a similar exhibition on the history of the Book Fair.

Of course, it would be impossible to do it justice, because we would be unable to bring together all the really notable customers, volunteers, and donors. And we would have a lot of trouble drawing in all the exciting books, records, and CDs from our many years since, after all, we sold ‘em. That was kinda the point.

But if we had to choose from among our props, which ones would really spell out our history?

I suppose we could do a little display on the history of our Receipt Form. In the beginning, this was an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper with carbon paper (ask your grandmother) under it. There was a space for the value of the donation and a line of fine print promising a letter from a Real Employee later on (the receipts were signed by mere volunteers, you see.) I recall a major fight between the Book Fair Curator and a Real Employee who was demanding that the forms be pre-printed with a value of zero dollars: since the person was giving the books away, they cost nothing, an therefore were worth nothing. The Curator didn’t care for this. We changed later to the half-sized form we use today, dropped the line about the letter (which some donors still expect, somehow), and eventually gave up the carbon paper in favor of the white and yellow carbonless form.

Could we hold a Book Fair without our Aprons? We started with little lumber aprons for volunteers and white and purple full-length aprons for Shift Bosses. This lasted one year, because only one Shift Boss would wear the aprons with the purple pockets and orange cacti, or whatever they were. (Guess who.) The designer of the current red apron does not seem to be listed anywhere, but volunteers have worn this proudly for decades. And STILL can’t remember to empty the pockets before handing them in to be washed.

Our Table Signs are on their third design, although technically we have had five different types over the years. We started with plain pieces of typing paper (like copy paper or computer paper, only older) but volunteer Bob Lisk invented the stands we still use, and topped them with a tricorn sign, handlettered. The Powers That Was decided after a while to go with printed signs, and threw away all his handlettered ones (except one) and then forgot to order any printed signs. We had typing paper again that year. After eons, the big new printed signs got worn, and we moved to a sign more like the ones seen at political conventions, designed and constructed by Steve Scott.

You may not have realized, while hunting among the Mahlers and Mendelssohns for an elusive Nellie Melba album, that those black wooden crates we use to display classic LPs were Claudia Cassidy’s Record Boxes. Not only durable but stackable, they can be used the rest of the year to store albums out of the way. AND they’re harder than cardboard boxes for the customers to break.

That fills my usual space, and we haven’t even discussed the history of the banana box yet. That may well have to have a blog of its own.

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