Tuesday, November 10

Daabs-Attest, 1888

This was a funny little project that went nowhere. I'm tying it into stationery interests because it involves an antique, old handwriting, and very old newspaper.

My wife brought me out to yet another thrift store last year--she's a great fan of these places and I can't deny she's come away with some impressive scores at local outlets like Saver's, Salvation Army and Ragstock. They're just not my thing unless I'm trying to assemble a Hallowe'en costume, though I used to hit Ragstock quite frequently as my source for military surplus coats and bookbags. Anyway, this time we went to ARC Value Village and I was surprised to find three very nice sweaters, a satisfyingly terrible Conan the Barbarian comic, and this thing.

I'm not saying I'm mystically inclined or anything, but when I pulled this frame out of a sloppy array of other frames, I couldn't put it back. It looked like an important document some family lost--I couldn't imagine someone selling it to a thrift store, so perhaps it ended up here after an estate sale, like, all leftover and unclaimed property could have been distributed to a thrift outlet. Is that reasonable? Does that happen?

It was a certificate in a stout wooden frame, and I couldn't understand the language in which it was written. Something about it seemed very important to me so I picked it up for a couple bucks. Once home, I immediately began to disassemble it into its component parts (with my cat's help, pictured). I polished the glass, which was unevenly cut on a couple corners, with jagged teeth extending beyond the intended dimensions of the pane. It's like someone wasn't paying attention or didn't like their job.

It had seen a lot of action in its day, as evidenced by the damage sustained to the wooden frame at the corners. When the glass was out I spent a lot of time polishing it up and saw that some flaws were inherent to the manufacturing process, like interesting little striations of bubbles and warps in the glass here and there. Time had also marred it with little stains and scratches, those couldn't be helped. As for the frame, I took to it with wood soap and tried to replenish this parched fiber as much as I could. I have no idea whether I improved it at all but it did look a little nicer when I was done.

I bent the tiny nails in the back, removed the wood panel behind the pane, and extricated the document. Online research suggested to me it was written in Norwegian and was a birth certificate for someone. That's quite reasonable: my area is typified by its population of Norwegian Lutheran settlers (see also: the Coen brothers' Fargo). I figured, once the frame was reassembled, I might contact Mindekirke and see whether they had any interest in this thing, or else the Minnesota Historical Society. Out of reverence for the object, I hope they do and that this testament to someone's birth isn't kicked to the curb yet again.

Behind the birth certificate, however, between it and the wood backing were a couple sections of folded newspaper. This is the kind of find I dream about but only hear about happening to other people, usually when they're tearing a house down or stripping the upholstery off an old couch. Someone had packed a couple pages of the now-extinct Minnesota Times. Research shows me this started as the Daily Times in 1854, then soon converted into the Weekly Times. Now, the information I'm reading, the Minnesota Historical Bulletin, says that the Times merged with the St. Paul Press in 1861, but the issue I scanned here shows the death of Colonel Albert Lea which occurred in 1891, suggesting the Times was intact three decades after it was supposed to have been subsumed by the other paper. I don't know what to make of that.

...Oh, wait, this is the Minneapolis Times, which ran from 1889 to 1948. Never mind, that's completely reasonable. Anyway, I scanned in the birth certificate--too large to fit my scanner, I'll reassemble it in Photoshop--and all the newspaper stored in the frame. I think these are all marvelous documents and I wonder whether anyone besides me will think them useful at all.



"The Father, The Son and The Holy Name" is what the banner says? i took Norwegian back at St. Olaf and i studied Swedish recently. the person's name is Gilbert Nikolai?

Christian said...

Yeah, apparently. It would be interesting to find out what became of him, and possible to learn thereby how this birth certificate came to end up at a thrift store. It totally sounds like there's a story behind it, possibly tragic, but it would require a fairly deep and involved level of research.