Monday, March 3, 2008

Perspective: Don't gobble up my memories

It had been a long workday for us volunteers at the old courthouse recently, and I wasn’t thrilled to see that the next artifact I had to classify and describe was an old box containing six typewriter erasers. Typewriter erasers! Who would think they belong in a museum anyway?

According to sparse handwritten detail in the former county museum’s ledger, the erasers were donated by the County Elections Board office in 1990 when it relocated to new quarters.

Sighing, I looked up the standard museum classification: written communication T & E. I recorded the maker: A. W. Faber of Newark, N. J. Dimensions: about 1 ½ by 4 inches, counting the little brush you used to flick away the eraser dust from your typewriter keys. Other details and markings.

I looked around the workroom at fellow volunteers busy with other objects newly getting attention. The thought occurred to me that, at age 70, I might be the only one among them who knew what a typewriter eraser was. And had used one. Had actually learned to type on an old manual typewriter like the one another volunteer had catalogued earlier. And had spent my first working years pounding out copy on such a keyboard – carbon copies in triplicate. I dreaded having to erase mistakes so much I took great care not to make any – much to the benefit of my writing and keyboarding skills.

“What’s a carbon copy?” my high-schooler granddaughter had asked me once. She uses a laptop computer for composing themes and communicates by phone text-messaging.

I realized I wanted her and other young people to understand and appreciate how we did things in the old days. See here, said the six typewriter ribbons in their age-stained box.

“Why do the erasers and the box have different identification numbers?” I asked our helpers, consultants Lenore Hardin and Laura Overbey. Because the manufacturer’s box in this case is just as important as the items inside it, they said. Just be sure you document that the erasers are stored in the box, so we can find them later.

And they pointed out a problem: there was evidence carpet beetles had been in the box. Leavings. Loose and chewed bristles.

“Need to take care of that,” they said, carefully taking away the box of erasers to temporary safe storage and care in the old courtroom upstairs.

Yes! Out, out, danged beetles! You won’t gobble up my memories!

Afterthought: I went home and Googled round typewriter erasers with bristles to see if they are being manufactured and sold today. I could find no source of new ones, but did find that the National Gallery of Art features a noted outdoor sculpture inspired by such an eraser.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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