This is a question I am asked routinely by family, friends, and co-workers. Admittedly, I often struggle to come up with something more profound than, “Uh…um…you know, stuff.” I encounter great material every day, and it is so hard to remember all of it! The larger collections are usually easier to recollect, simply because they can be discussed more broadly. Many times, though, some of the most original pieces are found in the smaller collections.
Such was the case today as I started working on the Solomon Porter papers (MS 62050, 0.25 linear foot, 1 box). Solomon Porter was born in Windsor in 1753. He later moved to Hartford where, in 1782, he married Rebecca Dodd. The earliest papers date from 1783, when Porter was working as a merchant with his father, Nathaniel Porter. I found three pieces that were different than I have seen before.
A traveler, perhaps one of the Porters, journeyed to Boston and made several stops along the way. This piece demonstrates that not only did the traveler make multiple stops along the way, but he chose to stop at different places on the way home from Boston than on the way there.
The Porters sold a variety of goods, including musical instruments. Who knew that instructions for German flutes were so popular. The list suggests they had 48 copies! Most often I read of merchants selling staples such as wheat and sugar. Not too many are selling bassoons!
My favorite for the day is a 1792 order for a backgammon table, clothes, and “print of an angel descending with a child.” The buyer wants to make sure the coat binding they receive will match their clothes, and has therefore attached five samples to the letter, with wax. There are so many things about this piece I enjoy, and if I were teaching, I think this piece could provide young students with so many lessons. Among other things, I would love to show the wax seals and refer to it as 18th century Scotch tape.