Persinger’s scrapbook, a decade of Great Depression-era drawings and memories

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Persinger's scrapbook, a decade of Great Depression-era drawings and memories

Persinger’s scrapbook. Not exactly a pocket book. Photos: Columbia University Libraries.

Although “scrapbook” can be translated in spanish as “álbum de fotos”, the concept of “scrapbooking» which is nothing new, is broader, as it involves capturing memories, emotions or important events with the help of photographs, drawings, annotations and all sorts of embellishments.

In 2020, an Australian sculptor and collector named Eric Oglander bought this old and cumbersome scrapbook at an auction and published the photos on his Instagram account.

A friend of Karen GreenvKaren, curator of comics and cartoons at Columbia University’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, tagged her in Oglander’s post and piqued her curiosity. Karen contacted the collector, who invited her to see the original.

Eventually they came to an agreement and, for almost exactly the amount Karen Green had left in her manuscript acquisition funds, she purchased this curious artefact. As the university had no budget for its preservation, she posted about it on Facebook, and, in the end, she was able to get her hands on it Maggie ThompsonGreen, a comic book collector and editor of the late Comics Buyer’s Guide (1971-2013) donated the money needed to cover the costs of its conservation.

From a collection of comic strips to a journal of memories

This 830-page, 12-inch-thick, 16-pound contraption is a scrapbook that belonged to a Kansas barber named I. A. Persinger. A. Persinger.

Persinger began the book in 1928 as a collection of Roy Crane’s “Wash TubbsRoy Crane’s “Bungalow” comic strips for the entertainment of visitors to his barber shop called“Bungalow” in Fredonia (Kansas). The album evolved and was updated and reformatted (or rather patched up) over nearly a decade (1939) to become a sort of historical diary with notes and drawings of the barber and his customers.

Although most of the pages contain two “Wash Tubbs” strips, over the years, they became a place to comment on the state of the world or the length of the Depression, among many other topics, much like today’s social networking sites, but also in the traditional guest books of bars, museums, and so on.

Mr. Persinger repeatedly warns his readers to handle the book with care, and refers to it as a “relic”. On one page he notes that the “Depression is still here”, but “It’s not very hungry” and that “Only silliness (or humour, I suppose) seems to keep things going”. His inscriptions are also an interesting collection of testimonials and recollections from people who suffered various hardships because of the Great Depression.

Persinger's scrapbook, a decade of Great Depression-era drawings and memories

The barber, who signs almost all his notes with “By Persinger”, also numbers the pages and adds the date to any inscription

 
   

What is known about I. A. Persinger’s by I. A. Persinger?

At an interview to Atlas Obscura, Karen Green, who believes that the comments and drawings in the scrapbook can provide valuable information about life and art in rural America during the Great Depression, answers this question:

“On the back cover, which has deteriorated quite a bit, Persinger writes what should be done with the book, but not all of it is legible: ‘This book goes to my great …’ / … the A. Cline / Elk Co. Moline Kansas. “After I wrote a blog post about it, I received an email from the cartoonist, who was encouraged to do a book review David Laskywho was encouraged to do some genealogical research. Persinger had a daughter named Hattie, whose married name was Cline. She lived in Moline, which is in Elk County, and had a son named Myrel. That allowed us to fill in some of the blanks.

There is also a page that has nothing but messages from customers, all of which are dated. They have written where they are from, and most of them are from the city of Moline, which is a few miles away 50 Miles from Fredoniaaway, so Persinger’s barbershop clearly had some reach!

Persinger's scrapbook, a decade of Great Depression-era drawings and memories

Now, because of the difficulty of consulting a book of this size, weight and number of pages held together by long iron screws, they have begun to protect it from further deterioration, which will mean that the volume will not be available for reading until 2022 (and only by appointment).

Most likely, to limit wear and tear, the book will be disassembled, digitised and reassembled, so that the scrapbook can retain its character as an artefact and provide researchers with full access.

Green believes that when the book is reassembled, they will have to rely on the digitised images (which will probably only be available on library servers due to copyright issues).

Persinger's scrapbook, a decade of Great Depression-era drawings and memories

The university says that this tome may hold many secrets that are yet to be uncovered. During an initial consultation for conservation action, the binding was lifted and a rhyming inscription was found on the inside of the spine:

Dear friends o mine, please write a line / In this little Wash Tubbs book of mine. / Help me Keep you in my Mind”.

Persinger's scrapbook, a decade of Great Depression-era drawings and memories

Its translation into Spanish, which loses the rhyme, goes something like this:

Dear friends of mine. Please write a line/In this little Wash Tubbs book of mine/Help me Keep you in my Mind/Remember the Robbin. Remember the Dove/Remember the night you fell in love. Oh yeah.

Mr I. A. Persinger, the Barber

Karen Green believes that there are many possible avenues of research that the book is suggesting, among them, I think, one of the main ones Who was I. A. Persinger beyond a barber? Not much is known yet, but at the entrance the manuscript’s submission on the university’s blog asserts that he ended up adding the position of probate judge to his list of accomplishments, as indicated by this undated press photo featuring a “stern-faced, but perfect-haired” Persinger.

 
   
Persinger's scrapbook, a decade of Great Depression-era drawings and memories

Although to some, such publications may seem of little or questionable historical value, it cannot be overlooked that, beyond the curiosities or mundane anecdotes they contain, they can offer a very approximate snapshot of the feelings of the people of the time. Personally, I have always been fascinated by them. They offer those “alternative” versions of history which are usually based on the main protagonists and which tend to leave the rest of the voices of the collective memory quite aside.

As an exercise, I challenge you to read us again in a hundred years’ time. Let’s see what remains of all that we express today in the social networks.

Sources consulted:

Ficha at Columbia University Libraries

Comics Scrapbook Offers a Window into Depression-era Kansas/ Karen Green

The 36-Pound Comic Scrapbook That Chronicles the Great Depression/Atlas Obscura

In Memory of Memory : On Abandoning The Monopoly Of The Mind /Primusing


‘Karen Green (curator of comics and cartoons) and Alexis Hagadorn (chief curator) present, discuss, and analyze ‘Persinger’s Scrapbook,’ a unique Depression-era artifact consisting of comic strips with drawings and annotations, compiled by a barber in Fredonia, Kansas.’

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