View from the Archives featured image

The Glennon Archives has been in its beautiful new location on the mezzanine of the Woburn Public Library’s addition for about four months. During that time scores of people have visited the archives to conduct research and to make discoveries. Whether the topic is genealogy, the history of a house or information on a business, we have books, manuscripts, maps and photographs here that can shed light on your research into Woburn’s history.  Each week in this blog post I hope to highlight a different resource that you can access at the Archives. The title of this series of posts was inspired by the view, from the mezzanine and entrance to the archives, that looks across to the remarkable north facade of the H.H. Richardson library building. At the center of the view, greeting library patrons who pass from the new to the historic building, are the marble busts of Isaac Warren and Abijah Thompson,  the founder and benefactor respectively of the Warren Academy in Woburn. I like to think that these two figures symbolize history, scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge – all qualities that are key to the mission of the Glennon Archives today. The busts, by the way, were expertly conserved and installed in their new location by Robert Shure of Woburn’s own Skylight Studios.

Woburn has been rightfully been called the “Leather City” by historians.  Leather manufacturing became the dominant industry in Woburn by the middle of the 19th century with numerous tanneries operating in town at the time. Patent leather production also developed into an important local industry in the 20th century. Leather manufacturing was a skilled trade that involved specialized machines, tools, dyes and techniques to produce the finished product. The history of the leather trade and these historic processes is well documented in the printed record. The Glennon Archives is fortunate to have an excellent collection of books on the manufacture of leather in our holdings, several of which were rebound by Harcourt Bindery, a fine binding division of Acme bindery in Charlestown MA.  This century-old bindery still uses the traditional methods of hand-binding books.  Visiting the bindery last year was like stepping into a bindery from the past – to see the assortment of marbled papers, presses and other equipment used to bind books by hand was truly fascinating.  The leather trade books I brought in were of such interest to the bindery workers that I was jokingly told it might take some time to get our books  rebound because they all wanted to read them first.

I will describe just a few of the many books in the collection that I find intriguing. The Leather Worker’s Manual published in 1902 has an abundance of recipes and formulas for “curriers, bootmakers, leather dressers, blacking manufacturers, saddlers and fancy leather workers” including the recipe for a buff finish for soles and waists of boots and shoes reproduced here. Leather worker's manual recipe, p. 51

 

The Boot and Shoe Manufacturers’ Assistant and Guide by W.H. Richardson, published in 1858, is a fascinating history of boot and shoe manufacturing that includes a chapter on the vulcanization of India-rubber and Charles Goodyear’s discovery of the process.

Illustration from The Boot and Shoe Manufacturers’ Assistant and Guide, p. 5

Leather Manufacture, A Treatise is a thorough discussion of the different types of leather manufacturing, both American and English, with informative illustrations like that of the lime reel shown to the left.

Leather Trades Chemistry, published in 1908, offers a detailed analysis of the chemistry involved in leather work with tables of compounds and illustrations of equipment such as the  device used to analyze tanning materials in figure 28. Illustration from Leather Trades Chemistry, p. 134

Of local significance is Woburn industrialist Alfred W. Peterson’s 1980 biography, A Patent Leather Man’s Story. One of our copies is rather fittingly bound in patent leather. In total, there are more than forty books in the leather collection, acquired by Woburn librarians over the years and now available for research in the archives.

We also hold several other leather-related collections in the archives including the manuscript records for the Peterson Leather Company; the Ebenezer N. Blake records documenting the various Blake tanneries; and numerous photographs, maps and vertical files related to the leather industry in Woburn. What will your next discovery be?