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What's in a Pocket-book?


A pocket is a small sac for transporting portable everyday things. Today, pockets are often permanently sewn into or onto clothing or a larger bag to form separate compartments. A book is a vehicle for organizing and storing information that is written or printed on folded, cut leaves of paper, usually stitched together to form a bound book that might be finished with a decorative cover of leather, printed paper, or textiles.


So what did a gentleman like John Smith (1722-1771) keep in his needlework Pocket-book, presented to him in 1744? He most certainly kept printed currency, written receipts, and very likely a diary or pocket almanac that included basic reference information, money tables, and space to log daily transactions or notes to remember while on-the-go, between his home in Burlington, NJ, his business interests in Philadelphia, and his personal interest in James Logan's daughter, Hannah of Stenton.


Image above: John Smith's Pocket Book, dated 1744, was given to Stenton by descendants of John Smith and Hannah Logan. The family story is this is the output of Hannah Logan's needle. Hannah and her older sister, Sarah, studied at Anne Marsh's School in Philadelphia, where samplers often included a zig-zag border with flowers between, as seen here under the flap. The inside is lined with green damask, the whole edged the green twill tape that serves to tie it shut. While a bit worn, in actuality, the pocket book may have been a somewhat ceremonial object, kept well-preserved and used on special occasions or for storing especially important papers or keepsakes in a desk.

Image Captions: 1) Front and back covers of Poor Will's Pocket Almanac for the Year 1800. Philadelphia: Joseph & James Crukshank. Originally owned by Thomas Fisher (1741-1810). Stenton Collection, on deposit at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The Dutch Gilt Flowered paper cover. These designs often imitated the floral designs of brocaded or damask woven textiles, and probably also served to influence needlework and quilt designs. 2) Francis Daniel Pastorius' vellum Pocket Book in the Germantown Historical Society Collection illustrates the work-horse version of the form. 3) Of course the pocket book's contents were important, and Pastorius makes his ownership clear using a Germanic ordering of words. Pastorius includes a note, so that if lost, his wallet will be returned to him in Germantown. The person who returns it would be given "half of half a Crown" for their trouble. Note Pastorius' homemade currency table, which was transcribed directly on the vellum for easy reference and probably to save a piece of costly paper. 4)

Isaac Norris’ Thirty Year Pocket Almanac from 1677. Printed in London, purchased in Jamaica. Board-bound for multi-decade use with much printed reference material. Later generations, including Deborah Norris Logan, kept this diary alive by continuing to use it to record family births and deaths. Stenton Collection, on deposit at The Library Company of Philadelphia. 5) The inside cover of Isaac Norris’ Almanac shoeing its combed marble paper-covered board and the scrap (probably a relic) of silk dress fabric. Norris did surveying, and you can see his table for land measure was a handy reference inside the cover. 6) Deborah Norris Logan’s Moroccan red leather bound diary. Once owned by Maria Dickinson Logan of Loudoun, this almanac came into the hands of Sarah Logan Wister Starr and now resides in her portion of the Belfield Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 7) Deborah Logan also had small pocket almanacs like Thomas Fisher’s. This 1810 almanac must have been a special one. A year later, she began her 18-volume manuscript diary, which she kept until her death in 1839. This larger diary gave her room, not to just note events, but to reflect on life and the past.

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