In the Beginning…

I was poking around in an antique shop in Havre de Grace, Maryland (home of the Duck Decoy museum!), it was my favorite kind of antique shop: cluttered, dusty, and full of misc odds and ends that had been shoved into corners and then forgotten about. In the basement, on the top of a metal shelf full of damaged books, I found a copy of The Ladies’ Cookbook, dated 1896. The book had obviously seen a lot of use and was in pretty bad shape but something made me open it up and on the inside cover I saw that someone had written her name: “Mrs. F. S. Gover”. Flipping through it I could see that at some point before the pages became too brittle someone - presumably Mrs. Gover - had threaded a needle through several pages and left it there. Looking further through the book I discovered that she had left other bits and pieces of her life inside it: pressed flowers and leaves, newspaper clippings, advertisements, receipts, another needle…

And that was the beginning of my obsession with historical advice and advertisements. Standing in that basement I realized that this wasn’t a book that had been left to sit on a shelf somewhere while its owner got on with her life; this book had been referred to often and used frequently. At some point it had been repaired with newspaper (see picture of inside back cover below), and it was important enough to her that she chose it as a place to save her memories (flowers, leaves).

In a time when information was something people had to actively seek out - rather than attempt to filter and “manage” as we do now - this book was an important resource and I like to imagine Mrs. F. S. Gover picking it up whenever she found herself wondering how to tell if her cake was done (“You may know the cake is done when it leaves the sides of the pan; when it will not stick to broom splint when stuck in centre of cake or when you no longer hear it sing when held close to the ear”), or how to restore her velvet dress (“When velvet gets crushed from pressure, hold the parts over a basin of hot water, with the lining of the dress next to the water. The pile will soon rise and assume its original beauty”).

Although I have collected other books since then, this one is still my favorite. I don’t know anything about Mrs. Gover other than what she left in this book, but I would like use this post to officially dedicate Centuries of Advice and Advertisements to her. I’ve started a new category for her book so that all her information will be available in one place. The tag is “Gover”.

Here are some photos of her book. They aren’t very good because I am completely photography-challenged and after several attempts these were the best of the bunch.