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Scaleboard Pocket Journal


Over the past six months, I’ve been exploring both “scaleboard binding” and “blank books” from the 18th century. Period bookbinders would do a great deal of business in producing “blank books” (journals, diaries, ledgers, etc.), and “scaleboard” refers to a thinly cut plank of wood, no more than 1/16” thick. With the high cost of importing more traditional book boards from Europe, scaleboard became an economical alternative particularly for New England binders. In my research I stumbled upon an article by Consuela Metzger in the collection of essays edited by Julia Miller, Suave Mechanicals.1

Winterthur pocket journals (429 & 851)
Two pocket journals in the Winterthur Library. Doc 429 is open to the back pocket lined with a ream wrapper. Doc 851 is pictured to the left (partially covered by 429).

Two pocket journals highlighted in Metzger’s essay served as inspiration for this reproduction—both in the Winterthur Library in Delaware. Document 851 was an account book used by a Massachusetts “sawyer” from 1706-1709. It originally contained an almanac bound along with several sections of blank paper used to record business transactions.

The “boards” underneath the almanac’s covers were made of two different materials. One was made of scaleboard. The other board was made from thin pasteboard (similar to modern day cardboard) and was folded over to form a pocket for receipts, notes, money, and other related business materials.

Document 429 was used by Richard and Lisah Sanborn, from 1725-1761, to record domestic expenses as well as transactions related to work as a bookseller. Similar to Document 851, this pocket journal is bound using a combination of scaleboard and a folded pasteboard pocket.

In both of the examples, pockets were decorated with “ream wrappers” (literally paper that was used to package reams of paper that were shipped from Europe). These ream wrappers were often stamped with some form of insignia (in this case, the paper maker’s mark had a standing lion, printed in red ink). This was an economical way of decorating the inside of a journal—often the pockets were lined with more expensive decorated paper.

The Reproduction

The reproduction pocket journal has been constructed similarly using oak scaleboard to create one cover. A piece of thin folded pasteboard fashions a gusseted pocket in the other. The pocket is lined inside with handmade “paste paper” common to the period. The journal is covered in goatskin with a second piece of leather lining the flap. The flap is held closed with a leather thong. Decoration is minimal. The thin lines on the cover were “tooled” using a bone folder (commonly used by bookbinders for various tasks). The “text block” (the section of blank pages) were sewn together using linen thread wrapped around hemp cords.

I am hoping to fashion a period-appropriate brass clasp for future versions.

Price and Order Inquiries

As bound above, this reproduction pocket journal is available for $100 + shipping. Other binding options and prices are available as experience, time, materials, and tools allow. Contact us below with inquiries.