America has always been a land of opportunity for many people, especially for people in business. Adam Smith and free-market capitalism is as much the source of the strength of this nation as John Adams and freedom of speech were. You will remember the role of American resistance to the Stamp Acts, for example, in causing revolutionary fervor to come to a boil in the colonies.

Business today is very "high-tech" in the way in which it does business day by day. Modern business would seem out of place without cellular phones, fax machines and computer modems used in the pursuit of profits. A hundred years ago, though, record-keeping was very "hands-on" and extremely manual. (Remember Bob Cratchit, slaving away at his ledger at the accounting desk in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol?) That technological primitivism was no impediment to some rather interesting technological developments for the avant-garde businessman, for the museum has in its possession a Nineteenth-Century copying machine, a marvel of pre-electronic simplicity.

Business letters were written by hand on the pages of a volume using a special ink. Interleaved with the sheets of normal business paper were sheets of an onionskin-like paper from the Orient. When the completed letter was placed in a large hand vise, the resulting pressure lifted an impression of the correspondence onto the onionskin duplicate sheet. The original letter was then dispatched to the customer and the duplicate was retained in the bound volume. The whole process was very much like that of screen printing today in the production of T-shirts.

Come and see this piece of history and others in "Granny's Attic," the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Belhaven Treasure #26

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998