Lara Rose Roberts Pet Book 4: Seriality

According to the dates in the left margin of each page, the keepers of the Abraham Bell and Co Record book took up their pen [nearly] every week from 1820-1822, and then again from 1827-1836 (if they kept records in those interim five years, the pages are missing). Although the weekly writing was not intended to reach a wide-audience w, the record keepers were “publishing” serial writings. Characters recur, I can read narratives among the lines of orders on the pages, and storylines appear and disappear without logic or warning.

The first pages of the record book are separated into relatively equal chunks (I might call them “vignettes”). Each designates an individual order from an individual person (or representative of a company). They tend to give a narrative of the items desired by that person with any stipulations about the item. For example, on June 12, 1820, “James White, Dublin, orders 2 to 5 tons of prime qual[it]y Bees-Wax at 30 Cents or under — 50 blls Pot Ashes at $90 a 95 p[er] ton — 30 whole & 40 to 50 half tierces prime new Rice if at $2 1/2 a 3 p[er] [?] to arrive ‘early or in the middle of November.'” The first 4.25 pages of the record book follow this format, dictating who wants what and at what price. There are seventeen orders placed in ~10 months until April 26, 1821.

Then, on the fourth page, a  new order (a new chapter?) begins, that begins on March 11, 1822. Again, perhaps the pages are missing from that year, or perhaps it is simply a gap in the narrative forced by a waning economy. Nonetheless, even though this chapter appears to follow the format of the previous by beginning with an order from Barber T Purdy, the rest of the page is covered by an order placed by John B Toulmin on November 22, 1822. This order stretches the next two pages, with the running head “Toulmin order continued.” Initially, it appears that this is just one long order, but the dates on the left margins reveal that the orders were placed at various dates, stretching until April 17, 1823. During these six months, the text makes clear that Toulmin is a merchant, and probably a wealthy one. He placed orders as various as 12 pair pantaloons, 1 Barrel Cognac Brandy, 6 pieces assorted Diapers,  2 casks prime Madina wine, and “5 or 4 small casks about 10 gall[ons] each of low priced but pleasant wine either good [Colmenan, Feneriffor?] wine [or wine] of this description ________________.” The description line is left blank, leaving the reader (either the contemporary record-keeper or the person who stumbles into the archive) waiting for the cliff-hanger to be reconciled. It never does.

In those six months, no order by another person is recorded; although immediately following the Toulmin April 17 order, a new order follows, placed by John Calvert. Three more individual orders fill the remainder of that [recto] page–orders that follow the format from the first few pages of the book and end with an order placed on October 6, 1823.  The following verso page is blank. On the  next recto page, a new header appears: “Disbursement of Barque Trio from Cork”, with a date of February 8, 1827, and the remainder of the book is transformed into this new genre: records that keep track of which people have paid passage on which ships departing or arriving to&from various locations.

If we view this book as a serial “publication”, the story written by the Abraham Bell Company changes between 1823 and 1827, from a company that deals with the order and transportation of products to the order and transportation of people. We perhaps can compare this to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe thought she was only writing a serial to last three or four installments, and she likely thought she was writing a particular type of story in that time frame. When the story continued for 41 weeks, the story became something else. I cannot say if Abraham Bell only thought the installments of his company would last from 1820-1823, during which time the “story” written was about goods and merchandise; nonetheless, by 1827, the Abraham Bell transforms into a different narrative–this one highlighting the people carried along the shipping routes through the ocean waters.


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