More Captivating than a Kindle

At first glance, this neat little package looks remarkably like a venetian blind for a pretty narrow window. Maybe on a child’s playhouse. Or an outhouse. Or, as one responder on our Facebook page a bit more darkly suggested, a “hearse.”

But don’t let your eyes fool you. This item has nothing whatsoever to do with shutting out light. In fact, it’s thought to be one of humankind’s more enlightening inventions. Stumped? What if we tell you those slats in the middle are, in fact, “leaves?”

Kudos to Danielle Fecteau, whose late day response, “It looks like an Indian palm leaf book” closed the, er, book on this one. (Runner-up: Julie Swan, with “scroll.”) This is, in fact, a palm-leaf book.  Dating from between 1860-1910, the one in our collection may have originated in India or Southeast Asia, and was likely brought to Maine by ship. The “leaves” in question are, in fact, about 75 individual strips of dried palm leaves cut to a uniform size and strung together with the twine you see then wrapped around them, and bound between two wooden boards.

Many of these little wonders were originally used to record religious scripture, laws, biographical information, or literature. Ours mysteriously has mostly blank pages, but several names are visible as impressions: “Emily Spring,” “Levi Sweat,” and “Fannie Perley,” as well as the statement, “the book is not mine.” “Mrs. W. from E. Rockwood” is written in ink on the outside board.

Kudos to some other charming guesses: a tool for use in weaving, portable darkroom, (we’d love to see the instruction manual for that one!), soil color kit, and a tool to press flowers.

The Wilson Museum in Castine also has a palm-leaf book–a child’s book from Bali. And here’s a lovely example at the University of Mississippi. If you are keen to try to make a simple one with children, this site provides great instructions.

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