Signs of Use: A Christian hymnal that was actually used more than once

Immediately laying eyes on The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State of Worship by Isaac Watts, found in Colby College’s Special Collections, you can tell it was of great use to someone. On the front cover, the leather is bent and chipped, and there is a small section at the top that has been peeled away. There appears to be scratches in the middle, as if someone or something were trying to carve initials onto the cover. The edges look worn down, as if they were rubbed constantly—whether from being carried around in a bag or from being held in someone’s hands or against a table.

The binding has been torn all along the spine. The front cover is held on by pieces of leather at the top. Parts underneath the binding are exposed, enabling you to see the quires. Upon opening the book, the binding is no longer connected to the pages, just the covers, and the threads connecting the binding to the pages are exposed. There is a thick, light brown thread that appears to be the original thread for the binding, of which is not holding much together anymore. This thread is still connected to the back cover—the only reason the book is still connected with its cover. A second thread, of which is thin and dark brown, has been sewn through the pages. This thread can be clearly seen within the first few pages, between the pages and the binding, and it seems a bit messy or rushed. A third, and last, thin white thread has been sewn through all the pages except for the first few containing the title page, advertisement, and parts of the index. Looking at the first page of the content, you can see the white thread holds onto previous pages by two holes, but connects to the rest of the pages without a problem. It seems to be a simple stitching, but it is neat compared to the other rebinding.

 

     The title page, or the first leaf, is separated from the rest of the book. The next five leaves would also be separated if it were not for a single pin connecting it to the sixth leaf of the book. The first 12 leaves are tattered and worn from lots of use. This is most likely because these first few pages contain the indexes, of which are used to find a particular psalm. The edges of the leaves have been ripped and torn, and the ink has faded. From page 25 on, the pages are less worn, and appear to be less used. The threading also appears to be kept intact. There is very little sign of use in the rest of the book, except that you can see parts of the threading, and its holes are wider than in an unused book. On pages 158 and 159, there are small scribbles of marginalia on the bottom, but there is no way to decipher them; it looks almost as if someone were trying to test out their pen for ink.

There are many signs of use on the inside front and back covers, containing many numbers written in pencil, but the title page contains the most use in the form of provenance. There are plenty of illegible scribbles on this page, but there is one name that can be clearly read: Nancy B. Dingley, written at least twice, and once at the back of the book. Apparently, this woman really wanted people to know that this was her book. I looked up this name online, and instantly found possible connections. I found a website containing her name, Nancy B. Dingley, and it also indicated that her middle name was Barker. It seemed possible because the website was a list of Waterville, Maine families (see www.watervillegenealogy.com). According to this website, she was born September 7, 1794 and lived in Waterville. If this is really her, and the date, 1809, on the title page corresponds to her, she would have owned this book when she was a teenager, which is plausible. Exploring deeper into the family tree, I found that her father was Charles Dingley of Duxbury, Massachusetts, and her mother was Mary ‘Polley’ Anne Stackpole of Gardiner, Maine. They were married in 1793 in Winslow, Maine, and had Nancy the next year. Nancy was the oldest of 10 children. Looking deeper into her ancestry, I found that Barker was her father’s grandmother’s maiden name, and it was also one of her brothers’ middle name.

She married Timothy Bailey of Malden, Massachusetts in 1842, but had no children. Although not much information could be found about this man, it appears he first married Mary Bryant Dingley in 1834, who appears to be Nancy’s younger sister, and who died sometime before 1842. I looked into ancestry.com to find more information about the marriage of Timothy Bailey and Nancy Dingley, and there appears to be a record of this marriage (and that of Timothy Bailey to Mary Bryant Dingley) in Malden, Massachusetts (see search.ancestrylibrary.com). I could not find much more on Nancy Dingley after the death of her husband ten years later, until I accidentally clicked the name “Nancy B Smith”, and right under her name was “Nancy B Dingley” in brackets, “Charles Dingley” named as her father, and “about 1795” as her birth. It appears somewhere down the line she changed her name, but I cannot seem to find a marriage record of this. According to this document she died in Saugus, Massachusetts June 12, 1881. Looking into her father’s death on ancestry.com, I found that he died in Malden, Massachusetts, so at some point in his life, he must have moved his family to Massachusetts. Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820, so this may be one of the reasons the family moved.

 

     There is a bookplate and stamp indicating that this book is the property of the “Library of Colby University Mar 12 1887.” Somehow, this book, made in 1799 in Northampton, traveled to Waterville in 1809 and into the hands of Nancy B. Dingley, who moved to Malden, and then it traveled back to Colby in 1887. Many of her siblings remained in the Waterville area, so it could have been given to one of them or passed down, and eventually given to Colby College. Of course, this is all conjecture, but I find it fascinating how a small, seemingly insignificant book holds so much history. This book was once important to Nancy B. Dingley, and the memory of her life has been stowed away in this book for about 200 years, waiting for someone to resuscitate her.