This is one of my favorites of these: A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics (copies start at $160) is a gigantic reproduction of an 18th-century Englishwoman’s album recording all the clothing she owned during a part of her life, 1738-1741 or so. The original included fashion illustrations, handwritten documentation, financial records, and swatches of fabric pinned to the actual pages, all lovingly reproduced in a half folio. There is no way I am ever letting this beauty out of my hands. I only wish we had the albums of the rest of her life.
There’s something moving and powerful about seeing inside the everyday aspects of a person’s life, especially the life of someone ordinary and relatable. Barbara Johnson is no political figure or intellectual giant (well, who knows? Maybe she was, and just chose to recite Aeschylus to herself in private rather than flaunt around), but she had things she cared about: interests, hobbies, concerns. All of this carefully documented trivia is in its way as important for its insights into a human being as any great-man biography.
Next up: Libby: The Sketches, Letters & Journal of Libby Beaman, Recording in the Pribilof Islands 1879-1880.