Old Memo Books Make Digital Transition
Collection of farm memo books comes to life in digital archive
Aaron's memo book collection is stored in about 20 drawers just like this one.
Photo Courtesy Aaron Draplin
The next time you find yourself at an antique store or yard sale, go
ahead, dig through that old box of random items. With any luck, you’ll find
some treasures; not the least of which could be a stack of memo books.
Pocket-sized memo books were
given out by all sorts of companies as promotional items starting at the turn
of the 20th century. Sometimes referred to as pocket ledgers, memo books came
from fertilizer companies, banks, seed companies, fence and twine
manufacturers, and even organizations like the FFA. The covers varied based on
what was being advertised: A memo book promoting a bank might have just the
name and address on a plain background, while one for a seed company could
feature a colorful field scene, or a farmer smiling proudly while showing off
his bountiful harvest. Most memo books included space for notes or records, and
some also included reference sections with pertinent details on planting or
harvesting, such as charts, graphs and time tables to get the best yields.
Promoting the past
Memo books have found an
advocate in 39-year-old graphic designer Aaron Draplin. Born and raised in Michigan, Aaron left the Midwest when he was 19, moving
west to Oregon.
Not one to forget his roots, he makes frequent road trips between the two
states, and the contrast between these two very different places, and all the
states in between, made Aaron start looking at the world differently.
“Being a graphic artist, I started looking at
everything a little further past what is fashionable,” Aaron says. “I could see
all the things I’m supposed to look at as a designer, but then I would look at
regular stuff and the ‘undesign’ in that, the beauty in that, and became
interested in functional things instead of beautiful things. What I’m
interested in, the most common denominator, is really simple stuff.”
On his trips, Aaron stopped
at antique malls and yard sales to pick up memo books. He would buy a stack of
memo books for a dollar, which sometimes included some more than 100 years old.
Other times he’d buy 20 books for $12, and on rare occasion he’d spend as much
as $15 for a single piece he’d never seen before.
Before long, he had a
collection of more than 1,000 memo books dating from the late 1880s to the
mid-1980s. So about three years ago Aaron and his friend Jim Coudal began
scanning the booklets to create a digital archive of the collection.
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