RBML welcomes an exciting new addition to its collections: a scrapbook compiled by a Kansas barber named I. A. Persinger, who began the book in 1928. What began as a collection of Roy Crane’s “Wash Tubbs” newspaper comic strips for the entertainment of Mr. Persinger’s customers evolved into a sort of historical journal, with notes and drawings from the barber and his customers. The book exists at a convergence of several academic interests, from the reading and reception of comics, to socio-cultural history, to Depression-era life, to the construction of social networks. It will also be of interest for students of outsider art; the way Persinger speaks of the sun and moon, for example, borders on the metaphysical, and is certainly philosophical.
The book grew like the proverbial beanstalk: by the start of the 1930s, it had outgrown its original binding, continuing to accrue leaves until it reached 830 pages, over a foot thick and weighing thirty-six pounds. Most pages contain two “Wash Tubbs” strips and, as the days and years wore on, became a place to comment on the state of the world or the length of the Depression, among a variety of other topics.
In his idiosyncratic spelling, Mr Persinger repeatedly admonishes readers to handle the book with care, and refers to it as a “relic.” The importance of remembrance is a recurring theme. On a given page, he might note that the “Depresion” is still here, that he’s “Not feeling well Hungry” and that “Only Foolishness That seems To keep Things Going.” He always signs his notes, often with the phrase “By Persinger,” echoing the “By Crane” on each “Wash Tubbs” strip. Generally, the page is numbered and any inscription has a date.
Mr Persinger’s barbershop, called the Bungalow, was in Fredonia, Kansas, but customers came from as far away as Moline, nearly 50 miles away. Their inscriptions invite remembrance, which must have seemed like an increasingly rare commodity as the Great Depression wore on.
In an appropriate development for an artifact that embodies early social networks, the existence of the scrapbook came to our attention via social media. The owner, sculptor Eric Oglander, posted about it on Instagram; we contacted him and arranged a purchase. Recognizing the difficulty of reading an 830-page book held together by two iron spikes, we knew it would require special housing and considerable attention to make it accessible and protected from further deterioration. The cost of the conservation work is being covered by a generous donation from a legend of comics fandom, Maggie Thompson, and the attention it requires will likely result in the volume not being available until 2022 (and by appointment only). More likely still is that, to limit wear and tear, the book will be dismantled, imaged, and reassembled, so that the scrapbook may retain its artifactual nature while offering researchers complete access.
The scrapbook has many secrets to reveal: during an initial conservation consultation, the binding was lifted off and we found another rhyming inscription inside the spine:
Dear friends of mine. Please write a line
In this little Wash Tubbs book of mine.
Help me Keep you in my Mind
Remember the Robbin. Remember the Dove
Remember the night you fell in love. Oh yeah
Mr I. A. Persinger the Barber
There are many avenues of research suggested by the book, not least…who was I. A. Persinger? It appears he eventually added probate judge to his list of accomplishments, as this undated newspaper photo indicates. He looks rather severe–but his hair was perfect.