Leary's Reckoner and Form Book or the Art book of James McLaughlin and Frederick Ross of Port Jervis
Ah, this book has seen better days or, looking at it from the flipside, it has been used well in the past 146 years. In the days before electronic calculators (or cell phones with calculators), Leary's Reckoner and Form Book was carried around or kept closely on hand as a means to quickly perform accurate calculations. This particular example was printed in 1870 and the pocket-sized book also contains standard forms such as those used by merchants and others in days long gone. Young James McLaughlin of Port Jervis, New York took another view. He decided the book's endpapers would best be served to showcase his artwork. Another youngster, Frederick Ross, followed McLaughlin's lead.
Sometimes an artifact's history is not straightforward and such is the case here. Through the years the two boys claimed ownership of the book. As Frederick Ross's name is written on top of McLaughlin's (see below), I suspect Ross was the later owner. When writing, Ross had a heavier hand and used a darker pencil than McLaughlin, distinguishing his contributions.
The inner covers host various pencil drawings, claims to ownership, and scribbling by the two boys. McLaughlin used the endpapers as canvas for two colorful drawings rendered in a oil-based pencil. The larger, blank sheets served as the perfect settings for his detailed artwork. One of the boys also pencilled a small flower and building on two of the book's interior pages.*
Could Ross be the artist of the two color drawings? Perhaps. Except faint pencil marks show around the two drawings which seem more indicative of McLaughlin's lighter touch. Furthermore, Ross wrote an addition problem on the final page in a heavy enough hand that it can be seen in the artwork on the reverse. It is unlikely the artist would choose to place a detailed building in an area were the math problem already there. (see below)
Not all of the notations found within the book illustrate a young man's artistic bent. "Baker Shop Rint" and "Night Police Charges .32," written in Frederick Ross' hand, are suggestive of more serious inclinations--even if pressed upon him by an adult such as a parent or teacher. The notations indicate used the book to work math problems...perhaps a word problem visited upon him by a math teacher set on torturing students, uh, er, expanding student's horizons by giving them useful skills. Or, perhaps the comments are not related to school and Ross helped in a business matter.
Another hand also made a brief entry in the book. "Night police services" at 90 cents, was written in pen in a mature hand. Perhaps written by one of boy's parents, the person's identity is lost. In actuality, we have little information about James McLaughlin beyond his name and location. The name Frederick Ross likewise dwells in anonymity.
James McLaughlin is not an uncommon name in New York. As the book was printed in 1870, it is safe to assume he lived after that date. In notes found at the back of the book (see below), the number "68" can be found near his name. Was he stating that he was born in "68?" At least two James McLaughlins were born in 1868 in New York, but many more James McLaughlins are listed on Find A Grave with unknown birth dates. This sparse, and speculative, bit of information does not help identify this particular James McLaughlin.
After careful study of the wording behind the child's drawing of a tiger? striped sheep? dog? on the back cover, I found McLaughlin provided an address. He could be found on Pike Street in Port Jervis, New York. Might the "68" instead refer to his street address and not the year he was born? Although, Pike Street is readily found in searches, the search for 68 Pike Street produced no results. Nevertheless, we are talking about an address that might have existed over a century ago.**
On genealogy.com, a family member is searching for his grandfather, James McLaughlin of New York (see external links below). The family researcher provides the names of his grandmother, his parent, and aunts and uncles, for interested parties. This James McLaughlin could be the sought after grandfather, but much more research is necessary.
The identity of Frederick Ross suffers the same problem as that of James McLaughlin--many lived and live in and around New York. The December 24, 1880 edition of The Evening Gazette on page 6, mentions the former residence of Fred Ross being up for sale at the corner of Pike and [illegible]. Perhaps, that was the father of the book's owner. The July 17, 1917 edition of The Evening Gazette lists the serial numbers assigned men for the selective draft. Fred D. Ross of the second ward received the number 297. Without more information I am not comfortable declaring this as the same Frederick Ross, but the date is within the realm of possibility.
Ross scribbled the words "born on" over Mclauglin's notes on the inner cover, but the two words float randomly on the page. They are seemingly unconnected to any sentence which makes Frederick Ross's words "born on," no more clear than McLaughlin's errant "68." Readers may have different perspectives on this, if so, please share.
A mouse has nibbled at the book during its life. Its cover is faded and beat up and the pages are brittle. In fact, it is a wonder the book did not simply end up in the garbage. Perhaps, the notes within and McLaughlin's artwork are the reason the little book has survived. Hopefully, the families will keep us posted about the identities of James McLaughlin and Frederick Ross. Best, Pat
*The colored pencils do not provide any means of dating the artwork as they have been in use for quite some time, but for a fun read see the link to History of Pencils provided below.
**There is another word between Port Jervis and New York. Perhaps Donegal? But it is near the striped animal, so maybe Bengal? or Donnegat? Bongate? I have tried to make it out, but no luck.
Find-A-Grave results for James McLaughlin (multiple pages).
Genealogy.com Re: McLaughlin of NY-NJ (contains the immediate family of James McLaughlin and wife Mary Russell)
History of Pencils
Compared with other art mediums, colored pencil is relatively new. It appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. But that doesn't mean it is any less worthy especially when combined with other mediums. Here you can read more about colored pencil history.
Newspapers.com (Information about the edition containing information about the Ross dwelling. Newspapers.com is a subscription service)
The Mercantile Adjuster...and the Lawyer and Credit Man...A Monthly Magazine Devoted to Credits and Collections, Volume 4 Issue 8. 1890, p 98. This may be completely irrelevant, but as usual I do not want to toss out information just in case.... A reference to a Waldo & McLaughlin in Fort Henry, New York is found on page 98 of this magazine. Given the nature of the above book, it is possible there is some connection between that firm and our James McLaughlin.
World Maps Online Historical Map of Port Jervis--1920. The map is for purchase and as such, cannot be read until purchase but there is no mention of the name McLaughlin in the business listing provided by WMO.