“What was your favorite thing about Colonial Williamsburg?” I asked my children.

“When you let us leave the book binder’s shop.”

The blame falls on me. I could tell they were getting restless, but the book binder was fascinating. Not only did he demonstrate the process, but he also explained the value of his handiwork. See these two shelves of books in the photo? According to Ye Olde Book Binder, a poor 18th Century farmer would have to give up 20 years of profit for this book collection. A day’s wage would buy him a lead pencil and one sheet of linen paper.

Give me a moment to gaze longingly at the stack of to-be-reads on my nightstand. At the 18th Century rate I’ve probably got five years worth of salary stacked there. And paper? Assuming I knew how to read, what would I write on a sheet that cost my husband a full day’s worth of toil? What would I have to say that would warrant such a sacrifice?

How many thoughts went unexpressed because of the scarcity of paper? How many newsy letters home weren’t posted, how many sentiments weren’t recorded for posterity? Wouldn’t you love to have Marty McFly’s flux capacitor and take a case of journals to the farm wives, the slave women, and the first year apprentices whose tales remain untold?

If we could, whose story would you want to hear? What profession, what era are you most curious about?

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