Discovered in a box of election records from the Secretary of the Commonwealth by a member of the Library of Virginia’s State Records staff, this distinctive-looking work of art came to us just as it had hung in Easley, Holt and Company, a general store in Halifax County, Virginia, operated by James Stone Easley (1802-1879). How and when it arrived is not clear, and it is a mystery how it ended up in a box of state records. Since being transferred to the Library’s Private Papers collection, it forms part of the Easley, Holt and Company Records, Accession 50951.
The composition, now only preserved in the photograph on the right, consisted of customer orders for goods, created from 1837 to 1844. The orders, of various shapes and sizes, were attached to a simple piece of wire, roughly in chronological order as they were received and filled. The result, although dating from the 19th century, is a hanging paper sculpture that the viewer could imagine seeing today in a contemporary art gallery.
The hanging store orders are for clothing and material, dry goods, liquor, medicine, and other items. Some of the orders for cloth have a swatch of material attached, with instructions that it be matched by cloth that is in stock. Easley was also postmaster, so customers frequently added a request that their mail be sent to them. There are a large number of orders from prominent Halifax citizens, including Elvira A. Bruce, James Bruce, Elizabeth L. Carrington, and Maria B. Owen. Many of the orders were written by the customer and then given to a slave to take into town to be filled by Easley.
(Click here for transcriptions of orders pictured above, along with some biographical information on the customers).
Needless to say, the store orders would be difficult to use by researchers in the format in which they arrived at the library. So in July 2013 the paper sculpture was disassembled, and the orders are now available to patrons. For other store orders by the Halifax County firm—which also operated under the names John Chappell and Company; James S. Easley and Company; Easley, Logan and Company; and Easley, Carrington and Company—see Accession 27608.
–Jim Greve, Senior Collection Development Archivist