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Ideas

Brainiac

Boycott British snuff!

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

The Houghton Library at Harvard recently rediscovered eight ”subscription sheets,” protest petitions drawn up at a meeting in Faneuil Hall on Oct. 28, 1767, in response to new taxes on a range of goods imported to the Colonies.

Houghton Library

The Houghton Library at Harvard recently rediscovered eight “subscription sheets,” protest petitions drawn up at a meeting in Faneuil Hall on Oct. 28, 1767, in response to new taxes on a range of goods imported to the Colonies.

Consumer boycotts are a common form of protest these days, and were a powerful way to make a political point in Colonial America, too. The Houghton Library at Harvard recently rediscovered eight “subscription sheets,” protest petitions drawn up at a meeting in Faneuil Hall on Oct. 28, 1767, in response to new taxes on a range of goods imported to the Colonies. Those boycotting British-made goods include some distinguished names —Paul Revere most prominently—but the chief delight of the rediscovered documents is the list of boycotted products itself. They range from small consumer products like “Snuff,” “Mustard,” “Loaf Sugar,” “Muffs Furrs and Tippets,” and “Anchors,” to bigger ticket items like “Fire Engines.” Perhaps recognizing that these types of protests can founder when people hit moments of great emotional need, the list closed with a pledge to hold fast to principles, even when burying loved ones: “we further agree strictly to adhere to the late Regulation respecting Funerals, and will not use any Gloves but what are Manufactured here, nor procure any new Garments upon such an Occasion, but what is absolutely necessary.”

Comic books forever

When John Sindall talks about preserving comic books, he doesn’t mean so that your grandkids can read them. He means preserving them for the long future, 10,000 years from now, when you’d have to go back hundreds of generations to find anyone who’s ever heard of Batman.

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Sindall is the sole force behind the “Q-Collection Comic Book Preservation Project,” which he runs out of his home in Concord. His goal is to preserve key comic books from the 1930s to 1960s (the golden and silver ages of comic book production), which he says are rapidly deteriorating— “absolutely doomed,” he says. “Now is the time when something must be done.”

Preservation is a challenge for any artifact, but the problem is acute with comic books, which are traditionally printed on cheap paper that disintegrates in a span of decades. Sindall launched the project in 2001, a few years after he’d retired from an administrative career at Harvard University, when he acquired a 1939 New York World’s Fair Comics book and was told by a restoration professional that he’d never be able to read it. (The “Q” in the project’s name is for Quincy, where Sindall was living at the time.)

Over the last decade, Sindall has developed a preservation method that laminates cut comic-book pages with UV-resistant Mylar; the laminate melts right into the fibers of the comic, sealing the pages while also keeping them supple enough to be flipped.

Sindall has preserved 215 comics like this so far, including some very rare ones, such as a 1939 Superman #1, a 1940 Batman #1, and the 1940 Detective Comics #38 in which Batman’s sidekick, Robin, is introduced. Sindall estimates his collection is worth over $4 million—that is, had he not covered it in melted plastic. His preservation method reduces the market value of the comics, but increases the odds that they’ll stick around and be read in the future, which is exactly what Sindall wants.

Q-collection comic book preservationist project

In 2011, he offered the collection to the Library of Congress, but says library personnel declined because they didn’t know how to maintain comic books that had been “plasticized.” He has also approached a museum in China. Of course, the collection’s long-term fate will still be uncertain no matter where it ends up: Who will carry the Q-Collection out of the Library of Congress when it burns or crumbles or America is overtaken by robots or we leave Earth to live on another planet? 10,000 years is a long time. You’d almost have to have superhero powers yourself to imagine it.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.
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