From The Collection: 003 | Frere-Jones

FRÅN Frere-Jones »The writing manuals of the time would have found fault — probably a lot of faults — with this penmanship. Perfect or not, I find it charming and even inspiring to see the attention given to something so mundane as a gas bill.

In my trawling for subway signs, I found this bill from The Manhattan Gas Light Company to The Manhattan Railway Company. It records the gas supplied to dozens of elevated train stations through the month of August, 1881. Sorting the stations by avenue and separately noting the east and west sides of each station, a clerk had to paste together three sheets of paper to record all the data, creating a bill over two feet long.

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It isn’t even correspondence from one person to another, but a tally of consumption and invoice for payment. I’d like to think there was something meditative in writing out all these figures. It’s certainly hypnotic to contemplate it now.


As a student of New York’s history, there’s a nerdy thrill in seeing the city’s bygone elevated lines being described as present and functioning. As someone whose handwriting has suffered from years of typing, it’s just humbling.