Having acquired most of my current book collection from public library used sales, garage sales, rummage sales, etc., a lot of my books hold secrets of their previous owners. Bookmarks (or slips of paper such as receipts doubling as bookmarks), free bookplates (I received about a dozen complimentary Ex Libris stickers for never joining the Readers Digest Book Club), and inscriptions of strangers’ names are among the surprises I’ve found in used books.
Whenever I receive a book as a gift (which is quite often…although not as often as I would like…hint hint), I like to ask the giver to inscribe my name, their name, and the date on the front page for posterity. It seems a shame, then, that there are so many used books which once belonged to someone else whose name is now meaningless to me.
Part of me views these books as MINE, since I paid for them (and they were most likely donated to the library booksale of the owner’s free will). But another part of me can’t help but feel I am a mere curator of lost possessions, a foster-owner of orphaned tomes.
So in honor of those readers who came before me, here is a list of (some) of the inscriptions found inside the covers of my library. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, and also to protect me from having to return any books, should a reader recognize his name and want his copy of Silas Marner back.*
- The Princess by Tennyson: From Wave (?) 1888
- Caesar’s Gallic War: $2.45 Marquette U. Book Store
- Minor Victorian Poets: Novel = attempts to develop character. 3+4 chap of Thorundyke (?)
- The Works of Dumas: 25 C.
- Milton’s Complete Poems: DCC Library Acc# 3224
- Silas Marner: Jane Jones 1912 from George
- A Child’s History of England: Merry Christmas from Auntie Dec 25 1902
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Frederick W. Rockford February, 1940
- Idylls of the King: Steve Riley from “Skipper” Christmas 1946
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: Happy Birthday, Tom! I hope you like these books as much as I do! These are some of my favorites! Ann and John
(A pressed flower was right inside the cover; I’m not sure what type it is, but it’s a light pink)
Miss Moller A. Gibson, compliments of J.P.S. (this was in pencil, and then the handwriting changes and the rest is written with an old-fashioned ink pen)
In loving remembrance of dear sister Mary who esteemed you as one of her dear friends.
June 1st 1901
For further reading of other people’s private thoughts, try looking into The Book Inscription Project’s website.
When doing my personal research for this post, I found that mostly older books had more than a name written on the flyleaf. This is a shame. Books leave their marks on us, there is no reason why we shouldn’t reciprocate, even in a small way. So I challenge you: look at your own bookshelves. Are there any remnants of readers past in your used books? And next time you give someone a book as a gift, what words will you share just inside the front cover?*Finders keepers, losers weepers.