Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Used Books and Their Little Surprises

Have you ever opened up a used book, in a bookstore or at a library sale, and found something interesting inside the book? Many people, it seems, have found strange things that were used as bookmarks and left behind by the previous owner of the book, things like slices of cheese, speeding tickets, snapshots of nudes, and even squirrel tails.

Over the years, Hamill and her cohorts have found personal letters, valentines, used engagement calendars, photographs and pressed flowers in books.

"I find it rather touching," she said.

But there was the man who, while examining books at one of the sales, discovered $75. "He kept it all," Hamill said. He returns each year.

Thankfully, I haven't found animal parts or food in any of the thousands of used books that I've handled over the years. But I have found three or four old bookmarks, signed and dated, from the early 1900s that were really beautiful and well preserved. My favorite find, though, was a hand-written receipt from a Houston hardware store, dated June 1936, which detailed each purchased item and its price. It was like a little snapshot of a time long past and made me wonder about the person who first placed that receipt in the old book so long ago.


  1. I'm assuming those things were all leftover bookmarks (a piece of cheese?!). I haven't really found anything that interesting. But oddly, as long as the text is still legible, I actually prefer buying books that have graffiti or lecture notes scribbled in the margins. I enjoy seeing what students (or professors) think is/is not important.

  2. I love ephemera left in books, although the squirrel's tale is one I'd prefer just to read about!

  3. I have a book of Wordsworth that is full of 4-leaf clovers! I didn't discover them until I got the book home. Lucky me. :)

  4. Sounds as if we've all made discoveries in our used books...but more pleasant ones than squirrel tails or bits of pressed cheese. I have a feeling I would have noticed something like that in plenty of time to shove the book back on the shelf pretty much untouched. :)

    John, I did read that the slice of cheese was supposedly used as a bookmark. Maybe it was still in the wrapper in which some cheese slices are individually wrapped...that would make SOME sense, I suppose.

    Sylvia - that should be one lucky book. Hang onto that one.

  5. Sylvia, funny you should find 4-leaf clover in Wordsworth. I had one Wordsworth volume and it came with a 4-leaf clover. I sold it on e-bay and included the clover in the price.

    At our library, the strangest things we have found are an open condom (hopefully not used), a fried egg (huh ????), and memory for a digital camera.

    We also find antique photos which is always sad.

  6. A fried egg? That must have done wonders for the book...wow.

  7. I think Wordsworth lends itself to being read on grassy hillsides in summer by dreamy folks whose lazy gaze is very likely to fall on any 4-leaf clovers in the vicinity.

  8. Wow, I would LOVE to happen upon such a thing as that ancient receipt.
    I am real lover of nostalgia [if that is the word]... lover of such stuff.

  9. I love that kind of thing, too, Cip. It's the kind of thing that makes people and past decades seem real to me and I'm always on the look out for stuff like that...old letters, etc.