If you’ve purchased used books at antiquarian bookstores and “friends of the library” book sales, you will know that from time to time, that treasured book you just purchased also contains its own treasure — something that was deliberately inserted into the book, but has been missed or forgotten. The range of the ephemera is broad — from handwritten notes, letters, photographs, greeting cards, postcards, bills, newspaper articles, to objects like feathers or dried flowers. While many have functioned as haphazardly selected bookmarks, others were very deliberately chosen. Despite their form or intentions all of these share one thing in common — they reveal a glimpse into the life story of the person who previously owned the book. And that is worth pondering for a moment. As dedicated book collectors know — and deeply cherish — every book of value has a story of how it became part of a personal library. But imagine now, that a particular newly acquired book has two stories — the one that brought it to you and the one that brought it to its original owner many years ago. What was going on in their lives at the time? Who gave it to them or how did they come across this book? Did the book provide some insight into whatever they were struggling with? Did they mean to retrieve this item from the book or did they forget about it? In some cases, the forgotten bookmarks provide a few clues to be able to answer some of these questions; in general, they remain a wonderful little mystery that will linger on with the book. Without further ado, here are some of the forgotten bookmarks that I have found in books over the past year:
Handwritten notes about the novel
An offer from the Columbia Music Collection (1400 N. Fruitridge, Terre Haute, IN 47811) for the Legends of Jazz recordings. $29.95 for 3 CDs or $19.95 for 3 cassettes. “If you decide to return the entire set, simply do so withing 14 days and owe nothing.”
Note card in book about when they bought the book, where, and who was with them; as well as the context of when they purchased the book (in this case, Ward’s Book Barn)
Slip of paper containing dates of when they began reading the book, and when they finished it
Articles related to Hamlet and Shakespeare from newspapers and magazines
Receipt from an estate sale
$650 check (void) from a teacher’s credit union
Small faded color photographs of a young girl wearing leg braces, sitting on a lawn chair
In book of rhymes, a condensed summary of most common rhyming words
Computer punch card
Flier from Book of the Month Club. (Key Ideas in Human Thought by Kenneth McLeish, 1993) Special selection; member’s price $34.95; publisher’s price: $45.00
Valentine heart: “From me to you”
Cursive penmanship homework
Bookmark from Shirley Cobb Book Store, long out of business in the SF Bay Area
A book plate resembling a library check-out sleeve and card: From the Library of __________. A good book is the best of friends the same today and forever. The card reads: Title: On Loan To: Name: and Date. In this case it was loaned to Professor Stanlye on October 19
Moon Landing July 20, 1969 Commemorative Book Mark: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Toledo Edison Employees Federal Credit Union pay stub
Bookmark from Little Professor Book Company, Columbus Ohio
A pricing slip from a Friend of the Library book sale. At the top it notes: “Section manager please discard after pricing.” List different pricing levels: Less than $1, $1-3, $3-5, and $5-10. Then it lists “Checklist Reasons: Loose pages, binding; scuffed, torn, chipped; writing/marks on pages; liquid damage, stains. At the bottom is a line for Researcher and Date.
Invitation to a reception to honor a donor of a music education program
Church bulletin from May 1972
Newspaper clipping: obituary of Lewis Mumford, A Visionary social Critic dies at 94 (Jan 28 1990)
Mid-term exam for English 44-A dated March 19, 1958
Handwritten poem “All that I want to hear/is that you like me”
Memo to allow a person to be excused so that he can be present for the delivery of his first child in April 1978
Car repair bill
Amazon receipt from October 15, 2011
Boarding pass from Virgin America, Flight from San Francisco to Orange County, Feb 2009
Computer punch card (1970s) for student registration; class: Mind of Jesus (100) 2 units, Stanford University
Book Review note: Books for young readers review copy, Doubleday & Company New York
Newspaper article “Hamlet is brief respite in migrant migrant camp” (undated) about a performance of Hamlet by the Globe Theatre company for refugees in Calais, France.
Thank you card: “Thank you for your hard work and contributions over the last year.”
Neatly typed notes on chronology of events in Light in August; parallels between Joe Christmas and Christ.
Self portrait drawn in black ink
Class syllabus with complete class roster and contact information for teacher and each student (Sociolinguistics Fall 1991, Stanford University) and assignment schedule
A small Christmas card, “Christmas Cheer”
Happy Sweet Sixteenth Birthday card and a recipe for an orange julius drink
Elegant Christmas Greetings bookmark from books printed in Italy from early 1900s
Bookmark from Crown Books (still the cheapest bookstore in town) announcing 45% off feature bestsellers and 40% off NYT hardcover bestsellers
List of 25 word reversals (mimeograph)
A poem, thanking for someone for always being there.
A bookmark from A Common Reader, a book club for intelligent, discerning readers.
Note: “To E_______ and A________, whom I am please to count as friends as well as family. May this book, in some small way, enrich your lives as you have enriched mine.”
To my three children: Enjoy the wonders of our language. With great love, Dad. (Christmas 2006) Inscribed in pencil in a word reference book
“Examination Copy” note from Harcourt Brace & World , Inc. “We are pleased to send you this book, with our compliments, so that you may have an opportunity to review it for possible class use. We hope you will enjoy examining it.” (King Lear: Text, Sources, Criticism). Blank note card. At the top: “Here are my comments.”
A handwritten letter from a mother reaching out to an estranged daughter. The letter begins: “Dear C____, I hope this letter finds you in the best of health.” The letter then discusses recent news of family members (illnesses, births, etc.) Suddenly, the letter turns to a difficult matter: “Now let’s talk about you and me. I don’t know why you resent me so much. We are like strangers. If I did something to you now or before, I would like to know. I’d give my life for you. I don’t know, did I bring you up wrong? Did I ever mistreat you? Did I ever begrudge you anything? I don’t know. But if you know, let me in on it so I can correct it. Before I get off this earth. Take care and please no hard feelings. God Bless you. All my love, Mom.” The most fascinating part of this rather haunting letter is that is was found in a very intellectual, philosophical work, Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, winner of the 1974 Pulitzer Prize. It’s a very complex work (Becker is a student of Kierkegaard, Freud, Rank, and Nietschzoe among many other notable thinkers) but if you could summarize it simply, it would be this: man is trapped by his symbolic, intellectual self and his primitive self and inescapable demise. Denial of, or fear of, death has become the main motivation for modern life, and paradoxically, the source of its many neuroses.
Letter from Reader’s Digest. Thanking you for purchasing one of their books and mentioning some highlights from the book. (The Lost Bible: Forgotten Scriptures Revealed)
Pressed leaves in between sheets of paper in a large dictionary (Random House Dictionary, 2nd ed)
Bookmark that promotes a loyalty program for Kepler’s Bookstore established in 1955 in Menlo Park.
Postcard from Sierra Club featuring two a mother polar bear and her cub.
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