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Things Left Behind

December 2, 2013

Last month’s rare books post, Finding the Reader in the Book, looked at various kinds of writing found in books. However, sometimes more than handwriting is left between the pages. Bookmarks, dried flowers, grocery lists, prayer cards – all of these ephemeral items provide clues to the lives and literary practices of readers.

Sometimes unbound pages are laid in by the publisher. For example, the Chama Press’ limited edition of Cynthia Ann Parker: the Story of her Capture at the Massacre of the Inmates of Parker’s Fort… includes a “Publisher’s Addendum” laid in at the front of the book, which describes the book’s content and recounts the history of previous editions. Another fine press book, The Story of the Village Type (1933) by Frederic W. Goudy, printed by the Press of the Wooley Whale, includes a printed letter from the chairman of the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ Committee for Special Service to the membership describing this book as a keepsake sent “in celebration of Mr. Goudy’s birthday, which falls on March 8th.”

If errors or misprints are discovered during or after printing, errata slips may be laid in to indicate corrections. The 1901 edition of The Private Journal of Sarah Kemble Knight… from The Academy Press includes an Erratum slip laid in on page 77 correcting the spelling of “acordance” to “accordance.”

Certain types of publications, like catalogs, may come with price lists or order forms laid in, which readers are expected to use to purchase goods featured in the publication. Wards Room-tested Wallpapers (1938) includes an order blank and an envelope for mailing in the order.

Readers who correspond with authors frequently tuck letters or notes into their personal copies of books written by that author, as in the case of Julio Ortega’s Ayacucho, Goodbye; Moscow’s Gold in which former owner Bryce Milligan laid in a short letter addressed to him from the author. A copy of Feelings and Things (1916) by Edith Kingsley Wallace includes two short letters on cards written by the author to Mrs. Kellam, who appears to have been a close friend, judging both by the letters and the book inscription, which casts Mrs. Kellam in the role of godmother to Kingsley Wallace’s poems.

Often, readers add inserts meant to enhance or add to the book’s content. This seems to be the case with Rails Through the Hill Country (1973) about the establishment of railway service between San Antonio and Fredericksburg in the early 20th century, into which someone laid a 1918 time table for the Fredericksburg & Northern Railway Co. Along similar lines, a copy of Realms We Fashion (1923 by Frances Barber includes a newspaper clipping of book reviews.

However, readers also leave behind more generically related (or sometimes unrelated) items in their books. Religious works, unsurprisingly, often contain religious ephemera. A copy of Nueva Novena Dedicada al Milagrosisimo Niño de Nuestra Sra. De Atocha published in San Antonio in the early 20th century includes two prayer cards, as well as a handwritten list of prayers taped into the inside of the front cover.

Cookbooks are often used as a place to tuck newly-acquired or often-used recipes, whether handwritten or clipped from a newspaper. A copy of Manual de Cocina: Recetas (1905) by María Isla has several items laid in, including a handwritten recipe for Mamon de Natas, a printed prayer to the Virgin Mary dated Sept. 8, 1912, and a four leaf clover.

Locating copies with items laid in using library catalogs can be difficult, as the presence of such items is not always noted, and the wording used to describe such items may vary over time. Keyword search phrases that may be helpful include “laid in,” “inserted,” or “found in.” Sometimes, though, laid-in items are discovered simply through serendipity.

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