View Full Version : Things Found in Used Books

G. S. Carnivals
12-06-2010, 09:32 PM
Buying used books is always an interesting experience. What's better is discovering hidden treasure left behind by a previous reader. Between the pages I've found decades old sales receipts, bookmarks, a Polaroid photograph of a cat sitting on a chair, an unused hotel postcard (in a late 1940s issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine), and a guide to the now defunct J. L. Hudson department store in Detroit (found in Alfred Hitchcock's Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV). I keep the latter artifact with the book as a kind of talisman.

What have you discovered between the pages of a used book?

Acutely decayed
12-06-2010, 10:16 PM
In a copy of Borges Labyrinths (an english language copy) purchased secondhand in Budapest in 2004 I found what looks like a communist party health-care card (apparently, it actually looked more like a small pamphlet), one can only speculate on the current health of the previous owner.

I also, when browsing in a secondhand bookshop in Australia, found a hand-written note in a Tanith Lee book informing me of a forthcoming Dark Crusade which must be averted by immediate and secret convening of likeminded individuals – I destroyed it discreetly of course, hopefully the crusade now progresses apace.

simon p. murphy
12-07-2010, 01:52 AM
The most memorable thing I think I found in a second-hand book was an old business card of a family friend.

I have found two second-hand books, purchased in different cities, that both formerly belonged to the same woman. One of the finds that really made me laugh was a monopoly-style card saying 'get out of hell free' in A Confederacy of Dunces.

Also had a Christian bookmark featuring some long-winded Psalm inside a copy of Beyond Good and Evil! The reader mustn't have been quite ready to take a philosophical hammer to their idols... :D

Dr. Valzer
12-07-2010, 05:59 AM
A second-hand copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology yielded a photograph of a young couple dining at a restaurant. On the back of the picture the woman had scribbled "Like my eye?" Upon closer examination I discovered that the woman's left eye must've caught the camera flash, because it was infernally red; a detail that made her smile appear more than a little sinister.

More amusing was opening a rare occult book I'd acquired through eBay, only to find that the previous owner had used a packet of rolling papers as his or her bookmark.

If the pungent, alien smell of the book's leaves was any indication, I shudder to think at what this person had actually been smoking. Fungi from Yuggoth perhaps?


12-07-2010, 09:35 AM
The most interesting thing that I found in a used book was in a late nineteenth century printing of Milton's Paradise Lost illustrated by Gustave Dore given to me by my ex-boyfriend. Inserted within it's somewhat crumbling pages was a pencil drawn sketch of a ghostly looking woman in a rocking chair.

Brendan Moody
12-07-2010, 11:01 AM
Two stories:

1) In a copy of Ellen Datlow's cat horror anthology Twists of the Tale ordered off the Internet, I found a typewritten letter from a woman to her mother. It described her discovery that someone in her life was using her checking account without her consent, and also included allusions to someone's probation officer and other law enforcement types. I saved the letter, with the vague thought that it might provide the basis for an interesting short story and the even vaguer thought that I might try to find its author and return it, but at the moment I can't remember where I put it.

2) At a used book store in the city where I went to college, I bought a secondhand copy of the Joyce Carol Oates collection The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque, which proved to have this inscription covering half of the very first page:

"To [male name]--
the most inspirational professor of my acquaintance. Thank you for all you have taught me. I never want to stop learning and you have always encouraged me not to.
This is getting rather long-winded, no? [smiley face]
Hope you enjoy the book
Your witch,
[female name]"

The cynic in me loves the fact that [male name] found neither the book nor the inscription memorable enough to keep it in in his collection.

12-07-2010, 08:02 PM
Things I've found in used books include pressed leaves, a feather used as a bookmark, and someone's car insurance card. Some readers evidently like to save a clipped-out newspaper review of a book within its pages; I've seen this several times. I'm always reluctant to throw away these newspaper clippings, even though the reviews are usually perfunctory and dull, because there's a time-capsule quality to old clippings.

From a bookseller in Portland, Oregon I ordered History, Civilization, and Culture: An Introduction to the Historical and Social Philosophy of Pitirim A. Sorokin. Inside the book in neat handwriting it says:
Charles A. Le Guin
Mercer University
February 1953
This immediately got my attention, because I know that Ursula Le Guin's husband is named Charles, and they live in Portland, and he's a historian, so this is exactly the sort of book he might have owned. I don't know about the middle initial or any connection to Mercer University, so this is just conjecture. The book, which may have recently been a part of the Le Guin household, now resides in my humble (nay, squalid) apartment.

From a bookshop in the UK I bought the two-volume "Fourth edition, revised" of Isaac D'Israeli's The Literary Character; or The History of Men of Genius Drawn from Their Own Feelings and Confessions (1828). Despite their age, these volumes are in remarkably good condition, and I only paid $50.00 for them. Along with the books I received two live and well-traveled silverfish. I'd like to think the silverfish were also from 1828, but I suppose they weren't. Bookplates in both volumes say Horatio Noble Pym. Fortis Est Veritas (whatever that means). By the way, this great work is now available at gutenberg.org, and the long, detailed table of contents is a marvelous thing to read in itself.

I bought a copy of John Cowper Powys's The Meaning of Culture for only $8.00. To my surprise, the book was autographed by The Man, a fact that the seller hadn't bothered to advertise. JCP signed his name on a dark violet page at the front, in what looks like pencil. But surely it isn't pencil -- wouldn't it have faded or smudged by now? The only way to know for sure would be to try an eraser on it, which I'm NOT going to do. Oddly, JCP put a period after his name, as if he'd just written a sentence. Being a man of vehement temperament perhaps he really meant it that way: John Cowper Powys period. The signature is not as nice-looking as the one Bleak&Icy posted here (http://www.ligotti.net/showpost.php?p=34161&postcount=6), but it's recognizably by the same hand.

In a local library I picked up a biography of Emma Goldman, and some photos (perfectly innocent) of a young woman dropped out. I was startled because I recognized her immediately as someone who worked at a nearby grocery store. This young woman bore a strong resemblance to Emma Goldman, and she was posing in a hat similar to that worn by Goldman in some pictures in the biography. She seemed to be deliberately playing up the resemblance to Goldman in her poses. I did not check out the book, and I left the photos where they were.

12-07-2010, 11:44 PM
nothing yet, unfortunately. When I was younger and more mischievous, I'd go into bookstores and slip little notes reading "it's all true" into the pages of any HP Lovecraft books on the shelves.

12-09-2010, 02:26 AM
Dessicated, flattened insect corpses (spiders and moths mostly), ashes (probably from cigarettes), coffee stains, miscellaneous stains, crumbs, and powders of dubious origin - that's what I usually find, if anything. And lots of bookmarks (makes me wonder what percentage of people are in the habit of reading books all the way through). Nothing anybody who buys used books dosen't occaisionally encounter.

Once I found a makeshift bookmark woven from strands of hair. Another time a small collection of roaches (the non-insectile kind). A tarot card. Those are the most unusual things I recall.

The previous posts are fascinating. If you could somehow know the top ten most bizarre or valuable objects ever recovered from books I feel certain it would be an astounding list. Looking forward to seeing what others have found.

12-09-2010, 03:18 AM
From a bookshop in the UK I bought the two-volume "Fourth edition, revised" of Isaac D'Israeli's The Literary Character; or The History of Men of Genius Drawn from Their Own Feelings and Confessions (1828). Despite their age, these volumes are in remarkably good condition, and I only paid $50.00 for them. Along with the books I received two live and well-traveled silverfish. I'd like to think the silverfish were also from 1828, but I suppose they weren't. Bookplates in both volumes say Horatio Noble Pym. Fortis Est Veritas (whatever that means). By the way, this great work is now available at gutenberg.org, and the long, detailed table of contents is a marvelous thing to read in itself.

Holy ####! Wondering what the inscription on these bookplates meant, I just googled "Horatio Noble Pym" and found this Wikipedia entry. Horatio Noble Pym, also known as Horace Pym (1844-1896) was a "confidential solicitor, book collector and the editor of the best-selling private journal of the Quaker writer, Caroline Fox: Memories of Old Friends, published in 1881." Apparently he owned these volumes way back when! Since they were published in 1828, he probably wasn't the first owner. I wonder how many other owners they've had over the years? Despite signs of age, these volumes are completely intact and pristine; they've been well cared for. I'm feeling a real sense of responsibility toward them. Pardon my excitement. I own a lot of books, but I'm not a "collector," so very few of my books could be considered valuable in any way (aside from their contents).

Note: When I'm logged in, I can see the actual four-letter word I typed above. When I'm not logged in, I see "####." It's just as well. Surely neither Isaac D'Israeli nor Horatio Noble Pym would have even thought of using such a word!

12-09-2010, 04:00 AM
Congrats gveranon, that's quite a find! A real bit of history you have there, and going back a ways too. I'd say you have every right to feel excited. Chances are good, I'd hazard to guess, these books are worth considerably more than the pittance you paid, especially taking into account Pym was apparently a book collector of some note (now why can't I find something like this, some people have all the luck...).

12-10-2010, 02:33 PM
Great thread!Sadly, despite decades of book collecting, I can't recall anything of special moment falling out of a used book.Keep it up, though. These are fun stories!

12-11-2010, 04:26 AM
While we, the readers, absorb the written words in a book, the book absorbs us. We all leave a mark upon our books, whether deliberately or by mistake. Most of my books have had previous owners, and many carry bookplates or names and dedications in longhand; some of them have dog ears and marginalia, others contain pressed leaves, clipped-out newspaper reviews (in various states of deterioation), and odours (not pleasent if the previous owner was a heavy smoker!)

This is one of the reasons why I cherish old and used books. To quote book history scholar, David Pearson:

”Books, down the ages, have not been lifeless intermediaries in between authors and readers; their physical reality has been fully exploited for the opportunity for interaction between texts and their recipients. Here is the real difference between the world of books and the world of cybertexts, where the latter is the poorer. A book can be written in, defaced, altered, beautified or cherished, to produce a preservable object with an individual history.” (Books as History – the Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts.)

Old and used books are haunted. I do not scribble in the margins of my books, nor do I dog-ear them, but they fall open on my favorite pages, and some of them are stuffed with bookmarks, scraps of paper with notes, memorabilia, etc. Actually, the books are not mine per se; I’m merely their temporary keeper, and someday I too will become a ghost between the covers of books ...

12-11-2010, 04:38 PM
A few years ago, some friends and I went to this strange business that existed for a time in a small northern town that was near one of my friend's cabins. The place in question had the feeling of a flea market, antique store, or Goodwill, but curiously, everything there was free. I'm not sure you could even consider it a "business" by the proper sense of the word, and today I'm sorry I never asked to figure out what the place did or how it existed. It closed down shortly after the following incident.

I was browsing around, and noticed a few shelves of books ranging from like new Ex Libris copies to literally worm ridden piles of pulp. I pulled out a yellowed paperback in acceptable shape, a copy of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Inside was a photograph. The image showed a black man with super-human muscles dressed as Santa Claus, slumped back in a beaten up arm chair. His grin was wider than you would ever think someone with no teeth would want to smile, and his eyes were blazing from the flash.

One of my pals ended up keeping the photo, and I'm not sure what happened to it since then. As you might guess, I always think about this festively ordained demon around this time of year.

12-12-2010, 08:35 AM
Last year I purchased a copy of De Quincey’s Confessions (illustrated by L. W. Chaves). It had a simple ex-libris which I thought familiar. It turned out that I had two titles with the same ex-libris: Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim in two volumes, and The Complete Books of Charles Fort. Evidently, the previous owner had a good taste in reading!

Brendan Moody
02-24-2011, 05:54 PM
Two more recent discoveries.

1) Not a used book, but a library book, a copy of Donald Spoto's Alfred Hitchcock biography. Inside it, apparently in use as a bookmark, was a scrap of printer paper with this image:
Possibly this is a famous performer and I ought to recognize her (him?), but I'm afraid I don't.

2) Scrawled on the inside back cover of a copy of Night Visions: In the Blood (which-- self-promotion alert- I've recently reviewed (http://noondaystars.blogspot.com/2011/02/night-visions-1.html)) is a description of a lost dog, or as it actually says, "Lostdog." Its name is Chester (or Lchester, but probably that's just an elongated quote mark), and there's a description of the dog, its collar, and its tag, as well as an owner name, an address, and two phone numbers. I can't help wonder exactly who wrote it there, of all places, and of course whether Chester ever found his way home.

02-24-2011, 06:28 PM
Possibly this is a famous performer and I ought to recognize her (him?), but I'm afraid I don't.

Really? This is a photo of Joan Jett. Rowr.

02-24-2011, 06:55 PM
Saddest Thing I ever Found In A Book:
Merry Christmas Daddy I hope you enjoy these books and hope there are a couple stories you haven't read before. I Love You soooooo (underlined) much! (It appears to be a child's handwriting): dated: Xmas '01
Inscription is scrawled on the inside cover of Harlan Ellison's Angry Candy, no less. It's signed Stephanie. For some reason, it strikes me sad that this book was discarded.

02-24-2011, 11:53 PM
I can't remember the book, only that it was very old, but I found a metal bookmark of the 1939 World's Fair depicting the Trylon and Perisphere. I grew up reading 30s and 40s pulp fiction so I have always had a nostalgic feeling for that era. I was very happy to have found it.


02-27-2011, 07:18 PM
Possibly this is a famous performer and I ought to recognize her (him?), but I'm afraid I don't.

Really? This is a photo of Joan Jett. Rowr.

Indeed, it is, and you ought to recognise her.

The title of this interesting site:

Bad Reputation (http://www.badreputation.org.uk/)

references one of Joan Jett's lyrics.

(You'll find lots of comments from me in the alphabet section. Alphabet | Bad Reputation (http://badreputation.org.uk/category/alphabet/) )

02-27-2011, 07:25 PM
Perhaps the most interesting thing I ever found inserted into a book was in a brand new paperback. It was a postcard advertising insurance. Well, that was not interesting in itself, but it was in a collection of John Collier stories called "Of Demons and Darkness", and it was inserted into a story called "Over Insurance". (In which a loving couple take out life insurance on one another, and end up murdering each other for the insurance money.) Back in the 1960s, such advertising postcards were often slipped into UK paperbacks. But I often wondered whether that particular card was inserted into that story by chance, or by someone's deliberate action.

02-28-2011, 07:13 AM
Thinking about it, probably the most remarkable thing I ever found in a secondhand book was a monogram, with which I'd marked volumes in my library many years before. I'd sold the book, then re-bought the same copy (from a different bookseller) maybe 15 or 20 years later.