I love second-hand books for two reasons:
1. They tend to be cheap
2. Sometimes they bear the marks of past readers.
I never understood why an antique object goes down in value if it’s been personalised or if it shows a bit of wear and tear. Surely these are the things that show its history, it’s the people who make history interesting right? So an item that shows the marks of people who’ve owned and used it should be of more interest to the history buff?
I saw Mitch Lavender do a post like this a few weeks ago and he had a much older and more interesting book to discuss than me but here’s a story of a book I’ve just finished reading.
The book is called The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and I picked it up from Skoob in London. I nearly missed it because I wasn’t originally going to check out their massive collection of orange Penguins but at the last minute I decided I had room for something else in my bag so I wandered over.
Memoirs contains eleven or twelve (depending on which edition you get) short adventures of Sherlock Holmes and was first published by George Newnes in 1894 and was subsequently reprinted by Penguin in 1950 and then several times thereafter. The edition I have was printed in 1969 and looks like this:
The cover shows some memorabilia from “The Sherlock Holmes”, a pub on Northumberland Avenue which has something of a theme going on.
But I didn’t think too much about it until I ran my hand over the cover whilst reading and felt some indentations. That was when I had a closer look and realised something didn’t quite belong in the picture. Did you spot it? It was this:
At some point, for some reason probably known only to themselves, someone has drawn a bat on the cover of my book. It’s a very good bat too as I’m sure you’ll agree.
I have my suspicions as to who it was. In true Holmes style I’m pointing the finger squarely at one Geoffrey Taylor. And why is that? I hear you cry! Well because he put his name on the title page:
And to me this bat business bears all the hallmarks of a bored schoolboy trying to pass the time in class. Although I should point out that there is a discrepancy in pen colour between the drawing and the writing but I find it conceivable that young Geoffrey had more than one pen.
What I find harder to explain, and something I don’t blame Geoffrey for is this:
In the last pages of the book someone appears to have pressed some flower petals and forgotten about them leaving them for the next reader to discover. It’s not the heaviest book though for flower pressing so I like to believe that Geoffrey had a secret admirer who slipped them into his book in order to express her feelings. Then disaster struck! Geoffrey’s mum in the midst of her spring cleaning decided to throw out his old school books and he never got the secret message.
I wonder where he is now, old Geoffrey and whether his admirer ever plucked up the courage to talk to him. I hope they had a happy ever after.