I was reminded this week by a far-flung family member of how fascinating it can be to open a book only to discover a written note to the original owner or some interesting piece of paraphernalia that was placed between the pages but was long ago forgotten.
AbeBooks, an online dealer in secondhand and antiquarian books, has found some intriguing items between the covers of their books, including a Christmas card signed by Frank Baum [author of The Wizard of Oz], a marriage certificate from 1879, a baby’s tooth, a diamond ring and a handwritten poem by Irish writer Katharine Tynan Hinkson.
Booksellers often find strange objects inside books. It seems that many readers use money as a bookmark. One found a $100 bill inside a Christmas card placed inside a book. Others have only happened upon the not-as-rewarding money from the board game Monopoly. Another discovered 40 pressed four-leaf clovers (do they really exist?). They cleverly laminated each one and handed them to customers. Very lucky indeed. I have often found dried flowers in books (they’re a favourite of ‘The Vampire Chronicles’ author Anne Rice, who has said that she places them in books to remember the happy moments of receiving them), although some of them I had put there myself and forgotten about. It’s a wonderful way to press flowers, although I’m not sure it’s good for your book. Another owner said: ‘Once I found two business cards carefully taped together.
‘I picked at the edge and they came apart, revealing a three-foot long, accordion-folded panorama of 1970s pornography.’ Drugs and even a bullet have been found stashed between the covers, which are all rather sinister objects to be keeping company with the mild-mannered book.
It’s fun to visit secondhand bookshops and rifle through the books. Book browsers and buyers have found locks of hair, shopping lists, prescriptions, letters, newspaper articles, driver’s licences, boarding passes and even a marriage certificate. They’ve also come across keys, a recipe for cheese soufflé, postage stamps, tickets, records (remember those 45 rpm vinyls?), a item of clothing from an Action Jackson doll, and, of course, photos galore. Lastly – you guessed it – bookmarks.
Some not-so-pleasant items have been found as well, such as a slice of fried bacon. Author Reynolds Price apparently found the liver of cured pork flesh in a book at a library in Duke University, North Carolina. Novelist Diana Abu-Jaber has said that she placed a photograph of a friend’s greyhound inside her copy of M F K Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, then left the book on a plane. I wonder what the person who found the book thought of this unsettling combination of book and photo?
Many of us have used the only thing to hand to mark a place in a book. I certainly have, although I’m not sure the book has ended up with it left there after I had finished reading it. It seems the most likely things we tend to leave in a book are money or its partner in crime, bills.
And we can’t forget those little critters that seem to love books almost as much as humans do. Insects get inadvertently preserved – or squashed – between the pages. Moths, cockroaches, mosquitoes, earwigs, the odd ant and maybe even a bookworm or two. Sometimes the creepy crawlies get deliberately preserved on the outside covers; books make good squashing implements when a fly swat isn’t within reach.
Often you’ll find inscriptions in old books: birthday wishes or the original owner’s name and year they bought it. One book owner wrote that they found an image of lips where a previous reader had kissed the page with lipstick. But that’s a whole other story.
You just never know what you might find in a book.