The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A Weekend of finds by Mary Mayfield

Here are some extraordinary discoveries from Mary Mayfield, both irreplaceable and rare (and dusty?), but quite different to each other. Thank you Mary for letting me post these.

The first is a Latin-English Dictionary. Here’s what Mary said about it:

“This is one of last weekend's finds. sitting on a shelf, in my parents' spare room, was an English-Latin dictionary dated 1774.

No one actually knows where this came from - it's last move from was from my grandmother's house to theirs, about 30 years ago.

It has 2 inscriptions - Bridget and ------- Sharp 1820 (possibly 1829) and a fainter one from 1831, possibly to someone Parker or Barker.

Presumably these are distant relatives but no one knows…”

Mary went on to say how it had been:

“sitting next to an old car manual belonging to (husband) Gerry that looked like it had been chewed by mice!
I just wish we knew more about this.”

Well me too, so any information you might have, do post it!

Mary’s husband went on to say:

“It is 235 years old. It's described by some as a school dictionary and we have seen someone with one that is 236 years old. There is a handwritten inscription in the front but it is mostly illegible as the ink has faded but the inscription has 2 dates - 1820 and 1830. One wonders if the people mentioned were relatives or whether it was a find in a secondhand bookshop by an earlier generation of the family.”

And Saviour Pirotta called it

“A real treasure!”

And he’s right of course. What a beautiful and fascinating thing to have, full of history and mystery!

The second book from Mary is Buster Brown by R F Outcault. She writes:

“An extremely scruffy picture book from my mother's childhood, although she received it second-hand,copyrighted 1905 by The New York Herald. It's lost the cover completely and was folded in half and pushed in a cupboard.
A series of cartoon adventures each with a little "lesson" at the end - this one disapproves of Teddy Roosevelt shooting wild life for publicity.
I think this was originally a newspaper cartoon strip though I'm not sure if it was aimed at children exclusively - the bit here about "a president going out armed with a gun and a camera and a press agent" doesn't sound like children's material.”

Glorious finds! Thanks again Mary for sharing these on Dusty Old Books!


  1. A wonderfuly battered pair, so different from each other. I must try and get pictures of some of my father's books and contribute to this blog (if I may!)

  2. Please do Thomas! That would be really interesting...

  3. Love the old dictionary, quite amazing to think it's older than any human being will ever live. I have an 8th edition, well used of Hannah Glasse's The Simple Art of Cookery published in 1763, 200 years before I was born (that's given my age away!!) and my father was given a pair of 18th century Encyclopedias that we still have. Both are illustrated and like dictionaries. My favourite illustrations are the fold out prints for the human anatomy and for the ships of the time.

    One of the things I loved about museum work was coming across old books from the 18th and even 17th century.

    You're right James, there is nothing quite like a book. It's an optimal design too: portable, doesn't need electricity to run and can be exchanged for another. Perfect.