As I mentioned in my last post, old book hunting is a favorite pastime of mine. I think it’s a great way for people to have pieces of history, especially in an affordable manner. Here, I’ll show you some of the most rewarding things you can find in a good collection.

1. A Name

A name is one of the most simple things you can find in an old book- and one of the most common. But it also gives the book a history. Look up the name and you might find a biography, a story, or even a picture. It places the book within a specific historical, even intellectual context. It also says something about the interests of the person in question, and it places you in the long trail of a book’s provenance.

2. A Dedication

Occasionally you’ll find a dedication from one friend or family member somewhere in the book, sometimes including names and dates. These heartfelt- or not- messages often found somewhere in the front pages give an insight into the lives of the people who bought the book and why they were interested in it.

3. Something Hand-colored


Some more high quality books will have hand colored plates or pictures in them. This is a common practice from when colored ink was much harder to come by- the image would be printed in black and white, then colored in by hand. This is can be obvious, as the coloring jobs can be a bit rough or imprecise on some occasions, but it still lends an air of quality and thoughtfulness to the book

4. An Artifact

A homework assignment found in a 1920s copy of Marlowe’s works that I bought for $6.

I once found a homework assignment from the 1930s stuck inside a book I got at my local rare and used bookstore. The handwriting showed an enviable neatness and elegance, but it demonstrated that it some ways, little has changed from that time period. Artifacts also have interesting stories behind them, whether they’re obvious or not. They add character to the book, an extra dimension provided by the interaction between it and its previous owner.

5. Snapshots of Life During the Time Period


I had another beautiful old book written at the turn of the 20th century by a Frenchman who visited New York City and had illustrations made of his experiences there. It shows everything from the docks to the slums and all of the ethnic neighborhoods that made up New York at the time. It’s an interesting and nuanced view of the city, that includes pictures too candid or ephemeral for the photographs of the time to capture. A book can sometimes capture, whether by a drawing or a copy of a photograph, a place or way of life that is very different or nonexistent now by virtue of its age.

6. A Bookplate

A bookplate from “La Flandre a Vol d’Oiseau”, from the library of Elwyn B. Gould.


Bookplates, which I mentioned inĀ a previous post, used to be a way for book owners to display their ownership of a book and have it returned to them if it were loaned out or lost. They look like stickers placed on the inside front cover, with a design, like a picture or crest, and the person’s name.

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