My family, like some of yours, has a number of old leather-bound books among our treasures from the past. None of them is in particularly good condition and most of them are too boring to actually read. My Grandfather collected them, so they mostly deal with legal matters.
But one small volume of poetry caught my attention when I was quite young. It wasn’t because it had an interesting title or anything like that. I was fascinated by the sheet that had been glued inside of the front cover. I knew that it was old for two reasons: the copyright is 1804 and they were still using “f’s instead of “s”s. I loved that bit of history that I could hold in my hand.
It was an old library book from a place I had never heard of. I began to do a bit of sleuthing and was able to determine that Camillus was a town in Onandaga County, New York. The Franklin Library it refers to probably means it belonged to the the Franklin Institute. I believe my book came from there a long time ago. How it came to reside in my family is still a mystery.
Eventually, the little book came to live with me. I showed to anyone who might be interested or who could tell me something about it, but had very little luck finding out much. My little book would be considered a rare book, but not a particularly valuable one. Library books usually had hard lives in the past, and did not survive intact too often. Old library books were often discarded or sold. I imagine my small volume met that same fate.
A careful look inside the cover of this book tells us a lot about it. The notice inside the cover not only identified who owned the book, but contained a list of what fines were to be paid for handling it improperly. A patron could keep the book for 3 months at a time, which must mean that going into town was an occasion, not an everyday occurrence. You were required to cover the book upon borrowing it and to return it still covered. There are additional fines listed for turning down corners to hold your place, for turning a page with a wet finger, and my personal favorite, for every drop of tallow. All these things evoke a time when books were expensive, rare and treasured.
If my old book has piqued your interest in your family treasures or in rare books, here are some suggestions about collecting books and antiques to get you started. We many have resources to help answer your questions about your family heirlooms. Many a family historian has begun their search here. ~ Val D