Between the pages

Original watercolour, labeled: “Steinbach, 1920, ‘the corner neighbours’ rear as seen from our house. The front faced Frieson Ave. From the right-hand edge of the picture a vegetable garden extended to the crossing with Mill Street (later called First Street). These buildings have been demolished.—M.H.S.” This was found in a lavish edition of King Arthur.

A couple of days ago ran a neat article about items found in antiquarian books. Boy, could I ever contribute to that discussion.

I could never tell you all of what I’ve found in over 30 years of collecting and dealing in books. I’ve saved only the odd thing. I can certainly tell you that I’ve never encountered anything truly valuable—a Mickey Mantle baseball card, or a stack of thousand dollar bills. I have found correspondence from well-known writers, though never famous writers.

The most prominent category of finds would certainly be bookmarks. I’ve found a thousand bookmarks. These are often from independent bookstores that have long since met their demise. Sometimes I look up the bookshop on-line, trying to learn if there was anything unusual about the place.

1935 Manitoba Driver's Guide, found in an old dictionary.

But people use just about everything as bookmarks. I’ve also found a thousand postcards, dating back to the very beginning. And playing cards, cigarette cards, and baseball and hockey cards. In Canada, another frequent find are the ubiquitous little Red Rose Tea collector cards. Greeting cards, notes, and envelopes bearing stamps as much as 125 years old have been almost common, in my experience.

The mundane have included hundreds of pressed leaves and flowers, cocktail napkins, holiday brochures, business cards, recipes, foreign banknotes, souvenir programmes, receipts, and business letterhead.

Perhaps the most valuable thing I’ve ever encountered was an immaculate memorial card produced when the Titanic sank, worth enough that I traded it for a rare edition on my want list. I’ve found original art, rare maps and prints.

Occasionally I leave things right where I found them. One example is a rebound copy of Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates, notable almost only for the lovely plates, which contains a packet of newspaper clippings about lost treasure. The clippings span almost 50 years, and when I open it I like to imagine the book’s owner nurturing a life-long interest in the subject.

I always feel a little guilty parting the book and the ephemera found within. They always seem to me to belong together, even when the book has been damaged by the things left between the pages.

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Bruce Wishart
Whimsies. Sometimes about writing.
Sometimes about folklore. Sometimes
about the sea, or life on the coast.
And sometimes not.