Sunday, February 21, 2016

Mystery on the Bookshelf

Recently I picked up a very rough copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles (HOUN) for a dollar just so it wouldn't get tossed in the trash. The book has no front, and all of the beginning pages are missing all the way up to the Contents page. (As such I can't even tell you what year it was published or whether or not it's a first edition.)

The book was either thoroughly enjoyed by someone, or allowed to be mistreated by a mischievous child. My money is on "thoroughly enjoyed" but later "mischievous child." I'll get to why in a bit.

There really isn't any value here. It's been drawn in, it has foxing,
and several unidentifiable stains. Some of the "artwork" in it is rather geometric and consists of circles, squares, and the design you see here, but some just seem like random markings with either a crayon or a colored pencil.

One of the pages has what kind of appears to be an algebra problem scribbled across it...

...and in the top right corner of a few pages there is what looks like fingerprint smudges, although I admit I can't make out any proof that that's what they are.

In fact, the only thing I can actually glean from the book is that at one time it was in the town of Derry, PA.

But the most interesting thing about this tattered volume is that at some
point someone tried to do some minor restoration to it. If you take a look under the spine flap you'll find a yellowed piece of paper that has print on it. It's just a fragment of a larger sheet, and doesn't have a lot of information on it to tell you what it once looked like.
This is actually very common and goes back centuries. The usage of pages or leafs from a book of lesser importance (to the owner), or from one that has sustained damage, has been going on for a very long time. Paper wasn't always available or cheap, and those without further resources would use whatever they had on hand. Often the medium was thin slats of wood, a heavy thread, or hide glue, but as books became more plentiful and more cheaply produced it was easier to grab an old one and sacrifice it for a favorite. And it was certainly much more attractive than using the dreaded duct tape.

This book probably would have fallen to pieces if the owner hadn't done this. It had to have been done early in the book's life as you can see where years of usage has cracked the yellowed and fragile paper bandage. Someone loved this book. If I were to put on my deerstalker I would say that we had a family with one or more small children who enjoyed drawing and possibly math. Maybe mom or dad was a professor or teacher of math in the Derry, PA, area. It's impossible to know, but fun to speculate.
There is one more clue to use, however, when trying to determine this book's travels: the identity of the tome that the repair piece came out of. And I know what it was.
In 1868 a young lady named Mary Eliza Isabella Frere published a book of traditional stories that she had collected while travelling with her father in India in the previous years. The book was called Old Deccan Days; or, Hindoo Fairy Legends, Current in Southern India. Collected From Oral Tradition. It has gone on to be reprinted many times, and in half a dozen languages. The fable that features the words we can make out is called "How The Sun, The Moon, And The Wind, Went Out To Dinner."

I still don't know which precise volume this piece came out of, but I can keep looking. For now I have included a copy of the entire story. Enjoy.