Books from my collection.

Found in Books: Second-hand Bookmarks

I tend to buy a lot of my books used, because it saves a buck or because I just run into them, but I don’t usually consider them to be a step down from new books. In fact, there’s just something about a second-hand book that intrigues me. Who owned it before I did? How did they experience reading it? What did the world look like when they looked up from this book?

It becomes even more interesting if the previous owners have left something of theirs in the book. Perhaps it’s just a name on the cover page. Maybe they underlined their favourite passage, or wrote or doodled in the margins. Or maybe they left their bookmark in the book. When you put your hands on a used book, you sometimes find a little treasure.

I just came across Forgotten Bookmarks. It’s a blog by used bookseller Michael Popek who often finds things left behind in the books that come through his store. He finds everything from notes and letters, to recipes, to photos and even money. All things someone once picked up to use as a bookmark and then forgot about. He even put out a book with some of his most interesting finds. (I haven’t seen it yet; perhaps more on that later.)

I cannot boast anything like his expansive collection, but I’ve found a thing or two in old books before. Forgotten bookmarks, but also old school kid’s notes and more. I’ll share some things in subsequent posts; for now I’ve got some cool bookmarks. Do you want to see?

Holiday Snapshots

Below you see an old book on electrical engineering with the bookmark I found inside. It’s hard to see, but those are two photo negatives. The book is from 1911; the negatives don’t look quite that old, but they seem to have been in there for a while.

Photo negatives found in an old book on electrical engineering.

I went ahead and photographed the negatives and inverted the colors. It would seem we’re looking at someone’s summer holidays!

Inverted negatives.

I won’t enlarge the picture with the people in bathing suits on it (who knows, they might still be around; I can’t date the photos) but here’s a blow-up of the right picture. A nice view of the lake where they were vacationing.

Lake view.

Who were these people? Was one of them an electrical engineer, or studying to be one? Where and when were these pictures taken? All questions we’ll probably never know the answers to, but they’re definitely fun to ponder.

New Year’s Greetings

This is an old Dutch translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Inside I found what must be the tiniest little envelope I ever saw.

Anna Karenina with envelope.

The book itself isn’t dated, for some reason, but some superficial research indicates that the stamp on the envelope is from the 1940’s and the book is likely from around the same period.

Envelope from Anna Karenina.

The little envelope (shown with a 2 Euro coin for additional size comparison) is very formally addressed to a respectable gentleman, J. Olieman, and his family, as to a business associate or such; the address is in a traditionally affluent municipality.

Envelope contents.

The contents are just a tiny card saying “Happy New Year” from “Ph. Pluim and fiancé.” Nothing more. Who do you imagine these people were? I immediately conjure up a junior business associate, young, freshly engaged or perhaps painstakingly pulling enough income together for marriage, making his way in the world. Perhaps Mr. Olieman was his boss. Did Mr. Pluim get the promotion he wanted? Did he marry his fiancé, to be happily wed for the rest of their lives? Again, we’ll never know. We can only imagine what lives belonged to these forgotten bookmarks.

Marco is a theoretical (bio)physicist, currently engaged in unraveling the sequence-dependent dynamics of DNA molecules to earn his PhD at Leiden University. Other passions include literature and history.

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