Old Books

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Does anyone remember how really old books look, smell, and feel?

There used to be a standard sort of look to books. Textured, raised spines, beautiful colors, sometimes gold-flake lettering. I adore this look. It certainly makes a bookshelf very attractive. 

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A lot of old books had cloth covers, or even leather. It’s a different sensory experience than picking up a paperback book and flipping through it, or even a modern hardcover with those detestable dust-jackets. An old book has sophistication, elegance, and charm that cannot be matched by any modern printing.

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And then there is smell, the culmination of what makes old books wonderful. The sans pareil, if you will. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t love the smell of an old book. And if I did, I suspect that I would instinctively dislike them.

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I collect these old books. One of the shelves in my little home library is dedicated entirely to books we have found which were printed before the year 1900. I really think there is a priceless value on something so fragile which has somehow survived for over 100 years. It suggest to me that someone cared very deeply for these books, and in some cases it’s proven by handwritten inscriptions inside the covers; I have one copy of the complete works of Shakespeare with the inscription “(Name), Dec 25, 1895”. Someone got this book as a christmas gift almost 120 years ago, how awesome is that?!?

The book itself is in pretty gorgeous shape. The gold leafing on the cover is age-faded, but intact, all of the very delicate (lightweight offset paper – the type used for bibles and dictionaries) pages are in perfect shape – no markings, no dog-ears, gold leafing around the edges – again faded, but still shining through. The spine and binding are still in wonderful shape, no loose pages, no cracking or falling apart.  The wording on the spine is of that same faded gold leafing, still very legible.

It’s a beautiful book. But the clincher for me is that short inscription. It enhances my love for the book, and also makes me feel responsible for it somehow, like I’m an adopted mother. Someone else loved this book so much that they took the time to mark it as theirs, and now it’s fallen to me to decide its fate.

You might wonder if I am telling you all this to make you jealous. Maybe, a little. I’m very proud of my collection. However, what I really want to do is make other people care as much as I do. Then maybe some of these treasures will still be around in another 100 years. I hope so.

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2 thoughts on “Old Books

  1. You aren’t the only one. I love old books. Often the covers even have tooled leather. I also love seeing the history inside–an inscribed copy of Shakespeare would make me wonder about the person who got it, and the person who gave it. One thinks that perhaps this was a treasured possession from people who loved Shakespeare as much as I do (and books, too). I am glad someone is collecting these who actually cares for them instead of just as decor. http://licenseofinkblog.wordpress.com/

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