Think back to your childhood. Do you remember writing your name and the date in the front cover of your favourite book? When I was around eight years old I found the most perfect – albeit battered and falling apart – book on birds for sale in our local library. I loved it so much that I wrote my name, the date and my age inside of it, thus claiming it as mine forever and ever.
I no longer have that book, and I no longer scrawl my name inside of book covers. But to this day, I’m still fascinated by finding secret hidden messages in books.
As someone who collects vintage field guides I quite often stumble across little messages within the front pages. Rather than it detracting from the value I think it adds. If I come across a book with an extra special piece of writing I just have to have it. It’s like owning a tiny piece of history and it sparks my imagination; making me think about who may have owned the book before me and what life was like for them at that time. Was this book treasured? How many owners has it had? And how did it come to get here?
These days it doesn’t seem to be the done thing but in the past people regularly wrote thoughtful notes in the books they gifted to friends and family. Take this interesting coloured guide on birds with it’s ‘To Dad Christmas 1984’ message. What a lovely way to remember a certain period of time, every time you open the book. I wonder what kind of Christmas they had?
The owner of this zebra finch book used the last few blank pages at the back to record his bird breeding efforts. Look how many birds he managed to introduce to the world! Perhaps his birds live on in the DNA of birds that are alive today?
And finally, how special is this message from 1928 which reads ‘Gwen Bailey 1st prize for wildflowers County School July 1928’ – this book is almost 90 years old! I wonder what the Wildflowers project was and how Gwen felt upon winning this prize?
These messages are all very different, but all wonderful and interesting to read. And they make me think a lot about the lives of others. So why don’t we do this anymore? I think, probably, that books aren’t as important or as meaningful today as they were in the past. This I suppose is largely to do with the rise of the internet and how easily we can access information. Back in 1928 Gwen would not have been able to find out about birds without a book – so this little gift would have been a treasure trove of knowledge for her and thus, quite special.
That said, the next time I gift a book to someone, I think I will pop the date and a little note inside the cover; in 90 odd years a girl like myself can find it hidden in the shelves of a dusty second-hand book store and wonder a little about my life.