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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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7 comments on “The Lost Art Of Writing In Books”

  1. A fascinating article which really made me think about the effect that a few words on the inside of a front cover, so innocently written years ago, could stir memories and passions within other people for generations to come. I had never thought of it in this way before. A great read!

  2. I have an old Enid blyton book that I have had since I was about five, and on the inside page I have drawn a picture of a house and a family next to it. Next to this I have put my name and address. Every once in a while I take a peek at this, and it takes me back to being a child. I am so glad that I managed to keep it, because one day it will be there for my daughter to have and keep.

  3. I loved this blog as I’m a bird lover and a 📚 lover. Guess what? if I lend a book I always
    Write my name in it. I have a lot of old books and love reading what someone wrote and like you thinking about the person who read and loved the book as much as I did. Thank you Jasmine I love your thinking and the way you write.

  4. I totally agree with you! 🙂 This is probably why I love second hand things in general as I love the thought of objects having lived lives before they come to me, as if they have memories trapped inside them.
    My family still write in the front of books 🙂 Normally names and dates but sometimes little messages too. My mum has found a few books already written in that she’s added my name and date to before giving them to me. I like to think the next person that has them will do the same.
    For my wedding we used one of my favourite books and inspiration behind the theme of the wedding Dinotopia as a guestbook and everyone wrote a little message in the front. Perhaps you could do something similar for your wedding 🙂

    • I adore second hand things and totally agree. It’s nice to have something with a bit of history!

      That’s a lovely idea! Would love to see how that turned out. Would definitely like something like that for myself x

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