The Beauty of Old Books

The Cover of Marmion by Sir Walter Scott
The Cover of Marmion by Sir Walter Scott

I love old books. The paper is thicker and has a certain feel to it. They have a scent and a weight in the hands, a feeling of substance. The covers may be leather or cloth, and they impart a dignity to the volume. Somehow old books just seem to have a significance that the newer volumes, however beautiful the cover or dust jacket may be, just don’t match.

The picture above is the cover of a copy of Marmion by Sir Walter Scott. It is difficult to say for sure, but I think it must have been originally white, with gilding in the tooled designs surrounding the center illustration of the young woman in the garden. There is no page giving printing or publishing information. It is a small book, of a size to slip easily into a small purse (or even a reticule) or pocket. It was obviously a dainty item, I think intended to be a gift for a special young lady.

It did not surface until after she had passed away, so I could not ask my grandmother how she came by it. There may be a reason why the page with publication data is missing-might there have been an inscription that was too sensitive to keep? Possibly a romantic gift from someone, kept after the romance had ended? It was hidden away so I suspect it was a keepsake from long ago. I can picture her taking it out occasionally, turning it over in her hands, reading a passage here and there. I hope it brought a smile. I treasure this little book because, as battered and worn as it is, it still has a faded loveliness, and because it was obviously important to my grandmother. It’s inspiring to think what might have been…

6 Replies to “The Beauty of Old Books”

  1. I read this and went directly to my special books to find one of my lovelies–James Whitcomb Riley’s Child Rhymes with Hoosier Illustrations,1900 ed. It had belonged to a celebrity relative of mine who had no idea how to entertain a five year old, but then, I was not typical. I can still remember her reading Little Orphant Annie and stressing the refrain, “An’ the Gobble-Uns ‘ill gitcha IF YOU DON’T WATCH OUT! I fortunately rescued the actual book from the trash bin when we were sorting things for an estate sale when my father died. It is a librarian’s nightmare, loose pages, broken spine, but it is a treasure. Every poem is illustrated and the leather cover is beautifully embossed. I am disappointed that “comments” does not allow photographs.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Linda. Your book sounds wonderful. I am disappointed as well-I’d love to see it. I grew up in Indiana and James Whitcomb Riley was a staple-your book truly is a treasure! Little Orphant Annie was a Hallowe’en tradition. Don’t you just love it? Any chance of a repair (maybe your local library could refer you)? Old books are just the best…

  2. How right you are. Our tutor about 100 years ago was Sean Jennett who taught us about the history and beauty of different typefaces (not this androgynous Microsoft rubbish) and how to manufacture hand laid paper, about deckle edges,and how books were printed, from the ‘real’ hand machines to litho and mono. Then we were sent (willingly!) to Forbes Bookbinders to learn proper hand book binding, altho we were not allowed to waste gold leaf! Full Morocco, quarter backed, buckram, linen (difficult to keep clean) and just once I bound a monograph in parchment. And they have the temerity to say e-books are ‘real’. Tcha!

    1. I am with you, David. Although I love my Kindle, and find it useful, it does not replace my real books. Somehow my collection keeps growing in spite of the Kindle (I even have some duplication-I take the Kindle with me when I travel so can read my old friends on the road and have the pleasure of the real thing at home.) I find myself buying old hardbacks whenever possible. Thanks for commenting!

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