(Continued from Part 3. This part concludes the series.)
Refer to the photo at the right side of this paragraph. First, step back and take in a whole section to spot collections such as the nine-volume The Scribner Radio Music Libraryxiii (1946) collection of sheet music. Look for extremely thick old books. These are single volume encyclopedias of facts, histories, “what everyone should know” books published until they became obsolete thanks to the Internet. The large, thick book at the far left is Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature Ninth Editionxiv (1891, the last edition Bartlett himself edited).
Then begin scanning each row. Draw your attention to barely readable, or unreadable spine titles. The small set is an extreme example, but it contains The World’s Famous Orationsxv (1906) from the Greeks to Americans. The unreadablexvi volume at the far right is The Book of Life Volume Five: Bible Poetry (1934).xvii Note how many have gold lettering, and in the case of the wrong-facing book on the top of the pile, The Poems of Goethe (1882), gilded pages all around.
Leary’s Ready Reckonerxviii (1909, various arithmetic tables), measuring about 3”x5”– perfect pocket size. Timeless classics such as Piers Plowman: The Vision of a People’s Christxix (1912, orig. ca. 1370-90) were often published as small, 4”x6” books.
Now, refer to the larger photo at the top of this article. Certain cover colors are a dead give-away as to a book’s age. The vibrant blue ones are from 1876-1901. (Chats with Music Studentsxx (1901) is an endearing book for teenagers.) Many libraries rebound books which were checked out a lot, i.e., the classics or great books. Their new covers were drab, often with no frills black lettering. A book that looks like it was published in the ’30s may very well have been from the late 19th century. For fun, keep an eye out to learn the cookbook-cover-color-of-the-decade.
What to look for inside? The front matter will provide information regarding title, author, date, and so on. I feel it’s my duty to read front cover inscriptions, as well. You’d be surprised how beautifully a son was able to write a few lines in a gift to his mother years ago. I have gone so far as to buy a book simply because of the inscription.
If the old book is nonfiction, skim the Table of Contents. If you’re clueless about the content (Gregg Shorthand?xxi), skim the Preface or Introduction. Thumb through a few the pages. Look at the illustrations and photographs. Do they capture a time, place, people or culture which no longer exists? The Grolier Society volumes, e.g., Lands and People: The World in Colorxxii (1923 and on), beautifully depict these. Textbooks with lots of illustrations convey more than words. (Revolutionary War military unit uniforms from The Household History of the United States and its People for Young Americansxxiii (1889) in the photograph.)
Tip: Knowing shorthand might come in handy at TEOTWAWKI.
Plentiful Poetry Books
You may be surprised by the number of old poetry books. My suggestion when beginning is to pay attention to poets’ names; some will become familiar and your assumption that they must have been popular at a particular time– and thus now reflect that time in Western Culture– will be correct. Old fiction you’ll evaluate based on your personal preferences. Pay attention to the front art and other illustrations, they’re a clue to the stories, which often have a moral lesson.
Tip: As you shop more, you’ll see some unfamiliar fiction titles over and over. Take note, take a picture, look it up and discover that The Egg and Ixxiv was the basis for the old Ma and Pa Kettle movies.
As you thumb through old books, you’ll begin to appreciate paper quality. Paper quality? You may think I have gone rather far afield in the mission to build a library of books preserving Western Culture. There is method in my madness.
We covered pricing in “Where?” If you have started from a position of blissful ignorance, I seriously consul you, at least in the beginning, to spend no more than a dollar or two. That’s why donation centers, junk stores, and FOL sales are such good places to start. You’ll seldom be tempted to spend more. But if a book hits all the right notes for you… it’s your library.
As I said, it’s important to catalog your books. While cataloging, do a bit of research. Who were all these people, writing all these words that now reflect, and perhaps once shaped, Western Culture? I collect this information in a separate Evernote notebook of web page clips linked back to the Library entry.
Here is where madness meets method. You will buy books and have no idea what their contributions to Western Culture were, if any. Some you’ll pick up because you vaguely recognize a name, or you like the illustrations. Some just because you like the way the print looks on the heavy paper. You’ll do a spot of research, and will then discover that many of these beautifully illustrated old books printed on heavy paper have been at the core of Western Culture’s canon for ages. Only recently, relatively speaking, have they– and all of their wisdom, passed on for generations– been forgotten. When this happens, you will know that, book by book– some quite by accident– you are doing your part to preserve Western Culture. And you’ll have made new friends in The Deserted Villagexxv along the way.
References for Part 3 & Part 4:
iThe Guide to Reading: The Pocket University Volume XXIII. Lyman Abbott, Asa Don Dickinson et al., eds. Nelson Doubleday, Inc., for Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York. 1925.
iiLonesome Dove. Larry McMurtry. Simon and Schuster, New York. 1985.
iiiSouthern Fried Football: The History, Passion, and Glory of the Great Southern Game. Tony Barnhart. Triumph Books, Chicago. 2008.
ivThe Science of Eugenics and Sex-Life, Love, Marriage, Maternity; The Regeneration of the Human Race. Walter J. Hadden, Charles H. Robinson, and Mary Melendy. Eugenics Health Foundation, New York. 1930.
v120 Banned Books: Censorship History of World Literature. Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald, and Dawn B. Sova. Checkmark Books, New York. 2005.
viPlowman’s Folly. Edward H. Faulkner. Grosset and Dunlap, New York. University of Oklahoma Press. 1943.
viiThe Forsythe Saga. John Galsworthy. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1922, 1918.
viiiThe Making of the President 1960. Theodore H. White. Atheneum House, Inc., New York. 1961.
ixThe Story of Civilization. Will and Ariel Durant. Simon and Schuster, New York. 1935-1975.
xThe Encyclopedia of Philosophy Volumes 1-8. Paul Edwards, ed. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc, & The Free Press, New York. 1972.
xiOur Wonder World: A Library of Knowledge in Ten Volumes Volumes. Howard Benjamin Grose, ed. Geo. L. Shuman & Co., Chicago and Boston. 1914, etc.
xiiiThe Scribner Radio Music Library Vols. I-IX. Albert E. Wier. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1946. 1931.
xivFamiliar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature Ninth Edition. John Barlett. Little, Brown, and Company, Boston. 1891.
xvThe World’s Famous Orations in Ten Volumes. William Jennings Bryan, ed. Funk and Wagnalls Company, New York. 1906.
xviThe Poems of Goethe Translated in the Original Metres. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. E.A. Bowring, et al. trans. Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., New York. 1882.
xviiThe Book of Life Volume Five: Bible Poetry. Newton Marshall Hall and Irving Francis Wood abridged and ed. John Rudin & Company Inc., Chicago. 1934.
xviiiLeary’s Improved Ready Reckoner, Form Book and Wages Calculator. Leary, Stuart & Company, Publishers, Philadelphia. 1909.
xixPiers Plowman: The Vision of a People’s Christ. William Langland. Arthur Burrell, ed. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London. 1912.
xxChats with Music Students or Talks about Music and Music Life. Thomas Tapper. Theodore Presser, Philadelphia. 1901.
xxiGregg Shorthand: A Light-Line Phonography for the Million Anniversary Edition. John Robert Gregg. The Gregg Publishing Company, New York, Chicago &c. 1929. 1893.
xxiiLands and People: The World in Color (seven volumes). The Grolier Society, New York. 1953. 1929.
xxiiiThe Household History of the United States and its People for Young Americans. Edward Eggleston. D. Appleton and Company, New York. 1889.
xxivThe Egg and I: Life on a Wilderness Chicken Ranch Told with Wit and High Humor. Betty MacDonald. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, New York. 1945.
xxvThe Deserted Village. Oliver Goldsmith. Porter and Coates, Philadelphia. 1882.