Including Old Books in Your Preps, Part 4, by Marica Bernstein

(Continued from Part 3. This part concludes the series.)

Now What?

Old BooksRefer 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.

xiiGreat books” at Wikipedia accessed May 26, 2019.

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.




31 Comments

  1. Now that you have gathered your collection, where will you keep it? Up in the attic is warm and dry, until the roof leaks and you can no longer repair it and then there is insect and rodent damage. The basement is just as bad. What I have done is stored them in steel drums (after freezing now, thanks for the tip) with tight fitting lids and plywood separators between layers of books so they don’t get crushed by their own weight. Be sure to toss in a handful of diatomaceous earth to prevent insect damage.

    1. I highly recommend keeping the collect out on bookshelves where it can be read. Why store it away and for what occasion? We read what is available and not what is stored away for some future event.

      1. This was exactly my thought. My 3400+ books are on shelves. The oldest are behind glass. Once a year I take each from the shelf, brush it off, do a thumb through of the pages, and put it back. Takes about two months to get through them all. It’s a January-February task. A delightful one.

      2. Amazon and Kindle are both censoring categories of books already. Books out on the shelves are fine for now, but at some point, they may not be.

        “Did you know that X actually has a copy of that hate-filled book Y in his living room? I can’t believe it. He should be reported.”

        Think that is fantasy? I know two therapists who hide books they have in their offices from their clients for exactly that reason. Politically incorrect dynamite. But isn’t that what file drawers are for?

          1. You have a choice. They don’t.

            And many people have their books in their living room, rather than a closed off library. I have often had people bring unexpected companions to my house (we were just out shopping, I hope you don’t mind).

            And the ones you do invite…do you know what they think about all topics? Especially since new social mortal sins are created every six months or so.

  2. Quick thanks to this author and JWR. Information is golden and everlasting. When JWR started the archive flashdrives I jumped right on them. Have them all except for this years…circumstances didn’t permit it. Everyone, if you don’t get them, DO IT! Worth every penny when survival depends on having a source for how to do it and be ready for it. When a previous computer crashed, I kept it for the major parts to create a “reader” for the drives. Thanks again to all who contribute their articles and to JWR for the foresight to create and offer the drives. It is what makes Survival Blog the best prepper site of the web. Just my 2 cents!

  3. One comment, you might also consider stocking up on paper notebooks or reams of binder paper, pencils and pens, and chalk. Once electronics are gone, you can make a chalkboard by painting any smooth surface with dark flat matte paint but without chalk you have no way to write today’s lesson on the board, and without paper and pencil the students have no way to do their lessons. I suppose in a pinch you could write in the dust with a stick but hey–

    1. Good point about having pads of paper and blank journals.

      Few people ever think about the everyday products we take for granted. The items are cheap, yet would be very work intensive if you had to make them yourself. Paper and pen are one. What’s cheaper than a piece of paper, yet try to make one.
      For that matter what are you going to do when the toilet paper runs out? (The romans used to use a communal rag on the end of a stick, …yikes)

      Easy to get a Turkey feather and make a quill, but do you know how to make ink?

      Speaking of old paper, I have a number of old sci-fi paperbacks from the 60’s. The problem is they were printed on the worst quality paper which is now yellowed, brittle and self disintegrating because of the acid content. Ironically there are much older texts in better shape because of the quality of the paper.

      There are of number of cheap commodities you’d have trouble duplicating… glass jars, nails, paint, glue, thread, wire, fish hooks, paper towels, etc. etc.

      Of course, that’s what the old DIY books are for. (Incidentally, did you know that there used to be an entire industry making glue from fish air bladders? …Isinglass. Strong enough to glue veneer. I suppose most people would probably just make that white paste kids used to eat in kindergarten, made from water and flour and sugar)

      In any case, if you ever want to make books, you’ll need to know how to make paper, glue and thread. This is completely aside from various printing processes which are even more technologically complicated. Could you make a stone lithograph, or a zinc plate etching? Or make lead type like Benjamin Franklin used?

      1. @Professor Wagstaff, Romans actually used a natural sponge on a stick communally. The sponge was washed off by the user and placed into a bucket of vinegar for the next user.

        1. I stand corrected, however, I’d rather sit beside of a pile of old Grainger catalogs.
          Somehow, the whole idea of a communal sponge on a stick makes me squeamish.
          Apparently the colonials used corn cobs ( our fore fathers and mothers were a sturdy lot).
          Perhaps the bidet should be considered a survival necessity. It might eliminate the need for toilet paper altogether.
          Returning to the original subject matter of books, maybe those old magazines, newspapers and catalogs should be bound up and stockpiled rather than thrown away.

    2. You are absolutely correct on the stockpiling of notebooks, pencils etc. We have a large bin labeled ‘school / office supplies’. It has (+-) 3 dozen notebooks / ledgers, probably 200 (US made) pencils, staples, crayons, chalk, 3 boxes of quality colored pencils (for map making, etc.)
      We only have a child’s size combo black board / white board easel, but a larger one say, 4’x6′ is always in our thrift store / yard sale searches (it would probably be hung in the garage or barn). Chalk can be made from drywall (gypsum board) scraps if necessary.

      ‘Back to school’ sales is a great time to stock up on these items, where you can literally get this stuff for $.99 or less, and those sales are starting NOW!

    3. @Today’s Lesson, go Roman and make a tablet with wax as the surface which kids can use a stylus to write in. When the lesson is no longer needed, heat the wax up and let it form a new clean surface for the next time it is needed. Totally green, and reusable.

  4. I have collected used and rare books for almost 30 years. Many from the 18th and early 19th century’s which have everything from “how to tell the age of livestock”, to recipes for beer, and medical “cures” etc. These tomes are treasures of information that our forefather’s referenced to increase their crops, fight plagues, and generally increase their lifespans and standards of living. They must be preserved in a climate controlled atmosphere, but were made to be used and are invaluable. The best thing is that in an EMP event I don’t have to worry about losing their information.

    1. Re preserving books: i have wondered if the freezer cleaning method, followed by a dusting of diatomaceous earth, followed by wrapping the book in linen (natural fiber only so it doesn’t melt), followed by dipping the book in paraffin would work for long term preservation. (Do NOT dip the book in paraffin without a fabric wrapper! You will never get the pages unstuck.)

      This should work for pretty much everything except fire, and if stored underground, should work for that too. Damp and mold will not bother paraffin.

      No, I haven’t tried it, as my living circumstances don’t permit it. It would be wonderful if another reader would like to try it and let us know, as I won’t be able to do it for some ttme.

      Replies and suggestions are very welcome.

  5. Years ago a friend left me her all her books which she had collected or received from her book clubs. It was two pickup truck loads of books. Most were classics, some were beautiful illustrated books, some were biographies. After retirement I downsized and have stored most of them in boxes inside the house. I’m out of room now and must repack and store them else where. Trying to figure out how to store them; wondering if vacuum sealing several books together (depending on size) and putting them in an old, non-working freezer or a food grade 55-gal drum might keep them preserved?

  6. Love your article,
    I’m building my modest home with books in mind.
    The issues with books are the fact that mold and mildew come with collecting these old treasures. This can lead to many health problems, such as allergies and mycotoxins related to mold. I will be building a well ventalated separate library room away from where we live. This is so we don’t have near the books but have access to them. We had a couple libraries close down be cause of a bed bug infestation within the books. Each one had to be fumigated.
    Thanks again for the good work you’ve done
    I LUV BOOKS

  7. I don’t have a huge collection of books, but I have enough to keep me occupied for a long time if the electricity goes off. Two bookshelves plus several boxes. Don’t forget candles- I collected candles at thrift stores and yard sales for years. I now have maybe 20 five gallon buckets full of candles of all sizes and kitchen matches. I never do anything halfway. LOL

  8. Biblio.com.uk has wonderful collections of old and classic books that are not readily available in the United States. If you search Biblio.com you will just get the US, you have to put in Biblio.com.uk.

    1. Another source for downloadable old books is Forgottenbooks dot com. For a small monthly fee, you can download a number of old books. Nearly a million out of print different titles from a wide range of subjects. I bought a founder’s membership years ago for $65, allows me to download 10 titles per month. You can also have them print you a copy for a reasonable price.

  9. Not books, but just a comment about newspapers. When both my children were born, I purchased newspapers the day they were born as well as the next day. Eventually I will give these to them on their birthday, these snippets of time the day they were born.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.