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things found in books
May 9, 2007 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Librarians and book collectors have many tales about ephemera left in books. While the legend of the bacon bookmark may be among the more pervasive reports of strange finds, a smallpox sample is probably the most bizarre. There are blogs and discussion boards that record other makeshift markers. Some readers prefer designated over spontaneous markers. Mirage Bookmark has an extensive collection of bookmark ephemera, with Bookmark of the Week and Bookmark Collector also offering noteworthy collections.
posted by madamjujujive (68 comments total) 102 users marked this as a favorite

 
The most unusual things I ever found in books: a $50 bill; several safety pins pinned to select pages; a religious scapular.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:36 AM on May 9, 2007


My favorite, found in a Stephen King hardback at my local library over 10 years ago, was a sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper on which was scrawled in 3rd-grade cursive:

I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.
I will not start fires.


My least favorite which I found all too often were the short, curly hairs clinging to the pages of the Harlequin Romance paperbacks.

I had thought I'd left all that behind when I became an academic librarian, but I was wrong. The worst was the rusty razor blade someone stuck into the textblock of a high shelved serial here on campus, so if you reached up to grab the book off the shelf, you'd get the tetanus. This beat out the copy of the 1970s child porn mag "Naked Angels" by leaps and bounds.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:48 AM on May 9, 2007


Worked in libraries lots of years. Two weirdest things: a condom and a tampon. Both unused, in their wrappers.

Thanks for the links.

Oh, also found this photo. Slightly NSFW if annoying prude co-worker is looking over your shoulder.
posted by marxchivist at 9:50 AM on May 9, 2007


I once found an entire Cadbury Creme Egg, flattened between the pages of a book I was reading in the Sacramento State University Library.

It was delicious.
posted by serazin at 9:53 AM on May 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


My favorite, found in a Stephen King hardback at my local library over 10 years ago, was a sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper on which was scrawled in 3rd-grade cursive:

I will not start fires.


Please tell me the Stephen King hardback was Firestarter.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:57 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


When I was working in an academic library, we got a huge donation of books from the carilloner on campus. In the front of one of the books was a drawing of a battle scene from World War I, that had clearly been added by the owner(the book, like all the books, was about bells). In the back was a faded list. Each entry contained a woman's name, her hair color, ethnicity, a city, and "what she's doing now." It's hard to imagine that this was a list of anything but an aging cailloner's sexual conquests. Naturally, we photocopied it and displayed it around the office.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:57 AM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


(Also, flagged as fantastic post. Thanks!)
posted by serazin at 10:00 AM on May 9, 2007


This reminds me of Miko's found-in-books blog, Enclosures.
posted by cortex at 10:00 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


"My favorite, found in a Stephen King hardback at my local library over 10 years ago, was a sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper on which was scrawled in 3rd-grade cursive:

I will not start fires.

Please tell me the Stephen King hardback was Firestarter."


Too obvious. "The Stand" would be better:

"I will set you to burn."
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:06 AM on May 9, 2007


After he rents and watches movies, a friend of mine writes brief reviews and tucks them inside the rented case for the next renter to find. My personal favorite: "Good performance by Rose McGowan. Ending sucks."
posted by fandango_matt at 10:07 AM on May 9, 2007


thanks for the post, mjjj, you always make MeFi worth reading


I will not start fires.

the former third grader lives in L.A. now
posted by matteo at 10:07 AM on May 9, 2007


Librarian <3!
posted by Hildegarde at 10:11 AM on May 9, 2007


My compulsion for books often draws me to thrift stores, where I find all sorts of things in used books... condom wrappers, a $2 bill, monopoly money, playing cards, photographs, baseball cards and even used band-aids. My two favorites were a tintype of two dandily dressed twenty-ish men in a rather friendly pose in an Oscar Wilde hardback and a faded and yellowed scrap repeating the phrase "you are cordially invited" where someone was practicing their copper-plate handwriting in a book on calligraphy from the 1920's.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:11 AM on May 9, 2007


Robocop wrote: The worst was the rusty razor blade someone stuck into the textblock of a high shelved serial here on campus, so if you reached up to grab the book off the shelf, you'd get the tetanus. This beat out the copy of the 1970s child porn mag "Naked Angels" by leaps and bounds.

Robo, as far as I'm concerned you win, even beating out the bacon strip and my own prizewinner, the tiny bag of heroin plus $600 in cash. (How did I know it was heroin? I didn't, thank you very much, until the cop told me.)

(Did I mention this was stuck in a children's book?)
posted by scratch at 10:15 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks cortex - I so would have included Miko's great blog had I been aware of it - because I am definitely a Miko fan. And curiously, Miko's user page says that she "Brings home bacon, fries up in pan" - coincidence? Maybe she is the one leaving bacon in all these books.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:16 AM on May 9, 2007


I once found dozens of pressed flowers in an old physics book purchased on ebay.
posted by phrontist at 10:21 AM on May 9, 2007


I've found similar things, little notes, a dollar bill, a leaf, a candy wrapper, "organic leavings".

I have a real fondness for the paperbacks of the 60's and 70's as physical objects, I love the covers, the yellowing paper, the slightly off trim sizes. In some of these books, especially of the "find yourself" variety, say Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut, there are often copious highlightings and underlinings and notes. They are almost always nonsensical in the extreme; a set of "the's" and "his's" and so on, or a sentence about nothing, no insights, no particularly important points. Sometimes a huge two page block that covers six different thoughts or a note in the margin next to something like "I said we should go to do the laundry" that says "YES!!!"

I love that stuff, but it drives me crazy.
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:22 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


After my grad school advisor died, I was invited into his library to take any book I pleased. There were all sorts of old novels, lots of beautifully bound old works, many expensive reference books...instead, I chose his battered paperback Norton Critical Tristram Shandy. He had been a huge Tristram Shandy fan, and his copy of the book was filled with his notes and paper-clipped bookmarks and highlightings. It's still one of my most-valued possesions.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:24 AM on May 9, 2007


As usual dear mjjj, an excellent and intriguing post. The Envelope tucked inside book may yield 1800s smallpox sample story is incredible. Ephemera are so interesting, tangible haikus. Something personal and mysterious about things left in books. I usually use leaves as bookmarks. Nice to find later and muse over them.

These days ephemera comes in different styles, like A digital reliquary for an evanescent photography.
posted by nickyskye at 10:24 AM on May 9, 2007


Excellent post. Like all book lover's I have my own little collection of this kind of thing, although nothing too mindblowing. I think my favorite is a blank sheet of notepaper from Dan Rostenkowski's office found in a copy of Calvino's The nonexistent knight and the cloven viscount. I've always wondered if it was one of his non-existent "employees" that put the paper there.
posted by OmieWise at 10:26 AM on May 9, 2007


I've got about 12 pages of pressed plants that I removed from some books I was preserving that dated back to 1900.
I'd like to get a botanist to look at them one day or I'll just frame them and hang 'em on the wall.
posted by doctorschlock at 10:26 AM on May 9, 2007


Wonderful, thanks mjjj!
posted by carter at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2007


I had an English Lit professor who went to Oxford one summer to do research in their Shakespeare collection. Inside one old book he found C.S. Lewis's handwritten lecture notes about Hamlet.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Maybe she is the one leaving bacon in all these books.

Crush... deepening... er, ahem, great work as per, mjjj!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2007


I once found an entire Cadbury Creme Egg, flattened
between the pages of a book I was reading in the
Sacramento State University Library.

It was del.icio.us


(edited for awesome nerd bookmark humor)
posted by Peter H at 10:36 AM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Relating this requires full disclosure of my own dorkosity, but...a year ago or so, I chanced across a copy Denny O'Neil's (prose) Green Lantern novel -- Green Lantern: Hero's Quest (Pocket Star, 2005) -- at the secondhand bookstore near my apartment, and bought it because it was like three bucks and I was like, eh, what the hell. Getting home, I sprawled out in bed to begin reading, opened the book, and had not one, not two, but three small, stiff pieces of paper fall onto my chest. These were:

- A call-an-escort card of the type one finds in Las Vegas, photographically depicting a semi-clad blonde knockout

- A SECOND call-an-escort card of the type one finds in Las Vegas, photographically depicting a considerably hotter semi-clad blonde knockout

-And...

...a ticket to a Go-Gos post-reunion concert.

Seriously...who IS this person? I feel like I know him, and yet he remains an enigma. A nerdy, comic book-loving, '80s-nostalgia-feeling, possibly hooker-boning enigma who doesn't check his books for wildly embarrassing materials before he resells them. But really, considering that we were both willing to be seen in possession of a novel about Green Lantern, I suppose I share with him the trait of not embarrassing easily.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:37 AM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


While I've spent a fair share of my time with books both new and used, the only offhand memorable things I can think of finding were someone's credit card statement and a page of scribblings from a white power dude.

However, in my own books, I occasionally find notes to myself that no longer make sense, prayer cards from funerals I didn't attend, or bus transfers (if I read a book on the bus, I always like to leave my transfer in the book).
posted by drezdn at 10:45 AM on May 9, 2007


About 15 years ago, I found a Civil War commission (appointing Henry Shaw Briggs a brigardier general), signed by Abraham Lincoln and his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, in a volume of bound newspapers deaccessioned by a local historical society. Original. I brought it back. They didn't know they owned it.
posted by beagle at 10:46 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Brigardier, that is.
posted by beagle at 10:50 AM on May 9, 2007


Great post--thanks madamejujujive!

While doing research on WWII, I once found a business card for an Aryan Nation-esque hate group tucked into a book on anti-Semitism. That little card really gave me the willies.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:50 AM on May 9, 2007


NO! BRIGADIER, THAT IS.
posted by beagle at 10:50 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


About a year ago I bought a paperback copy of Al Gore's "Earth In The Balance" from a local thrift store for 99 cents. When I got it home, I discovered a Home Depot gift card inside it. It ended up having $20 dollars credit on it. WHOOT!
posted by almostcool at 11:04 AM on May 9, 2007


I had a student once who handed in an essay which was clearly a patchwork of different sources - a paragraph from here, a paragraph from there. Using google and findsame I located about half of his essay on the internet, from about 6 different sites. This was enough (obviously) to make the plagiarism charge, but I was in detective mode by now and wanted to find the rest. So I took his essay to the library and found each of the books in the reference list. In one of the books I found the first and last paragraphs of his essay - the first and last paragraphs of the book. This left me with two books and two paragraphs. Using the index of one of the books I found one of the paragraphs. The second book, however, had no index, and I certainly wasn't going to read the whole book.

It fell open at a particular page, with a bookmark. The page contained the paragraph in question - what luck! And the bookmark?

It was a christmas card addressed to the student in question.

Needless to say the interview went fairly smoothly and he didn't contest the charge...
posted by handee at 11:30 AM on May 9, 2007 [12 favorites]


My own attempt at an enclosures blog. I ran out of stuff to post.

Good post.
posted by Miko at 11:34 AM on May 9, 2007


I totally believe the bacon story, as my old boss at the UC Davis Preservation Dept. kept a book in the freezer with a BBQ'd chicken leg bookmark as a show-&-tell piece. Maybe she still has it...
posted by ikahime at 11:36 AM on May 9, 2007


About a year or so ago, I was asking if there was a specific term for this phenomenon, "things left in books." Where were you then, MJJJ? [This is good stuff.]
posted by steef at 11:40 AM on May 9, 2007


I found this beautiful punchcard anteater in a book I found at the local recycling center.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


I worked at the circulation desk of a pretty large public library for a few years, and although I found zillions of improvised bookmarks, none of them were remotely interesting.

And now I feel gypped about it.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:56 AM on May 9, 2007


Awesome post.

(I dogear. I know, for shame...)
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:00 PM on May 9, 2007


Once, I found a rose pressed between the pages of "Peter Pan" in a 1923 edition of Three Plays by J. M. Barrie. There was a book plate in the front that read "Ex Libris Jane Peterman".

Ms. Peterman, if you're out there, I have your book and your flower. I hope you never grew up, so I can return them to you.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:21 PM on May 9, 2007 [8 favorites]


Adam - a swedish street art guy - welds through padlocks and replaces them with his own. Then he leaves "his" keys and a map in hollowed out library books which he then return to Stadsbiblioteket. The idea is to invite the good citizens of Stockholm to explore enclosed parts of the communal city they've never seen before, parts they would never have gained entrance to otherwise. I think that's his thing, at least.

Presonally I love the treasure hunt idea and the urban exploration, but I can't say I'm too ecstatic about the destroying of the books.

I guess what I'm saying is: great post madamjujujive! (As always.)
posted by soundofsuburbia at 12:25 PM on May 9, 2007 [6 favorites]


I found a first edition of S. Foster Damon's William Blake, His Philosophy and Symbols in a bookstore in Cambridge (Mass.) some years ago. I bought it mainly just to add it to my Blake collection, but one day I thought I should at least read some of it, so I lay down and propped it up on my stomach -- at which point the author's calling card fell out. A bit smaller than a business card, with his name printed on it and (in pencil) "sorry not to find you in -- will you come to tea Monday at 12". I thought that was pretty neat.
posted by uosuaq at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


great post madam and what a great thread
posted by caddis at 2:09 PM on May 9, 2007


I've found a few things, but nothing that interested me enough to keep. I will say that when I worked at a library a coworker told me he hid a flask in one of the books and when he quit he'd tell me where it was. But when he left he couldn't remember where it was! I think it was in the Z section of the reference collection, aybe I should go hunting for it.
posted by Green With You at 2:18 PM on May 9, 2007


Around 2000, at a library book sale in Davis, CA, I found the following typewritten note folded inside a 25-cent used copy of Woody Allen's "Getting Even":


November 23, 1981

I am holding you personally responsible. For several long years now, I have resisted temptation; remaining true to my vow never again to fall back into the habit. Now you've spoiled all that hard work.

That's right! For at least five years I haven't touched a single chocolate chip cookie. (Well, maybe a second-rate, pre-processed one or two - the kind in the roll-up, tie-wrap bag; but nothing more!) Then you came along.

Granted, you didn't resort to waving a homemade toll house version under my nose. Don't misunderstand. I appreciate that. But the way you unmercifully created those warm, chewy cookies from slice-and-bake dough before my eyes was simply unforgivable. I said I could eat four or five; you prepared over ten. How heartless can you get?

The havoc you have wreaked as a result of these actions is beyond belief. I've already bought [about] 25 packs of dough (some of them are stored in the garage as the freezer became saturated). I'm on the verge of installing a Toast-R-Oven at Help Line to cook them up when on duty there. The Pillsbury doughboy appears in my dreams, running through a meadow full of large, chocolatey cookies; hand-in-hand with Betty Crocker to the tune of "Jamaican Farewell". It's disgusting.

Don't claim innocence. It was your idea to have chocolate chip cookies. The checkout boy man at 7-11 is my witness. You purchased those cookies with malice aforethought! We both saw that grin on your face. You knew I'd get hooked on them again.

Why? Is it because you lost the ketchup bet? Because we had to run to the play? Because the acting was occasionally mediocre? Or just because you couldn't have a taco salad?

Well, before you become too smug, I should inform you that I will deal with this addiction. A rigorous program of withdrawal has already begun. I will have no more than 15 30 cookies today, and less than 10 29.5 tomorrow. It won't be long before I return to normal once more!


The strikeouts were done in blue pen. It's the second-to-last paragraph that really makes me wonder.
posted by aws17576 at 2:49 PM on May 9, 2007 [17 favorites]


I am a librarian, and I have an entire photo album dedicated to lost pictures that I find in books at the library. Some of them are quite beautiful - and some are just plain odd.
Two of my favorites -

- a picture from the late 40's or early fifties, with a man and a woman holding two gigantic catfish up for the camera to see. The man is wearing only pants, and both of them look like it's the happiest day of their lives.

- a picture of two women dancing together. Both of them have roses between their teeth, and both look as through they have had a bit too much to drink.
posted by bradth27 at 3:53 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've got a four-leaf clover from an edition of The Spectator published around 1790. Not sure how old the clover is though.
posted by mdoar at 4:20 PM on May 9, 2007


I borrowed a copy of Historic California in Bookplates which was marked with the ex-libris illustration of its previous owner: one of the plates featured in the book itself. Neat huh?
posted by Firas at 5:08 PM on May 9, 2007


I used to work at a used bookstore, and I still have several bookmarks that were found thusly. One was a disturbing photo of a barrel-chested blond young girl sitting topless on a bed in front of an American flag. (Disturbing because it is somehow completely anti-erotic, and she looks like she could be Timothy McVeigh's little sister.) Another was an out-of-focus photo I've never been able to figure out, but it looks like Oscar Wilde dancing with a white featureless mannequin reflected in a mirror. Another was a postcard of a painted yellow wall with teeny tiny perfect print on the back describing an evening eating split pea soup in a drafty cottage in the hinterlands of Ireland. (never mailed.) (I've lost that one in one of my own books somewhere.)

And I'm currently bookmarking/using a plain postcard that's ready to break apart if I don't reinforce it with packing tape or something--postmarked Sep. 17, 8am, 1924, addressed to Mr. Frank Darling, Montrose Mich. (list of numbers on the front with a bunch of names). Reads on the back in blue pen:
Ovid, Mich.
Sept. 17, 1924
Dear Uncle: We went down home last night to see how Edna was and when we got there she was not there but they had taken her to Perry to the cancer specialist they haven't got it yet. and they said she had another on her other breast. They are going to use serum treatment on her and try to asorb the other one. We'll let you know later. Yours in Hasla, Gladys & Warren


Poor Edna.
posted by RedEmma at 5:19 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks to this thread, I now know where it must be that all my MetroCards go to die.
posted by nowonmai at 6:02 PM on May 9, 2007


I wrote a short story about an eccentric author who, among other eccentricities, insisted that her books be published with things in the pages. I think she made sure there were clippings of straight brown hair and two silverfish corpses in each copy of one of her novels. Needless to say, she published in very small editions. How I wish I'd thought of bacon!

An acquaintance once sent me a book which included a letter he'd written to a former girlfriend about how it wasn't working out. I never mentioned it to him. I kind of had a crush on him and the letter made me wonder why...
posted by crinklebat at 6:03 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


What a delightful thread! Packed full of charming and evocative anecdotes.
posted by nickyskye at 6:30 PM on May 9, 2007


See also.
posted by rob511 at 6:56 PM on May 9, 2007


(with this crowd, I really should have used "cf." above)
posted by rob511 at 7:04 PM on May 9, 2007


I bought this book for 50ยข at a thrift store last year. In it was the business card of this man, who just happened to be a friend of mine in 1994... long before he was a lounge singer & long before I was a jazz singer. I met him when I was working at the House of Blues & he showed up to watch the Weird Al Yankovic show. I recognized him because two nights earlier I had seen him on David Letterman's Stupid Human Tricks. His trick was that he would throw a bunch of M&Ms up into the air, and then Dave was supposed to call out a color and he would catch that color M&M in his mouth. He totally failed & Dave was annoyed.

Haven't spoken to him in over a decade & I currently live 400 miles away from where I met him. Strange that now I have his business card.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:09 PM on May 9, 2007


Not a bookmark, but sort of related. Heck Of A Guy was intrigued by an inscription he found on a flyleaf and so he followed it up, uncovering the life and times of Allan Truax.
posted by tellurian at 10:22 PM on May 9, 2007


I recently checked out "Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins" from the public library. It has what appear to be crinklings on the bottom edges of the pages (I'm guessing a bong spill incident, as would be likely most appropriate), and the bookmark left in it was a very pink, intact packet of Sweet n Low.

Considering that the first short work was "Canyon of the Vaginas," I intend to leave it as I found it.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:22 AM on May 10, 2007


My favorite bookmark was a folded page I found in a 1925 Robert Ingersoll lecture collection. It was from one of those old calendars that had a page for each day.

I couldn't tell you the exact date on it, but I believe it was sometime around December of 1934.

Now, mind you, I got this book sometime around 2000 or so, so that thing was presumably sitting in there for 66 years.
posted by Target Practice at 3:44 AM on May 10, 2007


Also, I recently found an unused Greyhound bus ticket from the 80s in a used book I bought.
posted by Target Practice at 3:48 AM on May 10, 2007


What nickyskye said - What a delightful thread! Packed full of charming and evocative anecdotes.

Everyone's stories are just a joy to read - makes me want to hang around used book stores this weekend and tuck treasures between some of the pages.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:59 AM on May 10, 2007


That chocolate chip story is stupendous.
posted by OmieWise at 6:26 AM on May 10, 2007


In 2004 I found a little metal card with a 1904 calendar on one side, and a photo engraving of toddlers in traditional German attire advertising Gettelman's $1000 Beer... in a bible.
posted by Scram at 7:23 AM on May 10, 2007


I found, "laminated" between two strips of contact paper, four coca leaves, with four small emeralds in the corners. A souvenir of Colombia, my friend explained, but still a shock when I opened his Bible.
posted by rossmik at 8:28 AM on May 10, 2007


I just started reading Never Let Me Go in a library edition, and between pages 32 and 33 is a cookie-corpse. Perhaps some previous borrower took the book's title a bit too literally?
posted by rob511 at 3:47 PM on May 10, 2007


Brookline Booksmith posts weekly notes about things found in books in their used book cellar.
posted by nonane at 9:49 PM on May 10, 2007


oh, this is an awesome thread!

i found a 1970s handwritten pan am boarding pass in a used book. smoking section. since i am a smoker, i remembered the past and mourned its loss.
posted by sdn at 1:52 PM on May 11, 2007


Once I bought a copy of The Wings of the Dove at a used bookstore, and inside was what appeared to be an old calling card signed and dated with what looked an awful lot like Henry James' signature. (I worked at a library that contained a huge amount of his correspondence, so I had some familiarity with it and with the kinds of calling cards he used.) And the card sure looked old--but well-preserved. Is it a reproduction of some kind? Did the book's former owner acquire it and then forget about it? I'm still not sure.
posted by chinston at 8:28 PM on May 11, 2007


fandango_matt said:
After he rents and watches movies, a friend of mine writes brief reviews and tucks them inside the rented case for the next renter to find. My personal favorite: "Good performance by Rose McGowan. Ending sucks."

The Doom Generation, right?
posted by nbr at 9:32 AM on May 13, 2007


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