On Writing, Tech, and Other Loquacities

The collected works of Lana Brindley: writer, speaker, blogger

Old and Antique Books

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A photograph of a bookshelf, showing two shelves of old and antique books of various sizes and colours.

I am certain that it will surprise exactly no one that I have a large number of books in my (very small) apartment. The prize of the collection, though, is these two shelves. They hold a couple of books of modest value, and a large number of books that I have, for one reason or another, found interesting enough to purchase.

I have never bothered properly cataloguing them, but if my house were to burn down I would miss them very much, so I thought I would make some attempt to document what I have. Perhaps they are of interest to others, as well.

A photograph of a bookshelf, showing a single shelf of old and antique books of various sizes and colours.

The top shelf contains two sets (a three-volume and a two-volume set) of Shakespeare. While the three volume set has clearly been mistreated (this is what happens when you pull books down off the shelf by their spines, children!), the interior is almost perfect. The two-volume set I suspect has sat on someone’s shelf and been ignored for many, many years. This one still has tissue on most of its plates. Both sets date from around the late 1800s.

Also on the top shelf, you might notice a small unassuming ex-library copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. It’s not a first edition (those are about as difficult to find as a First Folio these days), but it is a second edition (1950), and despite being ex-library and having lost its dust-jacket many years before it came into my possession, is is in perfect condition. Although it is probably the least pretty of them all, it is by far my favourite.

The Dickens to the left of the Orwell, however, is a first edition (although of one of his less popular novels). I found it in a cafe with a couple of shelves of books tucked away up the back. To be fair, the fact that it was a first edition probably would have been enough for me to buy it on its own, especially given that they only wanted $35 for it. But flipping through it in the bookshop and I noticed something even more interesting: uncut pages! I could barely contain my excitement as I gleefully paid the asking price!

A photograph of a bookshelf, showing a single shelf of old and antique books of various sizes and colours.

The first part of the second shelf has a 1937 Australian edition of How to Win Friends and Influence People, two Browning poetry collections: one in velvet (there’s something about Browning that seems to inspire printers to make small books with interesting bindings), and two copies of Anne of Green Gables. The one on the left is a 1942 Australian edition, and has been wrapped in plastic but is otherwise in very good condition. The one on the right I bought later despite its terrible condition, and the fact that it’s a decade younger than the one I already had, because it has the most treasured item you can find in an old book: found things! The young lady who owned this book before me had a penchant for flower pressing, and has left me with a red petal, and a beautiful bookmark.

The inside front cover of an old book showing the torn flap of the dust jacket, and a small homemade bookmark with a pressed flower.

The inside of an old book containing the red petal of a pressed flower.

Bringing us to the final part:

A photograph of a bookshelf, showing a single shelf of old and antique books of various sizes and colours.

The two larger books with nothing on the spines are a Boys’ and a Girls’ Annual. I have a terrible addiction to these things (there is one up on the top shelf, too, you might have noticed). Absolutely worthless, of course, but a whole lot of fun. I can’t help but imagine the children who must have pored over them. Probably the most interesting one here is the little George Eliot Mill on the Floss. Undated, from Nelson & Sons (London), which puts it at around 1920-ish (the first edition was a three-volume set in 1860). I love this one for, again, the found items. The previous owner, one Vera Leggett, may not have loved this book, but Ms Leggett certainly spent a lot of time with it:

The inside of an old book, with underlined passages in pencil.

To keep track of all her underlining, Ms Leggett even made herself an index to the most important parts:

The inside front cover of an old book, covered in handwriting in pencil. The writing is hared to decipher, but it is small underlined phrases, followed by page references.

I hope Ms Leggett aced that test. She certainly worked hard for it.


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