People have found teeth, money, and bacon inside their books.
Be careful what you use as a bookmark. Thousands of dollars, a Christmas card signed by Frank Baum, a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card, a marriage certificate from 1879, a baby’s tooth, a diamond ring and a handwritten poem by Irish writer Katharine Tynan Hickson are just some of the stranger objects discovered inside books by AbeBooks.com booksellers.
I recently opened a secondhand book and an airline boarding pass from Liberia in west Africa to Fort Worth, Texas, fell to the floor. Was there a story behind this little slip of paper? Was someone fleeing from a country ravaged by two civil wars since 1989? I will never know, but used and rare booksellers discover countless objects - some mundane, some bizarre, some deeply personal - inside books as they sort and catalog books for resale.
Adam Tobin, owner of Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, New York, has created a display inside his bookstore dedicated to objects discovered in books.
“It’s a motley assortment,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for about two years since opening the store. The display quickly took over the back wall and now it’s spreading to other places, and there’s a backlog of stuff that we haven’t put up yet. There are postcards, shopping lists, and concert tickets but my favorites are the cryptic notes. They are often deeply personal and can be very moving.”
Used booksellers often take ownership of books that have been in a family or a household for decades or even generations. “It’s easy to find things in books that are very dated,” explained Adam,” Such as a newspaper advert for elastic bands from the 19th century. My personal favorite is an ad from the 1950s that reads ‘Rinsing Dacron Curtains in Milk Makes Them Crisp, Stiff, Just Like New.’”
The most valuable item discovered by Adam is a letter written by CS Lewis - author of the Narnia series – but his monetary finds have been limited to a $1 note now pinned to the display.
Eager to learn more, AbeBooks.com asked its booksellers to reveal their finds. You might be surprised to learn what people will leave inside a book.
Money was a constant theme. As well as legal tender US dollar bills, there were plenty of foreign notes as well as credit cards, debit cards, social security cards, domestic bills, credit card receipts, and cancelled checks.
“A wealthy, elderly woman in my town died a few years ago and left a large book collection with many fine books, much of which wound up in my inventory. The remaining books went to a local thrift shop, including a microwave cookbook which, as it turned out, contained 40 $1000 bills. The book was purchased by someone from out of town who was idling away the time waiting for her ride. She took the money to a local bank to verify its authenticity and that was how we heard about it. She didn't give a cent back to the thrift shop, either. A deeply frustrating experience for many, I can assure you.”
Miep from Big Canyon Books in Carlsbad, New Mexico
(We called the Cat’s Meow thrift store in Carlsbad and the manager confirmed these events occurred several years ago, although she did not know who had donated the cookbooks. Last printed in 1934, $1000 bills are very collectible and worth far more than their face value, so the buyer of the used cookbook actually got far more than $40,000)
“I found many old banknotes of several countries from the World War II era. Some Japanese, some German with burned edges. I was helping out at Victoria's Books in downtown Arlington Heights, Illinois, a few years ago. I was running from the back room to the front of the store to get the phone and knocked into a massive old dictionary. The notes just came spilling out. The book was so massive we had no idea so much could be hidden in there.”
Barbara from Fairfield House of Books in Plainfield, Illinois
“The best item found was a $100 bill in a Christmas card used as a bookmarker. The worst items would be a tie between the used Q-tip and a baby tooth.”
Mark at BookMarks Used Books in Mount Prospect, Illinois
“I found a $100 dollar bill inside a book that was brought in for trade. I gave it back to the customer a few days later and it made her week.”
Natalia at the Common Knowledge Bookstore in Sandpoint, Idaho
“Inside a volume, one of eight bought at a local garage sale, I found a charming child's Christmas card with the inscription "Merry Christmas to Harry from .....(fairly illegible). About two years later while trying to decipher the signature, the name suddenly revealed itself...."from Frank Baum". I sold it about a year later on AbeBooks.com for $2500 to an investment banker in Massachusetts as a Christmas present to his father, a passionate collector of Oziana.”
Jeffrey from Albion Books in Irvine, California
“Two handwritten, signed letters from the Irish poet and prose writer Katharine Tynan Hinkson enclosing a handwritten, signed pre-publication version of her World War I poem, ‘The Recruit’, a typewritten version of the poem ‘What She Said (An Irish Peasant Woman)’ and a clipped magazine article about her children. The letters included writing for review and family news to a Mr. Webb Waldron.”
Jack from Porter & Frye in New Hampshire
“Dozens of dried leaves and flowers, each on a different page. Unfortunately, they had stained the pages of a very expensive book.”
Annette from Loves Park, Illinois
“In one book that came into our store, we found 40 pressed four-leaf clovers. Since we were heading into March, we laminated them and passed them out to customers, they really appreciated them.”
Charlotte from The Book Mark in Auglaize County, Ohio
“A Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card. It was the original 1952 Topps #311 baseball card and not a reprint. It is in good condition and I still have it. There were three other cards as well - Gus Zernial (Philadelphia Athletics), Jim Busby (Washington Senators) and Leo Durocher (Manager of the New York Giants). These cards are also originals and not reprints, and are from the Baseball Collector Series. I believe these are also 1952 vintage and are in very good condition.”
Michael from Book Nation in Mississauga, Ontario
“A golf scorecard signed by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.” (Sandy and Don formed one of baseball’s greatest pitching duos in the late 1950s and 1960s when playing for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers)
Fred from Fred Dorsett Enterprises in California
“A hotel cocktail napkin with a name and a room number on it – from Spain – found inside a 1945 mystery paperback.”
Nathan from Kayleighbug Books, New York
“ I found two printed lists of upcoming surgeries at a hospital. There was also a handwritten note recommending that an unnamed individual, who had staged their own abduction, should be required to do their volunteer service with a search and rescue team for about a five-year period. Today, I found an old calling card from Indonesia.”
Joyce from The Book Peddler in White Salmon, Washington
“In a wonderful old book of etiquette from the 1890s, I found both a calling card and a lovely hand painted handkerchief.”
Karen from Bens Books in Escanaba, Michigan
“A man brought in numerous boxes of books which had belonged to his wife who had died a year previous. She had stored many family photographs in the books as well as cards and letters. We filled a 9x12 manila envelope at least two inches thick. The most unusual find was a gold pinky ring set with a small diamond.”
Carl from Books on Center in Marion, Ohio
“Inside an old children's book, I found a green card; on one side was written in a child's print: “I love you, do you love me?” The answer was written on the reverse: “ I hate you and nobody loves me.” There were several additional cards saying "Nobody loves me."
Sandra from Nan’s Book Shop in Illinois
THE JUST PLAIN WEIRD
“Once I found two business cards carefully taped together. I picked at the edge and they came apart revealing a three-foot long accordionfolded panorama of 1970s pornography. I also once found a chocolate chip that was wedged down between the book cloth and the mull of the spine. The chocolate chip was dusty and dented, but otherwise unsullied. I wondered how one wedges a chocolate chip into the spine of a book, and how long it had been there. The book’s copyright was 1889.”
BL from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Aside from all the letters, torn out newspaper articles, shopping lists, business cards, and postcards (send and unsent), other objects discovered by AbeBooks.com booksellers include a World War II US ration book (with stamps remaining), World War II discharge papers, a pair of scissors, a valid driver’s license, a marriage certificate from 1879, a holographic image of a lady who sheds her clothing, theater playbills, a condom (unused), a cockroach (dead), and a strip of bacon.