Book Traces

Andrew Stauffer’s presentation got me thinking about all the interesting finds I’ve come across while exploring the stacks. While it’s true that we don’t have many historical editions in the Mina Rees Library here at the GC, I did my undergrad at City College, and thanks to what I thought of at time as institutional neglect, I came across many intriguing old books while browsing the stacks of Cohen Library.

Here are a few of fun ones that come to mind:

A physics book written in French from the mid-19th century, stamped “The New York Free Academy” (City College’s original name)

A Carnegie Hall ticket stub from the 1950s inside an edition of the Collected Essays of E.B. White.

Various flowers and leaves pressed within the book.

I’d agree that in age when the marks that we leave on texts are so public (so-and-so has left such-and-such comment) that there’s something enchanting about theseĀ anonymous material traces that appear to us as such poignant details of a life-once-lived.

But, along with Stauffer, I also wonder how many of these bits of evidence we’d need to create a useful set of data. On the other hand, it seems to me that it’s a worthy project to start thinking of the study of these artifacts as an acceptable field of scholarship. Certainly, the history of book preservation has thought otherwise, as book collectors of the past of lobbed off marginalia when rebinding, or simply threw out the books with excessive writing in them.

That being said, I would also like to think about how we can judge extant editions with marginalia, considering that so many of these editions have simply been lost to history.