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Ghosts of Readers Past

October 17, 2017

All libraries are full of ghosts. Especially those with special collections and archives. People have left their marks everywhere. Archives are really nothing more than a collection of ghosts, curated for your enjoyment and research, pieces of their souls they’ve left behind to be stored in record center carton prisons.

But the ghosts in special collections are different, they are more elusive. Who were these ghosts of readers past? Why did they read this book? Did they like this book? Was it bought by them or for them? Did it help them in any way? Such thoughts go through my mind when I open the worn covers and see the notes, the names, the doodles. So on this spooky October day I’d like to share some of the Virginia Union University Special Collection’s Ghosts of Reader’s Past.

According to the archives at King’s College Cambridge, “The earliest known examples of printed bookplates are German, and date from the 15th century.” As early as the 19th century they became a collector’s item because of their many beautiful designs and motifs. However they are more then just decorative, they are of course utilitarian.

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Some were simple, just recording the owner’s name – other’s had room for some more information. W. E. C. Rich, a Boston school administer, had his bookplates made with room for him to add the price he paid and when he bought it.

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Still others made sure to warn anyone borrowing their books that they expected to get them back in one piece. The bookplate of Rev. William A. Lilley below admonishes borrowers to take care of the book as if it were an extension of Lilley himself.

 

 

Z. F. Griffin’s (short for Zebina Flavious) bookplate however seems to imply that he 20160825_081518.jpgwouldn’t dare let anyone borrow his books which makes one wonder how it left his side and became part of our collections. A somber looking missionary in his photographs, he hardly looks like one to let you joyfully cart off his books.

 

My favorite, however, are the pictorial ones. I’d like to imagine that the readers chose images that they could relate to and between the pictures and the books that they chose to claim as their own we might be able to determine a little more about these people.

For instance, it seems fitting that Deborah Dunn Chapman (lower left) has a simple picture of a horse on the coast. Her father was a farmer and timber seller and she lived in Maine surrounded by similar scenery. Her father’s business card has a similar simple beauty.scan0158

Whereas the bookplate of Mabel Wood Cheek (lower right) is very ornate and seems to make a lot of sense when you see where she lived.

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Cheekwood, the home of Mabel Wood Cheek in Nashville, TN

Virginia Union has had many different bookplates for its library books over the years as well. Below are just a few.

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