Saturday, September 20, 2008



There’s something about old books that speak to my soul. Words on paper, survivors of ages bringing their writers thoughts into my hands. I have a certain reverence for old volumes, more so than their newer cousins. A book that’s made it past the obstacles of interested and disinterested readers, indifferent storage, natural disaster, and the horror of yards sales….. Like an elderly woman who survived two wars and three husbands, respect is due for nothing other than being there against all odds.

Today I planned to shoot at my club. What I had forgotten was the annual gun show we hold there as a fund raiser. That meant three large rooms of the club building were lined with tables and browsers, and the parking lot crowded with vehicles. It also meant one rifle range was closed, and the other more crowded as a result.


I’m not one to miss a gun show if I can help it, especially when it’s thrust into my plans as fate inarguable. I paid my admittance and began stalking the aisles. My shopping list was as short as my wallet was light. A few lubrisizer dies a reloading press as a gift for someone, and perhaps some surplus ammunition.

I found none of those things that struck my fancy, but did manage to stumble across a stray book or two. Well…. exactly two…. followed me home.

One, by Dwight Eisenhower, relating our campaign in Europe during WWII, was published in 1949. The other, a recounting of our adventures in the Spanish American war, was published in 1898.

1898….. This book, with its illustration plates and engraved cover, was printed one hundred and ten years ago. Surviving in one piece and in relatively good condition, it came into my possession for a meager five dollars.

Holding the book in my hands, I feel a connection to it’s author, as well as all it’s owners down over the years.

Its pages are not only about history, they are history.

5 comments:

Brigid said...

Few know that between 1850 and the late 1980s, books were printed on acidic paper. Conservators can't keep up with the costly restoration and often have to play "book triage" determining which books will live and which will die.

I can look in our own libraries and see it, in one, a 1925 biography of the composer Palestrina, discolored and falling apart, and a 1482 volume on Euclid's geometry, its pages white, strong and flexible. The difference being only the paper.

The problem started in the 1850's, when the demands of growing literacy drained supplies of cotton-rag and linen-rag paper, and a way to make paper out of wood pulp was developed.

Lignin in the wood pulp oxidizes and turns brown, he said, and alum-rosin sizing, a chemical added to keep ink from feathering, also discolors the paper. Over time, the alum combines with sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere, making the problem worse.

It became more widely known in the 1950's by William J. Barrow, a self-trained archivist began alerting people to the problem, but by then millions of books were terminal.

Soon, millions of books in thousands of libraries the world over will be lost when their pages disintegrate into dust. Some would say "they're just books, there are millions of others. Yet, I mourn for the loss of something that we have no control over, that of the written word.

Tam said...

I am fair green with envy! Nice find!

Carteach0 said...

Tam... I had to pass on two other finds.

A Spanish FR7 for $200... original and complete but for a missing rear sight wheel. And.... a near perfect copy of 'The Book of Rifles'. I have my dads dog eared copy. Vender wanted half a leg for his new looking one.

Bites not having a stack 'o cash when cool things come along. I'll probably kick myself over the FR7... but where the heart is willing, the wallet was weak.


Oh... and I spotted a few very nice Yugo Mausers. Think I know what a certain somebody is getting for Christmas this year.

Somerled said...

Old books have soul. Sometimes I find the inscription of the author or first owner on the flyleaf and sense kindredship.

Brigid said...

You should have said something. I think Santa has a couple hundred bucks.