Gimme Some Oven

Even Before the Story Begins

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vintage books |
A friend of mine owns an estate sale business and every month I get to work a sale or two with him. Normally what this means is I sit behind the cash table and watch other people buy the things I missed or was hoping would still be there later in the day. But every once in a while, I go home with treasures. And more often than not, they’re books. (Big surprise.)

I didn’t realise it until this last sale, but one of the great things about estate sale books is that it’s not uncommon to find an inscription in them. And sometimes a mediocre book can suddenly look interesting when there’s a good inscription that sets the book in the context of life.

vintage books |

How often do we flip to page one of chapter one in a book and start reading, ignoring all the previous pages? Sometimes you can read the book’s own “story” in those earlier pages.


L'Amour |

L’Amour: Epigrams and Witticisms on Love © 1957 Peter Pauper Press | illustrated by Ruth McCrea*

Day two of the sale, I spotted this slim gem on the shelf and tried to tell myself it was too cute for my taste. The illustrations, though interesting, weren’t me. But then, I opened the cover and saw: “…for times remembered…” 1967. And suddenly, I was curious about this little book of love quotes and its cartoonish couple.

L'Amour |

Illustrations by Ruth McCrea © 1957 Peter Pauper Press

Now this copy of Paradise Lost, I found a while back.

Paradise Lost |

Paradise Lost by John Milton © 1890? Donohue, Henneberry & Co.

As it’s a classic, and obviously printed long ago, I would’ve gotten it anyway — but its inscription is noteworthy:

Presented to Miss Lizzie Nolan for excelling her classmates in spelling.
Gertrude Griffith
March 4, 1898

Paradise Lost |

Did Lizzy win a spelling bee? What words was she particularly proud of spelling correctly? Did she love poetry? Milton? The creation story? Why did Ms. Griffith gift her this particular book?


Grimm's Fairy Tales |

Grimm’s Fairy Tales © 1924 The John C. Winston Company | illustrated by Edwin John Prittie

I love old illustrations, so couldn’t pass up this book of fairy tales and its drawings. Inside it’s simply inscribed: To Deanna from Grandma B—- Dec. 25, 1944. That date made me pause. Imagine Christmas in the midst of World War II and you unwrap a book of fairy tales from your grandma. In some ways a book of fairy tales seems an apt gift to a child in wartime, as such tales are often darker than you’d expect children’s stories to be — yes they’re fantastical, but they also acknowledge that life is difficult.

Speaking of wartime…

wartime conditions printing |

The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage by Carolyn Keene © 1940s? Grosset & Dunlap

When I opened this book, the title page included a “produced under wartime conditions” tag, which I hadn’t previously heard of. Apparently publishers had to use certain kinds of paper to reduce costs. Made me realise just how much a world at war would affect every aspect of life. And then, to appreciate that people still thought it important to print books — and even children’s mystery books! I hadn’t even known that Carolyn Keene wrote mysteries besides Nancy Drew, but apparently there were the Dana Girl Mysteries, as well. I look forward to reading this and learning more about the Dana girls.
Dana Girls Mystery |

book challenge: look through your books and comment below
with your favourite found inscription(s)

*Apparently Ruth McCrea illustrated a lot of cookbooks:


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bet mercer

Bet Mercer is a poet-photographer who writes at Gimme Some Reads and Everyday Poetry. She loves quotes, reading her favourite books over again, great conversation, laughter, trees, films, and travelling the world. Follow along with Bet on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Etsy and Google+.

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0 comments on “Even Before the Story Begins”

  1. That’s a lovely little post! It’s so great when I hear about someone taking something home from a sale that they truly love.

  2. I love love this post! Finding written notes in books is probably one of my favorite things! Thank you for sharing your little hidden gems! I love that disclaimer in the book published during the war.

  3. amen.

    seen a few of these.

    pondered similarly on other things.

    “things have stories too”…
    a grain scoop that belonged to my great grandfather.
    a lawn broom and ice chisel that belonged to my wife’s grandparents.
    a toy or tool found inside a wall.
    a broken chair or old bottle under the house…

    book inscriptions have more answers. things only questions.

    Paul Harvey and his son waged a years’ long quest for “the REST of the story”…

  4. I love this! I think the inscription on the “Way To A Man’s Heart Cookbook” you picked up for me is one of my all-time favs. :)

  5. It’s a little sad that with so many eBooks now, inscriptions may be a thing of the past. Too bad there’s not a way to permanently add the note enclosed on an email announcing an eBook gift to the eBook itself?