Of Birthdays Passed

As time goes by, so do birthdays. A time comes when one acknowledges the day, feels grateful for another year, reminisce a little about other birthdays passed, and realizes that material gifts are not as important anymore. Meaningful moments and relationships take the place. A while ago, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. My reply was, “I don’t need anything.” It was a sincere answer. Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoy things that I find beautiful or special, I just don’t see birthdays anymore as an opportunity to acquire more things. So gifts are not as important anymore. However, I gave it some thought and ended up settling on an antique book. It is something I like to collect. Old books are special. They are beautiful inside and out. The care that was put into printing and designing a book 100 + years ago, can be appreciated in every page. After scanning websites for an old book that would peek my interest, I settled on Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore. This particular edition is from 1900. I found older editions from the late 1800s with different covers; however, none of them caught my eye except for this one. The presentation seemed to have been made for a lady. The floral golden detail of the cover, the beautiful raised illustration, all of it spoke to me. The inside does not disappoint either; it is gorgeous as well. Add to it the scent of an old book, and it turns into perfection. One thing that I found odd was the placement of the preface on the left side, as you can see in the picture. I will make a confession; I am not one to read prefaces all the way. I try but most of the time I skip them, and find them boring. Well, I was pleasantly surprised with this one. It intrigued me. If the preface is so good, I am about to be blown away by this story, I thought. I have never read Lorna Doone (Shame on me. Never too late) but I read the first chapter. All I can say is that it is beautiful, and that I need a dictionary of old terminology, of old English words, next to me. This will not be a quick read, and I intend to enjoy it. Besides, the print is very small, so my eyes will have to work extra hard, and at intervals. It will be interesting to learn some new (old) words. I am excited about it; and yes, I love my birthday present. This particular edition is gorgeous.

Richard Doddridge Blackmore (1825-1900) was a very famous English novelist, and Lorna Doone was one of his most known and famous novels. It is a romance, set in the countryside, and at that time a catalyst, a movement in romantic fiction. After reading his biography, and more about the book, I feel more compelled to read it in much detail, with much care and attention. Here are some pictures.

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Photo by M.A.D.

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Photo by M.A.D.

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Photo by M.A.D.

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Photo by M.A.D.

 

Silent Witnesses

I have a true love for things of the past, antique or vintage items that reflect the pass of time. Rustic, old things that have been through many seasons and survived, that have been in many hands. I don’t know where this love affair comes from, but it has been there always, since I can remember.

On one occasion, someone who visited me for the first time noticed that most of my possessions are old/antique, and asked me about it. I joked replying, “If it is new, I don’t want it.” This amore extends to old books; I find them hard to resist. Everything is so beautiful and enticing about old books – the scent, the natural variation in color, the cover, the typography … I have an affinity for old journals, not only the writing type, but the record keeping as well. What I love about old journals is how well made these were – beautiful covers, quality pages, carefully selected fonts, and rich colorful patterned interior covers, among other attributes. Everything about these journals was done with such careful detail and quality that these are still around today. Here’s an example. The cover seems a corduroy type moss green fabric and oxblood leather trimmed in gold. You can’t find this workmanship quality these days. The interior is beautiful as well.

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Photo by M.A.D.

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Photo by M.A.D.

Here are a few other examples; notice the small details, the lettering, the grain, the rich colors …

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Photo by M.A.D.

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Photo by M.A.D.

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Photo by M.A.D.

These were everyday items used in households and businesses, and these were gorgeous, imagine that. Old writing paraphernalia calls my name as well, especially old pens and pencils, some of which I have shared on this blog. I cannot help but melt at the sight of an old desk and chairs. My love for old rulers is obvious throughout my home. Some people believe that one should not bring antiques to one’s home because they have been imprinted with the energy of previous owners, positive or negative, or even to have ghosts attached. If that was the case, I would have an army living with me.

I find beauty and joy while looking at these old things, and have no desire for “the new” unless it happens to be a well made reproduction of an antique piece. I enjoy technology and appreciate the value of some new things, mostly utilitarian, but when new is not needed/required, for me, old is better. Sometimes, I wish I could see the past of these objects of my affection, their previous “lives” in as many settings these have been throughout the decades, and even centuries. To see their stories, to have a glimpse of the many families these have belong to, and the circumstances in which these passed through time. These are like silent characters whose stories are not told – a scuff, a broken piece restored at one point, a distinctive mark … It all speaks of the people around these objects, their lives, even their dreams, in many circumstances. Imagine all the stories these would reveal to a writer. Through the miracle of time, new things become old and new stories are written around them. These things become silent witnesses of time.

 

Charmed Again and Again

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – published by Scribners in 1952

That is one classic that I can read more than once with much enjoyment. Although written long time ago, it still reads fresh. I love Hemingway’s word rhythm and the way he paints a picture in my mind. He transports you through time and place, and plays with your senses.

I was able to find an old copy sometime ago, and it is one of my forever books. It is missing the dust jacket, but I love it just the same. It might appear as a first edition, but it isn’t. It is missing the Scribners seal and the letter A on the copyright page. It is valuable to me. I know I will keep reading it from time to time, and probably on an August or September afternoon; it seems a perfect read then.

If you have not read this classic, I invite you to read it. Maybe you can try it for this summer. You will not be disappointed.

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How I Care for my Old Books

Many of us read from electronic devices but that does not mean that we do not enjoy a book in our hands from time to time. When I love a book so much I buy the hardcover edition or paperback. It goes on my collection of loved-to-death tomes, and I take good care of it. I enjoy buying older books to add to a very small and modest collection. These become my jewels. Whether antique or new, a much-loved book gets good treatment. Instead of writing a post on How to care for antiques books, I will leave that to the true-experts. You can find plenty of that information on the internet. However, I will write about how I care for my precious books under my real and down to earth circumstances.

Many elements are observed when caring for my precious books. I think of temperature, location, space, air flow, position on shelf, handling, and other issues that may affect the condition of the book over time. Because I do not live in a museum or a mansion, I must adapt my environment to the best conditions for my tomes, as well as my behavior or handling of these. Although my items are in storage now due to a pending move, I can tell you what I did. Here is what I always do.

  • The first rule I observe is to never leave a book unattended. I have six cats and some of them love to chew on paper, or play with it. Old books have a plethora of enticing scents and will become a favorite toy or prey.
  • The second rule is to treat my books as if they were vampires. I avoid exposing them to direct sunlight or leaving them where I know that the sun rays will hit for some time. Sunlight rays work fast on discoloration and even drying out a cover or spine.
  • Third rule – In my case, temperature and location go together. I try to select the best placement in my home – not too humid, not too dry or hot. For example, never leave a favorite in the bathroom or near a cooking stove or on top or near a heater or vent. I don’t have a basement but do have an attic, and neither those would be a good place to store a book.
  • Fourth rule – Air flow goes tied to location and placement on the shelf, so I will address those altogether. I try to select a location away from drafts, cold/hot air, sunlight, as well as having a nice airflow where the books will be stored. My shelving is made of wood and it is soft, not rough. Rough shelving might cause tears on your cover and pages, as well as damage on the spine. I don’t place the books too tight, even if I am tempted due to lack of space (wanting to fit another one). I allow a bit of space between, but also, I never lean a book against each other because this will damage its shape and pages eventually. If I have space, I use a felted book end. I’d rather it rests flat than leaning it, although if I lay it flat, another book on top should not be so heavy that the pressure will damage the cover, if it sticks together.
  • The fifth rule has to do with how I handle the book. I love when books have dust jackets because of the obvious. I place them upright, but if a book is a softcopy/paperback and it is tall, I’d rather store that one flat on its side because I know that it will bend eventually. I think I only have one or two that are that tall, if memory serves me well. One thing that I try not to do when selecting a book from the shelf is to pull on its spine because I did this once and the thing just came off a bit, so now I rather push the book out from the back and grab it firm with my hand when pulling it out. If there is a decent amount of space between books it should be retrieved easily. In the previous disaster, the book was stored too snug; sometimes you learn the hard way. Under handling, I should mention that I never have cream, lotion or oil in my hands when I am about to read a book that falls under the “precious” category, and by precious I mean “my precious” because I don’t own any valuable or expensive tomes, although I do have a few that are one or two centuries old, and those I have to be very careful when handling them.  The reason for this is that the old pages were made of a different material than today’s or more recent books, I think of wood pulp, back in the days when trees were murdered or sacrificed for knowledge. Anything oily or acidic will wreak havoc on the pages (old or new). I do have a pair of white gloves that I keep for the day that I encounter (or afford) that very special specimen. If you have opened an older book you may have noticed that the pages are dry, yellowed, and sometimes a page will crack/crumble when handled. Also, when returning my book to its nest, I try to be gentle, especially with the corners, and try not to touch the wood or the neighboring book. I also don’t dog-ear mark a page or leave a marker inside. Some papers are acidic and will damage it eventually. I bet you have seen the imprint of a marker on a page or its image, even when the marker has been removed.
  • The sixth rule has to do with cleaning, and that is simply being aware of using cleaners, oils, and sprays near books or the shelving, dusting gently and regularly so dust does not accumulate heavily. I use a soft duster, but honestly, I don’t even know what kind is better, although I would assume that feathers have oil compared to synthetic dusters; and of course, a separate duster would be better, not the one used around the house.

Other than that, I just try my best to love and care for my books, nothing fancy. Speaking about fancy, if you are into it and want to do it the professional way, there are many book care supplies available such as acid-free protective jackets, gloves, book furniture with glass doors, slip cases, special boxes … . If you own a very special and expensive book then you should consult a antique book specialist or expert that will educate you in the care and or restoration of older volumes. You may want to insure it of course, if it is very valuable. Overall, I just use common sense and TLC.

Ever wondered about the parts of a book? Here is a picture I put together sometime ago. If you notice, at one point, this book was handled with oily fingers because it has markings on the gold-leaf pages; just to give you an example of how something so simple and natural may affect a book later on.

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book parts 2

I hope you enjoyed this post.