Friday, October 14, 2011

Treasures in More Ways Than One

One of the things I love about used bookstores is that the books there have history. They’ve been read, held, laughed over, cried over, curled under bed covers with, enjoyed with a cup of coffee or a chicken salad sandwich. And some of them have the stains to prove it.

And then there are the bits of history you don’t expect to find. Like the time I pulled a copy of Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (great dragon book!) from the shelf, flipped through it, and discovered a photograph tucked between pages 110 and 111. It was somewhat aged, judging by the dull colors—and the afros and bellbottoms worn by the people in it. They looked like they were having a good time, though. It appeared to be a picnic somewhere grassy and green. It was a sunny day, the people were smiling, and there was a big table piled high with food.

When I went to the cash register, I gave the photograph to the bookstore owner.

“I know it’s a long shot,” I said, “but I thought you should keep this in case someone comes back for it.”

What followed was an amusing conversation in which the owner, who had been in the used book business for well over a decade, related the many objects that he’d found inside used books over the years. It’s a pretty long and sometimes surprising list:

  • Photographs - yes, apparently people tuck lots and lots of photographs into books, including what we will call photographs of a not-so-family-friendly nature. He said it’s really awkward when you recognize the person. (He has a lot of regular customers.) He’s never sure whether he should try to return the photograph or not.
  • Money – sometimes hundreds and hundreds of dollars. A friend of mine used to have a grandmother who was so mistrustful of banks that she instead hid her savings by tucking the bills between the pages of books on her living room shelf. I supposed some people forget that the money’s there. Or perhaps when elderly book owners pass away, their family members may sell or trade their books, not realizing the small fortunes they contain.
  • Old letters and postcards – these would be so much fun to find! Can you imagine the history—the loves, woes, travels, and dreams of generations past. And yes, I guess it would be kind of nosy to read them, but I’d do it anyway :)
  • Visa Platinum cards – don’t ask me, I don’t get this one, either. I have no clue why someone would put a Visa Platinum card in a book. Personally, when I don’t have a bookmark handy I reach for something disposable to use, like a tissue or a Post-It Note, not the nearest high-limit credit card.
  • Uncashed checks – for when your Visa Platinum card isn’t handy.
  • Old lottery tickets – hope they weren’t winners!
  • Driver’s licenses – as long as you take the book with you whenever you drive, you’re all set.
  • Social Security Cards – sure, identity theft is a concern, but marking your place in a book is well worth the risk, right?
  • Legal documents such as wills, trusts, marriage certificates, etc. – I mean, it’s not like they’re important, and you weren’t using them, anyway…
And my winner for the most unexpected:
  • Illegal drugs – ok, these weren’t actually inside a book. They were in a small plastic baggy inside a duffle bag donated with a bunch of used books. Still, I bet it was a bit of a shocking find!
So yes, used books definitely have history—and sometimes treasures beyond the stories they contain. (Not the drugs. Those are bad.)

The moral? Always flip through your books before donating or selling them off. After all, someday you might actually need that Visa Platinum card or marriage certificate, if only to mark your place in another book.

So, please share: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found/placed in a book or used as a bookmark?

photo credit: austinevan via photopin cc

photo credit: AMagill via photopin cc


  1. The strangest things I've ever found was a $5 bill and a used airline ticket. Bet I know where they were reading.

    The strangest thing I've ever used was probably a butter knife, but only for a moment.

  2. I've used just about anything to mark a page in a book, including another book (only for a moment). Unfortunately I can't think of a single interesting thing I've found in the pages of a used book, though.

  3. Ha! I'm a bit weird in that I never use any kind of bookmark that isn't meant to be that. But I do use the occasional receipt so maybe I'm giving away my secret shopping habits. :) (p.s. hopped over from MG Mafioso's page!)

  4. I used a gum wrapper once. I don't think that's too bad, certainly not illegal! ;) I have a huge box of bookmarks in my office, but I was too lazy to walk down a whole staircase and get one! :)

  5. I love leaving old handmade bookmarks, envelopes, photos, postcards, etc. in my books (the ones I'm keeping). It's fun to revisit when I pull one out to read again or share.

    I wonder how many treasures of mine have ended up at the used bookstore?

  6. One summer long ago I was helping some people move out of their house. One of the items we were packing up was a large comic book collection--30,000 comic books--they had inherited the collection from the previous owners when they'd moved into the house. We found some money in one of the comic books...does that count? :-) :-)

  7. Dawn, what a cool post. I am guilty of using bills as bookmarks (so sometimes they don't get paid on time...) I guess I should just frop them off at the used book store now.

    I've never found money, tickets, credit cards or anything valuable. Though I have found the odd business card (and never made contact!)

  8. Butter knives, other guys have some good ones!

    And money is always fun to find, but sadly I never find it. (Drat!) Or Visa Platinum cards, for that matter... For some reason I always seem to find photographs, usually from the 70s or 80s, as you can tell from the hair and clothes, lol. And since I read a lot of children's books, I find kiddie stuff like old homework assignments, notes from teachers, classroom name tags, etc.

    A friend of mine working a charity book sale once found $500 in cash that someone had tucked inside a donated book. Luckily she was able to return it to the owner, whose name was on the donation bag.

  9. The strangest thing that happened to me when my brother-in-law told me about a used Robert Jordan book he bought at a bookstore. He was reading through it and found an old plane boarding pass inside. And guess whose name was on it? Mine! I had sold them a couple of years before, and oddly enough they landed on his bookshelf.

  10. P.S. I confess that I am one of those horrible page-turner-downer people. I think I'll reform and go get some cute bookmarks or something, but then I go back to my own bad habits...

  11. Marissa, too funny!!

    You and your brother-in-law must have the same taste in books.

  12. I just saw that a book based on this concept is coming out:


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!