I love books, me. I don’t mean literature as such, I mean books, the tangible cover-and-pages product. There are many reasons why I won’t be buying an e-reader and the main one is that I think they depersonalise the relationship between books and readers; the very thing that makes books what they are.
And books are magical. Old books in particular. I’ve got one in front of me now and it contains a mystery as beguiling as the book itself is wonderful.
Many of you will already know that I am a massive fan of H.V. Morton. I try to pick up first editions of his books where I can, or at least the earliest edition I can find. Hence I picked up a copy of his In Search Of Scotland (in the bockety old shop in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight that I mentioned in Attention All Shipping) that dates back to 1930, a year after it was first published and such was Morton’s popularity at the time that this is already the ninth edition.
Two things make this particular book special though, beyond Morton’s work itself. Next to the title page there is an old sepia photograph of two young boys standing by a tree in what appears to be a walled garden. I can’t say for sure but the architecture of the houses behind looks to me like that of any number of Scottish towns I’ve visited. The photograph has been carefully and deliberately pasted onto the page and I’ve no idea why. Here it is:
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It took me a while, but eventually I noticed something else about the book; something even more fascinating than the old photograph. I realised that the next two pages had been glued together. The passing years meant the glue was not as adhesive as it once was and I was able to prise the pages apart without too much difficulty. There, among the yellowed strokes of the paste brush, a dozen women had carefully written their names:
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As far as I can make out the names are as follows:
Margaret Hall
Doris Hall
Sheila Hatchell
Cecilia Cleary
M. Stobbs
Peggy Lamb
Dorothy Preston
Joan Hegarty
Dorothy Fell (Pell?)
Marjorie Wood
Margaret Lawson
Marie Henderson
There was clearly a reason why these women all signed this particular book and then the pages were deliberately glued together. I’d love to know what it was. Who were they? The names and styles of handwriting, not to mention the age of the glue, suggest that this may have been done when the book was new, which now goes back eighty years. Why did they all carefully write their names in a travel book about Scotland and then meticulously glue that page to the previous one to hide them? Who are the two boys in the picture and why is their photograph glued next to the title page? Where was the picture taken?
It’s a long shot I know but if anyone can shed light on this mystery I’d love to hear from them. You can contact me here.