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TYphoonSignal8 04-24-2017 12:04 AM

What is the oldest book you own?
I have around 100 old books, of which I am quite proud, and which are on my mind at the moment as I start thinking about updating my will and also whether I should get them insured.

My great, great-aunt, born 1886-died 1954 (15 years before I was born), was an avid collector of old books. When she died, my great-grandfather got her collection. He died in 1981, and gave them to my grandfather. He gave the books to me in around 1994.

The oldest of these books is from 1823. It is a beautiful book, with gilt edges and much type embellishments, and an inscription. The thing was a reward for passing a classics exam in 1825 in England (when I get home tonight I'll provide more details). I tried to Google the names a few years ago to work out if these people were relatives. But it turns out that my great great aunt just liked the book when she saw it, way back when, and bought it.

I have some scripture books which my great great aunt bought as Christmas gifts for my great great grandmother. They all have the same inscription - "To Eliz. Merry Xmas Nellie" and the date. They are not as old - dating back to the 1910s - but are very small windows into the lives of people that my grandparents knew.

The older books though.... like architecture, it seems the harder these things are to construct, the more evident the craftsmanship. Some of these are beautiful, with marbled covers.

Does anyone else have any really old books? Do they have a history?

Infovore 04-24-2017 12:15 AM

I have a copy of Pilgrim's Progress that's really old...I think it's from some time in the 1700s. It's in bad shape, though, and I'm afraid to open it to find out the exact date for fear of hurting it worse. It belonged to my dad and was in my house for as long as I can remember--I got it when he passed away.

Siam Sam 04-24-2017 12:20 AM

I used to have a copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Alas, it was not an original edition.

Jophiel 04-24-2017 12:25 AM

Oldest I have is a signed first edition of Sara Teasdale's Rivers to the Sea from 1915. I've had it for years and it just now occurred to me that it's now over a hundred years old. I'm sure plenty here have older but that's still pretty cool to me.

RealityChuck 04-24-2017 06:11 AM

Probably a copy of Self-Raised, or From the Depths by Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth from 1876.

Southworth was the most popular US novelist of her time. Sic transit gloria mundi.

jtur88 04-24-2017 06:37 AM

US Army field manual FM 21-76, "Survival Evasion and Escape", published 1969. No, wait -- A 1951 Rand McNally Road Atlas.

I'm not a hoarder of old books, I've divested myself of too many boxes of them.

naita 04-24-2017 06:45 AM

My oldest is the two volume "Norge i det 19de århundre" (Norway in the 19th centure) published in 1903. The volumes are huge, something like 10'' x 13'' x 3'', and the contents fascinating, even if it isn't something you sit down and read cover to cover.

Prof. Pepperwinkle 04-24-2017 06:47 AM

Hymns Ancient & Modern, 1861 edition. I used to have a collection of hymnals numbering over a hundred, but I donated a lot of those to a library with my last move. I kept about a dozen, including this one.

peedin 04-24-2017 07:08 AM

My grandma's Swedish Bible. From the late 1880s.

astorian 04-24-2017 07:32 AM

The oldest is a first edition Wodehouse comedy from the 1920s.

That was a gift from my mother-in-law. I don't collect books and don't keep most of the books I read.

Chronos 04-24-2017 08:07 AM

I have a few physics textbooks from circa 1900, just before the explosion of modern physics. They're out of date not just scientifically, but pedagogically: It's a wonder anyone was able to learn anything from them. I also have my grandfather's copy of the "rubber bible", the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, which I think was from some time in the 1920s.

Maastricht 04-24-2017 08:19 AM

I've got a little free library. A year ago, someone put twelve really really old stuffy smelling books in there. They turned out to be dating from the 1930's back to a first posthumous edition of a french play by playwright Moliere. First edition, 1682. Most of them were volumes of sermons.

I thought I had struck gold. But I've been to two antique book shops and they don't even want to buy it from me. It's in too bad a state. I don't know what to do with them now.

Dinsdale 04-24-2017 08:30 AM

Recently re-read a 1894 editon of Kipling's Jungle Book. That's likely the oldest.

In law school, my wife TAed for a prof who was in a rare book society. In his condo, he had stacks and stacks or REALLY old thick books dating back to the 1500s.

TriPolar 04-24-2017 08:40 AM

Probably an old engineering book my father-in-law had, and it is quite a bit older than he was. It has a diagram showing where to cut the best belts from the hide of an ox and some info on water wheels. Another book on electrical engineering is almost as old yet doesn't seem outdated at all.

jasg 04-24-2017 08:49 AM


Originally Posted by Siam Sam (Post 20158183)
I used to have a copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Alas, it was not an original edition.

Clay or stone?

I have an old stone tablet I haven't been able to decipher anything on it but the numbers 11 through 15 on the five sections...

Chefguy 04-24-2017 09:21 AM

My great grandfather's bible, published in 1861.

Sattua 04-24-2017 09:21 AM

A pair of anthropological surveys of the American Indian from 1898. Given to my great-grandfather by the city council in thanks for his work during the 1918 flu epidemic.

Guest-starring: Id! 04-24-2017 09:32 AM

Managed to unearth an old hardcover of Poe short stories from 1914.

RobDog 04-24-2017 09:37 AM

The Unhappy Princeffes, In two Parts, Containing Firft, The SECRET HISTORY of Queen Anne Bullen... etc etc.


It's exactly like this one:

Except it has a portrait of Anne Bullen/Boleyn and Jane Grey as a frontispiece.

Cardigan 04-24-2017 09:40 AM

A thick, ornately embossed leather-bound gold-leafed book named "The Genius of Industry" (complete with illustration plates) I don't have it in front of me but I want to say it was published some time in the late 1870's. The book is in excellent condition and ironically was found on top of a pile of old Life magazines and rubbish someone had left curbside some 30 years ago. I've been thinking lately about getting it appraised.

jtur88 04-24-2017 09:43 AM

My sister has my grandmother's Lithuanian prayer book, dated probably 1880s, which came over from the old country. Oldest book that has been in my family.

RobDog 04-24-2017 09:46 AM

My partner has a History of Duelling from MDCCLXX :)

koeeoaddi 04-24-2017 10:24 AM

Two Marriages, 1867.

Broomstick 04-24-2017 12:10 PM

An 1856 edition of Longfellow's "The Builders". Gilt edges, full color pages, small but very pretty. Given to my mother by her great aunt Flo, and I got it after mom died. The cover isn't in great shape (I think it spent most of its existence in mom's sock drawer) but the interior is still very beautiful.

Mahaloth 04-24-2017 01:22 PM

My mother has the New Testament she was given when the Queen was coronated. Not that old, but pretty special. Her brother bit and chewed the corner of it(he was a teenage, but a mental case....uh, jerk).

My Father found a family Bible with births and deaths when his own mother died in 2006. It was from the late 1800's. Helped with our family tree, too.

His Father had a German Bible from when he was a teenager in Germany in the 1920's. Very nice.

Bibles tend to stay around if they are nice. Shame everyone goes "Bible App" today. They are kind of cool.

bibliophage 04-24-2017 01:52 PM

Most of my books are catalogued on LibraryThing. According to their data, an edition of Gulliver's Travels from 1881 is the oldest book I own that has a known printing date. When I was about ten, I found it in my father's old room in my grandmother's house and he let me keep it. There were a bunch of other books I got the same way but most of them are now lost.

I also have my great-grandmother's family Bible which is probably printed about 1885-1890.

Chronos 04-24-2017 02:44 PM


There were a bunch of other books I got the same way but most of them are now lost.
It's OK, we know. You can admit that you ate them.

furryman 04-24-2017 02:51 PM

I've got a bible that was printed in 1611. It's not a first edition King James, but probably the last edition of the previous so called "Breeches Bible." It's in pretty bad shape. It's belonged to my family since the mid 1800's.

Maserschmidt 04-24-2017 02:52 PM

A first edition of Jurgen, by James Branch Cabell. Bought it on a whim when I saw it priced cheaply at a used bookstore in San Antonio.

chorpler 04-24-2017 03:28 PM

I've got a copy of an anonymous book published in 1852 called The Mormons: or, Latter-Day Saints, a contemporary history, with memoirs of the life and death of Joseph Smith, the "American Mahomet.". Somebody -- almost certainly a librarian -- wrote some annotations in pencil on the title page, indicating that the author was Charles Mackay, the author of the much more popular Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. On the back of the title page, the librarian proved their SDMB-worthiness by writing in a citation which says:

See "Economic Beginnings in the Far West," Cowan, vol II, 1912, Bibliography, p. 399
I'm pretty sure that's the oldest book I have, assuming we're going by "when this physical book was printed" and not, you know, when the content was written.

stillownedbysetters 04-24-2017 03:34 PM

I have a 1909 1st edition copy of Girl of the Limberlost signed by the author. My great-grandfather was a professional photographer and met author Porter in the course of his work. She provided the book, signed to his four daughters.

Sassy 04-24-2017 04:20 PM

H. Rider Haggard collection - matched binding - from 1890's

aldiboronti 04-24-2017 04:36 PM

I have a 1631 edition of Thomas Beard's Theatre of God's Judgments. He was Cromwell's tutor and the book consists of chapter upon chapter of the ghastly deaths of murderers, tyrants, fornicators, atheists, blasphemers, etc. It's a fun read!

brossa 04-24-2017 04:37 PM

I just got Volume 1 of An Account of the East Indies by Alexander Hamilton (no, a different one) published in 1744. The binding is in very poor shape; I'm trying to find out how to repair it myself. The book was cheap and I have no particular attachment to it, but I'd like to see it make it another 270+ years.

Gatopescado 04-24-2017 06:06 PM

The Sinking of The Titanic and Great Sea Disasters from just after the sinking, probably 1912-13.

Crass attempt to cash in on the notoriety. It's pretty damn cool, though.

teela brown 04-24-2017 06:13 PM

I have a first of edition of Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys, which was published in 1871, I believe.

Mahaloth 04-24-2017 07:03 PM


Originally Posted by teela brown (Post 20160193)
I have a first of edition of Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys, which was published in 1871, I believe.

My English professor at the University of Michigan owned a first edition copy of Tristram Shandy, which was split into smaller coat-pocket size volumes. From the 1760's.

2-3 of the volumes...were signed by Laurence Sterne as a form of copyright protection.

He died in 1768 and I held books written by him. We flipped through the pages and everything. It was incredible.

Probably the oldest museum-type item I've touched.

RivkahChaya 04-24-2017 07:16 PM

I have a single page from a First Folio. It's from Measure for Measure. My father acquired it somewhere. He traveled a lot in his 20s.

Aside from that, I have a number of books from before the US Civil War-- maybe 7 or 8. My grandfather collected oddities, and his collection got passed down to the grandchildren. I got a lot of the books, including the oldest ones, plus all his True Crime books, of which he had a lot, because he was a crime reporter. He even held the position of editor for a number of years. Wichita Eagle.

WordMan 04-24-2017 07:29 PM


Originally Posted by Mahaloth (Post 20160300)
My English professor at the University of Michigan owned a first edition copy of Tristram Shandy, which was split into smaller coat-pocket size volumes. From the 1760's.

2-3 of the volumes...were signed by Laurence Sterne as a form of copyright protection.

He died in 1768 and I held books written by him. We flipped through the pages and everything. It was incredible.

Probably the oldest museum-type item I've touched.

Yeah, very cool.

I collected first editions for years. I sold my 1784 Shakespeare - it was the first Octavo single volume (in the forward, it was praised as a volume the common man could afford or that a gentleman could keep in his coach to win bets on quotes;))

I have a few earlier books that my dad had acquired, but none stand out.

From a coolness factor standpoint, I still have a first of I, Robot (sold my Foundation Trilogy) and I have a Review Copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X sent in advance to Congressman James Roosevelt, FDR's son. And a signed hardcopy Snow Crash and the limited first hardcover of Watchmen. Oh, and the Aerosmith bio Walk This Way signed by the band. Stuff like that ;)

Trinopus 04-24-2017 07:51 PM

1898 leather-bound collection of Kipling. Terrible shape, alas: the leather is peeling away from the old newspapers (!) that made up the pastboard for the covers.

(Amusing that the spines have swastikas as decorations. Long before those brown-shirted boobs highjacked the image!)

delphica 04-24-2017 08:03 PM


Originally Posted by stillownedbysetters (Post 20159798)
I have a 1909 1st edition copy of Girl of the Limberlost signed by the author. My great-grandfather was a professional photographer and met author Porter in the course of his work. She provided the book, signed to his four daughters.

That is really special! How nice that it stayed in your family.

My oldest is from 1830, A history of the state of New York, from the first discovery of the country to the present time: With a geographical account of the country and a View of its original inhabitants. And it was given to me as a gift by a Doper who came across it and knew I liked New York state history.

Sigmagirl 04-24-2017 08:04 PM

We have a first edition of "Life on the Mississippi" by Mark Twain. It's in crappy condition. Also Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," but I can't find it now.

Ignatz 04-24-2017 08:24 PM

Rogers, Samuel The Poetical Works of Samuel Rogers, Thomas Campbell, James Montgomery, Charles Lamb, and Henry Kirke White 1845

Yonge, Charlotte M. A Book of Good Deeds 1864

Cowper, William The Poetical Works of William Cowper (The Lansdowne Poets) c. 1880?
[includes his 1774
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm." etc.]

Harlan, Marion et alii Young People’s New Pictorial Library of Poetry and Prose (w/425 engravings) [has (reprint?) page from NY Herald 4/15/1865 re Lincoln Assassination; class photo kids] 1888

pmwgreen 04-24-2017 08:47 PM

I think my oldest is a 1920's edition of Twilight of the Gods by Richard Garnett, a sort gift book edition with gold edges,

You know, if you just want to read the books, or even just look at them, the internet has made that almost too simple. When I was young two of my favorite books were collections of Sam Loyd puzzles edited by Martin Gardner. He constantly would refer to Loyd's Cyclopedia as his source, but that book was long out of print and unobtainable. Until a few years ago. The illustrations are a hoot. And off color.

hajario 04-24-2017 09:00 PM

I have a six volume set of the History of the Jews by Graetz that was published in the 1890s. It was given to me by my Mom's first cousin because his kid didn't want it. It probably originally belonged to his grandfather/my great grand father.

ETA: This guy: I just googled it for the first time. It's actually a well known scholarly work that was published in German in the 1860s. I have the first English translation.

Jet Jaguar 04-24-2017 09:05 PM

Somewhere I have an astronomy book from ~1910. Highlights include:

- The Sun is on the order of tens of millions of years old and the heat is caused by the gravitational compression of it's gasses. It will continue to burn for another 10 million years. (Nuclear fusion was unknown at the time.)

- The Milky Way galaxy is the extent of the known Universe. It is debated what lies beyond, if anything. (Galaxies were believed to be a type of spiral nebula within our own galaxy at the time.)

- Mars has a water cycle as evidenced by seasonal variations visible in vegetation growth. The canals are vegetation-lined waterways and it is debated whether these are natural rivers or artificial irrigation channels. Venus may also have vast oceans of water because the surface is continuously obscured by cloud cover.

ENugent 04-24-2017 09:10 PM

My mother has a family bible that is quite old. I don't know how far back it goes, but it's pretty far - one of the names in it is Meriwether Lewis.

Personally, I think the oldest book on my shelves is a 1945 Emily Post.

CairoCarol 04-25-2017 12:49 AM

I have a book from 1893, published by the sponsor of that year's World's Fair, that records in loving detail every single exhibit.

It's cool for me because I own a grandfather's clock, a family heirloom handed down for several generations, that won a prize at that fair.

The book was given to me by a cousin fairly recently, as she knew I had the related clock and figured the book and the clock belonged together. (The brothers and sisters involved in the debacle have long since passed away, but my mother "stole" the clock when my grandmother died; all 5 siblings wanted it so while the others were discussing it, my mother and father ran off, got a truck, and absconded with the clock, effectively ending the argument. The siblings held it against her for years!)

Anyway, I knew the story of the clock winning a World's Fair prize and how my mother grabbed it, but what I did NOT know until my cousin passed on the book was which World Fair it was. As it happened, when my cousin sent me the book I had just finished reading "The Devil in the White City" (a fascinating factual account of the fair and a serial killer who operated during it).

So now, thanks to the book, I know that a serial murderer spent a lot of time in close proximity to my clock. For all I know he scoped out a victim while she was admiring it. :eek::eek::eek:


Suburban Plankton 04-25-2017 01:00 AM

Our family Bible is dated 1885.

Sangahyando 04-25-2017 02:44 AM

What I have in this line, is pretty weak sauce compared with books told of by many posters in this thread: but my reckoned "joint oldest", passed down in the family, are, best guess, from about the World War 1 era (no publication date shown in either). They are: a delightfully illustrated edition of the "Uncle Remus" stories (I fear that I find making sense of Joel Chandler Harris's Southern Black dialect, more of a labour than I'm prepared to undertake; but the pictures are lovely); and a little book of "Sixty Best Humorous Recitations" -- the majority of them cringe-makingly un-funny and awful.

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