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?

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

My great grandfather’s bible, published in 1861.

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.

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

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.

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.