Making their mark

May 3rd, 2016, 9pm

It was 11°C with clouds and visibility OK. The wind was light.

As I sort through my father’s books, I’m certainly finding it interesting to see how many very old books he had (many dating from the 17th and 18th Centuries).

But probably more fascinating is looking for the notes that are often written inside the covers (and in margins!). Sometimes it might just be a record of the owner, or succession of owners, often in the format John Smith. His book. 1705. Sometimes Latin phrases are used, Ex Libris… being quite common of course (‘From the Library of…’). And sometimes, as in the example shown above, extra details that give really interesting insights into those past owners and their world.

So we learn that this Bible cost 12 shillings on 8 December 1660. That’s perhaps £85 or more at today’s prices. That first owner obviously thought this was worth recording, and it certainly helps us get a sense of just how expensive/valuable a Bible was in those days. And that later owner thought it worth telling us that he received it from Thomas Warner’s Uncle’s collection, on 7 September 1764.

And so the book becomes far more than just a book. It has a story to tell, a history that goes beyond the print, paper and leather.

What eBook can ever give you that?! In an eBook, the focus is on the content, the ‘printed’ words, and hence the story those words convey. There’s no place for anything else, for a side story. There’s no room for the owner to add his mark, to make it personal, or to hand it down to successive generations with a growing record of ownership.

Are we in danger of making modern books ahistorical artefacts? Rendering them incapable of passing on those unintented snippets and incidental facts of life that my dad’s old books are so full of? Are we doing posterity a disservice with our Kindles and eReaders? Are we depriving our children’s children of the kinds of discoveries that have so excited me as I’ve been sorting through these real, covers-and-pages books?

David Wade, Arushi, Craig, Christine and 3 others said thanks.

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Adrian Tribe

A follower of Jesus Christ, a husband and father, a Kentish Man (not a Man of Kent), a commuter to London

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