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April 22, 2019

Vintage Books - A look into literary history

by Donna Huber

I'm participating in the A to Z Challenge this year on Instagram (check out my posts) and I chose to feature book titles that start with the letter day. I knew Q and X would be difficult and made plans for those days, but J caught me off guard. As I scoured my shelves, even searched my stack of vintage books. While I didn't find any J's, I did realize I had a very early copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

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There are two big charity thrift sales each spring that I like to go to. This year I only went to one of them as the other one hasn't been so good that last couple of years. But I did go to the OCAF sale which often has a number of vintage items. The dress pictured above is a custom-sewn dress dated 1950-1960. It fits me as if it had been custom made for me. I got it for $4 and I wore it for Easter Sunday. At both sales, there is usually a large selection of books. I also often go to used book sales sponsored by area libraries or literacy charity Books for Keeps.  Several years ago, I purchased a stack of really old books because I thought they look interesting on my fireplace mantle. I add to it occasionally.

I didn't really look at them so I was really surprised to find Rebecca in the stack. It got me curious about the other books. Are there other books in the stack that are now considered classics?  How old are the books? As you can see, they are far from mint condition but it would still be cool if there was a first or second edition find in there. Regardless, I was drawn to the old books because they are worn as if they had been read often. They were likely not considered classics when these editions were printed (and may not be classics now), yet they might have been someone's favorite book.

I'm not a book historian, but I think it would be fun to find out what I can about these books.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - It was first published in London in August 1938 and has never gone out of print. The U.S. edition was first published in September 1938. The copy I have was published in 1941 by The Sun Dial Press. The original print run was for 20,000 copies and more than 40,000 copies sold the first month. The University of Illinois lists Rebecca in its 20th-Century American Bestsellers descriptive bibliography database. While my edition is listed, there is no other information. It is interesting to see that the American 1st edition had 9 print runs and sold for $2.75. (info from Wikipedia)

Buy Rebecca at Amazon

Cass Timberlane: A Novel of Husbands and Wives by Sinclair Lewis - This book is in better shape than some of the others in my stack of Vintage books. My edition is from The Modern Library (published by Random House). I find this note from The Modern Library interesting:

The publishers will be pleased to send, upon re quest, an illustrated folder setting forth the purpose and scope of The Modern Library, and listing each volume in the series. Every reader of books will find titles he has been looking for, handsomely printed, in definitive editions, and at an unusually low price.

There is no publish date in my edition; the copyright date is 1945. Cass Timberlane is one of Lewis's last novels. A movie based on the book was released in 1948 and starred Spencer Tracy. I found a copy similar to mine on sale for $8 at - I probably made less than a dollar for it. It looks like if I want more information about this book, I'm going to have to do more than a quick Google search.

Buy Cass Timberlane at Amazon

The Egoist: A Comedy in Narrative by George Meredith - This one was purchased from a library sale as it is stamped with Athens Regional Library. There are no dates on the title page. There is a checkout paper in the back and the novel was checked out 13 times between 1949 and 1959. It is in good condition for being a library book. A quick Google search landed me on its Wikipedia page. The Egoist was published in 1879 in London. Interestingly, the U.S. Copyright Office was founded in 1870, which may indicate why there isn't a copyright date in the book. It is noted on the title page that it is a revised edition and The Book League of America. There is a similar copy listed at that is selling for $6.94 but notes that there are considerable pencil and other note marks. Mine does not contain any marks.

Buy The Egoist at Amazon

The New Day In and Day Out by Mabel O'Donnell - This is actually a book I read as a child and found at my parents' house a few years ago. I remember reading this book each summer as my way of gauging my reading improvement. I loved this book. It was like seeing old friends again after the long school year. Needless to say, my copy is well worn. At least the cover is, the pages are still very nice. I have a 1953 edition and the first copyright date is 1936, though it also has the dates of 1941 and 1948. Also stated on the title page is The Alice and Jerry Basic Readers, Reading Foundation Program. Used copies are selling on Amazon for between $11.62 and $16.95.

Buy The New Day In And Day Out at Amazon

The Hearth and Eagle by Anya Seton - This one may be a first edition. The date on the title page is 1948, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. The copyright date is also 1948. And if this picture and description at is anything to go by. Mine is the same book. The cover has what might be water spots. There is a tiny bit of writing (underlining in the author's note and a scribble on one of the title pages). The edges of the pages also show wear and maybe some insect damage.

Buy The Hearth and Eagle at Amazon

O Absalom! by Howard Spring - This might be another first edition as the publication date and copyright date are both 1938. It was published in Great Britain. Howard Spring was a Welsh author. According to Wikipedia, "His first major success in the adult market came with My Son, My Son! (1937), originally titled O Absalom, which was very successful in America and was adapted there as the 1940 film My Son, My Son!" However, according to, "With his best-selling novel O Absalom! (1938)—afterward reissued as My Son, My Son (filmed 1940)—Spring won worldwide fame." There is a handwritten inscription on the blank first page that reads,

Every joy and happiness for Christmas 1938 and afterwards. LHS

(I think the last initial is an S.) D. J. Nesbitt is also penciled on that page. If I'm not careful the book cover is going to fall off.

Buy O Absalom! at Amazon

Two Boys and a Tree by Arthur I. Gates, Miriam Blanton Huber, and Frank Seely Salisbury - I bought this book because it reminded me of The New Day In and Day Out and because Huber is my last name. It was published by The Macmillan Company, but there is no date. The copy I found at Amazon that looks like my copy has a published date listed as 1951.

Buy Two Boys and a Tree at Amazon

So it looks like I have at least one really old book and possibly two first editions in my stack of "decorative" books. Though it doesn't seem like any of them are worth very much. That's okay. I still enjoy knowing I have them and learning a bit more about these books that I display on the fireplace mantle.

Do you have any old books? Any first editions? Have you read or heard of any of these books?

And as I have gone through these books, I have wondered about the people who owned them before me (particularly the one with the Christmas inscription). Have they been read by generations or is all the wear from one reader reading it over and over? It also makes me think of what people in the future will wonder about me from my books. One of the books I've read a number of times is in great condition because I was given a special clothbound edition and only read it once. I buy a lot of used books so it is not just my wear and tear on the books but those of others, especially in the case of the books that were once in circulation at the library.

What do your books say about you?

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

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  1. Gorgeous! I have some lovely old books, but they're on my downstairs shelves, tucked away and hidden from the rest of the house. My upstairs shelves are the ones I plan to read soon (and then mostly pass on to the closest Little Free Libraries). I'd love to be able to display my pretty books, but I also enjoy seeing my eclectic mix on the shelves as well.

    Have you read Rebecca before? I read it...gosh, maybe around 2009, maybe before, and I was surprised by how much I adored it.

    1. I read it in highschool (over 20 years ago), but don't really remember much about it. We watched the movie too.

  2. My grandmother used to teach in a one room school house and I have a few books that she used for teaching. The worth is only in nostalgia. I keep them on the top shelf of my book case where I can see them all the time.

  3. Rebecca is probably my favourite book ever so I was interested to see your lovely vintage edition :-)
    And how amazing to get that dress for $4! Well spotted!

    1. I love the dress and I was amazed at how well it fit me. The green book pictured with the dress is Rebecca.

  4. Love the dress!! Seems like a fun and intriguing exercise to check out your "decorative" books to find out more about them. You learned something about each of them!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction