The mystery of the antique book with no date…

In order to carry out my microscopic investigation into paper, I had to get a range of paper to look at. I had plenty of modern paper samples, but I wanted some older ones to compare with. My father had already kindly lent me a book of his from 1852, but I wanted something early 20th Century to make up the middle ground.

So I headed into town and browsed a few charity shops before finding a little red book of Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. The leather spine, elaborately decorated with gold leaf, caught my eye and I quickly flicked through it and knew it was of the right century, based on other antique books I own, and bought it.

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Once I left the shop, book in hand, I turned to the first couple of pages to find a date to use in my microscopic analysis. To my surpise, there was no date anywhere, so I turned to the back- also no date.

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I was confused… most books are dated, but why wasn’t this one?

So I put on my detective’s hat, took out my magnifying glass, and started searching for other clues within the book- hoping that I could research and in the least narrow down a timeframe in which the book may have been published.

I started with the first page and researched the publishers ‘The Home Library Book Co.’ but didn’t find very much. The company seemed to have links to ‘George Newnes Ltd’ which was formed in 1891. By 1920, the company had become a joint venture with another company, to improve its printing facilities, and became known as Newnes and Pearson Printing Co (Grace’s Guide, 2007). So this narrowed down the search field to 30 years between 1891 and 1920.

I carried out further investigations into George Newnes (1851-1910) to see if I could discover more on The Home Library Co. It turns out George Newnes was the first man in Britain to invent/discover the magazine. His first magazine was published in 1891, Tit-Bits from all the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Contributors in the World (later shortened to Tit-bits), which was the start of his company. His most famous magazine published was The Strand (1891-1950), which often included stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Unwin, 2015). He was also a politician and was knighted, making him Sir George Newnes, Baronet (Grace’s Guide, 2014).

I found no futher information on The Home Library Co., so assumed it was a section of the larger publishing company.

My next lead in the investigation was in the back of the book- the printers. I researched ‘The Temple Press’ and similarly to ‘The Home Library Book Co.’ found very little information. It appeared that The Temple Press at Letchworth was linked to ‘An Everyman’s Library’ run by Joseph Malaby Dent (1859-1926) (UNC, no date). But no more information about the book was available.

Plan of the Temple Press at Letchworth (Anderson, J.S., 2014)

With none of these leads helping me to figure out the date of the book, I finally started to read the introduction. I quickly noticed this was not written by Dickens’ himself, so quickly turned to the end of the introduction looking for the name of the person who wrote it, as a last attempt to date the book…

 

And there it was- G. K. CHESTERTON, 1909.

 

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The mystery had been solved.

 

I suppose its safe to assume that the book was printed between 1909 and 1910, depending on when in the year the introduction to the book had been written. It was fun playing detective and made me want to investigate and find out about the book in more detail, and through this process I leant more about dating books (with no obvious date) and the people behind the process that made the book what it is and how it ended up in my posession.

 

 

 

Anderson, J.S. (2014) An Everyman’s Library Miscellany. Available at: http://www.everymanslibrarycollecting.com/misc.html (Accessed: 12/10/15)

Grace’s Guide (2007) George Newnes Co. Available at: http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/George_Newnes_Co (Accessed: 12/10/15)

Grace’s Guide (2014) George Newnes. Available at: http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/George_Newnes (Accessed: 12/10/15)

UNC (no date) J.M. Dent & Sons Records, 1834-1986. Available at: http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/j/J.M.Dent_and_Sons.html (Accessed: 12/10/15)

Unwin, P.S. (2015) History of Publishing: Magazine Publishing. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/topic/publishing/Magazine-publishing#ref398341 (Accessed: 12/10/15)

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