On Buying Used Books…With Inscriptions

I love secondhand shops. Bookstores, boutiques, or Goodwill– doesn’t matter. A) I love a good bargain and B) You never know what you’ll find. Every visit is a treasure hunt. That’s half the fun!

Well, last weekend my exploits turned up this journal:

book of kells_0001

It’s a Paperblanks hardcover journal. If you’ve ever browsed among the blank leather and hardback volumes at your local bookstore, you know how ridiculously lavish these can be. This one is 128 lined pages, measures 9.1 x 6.6 inches, and weighs about a pound. The uh-MAZ-ing cover– what first caught my eye– is an illustration from the Book of Kells, a manuscript from the Middle Ages whose real and historical counterpart resides at Trinity College, Dublin.

The book was in excellent condition, and all of its pages were blank. Even if half the pages had been scribbled in, for the right price I still probably would have bought it. The illustrations enchanted me from the moment I laid eyes on them and when I read the description on the inner back cover I knew the book in my hands was high quality–probably worth at least $25-$35 new (Fact: It retails on Amazon from anywhere from $65 to $539.80.)

So why the devil was it only $1.99?

I opened the front cover.

book of kells_0002


Well, obviously I bought the journal anyway. My thought process went something like this:

  1. Oh.
  2. Well, that could be papered over.
  3. Hang on– inscriptions are cool. I like inscriptions. They add a sort of richness, a historical presence; a story beyond the story. I mean, “wuv” is not the most decorated of all prose, but still. It’s the principal.
  4. Yeah, but what if somebody picked up the journal and read the inscription and was like, “Hey Julie, who’s this Mate (MatΓ©?) person? You don’t know any Mate. What is this? You shrewd bargain-hunting, journal-snatching weirdo, you.”
  5. Psh. That’s not gonna happen.
  6. Probably.
  7. But what if the reason the previous owner never wrote in the journal is something bad? A death, a falling out with this Mate person? Tragedy?
  8. All the more poignant. Such is the human experience. Is that something to be papered over?
  9. They could have just been bad at keeping a journal.
  10. Whatever. $1.99.
  11. Iiiii’m going to blog about this.

So now I have, and I turn the question to you: What are your thoughts on buying used books with inscriptions in them? Does a personalized note with strangers’ names add value to the book for you, or detract from it?


10 responses to “On Buying Used Books…With Inscriptions”

  1. I think you should weave it into your next book.

    1. It’s definitely good story fodder!

  2. I’ve actually never paid attention to what is written in the front of the books. After reading this, I checked out a couple that I bought second hand, and they have names and “to: so and so” in the front. Nothing as awesome as what you found though. Wuv trumps all you know… πŸ˜‰

    1. Haha, awesome! I love that after reading this you checked some of the books on your own shelf πŸ™‚ Does this mean you’ll be checking the inner cover next time you buy a used book, too? And if you found two used copies of the same book– one with an inscription (“wuv” or more eloquent) and one without– which would you buy?

      1. I would buy the one unmarked, unless it was a really good inscription.

        1. Fair enough. I might do the same if I didn’t wuv the inscription.

          1. Wuv. Wow. πŸ˜‰

  3. I would have bought it too! I think your first scribbling in this journal should be a letter to the previous owner – turn it into a short story and make the inscription real in your mind. πŸ˜‰
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Ooh, what a creative idea! I just might steal that πŸ™‚ Thanks, Cat!

      1. That is a darn good idea. I may make a prompt out of it!

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