When my father, a biblioholic of the first order, passed away a couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to inherit a fair number of his books. Since then I have been slowing and steadily adding those books my book catalogue. It’s a time-consuming effort, cleaning and inspecting each book as part of the process but one which unsurprisingly has become an emotional, sentimental journey. These books bring with them vivid memories of my father, his passions and interests. There are touching, evocative inscriptions in many of the books from Dad’s friends and family, and more than once has brought laughter or tears. And I’ve learnt a lot about my father too – about the way he read, keeping notes as he went along, about his interests as a younger man before I knew him, and about the way others thought of him. Sometimes, as a shelf one of his books alongside mine, I am saddened by the thought of all books he would have loved to read which have been published since his death. I have also discovered that my father was also an inveterate stuffer-of-things-into-books. When he was given a book as a present, he liked to keep any associated card in the book, using it as a bookmark as he read, and there’s the standard fare of used envelopes, reviews torn from papers and magazines, the odd paper napkin, even a wooden coffee stirrer, and so on. But there are a few ‘finds’ of more interest such as these two postage stamp books found in an 1974 edition of The Right Way to Play Chess by D Brine Pritchard.
One of the stamp books is empty, all the stamps presumably used many years ago. The cover is beautifully illustrated showing a Gloucester Old Spot Pig having a lovely time chomping away at the grass in a field edged with trees and stone wall – a very idyllic view of old England! It was produced (according to the notes on the book) as the second of a set of four illustrations by Harry Titcombe of Rare Farm Animals, supported by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. A little digging on the internet reveals that others in the series, which were produced by Royal Mail in 1983 and contained stamps to the value of 50p, featured the Orkney Sheep, a Toulouse Goose and a Bagot Goat.
The second booklet still contains five stamps, to the value of 8.5p – at that time just 4p short of sufficient to second class inland letter. But I was really struck by the reminder that we used to have halfpennies! The halfpenny was demonetised in the UK in 1984 as inflation had made it useless.
This makes it likely that my father was reading The Right Way to Play Chess in 1983 or 1984 which would be just around the time he was attempting to teach me the basics of the game. I had no idea that he was surreptitiously studying as he did so!
I’ve carefully replaced the stamp books between the pages and shelved the book alongside a much later edition of the same book which belongs to my husband. I can’t help but wonder, though, why Dad would need two stamp books to mark his place and why a man who never had two halfpennies to rub together would so casually leave unused stamps there.
Have you found something interesting wedged into the pages of an old book? Get in touch and share your find!
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