Ever Wonder What a 240 Year Old Book Looks Like?
Lately, I’ve taken to going after old books. I’d say a good bit of my interest stems from my love of history, and holding an old book is holding a piece of history, even if only a small and usually insignificant part of it. It’s an artifact of a bygone era, and it’s fascinating to think about where all it’s been. A really old book–say 75 years old at the very least–has probably seen more than one owner, and the fact that it hasn’t been destroyed in some way probably means it’s been taken care of, sat in a box or trunk somewhere for decades, or was just really lucky.
Yesterday, I managed to get my hands on my oldest book yet: an edition of volume 2 of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters published in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1773. For perspective, that makes it older than the United States of America, which of course, came into being in 1776. I found it through a seller on eBay for about $28 before shipping. Knowing that I had found something of a steal, I hit “Buy It Now” as soon as I could. Officially, it’s a birthday present from my parents, as I used their credit card to buy it (I got their permission, of course, heh).
It’s not in the best shape. The most glaring problem is probably that its spine has a split, and what’s left isn’t in the best shape. I’m not willing to open any part of the book beyond about 70 degrees for fear that it might break further. The front cover is also missing, and the first couple of [blank] pages have come off. The back cover is in bad shape, but it is pretty well attached still. Of course, at almost 2 and a half centuries old, the paper shows obvious aging, but the pages are generally about as good as could be expected outside of the seemingly miraculously well-preserved books of this age that show up from time to time. It’ll need rebinding for certain, but I’ll have to wait a while on that since I lack the money to pay for that. It should go without saying that great care has to be taken in handling it.
What makes this even more special is that I just finished a class on the Enlightenment this past Spring. Montesquieu was, of course, one of the major French philosophes, and France was the center of the Enlightenment. However, Scotland was also a center of the Enlightenment, and works and letters frequently traveled between the countries as the philosophers in each compared notes and thoughts. This book is physical proof of that, since it is a French philosophe’s work translated into English and published in Edinburgh. It’s truly fascinating for me to think about that.
Anyways, I thought I’d post some photos of it, since some people are curious about it. I’ve posted them below the fold.
The book as it exists now:
The title page with the two loose pages removed:
The title page a little closer up:
The bottom part of the book:
Both parts of the book:
If you look carefully, you can see the split here:
Another little peek inside, with one of my fingers holding the book together from behind (not visible here):
If I get any more cool old books, I’ll make sure to post some pictures of them as well, if people are interested.