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Book extracted in 1927 returned to the public library of Saint Helena

Jim Perry returned the frayed library book he found while cleaning out his Napa, Calif. house, bluntly, thinking it would just be fun for library staff to watch.

“It’s an old book that’s been in our family for five generations,” Perry recalled, saying at the St. Helena Public Library reception this month.

He handed over the book and then quickly left, without leaving his name or contact details.

But the book, “A Family History of the United States” by historian Benson Lossing, which Perry says he believes his stepfather borrowed nearly 100 years ago, may actually be part of the original collection of the library. It is the only one of its kind known to St. Helena Public Library, dating from its early days as a subscription library, lending books to patrons to take home for a monthly fee.

“It’s the oldest I’ve ever seen, without a doubt,” said Chris Kreiden, director of the library. “I mean we had things [checked out for] two or three years, maybe five, but never anything that long.

For Kreiden and his team, the return of the book on May 10 was the start of an unexpected journey – a journey that took the book’s story to newsfeeds across the country and ultimately, weeks later, led them to Perry, the stranger who dropped off the book from the library. new oldest addition.

A few weeks ago, Perry decided to sort through the clutter in her house, including old boxes that had been sitting unopened for years.

“I’m 75, but I’m in very good health,” he said. “But I don’t want to leave my kids with a bunch of old stuff.”

For more than three decades, Perry had lived with his wife, Sandra, in St. Helena, where his family had lived since the 1840s. After her death in 2015, he decided to pack up and move to Napa, not far from south, about two years later. Boxes of old books that had been passed down through the family accompanied him.

She flushed a diamond ring down the toilet. 13 years later, he resurfaced.

As he unboxed them this month, he placed many on shelves in his home. But he noticed that the history book once belonged to the library and decided to return it.

It was checked out in 1927, around the time his wife’s grandfather, John McCormick, may have wanted the book to start teaching his two young daughters about American history, Perry said. Shortly after inspecting the book, he traveled to Saint Helena to drop it off.

“I didn’t realize how special it was,” Perry said.

Later that day, a library staff member left the book on Kreiden’s desk. When she walked into his office to take a look, Kreiden could immediately tell that it was older than most of the books she had seen.

It was carried. The edges of the pages were brittle and brown. The binding, which looked like leather, was not attached to some pages.

The book, she said, was “falling apart.”

Kreiden picked it up carefully and opened it. On the last page, there was a faded black stamp indicating the deadline for the return of the book: February 21, 1927. An envelope on the back cover indicated that the book could “be kept for two weeks”. The late fee was five cents a day.

The book also had two accession numbers, which were used to identify books in the library at the time of its founding.

The numbers likely mean the book was part of the library’s original collection, when it offered a free reading room but charged 25 cents a month for those who wanted to take books home.

The second number could have been assigned to the book when the city took over the library in 1892 and updated its inventory, Kreiden said.

After finding the book on her desk, she said, she asked her staff who had returned it, wanting to ask the person about all the places the book had been. But they did not know who this man was.

Still, Kreiden knew it was a good story – the epic return of a book that was borrowed nearly a century ago. So she called a reporter from the St. Helena Star, thinking it would be a fun mystery for readers.

She was right. Soon the story was picked up by local TV stations. Then, outlets across the country covered it.

That’s how the book, in a sense, found its way back to Perry.

One night last week, he had settled into bed in a Minnesota hotel room, where he was attending a family member’s wedding, to watch local news on his iPad. To his surprise, a segment about the book appeared.

The station reported that if the St. Helena Public Library still charged late fees, the borrower would have owed more than $1,700.

Perry later joked with a family member that he was ‘in trouble’, but he said he would call the library anyway to find out more about what he thought was just that. an old late book. He reached Kreiden on Tuesday morning.

She explained the history of the book, telling him that it was probably part of the library’s original collection, as well as part of the inventory of another old location – the Carnegie Building, which was built in 1908.

Hearing Kreiden’s stories made Perry grateful for making the book rare.

“It was very rewarding,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to be worth much.

The book has since been placed in a display case near the library entrance, alongside pictures of the Reading Room and the Carnegie Building. It is facing the back cover, showing the return date stamp.

Soon the book could be placed in an archival box or donated to the local historical society for better preservation, Kreiden said.

But for now, it stands as an extraordinary example of an age-old reminder.

“It’s never too late to return your library book,” Kreiden said.


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