Saving Pieces of the Past

Andrew Stauffer is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Virginia, as well as the Director of the University’s NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship) program. NINES peer reviews and digitizes books from 1770-1920, as well as creates software tools to facilitate research and critical analysis of the material. 


ephemeraStauffer’s NINES program also sponsors a crowd-sourced, web-based project called Book Traces. This fascinating project asks participants to collect and document instances of library books in wide circulation published before 1923 that have writing in the margins or ephemera inserted. From the Book Traces website,

”Thousands of old library books bear fascinating traces of the past. Readers wrote in their books, and left notes, pictures, letters, flowers, locks of hair, and other things between their pages. We need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital. Books printed between 1820 and 1923 are at particular risk.  Help us prove the value of maintaining rich print collections in our libraries.”

My wife and I have found a real treasure trove of ephemera in various old books over the last few years. Among the more valuable items were a ribbon from a reunion of the Berdan Sharpshooters from the Civil War which we sold for a mid six figure price. Also a collection of frakturs, Pennsylvania German folk art from the early 19th century which sold for a similar price to the ribbon. We have found old letters, postcards, advertisement pamphlets, and dozens of other interesting pieces of history. We never buy an old book without checking for treasure between the pages.

Learn more about Book Traces at their website.

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