Reading old books can often yield hidden treasures

 “There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.” —Bertrand Russell, author of The Conquest of Happiness.

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Granted, there’s pleasure in reading a book as well as sharing in conversations with others about them. But I stumbled onto a third motive some years ago. Reading books, especially old used books, can yield hidden treasures beyond the enjoyment of reading.

In addition to the joy of reading, I find pleasure in reorganizing my library every few years. Collecting books spans most of my life and my collection includes volumes on American music, cars, aviation, Texas, Bible history, photography, writing and textbooks that got me through college. And that’s just a start.

When daughter Robin was about 12, she was struggling with a box of books during a move when she stopped to ask, “Dad, have you ever thought about collecting butterflies or stamps?”

The thought came to me last week that it’s about time for another reorganization. It’s a process where every book accumulated individually, in boxes, donated, via mail order, chain bookstores, used bookstores, and flea markets is touched, handled, and examined, evaluated and systematically classified on the shelves.

Before hitting the shelves, some are read when purchased, some added to the collection as reference books, and some filed there with the thought that I will get around to them later, like after I retire. Most of those are still waiting to be read because I decided along the way that I really don’t know if I will ever retire or not. That’s also when I began letting go of some in garage sales and donating them to the library. Others, I’ll always keep for sentimental reasons. Perhaps they were a gift, or I enjoyed reading them enough that they made my personal favorite list to read again—after I’ve read the others I have not yet read.

It’s through this semi-every now and then reorganization process that I’ve discovered the hidden treasures and the profitability of old books. And I’m not talking about the information, wisdom, or philosophy contained in the words.

Old books I’ve had, some for years before reading them, have yielded documents, letters, and even money. Like the 1949 issue of a book on feature writing that was in a box of books at an estate sale. They gave the appearance of having been hastily unloaded off a bookshelf, dumped n a box and priced at $10 for the sale. I decided to gamble on them. A few days later while flipping through the pages of the feature story writing book, the old book featured a $100 bill stashed in its pages. I’ve always wondered what the story was about how the money got stuck in a journalism book and forgotten. Couldn’t have been a journalist who put it there and forgot about it, they seldom see hundred-dollar bills.

Another treasure discovered among the pages of an old book came with the purchase of an old Ford parts manual at a car swap meet near Fort Worth. I looked at the first few pages, decided it was worth the $5 asking price and bought it. Once back in East Texas, I was pursuing the pages of parts when I discovered the best part of all tucked in the back, a letter written by President Lyndon Johnson to a member of Congress thanking them for  supporting a piece of legislation. It was written on White House stationery, dated in 1965, and bore his trademark artistic signature. A gallery in Dallas declared it to be genuine and offered to buy it for $250. I declined and had it framed with the cover of an old issue of Life magazine with LBJ on the cover.

Having learned the value of old books, it’s with eager anticipation that I’m about to start the next treasure hunt…just as soon as I finish the latest book I’m reading on investments.

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—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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