Vintage books that belonged to your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents are the perfect way to maintain a connection to your family history.
Living in a 1300 sq. ft. townhouse with four people and two cats means that we don’t have a lot of space to store mementos and keepsakes.
No one in my extended family has room to store extra stuff. We keep passing around a large crate full of old photo albums like a hot potato that no one wants. And there’s the question of what to do with the family china? Who has room to store a 12-sitting set of dishes that need to be hand-washed?
Maybe the solution to maintaining that connection to the past comes in the form of vintage books?
I don’t mean that you should head out to the used books store and buy a 1968 copy of Jane Eyre. I’m talking about books that belonged to your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents.
- Vintage books come with their own family history. Often with stories that are more meaningful than an inherited set of candlestick holders.
- They have the weight of age and immediate connection.
- From a practical standpoint, they are compact and relatively easy to store.
My great aunt Nancy was a professional bookbinder by trade. In addition to self-publishing her own writing, she also bound books as gifts for her family. Never having had any children of her own, we have a few books that she bound for her nephews (my father and uncles).
We also have a really neat handwritten book called Manhattan Manners, which is a collection of drawings and writing by Wallace B. Putnam. It probably comes from the arts community that she belonged to while working as a bookbinder at the New York Metropolitan Library.
A Baby Book
Vintage books provide an interesting look at the way things used to be. My father’s baby book contains magazine clippings, cards for restaurants, and his kindergarten registration letter. In addition to personal baby records, it also has advice on how to take care of your baby from pregnancy through to age 6.
Here are a few particularly fun pieces of advice straight from 1947!
- Under signs of pregnancy: If you have gone over your period and start losing your breakfast, or begin to urinate frequently, lady, your doctor wants to see you!
- For home confinement: Have all curtains, draperies, and carpeting removed, so that there will be no source of dust or germs.
- Homemade formula: An acid formula made with evaporated milk has the advantage, especially valuable in an emergency period, of keeping 24 hours without refrigeration.
Home Canning Book
One of my favorite books is a Canning Book from 1965. Though the canning instructions aren’t always as rigorous as would be included in today’s cookbooks, it does have some yummy jam and pickle recipes. And a few recipes that I will never try… mmm canned sweetbreads.
The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot
This is a college textbook that belonged to my mother. A lot of the pages have hand-written lecture notes providing interpretation in my mother’s neat cursive.
However, my personal connection to the book comes from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which we read as a bedtime story. Then again, when we were older before we went to see the performance of the musical Cats.
Now with my own children’s interest in cats, I can pass on a love of poetry with these familiar and clever descriptions.
Prayers, Births, and Deaths
Often, the only books a family might have owned were religious in nature. While the back pages of Bibles were often used for recording family births, deaths, and marriages, Brad’s family made their own handwritten books for prayers and record keeping.
One copy was even inserted in the cover of another book (the text of which was removed).