5 Amazing Things Found in Old Books
If you’ve ever purchased a used book or cracked open a library title, chances are you’ve seen something unexpectedly falling from inside its pages. Sometimes it’s a grocery list; other times it might be a bookmark or photograph. Others have been lucky enough to find something with a little more financial or historical value. Check out some of the more surprising things that have been tucked inside old volumes.
1. A Lock of George Washington’s Hair
When you want some light reading, chances are you won’t be reaching for Gaines Universal Register or Columbian Kalendar [sic] for the Year of Our Lord 1793, an almanac which printed population estimates for the American colonies. But there was something slightly more riveting awaiting the person who picked up the volume at Union College in Schenectady, New York. In 2018, a librarian at the college’s Schaffer Library found an envelope with a lock of George Washington’s hair inside. The inscription on the envelope read: “Washington’s hair, L.S.S. & [scratched out] GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, Aug. 10, 1871.”
The provenance for the hair being genuine is encouraging. The book belonged to Philip Schuyler, the son of Union College founder General Philip Schuyler, who was a friend of the president. It might have been passed from Martha Washington to Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, on to their son, James Hamilton, and then to the Schuyler family. The book also contained one other treasure—the junior Schuyler’s instructions for preserving beef in the warm summer months.
2. Cold Hard Cash
While you can buy hollowed-out books and covert soda cans that double as money banks, it’s not often that these items find their way into donation bins. In early 2019, Cathy McAllister, a volunteer for Arizona’s annual VNSA book sale, was sorting through volumes when she came across an installment of the 1776-1788 six-volume series The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. McAllister was ready to throw it out—the title is not a popular seller—when she opted to take one last flip through its pages. Not many were intact. Someone had carved a hole inside and stuffed it with cash totaling $4000. There was also an envelope inside with an address. McAllister contacted the donor and returned the money.
3. An Original C.S. Lewis Letter on Finding Joy
In 2014, Dominic Winter Auctioneers in England presented a great find. Tucked inside a copy of 1940's The Problem of Pain by Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis was an original, handwritten letter by Lewis addressed to a Mrs. Ellis that detailed his definition of joy. “Real joy … jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights,” he wrote. The book’s owner, whose name was not disclosed, had picked it up in a secondhand shop some years prior. The letter, dated August 19, 1945, seemed to be an early example of Lewis musings that he would later expand upon in his 1955 memoir, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. The note sold for roughly $6000 at auction. The identity of Mrs. Ellis, Lewis’s pen pal, is still unknown.
4. A Map of Middle-Earth Annotated by J.R.R. Tolkien
The joy of discovering the world imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1954's The Lord of the Rings is usually reason enough to crack open its spine, but employees of Blackwell’s Rare Books found another treasure lurking in a copy of the novel in 2015—a map of Middle-Earth with comments handwritten by Tolkien himself. (Among the details: Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford, and Minas Tirith could have been inspired by the real Italian city of Ravenna.) The edition once belonged to Pauline Baynes, who was working on an illustration for a new edition and used an earlier map as reference. That version was published in 1970. Baynes’s personal copy, map tucked inside, wound up at Blackwell’s, where it was put up for sale for roughly $77,000.
5. A Winning Lotto Ticket Worth $750,000
It pays to tidy up around the house. Couple Roger Larocque and Nicole Pedneault of Montreal bought a lotto ticket on Valentine’s Day 2018 and then promptly forgot about it. The ticket was a winner worth $750,000 ($1 million Canadian), but the two didn’t know—it had been tucked away in a book. Pedneault didn’t come across it again until April 2019, when she was sorting through her belongings at her grandson’s request—he needed help with a school project about Japan—and found the ticket stuffed in a book about the country. Pedneault checked the lotto results online and realized that it was valuable. She discovered it in the nick of time: After not having been claimed, it was due to expire in just two days.