“Mark Helprin, who likes to leave messages on his friends’ answering machines in spurious (but highly convincing) dialects, inscribed several of his books in imaginary languages. In A Dove of the East, he wrote Skanaarela tan floss atcha atcha qumble ta. Da bubo barta flay? Staarcroft. I spent the better part of a decade trying in vain to figure out what that meant.”
– Anne Fadiman, “Words on a Flyleaf,” Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Since it’s now snowing on this very blog (what can I say? I couldn’t resist), I suppose the time has finally come to clear house of all these finds-of-the-day from Europe back in sunny September. More pressingly, in fact, I’ll be leaving for another quick trip to Germany in the middle of January and I hope to be dazzling you then with new, spectacular discoveries from the archives, like:
Dear Future Historian, I am an 10-year-old middle-class child and I would like to tell you what I think about the books I read. First….
Anyway, until that letter comes my way, here are some more obscure “signs” of children’s reading. This past September in Braunschweig, I worked in the Georg-Eckert Institut für Schulbuchforschung library, which is possibly the nicest, most accessible research library I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. Among many terrific things they do is aim to collect as complete a collection of textbooks as possible, regardless of the physical condition of the copies they find. What this means for historians of childhood is that the tantalizing scribbles normally cause for tossing an old book have been preserved in at least part of their collection.
Here are some of the endpaper signatures I found in my preliminary hunt through the historical holdings. (I’ve indicated places where I’m not sure of the names or handwriting, and help deciphering these is welcome!)
Louise Dähmert signed her copy of this secondary-school reader a year after publication, but by 1860 it was owned by someone named Breishov (?). Die höhere Töchterschule: Ein Lehr- und Lesebuch für Deutschland’s weibliche Lehr- und Bildungsanstalten (Beck, 1827)
One of my favorites is Friedericka Ludwig, who signed her short world history textbook not just once in 1830, but again in 1833. Practicing a more grown-up hand? Or perhaps she had an avaricious younger sibling who needed to be warned off. Kleine Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privat-Unterrichte heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1830)
Many scribbles of different archaeological strata in the book pictured above, which I haven’t been able to identify or place in order yet. But it looks like at some point during her ownership of this world history textbook, Natalie/Nathalie Gloeckler became Madame Nathalie Lejeune. Is Natalie the artist of this so-appropriate illustration for a section on the geopolitical history of ancient India? (click to see it more clearly) Lehrbuch der Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privatunterricht heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1830)
I honestly have no idea on this one to the right: Strobel? Since this is on the title page, it should by rights be Mr. Nösselt himself, but perhaps the reader was in the same misapprehension as young Anne Fadiman (see above). Lehrbuch der Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privatunterricht heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1838)