When I lived in Halifax I spent many afternoons at Schooner Books doing “graphic design research” but really avoiding schoolwork. There is nothing like the smell of old books. Did you know that particular blend of scents is caused by the breakdown of the cellulose and lignin in the paper as it ages?
Old and just older books are sometimes not only interesting for what’s printed on the page but for what readers have added to the page. I am always delighted to find handwritten notes in the margins of books. Reading is such a solitary pastime that it’s fascinating to me to stumble across an insight into what someone else was thinking when they read a particular passage. If there are drawings as well as notes? Well, that’s just a bonus.
My favourite annotated book is one my husband inherited from his family. They were furniture and cabinetmakers and this was a book they had in the office as reference. It is a large picture book titled Furniture in England and was published in 1924. It’s very well-worn and in pretty shabby shape but the notes and drawings are wonderful. You can see where the craftsmen and designers used the photos as a jumping-off point to their own work.
The most precious form of annotation, in my opinion, are the notes found in old cookbooks. I love the extra instructions, the changes and the little asides that you can find. That’s why I constantly make notes in my favourite cookbooks – maybe some day someone will find them in a used bookstore.
There is a fascinating virtual research project called Annotated Books Online that is a wonderful resource for significant literary works that have been annotated. For example, they have a scan of Martin Luther’s annotated copy of the New Testament. Have a look here.
Find Schooner Books here.