It feels a little strange to find your own family history in a local thrift store.
Pasadena is a great town if you love flea markets, antique shops, salvage, or secondhand shops. Maybe your town has a few hot antique shops, too.
Once a month the Rose Bowl Stadium is filled with antique and vintage goods for the huge Rose Bowl Flea Market, one of the largest in the country, On alternate weekends, over 400 vendors show their stuff at the Pasadena City College Flea Market. And, on most days of the week, local charity thrift stores do a brisk business with collectibles, furniture, and antiques from downsizing seniors and estate sales.
I’m not a regular shopper at the Rose Bowl show, but I do stop in fairly often to see what’s new at the local hospital auxiliary thrift and consignment store. I’ve found everything from copper pans to light fixtures at the Huntington Collection, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find something from my mother-in-law carefully displayed in the “Rare and Collectible” showcase.
Tucked away next to the Designer Boutique (where you might find a Chanel suit or barely-used handbag) the collectibles case holds an ever-changing assortment of curiosities. Pretty singleton cups and saucers, lace gloves, books, vintage grooming sets, and dainty cut glass have all been on offer. I once found a beautiful illuminated family Bible belonging to a former local physician.
They Had Me at “Grandmother Levenick”
When I recently skimmed the contents of the glass case, I saw a few books that looked familiar. In fact, that do-it-yourself book repair looked very familiar.
Bending down to read closer, I saw a handwritten card displayed next to a vintage hardback that read something like:
VERY RARE, Old Children’s Book, on eBay for $24.00. Our price, only $15.
Notice the wonderful inscription on the back page from “Grandmother Levenick”
They had me at “Levenick.”
It was a busy day at the thrift shop. All the volunteers were occupied and it took a while to find someone to open the case and let me turn to the last page of the book.
What I found was more than just an inscription. It was Mary Levenick’s voice describing a long-time ago visit to London,
“We bought this great book in London the day after the Korean War started. On the docks in Southampton, from ocean surface to top of the roof of the docks. . .” anti-war slogans ranted against British involvement.
Mary went on to describe exactly how the she felt about such sentiments. As a U.S. Army Colonel’s Wife she didn’t mince words.
No doubt, by then she had forgotten she was inscribing the book to her eight-year old grandson.
The volunteer and I shared a good laugh at the heated inscription. When I explained my relationship to Mary, she pulled off the price card and handed me the book. She was right, it was too good to leave there for someone else. I had to take the book home and pass it on to my son, the intended recipient.
It was sadly obvious how the book ended up at the thrift store. In our recent move, I had to considerably downsize our library. And here was something I’d missed.
It’s a good lesson to carefully turn all the pages of inherited books. Inscriptions may show up on the back pages as well as the front flyleaf.
Research Clues Between the Covers
This battered and mended copy of The Modern Encyclopaedia for Children: A Companion to School work and Out-of-School Interests for All Young People Who Wish to Know More was printed in 1949. The date is printed on the last page “Z” along with an illustration of a caged monkey “At the Zoological Gardens.” That printing date is useful.
The Korean War began 25 June 1950 when North Korean troops crossed into South Korea. If Mary Levenick was in London on the day following, 26 June 1950, she would have been keenly aware of any war news that might affect her family.
The 1950 date also tells us that the book she purchased was probably new or gently used. It’s doubtful it had been mended with book tape and wide cello tape if it were only a year old.
I can imagine this book being pulled out by to answer questions and settle debates.
How to Use This Book
An encyclopedia is like a well-filled cupboard. Every page is a shelf stocked with information arranged for your convenience. Go to it for what you need.
If there’s a subject you wish to know about — DARTS or DECIMALS, RADAR or RABBITS, CHOPIN or SHAW, KNOTS or KNITTING — the chances are that you will find it at once. And if, for instance, you look up AMERICA and don’t find it, show some enterprise and look up UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
“Show some enterprise…” says the author! Not, “Ask ALEXA!”
It’s not only the book itself or hearing Mary’s voice in the story she writes that makes this book special. It’s the timeline event that shows When and Where and What. We didn’t know exactly when she had been in London with the Colonel. Now we have a date to focus our research.
This much-used copy of The Modern Encyclopaedia for Children should easily fit in a drop-front archival acid-free book box with a few sheets of crumpled acid-free tissue along the sides to cushion the spine from further damage. I plan to label the box and include a little written history for my son. Maybe next time the family moves houses, this special book will find a special place in the new library. And won’t be sent to the thrift shop.
It’s a good idea to always look beyond the cover of the book. And it helps to flip to the inside back pages. You don’t know what surprise you might discover.
Family artifacts hold all kinds of genealogical evidence waiting to be found and added to our ancestor’s stories.
What’s in your family archive?
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