The Pleasure and Treasure of Old Books

We’re moving.  I’ve mentioned that before, but today it’s just shorthand.  If you’ve moved, you understand.

Part of moving is decluttering.  I’ve mentioned that, as well.  Going through memorabilia has a certain charm.  Yesterday I sorted through a bag of old cutlery, separating the silverplate pieces from the stainless.  The silverplate was my mother’s, not expensive or rare, but hers.  I will keep it, polish it and use it.  Along the way I found a sturdy knife and fork with USN on the handle.  Michael’s father was in the navy.   The rest?  Thank you, Goodwill.

Silverware is simple.  Keep the good stuff and donate everything else.  Then came the box of books.  Old books, some very old. (Hoarder alert.)  Once upon a time we attended an auction and won a batch of unopened boxes.  Most of the stuff was cool but useless.  But old books?  We never throw out old books, right?  After all, they might be worth, well, who knows?

I remember the auction, but not where it was or how long ago.  The fact it has faded from memory is a clue.  But looking through the box?  Be still my heart.  The Canterbury Tales with gorgeous illustrations.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and its sequel.  Winston Churchill’s Richard Carvel.  Horatio Alger’s Dan the Newsboy.  Atlases, leather bound dictionaries.  None in great condition, but all intact, if faded.

What in the world will I do with them?

Thanks to the Internet, I hopped online to see if we had found treasure again.  We hadn’t, although for a moment I thought the Canterbury Tales might be.  But no, ours, as glorious as it is,  might be worth $20, but only if I spent a lot of time and energy looking for a buyer.  The other books?  A few dollars here, a few there or nothing.  No sense in pretending.

So back to square one.  I don’t think libraries want old copies, not even for sales.  This is the first year our church is not doing a book sale.  The rare book stores I called either weren’t buying or weren’t interested.  I forgot to explain they could just have the books.  I’ll be sure to tell the next store, but I doubt that will impress them.

So what do I do?  Why am I spending all this energy on a box of musty books?  Why do I care? 

These are books.  People owned them.  People read them.  People dreamed about their content. A century or more ago somebody sat at a desk, just the way I do, and wrote them.

Canterbury Tales will come with me.  Dan the Newsboy might, as well.  The others?  I’m still thinking.  If you have any good ideas, be sure to let me know.


  1. Audrey Bonnell on March 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

    If you can find apartments that are subsided and they have room for them you could donate to them….or senior housing apartments seem to have a place for books so the tenants can read them. Just like where I live, they built a TV Game, library room with beautiful bookshelves, and people in the area and friends are donating books to help fill them up. This may be the best solution for you and the people in the area that enjoy reading but don’t have the money to buy their own. If it is close by you won’t have to pay for any shipping to declutter.

    • Emilie Richards on March 2, 2012 at 10:42 am

      I had some lovely hardcover large print books from my pubisher, so I called the senior community where many of our church folks live and told them I’d like to autograph them and give them to their library where I knew our church members would love to have them. (These were brand new.) She said, “Oh no, we can’t take just any books. You will have to bring them here for us to vet, then if we decide to accept them, you can make a second trip and bring the rest of them.” I kid you not.

      I do donate all my foreign copies to our library sale, after checking to be sure that was appropriate. They seem to appreciate them. Not sure though they would want old books like these.

      Etsy’s a good idea but not sure how to get them to the right people. Research time.

  2. Cathy Leitner on March 2, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Oh the Canterbury Tales…. Be still my heart! I can still recite them in Old English, yes an over learned task from my senior year in high school. My son now teaches the Tales at the same high school, loves them and gets his seniors to love them and understand them! Some books are just meant to be treasured….. I too am in the process of de-hoarding, I mean de-cluttering!

  3. Marilyn Seitz on March 2, 2012 at 9:01 am

    We still donate books to our local library. If they don’t shelve them, they have a book sale once a year to make money. Give them a call. We take all children’s books to the elementary school, middle school, or high school depending upon reading level. They LOVE getting them! (You can also deduct the full price of the books on your tax form.)

  4. Sallee on March 2, 2012 at 9:46 am
    There are many crafters who use old books in their work. You can sell them for pennies and shipping – they’ll be put to good use!!

  5. Kimberly Moore on March 2, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Our local library has difficulty with funding, an all too common story. They’ve opened a volunteer-only-run used bookstore in which all donated books are accepted and sold. Rent and electric are the only expenses and all other money goes to support the local library. If there is a similar program near you, that may be a perfect solution. Also, I read Kidnapped three times before high school. I own two ancient copies. How did I not know there was a sequel?!

    • Emilie Richards on March 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      David Balfour. I happen to have a copy I could send you. 🙂

  6. Rhonda Gillette on March 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Keep them. I see so many wonderful decorating idea’s using old books. I have two that are very old. Not worth a lot value wise, but I want to use them in my home decor once we ever get this house finished inside so that I can finally decorate.

    • Emilie Richards on March 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      What kind of plans do you have? I’ve seen them drilled and threaded for lamps, made into corner tables.

  7. Joyce Erickson on March 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I used to sell used books on line and my biggest problem is every book I sold I had to reread before I mailed it.

    Your comment about the hassle of selling is true. i t got to the point where I was losing money so I quit selling on line.

    But what to do with 2,000 books. First I had a garage sale and sold about 500 then I donated to a women;s group that had a huge book sale at one of the malls. The $ wnt to a scholarship fund for women.

    • Emilie Richards on March 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm

      Good solutions, but I know it was hard to part with them.

  8. Lynn Ross - Toledo on March 2, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    To me books are sacred and so hard to part with. I downsized my library some every time we moved, though it broke my heart. Now we are facing a move into senior housing, so I’m in de-clutter mode like you, Emilie, and this time I have to make a major dent in my library. Sometimes I give them to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. If they can’t use them they can throw them away, and I don’t have to know about it. I can pretend they all went to a good home. But there is one special box of books that I will keep no matter what, and that is my collection of books by best-selling author, Emilie Richards.

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