Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2009 Issue

Library Book Returned... 145 Years Later

Matchingw&lbooks

Consecutive numbers showed this to be Washington and Lee's copy.


By Michael Stillman

We don't know whether Mike Dau read the story about the Iowa woman who spent several hours in jail over a six-month overdue library book, but we will guess not. If so, he must have approached the Washington and Lee University Library with great fear and trepidation last month. Mr. Dau was returning a book that had been removed a bit longer ago than six months. It was, in fact, 145 years, or to be precise, 52,858 days overdue. On a fairness basis compared to the lady in Iowa, he probably should have been executed, but instead he walked away a free man. He didn't even have to pay a fine, which based on the current rate of $1 per day, would amount to $52,858. Librarians (excluding those from Iowa) are a forgiving lot.

This story goes all the way back to the Civil War. On June 11, 1864, Union forces attacked Lexington, Virginia, home to what was then simply Washington University. Union soldier C.S. Gates swiped the book, volume one of the four-volume set History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France, by W.F.P Napier. Gates was obviously not a book collector, as it is foolish to take one volume of a larger set, and this is not a particularly valuable book anyway, not even after all of these years. However, Gates did not have time to conduct a full appraisal. A handwritten note from Gates inside the book indicates he thought he was taking it from nearby Virginia Military Institute, not Washington University, and he was probably more interested in sticking it to those rebels. Alternatively, he may have just been trying to save the book, as his note continues, "The Institution was burned by the order of Gen Hunter." Actually, Gates was only half right. Union troops did burn down the VMI library, but not the Washington from which he took the book, but with the two institutions side by side, it is easy to see how he became confused.

Gates made it back home after the war, and while we don't know whether he ever read this book, he certainly did not throw it away. Neither did his descendants. The book was handed down through generations of the Gates family, until it reached the last in the line, Myron and Isabel Gates. When Mrs. Gates died, she left it to her Lake Forest, Illinois, neighbor, Mike Dau. So explains how Mr. Dau ended up with this book so many years later.

In time, Mr. Dau concluded this book belonged with its rightful owner, and after some sleuthing, he determined that it was Washington and Lee. His conclusions proved correct when the book was matched to volume 2, still in the library's possession. In these pre-Dewey Decimal days, the library marked their books with simple numbers. Mr. Dau's volume 1 is labeled, "139," while volume 2 is labeled "140." The reunion was complete. However, it should be noted that the remaining volumes are still missing, and anyone possessing them should be forewarned that Washington and Lee might not be so forgiving of people who hold onto to their overdue books for longer than 145 years.

Legalistic Footnote: For those with a legalistic mind, it is clear that Washington and Lee University was the owner of this book, not Mr. Dau. There have been several cases lately, including one involving North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights, taken by a Union soldier in the waning days of the Civil War. The courts found for North Carolina over the most recent possessor, and undoubtedly would have found the same here, excepting the value of this book would not have warranted a suit, and Washington and Lee would have remained in ignorance had not Mr. Dau come forward to return the book.

Rare Book Monthly

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    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Roman binding.- Pindar. <i>Olympia, Pythia, Nemea, Isthmia,</i> translated by Johannes Lonicer, contemporary Roman binding by Niccolo Franzese, Basel, 1535. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Raverat (Gwen). Comprehensive album of 530 wood engravings, circa 1909-1950. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Hemingway (Ernest). <i>Fiesta,</i> first English edition, first impression dust-jacket, 1927. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>30th March 2023</b>
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Fleming (Ian). <i>Casino Royale,</i> first edition, first impression, 1953. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>Great Expectations,</i> 3 vol., first edition, first impression, Chapman and Hall, 1861. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Campbell (Colen) & others. <i>Vitruvius Britannicus, or The British Architect...,</i> 5 vol., vol.1-3 later editions, vol.4 & 5 first editions, [?1731]-31-67-71. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>30th March 2023</b>
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Geography.- Mela (Pomponius). <i>Cosmographia, sive De situ orbis,</i> Venice, Franciscus Renner de Heilbronn, 1478. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> America.- [?Espinosa y Tello (José)]. <i>Relacion del Viage hecho por las Goletas Sutil y Mexicana en el Año de 1792,</i> 2 vol. including Atlas, first edition, Madrid, 1802. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Australasia.- Péron (Francois) and Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet. <i>Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes,</i> 5 vol. including Atlas, second edition, Paris, 1824. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>30th March 2023</b>
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Botany.- Curtis (William). <i>The Botanical Magazine; or, Flower-Garden Displayed,</i> 83 vol. in 62, 1794-1956. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum, Mar. 30:</b> Darwin (Charles).- Lecky (W.E.H.) <i>The Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe,</i> 2 vol., Darwin's copy with inscription "Charles Darwin 1865", pencil marginalia and pencil notes, 1865. £7,000 to £10,000.
  • <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Printed & Manuscript African Americana:<br>March 30, 2023</b>
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Victor H. Green, <i>The Negro Motorist Green Book,</i> New York, 1949. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Papers of pianist-composer Lawrence Brown relating to Paul Robeson & more, various places, 1925-54. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Freedom Summer archive of civil rights activist Karen Haberman Trusty, Atlanta & elsewhere, 1963-64. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> New York, 1933. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Archive of letters from the sculptor Richmond Barthé to a close Jamaican friend, various places, 1966-85. $25,000 to $35,000.
  • <b><center>Koller Auctions<br>Books & Autographs<br>29 March 2023</b>
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> DADA - <i>Cabaret Voltaire.</i> A collection of artistic and literary contributions. Edited by Hugo Ball. CHF 5,000 to 8,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> EXPRESSIONISM - <i>Der Sturm.</i> Weekly magazine for culture and the arts. Almost complete suite from the years 1910 to 1932. CHF 20,000 to 30,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> LISBON EARTHQUAKE - <i>Augsburg collection of copper engravings of Lisbon. CHF 40,000 to 60,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> Hamilton, William. <i>Campi Phlegraei. Observations on the Volcanos of the Two Sicilies as they have been communicated to the Royal Society of London.</i> Naples, 1776-1779. CHF 50,000 to 70,000.
    <b><center>Koller Auctions<br>Books & Autographs<br>29 March 2023</b>
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> Leonardi, Domenico Felice. <i>Le Delizie della villa di Castellazzo descritte in verso dall'abbate Domenico Felice Leonardi lucchese fra gli Arcadi Ildosio Foloetico.</i> Milan, 1743. CHF 12,000 to 18,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> Zwingli, Huldrych. <i>Von erkiesen und freyhait der speisen. Von ergernusz und Verbößerung. Ob man gewalt hab die speyß zu etlichen zeyten verbieten [...]</i>. CHF 2,500 to 4,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> HENDRIK VAN VULLENHOE, UMKREIS. Benedictional and other texts for Johannes von Venningen, Bishop of Basel. Latin manuscript on parchment. CHF 50,000 to 80,000.
    <b>Koller, Mar. 29:</b> Gujer, Hans Rudolf. Master typist's book by Hans Rudolf Gujer from Wermetschweil (Wermatswil). German manuscript on paper. CHF 3,000 to 5,000.
  • <b><center>Stargardt Autographenhandlung<br>Autographs: Literature, Music, Art, Science, History, Theatre & Film<br>March 28, 2023</b>
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Autograph album leaf signed, 1826. €9,000 to €12,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Franz Kafka: Autograph letter unsigned, 1924. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Torquato Tasso: Autograph poem signed, no date. €12,000 to €16,000.
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    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Charles Darwin: Autograph letter signed, 1866. €4,500 to €6,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Albert Einstein: Autograph letter signed, 1933. €6,000 to €8,000.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Heinrich Hertz: Autograph manuscript signed, 1889. €18,000 to €24,000.
    <b><center>Stargardt Autographenhandlung<br>Autographs: Literature, Music, Art, Science, History, Theatre & Film<br>March 28, 2023</b>
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Giambattista Bodoni: Autograph letter signed, 1787. €900 to €1,200.
    <b>Stargardt Autographenhandlung, Mar. 28:</b> Francisco de Goya: Autograph letter signed, 1789. €18,750 to €25,000.
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