Sunday, September 2, 2012

Priceless Papers

I always look for old books when I go to estate sales.   I have a habit of feeling sorry for the old book that no one else seems to want, and I end up bringing it home with me.

That was the case at a recent estate sale, when I found a hardback copy of a King James Bible published in the mid-1930s.  This Bible was different than most, though; it was printed without the (man-made) chapter and verse breaks, so it could be read as literature.

This sale was professionally managed by a Russian immigrant woman and her family. I asked her the price.

"The Bible is priceless," she replied, with her beautiful accent.  "But for you, five bucks."

At another recent sale in an old historic neighborhood, I spotted a very old book with a faded cover that no one else had touched.  It's called The Children's Bread.  No author was listed; it was published by Dana and Company, NY.

The Children's Bread is poems and Bible verses, such as, "Little children, walk in love" and "O that it were my chief delight / To do the things I ought / Then let me try with all my might / To mind what I am taught."   Then I looked at the flyleaf:

That's less than two months after the Civil War began. 

For two dollars, I couldn't leave it there.

Sometimes I find things tucked inside old books that really should not be sold.  That happened at an estate sale a couple of days ago.  Inside a scruffy, nondescript self-help paperback (which I didn't buy; it had no character) I discovered some old letters, a marriage certificate from 1934, and a folded square of paper with a large red cross at the top.  The message was sent by the Red Cross in Geneva, operating inside Nazi Germany.  It was addressed to someone in New York City, and was dated December 1942.  On the back a message, in German, was typed. 

I showed the paper to the woman putting on the sale, and asked her not to sell it.  She and I worked out the message from the sender:

Happy Christmas.  We are well.  Please don't worry about us.  Many hugs and kisses.  Grandma. 

The date the message was received in New York was stamped on the front:   February 1946.  Grandma's family didn't get the message until after the war was over.  (Had she been a prisoner of the Nazis?  Did she survive?  There was no one to ask.)

"Oh, my,"  the estate sale manager.  She was quiet for  a moment.  "I'll send this to the family.  You're right.  It shouldn't be sold." 

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