A love story in book inscriptions

May 30, 2011 at 12:00 am 5 comments

As I think I’ve mentioned before, books with inscriptions in them are just about my favorite thing in all of used book Christendom. Finding one with an interesting person immortalized on a flyleaf is a really great thing, but finding a series of books owned by the same person and all inscribed to create their own narrative is like inscriptionirvana!

This happened to me last week whilst sorting old Penguins at the Oxfam Bloomsbury bookshop (incidentally for those of you in the area: £2 for all old Penguins, a steal!). In going through these Penguins, the story of a man named Richard Melville and his sweetheart Sandra came slowly and charmingly into focus.

Richard Melville signed all his books on the first available page, also often noting his location and the year. This made me smile anyway since I like imagining past readers of any given book in their appropriate milieu, perhaps contentedly just finishing the very book in my hand and signing it with a flourish to commemorate their completion. But then Richard Melville took it a step further.

I chuckled at his misfortune in Cyprus (or, more accurately, as his evident annoyance at his misfortune in Cyprus) and empathized with his need to replace the lost volume. I then moved along, hardly guessing the surprises Richard Melville’s old books had in store for me, and continued to price the Penguins until I came across the volume that set my little romantic heart a-beating.

"I wish this was THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ: for only that would be good enough for my darling Sandra/ Richard, June '62"

To my utter delight, since his encounter with Cyprian thieves two years previously, Richard Melville had fallen in love! With his darling Sandra! In my mind, Richard Melville was an impoverished student at Oxford (as almost all his other books noted his name, some date in the early 1960s, and “Oxford”) unable to afford what he considered a proper token of his love for his darling Sandra and thus unable to confess his affections. Imagine my delight, therefore, when a few books later the following inscription turned up:

"SJM / "For a bride-to-be / REM / Aug 62"

Those crazy kids made it! Richard Melville proclaimed his love (although probably not with a diamond as big as the Ritz, not that Sandra loved him any less for it) and his darling Sandra had agreed to be his wife.

This made me happy enough, but then I found one last book that utterly convinced me that I was a belated witness to two soul-mates finding each other.

In a different, loopier hand, the second inscribed Orwell could really only have come from Sandra to Richard. She apparently not just understood but shared his affection for Penguin paperbacks and inscriptions. A match made in Penguin pages!

Have I mentioned that I love inscribed books? Because I really do.



Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kate  |  May 30, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Oh my goodness, this is wonderful! I can’t tell you how happy this made me on this gloomy Memorial Day — and before coffee, even. To Richard and Sandra, wherever they may be now!

    • 2. Corey  |  May 30, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      Reaction 1: Aw, yay, I’m so glad! I join you in raising a glass (or mug?) to Richard and Sandra. :)

      Reaction 2: “Gloomy”?! Oh no!

  • 3. Dad  |  May 30, 2011 at 11:21 am

    This is so wonderful! I really enjoyed how you opened up a world lived some 50 years ago. Reminds us that everyone has a story.

  • 4. Em  |  June 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Wow! This is great!
    I wonder if my books will make someone dream in a store one day. I always write my name, the place and date it was bought and sometimes add a note: “Bought after seeing Roger Waters”, etc. I of course write a note in all the books I offer.
    I like books to have a history…

    • 5. Corey  |  June 13, 2011 at 5:23 am

      Isn’t it adorable?! It just makes me love used books even more. It sounds like your books will have individual stories, but perhaps no long-running narrative like Richard Melville’s. Mine are the same way: just my name and the date I finished with an occasional note or location. I feel like you’d have to really plan to get a narrative going (unless you Richard Melville, apparently).


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