by Steve Laube
I love books, especially old or rare ones. Back in college I spent a couple months working in the back room of the university library repairing their rare book collection. I’ll never forget the awe of holding a copy of a book by Theodore Beza, a student of John Calvin, dated in the 1600s.
I also recall one Summer in Washington D.C. around the annual CBA bookseller’s convention when a friend and I wandered the stacks of the Library of Congress discovering extremely rare treasures.
Years later while visiting the Wade Center at Wheaton College I was able to browse the personal library of Dorothy Sayers, pulling books off the shelf to find her precise script in the margins. Another highlight in the collection is a wardrobe owned by C.S. Lewis (open it with care!).
The other day I wondered what was the oldest book I owned in my library? I have a few from the early 1800s which are really fun to examine, but it was the one pictured below that is oldest by over thirty years.
Looking Unto Jesus: A View of the Everlasting Gospel or the Soul’s Eying of Jesus, as Carrying on the great Work of Man’s Salvation, from First to Last by the great puritan Isaac Ambrose. This leatherbound edition is dated 1772 and was published in Glasgow, Scotland (in roman numeral it reads M,DCC,LXXII).
Think of the history. This book was printed four years before the founding of the United States. The author, Isaac Ambrose, died in 1664 but this particular book of his was so well loved that some who lived in that time mentioned it along with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as their favorite. (My copy is 636 pages long. Here is a link to a PDF of the book.)
But what makes this even more special is the signature of its first owners signed with a flourish on August 1, 1773. See below:
Two hundred and forty years ago Susannah Powells wrote her name as the proud owner of this book. Four months later, in December 1773, a little “tea party” occurred in Boston Harbor. A few years later a group of men signed their name to the Declaration of Independence. The popular music of that era is illustrated by the fact that in 1773 Mozart celebrated his 17th birthday and Beethoven turned three.
All this feeling of history flows when holding an old book.
Tell us in the comments what the oldest book you have in your personal library! Let’s celebrate old books together.