My mother-in-law used to hunt for antiques and hope for unrealized “treasure.” How about being given an original publication of a Jane Austen novel by a stranger? And how about such a book being mailed to the English department at a local high school? That’s exactly what happened. From the Boston Globe article, “Teacher seeks to solve mystery of 200-year-old Jane Austen book”: ml
The tattered book with the small golden stag embossed on its cover, bearing the initials “JA” underneath, arrived in March in an envelope that read, “Ayer High School. ATTN: English Department.”
Along with the musty leatherbound book there was a letter. It had a picture of a rose in the bottom righthand-corner, and was addressed to “anyone who cares.”
Eleanor Capasso, once she realized what she might have in her possession, cared deeply.
As a rare book collector and head of the English department at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School, Capasso said that being sent what she believes could be a first edition of a Jane Austen novel felt a lot like winning the golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
“This is what English teachers live for,” said Capasso. “This — and being published as novelists.”
As it turned out, it was a 200 year first edition printing of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Ayer High School is the high school in Ayer, Massachusetts, a town in the north central part of the sate with a population of less than 7,500.
The article continues with the littleknown history of the book’s ownership.
Capasso said the book was sent to the school by Alice B. Bantle of Pawleys Island, S.C.
Bantle explained in the letter that she had found the book in a box of “junk” in her mother’s garage. She said her mother had lived in Dudley, Mass., and used to go to auctions to bid on “boxes of various items” for fifty cents, or $1.
“Even though ‘Persuasion’ is in very bad shape,” Bantle wrote, “It might be of interest to someone in your English Department, or traced back to its original family.”
Bantle wanted to find the book a new home.
According to an inscription on the inside of the book, the original owner was a woman named Lillian M. Flood. Flood had won the book as a prize in May 1900, at Ayer High School.
Capasso plans to honor Bantle’s request to find the book’s rightful owners.
“I want to see if there is a family in town who can claim it,” said Capasso. “In my opinion, it’s an heirloom. I want to see if I can find its family.”
Fascinating and amazing. Somehow I doubt anyone will have enough of a connection to the Lillian M. Flood to lay claim to the book. But I could be wrong.
Though my wife gets on my case because of all the books I’ve accumulated and store, now I have plenty of justification to saving all my old books. ;)
So don’t throw books out!
Here’s a picture of the found book.
One more thing, as the article states Persuasion is Jane Austen’s last of her six published novels and of the four novels I’ve read my least favorite. It lacks the complexity of the other works, but still it’s a charming read. You can never go wrong with a Austen novel.