One Book's Journey
Books have always been very intriguing objects to me—I can get lost for hours exploring a library or a used book store, or even organizing my own personal library. This fact is one of the reasons I was so excited to begin my internship at the Missouri History Museum’s Library and Research Center. Getting to work with historical literature and materials is an interesting venture.
That said, as it goes with any job, it is usually necessary to complete assignments that are not exactly glamorous—especially as an intern! One of my tasks this summer has been barcoding trucks of books for the library’s biography collection. For many people, this might seem like a monotonous duty—placing barcode labels in books, swiping them with the scanner, and hearing the same “beep” over and over. However, looking beyond the initial task, there are many fascinating things to uncover. I get to leaf through books from the 1800s and early 1900s; many of these books are rare volumes with portraits, photos, and illustrations from times gone by.
A few weeks ago, I was working through a truck of books when I came across something unique: a book titled The English Home of Major André at Bath, which was petite with a worn leather bound cover. It had only a few pages, but they were thick with gold-leaf trim, each separated by fragile guard sheets. The hand-drawn lettering and illustrations, done by an “S. Poole,” described the home of Major André, who was a British Army officer hanged as a spy during the American War of Independence. Many of the books I come across are somewhat rare—like one copy out of 200—but this appeared to be one-of-a-kind.
Although the book itself was out of the ordinary, what struck me was where it was from. The inside front cover is adorned with W. K. Bixby’s bookplate. (Many of the books at the Library are from Bixby, a St. Louis philanthropist and former Missouri History Museum president, who supplied MHM with many generous donations in the early 1900s.) The inside back cover contains a handwritten letter addressed to Bixby from Cedric Chivers, a bookseller from Bath who exhibited his books at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 and visited with Bixby during that time. In the letter, Chivers writes: “In my return home from St. Louis, I remembered so vividly the evening you were good enough to spend with me among your books and M.S.S that I wanted to do some little thing to show my appreciation of your kindness. The accompanying little book appears to me to be an appropriate reminder of your kindness to a Bath man.” Reading these words is a small step into the history of a man whose kind actions decades ago continue to benefit the Missouri History Museum to this day.
Sometimes the story of the journey of a book is just as interesting as its contents. It goes to show that even the tasks that seem mundane can lead to something worthwhile—you just have to pay attention.
—Andrea Fridley, Missouri History Museum intern