Saturday, April 5, 2014

Detective work

Today on the way home from getting our hair cut, my mom and I stopped at an estate sale. Estate sales are interesting. Much more interesting than regular garage sales. With estate sales, nearly everything in the house is for sale, because someone has died or moved into a retirement home (usually). You can find some reeeeaaally interesting stuff there... At one estate sale we went to, the whole front room was covered in creepy dolls. One that we looked at online had TONS of old Star Wars memorabilia.
My mom goes for the fabric. I go for the books. Once I found the Complete Works of Shakespeare for $1!!
The sale today had lots of old games (from the 30's or 40's, it looked like), teddy bears, and books.Wow, I have never seen so many old books that well preserved in one place before! Well, at least, all together in a place where you could pick them up and scrutinize them. Where they weren't behind lock and key to keep grubby little fingers off of them.
Anyway, this person was obviously a Sherlock Holmes fan, and a fan of classics, for he/she had an old Complete Sherlock Holmes book from the '60's, along with two or three of the novels in hardback. There were also collections of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.
I came away with three books and honestly I can't believe I'm making this post so composed because these three books are SO. EXCITING!

All three are over a hundred years old! And in excellent shape. And I got all three for $5! A steal!
On the top is Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. It didn't have a date in the front of it, but I looked up the publishing house and it was only active from 1897-1906, so I'm supposing that this book was printed then.
On the bottom is The Prince and Pauper by Mark Twain. The date in the front of the book is from 1909. It's in such good condition, though, that it might be from a later date. I'm not sure. This one, unfortunately, has pen scribbles all over the front cover.
Both of these books were formed library books (hence the scribbles and the big black "discarded" in the front cover). Old books from libraries are really wonderful. Old books are wonderful. They were made so differently years and years ago.
I was telling my mom that I felt so good so buy these, because it's like preserving a piece of history. So many people have switched over to eReaders, and so many people just don't read at all. Or if they do, they only read the books that are popular right now (like Twilight or The Hunger Games or Divergent or any other YA book). I don't believe one can truly be a well-balanced bookworm if one does not read books from a variety of different times, in a variety of genres, on a variety of subjects. Or maybe one can be a bookworm, but not a well-read bookworm.
Anyway, the middle book is the most exciting one! It's The Valley of Fear, the final Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Valley of Fear was originally published serial style in a newspaper (probably The Strand, but I've forgotten) from 1914-1915. The first book copy came out in 1914 from the George H. Doran Company. (It was an American publishing company who published many British books during World War One to help out with the War effort. This explains why The Valley of Fear was published in America, rather than in Britain. They also published P.G. Wodehouse's books!)
Now here's the exciting part... my copy is also from 1914! Though the publisher is different.

Because this copy is "in agreement with George H. Doran Company" I'm supposing it to be a 2nd or 3rd printing. Or maybe A.L. Burt Company had a deal with Doyle too.

This is why I love shopping second hand for books. You never know what you're going to find! I think it adds to the joy of loving "classics" or "old books" as well. Someone who exclusively reads modern day fiction will never experience the same thrill of holding a book with so much history within it's very fibers. Where has this Valley of Fear been before? Whom was it's original owner? I continue to flip through these books just now, I notice in the cover of Prince and the Pauper an imprint which says "Wilton Manor Public Library." So I look it up - it's a library in Florida! Strange, because in the front cover of Valley of Fear, there is one of those address-sticker-things, and the address there is from Florida too (though Wilton Manor and St. Petersburg, the address in the Valley of Fear are about 4 hours driving distance from each other).
Did this "Walter Wende" on the sticker in Valley of Fear live in Florida and then move to the Pacific Northwest and take his books with him? Or did the previous owner of these books buy them from a "Walter Wende" in Florida once upon a time?
...I just did a Google search of "Walter Wende" and found a list of death records. Two Walter Wende's from Florida... One I can rule out because his name is Walter R Wende, and my Walter is Walter A. Wende. 
Walter no-middle-initial Wende was born in 1890 and died in 1974. He was from St. Petersburg, Florida. The Walter Wende on my sticker was from St. Petersburg, Florida. Could it be the same man?

I looked up the address in the book cover and this is what Google Maps came up with (I apologize to whoever is now living here. lol)

Perhaps as a young man of 24, Walter bought the new Sherlock Holmes mystery when it came out. Perhaps later in life, he went off and served in either or both of the World Wars. Or perhaps he bought The Valley of Fear from someone else who bought it when it first came out.
Since Walter Wende died 40 years ago, he obviously did not live in the house we went to today. So who bought the book from Wende? Did it pass down to a family member after he died? Or was it carted off to a thrift store where someone else picked it up? How did it get all the way across the country? And were Little Dorrit, The Prince and the Pauper, and the other old books at the estate sale from Mr. Wende's collection as well? Is this Walter Wende even my Walter Wende?
This is where the people in those history programs would say "Well, we've run up against a wall. I guess some questions will never be answered. Thank you for joining us in this journey. We hope you join us next week when we try and discover..."


  1. WHOAH. I love how you were so detailed with looking the old book's owner up. That made my day. xD

  2. Those are some cool finds! And it's fun you could find out so much about the guy who used to own them.

  3. I love old books. Especially when they have an interesting history! Excellent detective work.

  4. You're quite the detective, Nancy Drew! I love how you actually looked up all this information and became an expert on it. And I /love/ finding old books at shops and sales, both garage sales and estate sales. Though most of the time I end up getting books from used book stores (or amazon), not estate sales (although I do have an old edition of the Hobbit or two, and an old copy of Great Expectations, though both of which are paperback).
    Tell us about the last Sherlock Holmes novel once you finish it! Anything mysterious or outstanding about it?
    In one of the copies of the Hobbit that I have, the name Bill Perkins was in it. But when I first saw it, the writing was kind of weird looking so it ALMOST looked like it said Bilbo Baggins. Isn't that cool!

  5. That is SO exciting! And that you were able to find the home where he lived. Old books are wonderful, but when you can find a little of the history behind them they are even better!
    The Sherlock Holmes one though, that is an exciting discovery!! (I look for old books to, and the dates in them. If is fun, to see if there are any little notes in them from the original owner or gift giver. It makes them even more special.)

  6. Ohhhhh.....Little Dorrit - someone in my house is very envious! What a find! :) Treasure hunting!