Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Steal not this book my honest lad"

The pencil inscription on this 1932 edition of the history textbook "Our Republic" reads: "Steal not this book my honest lad for 50¢ cost my dad and you will say at judment [sic] day where is that book you stole away."

It's a unique variation on an old, familiar theme. I could not, though, find any other online references for phrases that specifically begin with "steal not this book my honest lad." Maybe this book owner was going for his or her own original rhyme.

According to Littera Scripta: "It was traditional, particularly before the invention of the printing press when books were all hand written manuscripts, to letter a curse into the book to prevent theft. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have worked very well, as the books also had to be chained into place."

One of the most commonly used modern inscriptions starts with "Steal not this book for fear of shame, for in it is the owner's name."

Some other examples of variations on the theme:

Frizzled in a pan. That sounds uncomfortable.

More on this topic


  1. I have a primer with a similar inscription: "Don't steel this book for fear your life/for the owner carrys a big jacknife." Judging from other graffiti in the primer, this book seems to have come from my home state of Alabama, around 1880 (the book itself was published in 1850; I've always assumed a dearth of schoolbooks after the Civil War). The primer belonged to a girl named Beth Young, who left another small verse on the title page: "If you wish my name to see/Look on page 103"--where she left a lovely and elaborate signature.

    (I just posted a journal entry on my own books, and found your page via a Google search for the "don't steel this book" motto. I kind of figured it must be a popular period warning.)

  2. do you know where i could access online files of old textbooks?

  3. I am going to start using "Tom Harris will be after you." any time that I feel is appropriate. People will be confused ... and I kind of like that :)

    1. I approve whole-heartedly of this course of action. :)