Monday, December 9, 2013

Eight awesome things you'll never find inside e-books

I have still never purchased nor read an e-book.

You cannot call me a Luddite, though — for heck's sake, I have a blog with 1,000-plus posts and a robust Twitter account. And, to be fair, I can envision situations in which e-books might make sense — if I was a business traveler, or had a daily hour-long train commute or vacationed for weeks at a time in the Azores, I might want to load up an e-reader with a bunch of pulp fiction to pass the time.

But, so far, e-books aren't for me.

I'm a Books Guy. Books you can hold in your hands and take anywhere without worrying about battery life or the elements.

Books, too, are more than just the sum of the words written by the author. They are full of other treasures. The kind of treasures that, to my knowledge, will never exist with e-books. As a Books Guy, I live for those discoveries within old books. That's part of what this website is all about.

To drive home the point about the wonderfulness of real books, I present: "Eight Awesome Things You'll Never Find Inside E-books."

1. Bookseller's label from Ell's bookstore

This gorgeous little bookseller's label is just three-quarters of an inch wide.1 It's affixed to the inside front cover of the 1959 hardcover edition of Three Generations of Men by Judith Wright.

Ell's was a bookstore in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. Historical information about it is very scarce on the Internet. One intriguing mention was found in "Schoolboy Rocketry: The Unofficial Rocketry Club at Newcastle Boys’ High School, 1964-1969," an article by by Trevor C. Sorensen:2
"I was thrilled when in 1965 I discovered a book in Ell’s Bookstore in downtown Newcastle called Handbook of Model Rocketry by G. Harry Stine (who was the founder of the National Association of Rocketry). This was a wealth of information about rockets in general and model rockets specifically."
Also, I found this short obituary notice in the March 9, 2005, issue of Australia's Weekly Book Newsletter:
"Mrs Mary Ell, of Max Ell Books in Roselands NSW and originally Ell’s Bookstore Newcastle, has passed away peacefully at home after a long illness. Married for 58 years, Max gave Mary the Roselands bookstore as a Mother’s Day gift 31 years ago. A stalwart in the book trade, Mary will be remembered as a tireless and enthusiastic worker while we had our Sydney city bookstores, especially at Roselands when she came to help during our centre court stalls. Loved by Max and her family, staff, colleagues and loyal customers. She will be sadly missed."

2. Handwritten inscription indicating ownership

Or, in this case, co-ownership. In this instance, we see that the 1938 hardcover edition of Speech-Making by James A. Winans was co-owned by Edward Stick and Edgar Sell in 1940.

I'm sure there will be digital trails full of bits and bytes indicating e-book ownership for future cyber-archaeologists. But they can't be as elegant or interesting as a cursive inscription.

[As a random aside, Speech-Making quotes this delicious sentence penned by Oliver Wendell Holmes: "I have known several genteel idiots whose whole vocabulary had deliquesced into some half dozen expressions."]

3 and 4. Bookseller's label and owner's signature

These were found within the 1904 hardcover edition of The Commoner Diseases of the Eye by Casey A. Wood and Thomas A. Woodruff.3 The bookseller's label — just 1½ inches wide — is for P. Blakiston's Son & Co., medical booksellers, of Philadelphia.4 It is affixed to the top-left corner of the inside front cover.

Meanwhile, the one-time owner's signature appears on the first page, alongside the date October 1, 1904.5

Any guesses on Henry's last name? (Trying to interpret antique cursive handwriting can be both fun and frustrating.)

5. Bookseller's label from Erie Bible Truth Depot

Here's one more groovy bookseller's label.

This one is just 1¼ inches wide and was affixed to the inside front cover of the 1970 reprint hardcover of Lectures Introductory to the Study of the Gospels (Volume 1) by William Kelly.

The Erie Bible Truth Depot was established as a company in the early 1940s, and I'm not sure if it's still in existence. If anyone knows anything further about this Pennsylvania company, I'd love to learn more and share it here.

6. Leonard E. Brewster's bookplate

This isn't the most ornate or artistic bookplate that I've posted.6 But it's still a very nice example of a mid-20th century label.

It's affixed to the inside front cover of the 1954 Noonday Press hardcover edition of The Province of Jurisprudence Determined and the Uses of the Study of Jurisprudence.7

It goes without saying that the art form of bookplates is right out when it comes to e-books.

7. A time and a place

An inscription can send you hurtling back in time. Someone — I don't know who — wrote "Berlin, Feb., 1932" in precise script inside a copy of Wings of the Morning, a novel by Joan Sutherland.

February 1932 was a tumultuous and ominous time for Berlin and Germany. The German Communist Party and the Nazi Party were taking over the government from the crumbling Weimar Republic. In fewer than 12 months, Adolf Hitler would be appointed as Chancellor of Germany.

8. Personalized inscription from the author

Finally, I'm fairly sure there's no meaningful way for an author (or gift-giver) to place a personalized inscription in an e-book.8

This inscription from the author appears on the first page of a copy of 1951's Outdoor Adventures by Hal H. Harrison. It represents a tangible connection between book-recipient Henry and the book's author.

Inscriptions are among my favorite things that I've posted on Papergreat over the years.9 They can be funny, poignant, stern. Mostly, they can be human. I don't know how you put a human touch on an e-book.

So here's hoping that e-books never do anything more than serve as a complementary niche within the publishing industry. Long live printed books!

1. For more about the history and artistry of bookseller's labels, I recommend these three links:
Also, bookseller labels have been featured in these previous Papergreat posts:
2. The Sorensen article was available online when I started research for this post earlier this year. But now it appears to be gone. Digital doesn't mean forever. A real book, meanwhile, can never just vanish into cyberspace.
3. This textbook is filled with disturbing photos and illustrations. But that's a post for another day. Maybe.
4. In 1943, P. Blakiston's Son & Co. published One Hundred Years, a short retrospective of its publishing history from 1843 to 1943.
5. October 1, 1904, was the birth date of Austrian-British physicist Otto Robert Frisch, who designed the first theoretical mechanism for the detonation of an atomic bomb.
6. For bookplate fans, here are some previous Papergreat posts in which they are featured:
7. I love books. But even I am not going to pretend that book sounds interesting.
8. Apparently, though, Apple wants to give it a try, according to this recent Slate article.
9. These are some of my very favorite inscriptions from previous Papergreat posts. None of these would remotely work with an e-book.


  1. My grandfather owned "ell's books" in Newcastle. I now live in Newcastle and lots of elderly people still ask me if I'm related to ells books... then they tell me all their lovely memories!

  2. I worked at Ell's in the 60s assisting Mr Ell Senior and can remember his reliance on Englishmen to manage the Stores leading Departments like Toys and Books it was an enjoyable period of employment.