Sunday, April 15, 2018

Provenance clues in 1878's "The Old Church, and Other Stories"

This little book is in good shape for being 140 years old. It's titled The Old Church, and Other Stories, and it's copyright 1878 by Dodd, Mead & Company of New York.

No author or illustrator is credited for the slight hardcover book, which measures just 3¾ inches wide and 5¼ inches tall, making it suitable to slipping into a pants pocket.

There is a credit for "Press of Richard Handy" on the copyright page.

The stories are written with hyphens marking the syllables in each word. So you get, for example:
Lit-tle Kate lived in a small town in Eng-land. Close by her house was a great o-pen space all cov-ered with green grass, while here and there a yel-low dan-de-li-on showed its head a-mong it.

These are A-rab la-dies. See how they keep their fa-ces hid-den. They would think it a great dis-grace to show them in the street, so they wear long scarfs that on-ly leave room for the eyes to look out. Their hou-ses have no win-dows that o-pen on the street, but are built a-round a yard.
What most interests me about this antique book, though, are the inscriptions and provenance clues on the first two pages.

Let's start with the inside front cover, which has a purple stamp that's now missing a few letters:

I think it's supposed to be:

1909 PA.

Without a sure answer for the first name, that's probably not enough information to confirm an indentity.

And then there's the next page, shown here:

So we have:
The property
Ella M. Bickel,
Berks Co.,

Propert of [off?] Hiram

William M. Bickel

me dear
Is that just oen person's handwriting? Or did two (or more) people write at two different times?

An interesting possiblity for for Ella is Ella M. Bickel Harley, who lived from 1874 to 1921 and is buried in Parker Ford, Pennsylvania, about 24 miles southeast of Shillington. That certainly puts her in the right time frame for owning this book, perhaps in the mid 1880s.

Ella had a younger brother named Harry (1876–1957), which is sometimes a nickname for Hiram. Is part of this Harry/Hiram's handiwork, with his "Remember me dear sister"? Left unexplained, however, is where William M. Bickel fits in. A cousin of Ella and Harry/Hiram, perhaps?

* * *

Moving away from the mystery and back to the book, I'll close with one of the numerous interior illustrations...

1 comment:

  1. It is quite possible that "Hiram William M. Bickel" is a name which refers to one person. See this grave in Shillington, Pennsylvania:

    His date of death matches this obituary in the Reading Times (scroll down or search for "Reading"):

    That obituary lists his parents as Moses and Mary Bickel. See: and

    At the bottom of Moses' grave is the inscription "Erected by H.W.M. Bickel."

    At the bottom of Mary's grave is the inscription "Erected by Mrs. Ella M. Gromis."

    Might that be Ella M. Bickel's married name? Perhaps, yet despite assiduous sleuthing, there the trail goes cold....

    -- M.F.