When I was young my Grandmother died, and I was given a set of books she had owned. Grammy had come from Leeds, Yorkshire, England as a teenager, and so I always thought these unusual little books were something she had brought with her from England. They were extremely small, and I had fantasized that she had packed them with her few belongings during her immigration through Ellis Island in 1915.
However, the truth is just as interesting as my day dreams. Just last week I receive an email from Abe Books in Victoria, British Columbia. This is a company that deals in old books, and I especially like using their website to search for old local histories and genealogy books. This email featured a story about “The Little Leather Library”. I was surprised to see in their brief description that the books were published in New York. I ran down cellar to look at my little books, and sure enough, they were the same “Little Leather Library” books published in the USA, not England as I had previously believed.
Of course, years ago, I could have opened up any of the books to see that inside the cover it said “New York”, but as a teenager I was too busy reading the contents to look at the title pages. There are 28 little books in my collection, and the story at Abe Books said that there were 101 titles plus the Bible in 30 volumes. My collection includes The Holy Grail by Tennyson and The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde- both were favorites of mine when I was younger. But there are also American classics like Longfellow’s Hiawatha, The Raven by Poe, and Memories of President Lincoln by Walt Whitman.
I took a look at the prices on Abe Book’s website, and they ranged from about $7.50 to over $75 for each little book. A complete boxed set with the Bible in 30 little volumes was for sale for $1,500 on eBay. That is amazing to me since they are tiny, with very dark, cheap leatherette covers and brittle paper. They are not fine leather and expensive paper, like their name sounds. Each book is about 3” x 4”. Woolworth’s used to sell them for ten cents each. Wikipedia reports that in 1917 Woolworth’s ordered over 1 million copies, so they must have been popular.
I don’t know now if these books were my Grandmother or Grandfather’s. I wish I had known about them when they were alive, but I never had the chance to ask them. In fact, I never saw these books until I was given them after Grammy’s death. They could have belonged to either grandparent, since they were all published between 1916 to 1923. My Grandparents weren't married until 1926 in Beverly, Massachusetts.
Even so, I still cherish these little books!
Abe Books www.abebooks.com
Little Leather Corporation article at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Leather_Library_Corporation
Copyright 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo