One of the strangest books in my collection is rather shabby-looking and has several bent pages. Apparently a cat, or perhaps some hungry mice, chewed off a corner of the dustjacket and gnawed on the binding beneath. Most egregious of all, it appears that someone once used this book as a coaster, as a round dampstain from a pop or beer can is visible on the front of the dustjacket.
Yet it remains one of the most intriguing books in my collection. Every time I see it on my shelf, I wonder how it came to be parted from its original owner. And I can't stop thinking about the inscription inside. What does it mean? What does it all mean?
Because discretion is the better part of valor, I'm not going to reveal the book's title or the names of the two authors involved. I'm presenting this as a "blind item," though I'm sure that those interested in the history of children's books may be able to figure out who's who.
Dedication copies of books are highly prized by collectors. As the phrase suggests, a "dedication copy" is the volume once owned by the book's dedicatee. It's usually signed or inscribed directly on the dedication page. Though an author may sign a thousand copies of his or her book, the dedication copy is one-of-a-kind. I would assume that anyone who has a book dedicated to them considers it a prized possession. Usually these books only end up on the market when the original owner passes away.
Several years ago, I came across a book of folklore by a well-known children's author of the 1950s and 1960s. The book was dedicated to his son and fondly inscribed to him on the dedication page. Since my research indicated that the son was still very much alive, I wondered why he would part with a gift that most of us would cherish.
As it turns out, this well-known children's author of the 1950s and 1960s was married to another noted children's writer. She too dedicated a book to her son -- and not just any book, but a brilliant and eccentric novel that was named a Newbery Honor. I stumbled upon this book on sale for $25. I didn't care about the gnawed corner or Pepsi ring on the front cover; I just felt honored to have a dedication copy in my collection. But what makes this book endlessly intriguing to me is its enigmatic inscription:
"For _________, with love from Mother, and I wish I had waited and dedicated the one about rats to you -- you rat."
I'd like to think she was joking with this inscription. But maybe not. After all, _______ ended up using this book as a coaster and selling it to a used bookstore.
I guess we'll never know the answer to this mystery, but every time I pick up that book, I wonder about these writers, their son, and the hostile (or was it humorous?) inscription that hints at family secrets that may never be known.