Tales from Port Fairy: treasures in books

Posted on October 4, 2015 | 2 comments

one dollar

You just never know what might fall out of a book…even the Queen. Image: Jo Canham.

Welcome to Tales from Port Fairy, a monthly column by JO CANHAM about life in the world’s most liveable town, Port Fairy. Jo is the owner of Blarney Books & Art, James St, Port Fairy, a second-hand bookshop with a whimsical heart.

Nothing makes it clearer to me that I’m dealing in secondhand books, or pre-loved books, if you like, than when I find little treasures between their pages.

This is always a little moment of joy for me. It gives me the teeniest insight into the book’s past life – as do price stickers when they give away the book’s provenance.

I tend to lie my books face down, open to where I left off, rather than use a bookmark, or committing the violation of the dog-ear. And I usually have a many layered cake of books on my bedside table, and on the coffee table, and on the kitchen bench, and in the bookshop.

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Possibly the only exception is when I’m travelling. Then I use whatever’s at hand as a bookmark, usually a piece of Blarney marketing.

It seems, though, that there is a lot of people who use bookmarks – whatever the form these bookmarks take.

Regular items I’ve found in books are plane tickets (and I love these, because they come from far and wide), coasters (ditto), hankies or tissues (so far unused, and flat-pressed), photographs (if I know where they came from, I will try to return these), gift cards (I do like to read old gift cards, it has to be said), electricity bills, recipes, handmade bookmarks and actual bought bookmarks. Interesting to me are the bookmarks from bookshops which no longer exist.


A story within a story: just one of the many treasures found inside second hand books at Blarney Books & Art. Image: Jo Canham.

Then there are the little joyful surprises that fall from books – butterfly wings, a feather, a pressed flower or plant, and once, a button. (Less joyful are the live silverfish…)

Children’s books often contain very sweet cut-outs of cute animals, sometimes a message in code, and just this week, a very efficiently scissored cut-out of a big, pink, sparkly Barbie.

In the early days of Blarney Books, I had a small box I kept these finds in, but two children later and a lot of rearranging means I have somewhere along the line lost this little box of treasures.

It may turn up yet.

The more interesting pieces of buried treasure I have found are old letters, old newpaper articles, hand-written poems, and legal contracts. I once found a small collection of (extra-marital) love letters – yes, of course I read them – in a copy of The Great Gatsby!

One boot-load of books we collected from Melbourne was said to be used as the couple’s bank. The owners said they’d gone through them all very carefully, but to let them know if any money was found. There was not a note among them. But I have remained hopeful of finding a stash of cash one day…just for the thrill of it – of course it would be returned.

That hope was realised last week, when, after ten years of running a bookshop, I found money in a book!

A whole ONE DOLLAR note. So not only did I find money, but I found completely valueless money! And I couldn’t return it to its rightful owner, as it was a Melbourne secondhand shop where I’d found the book.

It’s a used bookseller’s kick – finding buried treasure – so much so that one Melbourne secondhand bookshop, Bookhouse in St Kilda, run an Instagram account of their finds – it’s @lostbetweenthecovers. Take a peek.

I’ve always wondered what to do with these pieces of the past. Any suggestions are welcome!

See you next month, Jo.

For more of Jo’s Tales from Port Fairy, catch up here.

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Enjoy our other Bluestone columnists …


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  1. What a lovely story Jo. I think all your finds could be worked in to an art piece. Or just keep them in a gorgeous box at Blarney for your special customers to have a very gentle rummage through. Thanks for your lovely entertaining stories.

  2. A fascinating story Jo. I like Claire’s idea of using them in an art work, perhaps a collage. What about an attempted time line, putting them against significant, local, Australian or even world events?

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