Have you ever come across a library book on your shelf that you swore you had returned? If you have, it probably wasn’t nearly as old as the one Jim Perry found in Napa, California, while weeding through some old boxes. Perry surprisingly uncovered a book that’s been in his family for five generations.
“A Family History of the United States” by historian Benson Lossing was believed to be checked out by his grandfather-in-law nearly a century ago. It was originally supposed to be returned on Feb. 21, 1927.
After Perry’s wife, Sandra, died in 2015, he moved from St. Helena, California, to Napa, carrying boxes of her belongings. Years later, after finally unpacking a box with the book, he decided to drive to the library to return it. As he dropped it off, he told the Washington Post that he thinks he simply said, “This is an old book that’s been in our family for five generations,” and then walked away without providing any additional information.
Once the book was back inside the library, it made its way to Chris Kreiden, the library director’s desk, who immediately realized it was no ordinary book. It showed several signs of wear and tear, including fragile and brown pages and a detached binding. The library believes the book may have been a part of its original collection, which was part of a subscription program where patrons paid a monthly fee for book rental.
A label inside the book noted the overdue fee was five cents per day, which would mean the borrower of this book would owe more than $1,700 if the library still charged late fees.
With no success in figuring out who returned the book, Kreiden contacted local news to see if they’d pick up the story. The St. Helena Star ran a story about the mysterious situation, then local TV stations, and soon after, Perry saw the news.
He reached out to the library. That’s when Kreiden unveiled the book’s history, explaining it was likely part of the library’s original collection as well as part of the inventory at another former library, the Carnegie Building.
The rare book is now resting inside a library display case but may be handed over to the local historical society for future preservation.
So next time you come across an overdue book, you can smile knowing it’s probably not nearly as late as this one.