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Sunday, January 25, 2015

An 1871 School Book is Discovered and You Won’t Believe What Was Inside!

(Editor's note: the following is my fictional account of how this "find" came into being The book and its discovery by me is real. How do you think this book came to be?)

"The year is 1880. What is is like for a boy growing up? Aside from all the chores inside the house, there are numerous chores outside as well. There are no alarm clocks - everyone rises with the sun or earlier if the home is also part of a farm. A 12 year-old boy would get to school either by walking or by a parent on horse or by wagon. 

While at school he grouped with other students, not by age, but by reading level. He is asked to read from books out loud as a way to practice his elocution or share facts with other students. The books he might carry are small and there is one for each subject - math, history, reading, geography. 

Learning new things interest him but his thoughts drift to the outside world. He has heard things from the other boys and visiting relatives that excite and fascinate him. Catalogs and newspapers offer the promise of big events, sports and other leisure activities. His parents see this and warn him of the distraction. Too much wayward thinking and dreaming will cause him to languish between responsibility and his true calling. Such leisures are for the lazy and the only way to guarantee a future is a strong mind, farm and family. School books are allowed but catalogues are not!

One catalog makes its way to his hands and fascinates him more that any other. “Peck and Snyders Catalogue of Out and Indoor Games and Novelties, etc.” This book so excites him that he will do whatever necessary to keep it nearby. But how? 

Somewhere he gets the idea to hide it in such a way that no adult can find it. Digging through a chest of older school books he finds a copy of “First Lessons in Geography for Young Children” (1871). Who would miss it? Planning carefully, he borrows a few tools from his father’s workshop and finds a quiet place behind the wood shed. He begins cutting, carefully separating the boards from the pages. Hand colored maps and pages of text fall gently to the ground.

Looking around to make sure there are no brothers or sisters nosing about, he takes the sports catalogue and slides it in place of the geography pages. From a pocket he produces yet another small indiscretion: a thick needle and a length of woolen yarn from mother’s sewing basket. Using an awl and a hand drill, he pokes holes along the binding and follows with the needle and yarn, moving in and out with the only stitch he knows. Tying off the loose ends, he checks to see that his work is holding tight. 

Next, the coping saw is used to cut the boards to fit the smaller pages of the catalogue. Though the title is nearly cut, he feels confident that the book looks so realistic no adult will notice.

It works! He finds he can carry it anywhere, even to school and the teacher has no idea. He shows it to his buddies outside the one-room schoolhouse and revels in the envy on their faces. Can he do one for them? Not likely, the risk he took to create this one, which included the sacrilegious disposal of the original pages down the outhouse hole, has made him wiser in many ways." 

I hope you enjoyed my speculation as to how this book came to be. The book was likely stowed in a box with others like it - possibly having been returned to the storage chest when it was discovered missing - and then transferred to a cardboard box. Now, fast forward to 2015 in the basement of the family home in Putnam County, New York. As the estate sale is being set up I am on site with permission to poke around the basement. Stumbling across several boxes, in one I find there is a cache of old school books. Carefully inspecting each book hoping to find something tucked between the pages, I discover the innocent subterfuge created so long ago.  

Flipping through the pages of The Peck and Snyder catalogue, I can see why this young man went to great lengths to keep it. It is over a hundred pages of baseball accessories, sporting goods of all kinds, games, science kits, magic tricks, guns and much more. 

The company was started after the Civil War in 1866 by two partners who knew the country needed distraction from the aftermath of such a massive division. Baseball, which had been around since 1840 was becoming popular again and their catalogues recognized this by leading with a detailed inventory of balls, bats, uniforms and accessories.

Peck and Snyder’s had begun using advertising cards to help their business expand. It only made sense to use a photograph of the Cincinnati Red Stockings with team information on one side and their store’s information on the back. Unwittingly, they had created one of the first baseball cards and one of the most valuable collectables today. 
No, I didn't find this.

They had built a good business with a wide inventory and customer base, and in 1888, traveled the world with another well-known sporting goods businessman to promote the game of Baseball. Albert Spaulding started his business while still a pitcher and manager for the Chicago White Stockings in 1876. They eventually sold out to Spaulding to seek out their interest in manufacturing.

It is early in 2015 and I have already found one of my all-time favorite finds. I think the most revealing part of this discovery is how it shows that 135+ years later, we have not changed at all in some ways.


  1. I shouldn't mention that I have 4 or 5 varieties of bung wrenches...

  2. But mention it you did, and now I must see one. Can you attach a pic or email me one? I would like to post it as an update. Thanks for commenting!


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