Boggled

You Europeans will be tolerantly amused by this, but …

I live in an apartment in Schenectady, New York. (It’s kinda near the center of the state, if you’re not familiar with newyorkography.) It’s an older building. In fact, the area I live in is the oldest part of the town — there’s a building a few blocks away that dates from the late 1600s.

My building dates from the 1800s. It’s a creaky old thing, but comfortable. I’d like to show you a series of pictures from when I went down to the basement today to do laundry.

First, here’s the laundry room:

Next, I’m going to zoom in on part of it.

Now I’ll zoom in a bit farther.

And still farther.

Those 6 little books in the center of the pic are all from the 1800s.

The little fat one on the left is a Latin dictionary and grammar, and it’s more than 180 years old — only about 50 years younger than the entire country.

Apparently books printed back then — some of them, anyway — were made pocket-sized by printing them with extremely small type. I swear this one is printed throughout with 6 point type. You’d have to have very good eyes back then, or probably forgo an advanced education.

Anyway, these books are just sitting around in the laundry room of this nothing-special apartment building.

That just … amazes me.

I had something of the same experience when I hitchhiked through New Orleans many years ago. A college student gave me a ride, and we stopped by his apartment on the way across town. The place was full of these massive, meticulously hand-carved antiques. I remarked on it, on how amazing it was that the owner would just leave such furniture — beautiful bedsteads, lavish hardwood tables, beautiful kings-ransom chests-of-drawers — to the ministrations of college students, and he said “Oh, no, all the buildings around here are just full of this old stuff.”

So these books that might have been held by your grandfather’s grandfather, or people alive during the American Revolution — including a book printed during the presidency of Andrew Jackson! (the 7th president) — are apparently so casually common here that they’re stored in apartment building laundry rooms.

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About Hank Fox
  • F

    The laundry has to be a terrible place for these books.

    It is amazing. I’m frequently astonished at how much of this stuff is regularly discarded and destroyed.

  • machintelligence

    I seem to recall that a first edition of “Origin of Species” was found on a high shelf in a bathroom (WC) in England. That is some heavy bathroom reading!

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    I’ve been to Schenectady, nice place. Won’t quite get there this year on my trip to Cooperstown in July.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    It’s quite amazing what you can find sometimes. I bought a first edition (1776) of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations for £10 in a London thrift shop. The only reason I went into the thrift shop was because it started raining and I didn’t have an umbrella or a raincoat, so I figured I could get a cheap umbrella. They didn’t actually have any umbrellas but they had a book I was quite happy to buy.

    Incidentally, they didn’t know what they had. I had the book appraised for customs so I could send it home. It was worth £100 ($150).

  • I’m_not

    That’s a lovely thing and obviously antiquity is a relative thing. I am English and the back part of my house is Elisabethan, the front is a modern extension dating from the mid 1700s.

    A few years ago an absolutely charming pair of Mormons paid me a visit. I showed them round and offered what hospitality can be offered to Mormons (Tea? No? Coffee? No? Beer..?) and listened to their lovely stories about golden tablets being lost in the mists of time. “1800s? Well that’s not that long ago, did he check in his other jacket…?”

  • Pablo Sr.

    That would place you in the “Stockade” area, I’m down there quite frequently. There are many good reasons to visit there, you could have bragged us all into boredom describing its many unique charms.

  • BCPA_Lady (now appearing in MN!)

    One of my cousins and her husband live in that neighborhood as well. Their house was originally the “Home for the Friendless.” (Just love that name — no comforting euphemism to spare anyone’s feelings in the way-back days.) At some point, I’d love to see it in person but for now, Facebook photos will have to do.

    I think it’s fascinating that things some of us would see as treasures are so “common” in historic areas that…well, that they’re put in a laundry room.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    Ooh, I love books, especially old books and it always gets me that so many people treat them with disdain. Tell me, have you read them all?

    • Hank Fox

      Sorry, I haven’t read any of ‘em. When I’m in that basement, I’m focused with laser intensity on laundry. Anything less is an insult to our beloved Lord Maytag.

  • Big Mountain

    Oh PLEASE ask someone to move them somewhere else. The humidity generated by the laundry room and then the dry heat after must be terrible for those old pages. I hate seeing books being mistreated.
    There’s so much to be valued in antiques and old books, but it seems to be lost on the majority of Americans. Now that I live in Europe, I see people who are almost obsessive about them (my in-laws, for instance).

  • http://thoughtsofcrystaleye736.blogspot.com/ Crys

    Yup, European tolerantly amused by this!

    The house I grew up in is in Rome. Unfortunately I’m not there at the moment to take a few pictures to share, this was so unimportant to me that I never did take any pictures, but when they dug the foundations to build my house they obviously found a few pieces of ancient roman columns and other marble things. Those things are now embedded in the cement of my little garden wall, cause hey what else were they supposed to do with them?

    When I was in high school I decided I wanted to read another book by Nathaniel Hawthorne seeing as I hoped that the scarlet letter was not representative of his best work. I figured Id buy a copy of the house of the seven gables on amazon. My mother said wait dont buy it, I have a copy! The inside of the cover tells me it was published in the 1890s. I stuck it in my backpack so that I could read it in free period and brought it back and forth until I finished it. It also made a school trip to spain with me.

    So yes, tolerantly amused :)

  • 24fps

    Yes, Europeans are usually amused at those of us who come from places where there isn’t much physical manifestation of history. I live on the Canadian prairies and our city is very young. A bunch of rich old guys decided to build here arbitrarily in the wake of the Northwest Rebellion (1885), so the very oldest buildings date only as far back as the 1880s. The city proper was not built until the first years of the 20th century. I live in what is considered a very old house – built in 1912.

    Rather than save any of the old (to us) stuff, our civic engineers are pulling down everything they can to build new. It’s quite depressing.

  • Jim Baerg

    So are you near that post office box?

    http://www.sff.net/people/bblongyear/itschenectady.html

  • MaryLynne

    Years ago we had an exchange student from England. We took her to the local art museum, which was having its 200th anniversary. She was not impressed: “200 years old? We have toilets older than that.”