At times it is clear in our archives that a group of books was donated by the same person or institution, and often they have a paper trail of some sort – a letter included in the book or a note made by the librarian who received them as a donation. Many children sign their name or even their addresses at times, and these inscriptions give us a sense of the memories of their childhood preserved within the book. One book ‘collector’ in particular has come to our attention in bits and pieces throughout the two years that we have been uncovering and cataloguing the books in the archives, a mysterious man by the name of David, who signs his books with his initials: D.A.W.
The first book of D.A.W. that caught my attention is a beautiful copy of Hans Andersen’s fairy tales, and though the cover is elegant, the treasure of this item is truly found within. Inside of the front cover there are various newspaper clippings about Hans Andersen’s fairy tales and their reception in England, and glued carefully onto the first few blank pages are postcards from Copenhagen with scribbles of dates and thoughts about them in the hand of D.A.W. Carefully tucked under the front cover is our first clue as to who the owner of this book might have been, a small note written from a loving aunt to her ‘darling David’:
‘June 2: 36
Many happy (underlined 7 times!) returns of your birthday. It is lovely to be five. Presently you will get a lovely Fairy Book called Hans Anderson. It is from me. And I do hope you will like it especially the pictures which are drawn by a friend of mine. I hope Mummy will bring you to stay here. We must arrange it. Many x x x from Auntie Gwen.’
I immediately fell in love with this book, and imagined the story of the 5-year-old boy David as his eyes were opened to the magic of fairy stories, and later, the 18-year-old David who ventured to Copenhagen, saw the statue of den lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid) of whom he had read about from a young age, and bought a postcard which he then pasted into this book. Even now, I like to imagine the way in which this book would have shaped the life of David, and how he may have even read it to his own children or grandchildren.
Recently, David’s scrawled ‘D.A.W. 1937’ popped up again in one of the many copies of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame that we have in the collection, which, if we follow the pattern laid out by the first book, may have been a gift for his sixth birthday.
While it was thrilling to find another book from D.A.W.’s library, a final book fell into our hands, from the same box as The Wind in the Willows, which provided us with a further glimpse into the life of David: Grahame’s The Golden Age. This book did not have ‘D.A.W.’ written in it, but rather, on facing blank pages were written two inscriptions. On the left page is written: ‘From Auntie Gwen and Uncle Jim, for Edna’, and on the right page: ‘To David, With love from Mummy, June 3rd, 1944’. As this date (presumably David’s birthday) is the day after the letter found in the Hans Andersen book, I am sure this book would have belonged to D.A.W. Auntie Gwen must have gifted this book to David’s mother, Edna, who then, for David’s 13th birthday, gifted it to him, adding to his growing collection of beloved books.
The discovery of these three books provides a special lens through which we can glimpse the life of one man and the profound impact that these two women, his Auntie Gwen and his mother Edna, would have had on his childhood and his education. How many of us have books like these, books that were gifted and then influenced the trajectory of our lives through their stories, their illustrations, and their messages of magic, love, and friendship? Though David’s books were long forgotten in storage, his childhood is preserved in their pages, and as my finger traces his initials and unfolds the carefully pasted newspaper clippings, I will remember him and cherish his life and the gift he has given to SELCIE: an appreciation for nostalgia and the importance of growing up with books.
‘All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.’ – The Wind in the Willows
This post written by Morgan