A Few Old Books


A few old books

A few old books

Some of my ancestors’ books seem worth sharing. Most of them are educational in nature – three are dictionaries. Despite their two hundred years of existence and what must have been frequent use, the pages remain supple and thick. Most of the bindings still hold together, and the leather covers feel like velvet. As I open them and look at their inscriptions, doodles, jottings, and marks of usage, I applaud my relatives for their literacy and love of history.

Here are some of the books, and a few interesting facts about each.


The Oldest Book

I’m a 4-leaf clover hunter. Many of my finds live on between the pages of books and diaries on our bookshelves. So it was no surprise when I opened this book – “Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book,” published in 1803 – and found one of my dried clovers on the first page. At some point, the original binding, made of wood covered with leather and paper, began to deteriorate from hard use, so someone covered it with crudely sewn striped cotton cloth.

"Noah Webster's American Spelling Book"

“Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book”

At the end of the book are the “Additional Lessons.” My favorite lesson is “Of Cheerfulness.”

Q.  Is cheerfulness a virtue?

A.  It doubtless is. And a moral duty to practice it.

Q.  Can we be cheerful when we please?

A.  In general it depends much on ourselves. We can often mold our tempers into a cheerful frame. — We can frequent company and other objects calculated to inspire us with cheerfulness. To indulge an habitual gloominess of mind is weakness and sin.

Wow! Who knew?


The Wrong Asahel

"Entick's New Spelling Dictionary"

“Entick’s New Spelling Dictionary”

Asahel Hall was the first Hall to live on Whirlwind Hill. My grandmother Agnes assumed that this “Entick’s New Spelling Dictionary” was his, but since he died in 1795 and the Entick’s dictionary wasn’t published until 1805, it must instead have belonged to his grandson – also named Asahel.

The note my grandmother Agnes Hall left in the dictionary

The note my grandmother Agnes Hall left in the dictionary

Still – 1805 was a long time ago, and in this book the letter ‘s’ often looks like an ‘f,’ and there are definitions that are definitely of their time.

Oil man, s. a man who deals in oils and pickles

Oil shop, s. a shop where oils and pickles are sold.

 Fun with Fonts

Mary Jane Hall, my great-grandfather William’s sister, pasted an 1849 calendar into the back cover of this 1825 dictionary. The printers of these old books had fun with their fonts.

"Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary"

“Walker’s Critical Pronouncing Dictionary”


Early History

This “History of the United States on a New Plan; Adapted to the Capacity of Youth,” published in 1843, belonged to my great-uncle Aaron A. Hall, who wrote a poem on the back page.

Marion DeLong

Asked me for a song

After trying in vain,

The tears ran like rain.

The book is full of lively black and white engravings illustrating America’s history. Someone used paint to hand-color a few of them.

Page from "History of the United States"

Page from “History of the United States”

Page from "History of the United States"

Page from “History of the United States”


The Book I Keep Meaning to Read

Archibald Robbin’s 1821 book about his three years as a captive of the “Wandering Arabs” in the Sahara was a bestseller when it was published. Abraham Lincoln, who read it, referred to it in speeches and spoke of it as an influence on him. I really do need to read it.

"Robbin's Journal"

“Robbin’s Journal”


My Great-Grandfather Read This??? 

Another book I mean to read, John C. Cobden’s 1853 “The White Slaves of England,” was written to call attention to the slave-like working conditions of miners, seamstresses, children, tenant farmers, etc. in Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. My great-grandfather, William E. Hall wrote his name inside the front cover.

Page from "The White Slaves of England"

Page from “The White Slaves of England”

Page from "The White Slaves of England"

Page from “The White Slaves of England”


A Different Country

My cousin Tom sent me this “Mitchell’s School Atlas – 1848” a few years ago on my birthday. Although it came from the farm, one of the neighbors, Amos Ives, wrote his name and made numerous doodles on its pages.

The colorful maps detail locations of Indian tribes, herds of animals, and routes to the frontier.

In Texas, part of the land is marked “Herds of Buffaloes and Wild Horses,” and “Extensive Prairies.”

1848 Map of Texas

1848 Map of Texas

Several states are conspicuously absent from this map of the west coast.

1848 Map of West Coast

1848 Map of West Coast

Amos must have daydreamed through his geography classes, because the book is sprinkled with doodles. He drew cats and dogs and circles and people. This is my favorite drawing. I wonder if Amos was having girlfriend troubles.

Belle and Beau by Amos Ives

Belle and Beau by Amos Ives

On Wednesday:  “Outbuildings #6 – A House for an Auto”

4 thoughts on “A Few Old Books

  1. Katy Gilmore

    “To indulge an habitual gloominess of mind is weakness and sin.” Love this, whether weakness or sin perpetual gloominess of mind is certainly a pain to the bystander. Halls telling it like it is. And wonderful to see all these old books.

  2. Michael Foster

    I continue to be in awe of the number of artifacts that you have of your ancestors. Do you have a room (or storage unit) dedicated to Hall memorabilia? I feel like I am drowning in the accumulation of sixty plus years of living but you manage to not only safely store these treasures, but be able to put your fingers on them and bring them out at will! My hat is off to you.

    1. Carol Post author

      I too am drowning in stuff. Fortunately, my mother kept the documents fairly well together over the years, although photos were scattered here and there. All the papers and letters and journals really don’t take up that much room. And I have to admit much frustration when I can’t put my fingers on something, or find a photo I know is there somewhere. Sometimes I wish I had more documents to go through, but more often am glad I don’t.


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