A note in the book reads: 'This book may be kept for two weeks.' The book is now on display at the entrance of the library.
We may occasionally forget to return a book or two to the library. It happens because we lose our sense of time, but losing it for nearly a century seems a bit much. According to PEOPLE, this appears to be what happened to the person who borrowed "A History of the United States" from a California library nearly a century ago. A man dropped off the book, which had been overdue for 96 years, earlier this month, according to the St. Helena Public Library.
If anything smells better than old books, it's returned old books. During an interview with CBS affiliate KPIX-TV, the director Chris Kreiden said, "I'm afraid to touch it." A note inside the book, which was published in 1892, states, "This book may be kept for two weeks." The book is no longer tightly bound. The book's pages are tattered and the cover is frayed. "All of us are just, you know, wondering where the book could have been for so long, you know, from being checked out in 1927," Kreiden said.
The book also had two accession numbers, which were used to identify the library's books when it first opened. The numbers most likely indicate that the book was part of the library's original collection when it offered a free reading room but charged 25 cents a month for those who wanted to take books home. The second number could have been assigned to the book when the city took over the library in 1892 and updated its inventory. The patron who returned the book would have owed an estimated $1,700 in late fees; however, the library has already eliminated late fees. Originally, the overdue fee was five cents per day. The artifact is now prominently displayed in a glass case at the library's entrance, alongside photographs of the reading room and the Carnegie Building. According to The Washington Post, it is turned to the back cover, revealing the return-date stamp.
When Kreiden discovered the book on her desk, she asked her staff who had returned it, hoping to question the person about all the places the book had been. But they had no idea who the man was. Still, Kreiden knew it was a good story—the epic return of a book borrowed nearly a century before. So she contacted a reporter at the St. Helena Star, thinking it would make for an interesting mystery for readers. The mystery man returned to the library after the story was widely publicized by local news stations.
Jim Perry was the patron who returned the book that was due on February 21, 1927, to the St. Helena Public Library. He discovered it while unceremoniously cleaning his Napa, California, home, thinking it would be amusing for the library staff to look at. Perry decided to sort through the clutter in his home a few weeks ago, including old boxes that had been sitting unopened for years.
It was checked out in 1927, around the time his wife's grandfather, John McCormick, might have wanted to start teaching his two young daughters about American history, according to Perry. He drove to St. Helena to drop off the book shortly after inspecting it. "I didn't know how special it was. This is an old book that's been in our family for five generations," Perry said.
He handed over the book and walked away, leaving no name or contact information. However, the book "A Family History of the United States" by historian Benson Lossing, which Perry believes his grandfather-in-law borrowed nearly 100 years ago, could have been part of the original collection. It is the only one of its kind known to the St. Helena Public Library, dating back to its days as a subscription library.
Hearing Kreiden's stories made Perry glad he returned the rare book. "That was very rewarding," he said. "I didn't expect it to be worth much." The library proudly shared a carousel of photos of the now-returned item on Instagram. "How amazing is this! 96 years ago, someone checked this book out from our library," the library wrote. "It just goes to show, it's never too late to return your library book." Indeed, it is never too late to return a book.