St. Paul library book checked out more than 100 years ago finally returned

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A 1902 edition of “Famous Composers Vol. 2” by Nathan Haskell Dole last checked out in 1919 was recently returned to the St. Paul Public Library, according to a Facebook post by the library Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Public Library)

A library book about famous composers believed to have been checked out in 1919 was turned into the St. Paul Public Library this week.

The 1902 edition of “Famous Composers Vol. 2” by Nathan Haskell Dole was found by a person in Hennepin County who was sorting through their mother’s belongings, library officials said on their Facebook page.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said in a tongue-in-cheek post on X that the late fees would have been very hefty if the library sought them.

“At the 1919 rate of a penny per day, that would have been a $36k fine… but #SaintPaul is a #FineFreeLibrary system so no charge!” Carter tweeted.

Library officials did some sleuthing and believe that the book most likely also survived a fire that burned down most of the city’s library books in 1914, according to the post.

“John, (a web librarian at the St. Paul public library), examined the book — which bears the original Saint Paul Public Library stamp and back pocket card — and discovered several markings that may tell us more about this book’s journey,” the library wrote on its Facebook page:

When the book was further examined, the check-out slip in the back cover showed it was last checked out in 1919. The slip showed the book was checked out in 1914 when the city’s library was housed in Market Hall. At the time, the Central Library was still being built. When Market Hall burned down in 1915, two-thirds of the library’s collection was lost. The other one-third was checked out, leading library staff to believe that the book had been checked out to a patron during the blaze.

“If this book had been on the shelves, it probably would have burned,” the library wrote on its Facebook page. The book was most likely added back to the collection in 1916 before the new library building opened the following year.

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