The Things We Find in Books

A vintage Pioneer Chicken menu

I was recently chatting with a friend who mentioned that she often stuck dollar bills in her books, and I replied by talking about the things that used booksellers find inside books. I can’t, of course, speak for all used bookstores, but I can tell you about some of the things we find most often, and some of the most extraordinary things we’ve found.

Paper money is certainly common. Our biggest find in terms of dollars was six hundred-dollar bills in a book. And by the way, YES – if we can locate the owner of these items and notify them, we will…but given the vast quantity of books moving through our store, that’s often just not possible.

Aside from boring things like receipts, checks, family photos, and plane boarding passes (which are sometimes fun if they’re very old), the most popular items include:

  • Marijuana leaves
  • Vintage postcards (these are great if they’re very vintage!)
  • Pornographic polaroids (yes, we find these more often than you’d think)

Vintage Thanksgiving postcard

Now let’s talk about the more unusual items we’ve discovered over the years:

  • Bullets. These turned up in a slipcased American history set that had a  drawer built into it
  • Little pieces of history – these can be something like an entrance coupon for a 1938 contest held at five downtown L.A. movie palaces, or a 1970s take-out menu from the Pioneer Chicken chain
  • A two-page handwritten letter by J. D. Salinger about The Catcher in the Rye (the original envelope was also in there)
  • An invitation-postcard to the first gathering (in 1951) of the Southern California writing group that included Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont
Postcard invitation to early writers meeting

My personal all-time favorite goes to a nineteenth-century photograph (I believe this is a “cabinet card”) depicting…well, a pair of women, one of whom is armed.

Vintage postcard of armed women

What do you use for a bookmark? If you ever decide to sell some of your books to a used bookstore, you might want to flip through them first…just in case.