Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2024 Issue

Another Long Overdue Library Book Returned, This Time 120 Years Late

Library card for 120-year overdue book (Carbondale Public Library Facebook photo).

This is effectively the latest chapter in an ongoing series though that was not our intention when it started. It is the saga of overdue library books, finally returned many years later. This seems to be a recurring tale, though some of these keep getting later and later. This time, we have a book that was finally returned 120 years late.

 

The book is The Cruise of the Esmeralda, by Harry Collingwood. That was the pen name of William Joseph Cosens Lancaster. “Collingwood” wrote some 40 adventure books for boys, mostly set at sea. This one is a tale about pirates, shipwrecks, storms, and buried treasure. Originally published in 1894, it is still readily available today, including as an e-book. It does not appear that the book has much monetary value.

 

The book was taken out of the Carbondale, Pennsylvania, library by Horace Short in 1904. It had been missing ever since, until recently when the Carbondale Library was informed by the Hawley Library, 20 miles away, that their book had shown up at their book sale. They returned the book to Carbondale, which led to another surprise. It still had the Carbondale library card in place. That is how they were able to determine when it was borrowed along with the identity of the borrower. That led to some more sleuthing by the staff at Carbondale.

 

Who was Horace Short? Not a lot was readily discoverable to the library staff. It appears likely that he is the Horace Short buried in Rockledge, Pennsylvania. If so, he was born in 1877 and died in 1959. The Carbondale Library unearthed an old newspaper clipping from 1899. It said Short, age 20, had come from Prompton where his parents still lived. He worked at Evans' meat market. Short made the news that day because his hand was caught in a sausage machine, and while doctors at first thought they would have to amputate his arm at the elbow, they did manage to save his hand minus a few fingers.

 

Sometime between 1904 and 1907, the library staff determined, Mr. Short moved away, to Wilkes-Barre. He had a daughter, parts unknown, and worked as a messenger for the railroad after he moved. That closes the book on what we know about Horace Short, other then that he didn't return his library book.

 

So, what would Mr. Short have owed the library had he lived to be 147? They did some calculations and determined that based on the 2 cents per day fine in place in 1904, the amount would be $872.82. However, if the charges were based on the current 25 cents per day charge, it would be $10,910.25. Fortunately, his heirs have nothing to fear. Even if the library tracks them down, the maximum charge is $10.

Rare Book Monthly

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