Monday, 26 September 2016

Never judge a suitcase ...

We've all heard the expression never judge a book by its cover but what about never judge a suitcase until you see what's inside?

I'm sure you've seen lost luggage auctions on TV (like storage wars only with suitcases). It's where you bid on a case with no clue to the contents. Occasionally someone finds a laptop or jewellery, but more often than not it's a pile of dirty laundry. Personally, I've never wanted to go through someone else's lost luggage and sincerely hope nobody ever goes through mine. That, however, didn't stop me buying this case with very little knowledge of the contents.

Battered suitcase from The Giant Shepton Flea full of vintage books

It wasn't at a lost luggage auction but at a flea market or The Giant Shepton Flea Market to be more precise. I had an inkling of what might be inside because I saw someone open the case and take out this little book; 

Honk and Tonk by Joy K Seddon Flip book Vintage children's books

She took a quick flick through the pages before throwing it back in the case and walking away. I have a soft spot for flip books from the 1940s and 1950s and was quick to take her place. As I started rummaging through the case the stall holder said, "You can have that for a fiver (US$6.26) if you want it." I assumed he was referring to the book but when I queried it, he said, "No for the lot love, case and all." I mumbled "Yes OK," and he bagged the entire thing before I got as much as a second glance at what I was buying.


A case full of vintage flip books & other children's books from the 1940s and 50s

Although small, the suitcase is heavy, so the only sensible thing was to take it to the car. Once there, I couldn’t resist taking a peek inside. Imagine my delight at finding not one but eight flip books along with several story books by Racey Helps and Enid Blyton, a sweet story about Humpty Dumpty, one called Merry-go-round, a Vistascreen 3D viewer with slides and other bits and pieces. Time was getting on and anxious not to miss out on any treasures waiting to be found I decided to leave further investigations until I got home. In hindsight, I should have quizzed the seller about the origins of the suitcase. Did he buy it from an auction, a house clearance, did he know the previous owner, or was it his?


Flip books, Honk and Tonk, Jimmy at the Zoo etc., vintage children's books

The case has seen better days, but the contents are joyous. I'm sure everything belonged to the same little boy. His name is in most of the books and in some instances so is his address. His name and address are also on a label inside the case but this time written in a different hand, possibly by an adult. I have an image of a little lad of around eight years old stashing his favourite books and bits and pieces inside his case, but I wonder why someone added his address. Maybe the family were moving home, or perhaps the little boy was going to stay with family or friends.  


Vistascreen 3D printer, Racey Helps Books found in case at Shepton Flea

After a few days, the case and its contents began to trouble me. Obviously, I’m thrilled to have it in my care, but I’m also sad for the little boy and his lost treasures. Where is he now? Is he alive or dead? Why did he part with his case? I will probably never know, but I have learnt a little more about him. Looking through the books I discovered not one but two addresses, one in Parkstone, Poole, Dorset, and one in Alton, Hampshire. Using the age of the books as a guide, I concluded he and I must be of a similar age. 

I have a subscription to FindMyPast so it was fairly simple to find a record of his birth, which turned out to be 1949. He was born in Surrey, England, and spent part of his childhood in Alton, Hampshire, places I know well. He later moved to Poole, Dorset and married there in 1973. I can find no trace of him after 2003, but that may be my very amateurish attempts at searching. He is a year younger than me so if he is alive he is 67 now. I still don’t know why he parted with the case, but I feel an affinity with him and his childhood because mine was probably fairly similar. Between the ages of five and twenty one, I lived just 15 minutes or 6.3 miles from Alton, Hampshire. Without knowing it, he and I were near neighbours. We may even have seen or spoken to one another. 

Noddy, Humpty Dumpty, Enid Blyton old books

Thinking about it now I have to assume the stall holder acquired the case from an auction or house clearance. I have no evidence of that, just a hunch, plus the seller didn't look as if he was in his sixties. I suppose the case could have belonged to his father? It's sad to think of someone's cherished possessions given so little regard or value, but I'm thrilled to have them and will do my best to be a good custodian of the memories contained in a battered case.

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50 comments:

  1. "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall..
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall..
    So we all had scrambled egg for
    breakfast". :).

    What a fantastic story Barbara..
    You certainly been doing a lot of
    detective work..Certainly on the 'case'.
    These are the sort of books l'd enjoy,
    the sort of books l'd read...! Very short,
    lots of pictures! :).
    But, you ladies certainly have your way with
    stallholders..ME! I just threaten them!
    But, to obtain a case, and pay so little for it,
    and then find what's in it...Great!

    And..As for the young lad, now 67, if he was still
    alive, that would be fantastic..You should phone
    the police...tell them to put out am APB, you've
    enough info on him!

    Dare l say it again...Certainly a 'case' to be followed
    up on...And, if it were a small one, it would be a 'brief
    case'...o.k. l'll go and hide now!

    Great post Barbara...Certainly full of question marks..????

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    1. Hello Willie, thanks for always making me laugh – scrambled egg indeed!

      You’re right about me being on the case Willie, but I’m not sure about an APB. It might sound as if I’m stalking him! I do hope my motives are not misconstrued – it is more a ‘case’ of nosiness on my part than anything else. It is funny how we lived so close together as kids, sort of meant to be perhaps.

      I think I might have to close the case now before I get myself into any trouble.

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  2. So the intrigue of your blog continues, another fascinating incite into your love of books with the added interest of your research of the name of the person who's case you bought. Barbara, a lovely cheering diversion on a grey day like this. Thank you.

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    1. Hi John, it certainly cheered me up. First the joy of realising exactly what was inside the case and then the fun of ‘finding’ the original owner. It’s funny to think how close we once lived. Mum and dad often shopped in Alton, and I would have been with them back then. We may even have passed one another on the street never realising we would have a connection one day – it’s a small world. Hope the sun shines tomorrow.

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    1. It was certainly exciting and lovely to be able to share it with my blogging friends.

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  4. What a sweet story. People do let go of things, particularly the children who are left with their parents' stuff. For them it holds little meaning or emotional value. I'm glad these items fell into your most loving hands.

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    1. Thank you so much Bish, I will do my best to cherish them - not difficult as I do have an ongoing love affair with vintage books!

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  5. What a delightful post, Barbara, and what treasures you found in this old suitcase!!! I love vintage books, especially children's books, and I love so much from the 30's and 40's. I am so happy you found and purchased this, what a blessing!!! :)

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    1. Hello Linda, there is a particular thrill about finding something you love, and like you, I love children’s books. I honestly could not believe my luck when I discovered exactly what was inside the case! Thank you for your sweet comment. Barbara.

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  6. What a gold mine. I would have bought it on principle.

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    1. You are a man of good sense and good taste Roger.

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  7. YAY! What a find! I remember when I was a kid, some bookstores would have "grab bags." You never knew what books would be inside. It was SO fun!

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    1. Hello Stephanie, I remember cardboard boxes on the floor of bookshops. You never knew what you would find inside, but there was nearly always something worth finding. I wish we could return to the days of grab bags and cardboard boxes. It is not a half as much fun when the books are regimented on shelves in alphabetical order.

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  8. It's wonderful that you got the suitcase for such a bargain and that you were able to find such treasures. Fate had you there at that precise moment. What a lovely story, Barbara. I think it would be exciting if you two ever met.

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    1. I think so too Joylene, and you never know he just might read this blog post. If that should happen, I will be sure to let everyone know in a follow up post.

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  9. Dear Barbara, how intriguing to find a suitcase filled with lovely goodies. But sad also because that suitcase must have held a lot of memories for that person. At first I thought it must a suitcase of a little boy who got evacuated during the war. But now that you have so cleverly found something about the little boy that is unlikely. Even so, so sad to know that someone discarded it as though now it was useless. Well I am so glad it got into your safe and loving hands.

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    1. I didn’t even think of that Shashi, but it would have been extra sad had it belonged to an evacuee. I’m pretty sure I’ve found the right person. I just need to do some more digging to see if I can find what happened to him after 2003. I will do a follow up post if I have any luck. Thanks so much for your kind comment.

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  10. What a find, Barbara. It was clearly meant to come to you. I was born at the end of 1949 so your post holds specia interest for me. How wonderful if you could find the original owner. x

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    1. Hi Marilyn, I’m hoping social media might be the way to find him but if not, I will think about contacting my local paper. They just might run the story. I do have to be a bit sensitive though because his family may have wanted to offload his things, or maybe he did. I don’t want to upset anyone. It’s difficult to know just how far to go with it, so will have to mull it over some more.

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  11. Barbara- You were definitely the right person to find these treasures. I loved hearing the story from start to finish. What a find! Glad you were able to get the luggage and contents for such a cheap price. The mystery was very exciting. Amazing to think that you and the owner could have met each other at some point over the years. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Stephanie I certainly feel very lucky to have them. It is incredible to think how close we once lived – maybe there is some deeper meaning in all this. I will be sure to let you know if I find out anything more….

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  12. Fascinating. Definitely a mystery. I hope you can track him down. Maybe social media?

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    1. I'm going to do my best Sandra and will be sure to do a follow up post if I find out anything more.

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  13. What a wonderful find - it's like a time capsule! I wouldn't be sad, as somehow, someone decided to keep the suitcase and sell it on rather than just chucking it away with the rubbish. I wonder - it may even be that it's one of the parents of the man who has recently died, or been moved into a home and their house cleared?

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    1. Hello Sue, a time capsule indeed! You are absolutely right it could so easily have ended up in landfill or something. Friends of ours have just finished clearing out the house of one of their relatives who has gone into care. I was horrified when they told me about all the things they had thrown away – not books I’m glad to say but sheet music, old menus, letters and so on. It is all very sad, but I suppose it will be the same for all of us one day.

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  14. My dear, dear friend! What a FIND! You literally opened it up to a journey in time. Now that's a suitcase that's taking you somewhere!!!!

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    1. That does sound exciting Anita; I will let you know where I end up. Thanks for your visit. Much love Barbara

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  15. What a fun find, Barbara! The books carry such memories, even the original boy's children and grandchildren might have enjoyed them. I'm sure his family would be delighted to know they are in good hands since they obviously knew not to trash them. It's always fun to think about who you might have passed by or had a word with many years ago, especially those people you later connect with in some way.

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    1. Hello Marcia, I can only assume the family no longer wanted the case or its contents, but it would be nice to have confirmation from them. I will keep searching for answers. In the meantime, the case is safe with me, and I will enjoy opening it and taking the things out from time to time. I do think there is always a reason for things so maybe this story is not finished yet.

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  16. I could have written this post with only a few fact changes. A friend of mine bought an old house and was cleaning out a basement when she found a box of old children's books. She called me because she know how much love books and they all belonged to a little boy who lived in that house in the 50s. The collection even included a book he had written with the help of his grandmother. I've tried to find him, but haven't had any luck. I'd really like to reunite his books and him, especially the one he created. Thanks for your story.

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    1. That is amazing Lee, how lovely it would be if you could reunite the boy and his book. You might be able to find out who lived in the house in the 50s and find the family from that. I must say I feel the same about the suitcase, and I will keep looking for answers.

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  17. Books are in the right hands. What a great find Barbara, thank you for sharing such a wonderful story about the old suitcase.

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    1. Hi Aunt Mary, I was excited to find them and will do my best to look after them.

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  18. Really sorry if this has come through several times but I'm having problems getting google/blogger to take a username or log in from me!

    What a wonderful and exciting find! And a real bargain, too.
    I know some people don't like it when old books have someone else's name inside them. I'm the opposite. I like seeing who has owned the Blytons I've bought. Strangely, I even have a couple with the same name inside them - Deborah Gardner, Bucks - but I bought those books at different times.

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    1. Hello Fiona, I’m really sorry you had problems with commenting, but it only came through once so thank you for persisting.

      I have to agree with you. I think I name just adds to the book's history. I’m not very keen on unsightly scribble, although I don’t mind a little neat colouring. Fancy you finding two books with the same name that must be very unusually. I’ve spent years looking for any with my maiden name in (Barbara Flitney) but no luck yet. I put my name in everything, so I feel sure someone has one or two of my books on their bookshelves.

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  19. I wonder if he was away at boarding school and these were the favourite books he took with him? Will share this so my friends in Alton see it and hopefully you might get an answer one day xxx

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    1. Hi Sue I have a feeling you could be right, although I think he might have had a trunk or larger case for boarding school. If it were not for the name and address inside the lid, I would assume he put them in the little case later on. Thanks so much for sharing it. It's been shared on Twitter half a dozen times, so it may be noticed by someone who knows something. I do love an intrigue!

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  20. This is such a wonderful story. I loved reading it. I love that you found out he didn't live far from you and that you two are of an age.

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    1. Hello Nan, I’m so pleased you enjoyed it. It is strange to think he and I came so close to knowing one another.

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  21. Another fantastic vignette from your charmed life, dear Barbara! Really, you could write a wonderful book about your adventures as a bookseller/book collector! The material is already written right here in your blog. THANK YOU for sharing such a lovely experience!

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    1. That is such a lovely thing to say, thank you so much Colleen.

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  22. How special. I am sure that suitcase was meant for you, a lover of old children's books! There could be a story there.

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    1. I think there might be Darlene, now I just have to find out what the story is.

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  23. How wonderful. If you do wish to find out more about it's original owner, maybe Facebook would be the place? I'm amember of a couple of family history groups on there and you often see people looking for others (whether long lost family members or to reunite posessions etc).

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    1. Hi Nikki, my sister knows quite a few people who live in Alton, so she is busy sharing it among her Facebook friends. I belong to a family history group but must admit I didn't think about sharing there – what a good idea, thank you.

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  24. It's wonderful when you find an artefact that almost seems to transport you back in time, and I think it's natural to fill in the blanks in terms of where it came from!

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    1. Hello Luxury apartments lady, gosh some of those apartments are very smart! Do you have a blog?
      You are right about being transported back in time, that is exactly the feeling I get when looking at these little books.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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