June 4, 2018

A piece of St. Louis history is found inside a book from 1871


John Dunphy, owner of the Second Reading Book Shop in Alton, Illinois, recently found a piece of St. Louis history inside an old book donated to the store. As Dunphy writes at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, tucked inside a book called Ballads: Scottish and English, he found a sales receipt from a long-shuttered St. Louis department store, Nugents.

While Ballads has no copyright date, Dunphy was able to use basic investigative skills to deduce that the edition is from 1871. He writes:

I’d never heard of it, but a quick Internet search provided a profile of a business that was once a Gateway City landmark… The penciled handwriting on the receipt is illegible—at least, to me—but this crumbling slip of paper still makes interesting reading. Nugents was evidently proud of its “celebrated kid gloves.” I also chuckled upon reading that “In case of error, or exchange of goods, customers must produce this bill.” Some things never change.

Dunphy suggests that the receipt was in the book for a simple reason: it was being used as a bookmark. Nugents closed in 1933, right in the middle of the Great Depression. But it lives on, if even for just a moment, thanks to a slip of paper that was saving someone’s spot in an 1871 book about Scottish and English ballads. Who says time travel doesn’t exist?



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.