Inscriptions in books 1: Introduction and prize giving labels

Inscriptions in books are a divisive topic, or so I’ve found.

Some people absolutely hate them, to the point of refusing to buy an otherwise perfect and affordable copy of a cherished title just because it says ‘Mary Smith’ inside the front cover. Some say it just ‘wrecks’ a book to write anything in it at all, and they can’t understand why anyone would do such a thing.

On the other hand, there are other people who positively love them.

I’m far closer to the second camp. I wouldn’t say that I love inscriptions but I do like them quite a lot. Of course, some inscriptions are nicer than others. The best kind are neat ones on otherwise blank pages. Some terrible people write on picture end-papers, though, or over title page text and others scribble over everything! The worst kind of people are the ones that colour in thin paperback pages with felt tips, though.

Related post⇒ My childhood books, part 2

I think it’s so interesting to see who has owned a book before, especially if the child has written their age and location – I’ve seen someone say they put the location into Google maps to see where that book was enjoyed for the first time, and I admit I have ended up doing that while trying to check spellings of some of the addresses given. It was just too tempting!

I particularly like when there’s a message saying who the book was given by, and for what special occasion. Those ones can also make me feel a little sad, though. It’s not so bad when you can assume the child is long grown up and has therefore parted with their books, but when I find a one or two year old book in a charity shop with a loving message inside I do feel bad. But then I’m very sentimental and I hate giving away anything I’ve been given as a gift.

When I read very old inscriptions I always wonder what happened to the child that had once written their name inside their book. Did they give away their books once they outgrew them as a teenager? Or did they keep them and pass them on to their children and grandchildren? How many other owners have come in between them and me? I sometimes see new owners have viciously scored out the previous one’s name – ‘it’s not YOUR book any more, it’s MINE!’ – and that makes me laugh.

Anyway, I thought I would have a look at the books I have with inscriptions in them, to see what they say.

As it turns out I had no idea I had so many books with inscriptions. I probably have more with than without and so this took way longer than I expected it to. I’m also terrible at reading handwriting and agonised over trying to work out names in particular. Some I just couldn’t fathom so I will include photos and see if anyone else can enlighten me.

There are so many inscriptions (and  I just couldn’t pick and choose and leave any out) that I will have to split this into a series of posts.

Prize giving labels

Some children were awarded books by their school or church, and these books have those nice ‘awarded to’ labels inside and often lots of detail.

I’ve shared this before but The Rockingdown Mystery has one of those labels, made out to my aunt, Elizabeth. The book was later claimed by my mum, though, and also has her name written in the front.

Related posts⇒ My childhood books, part 4

Smuggler Ben was awarded by Donington Methodist to Richard Drinkall in Nov 1956.

Secret Seven Win Through was awarded to John Todd for attendance – 52 weeks out of 52 in 1960. This was from another Methodist church, this time Barton – Le – Willows Methodist Sunday School.

And a third Methodist one – The Further Adventures of Josie, Click and Bun was awarded to Ruth Addington by Methodist Sunday School, Cardington on February 8th 1953.

Yet another Methodist label (those Methodists really love their books!) Mischief at St  Rollo’s was awarded to David Holliday as a ‘first prize’ by Tadcaster High Street Methodist Sunday School in February 1955.


The Teddy Bear’s Party was from Wendron Church and presented to Helen Maclaren for Epiphany 1946.

St James’ Church Sunday School gave Hollow Tree House to Pauline Swan for Advent 1949.

A few non-Blytons now, The Harveys See it Through (a 1969 book by Phyllis Gegan) was presented to Helen Sang for 2nd prize 1971/72. This is interesting to me as it was from Strathmartine Parish, the same name as the church I was christened in and went to Sunday School at. It would be an awful coincidence if it was the same church but Google doesn’t bring up any others with the same name!

My other Phyllis Gegan book is A Mystery for Ninepence and that was presented by Dunlop Primary School to Jimmy Stephenson for Attendance in 1964.

Torridon’s Surprise (1961) by Marie Muir was presented to Grant Begg, 4th in ‘Pr V’ – which I take to mean primary five! That was from session 1967-68 at Auchmore School and signed by Mary S. MacIntosh the headmistress.

Katesgrove Junior School, Reading filled out a very detailed label in Three Cheers Secret Seven

This Prize is awarded to
Shirley Buckingham
Best Girl
in Class 2
Class Teacher: F. J .P. Harvey
Head Teacher: P. N. Bailey
Date: July 1958

I don’t remember if I was ever awarded a book from either my Sunday school or regular school. It would have been my dream, though. Books are the perfect award, prize or gift.

I would have had a couple more to share but at least two books have just the edges of these pretty labels, the rest having been torn out! Below is an example from a book by Angela Brazil. It looks like it was the same pattern as the Wendron Church one above.


My next post is on ‘this book belongs to’ inscriptions, where children have vehemently declared their ownership in varying levels of neatness.

P.S. Brodie really wanted to get involved in this project as he just loves books! Here he is desperately trying to flick through A Mystery For Ninepence and getting in the way of my photo! Just as well he’s cute ♥.

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2 Responses to Inscriptions in books 1: Introduction and prize giving labels

  1. chrissie777 says:

    I write my name inside and all the dates when I’ve read the book. My 100 favorite books (which I would never sell) have beautiful large stickers inside that some bookstores sell (I don’t know how they are called in English, in German they are called exlibris). When I was a child, I wrote in my Famous Five books “If this book ever runs away, give it a push and send it back home”. I also cut out a heart and colored it black with a graphit and then rubbed it from the heart onto the first page of the book to have a heart shape there.


  2. jillslawit says:

    I like book inscriptions, especially old ones when the original book was bought for a lucky child by their auntie, or close relative. When I was little, I wrote my name in an appropriate place and NEVER scribbled.


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