In 1911, someone checked out a copy of the book “New Chronicles of Rebecca” from a library in Boise, Idaho.
For the next 110 years, the city’s libraries would survive pandemics, recessions and world wars — all without that copy of the 278-page series of stories by Kate Douglas Wiggin about an imaginative girl named Rebecca.
Then, the volume turned up this month at Boise’s main library. The circumstances of its recovery, however, remain a mystery, said Lindsey Driebergen, the interim communications manager for the Boise Public Library system.
“We don’t have any info about where it was from,” she said.
All that’s known, she said, is that the book was returned either in late October or early November to a library in nearby Garden City. The librarians there sent the book to the main library in Boise because it still had inserts from an old library in the city that has since closed.
It was not clear who had checked out the copy, who had returned it or where it was all this time. One theory is that the book, a sequel to a tale about a village girl in Maine, could have spent the last century in an attic, “because it was really well taken care of,” Ms. Driebergen said.
Whoever had the book kept it in “immaculate” condition, she said.
“The cover was in great shape, all of the pages were crisp, nothing was missing, all the images were there,” she said.
There have been other cases of books being returned decades overdue, but 110 years is an unusually long time. This year, a Wisconsin woman mailed a book that was 63 years overdue to the Queens Public Library in New York. In 2016, a 72-year-old Manhattan woman returned a book that was 57 years overdue.
Ms. Driebergen said copies of “New Chronicles of Rebecca” sold for about $1.50 when it was published in 1907.
The person who checked out “New Chronicles of Rebecca” in 1911 can rest peacefully, as the Boise Public Library scrapped late fees for overdue books in 2019. Otherwise, the person would have owed around $800, because the library charged a fine of two cents per day, the library said on Facebook.
However, even in the early 20th century, the library never charged fines more than the cost of the book, said Anne Marie Martin, a library assistant at the main library.
“Books may be kept two weeks without renewal, unless otherwise labeled,” one of the book inserts said. The book’s checkout record showed it was due in November 1911, not 2021. It was listed as missing in 1912, Ms. Martin said.
Several library systems across the country have done away with overdue fines in recent years to encourage people to keep coming back.
“New Chronicles of Rebecca” was a sequel to the more popular 1903 novel “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” by Wiggin, an author, teacher and composer. The stories follow the life of Rebecca Rowena Randall, a cheerful Maine girl who was sent to live with her two aunts. “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” was made into a 1938 movie of the same name starring Shirley Temple.
It doesn’t appear that the copy of “New Chronicles of Rebecca” that was returned to the Boise library is rare. Eric E. Wiggin, a distant cousin of the author’s husband who wrote a third installment of the series, said in an interview that there were many early edition copies of the book in circulation. In fact, he has many himself.
“I’m trying to get rid of them,” said Mr. Wiggin, 82.
However, the library’s copy may be the only one with a book binding that says the author’s last name is “Wiggins.”
“Probably that was a mistake from the Pioneer Library Bindery,” Ms. Martin said.
Library books are typically rebound with a stiffer binding, and this one was likely rebound sometime before it was first checked out, she said.
Now that the Boise Public Library’s copy of “New Chronicles of Rebecca” has finally been returned, it will be displayed in a special room at the main library, Ms. Driebergen said.
The librarians do not know the name of the person who checked out the book in 1911 because they no longer save the paper files that were used a century ago, she said.
But the library is hoping that someone with knowledge of the book’s former whereabouts might let the staff know. “We’re hoping someone comes forward and says, ‘Hey, it was my grandma’s book,’” Ms. Driebergen said.
“If we had a little bit of understanding as to the history of it, we’d love to hear it,” she added, promising, “There’s obviously no fines or anything that would be implemented.”
NEW YORK TIMES