Long overdue

Antique raised-print book returned 159 years after it was printed at Perkins School for the Blind

Deborah and Molly looking at the book in the Perkins student library

Deborah Bloom, vice president of development and communications at Hadley School for the Blind, pages through "The Vicar of Wakefield" with Perkins Archivist Molly Stothert-Maurer. Photo credit: Anna Miller.

May 13, 2015

In 1856, a special raised-print edition of “The Vicar of Wakefield” was printed at Perkins School for the Blind. It was shelved with the other books in the Perkins Library, but sometime in the years that followed, was loaned out to a local reader and disappeared.

One-hundred and fifty-nine years after its publication, the well-traveled novel was returned to its proper home at Perkins by way of the Hadley School for the Blind in Winnetka, Illinois. The school’s staff discovered the volume sitting in a drawer, dusty and forgotten.

“It was in the basement at the bottom of a file cabinet,” said Deborah Bloom, vice president of development and communications at Hadley. “My colleague opened it up and said, ‘Deborah, it says we need to return it,’ and I said, ‘Then that’s what we’re going to do.’”

Bloom came to Perkins’ Watertown, Massachusetts campus on May 11 to oversee the symbolic return of the book to Perkins Archivist Molly Stothert-Maurer. The two women paged through the oversized novel, joking about its overdue status. If there were a fine, what would it be?

“It would be under $4,000,” said Stothert-Maurer with a laugh. “That’s 10 cents a day, without a replacement fee.”

Bloom isn’t sure how the book ended up at Hadley, which was founded in 1920. She speculated that it may have been purchased decades ago by a board member – perhaps at an auction – and donated to the school.

The book was printed in 1856 in Boston Line Type, a tactile, raised type for the blind developed by Perkins’ first director Samuel Gridley Howe. Boston Line Type was the official reading system at Perkins School for the Blind throughout much of the 19th century, despite being difficult to read. Eventually, braille supplanted it in popularity and Boston Line Type fell out of use.

For a book that is over a century old, “The Vicar of Wakefield” is in remarkably good condition, said Stothert-Maurer. The marble-board cover and leather binding are intact and no pages are ripped or missing. Most importantly, a Perkins bookplate on the inside front cover weathered the years with minimal damage, enabling its return home. 

Written by Oliver Goldsmith in 1766, “The Vicar of Wakefield” was a popular novel among readers in Victorian England. It tells the story of Dr. Charles Primrose, a devout family man who falls upon hard times and eventually lands in debtor’s prison through no fault of his own. However, Primrose never loses faith and eventually regains his happiness, fortune and good name.

“It sounds like the kind of tale that would inspire you to bring a book back to its rightful owner,” said Stothert-Maurer.

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