Overdue book returned to California library after nearly 100 years

According to reports, a fine of the book would have totaled over $1,700.

May 24, 2023, 9:27 PM

An overdue book was returned to a California library after being checked out for nearly 100 years.

The book, "A History of the United States" by Benson Lossing, was due back at the St. Helena Public Library in Napa Valley in February 1927, Chris Kreiden, the library's director, told ABC News.

Earlier this month, Napa Valley resident Jim Perry returned the book, which was passed down originally by his late wife's grandfather. Perry said he wasn't aware of the significance of its return until he saw reports while out of town at his brother-in-law's son's wedding.

Perry told ABC News that the book was in his family for five generations, and was in the possession of his wife, Sandra Learned Perry, until her death in 2015.

"A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take it to the library because it had [St. Helena Public Library] stamped on the book," Perry said.

PHOTO: The property stamp of St. Helena Public Library is shown in the book.
The property stamp of St. Helena Public Library is shown in the book.
St. Helena Public Library

His wife's grandfather was John McCormick, who was part of a pioneer family that settled in the Napa Valley area in the 1840s.

Kreiden said Perry returned "A History of the United States" by dropping it off at the front desk of the library and that staff didn't take a proper look at the book, only knowing it was an old book.

"It wasn't until I got it later that I wondered if it was one of the original books in our collection," Kreiden said.

PHOTO: “A History of the United States” by Benson Lossing, sits in a display case at the St. Helena Public Library.
“A History of the United States” by Benson Lossing, sits in a display case at the St. Helena Public Library.
St. Helena Public Library

The copy of the book goes as far back as when the library was a subscription library, where it cost 25 cents a month to take a book home, before the city of St. Helena took over the library in 1892 and made book borrowing free for St. Helena residents, according to Kreiden.

According to the St. Helena Star, fines for the book would have totaled an estimated $1,756, but the library stopped collecting fines in 2019.

Even then, the maximum fine would have been $10, Kreiden told ABC News, but the library most likely wouldn't have charged Perry.

Perry said the binding kept the book intact, but he was afraid to read it because parts of the book was falling apart.

"I was worried that if I started going through it, I'd break it," he said.

The newly returned copy of the book is now in a display case at the library, Kreiden said.

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