A Book That Shouldn’t Exist

I recently came across this post from Tumblr user Froody. In their post they mention they are collectors of old books and recently encountered a book whose origins couldn’t be explained.

Froody writes “I collect old books. Mostly turn of the century stuff published between 1870 and 1920. My parents did too. They emassed a collection of books somewhere in the thousands. They got them out of abandoned houses, at auctions, as gifts and at every antique store on the east coast. My dad cleaned out his house after the divorce and I got some of the books. I planned to keep the good ones and hopefully sell some of the ones I didn’t have room for. For the past several days I have been researching the different titles and publishing dates to see how much they’re worth, usually it’s somewhere between $15-$50 so I’m not getting rich off it any time soon. I encountered this book:”

“Beautiful, right? Screams late Victorian period opulence. Definitely keeping it. I check for an owner’s name or little note on the title page, I love books that were Christmas gifts long ago. Instead I find this:”

“A gift for a student as an award for her academic success. From either 1875 or 1895. Very fucking cool. I search for the Chatsworth Institute of Baltimore Maryland in hopes that I am holding a significant piece of history in my hands. No such Institute has ever existed in Baltimore, none. Not historically, not currently. There is a Chatsworth school in Maryland but it’s a contemporary public school. I cannot find record of this school anywhere online, there is nothing left behind, it must have been a formal school to afford to give awards. There should be some trace of it. It’s like this book came from an alternate universe.

Let’s go to the title page:”

“Beautifully illustrated by a W Cunston or W Gunston. Neither name being up anyone. The name of the author of this book is nowhere to be seen. The publisher is London based and mostly published childrens books (including the words of Beatrice Potter) and that is the only concrete fact I can get. Googling “Eilon Manor” and “The Four Sisters” brings up very little. I sift and I find a book called Eilon Manor published in 1863. Like Baptista, it’s an incredibly boring piece of literature for Victorian young women. The author is listed as D. Richard, no first name, no gender, no location. D. Richard does not seem to exist either.

I cannot find any other copies of Baptista a Quiet Story. I cannot find D. Richard or W. Gunston. I cannot find a publishing date on this book. It is truly as though it slipped out from another parallel dimension.”

I’m sure there’s a logical and not at all ominous explanation for the book but I can’t help but think of it as the book from The Ninth Gate.


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43 thoughts on “A Book That Shouldn’t Exist

  1. Hi! I’m late to this party, but I can tell you more about Frances Charlotte Ryder. I’m actually the person who identified the woman behind the pseudonym D. Richmond, while trying to find the identities of various contributors to Once a Week Magazine — the magazine’s account book recorded having paid a “Miss F. C. Ryder” for the story signed “D. Richmond,” so I dug through birth and census records till I found her. There’s something a bit moving about writing down the biography of a person who’s long, long dead and wasn’t famous in their own day. Although Frances’s own family must’ve remembered her, there was no obituary in print, so what I’m about to say will be the only written bio she’s ever had.

    Frances Charlotte Ryder was born in Ecclesfield, Yorkshire, where her father was the vicar. Her father died when she was a year old. Her mother Ann thereafter lived in Richmond, Yorkshire, with Frances and her older siblings (two brothers and either two or three sisters). At the age of 18 Frances sold her first story, choosing the pseudonym D. Richmond, evidently from the name of her hometown — was the “D.” meant to represent the French “de”? She had quite a few pious, instructional stories for the young published by pious publishers, but I don’t think any of them achieved wide sales, most being very obscure indeed. This sort of writing was a source of income for many women in Victorian England, but Frances seems to have been more dedicated than most; unusually, she kept writing almost as busily as ever after her marriage, even though her husband was well-to-do, which suggests either artistic drive or a wish for an independent income. It was in 1863, aged 24 or 25, that Frances married William Stobart, a coal mine operator, and went to live with him in or near Etherley, Durham. I found here a picture of Etherley Colliery which was owned by Henry Stobart & Co. in the 1860s — I think that Henry was William’s father. Children followed in quick succession — William in 1864; Henry, who died only two weeks old in 1865; a daughter, Averil, in 1867. She was pregnant again the following year when she wrote her last novel, “The Doctor’s Ward.” This was to be her most noted work, which is to say it got some slight attention in the press rather than none. Would it have been a breakthrough to further successes? There’s no knowing, because just after the birth of her daughter Frances Geraldine in February of 1868, she died. I don’t know the cause, but surely it’s extremely likely to have been a consequence of the birth. Her funeral was on the same day as the baby’s christening. “The Doctor’s Ward” was published the following summer.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. It’s a bit of a sad story, not just because Frances died at the age of 29, but because her writing had no success or recognition even though she devoted herself to it, keeping working while going through four pregnancies in five years(!!)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Can’t help with the Chatsworth reference but I think I recognise the name of the publisher. Frederick Warne were the people who first published Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit story. I thought. Might be wrong.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. What in the world, that’s neat!! I’d love to cross anything like this.

    My first thought would be like if someone just created it themselves or something.. but it *does* looks genuine and somewhat done « professionally »

    Liked by 3 people

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