John Ring’s stock and trade is old books. The older, the better when it comes to showing and selling them at his Bath antiquarian bookstore, Open Door Books.
In his quest for old books, Ring often digs through collections at estate sales and at the homes of downsizing seniors — and it was at one of those houses that he came across a book that truly mystified him. Titled “Originality: A Collection of Juvenile Compositions,” it was published in 1834 in Bangor.
Other than the poems and essays contained within its 50 pages and the little information on the title page, however, that’s about all he’s been able to find out about it. No named publisher is listed in the book. There’s no record of its publication at the Library of Congress. None of his fellow antiquarian booksellers have heard of it. The Bangor Historical Society was stumped, as was the Bangor Public Library.
“It’s such a neat little book, and it just seems to not be anywhere in the historical record,” Ring said. “It’s really a mystery … it’s the most interesting book I’ve ever found in 20 years.”
Ring’s best guess is that the book, about 6 inches tall and bound in reddish-brown leather, was published to showcase the work of Bangor students — hence the title referring to “juvenile compositions.” There are no identifying names attached to any of the essays or poems, however, only initials, including an L.M.N., who wrote 13 essays and poems in total in the book. Ring believes that L.M.N. may be the book’s editor.
Though Bangor formed as a city in 1791, it was officially incorporated the same year of the book’s publication, 1834, though nothing in the book notes that as a reason for publication. Bangor’s population was around 3,000 in that year, though it was growing rapidly as the lumber boom attracted workers and wealth to the Queen City. Bangor’s first public high school for boys was founded in 1835, followed by a school for girls in 1838. The two schools were consolidated into Bangor High School in 1864.
Ring also notes that the poems and essays in the books have a distinct philosophical bent, perhaps influenced by the growing transcendentalist movement, a spiritual and philosophical movement that had its roots in the Boston area, and whose most famous adherents include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. 1834 is a few years before Emerson began publishing his most famous works, however, and Thoreau wouldn’t make his journey into the Maine Woods until 1846.
“Who are these people? What became of them, and did any of them become noted authors?” Ring said. “Where does it belong? That’s my quandary.”
Ring noted that whoever edited the book had a sense of humor, with some tongue-in-cheek references to the book’s “importance” in the literary scene of the Bangor area.
Ring asks anyone with any potential information on the book to contact him at his shop, by calling 207-443-8689. Open Door Books is located at 178 Front St. in downtown Bath.