Sunday, December 4, 2011

LEFT INSIDE: Overdue Book Notice, 1954

Today's item left inside one of my books is a postcard notifying someone of their overdue library book. The book, unfortunately, is referred to by its catalog number (damn OCD librarians) and not by its title. However, the stamp cancellation offered me an opportunity to research an interesting aspect of American civil culture during the Eisenhower years.  Once again, I cannot tell you from which book in my collection this card was found.

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I remember when libraries had staff to send out regular notices like this. These days, at least in Chicago, our library is so disgracefully funded they have no one to reshelve the books let alone remind people to return overdue books. Books sit on carts for months before being returned to their proper place in the stacks requiring diligent users (like me) to pore over not only the shelves but the carts which thankfully are at least alpha order. Still, it's a pain in the neck trying to locate books in our main branch these days.

Here's the name and address of the guilty party. Notice the cancellation mark on the stamp.

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Apart from the curiously incomplete address revealing that local mail apparently merely needed the word City to be properly delivered, I noticed the "Wear Your Red Feather Proudly!" proclaimed in the cancellation mark dated Feb 18, 1954. "What Red Feather? Why is it so prominently displayed and so exclamatory?" I wondered. Research turned up these newspaper and magazine ads (which where not left inside a book).

From an ad drawn by Robert Ripley of "Believe It or Not! fame, Life (Oct 5, 1953)
from the Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct 7, 1945
The Red Feather was a honor awarded to anyone in the United States who contributed to their local Community Chest, a fund raising charity that used the money for local community projects. (Yes, it's the same Community Chest on those cards in the Monopoly game, too.) It started in 1913 in Ohio and slowly spread throughout the US and Canada. By 1948 there more than 1000 local chapters throughout the country. The organization continued through the 1950s and in 1963 became what we now know as United Way. The phrase "I gave at the office" is attributed to both these charities.


  1. John: Thanks for turning an overdue notice into a fine essay on part of American life almost 60 years ago.

  2. Yes, I agree with Bill. Thanks for a very enlightening post, John.

    How I miss the old library systems.

  3. I guess we are lucky to have books re-shelved fairly quickly by pages. A computerized system tell you when you're book is about to be overdue and when a requested book is in. I guess we are lucky here.

  4. You certainly are, Patti. Things are so bad I kept mulling over volunteering four hours of my time once a week to get books back where they belong. I could knock off about two carts an hour, I think. I'd be damn faster than the people they have doing it now. They're all young kids who move as slow as molasses when they aren't talking to their friends on cell phones.