Collections Spotlight: Antique Books at the Library! 

By Meghan E. Gattignolo 

Everyone loves a good book, especially the really old ones you might find in a forgotten corner of a crowded bookstore, or on the bookshelves inside the study of a dusty mansion.  

If that’s your cup of tea, the Museum has got you covered with a new spotlight exhibit over at the Clarksville-Montgomery Public Library – the perfect place to display an exhibit of books! Come take a look at some examples from the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s own book collection, found just upstairs in the display case near the Genealogy Room. To get you warmed up, here are a few of the books you can see. All books featured were published before 1900 and donated to the Museum by members of the local community. 

Poems of Edgar Allen Poe, 1882 

“…A quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…”  
Imagine cozying up with this little gem at a crackling fireplace on a cold night! This copy of Poe’s poetry book is gorgeously clad in a rich blue and embossed with gold lettering. By the time Edgar Allen Poe started writing, book covers were going through a makeover. In years past, covers were made from animal products like leather and vellum. Over the course of the 19th century, cloth book bindings were replacing the leather look. Literacy was on the rise, and so was the demand for books. Producing cheaper books became the priority. Cloth is also more suitable as a canvas for the sweet gold embossing and illustrations of the Victorian era we love.  

Children’s books 

Today, we take for granted the variety of titles we can pick out in the children’s section of the library with our little ones. Up until the late 18th century, children’s books barely existed.  Children enjoyed listening to books read to them, but those were generally books written for adult ears. The 19th century was the first to see children’s literature flourish and develop. A familiar example is Children and Household Tales, folktales collected and produced by the Brothers Grimm. They were meant to entertain, but also teach children valuable lessons in the process. The books you’ll see in this collection are other great examples of 19th century children’s literature. 

An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch of the 19th Century, and Unexplained Phenomenon of the Christian Era by Martin V. Ingram, 1894 

If you’ve joined us on a Greenwood Cemetery tour in the past, you heard a little about local newspaper editor Martin V. Ingram and how he claimed to have suffered from hauntings while trying to publish his account of the Bell Witch legend. The Bell Witch couldn’t stop Ingram. While the story comes to us from Adams, Tennessee in nearby Robertson County, Ingram’s account published in Clarksville was the first commercially produced version of the Bell Witch legend and later used as source material for future accounts. This original copy is one of the rarest books in the Museum’s collection.  

Old books are enchanting. Go enjoy this special spotlight next time you make it to the local library. The exhibit even features a suggested reading list of books you can borrow from the library if this featured literature sparks your curiosity! 


Once upon a time: a brief history of children’s literature ( 
Tradition and transformation in 19th-century bookbinding • V&A Blog ( 

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

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