Library Book Returned After More Than 100 Years

inside cover of an old book being held up

UPDATED: 4.19.24

More than 100 years after it was due, a library book has returned to Poudre Libraries just in time for National Library Week (April 7-13.) The historical novel, Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, was due back to the Fort Collins Public Library and Free Reading Room on February 13, 1919.

Earlier this year, Mary Weiss dropped off the book saying that her sister found it in their father’s belongings in Colorado Springs. She and her sister suspect it was a great-aunt or uncle who originally checked out the book.

The inside front cover of the book offers interesting information including the book’s accession number. These were placed inside each book when they were put into the library’s collection. Inside the back cover is the traditional Due Date slip showing the book had been checked out only three times before it went missing.

old book being held open

The inside front cover also includes the lending rules for the book. According to Art. 26, “A fine of two cents per day shall be collected on all books. If a messenger be sent for a detained book an additional charge of 25 cents shall be collected.” Based on a 2-cents-per-day fine, this fine would be approximately $760.00. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $14,000! Fortunately, Poudre Libraries stopped charging fines for overdue materials in November 2020.

You can still check out Ivanhoe: A Romance from Poudre Libraries though our current copies are not quite as fragile as this particular edition. Set in 12th-century England, it depicts the actions of the heroic knight Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe in winning the hand of beautiful Lady Rowena.

For National Library Week this year, we’re celebrating our core values: curiosity, collaboration, innovation, inclusion, intellectual freedom, and accountability. Follow along with our week-long celebration of National Library Week via our social media. You can support your library during National Library Week with a delicious meal from Urban Egg in Downtown Fort Collins. $1.00 from each plate of their “Urban Eggs and Ham” will be donated to the library. You can also donate year-round via our website.

Follow-Up Story (Book Returnee Revealed!)

After sharing the story of this 105-year-old book back to us, the story was covered by the Coloradoan and 9News in Denver! From there, dozens of outlets across the country including Fox News, the Smithsonian Magazine, and many others picked up the story and shared it with thousands of people.

Mary Weiss, the woman who checked in the book, was one of the people who saw the story in her Facebook feed. She dropped into Old Town Library to share more details about this copy of Ivanhoe and its journey home.

Mary’s sister found the copy in their father’s belongings in Colorado Springs. They doubt that the book ever left the state and suspect that either her Great Aunt, Great Uncle, or grandmother checked out the book in 1919.  

Below is a picture taken in 1911 of Mary’s great-great grandfather, Thomas Pendergast (riding on the cart.)  Thanks to Mary and the Fort Collins History Connection (a collaboration between Poudre Libraries and the Museum of Discovery), we placed Thomas in Fort Collins when the book was checked out.  

historic black and white image of men riding a horse cart

Mary herself spent summers hanging out at the Fort Collins Library and participating in our Summer Reading Challenge. “We’d always get a pile of books in the summer.” 

When we asked, why did you bring it back? Mary told us, “Well let’s take care of it. I went over to Council Tree and handed it to the librarian.” Mary has been a dedicated library user for 39 years of her life.  

Whether it was her grandmother or her Great Aunt/Uncle, Mary said, “Who knows who it had all that time but it’s just good that it’s back.” 

Brief History of the Public Library in Fort Collins

carnegie library in fort collins

The history of public libraries in Fort Collins dates back to the 19th century when a community reading room was established (March 1882). In 1899, citizens formed the Fort Collins Public Library and Reading Room Association and opened a space in the Welch Block, located on the northwest corner of College and Mountain Ave.

On October 8, 1900, the City Council passed a resolution to make the Fort Collins Public Library and Reading Room a city library. It became the sixth public library in the state of Colorado.

Over the next few years, the library was relocated to various buildings, eventually finding a home in 1904 as a Carnegie Library located at 201 Mathews St., the current site of the Carnegie Creative Center.

A Larimer County Library was established in 1937 to provide services to rural areas and was housed alongside the City library at the Carnegie Library building. Later, the City and County libraries merged.

In 1976, when a new library space opened at what is now the Old Town Library, the library’s name was changed to Fort Collins Public Library. The Fort Collins Regional Library District was eventually formed in 2007 after a citizen-led effort to make the Fort Collins Public Library its own special district. The name changed again in 2009 when the Library Board of Trustees unanimously approved the new permanent name, Poudre River Public Library District.

What to learn more about the history of public libraries in Fort Collins? Check out the Fort Collins History Connection, a joint project between Poudre Libraries and the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.