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Long Overdue Library Books That Were Returned Years Later

One of the most dreaded feelings experienced by readers in the past was the discovery of a long overdue library book. Returning it not only involved the shame of admitting that you forgot all about it, but also sometimes a hefty overdue fine. Thanks to the convenience (not to mention great sales prices) of ebooks this is no longer such a common problem, but it still happens. Here are ten books that finally found their way back to the library long after their checkout period.

Days and Deeds: A Book of Verse for Children’s Reading And Speaking by Burten E. Stevenson & Elizabeth B. Stevenson – 47 Years Overdue

A book published in 1906, Days and Deeds, was checked out of the Kewanee Public Library by Emily Canellos-Simms in 1955. It was due to be returned on 19 April of the same year, but never did and started accruing late fees of two cents a day. It wasn’t until 47 years later that Emily found the book in her mother’s house. She returned it to the library along with a check of $345.14 to cover the overdue fines, putting her in the Guiness World Records for largest library book fine paid.

The Fire of Francis Xavier by Arthur R. McGratty – 55 Years Overdue

In 2013 the Fort Washington branch of the New York Public Library received a book in the mail, along with a $100 check tucked away inside it. According to the library card of the book it was checked out on April 10, 1958, but the library had no idea that it was even missing. The late fee for hardcover book at the library is 25 cents a day, so the 55 year overdue book would have had a fee of more than $5000. However, the library was satisfied with the $100 check they received as it covered the original cost of the book.

The Punch Library of Humour – 61 Years Overdue

The Rotorua Public library was surprised to find that The Punch Book of Humour made its way back to them in March of 2006. The book has been overdue by 61 years, during which time it had incurred overdue fines totaling more than $9000! Since the fine was not paid, the library staff tried to sell the book on Trade Me, but without any luck.

Myths and Legends of Maoriland by A.W. Reed – 68 Years Overdue

A member of the Epsom Community Library took out a book, Myths and Legends of Maoriland in 1948. The child, who is a grandmother now, accidently took the book with her after moving overseas. It was only after coming to visit other family 68 years later that she was able to return the book to the library. According to the woman, she had read the book quite a few times over the decades, but it was always her intention to return it. With overdue library fees of $1 a day the penalty would have been more than $24000, but the library waived these seeing as the woman was a child when she borrowed it.

Kulmale Maale by Eduard Vilde – 69 Years Overdue

The Tallinn Central Library in Estonia found themselves in possession of a tome, Kulmale Maale, a mere 69 years after it was originally borrowed. Apparently the person who borrowed the book wanted to return it earlier, but was unable to do so due to the library being subjected to aerial bombing during the war. The library building sustained damage in an air strike, merely four days after the book was borrowed, but remained open. It was used as a shelter for the librarians along with nearby residents. The man who returned the book 69 years later was in his late 80s and very scared that he might have to pay a fine, but it was waived by the library.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – 78 Years Overdue

In 2012 the Chicago Public Library conducted a rare three-week amnesty program for overdue items. Library patrons could return overdue books without paying the fines that had been incurred. The previous time such an amnesty program was held was in 1992 and 77,000 overdue items were returned as a result. Much to the surprise of the library, a woman brought in a rare limited edition of the Oscar Wilde novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was 78 years overdue. The woman had found it amongst her late mother’s possessions and was terrified that she would be arrested or have to pay a $6,000 fine if she tried to return the book. It wasn’t until the amnesty period that she managed to work up the courage and return it. Little did she know that the library caps late fines on books at $10!

Master of Men by E. Phillips Oppenheim – 79 Years Overdue

While helping a friend clear out an old house, a retired handyman found the book Master of Men. It was written by a local author, E. Phillips, and the handyman was shocked to see that the book was due back at the library in 1934 already. The man took the 79 year overdue book to the Leicestershire County Council as the Leicester Country Library has since shut down. According to the council the late return fine would have been more than $16000, but they waived this charge.

31st International Eucharistic Congress Dublin – 80 Years Overdue

In 1932 a pictorial record of the 31st International Eucharistic Congress that was held in Dublin was borrowed from the Library in Navan. 80 Years later staff at the library returned after a weekend to find that the book had been slipped through the letterbox of the library. As the computerized records of the library only date back to 1994, nobody knows who borrowed the book originally or who discreetly returned it. The library also stated that they would waive the more than $5000 in late fees if whoever returned the book came to them in person and confess.

Good Words For 1888 by Donald Macleod – 123 Years Overdue

Breaking the century mark for being late is Good Words for 1888 by Donald Macleod. The Browne family rented the book from the parish library of Troutbeck and was discovered 123 years later tucked away in a bookshelf of the mansion that was owned by George Browne. After the discovery, the library not only waived the considerable late fee on the book, but also decided that they don’t need it back as it is in safe hands.

The Law of Nations by Emmerich de Vattel – 221 Years Overdue

Perhaps the most overdue book of all time is The Law of Nations by Emmerich de Vattel. It was checked out by none other than President George Washington in October of 1789. When, a month later, the book is still not returned it starts accruing fines. When Washington dies in 1799 the book is still not returned and by 2010 it had incurred a fine of $300,000, adjusted for inflation. However, in May of 2010, 221 years after Washington failed to return the book, members of the Mount Vernon estate presented the New York Society Library with a replica copy. The copy was found online and purchased for $12,000 before being returned to the library. Luckily, the library decided to absolve Washington as well as all his representatives for all of the overdue fees.

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