Rockin' Donations | Newberry

Rockin' Donations

I have commented before on the things people leave in books, everything from fifty dollar bills (ten of those in a book once) to indiscreet photographs (not nearly enough of those, either.) I have complained about people who leave pencils in books and, on one memorable occasion, about someone who left a screen door opener in an unabridged dictionary. But these are all things the publisher never intended.

Sometimes a publisher leaves something in a book intentionally: more than a souvenir bookmark, I mean.

Children’s books are especially likely to do this. here are Lego books which include a Lego figure, romantic novels which include a locket, the classic Dr. Dan the Band-Aid Man which is more collectible today if the two band-Aid brand strips are still inside, books about magnets which come with a magnet, and so forth.

But books for grownups will do it, too. I believe I complained once about the landmark history of prostitution in the Old West, Brass Checks and red lights. The hardcover edition was very limited and I was thrilled to get a copy donated to the Book Fair. The hardcovers were so limited because the authors actually set an original brass check in the cover. (This was a kind of token you got at the house of ill repute when you paid your entrance fee.) The donor had given us the book but kept the brass check, losing us some ninety percent of the resale value.

So yesterday I was pricing a book which included a rock.

Now, before you jump out of quarantine with checkbook in hand, this is NOT that book published by Taschen to celebrate the Moon Landing. Limited to exactly nine copies, the book had foldout legs to simulate the lunar landing module. Why just nine copies? Because only nine rocks brought back from the moon were in private hands and available for the publisher to purchase. Each copy of the book, which sold, suitably, for an astronomical price, included a genuine, certified Moon Rock. I do not bother to check for this in my book donations.

The book I do have is similar, if not quite so pricey. It’s a little paperback by H.H. Nininger called “A Comet Strikes the Earth”. The fiery tail of the comet leads your eye to a hole in the lower left corner of the cook. In this hole is glued a small black rectangle of rock. It is glued to the last page of the book, the only one without a hole, where you will read that this is a certified piece of nickel-iron alloy picked up at a meteorite crater by H.H. Nininger himself. It was sold by the American Meteorite Museum for many years (though later editions apparently did NOT have a hole or a chunk of interplanetary debris.)

Now, you might ask “Who is H.H. Niniger and why should I take his word for a hunk of rock?” I hope you do. I did, and I hate to be the only kid on the block who didn’t KNOW about H.H. Nininger.

Harvey Harlow Nininger was America’s first meteoricist, a word I had never run across before. He founded the American Meteorite Museum. He was entirely self-taught in meteor science, which explains a lot. Nobody, you see, CARED about meteor science until Dr. Nininger came along. Scientists knew meteorites existed, of course. Those were the meteors that entered Earth’s atmosphere and crashed to the ground (once in the atmosphere they stopped being meteors and became meteorites, see.) But they assumed the meteorites broke up so badly on impact that there wasn’t enough left to study. Harvey decided to look into this himself. By 1940, he was responsible for finding over sixty percent of known meteorites. He forced people to admit that there was more of this stuff out there than anyone suspected.

A lot of the book deals with the basics of how to look at a rock and tell whether it’s a meteorite. So when H.H.Nininger said a chunk of rock flew in from outer space, he knew what he was talking about. (And yes, he knew a meteorite is not a comet. But you have to get the audience’s attention somehow.)

So I am pleased as Pluto that someone left this rock in this book, and didn’t rip it out for their rock collection and donate the book (which has the certificate, after all.) It’s not a brass token, but it’s nickel-iron, and that will do.