“random miscellaneous company”

by | Sep 22, 2021 | Favorite Things | 35 comments

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.  Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

― Virginia Woolf

Just as I love antiques and vintage things, I love used books, too.  I love new books and will buy those when they are new releases, but if the book has been around for a while, I always look into purchasing it used first.  Not only does it save a lot of money, but I’m getting a book that has a little story to it.  Sometimes, that story remains a secret, but other times, I can see who the book belonged to, what library it came from, who checked it out, or who gave it as a gift.  There can be little notes tucked inside or written in the margins.  To me, those are like little surprises; gifts left by the previous owner.

I don’t live near a used book store, so I visit them when I travel, I keep an eye out for old books at antique stores, and I buy most of my used books online from Amazon, eBay, Thriftbooks, or AbeBooks.  I do buy some from our local thrift stores, too, but I usually don’t find anything too enticing.

So, when my antiquing buddy, Cheri of My Cottage Life, sent me this picture from a local consignment store, it piqued my interest.

text of used art books | miss mustard seed

I talked myself out of going for a few weeks, though!  I am trying to temper the book-buying just a little bit.  But, Jeff and I were out running errands and I asked if I could stop in to see if the books were still there and if the prices were good.  I ended up buying four books – Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec because I didn’t have books on them, yet, a book on VanGogh, and one on the National Gallery of Art.  The prices had been marked down and, when I got to the counter to check out, I was informed that they were buy 1, get 1 half off.  Nice!  Jeff was waiting, so I just stuck with those four books and resisted the urge to get more.

When I got home, I looked through the books and realized the books on Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec were real treasures.  They are a part of a series called “The Library of Great Painters” by Abrams that was printed in the 1960s and 1970s.  The books have a black and white section with text and sketches and then over 100 color plates in each book.  The color plates are printed on glossy paper and glued into the book!  They are really nice.  In addition, once the book jacket is removed, this lovely blue linen with gold embossed letters is revealed.

library of great painters volumes by Abrams | miss mustard seed

So, I looked up the series immediately online and scooped up some of my other favorite artists.  Most of the books were less than $10 online!  Some were just $2-3.  I bought Turner, Constable, Pissaro, VanGogh, and Monet.

I also went back to the consignment store the next day and picked up some more books!  I got Manet and Rembrandt from the Abrams set.  I originally didn’t buy them because I have very nice books on both of those artists.  I also got a book on decorative typography, American ironstone marks (can you believe I didn’t have one of those), a book on Cézanne, one of the Louvre, and a series of the complete letters of VanGogh.  To make it an even number (for the BOGO offer), I got a beautifully illustrated book from 1901.  There are illustrations on almost every other page, so it’s a nice find.

As a side note, I paid $15 for the set of Vincent VanGogh letters and it’s priced between $400 – $1500 from used booksellers on Amazon!

used art books | miss mustard seed

As I was looking over all of the books, I had a strong sense that these were from one person’s library.  This wasn’t a random collection of books brought in by a bunch of different people.  The books were all on art, literature, history, medicine…they just seemed to belong together.  I felt like I had an idea of what that person might be like based on their books.

I asked the woman at the checkout if they got in books regularly and she confirmed my feeling by saying, “No.  These are all from one estate.”

I’m glad that several books from this one library will stay together and be added to my home library.  Unfortunately, the owner did not write his/her name in the books, but I did find some little surprises.

First of all, when buying used books, always look thoroughly inside.  I often find things tucked inside.  Notes, cards, newspaper clippings, etc.  In the series on VanGogh’s letters, I found page numbers that corresponded with marks inside the volumes.

notes inside vintage Van Gogh books | miss mustard seed

I read a few of the passages and wasn’t sure why they were of particular interest, but I love that I have this little handwritten index!  Also, that was a lot of reading!  I wish I could sit down and talk to the person who read them, hearing their thoughts on VanGogh and all of the other books they read.

notes inside vintage Van Gogh books | miss mustard seed

These books were from a personal library, but many books I buy some out of universities or public libraries, so they’ll have stickers and stamps on them.  Some even still have the old library cardholder and library cards in them!

I leave stickers that are in good shape because they are a part of the story of the book, but I do remove the plastic book jackets and any stickers that are unsightly or already falling off.  Sometimes, this leaves a sticky residue on the book that I do not enjoy.  Cat hair and fuzz stick to it and it just doesn’t feel nice.  I’ve learned that if you rub the sticky area with a microfiber cloth, in one direction, pressing down firmly, the residue will roll off.

removing adhesive from used books | miss mustard seed

In the case of this book, you can still see where the sticker was, but it no longer feels sticky.  Thi trick also works on fabric, wood, and other things you might not be able to use GooGone or another adhesive remover on.  (Since my youngest son is a T1D and wears a pump and CGM, we have to deal with adhesives and removing them more than the average person!)

Once the books have been cleaned up and searched, I’ll stamp them with my book embosser.  I had one of these when I was a kid and I always loved stamping my books (and all sorts of papers) with it.  With my library growing, I decided it was time to get one as an adult.  I ordered a custom stamp from THIS Etsy shop.  (This would be a great Christmas gift for a book-lover.)

book embosser | miss mustard seed

My stamp adds to the story of each book I acquire for when it’s one day passed along to the next owner.

book embosser | miss mustard seed

With these new acquisitions, I was really starting to wonder where I was going to house these books in my studio.  We have plenty of space and shelving in the house, but I’d ideally like to keep all of my art books together, so I can easily reference them and I don’t lose track of where all of my books are and what I have.  After staring around the room for a while, I was able to move some things around and create a little more room.

art books arranged in studio | miss mustard seed

Esmé was very worried about my dilemma, as you can see.  Thoroughly concerned.

studio cat Esmé | miss mustard seed

It’s a temporary fix, but it gave me a few more linear feet of shelf space.

art books arranged in studio | miss mustard seed

Now, look at all of that room!  I could fit 6-8 more books in there, easily.

art books arranged in studio | miss mustard seed

I have started to have to keep books outside of the studio, though.  I moved all of my “museum books” down to the basement and I’m keeping my books from the Library of Great Painters series in the living room.  I don’t like them separated from the other books on those artists, but that’s what room requires.

art books arranged in studio | miss mustard seed

I’ve already told Jeff that in my “next studio”, I want a huge wall of built-in shelves for my growing library.  He just smiled and nodded knowingly.

Someone drew a picture of me taking my stack of consignment books back to my studio.  (I wish I knew the original source/artist for this illustration, but I couldn’t find it!  Let me know if you know.)

I’ve loved books for years.  The Scholastic book fair was always one of the best days of school and I worked the book club system like a pro in the 1990s.  Admittedly, my acquisition of them has definitely accelerated in the past couple of years.  I think that has a lot to do with the pandemic and being at home so much more.  It’s a way to get out into the world without travel.  It’s a screen-free way to be inspired by others from home.  It’s instruction when I can’t attend a workshop.  They fill me up when I feel creatively spent.  And, in a small way, they are a comfort.  I’ll never be short of something to do, things to learn, and people to teach me.

You can find my books of the week from 2020 HERE and my lists of books I own in my Amazon Store.


  1. Marilyn McAuley

    Love all your posts. Was not familiar with AbeBooks. Checked it out — found a book I’ve been searching for at a very affordable price. So glad you shared your go to spots.

  2. Tracy

    I’m just curious, when you remove dust jackets from books, do you keep them in case a future owner wants them or just toss them. I never know what to do with them but do prefer some without the jacket.

    • Marian Parsons

      If I don’t want the dust cover, I’ll just throw it out. I keep ones that are nice or in good condition, but if I like the book better without it, I don’t feel bad in the least. Now, if I was buying them as an investment or to resell, then I would think twice about that, but I’m buying them for my own enjoyment.

  3. Deb

    Will you be taking Cheri to dinner?
    We all need a friend who knows us well enough to know when they find a treasure that has our name written all over it.
    I wonder how many people have looked at those books and said….oh it’s just old art books.
    Little did they know!

    • Marian Parsons

      I actually did take Cheri dinner just a few weeks ago when she had knee surgery! 🙂 I also just gave her a book today. We take good care of each other.

    • Cheri

      I did get dinner from Marian when I needed it most!!

  4. mary m

    On line I bought a used genology book of my family name. The seller was very specific how he wanted to be paid. It came from nowwhersville Florida. When I got the book a bunch of 1920-ish photos fell out. I have no idea who they are but must be connected to the book. It was published in 1899.

    We are in the process of passing on books and it is amazing how many book one can accumulate. I am only keeping what I love. EX Liberus (sp?) marked all of my parents books. That means this book belongs to…..

    I remember reading a story about Truman Capote the writer. He said that each child had to show up at the dinner table with a new word every day. It would be a mad dash to the gigundo dictionary that stood on a podium. I wish I had thought of this with my five children.

  5. FIL

    I’m into Degas.

  6. Juliet | A Loverly Life

    What an amazing find at the bookstore. Sometimes it is hard to curb purchasing a trunk full!

    I have an antique book of poetry from Ruyard Kipling – over 100 years old with disintegrating binding. I just tie it with a ribbon.

    One of my favorite treasures.

    I can’t wait to see what books you find next!

  7. Peggy

    Love this post! I have about a dozen books I found in a trunk in my grandpa’s barn. They are signed by old family members from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There are some notes and obituaries tucked in. Not worth $ to anyone else, but treasures to me.

    • Terry

      That is pure gold in my mind

  8. Tante Lucie

    Une magnifique collection de livres d’art ! Je partage aussi votre passion pour les beaux livres même ceux qui ont déjà vécus.

  9. Becky Peterson

    This is a splendid post. thank you. I too love old books. My favorites are vintage and antique gardening books. An aside to Van Gough. I went to Paris the year after my husband of 37 years had tragically passed away. My son and his wife organized the trip. I had my best friend along and my DIL’s parents. Our last night we were in the Musée d’Orsay. We had split up and all were tired, however, I had reached a point of exhaustion beyond any experience. My plan was to see the Van Gough rooms and then go downstairs and sit down. The next thing I write will make you think I am prone to hysteria or emotionally unhinged. Probably close to the second one, as suddenly was I felt depleted in every cell of my body. I thought I was going to drop dead…right there. I kept looking for Van Gough and he alluded me. The signs made no sense, my earbuds fell out. I started to make plans of how my kids were going to get my body home back to the states and what an inconvenience that would be. I called my best friend on my cell phone and she said, “I have gone downstairs, I am too tired to look anymore.” So I walked slowly downstairs and sat next to my dear friend on a hard marble bench and we waited for the rest to join us. So here ends the story of how I was in this most beautiful of places and didn’t even get to see a real Van Gough. Probably not the ending you expected, however, I did get to fly home sitting in a seat and not in the cargo hold!

  10. Sandra

    thoroughly enjoyable post and thanks for the tip re microfiber cloth. Goo Gone is what I, sometimes, carefully use to remove that tackiness. thanks also for the tip on the embosser seller; that sounds like a gift for myself.

  11. Terry A.

    I love books so much. I think I need to get a stamp like that. Thank you for the link.

  12. Cindy W.

    The best picture was of your Kitty Pet, napping in the middle of all your work. That’s just where a Beloved Pet should be! My Shelties are my little cockleburs, always are right under my feet. (Smiling….)

  13. Julie | Home On The Hill

    Several years back I joined The Folio Society, they would offer deals of free books to join & you then had to buy a set number the rest of the year. I would fulfill my commitment then let membership lapse. Sooner or later they would offer me a deal too good to pass up to rejoin – I have many wonderful high quality books – mostly classics/art/history from them. Each one comes in it’s own hard case sleeve & the book covers are parchment, linen etc with high quality paper. I treasure them all. 🙂

  14. Dana

    I love the embosser! I am a book nut too! We have a used book store nearby. The owner says he has about 70,000 books in his basement! People bring him books all of the time. I’ve bought many used art books from him.

  15. Gayle Stewart

    I have collected old children’s books for many years. I love the art work and the wonderful stories. I read many of them to my 4 year old grandson when we zoom read twice a week. They are such a delight to share, even the ones that are taped or rubber banded together. There is a certain innocence about them.

  16. Cheryl

    Yours looks like an embosser! Is that correct? Would make a great Christmas gift for my daughter and the hundreds of books she has. Thank you.

  17. KarynHint

    As a family we have always tried to seek out used bookstores wherever we travel. And!! There are actually several used bookstores in Rochester! Book Review is in Hillcrest Center, Paperback Book Palace is in Cedarcrest Plaza, I think there’s one called Silver Lake Books? And a new one opening soon on 7th St NW called Garden Party Books!! Oh, tried and true Friends of the Library bookstore in the lobby at the library!! 🥰

    • Miss Mustard Seed

      Good to know!! I don’t know how i missed those. I did notice two if them, but one seems to be geared towards comic books and another towards paperbacks, neither if which i’m looking for. I do have the library sale on my calendar!

  18. Cheri

    I’ll be hitting up a huge used book store in FL in November! I’ll send pics and you can choose!

    • krisb

      Cheri where is the huge used book store in FL?

  19. Crystal Brown

    As a reader and “hoarder” of books, Abebooks is one of my favorites sources, along with Amazon’s different sellers and Thrifty Books. St Petersburg, Fl has had one of the largest book stores in the state for many years. Sadly they had to move out of the old building and I don’t know if they have reopened in another building or not. ( I should check) I spent many, many hours in Haslams, when I lived in St Pete, browsing and sometimes (often) buying. There is nothing better to do on a rainy Saturday morning than getting lost in a big book store, especially one that carries both used and new books. Great post!

  20. Julie

    John Singer Sargent is my favorite and I have been fortunate enough to see his work in galleries. Smoke of Ambergris – I was truly spellbound.

  21. Carol

    I Loved reading this!
    I can actually feel your joy and enthusiasm and it made me smile!

  22. Dawn Harris

    Some of my greatest treasures are books. In my collection, I have books from my great-grandfather’s childhood, grandmothers and grandfathers on both side of the family, my mother’s books and some belonging to my husband’s grandfather and uncle. I am so grateful my mother never got rid of my childhood books and my children love looking at the way my handwriting changed over the years as I always wrote my name on the inside covers. Books have an uncanny way of bringing you close to those who owned them and the part of yourself you were when you first read them. I think they are as close to magic as we humans will ever get. Thanks for sharing your finds. On a funny note, my family gave me a T-shirt this year with the slogan “I Like Big Books And I Cannot Lie” – a fun parody and it has generated a lot of fun comments and like-minded encounters when I have worn it. Thanks for sharing your finds!

  23. Connie

    Thank you for reminding me of the Virginia Woolf truism at the beginning of this most beautiful ode to the joy of books! As an English lit/art history major myself & an attorney/Bible study teacher (husband) and readers as a hobby for about 70 years each, we are drowning in books! Even though we moved last year after 33+ years in our previous home & gave away/donated what seemed to be a small library full of books, finding space for our new found used friends is a constant challenge! This was a most enjoyable post; thanks for sharing your love of & sources for books with us!

  24. Denise E Rambo

    I just downsized from the huge 5 bedroom house I’ve lived in for 34 years, into a 2 bedroom apartment. One of the things I INSISTED upon taking were my bookshelves. They take up a whole wall in my apartment living room. I reluctantly purged some of the books, but there are still hundreds. And I’ve bought a few more since moving. My bookshelves make me happy. Just LOOKING at them makes me happy. Oh … I would have been ALL OVER that book a Pre-Raphaelite women. I LOVE the Pre-Raphaelites!

  25. sandi m

    What a great book find! You are certainly building a wonderful collection. The French painters have always been my favorites after studying them in college.

    Question regarding your embossing stamp – are you stamping at the top or bottom of the page? I’m going to order one, but it’s making me think is one location preferred over the other. Thanks!!

    • Marian Parsons

      I think it is a preference, but I got mine to work on the top of the page.

  26. Cynthia Johnson

    Awesome post!

    I’ve been on a book buying ban for years … haha~ One of my favorite places to get books is at Estaye Sales. With the older families in MN I have been thrilled to find resource books, coffee table books, etc. I have been to many homes where the books are catalogued, by subject, by author, genre.. It’s always a surprise and such a thrill.

    Before moving to Colorado I donated hundreds of books to womens shelter, prisons, etc and feel I can seek out a few new finds.

    Book lovers are one of my favorite kind of people 💕

  27. Catherine Grootenboer

    I love second-hand books too. Someone got me onto Better World Books who not only sell second-hand books but donate books and funds to literacy and libraries. They also keep a record of books they reuse or recycle. That always makes me feel better about buying a book.

  28. Susan

    When I saw the Yale University Press stamp on your “sticky” book, I had to share how fortunate I was growing up to have the Yale Art Gallery available, with FREE admission. I went there so many times growing up and I will always have a special place in my memories of that wonderful place.


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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