On February 14, 1904, someone inquisitive about the rising possibilities of a crucial force of nature visited the New Bedford Free Public Library and borrowed James Clerk Maxwell’s An Elementary Treatise on Electricity.
The scientific text was returned to the Massachusetts library after 119 years and the keen eyes of a West Virginia librarian.
Stewart Plein, the curator of rare books at West Virginia University Libraries, made the find while going through a recent donation of books.
Plein discovered the treatise and discovered that it had been part of the New Bedford library’s collection and, more importantly, had not been stamped Withdrawn, indicating that, although being significantly overdue, the book had not been abandoned.
Plein notified Jodi Goodman, the special collections librarian in New Bedford, about the discovery.
This was returned in excellent shape, according to New Bedford Public Library Director Olivia Melo on Friday. Because it was in such fantastic condition, it was undoubtedly kept on a lovely bookcase and was presumably passed down in the family.
Rare or Not? The Cranberry-Colored Copy of Maxwell’s Treatise
The treatise was initially published in 1881, two years after Maxwell’s death in 1879, according to Melo, but the cranberry-colored copy now housed in the New Bedford library is not considered a rare edition of the text.
She noted that the library receives volumes that are 10 or 15 years overdue on occasion, but rarely books that are a century or older.
The treatise was written at a period when the world was still learning about the power of electricity.
Thomas Edison got a historic patent in 1880 that embodied the ideas of his incandescent lamp. The good news is that the library’s late fee cap is $2.
Melo’s take on another lesson from the find? Returning a library book is never too late.