My final project for Intro to Graduate Studies is based around a text that resides in our university Special Collections office. Mine is Letters from an American Farmer by Hector St. John de Crevecoeur in 1782. I went to go look at it yesterday.
It was really neat: I got to hold an over 200-year old book in my hands. It was small (about 6 3/4 inches by 4), bound in sturdy leather (probably a while after it was printed on March 4th 1793). My bookbinding interests got me to look at how it was bound, and I was able to spot the heavy bookbinding thread that bound the book together. It smelled like an old book.
I started imagining reading this when it was first printed. The paper was heavy (probably cotton rag paper), yellowed with age. I could feel the roughness from where the printed letters pushed through to the other side of the paper. It had obviously been taken care of for the past 200 years because it was in amazingly good condition.
I wondered about the book's owner (before it was donated/purchased for Special Collections). Were they a scholar? A gift to a traveler on his way to Arkansas? How did this particular book get to where it is today? It's all pretty interesting, really.
Mostly, though, I was just happy to be holding an old book and thinking about how neat it was to hold an object that has been around almost as long as the United States has been a country.