Printed Page Bookshop
February 2023

The special powers of books are not just in their words
For centuries, some persons have imbued books with powers beyond their use to educate or entertain. And perhaps no book has been seen to have greater power than the Bible.  St. Augustine wrote that the Gospel of St. John was laid upon the heads of people suffering from fevers.  "In the middle ages and beyond, this particular biblical book was still judged to have particular protective powers, and tiny manuscript versions, intended to be worn or carried on the person for maximum efficacy, survive as witness to this belief.  Around 1600, residents of Nottingham were being encouraged to buy copies of the Gospel as a preservative against witchcraft, at the considerable sum of ten shillings.  Bibles were used for registering births, curing the sick, making decisions, predicting the future, and warding off devils.  The historian David Cressy even reports on a Bible attached to a pole used as a battle standard in a local conflict," according to Emma Smith in a fascinating book, "Portable Magic:  A History of Books and Their Readers."
Smith continued that these uses of the Bible don't require it to be opened or its pages turned:  they are about the book as a material block possessing special powers.  By contrast, the parallel tradition of bibliomancy -- the term for the practice of consulting a book opened at random for prophetic wisdom -- imbued books with the magic power of divination. 
The practice was popular in early modern Europe, and first drew on classical, or pagan, texts, before later adapting to use Bibles or other works.  People were especially fond of Virgil's works and believed that if you randomly opened one to a given passage, you would be wisely advised on such questions as whom to marry.  Virgil was deemed an appropriate source to consult about the future because he was often credited with predicting the coming of Christ and the sack of Rome.  Magical powers hung around his mythical biography:  In medieval legend he was said to have been the tutor of the magician Merlin. 
At other times, people simply laid hands on hymnals, which was thought to make one a better singer.  Go ahead and try this at home.

This Month's Puzzler

On April 5, 1856, this man was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia. Determined to get a higher education, he was only 15 when he enrolled in the Hampton Institute in Virginia, working nights as a janitor to pay his way.

In 1881, at age 25, he was selected to head Tuskegee Institute, a new school for Negroes in Alabama. Over the next three decades, he transformed the school into a major educational institution. The foremost African-American leader of his time, he became (in 1937) the first black man to appear on a postage stamp.

He wrote more than a dozen books, including the American classic "Up From Slavery" (1901). In that book, he wrote:

"I have learned that the best way to lift one's self up is to help someone else."

Who is this man?                 (Answer below)

Printed Page College of Biblio knowledge (book school)
is Saturday, April 22, and a few spots remain
Here's a fun way to learn about books and book collecting!  Our free  class will teach you what you need to know to make your place in the world of books more knowledgeable and enjoyable.
You'll learn things as simple as how to handle books and as complicated as how to research books.  In riveting fashion, the instructors will show you how to tell the differences between books that are collectible and those that aren't, what kind of research tools are available to book collectors, how to find books you're looking for, and how to take care of them.  It's all free.  The class runs from 9 am to 10:30 and includes DONUTS.  Limited spaces are available, so claim yours now by dropping us a note at

Puzzler answer

Booker T. Washington. If you like our Puzzler, find more on our Facebook page.  
Thanks to Dr. Mardy Grothe for the use of his puzzler.  Visit him at

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