The St Andrews Heritage Museum – A Coffee Morning and Rare Book Sale

Natasha discusses a bibliophile’s dream event – a rare book sale at the St Andrews Heritage Museum.

It is a brisk, windswept morning in St Andrews. There has been an unusual amount of storms this year, there must be something witchy in the air. Sleepy-eyed I float towards Taste, grab a sandwich and a coffee, and head to meet my friend outside of the St Andrews Heritage Museum. Strangely, after three years of walking past it, this is my first time ever taking a peek inside the quaint museum tucked at the end of North Street. The door frame is low (or maybe I am tall), so I stoop forwards and head inside. Feeling slightly as if transported back in time, my eyes sweep around the small eclectic space. The old wooden furniture stands proud, holding artefacts of a St Andrews that existed long before DRA and the Eden Campus were even plans on paper. I head up the creaking wooden stairs, careful of my own space within this delicate building. There is a tartan-clad table in the middle of the room with books sprawled across it as people take the time to stop and read and breathe on this Saturday morning. More than just books are on offer. There are several rare golf magazines, dating back to St Andrews Open Championships of years ago as well as a collection of old print photographs from areas around East Fife and St Andrews. The books range from local texts and historical records as well as books about music, art, and more. This place is certainly a haven for the literary or photographic trinket collector.

As a native Fifer studying in St Andrews – yes, we do exist – my eyes are drawn to a historical photography book produced by Fife County Council called ‘A Portrait of Fife.’ I snort to myself, assuming my tiny town that everyone forgets will definitely not feature in this 1910s perspective on Fife. Yet quickly proved wrong, there it is on the map. Saline Hill, a tiny dot in West Fife, clearly was the ‘big thing’ back in the day.  With that in mind, this book most definitely had to be mine. It felt a little bit like fate that I found it. The people browsing seemed to be having similar experiences, with my friend finding a book titled ‘The Music Masters: The Romantic Age’ by A. L. Bacharach which featured her favourite composer, Massenet. Two students opposite me, found an interesting comparison in the newspapers through the style of the old crosswords, noting how much easier they are to solve than their modern day counterparts. The room was full of imaginations being sparked by things outside of what we learn in lectures, readings, and seminars. It was great to see thoughts like that in our intensely intellectual town which sometimes narrows itself into limiting academic avenues.

 

 

There is something soothing about the smell of old books, the smell of discolouration, dried paper, and ink – and this attic room is imbued with that scent. Something about the reminder that these books were here long before us and are still intact puts my ‘sand grains in the hourglass, time is running out’ type of panic at rest. The sheer craftsmanship that goes into binding, printing, and gluing old books brings me back to a time where human effort was put into every small detail, right down to the shape of the full stops on the page. Each book is a time capsule, recording details of lives lived before our own. Each book is marked with an author’s name who we may not recognise but presumably will outlive the author’s physical presence in this world. The book I selected was inscribed on the inside with ‘R. M. Cormack, March 1959.’ Maybe this was the last owner of this book before the Heritage Museum and the inscription offers an insight into the history of the text and its previous owners. The staff were kind and informed, gave great advice, and clearly had a strong passion for the space and everything inside of it. The lady who took the donations thanked us kindly as we left. I paid £10 for my book – which I personally felt is a bit of a steal for an old book of that condition and variety. Very pleased with myself, I stepped out the door and back into 2024.

Walking out of the Heritage Museum jolted me with a sharp, cooling wind. Other students and local community members walked past me, desperate to get inside and see what was left to be claimed. Throughout the day, I noticed people with stacks of old books teetering their way through town, excited to add to their own little libraries. I really hope more of these pop-up events are coming, as it was great to get inside the building for the last time before its year-long closure for refurbishment and see what it has to offer, as well as take my own little piece of Fife history home with me.

 

Source: St Andrews Heritage Museum

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