Birmingham Bookworm’s Guide: Five Oldest and Rarest Items at Reed Books

Girl Stands in Room of Books
It’s hard to decide with all of these options! Photo by Lauren Moore for Bham Now

If you’re a book lover like me, stepping into Birmingham’s Reed Books feels like paradise. The shop is completely covered in books and memorabilia, giving it the alternate name “The Museum of Fond Memories.”

The store’s owner and founder Jim Reed has had his shop for nearly 40 years on 3rd Ave N in downtown Birmingham. In addition to running the shop, he is a speaker, author, publisher of the Birmingham Arts Journal and self-proclaimed teacher, always sharing his opinions on stories with a twinkle in his eye.

Reed Books also has an impressive collection of old books, some dating as far back as the 1400’s. However, it’s hard for Reed to pick just one favorite.

“I see my bookstore like an orphanage. These books are like my adopted children. Sure, I have favorites, but how could I choose one?”

Jim Reed

So, rather than choosing one, Reed shared with me five of his oldest favorites:

1. Greek/Latin Notebook

Greek Latin Notebook
This notebook was likely shared by two students. Photo by Lauren Moore for Bham Now

This small notebook contains notes taken in Greek in the first half and Latin in the second half. Experts estimate it dates to the 1400’s, but they cannot pin it’s exact date of make and use.

“These two hand writings are drastically different, so it’s likely the book was used by one student and then passed on to another,” Reed said.

Greek Latin Notebook
This book dates all the way back to the 1400’s and is still in one piece. Photo by Lauren Moore for Bham Now

As I run my fingertips over the smooth, faded pages, I can’t help but wonder who these students were and what their day-to-day lives might have been like 600 years ago. 

Price: $23,000

2. Latin Theology/Mythology Book

Latin Theology Mythology Book
If this book was once the second oldest in the state of Florida, what was the first? Photo by Lauren Moore for Bham Now

Published in 1579, this book covers ideas in Theology and Mythology in Latin.

According to the cover, it was published in Germany and then eventually became the second oldest book in the state of Florida. Reed recently acquired it from a convent.

Though the binding is faded and deteriorating, the paper of this book remains a crisp, white color due to having pages made of goatskin.

Thinking of the number of journeys this book must have made over the last 400 years to end up where it is today is mind-boggling.

Price: $9,000

3. Book of Common Prayer

Book of Common Prayer
This Book of Common Prayer was printed in 1846 and painted to reveal a secret image. Photo by Lauren Moore for Bham Now

This small, hardback book was printed in 1846. It is special because it has a for-edge painting.

Normally, the book seems to have gold-edged pages, but when you bend them slightly, a picture appears. This one reveals a painting of two figures and their dogs in a field.

“People would hire an artist to paint this hidden painting that only they could see,” Reed said. “It was something they would have made so that they could show it off to their friends.”

Items like this are a reminder that, even 200 years later, we’re all still guilty of buying something just because it looks cool or might impress our peers.  

Price: $2,500

4. Book of Hungarian Fairy Tales

Book of Hungarian Fairy Tales
Ever heard the Hungarian fairy tale of the Glass Man and the Golden Bird? Photo by Lauren Moore for Bham Now

From Budapest, this 1900 Hungarian book of fairy tales provides elaborate, colorful drawings that accompany children’s stories such as The Enchanted Cat, The Gold-Bearded Man and The Glass Man and the Golden Bird.

Though it is written in a language foreign to me, the striking pictures bring the stories to life, allowing me to try and fill in the plot holes myself. 

Price: $95

5. Kids’ Big Little Books

Big Little Kids Book
This Big Little book of Mickey Mouse paved the way for later comic books. Photo by Lauren Moore for Bham Now

Reed books also has a collection of Big Little Books, picture books for children that came before comic books. Made in the 1930’s, every page of the small, square books contains a written story with a corresponding comic-style drawing.

Kids could buy these stories of characters like Mickey Mouse for just a nickel. I’m sure they were just as thrilled as kids are today to later see characters from their books come to life on-screen.

Price: $25-195

Lauren Moore
Lauren Moore
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