Book Inscriptions

When you read the book of a deceased author, you are essentially listening to the words of the dead.  Unless a book is extremely rare, the thoughts of a dead author are usually heard by many people.  However, if an old book has a personal inscription inside of it, then that dead person’s words may only ever reach a handful of people.  I have had the privilege of listening to the personal messages of the dead at work while sorting through approximately 9,000 old books in the past three years.  Not many of them have personal inscriptions inside of them, but the ones that do are always my favorite.  I would like to highlight a few of my finds.

Book #1: The Histories of Rabban Hormizd the Persian and Rabban Bar-‘Idta: The Syriac Texts Edited with English Translations by E. A. Wallis Budge (1902)

This book is volume 2, part 1 of a work originally written by two monks of the Church of the East who lived in northern Iraq in the 7th century A.D.  Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge edited and republished this work, along with an English translation of it, in 1902.  Budge was a curator of the ancient Assyrian and Egyptian antiquities of the British Museum in London from 1894 to 1924, which would have been during the time that this book was published. He allegedly wrote the inscription on this copy’s title page which says:

To Sir Reginald Wingate, from the editor and translator, with many sincere regards.

December 9. 1902.

Of course, after reading this inscription, I had to search and see who Sir Reginald Wingate was.  I learned that he served as the governor-general of Egypt and Sudan from 1899 to 1916, when both regions were under British control.  Sir Wallis Budge must have met him when he went on his many archaeological digs to Egypt and Sudan.  Note that both Budge and Wingate have the title “Sir,” meaning that they were both knighted.  However, Sir Budge was not knighted until after the publication of this book, in 1920, while Sir Wingate received his knighthood in 1900.

After looking more carefully at this book, I noticed that Sir Wingate had inserted a personal bookplate inside of it.  I also noted the name “Fr. Eshoo Paul Sayad” handwritten above it.  This latter name, which is clearly a modern Assyrian name, must have belonged to a later owner of the book.  Since I work at an Assyrian library, Fr. Eshoo Paul Sayad must be one of the links in the chain as to how this book eventually landed in Chicago.  The Ashurbanipal Library in Chicago received this book from England in 2020 as part of a donation of books belonging to the late Assyrian publisher, Youel Abraham Baaba. 

One final observation that I made regarding this book is its dedication page.  Not only did Sir Budge handwrite a dedication to Sir Wingate, but he officially published a dedication to him in volume 2, part 1 of The Histories of Rabban Hormizd the Persian and Rabban Bar-‘Idta

Book #2: Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and World by Mikhail Gorbachev (1987)

This next book was not necessarily inscribed by someone who is dead.  The inscription says:

I am really delightful to give my book to Ashurbanipal Library as a sign of my sincere love and great respect for its remarkable staff.  I love the Assyrian people and wish this great Nation every success.

Cordially yours,

Michael Gorbachev

Right after coup d’Etat failed, Aug. 22-91


When I first saw this inscription, I was shocked to see that the Soviet Union’s final leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, would have personally signed and donated his book to a small Assyrian library in Chicago.  However, after further inspection, the legitimacy of this book’s inscription came into question.  First of all, if you Google Mikhail Gorbachev’s handwriting, it looks nothing like the handwriting in this inscription.  Second, why would Gorbachev have signed a book using a red pen?  Third, why would he date the inscription in relation to a failed coup?  I do not believe that this book was really signed by Gorbachev, but also do not know why someone would forge this inscription in the book.  Perhaps it was a joke?

Book #3: The Complete History of Joseph the Patriarch Composed Poetically by Saint Ephraim the Syriac Doctor of the Church translated into modern Syriac by Reverend Samuel David (1925)

This is a modern Assyrian (Syriac) translation of an older Syriac work by Saint Ephrem the Syrian.  Saint Ephrem was a 4th century theologian from modern-day Turkey, and this book is about Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, from the Bible.  This modern translation of Saint Ephrem’s work was completed in 1925 by the Reverend Samuel David, a Chaldean Catholic priest from Iran who came to serve a church in Chicago in 1912.  A year before the publication of this book, Rev. David fought a court case to gain U.S. citizenship.  He was having trouble obtaining his citizenship, because people from Asia at that time were often denied U.S. citizenship.  Ultimately, Rev. David was able to convince the Court that Assyrians should not be racially labeled as “Asian” but as “white,” thus allowing Rev. David to gain U.S. citizenship.

In the front of this particular copy of Rev. David’s book, it appears as if he personally signed his name below his photo.  Below the signature is the word “Gavilan,” which is an Assyrian village in the region of Urmia in Iran, implying that Rev. David was from there.

Although Rev. David may have signed this book, it is also possible that it was actually signed by the mysterious man who wrote in the front and back of the book.  In the front of the book, at the top, the Syriac text says that Yukhanan De-Musheh (John Moses) purchased this book in Chicago on April 4, 1927.  The second Syriac inscription seems to mirror the English text below it.  The English text is as follows:


I was awfully sick on the 4th of April, 1928.  But I am awfully glad after I regained my health and being amused by girls.  This is April 4, 1929.

The additional inscriptions at the back of the book are ultimately my favorite, though.  The first part says the following:

I am in love.  I should have said I am love sick.  My intention is to get married.  But I wonder who is the lucky girl?  Oh boy!  I am expecting her to be as wonderful as myself.

John Moses

John Moses was obviously quite a character!  Whereas John Moses was quite arrogant, the next inscription displays the opposite sentiment.  It says:

I will never make up with my girl, because she is too good for me.


Both inscriptions show that people have not ultimately changed much in the past 100 years.  Were Paul and John Moses friends?  If yes, why do they both have the same handwriting?  Were the two young men writing notes to each other in class?  Although I find the inscriptions extremely entertaining, I also find them to be very mysterious.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what ever became of John Moses, and if he ever did marry.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my “Library Detective” post, in which I describe other interesting books that I have found at work.

Sources and Further Reading

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Sir Wallis Budge.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Invalid Date. (accessed August 14, 2021).

Ephraim. The Complete History of Joseph the Patriarch Composed Poetically by Saint Ephraim the Syriac Doctor of the Church. Translated by Samuel David. Chicago: 1925.

Gorbachev, Mikhail. Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World. New York: Harper & Row. 1987.

Hermiz, Joseph. “The United States v. Shmuil David (1924): Racializing Assyrians in Post-World War I America.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. Facebook, April 27, 2021. Video, 1:06:32. (accessed August 14, 2021).

Hormizd and Bar-‘Idta. The Histories of Rabban Hormizd the Persian and Rabban Bar-‘Idta. Edited by E. A. Wallis Budge. London: Luzac and Co., 1902.

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrians in Chicago. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001.

“War Office, March 18, 1900.” The London Gazette. March 13, 1900, 1709. (accessed August 14, 2021).


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