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Bookshop owner cherishes early Stanford ‘Quad’

Yearbooks bring Stanford’s founding to life

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012 3:11 pm | Updated: 3:15 pm, Thu Mar 1, 2012.

The inside cover reveals Mary Louise Pitcher received the book in May 1894. In refined cursive with flourishes on all the right letters, someone has written L.S.J.U. On a ticket floating in the book, she’s signed her name on a form promising to take only one copy of Leland Stanford Junior University’s inaugural issue of “The Stanford Quad.”

More than 120 years after the founding of one of the nation’s premier universities, its first four yearbooks, each known as “The Stanford Quad,” are tucked away in the store window of Main Street’s Ocean Books.

The yearbooks convey the early culture of a sophisticated but quirky and fun-loving university, an institution ahead of its time. While the university was founded in 1891, it took four years for students at the new school to marshal resources to produce a first yearbook.

The book’s journey to Main Street is only partially known. Storeowner Madeleine Saussotte went to a friend’s home last year to look through a vast collection of books. John Pogue, who had served in World War II with her father, had died, and his wife, Pat Pogue, invited her to take what she wanted of the collection.

“My eyes fell out when I saw the date,” Saussotte said. Carefully stored in a mahogany bookcase in the Pogue’s home in nearby Palo Alto’s “Professorville,” Saussotte found John Pogue’s collection of yearbooks. She soon uncovered other Stanford history, like poetry collections and six or seven books by Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, on education and building an institution of learning.

Stanford Archivist Daniel Hartwig said he wasn’t sure if the inaugural yearbooks were particularly rare or valuable. Hartwig reckons there were likely between 400 and 500 students in the 1891 class, so, at one point, there were at least that many yearbooks of roughly that vintage in circulation. Google Books has recently made available to the public scanned copies of these early yearbooks.

Bell’s Books in Palo Alto often hears of people looking for old Stanford yearbooks, a store employee said. While the bookstore occasionally gets them in, the vintage yearbooks sell quickly. Feldman’s Books in Menlo Park currently has three volumes from the 1940s and 1950s.

People likewise turn to the Internet for rare yearbooks. A search on Bookfinder.com turns up an 1895 copy on sale for $253. An 1898 Stanford yearbook is listed on Ebay for $200. Amazon has a few 19th-century Stanford yearbooks for sale as well, some for as little as $85.

Saussotte has set the price of her four yearbooks at $950.

One way to honor a book, she said, is to price it according to its value. While the four books are for sale, Saussotte admits a pang of dread anytime a visitor to her store takes an interest in her beloved yearbooks.

“When people show an interest, part of me says, don’t buy it!” she said. Still, Saussotte thumbs through the tomes wondering who will end up with them. The Palo Alto native grew up in a Professorville home, attending events at Stanford and even dating one of the school’s football captains in the early 1960s.

“I so wanted to go there,” she said. Though her grades were good, Saussotte says, at the time, the university didn’t like to admit applicants from Palo Alto, so she ended up at Santa Clara University.

“These guys look elite,” she said one afternoon this week while turning through the pages behind the counter of her shop. “But also almost dazed … like playboys,” she said. There’s an “ethereal quality,” she clarified.

An editorial in the front of the 1895 yearbook says the publication fills a peculiar place in college life.

“It combines in one volume a complete record of university affairs, literary, social and athletic, connected by the best artistic sense of the university,” the editorial reads. Like the yearbooks that would come after, the first issue of “The Stanford Quad” is filled with photos of students, blurbs from clubs and inside jokes. But the thick, yellowed pages of these early volumes are also filled with poetry and delicate sketches. The bindings are hand-stitched.

While Stanford has undoubtedly changed over the last 120 or so years, the books convey a nostalgia that any modern-day high school or college yearbook shares. In a poem called “A Retrospect” Carolus Ager writes:

“Dear chum of mine, do you recall/When college had begun/The gladness of that glorious fall/And how we spent the ’mon’?/The days of cheer, the days of beer, The days of ’91.”

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