Page 17 Stamp

Anyone who uses the Library of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters more than briefly will soon discover that its staff has a thing for page 17. Every book in that excellent library carries a stamp of ownership on that page.

Last night I was reading Frans G. Bengtsson’s 1947 essay collection För nöjes skull. A bit into his piece about Fagertärn, the little lake near Stjernsund whence the red pond liles once came, I found the stamp of the Saltsjöbaden Municipal Library — on page 17.

Is this secret tradition among librarians restricted to Sweden? To libraries of the 1940s and ones of today with long traditions? Dear Reader, please check any library books you have at hand, and if there’s an ownership stamp on page 17, tell us the name and location of the library.

Update 27 March: The page 17 thing must be pretty widespread. Only in the past three hours, at least three people have arrived here after googling “library stamp p. 17”, “why libraries stamp on page 17” and “book stamp p. 17”. Too bad they aren’t commenting.

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18 thoughts on “Page 17 Stamp

  1. The first page of the second “signature” (the group of pages formed by a single sheet)? Or is it always the page with 17 on it, no matter how things are paginated?


  2. Aha! That’s a good theory for how the custom originated. Maybe it was once a precaution for the eventuality that the first bunch of leaves might fall off. But the libraries I mentioned stamp the page numbered 17.


  3. My understanding is that libraries place the ownership stamp on an inside page to discourage theft, on the assumption that (1) it’s harder to locate if one is trying to remove it in a hurry, and (2) it’s a disincentive to tear out the page, since it’s got text that the thief presumably wants to read.


  4. Fall off, or be forcibly removed (at least partially). As the second Martin points out, you don’t want to put the stamp too early in the book, since it makes it a lot more likely that someone can cut out a page without anyone noticing.

    And with 16-page signatures, the page marked 17 is indeed guaranteed not to be in the first bunch no matter how much “preamble” the book has.

    And finally, having it on the same page makes it easier for the librarians to find it, of course.


  5. I have a few ex-library books on my shelves, all from local British libraries. They all have the ownership stamp on the title page! Nothing on page 17 or the 17th page. Shame.


  6. As a retired librarian in the US, I’m aware of several libraries that stamped a specific internal page of books, but none that used page 17. One public library stamped page 50, and a medical association library stamped page 42.


  7. Never heard of stamping a specific page before, and I never saw anything like that at KB. Libraries often come up with variations on the same theme, a mass of similar but ultimately different administrative procedures; I like it when libraries have their own funny little quirks.


  8. I once interviewed for a cataloguing post at Cambridge University Library, and there they explained the ‘procedure’ as, more or less, stamp the title page, any maps and a few places in the text at random. So, the nearest UL book I have to hand today duly has a stamp on the title page, the last page of the index and on p. 115. There may be others, I stopped paging once I found one… But I’ll bet some places have had tighter procedures than that, and if so, binding does mean that 17 would be a good page to pick.


  9. In computer science lore, 17 is a traditional “random” number, as in “Let’s consider a random value, say, 17. Now, if we plug 17 into …”. It’s a convenient exemplar since it’s prime, and small but still large enough to be useful in examples of an algorithm.

    I wonder what libraries do with publications less than 17 pages in length?


  10. In the 60s and 70s the New York City Board of Education used page 51 in textbooks and library books for the ownership stamp. The reason was theft reduction and tracing. I noticed that 51 is 3 x 17, but I doubt it’s because things were three times worse in NYC. My mother was a school teacher. She said it was sort of a trade secret. A professional thief might know about it, if it were worthwhile, but most thieves were the casual sort, and page 51 would serve as evidence. (Used bookstores, for example, would look for stamps there and refuse to fence them.)


  11. I wonder what libraries do with publications less than 17 pages in length?

    I think the librarian stares at them for a while, then madly stamps the space on his desk immediately to the right of the publication, and finally lies down with a migraine.


  12. If I don’t mistake, all Helsinki University libraries have traditionally stamped on page 66 – or 33, if there aren’t 66 pages existing. In the case of still thinner booklets I should make some further observations but page 16 or 17 might be possible.


  13. Mini-survey of two books, bought-off of my city-district library (Berlin-Friedrichshain, btw): ownership stamps (blue) on the inner title – plus red stamps for the sell-off, and on p. 19 second blue stamp.


  14. We used 46 as the “secret page” when I was a student working in the school library. Small town, rural Ohio, in the 1960’s. That seems to be a tradition with legs.


  15. Oh yeah. My dad did it too, used page 25 for exactly the same reason as already mentioned here: title page can be ripped out without any “harm” to the content and perhaps no one noticing it, but page 25…

    I have thus taken up this tradition…


  16. I’m from Sri Lanka and we also have this tradition: pages 19, 119, 219, so on… We have both seal and the accession number. Really enjoyed your discussion and acquired some insight too.


  17. Hi, I’m a librarian, and I just wanted to say that Martin R ir absolutely right. 🙂 Most of books consist of several “sections” (and every section usually is 16 pages). If the first section for some reason is lost, there still will be a stamp on the page 17.


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