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Turning the pages of Quaker history

Hopkinton booksellers keep huge stock of writings

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Nancy and David Haines, as the owners of Vintage Books in Hopkinton, are among the world’s largest dealers of works by and about Quakers.

Nancy and David Haines run Vintage Books from a handsome, tan clapboard barn next to their 1818 red-brick farmhouse on Hopkinton’s Hayden Rowe Street.

Though their 35,000 used volumes range across topics, the Haineses are one of the world’s largest dealers of books by and about Quakers.

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“It’s quite a mess up there,’’ Nancy said as David climbed upstairs in the barn, where most of their 6,000 volumes of Quaker-related books are stored. The loud “thunk’’ of a pile hitting the floor punctuated her words.

The Haineses didn’t set out to become a clearinghouse for Quaker history. David was raised as a member of the Religious Society of Friends, as Quakers are formally known, in Indiana. When Nancy walked into her first Quaker meeting as an adult, she said, “I felt like I was home.’’

Today the writings of early Quakerism - emphasizing women’s equality, peace, eradicating slavery, and speaking truth to power - resonate and help shape modern discourse.

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David Haines also teaches chemistry at Wellesley College. Nancy, originally from Virginia, is retired from a career as an industrial engineer. They met at a Quaker meeting in Silver Spring, Md., in 1986 when David was on sabbatical from Wellesley, working in nearby Washington, D.C., for the National Cancer Institute.

Some of the volumes piled or shelved upstairs in the barn - and some cherished volumes, papers, and handbills in the house - are the only copies in existence. Some are 300 years old or more.

‘It never occurred to me that you would sell books. If you had books, you just kept them.’

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During the years of their book buying, which David started before they met, they picked up Quaker volumes here and there. David prizes books that have been signed by Quaker families as they passed through generations, books with authors’ handwriting from centuries ago.

“It gives them meaning beyond just the content,’’ he said.

But like the many purveyors of new books that have been squeezed out by the Internet, so too are used-book sellers struggling. Nancy can cite several stores in the region that have closed recently. In Framingham, Annie’s Book Stop closed this year.

Could Vintage Books, she asked, be part of the last generation of booksellers?

“It’s anybody’s guess,’’ she said.

The speed with which electronic screens have replaced paper has been the subject of serious discussion among members of the Massachusetts & Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers. Shipping warehouses have replaced high-rent retail locations.

“If you ask any person who runs a bookstore if they could have anticipated any of the changes that have happened in the last 25 years, they would have said, ‘No way,’ ’’ said Peter Masi, the booksellers association’s president. He wonders whether in as few as 20 years there will be any used-book stores left.

David remembers his first trip to an antiquarian bookstore in the Midwest 30 years ago.

“It never occurred to me that you would sell books,’’ he said. “If you had books, you just kept them.’’

He began collecting books a few at a time. In 1987, the newly married couple returned to Wellesley by way of Bar Harbor, Maine, making a tour of Route 1 bookshops, collecting the volumes for what would be the first Vintage Books, a general-interest bookstore in downtown Framingham in 1988.

There was no Amazon.com. The idea of a World Wide Web that would change commerce, communication, and governments within 20 years was unknown outside rarefied military and scientific circles.

The couple closed their Framingham store in 1993, and they now sell books over the Internet or from their Hopkinton barn, which is usually open for business, as their website (www.vintagequakerbooks.com) says, Tuesday to Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m.

Books on every topic fill the barn’s downstairs shelves. Politics, poetry, suspense, sports, the lives of the great, the ordinary, and the imaginary wait beside a rocking chair and in quiet corners.

Near a door to their house, a 9-by-12 framed handbill from Colonial times endears itself to Nancy for the phrase, “The Lord Shall give the Word. Great is the Army of the Women Publishers.’’

David treasures a Quaker broadside sent from England after the hanging of Mary Dyer on Boston Common in 1660, titled “To New England’s Pretended Christians, Who Contrary to Christ, Have Destroyed the Lives of Men.’’ Dyer was hanged after returning to Puritan Boston from Rhode Island yet again after being banished from the community three times for being a Quaker, David said. Her crime: Grievously and publicly sinning by trying to preach in violation of a ban against the sect.

Quakerism was started by George Fox around 1650 in England. Much of the information about those early days was published two years after Fox’s death in his collected journals.

According to the journals and a 2008 biography, “George Fox: A Christian Mystic,’’ by Kenyan Hugh McGregor Ross, Fox was a brilliant young man. But he disapproved of his colleagues’ drinking “debates.’’ Fox, his journals say, briefly sided with other dissenters to the Church of England, but split with them when they insisted that women, children, and slaves had no souls.

Fox came to believe, and Quakers still believe, that God dwells directly in people and everywhere. There is no need for a church bureaucracy or buildings. These beliefs, recorded in his journal during intense spiritual reflection in the late 1640s, are among the basic tenets of Quakerism.

There are Quaker meeting houses in several area communities, including Framingham and Wellesley, as well as Boston and Cambridge. The services are not led by a preacher; rather, Quakers sit silently until someone feels they have something to say.

Nancy and David married by reciting vows to each other. Another member of the Religious Society of Friends acted as clerk and recorded the documents.

In 1996’s “First among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism,’’ author H. Larry Ingle described how the religious sect gathered force in mid-17th-century England and became a threat to the traditional church institution.

Tithes to the church supported the government. Church members fought in the military. Fox’s views that the church bureaucracy was unnecessary, and that war was wrong were radical. They challenged not just theology, but society’s organization.

So Fox, and most early followers, spent time in English jails. The story has several tellings, Fox’s own in his journal, but in one version of a sentencing at Derby in 1650, a judge asked Fox, who bowed to no one but God, to remove his hat. Quoting the Bible, Fox told the judge to tremble before God. The judge called Fox a “quaker’’ before throwing him in jail. Rather than taking insult, Fox took it as a name.

David Haines said he suspects there will always be a market for historic Quaker papers, such as a journal of Fox’s writings that was compiled by his followers and published 316 years ago.

Nancy Haines, who is revisiting each book on their store’s general-reading shelves after a recent computer failure, is more a champion of the everyday. She said she sees the Quaker books “almost as a ministry.’’

As a customer rang up an armful of books on a recent afternoon, Nancy asked whether she had found what she wanted. The woman said she wasn’t after anything particular, just some Christmas presents.

That’s what their store offers, Nancy said: “The serendipity of finding what you didn’t know you wanted.’’

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