Last week, he sent a message asking for help with book he was considering acquiring for his collection, a volume from 1877 he’d discovered on the Internet and had never heard of before. I did some research; No auction records, no copies in institutional libraries worldwide. It was a humdinger, unrecorded anywhere in this area of book collecting, a real find and exciting.
While looking into this book I discovered another volume by the same author, a short, twenty-five page treatise from 1867 significant, as I learned, as being one of the first, if not the first, reports on this subject. I told *** about it. Elated, he responded with a joyful jig choreographed in email. We made plans to get together this prior Saturday.
***’s office at home is four walls of books, floor to ceiling. To house the cream of his collection he converted the office closet into a secure vault with alarm system. Entering, it’s as if you’ve reached an inner sanctum, a holy of holies where only the priesthood is allowed to trod the sacred floor. I’m one of the few who’ve been invited inside. Per usual ceremony, I tonsured my pate, donned robes, and intoned a Gregorian chant as I stepped forth into the transcendent space.
At this juncture, I should point out that *** does not have a formal catalog of his collection, which now tops 1,000 volumes on his subject of passion. He’s been getting along by writing out, on legal pads, the name of each book, author, date of acquisition, where bought, and how much he paid. He keeps these legal pads, which now number more than he can recall, entombed within a safe in his office-office across town.
*** is bouncing off the walls with excitement. The book I told him about, he’s never heard of. He’s looked into buying a copy - only one currently on the market - and is on the cusp of writing a check for the $750 asking price. He can hardly wait to order the book and have it arrive.
So, *** is going though treasures in the vault acquired since my last visit. He shows me this, he shows me that and I maintain cool equanimity as each rarity is revealed.
The author feasting eyes on treasure in ***'s book vault.
Soon, he pulls out a handful of pamphlets from the shelves to show me the latest. It is then that he discovers that the book I found for him, the one he is over the moon about and on the verge of buying, he already owns, a prefect copy in the original glassine dust wrapper.
He looks at me, I look at him. Abashed, he ruefully shakes his head in the universal sign language symbol for What a dunce!
And then, he breaks out into a broad smile. He is now re-experiencing the joy of a new acquisition - even though it’s old. He’d forgotten about it. But now, it’s a brand new day with a brand new (old) book! He'd had some depressing personal issues of late but now they were swept away by sunny disposition secondary to the thrill of rediscovery.
*** felt indebted to me for saving him $750 simply by compelling him to go through his books so he invited me to join him in a cup of tea. I insisted on my own; I didn't think we'd both fit and, besides, the thought of sharing a caffeinated hot bath with *** was too much to bear no matter how big the cup or how much I liked him.
Tea's proper use is to amuse the idle, and relax the studious, and dilute the full meals of those who cannot use exercise, and will not use abstinence. - Samuel Johnson
You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. - C.S. Lewis.
There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea. - Bernard-Paul Heroux.
Particularly if the tea is herbal, made from sprigs of coca.
It may disappointing to learn that mate de coca did not turn me into Colonel Lipton on crack or a chattering Earl Grey with grinding teeth. Green tea is more stimulating. When I got home, I took a nap. An antihistamine would have excited the nerves more than this weak nasal decongestant in a tea bag.
By the way, even though there is not enough active alkaloid in the tea to dilate pupils much less cause intoxication and daffodil tea will make you daffier, these tea bags are illegal in the United States.
To sum up today’s rare book adventure:
1. Develop a close relationship with a trusted dealer. They have resources unavailable to the average collector. They can find things you didn’t know existed and provide valuable reference help.
2. Keep an accurate, detailed, easily referenced, and up-to-date catalog of your collection. It is impossible to keep track of every book you own without one, and costly mistakes can be avoided.
3. Enjoy teatime in separate cups.
4. Attn. rare book dealers: Never accept gifts from sixty-five year old book collectors that the DEA has issues with - the gifts, not the collectors. Though, if the DEA has issues with the collector it might be wise avoid afternoon high tea - or any other - time with the individual.
"That's All Folks!"