Friday, July 19, 2013

Maxfield Parrish Didn't Like Book Collecting

by Stephen J. Gertz

"I have steered clear of book collecting always, seeing the ravaging results on some of my friends, and I wouldn't know a first edition from subsequent ones..."

So wrote the great book, etc., illustrator, Maxfield Parrish, in his distinctive script on both sides of a 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 card, to collector and printer Edward L. Stone (1864-1938) on December 15, 1930, from Windsor, Vermont (later home to J.D. Salinger). Stone was instrumental in the Library of Congress acquiring the copy of the Gutenberg Bible on vellum from the Benedictine Monastery of St. Paul, Carinthia, Austria. Parrish, responding to a letter from Stone, commented on the bible, and then book collecting in general. Parrish collected manuscripts but avoided books:

I have a friend & neighbor who is having a room built for his great collection. He takes out a book as though it were a new baby, his eyes glisten and voices are hushed as in a museum. Were it the MSS I would understand, but it is just one of many printed at the time, albeit a fine job and hard to get and expensive to own. I wouldn't want to get that way. I almost got four with George Washington's signature in them, but luckily was willed a fine Saray Highboy instead, though it ought to be in a museum instead of up here in the New Hampshire hills.

We have no idea what four books signed by George Washington Parrish refers to but I suspect that readers may be salivating, as I am, at the thought of possessing them. I have no idea what the market is for a Saray highboy but the signed Washington books must surely exceed it in value.

Stone, an avid book collector, replied to Parrish, an avid hobby machinist, on January 16, 1931, mentioning the Gutenberg Bible exhibit at the LOC,  printer and book designer, Bruce Rogers (1870-1957), and printer Billy Budge,  an "old-timer," according to the Typographical Journal in 1902, working in Chicago. He also defends the collection of books:

On permanent exhibition in a magnificent mahogany case in the Library of Congress, I imagine it will be of continued interest to a ledge percentage of the people who visit the Library‚ as I feel sure you would enjoy not only this particular copy of the Bible, but the seventeen hundred Fifteenth Century books, which will remain on exhibition for some months.

I have forgotten whether I sent you one of the little booklets which Billy Budge printed for me - "All Hope Abandon - Ye Who Enter Here." If not, I will be glad to send you a copy. Maybe this might ease your pain about not being a book collector. But in my sixty six years I have found nothing to take its place - nothing comparable, but, of course, there are many things I have not tried and know nothing about, but I know of people who have interests of all sorts and collectors who are crazy about everything from stamps to colonial antique furniture, paintings, etchings, and everything imaginable. I think it's a fine thing for anyone to get thoroughly interested in a given thing and know all about it that they can possibly find out. You know someone has said: 'There is more o know about an electron than the mind of any one man can contain.' So whether it be in four-leaf clovers or whatnot, there is great enjoyment, just as there must be in your hobby of machines, mechanics or in models of ships, as was Bruce Rogers.

It is easy for me to understand the thrill that you would get from collecting manuscripts, but such a hobby would be a little too much for me, although I have a few manuscript Books of Hours, the works of some of the old writers and scribes, and they all give me a great thrill. Only the other day I found in a little volume of Ovid the signature of 'Robert Browning, Venice 1878." And although I am not collecting autographs or inscriptions, they certainly do add to the pleasure and particularly if they are accompanied by a sentiment or have some special association. Just as there is a bit of pleasure in having a book printed in Leyden, 1616, by William Brewster before he sailed on the Mayflower, although the subject is not intriguing - Cartwright's 'Commentaries of Solomon.' One of my manuscript books dates back to 1330, quite old for me to own…

Last June I was in John Byland's library where they have twelve hundred manuscript books, and to look at a showcase full of them ne could easily imagine viewing a jewelry case with the wonderful illuminated goldwork, wonderful floral designs and other decorations…

I have only one George Washingon signature, one of Patrick Henry and William Blake. I suspect I have many others that I have not mentally catalogued."

Edward Lee Stone, author of a Book-Lover's Bouquet (1931) and The Great Gutenberg Bible (1930) was born in Liberty, Virginia (now known as Bedford, VA). After working for John P. Bell's printing company, Stone was promoted and eventually took over the business. He became a wealthy and prominent citizen of Roanoake, VA through his business, the Stone Printing and Manufacturing Company. His wealth went a long way in helping the LOC buying the Gutenberg from Benedictine Monastery of St. Paul.

The Parrish letter and Stone's three-page typed response are being offered by PBA Galleries in their Historic Autographs and Manuscripts With Archival Material sale, July 25, 2013. It is estimated to sell for $700-$1000.

Image courtesy of PBA Galleries, with our thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email