Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands. Like Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars when he blows up the Death Star using the Force to guide him.
This juxtaposition of science fiction and book hunting will become clear soon. It all started after a very late night of Ebay searching followed by a chaser of Star Wars. I grogged off in the recliner and didn’t awake until morning when my wife Nicole rattled me from my slumber.
It is Saturday morning so no rush. I began breakfast and leisurely checked my email. There was a notification from Ebay about an item ending soon. My find from the night before was being offered at live auction by the National Book Auctions of Freeville, New York. The book was an inscribed copy of Barton Currie’s Fishers of Books (1931), an autobiographical account of his collecting during the Roaring Twenties, and one of my favorite books. (See my earlier blog posts about Currie.) The cataloguer could not make out the name of the recipient because of Currie’s rather difficult handwriting but was kind enough to post a photo of the inscription. I deciphered it and got that bookish tingle of excitement that stirs the dopamine levels. My natural high shot to nerve-jangling heights when I clicked on the auction link and found out the auction was already in process! The Currie lot would be coming up within the half hour.
I was disconcerted to say the least. The burnt smell of my now forgotten bagels lingered in the air. In my space fog the night before, I’d not only whiffed on the urgency of the situation but also forgotten to submit an absentee / snipe bid. The only option left was to bid manually online during the actual auction. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d bid at auction in some sort of live fashion—either in person, phone, or online. I’d grown soft and lazy utilizing snipe programs or absentee bids. A bead of sweat formed and I imagined a book hunting Darth Vader swooping in from who knows where to blast me out of the auction sky.
“Get a grip on yourself,” I whispered. “This isn’t like you’re trying to knock down a Gutenberg Bible against Bill Gates.”
So, I made my run through that metaphorical canyon of the Death Star, my targeting computer off, the thought of a last minute internet crash pushed from my mind, and the Force strong as my lot came up and I opened the bid. Resistance was immediate from a Stormtrooping floor bidder. I kept firing away –click, click, click – until I had vaporized this unknown assailant and the book was mine!
“Not today, you bastard,” I yelled, “Not today.”
“Everything okay in there?” my wife said from the other room.
“All is very fine, very fine indeed.”
A moment of silence -- “What did you just buy?”
A week later what I bought was in hand. The presentation copy of Fishers of Books reads, “Inscribed for John C. Eckel, to whom I am indebted for some of the more fortunate adventures that have occurred in the course of my book hunting. Barton Currie, Nov. 11, 31.”
John C. Eckel, noted Dickens bibliographer, collector, and fellow Philadelphian, was a close friend and mentor of Currie. Currie, inspired by Eckel, developed a strong Dickens collection and features it prominently in the book. Currie mentions Eckel and his writings numerous times in connection with Dickens and recommends his bibliography. Currie writes, “Even though you begin at the very bottom with a first edition (the book, not the parts) of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, hunt industriously until you discover a fine copy. Before making this modest purchase, buy a copy of First Editions of Charles Dickens, by John C. Eckel (London: 1913), and seek also for the Grolier Club Catalogue of the Works of Charles Dickens. Absorb all you can from these two valuable guides, then hit the trail” (p. 55).
Eckel’s bibliography First Editions of Charles Dickens, first published in 1913 was revised in 1932. Eckel also wrote Prime Pickwick in Parts (1928) with an introduction by A. Edward Newton, a close friend of both Eckel and Currie.
Eckel maintained regular contact with many members of the book trade including prominent Philadelphia dealers A.S.W. Rosenbach and Charles Sessler. He cited numerous other dealers and collectors for their help on both the first and revised editions of the bibliography. The majority of Eckel’s library was sold by Anderson Galleries on Jan. 15-16, 1935 and scattered to the winds.
In short, Eckel’s position of prominence and respect in the rarified book world of his time makes this an important association copy: not only sentimental for the friendship it highlights but also for its broader appeal as an important artifact in the history of American book collecting.
Now back in the present, a number of my friends have recommended I see the latest Star Wars spin-off Rogue One. A excellent suggestion but you better believe I’ll be checking any potential auction bids closely before heading to the movie theater.