Douglas Adams—friend, book scout, bibliophile, and collector of literary forgeries—is having a mighty fine lunch break. We can imagine a burger or burrito hastily consumed to leave plenty of time for a scouting stop. Priorities in order. After a quick smoke, he steps into a run-down antique store on Westheimer Avenue in Houston, Texas, for a look around. It’s hot as hell outside and inside isn’t much better. You sweat so much in the humid air you think you’ve just been swimming. The building is older than much of the material within: furniture, rugs, paintings, household items, and smaller knick-knacks. An item almost missed in an overflowing display case draws our intrepid book scout. Almost is the key word because Douglas misses very little while on the hunt, and he is always on the hunt. This display case yields a real beauty—a find so rare and marvelous that the book’s acquisition is the kind of story swapped among bookmen for years to come. But first it must be bought. There is no price and a helpful lady at the store, glad to see something go, quotes $50. Douglas is so excited he forgets to bargain. He has to tell somebody and I’m lucky enough to get a phone call shortly afterwards.
“I just found something really good,” he says.
“What? Run of Playboys with centerfolds intact?”
“Nada. How about the first city directory of Houston, 1866, in original boards, with the map.”
There is a pause on my end as my mind kicks into high gear (I can hear my wife laughing while reading that). Early directories of major cities are highly sought-after and normally expensive. They’re also rare because they were thrown away over the years like old phone books. The information found within such directories—people, businesses, the advertisements, etc.—is all primary source material for historians and the curious. In this instance, the book itself is a treasured relic from the embryonic beginnings of a burgeoning metropolis now over two million strong.
“Damn,” I reply, “that is a good one.”
“What do you think it’s worth?”
“More than $50. How about I double your money right now? Heck, I’ll even throw in free pick up.”
He ungraciously turns down my offer and emphasizes the rejection with a colorful expletive.