Monday, January 28, 2019

A Moving Experience

The smell and feel and heft of books, time to move, only a mile away, the same neighborhood, and unexpectedly a new home called to us and we answered, empty nesters now, this an updated home with more room, better views, but what of the books some 7,000 strong, overflowing the old house’s master bedroom, the former kids’ rooms, the game room, the half bath, and closets and I couldn’t let movers touch them, no sir, and I’m still twenty-something mentally and I will move them myself, all of them, and it will be fun and a fine workout but time waits for no man, and I pack, and arrange, and lift, and push forward and the steep stairs push back and thirty boxes turns to three hundred and damnit my huge bottle of ibuprofen is the only thing separating me from incapacity and hospitalization but it’s worth it I swear to myself and each packed box tingles and thrills as thirty years of closely curated finds reveal themselves once again and I can’t remember them all but I do rediscover most as they fill my hands and I pause over and over to dip and touch and recall finds hiding in top shelves of bookstores, dealer catalogues, auction houses, and a furniture store, and I remember friends and acquaintances, a world of rare book hunters, some still close and others gone until Book Valhalla’s reunion and sadness and happiness as memories flow and I realize my book centered life is a people centered life and immersion in books can be almost overwhelming at times, almost, and I think about this as my breath is short and my dolly creaks under a stack of boxes, and I figure out even as a liberal arts major how to engineer 27 boxes in my Korean-born SUV, the rear tailgate not quite secure, but again I rationalize I’m only a mile away to the new house and I dodge youngsters playing in the street and wonder if they’ll even know what a book is as sweat drips and my sight is blurred and I barely miss my octogenarian neighbor walking his hot dog and I realize I almost took out one of the old school readers who may not know a rare book from a paperback but he knows a book and I coast gingerly into our new expansive driveway hoping not to shake a binding or twerk a fragile, wrappered copy, and this is only the delivery part and does not include my new expertise at assembling IKEA bookshelves that take the place of those dreamed of custom shelves that somehow never happen as the extra money goes to books and not to shelves and my priorities of a collector bubble up and I think fleetingly of the exotic sports car that could have been mine had my tastes not run to books and then I’m okay because someday I might sell some of these books and buy a sports car which is as likely as a unicorn, but the sun is shining, the air pure, and it balms the spirit as I precariously balance wants and needs and how my mind does wander when hot and tired and then it’s time to carry those boxes gently and lovingly up that damn flight of steep stairs to the new game room that is now properly a library and then the idea to put everything in alphabetical order worms into my brain like mad cow disease and instead of a couple weeks of moving it becomes a couple of months, and the organization takes the form of dozens of stacks and piles and temporary shelves and god knows what saturate my full mind as the mass is organized and all else is forgotten and the spouse wonders what sanity is left and I pause long enough to give that boyish look that is both cute and exasperating to the loved one and more time is granted for the folly and glory of a book person at full intensity, and miraculously order emerges, despite pause after delightful pause, and my reflexes sharpen as I ninja to keep half shelves from falling over and any book baby that is fragile is given extra attention and I realize more dust jacket and mylar covers are needed and this proposed task is daunting but the idea warms like the bourbon and Coke being sipped from my thermos, not to hide the drink but because it leaves no rings on books or shelves, and as my new library takes shape, the pain, the mental juggling, those pleasant distractions of work and family, melt away leaving a glorious ensemble of bookish delights to surround, fortify, please, intrigue, and sooth, each tome a person reaching from finality, and I grasp carefully one close and dip again or anew, and my biceps are taut as youth, and I can’t await my first book visitors to the new home and as this passionate thought provides stimulation, I notice, forlornly, that available shelf space in the new home is not what I had hoped and I worry once again, but it passes and somehow, I’m ready for more and no one is surprised.

The Upstairs Library
The Master Bedroom Library

Visitors this month.  Move it and they will come.

Very Fine collectors Bill Fisher & Douglas Adams with The Batman (and me)
Kevin Mac Donnell, Mighty Twain Collector & Scholar (and noted Dealer)

Old friend & former colleague Richard Austin, Director of Books & MSS at Sotheby's NY.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Featured Item VIII: The Zamorano 80. Food, Fellowship & Books

THE ZAMORANO 80: A SELECTION OF DISTINGUISHED CALIFORNIA BOOKS MADE BY MEMBERS OF THE ZAMORANO CLUB.  Los Angeles: The Zamorano Club, 1945. Foreword by Homer D. Crotty.  x [1] 66 p. Folding frontis., plates.  8vo. Rust brown cloth, front cover and spine stamped in gilt, dust jacket. Limitation: No. 190 of 500.

Inscribed, “For Crosby Gaige, fellow explorer in the realms of typographia and culinariana, with warm regards. Phil Townsend Hanna, June 17, 1946.”
                The selection committee consisted of Phil Hanna (1896-1957), whose earlier work, Libros Californianos, or Five Feet of California Books, served as inspiration, Leslie E. Bliss, Robert E. Cowan, Henry R. Wagner, J. Gregg Layne, Robert J. Woods and Robert G. Cleland.  Homer D. Crotty was the “moderator.” He recounts the somewhat contentious selection process in the foreword.  It took the men a flurry of list making, lively discussions, and two full-fledged dinners to hash out the final eighty selections.  One hundred titles had been the goal but better eighty heartily agreed upon then one hundred that would include lukewarm choices.
                Presentation copies of this influential book are scarce.  The recipient, Crosby Gaige (1882-1949), was a prominent book collector who made a fortune as a Broadway producer during the Twenties only to lose all of it in the Depression.  He also published a number of distinguished literary limited editions via his Watch Hill Press.  In the 1930s and 40s he became known for his writings on fine foods and wine.  He and Hanna shared a common interest in the culinary arts as well as books.  Each formed large cookbook collections.  Gaige was president of the New York Wine and Food Society and Hanna secretary of the Wine & Food Society of Los Angeles.
Gaige’s now mostly forgotten autobiography Footlights and Highlights (1948) is a surprisingly fine read (ghost written by bookman John Tebbel) but devotes only one chapter to his collecting and publishing. David Randall in Dukedom Large Enough recounts how he acquired and sold Gaige’s book collection, a story not without adventure and tribulations.  Randall notes that “the reason Gaige stored his library was to keep this asset from his creditors, as I found out when I tried to sell it.”

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Untrodden Paths in Book Collecting

A recent visit from collector and bookseller Kevin Mac Donnell resulted in a wide-ranging conversation meandering down many paths including an untrodden one.  His recollection of my brief book collecting guide written over two decades ago gave me pause.  The essay originally appeared in the February 1997 issue of Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine.   I had forgotten all about it.  I wrote the piece while working at Butterfield & Butterfield auction house.  My effort was inspired by a combination of sorting thousands of estate sale books, a particularly encouraging book department staff, and a then recent reading of New Paths in Book Collecting (1934).  My guide was surprisingly never reprinted, nor has it been available online.  A re-awakened combination of guilt and angst over this situation calls for rectitude.  Who am I to be so selfish, to hoard such knowledge from the greater book world, to prevent future collectors from drawing on the bonanza of my experience?  So, here it is as written with the original illustrations.  Timeless wisdom needs no revision.