Monday, July 29, 2019

Serendipity to Booked Up: An Associative Mailing Label



For the past seven years the heavy box has held miscellaneous issues of The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America.  The material falls within my collection’s gray area: worth keeping and dipping into for reading / reference but not worth taking up shelf space.  So occasionally the box and others containing similar material get shuffled around for one reason or another.   Today was such a day.  Sweaty, hot work in the attic.  A pause and wipe of the brow and a glance at the label on the box.  Lo, we have something here!
                The mailing label is addressed from Peter B. Howard (d. 2011), iconic rare bookman in Berkley, California to Larry McMurtry at his store Booked Up in Archer City, Texas.   What the box originally contained is unknown.  I utilized the box among others to pack my winnings after the McMurtry auction of stock in 2012.
                This unusual association item brought back memories.   I spent time with the idiosyncratic and brilliant bookseller Peter Howard during several visits to his shop, Serendipity Books. He was a prime driver over four decades of modern literature collecting, both books and archives, issuing catalogues and developing major collections.  Larry McMurtry I know less well but I enjoyed a couple of entertaining discussions with him, particularly at the well-publicized 2012 auction of an estimated 300,000 volumes of stock from his sprawling book emporium in Archer City.  Illness issues and a lack of a book heirs drove his decision to sell.  He continues as a bookseller but in a much more streamlined mode.  McMurtry is most famous as a writer but he has bought and sold used and rare books in huge gulps over an extended career as bookseller and book scout.   I’ve written previously about both men in the essays linked below.
                The mailing label deserves preservation.  It represents two well-known American bookmen plying their trade.  It conjures the imagination of the exchange. It’s ephemeral and displays well.  And if one adds historical perspective, how many similar associative labels from years ago survive?  But I’m not here to provide justification only a few thoughts.  I carefully remove the label and place it in a mylar sleeve, a story to a share.


Peter Howard Post

Larry McMurtry Post

Monday, July 22, 2019

Stoic if Not Muscular: A New Path in Bookseller Descriptions



Often it is best to finish one’s cataloging before  beginning Happy Hour.  A bookseller friend brought these descriptions to my attention.  The dealer is fortunate to possess two copies of W. L. Distant’s A Naturalist in the Transvaal. (London: R. H. Porter, 1892).  Each copy has its own merits and so both have been separately described.  The descriptions utilize verbiage seldom, if ever, encountered in rare book cataloging. Whether this New School will take hold and invigorate the staid descriptive processes of the Classic Model remains to be seen.  Let me share them now for your enjoyment and edification.  Cheers!

Copy One
Hardcover. Condition: Fair. No Jacket. 1st Edition. This enthusiastic, energetic book is generally in fair condition. The colour plates - all complete - are startlingly fresh, detailed and vibrant. The binding is stoic if not muscular. The cloth cover has been age and storage marked and worn. There are many wear marks to the extremities. The back cover is much marked by storage. The spine is also worn and has pull depressions to the head and foot. The front and end papers are much discoloured by age. The seams to the spine are cracked through to the stitching. However, although pliable the binding is holding pages firmly. The paper trim edges are marked by storage and age. The condition of this vigorous and wonderfully entertaining and informative book inside is complete, clear and clean of annotations. Page 127 has a triangular page edge tear. There are aged marks along the binding edges throughout the book. The body of the text though is clean.

Copy Two
Hardcover. Condition: Very Good. No Jacket. First Edition. 277 pages plus five coloured plates (complete). A pleasingly comfortable copy. The boards have some shelving wear about the edges and corners, some scuffing, storage marks. The spine is sunned and rubbed from handling, there is wear to the head and foot. The seams are worn,but have been repaired. The gilt titling is placid. The illustration is clear and evocative. Within, the contents are agreeable. The frontispage (tanned) has a previous owner signature. There are some few age-related marks and spots fore and aft. Otherwise, the contents are clean, clear, certain, confident, congenial, conscientious, fresh-faced, gratifyingly healthy.


Run! The Book Description Police are Here!

Friday, July 19, 2019

We Are Many


I’ve been collecting Latin American Literature for thirty years and I like to keep an eye on the market.  An ABE online want notifies me of signed Pablo Neruda items.  A purportedly inscribed copy of We Are Many (London: Cape Goliard Press, 1967) popped up for sale the other day.  The bookseller was in England and the price ca. 250 US.  Quite a deal if true. But alas, the inscription is a facsimile found with all copies in wrappers.  The front wrapper and reproduced inscription on the rear wrapper is as follows:

Rear wrapper facsimile

I took a minute to send a friendly note letting the bookseller know it was a facsimile.  I expected no reply.  However, I got one in short order.  The bookseller wrote:

Hello Kurt,
Thank you very much for your contact overnight via Abe – and your helpful advice re facsimile text on the rear cover of the 1967 Cape Goliard 1st edition of the above book. Very timely. I have received an overnight order for this item from a customer in CA 91730 and I will mention my omission of the facsimile nature of the text to him before concluding the sale.

I was appreciative of the response and glad to help.  However, not only was the book mistakenly described but also someone in California ordered the book looking for a bargain and apparently was as na├»ve as the bookseller.  This got me thinking about the whole scenario.  How does a bookseller mis-identify an item and then top that off by massively under-pricing it under the assumption it is authentic?  How does a buyer (collector or dealer, presumably?) plunk down a quick $250 on an item without doing a little homework of their own?  Are there lessons to learn here?   

I pulled up available copies of the English edition of We are Many to see if other booksellers mentioned the facsimile inscription.  The wrappered issue was printed in an edition of 1,400 copies so the book is fairly common.  The US edition published the following year is of similar design and has the facsimile inscription.  There are approximately twenty-five copies of the various issues present.  A copy like the one offered by the mistaken bookseller can be had for $25-50. 

Presumably, you’d be an excited bookseller to find an inscribed Neruda item.  You’re not going to dartboard a price.  You’d hopefully take a bit of time to search for comparables, right?  You run the same online search as I did or some version of it.  A couple of sellers mention the facsimile inscription.  One copy appears early in the list when sorted by price ($19) and the description clearly states “There is a print of a signed note in English - in Neruda's handwriting - to Ted Hughes, on back cover. 

The bookseller disappointment would now be palpable and understandable.  Typically, this would result in the book being placed back in the general bin or cataloged at a modest price.  But somehow, this doesn’t occur, and the bookseller begins to formulate a price assuming the inscription is authentic.

 If one takes a few seconds longer and scrolls down through available copies they will encounter another issue of the book in hardcover limited to 100 copies signed by Neruda and the translator.  Now there’s a book! -- or relatively speaking at least in comparison to the regular unsigned, wrappered issue.  Multiple copies of this signed issue are available for $1,000 +.  It is not rare, but it is expensive.   

The bookseller holds in his / her hands an example in wrappers with an apparently unique inscription mentioning Ted Hughes, etc. and can see (or should) that the basic signed, limited edition goes for over $1,000.   And they somehow arrive at a price of $250.

But all is not on the bookseller.  The buyer also apparently didn’t take a minute to investigate this bargain.  Do they really trust that the bookseller’s description is sound when the item has been woefully underpriced?  Are they a beginning collector who has not studied their area of interest? Or are they a generalist / reseller who thinks a steal is in order? Perhaps the 250 price is McMoney after a good day on the stock market and the book a gift for a spouse or friend and no worries about whether it is right or not.   

I don’t know the answer and I probably won’t know.  I’m simply passing on the experience to allow my readers to ponder and have it serve as a reminder, a lesson, or a point of departure on a longer discussion.   

Pablo Neruda. “Nothing More” (from We Are Many)

I made my contract with the truth
to restore light to the earth.

I wished to be like bread.
The struggle never found me wanting.

But here I am with what I loved,
with the solitude I lost.
In the shadow of that stone, I do not rest.

The sea is working, working in my silence.


Monday, July 15, 2019

With Neither Rhyme Nor Reason?


Recently arrived is Colton Storm's With Neither Rhyme Nor Reason?  (Bloomington, IL: Scarlet Ibis Press, 1974).  The essay was originally delivered as an address before the Friends of the Milner Library On the Occasion of Their Spring Meeting, 7 May, 1973.  The address was published in an edition of 300 copies.  The other copies I've seen for sale or cited were in wrappers.  This example is in hardcover.  What percentage of the 300 examples were hardbound is unknown but apparently small.  But that is a collector talking.  More important is the essay itself.  Storm was a rare bookman for over forty years and had an uncommon command of words.  It is a pity he didn't write more.  His most well-known publications are an Invitation to Book Collecting (1947), co-written with Howard Peckham, and as the compiler of  A Catalogue of the Everett D. Graff Collection of Americana (1968).

His thoughts on book collecting have given me unexpected pleasure this evening.  I'd like to share the end of his address:

"Book collecting, the pursuit of a passion, can be an expensive avocation, or it can be a pleasure enjoyed with no great cost save in human energy.  But whether it is a game played in the grand manner, or as a simple pastime, the collecting of books as treasures is deeply satisfying to the active mind.  The man who is alive to all that moves about him in this complex world cannot complete his day's occupation, remove all thought from his mind, and become quiescent; he must employee his unceasing need for mental & physical activity either in a continuation of the day's business or in the pursuit of a wholly diverse hobby.  The rewards of book collecting are very great.  The uncultivated mind is an asset neither to its owner or to its owner's associates.  Be generous to yourself and your friends--be a book collector."