Tuesday, November 07, 2006


What a week

And it's only Tuesday. Busy busy busy. Everywhere but at the shop. I spent the weekend visiting my family in the southern half of the great state of Maine, returned on Sunday, then kept my shop closed for most of the day yesterday so I could attend the semi-annual meeting of the Maine Antiquarian Booksellers' Association. This time around we held the meeting at the Bangor Public Library, two blocks from my shop, so there really was NO EXCUSE not to go (though I usually go anyway, unless I have an inescapable conflict). Over the past several years our group has had a few active and exemplary presidents (Jim! Barrie!) who have arranged not only tasty lunches and the business meetings, but the added enticements of special events we can attend. This time around we had an informal talk with the special collections librarian at Bangor Public, Bill, who gave us an overview of the library's history and holdings, and showed us some of their papery treasures. Much of Bangor burned down in 1911, including the library and the historical society, and after this devastation our local citizenry stepped up and donated many wonderful things to rebuild the collections. Bangor was then one of the lumbering and shipping capitals of the U.S., and its wealthier citizens and robber barons were very active in raising the cultural bar around here. Since then, of course, those industries have crashed and burned, however their endowments and gifts linger.

One of the shocking things that Bill told us was that prior to his hiring, the library had never had a special collections person per se, so one of his earliest jobs was to sift through the entire collection and begin to decide what needed to remain in general circulation and what was too valuable to allow being checked out. He showed us a first U.S. edition of Moby Dick, a lovely scarce Richard Burton first edition, rare military handbooks (one used during the French and Indian wars) and books on arms and armor, the earliest printed book in the collection (from 1475, Thomas Aquinas), some manuscript material including an account ledger from 1778 from a trading post in Machias, an account book from Moses Greenleaf, Greenleaf's hand-drawn map of Maine (unbelievable! beautiful! the holy grail of early maps of this area), and an early 19th-century handwritten account of a trip down a river on the Maine/New Hampshire border, with incredible illustrations and hand-lettering by the author. Other treasures too, but those stand out. It was a real treat. We even heard about a known book thief who had been slicing maps and plates out of books when Bill was first hired at the library; he was caught and around 75% of the material was eventually recovered. Bill also filled us in on what the library is interested in acquiring, so we can quote items to him in the future.

Next came lunch and our business meeting, at which we hashed out the details of our annual statewide directory of dealers, the one antiquarian bookfair held in Maine, our slate of officers, new members, and various other odds and ends. I like these meetings because my colleagues are a bunch of the neatest people you'd ever want to meet - we all know that used bookshop owners and book dealers are quirky and interesting (but really, fill in your own adjective here, almost any will do), but get a group of us together and the effect is magnified. I get to see my pal Gary fairly often (though never enough) so it's always great to hang out with him for a while, and it was of course a blast to chat with the always-charming Ian for a few hours at my shop after the meeting. Ian has the bibliomania BAD, bad I say. He flushes pink when he's rhapsodizing about particular books he's handled - it is most endearing.

Now I'm settling back in to life at the shop, watering my plants, balancing the checkbooks, hoping for some customers, and trying not to think about the fact that this was the week that Ryan was going to be sent to San Francisco for work, and I was going to go along to visit bookshops (and good friends, and redwoods, and more warm weather, and even the Pirate Supply Store). But the trip was cancelled two weeks ago, so no SF in SF. I will not, WILL NOT, let this get me down. How will I do this? I will think of all the money we saved by not going, and go out and buy some books. And read them.

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