Thursday, May 17, 2018
A bit of unfinished business, for posterity, or rather for us kindred book-lovers. A kind note arrived from the far side of the world, via the comments then with a clarifying follow-up, from long-time friend-in-books Antony, after he read my post from early May about the blue Leary's price mark in the Longfellow set I bought from bookseller Barbara Falk. Antony informs me that page 198 of Christopher Morley's book of essays Off the Deep End (Doubleday, Doran 1928) adds focus to the blurry picture. Thank you! Excellent! I went to find my own copy, which I have not read in many years, and turned to that page, and the essay Ex Libris Carissimis, and followed along:
"...Leary's old bookstore in Philadelphia, where I first learned something of the pleasures of book-hunting.... Compared to most of Leary's alumni I am a mere freshman; it is only a little over twenty years since I bought my first Leary book as a boy of sixteen. Mr. A. Edward Newton, at the celebration dinner given in the store, was bragging that it was forty-seven years since he made his first purchase there, a copy of White's Selborne, and there are many of Leary's bibliophiladelphians far more veteran than he. But for him, as for me and innumerable others, Leary lit the lamp.... Though the Caliph Newton's little copy of Selborne, when he showed it to me, did not seem a genuine Leary trove because it antedated the days of the little price-figure written in blue pencil with a slanting dash above it - Philip Warner's hand, I believe. That, for us of the later generations, is the sterling stigma of Leariana."
Bibliophiladelphians. I ask you. And now one of our bookstore clerks has a name, Philip Warner. Not just any clerk, however. He appears in passing in Morley's books - Plum Pudding and The Haunted Bookshop - and in the essay Gentles, Attend! (printed as a scarce broadside essay from 1920, relevant parts of which are available to read on the google machine for free if you don't happen to have a copy of Christopher Morley's Philadelphia hanging around, p.93). Morley informs us in that essay that Philip Warner of Leary's is:
"...a man of strict serenity, righteous heart and fluent mind, a man of logic, a man of pity and easy bowels. A man of whom it is said: "He is always out at lunch,(") and therefore a man placable by oyster stew or a dozen of doughnuts such as may be found at Johnson's Doughnut Shop, Chestnut Street, north side between 9th and 10th. This is the optimus maximus of booksellers. He will do as I bid him: I hold him to the hollow of my palm. An he do not comport himself with charity, I will make him the villain of a bookshop melodrama."
Echoes upon echoes from the old days. But not all that old, in truth. I remember Barbara Falk telling me she attended a lecture that Morley gave, when he was getting on in years and she was quite young. Then I met her, when I was young and she was 80-ish. Only a few degrees of separation! It's lovely (and the kind of melancholy I savor most) to contemplate these days gone by, as I continue to add bookplates into my books. As I work my way along, I am particularly enjoying the timeless vagaries of alphabetical order. In the poetry shelves, Patti Smith comes just after James Schuyler and Sir Philip Sidney and just before a gorgeous old set of Spenser's Faerie Queene (Oxford's Clarendon Press edition in dust jackets). I haven't begun the literature section yet and expect more of the same there - the new and the old and the middling, sitting companionably together. But Morley? Well. He has entire shelves all to himself.
Monday, May 14, 2018
enough books for today
Remember the writing-about-one-book-at-a-time thing I was considering recently? I am still considering doing so. But today isn't that day, because here I am wanting to clean up the big stack of books next to me and tidy them away in the book room, but I can't seem to do so until I mention them here first. And discuss a few in detail. With pictures. I am still putting bookplates into my books (and will be for quite some time), and also attended a most excellent little library book sale last week. So, some new stuff to delve into. The book sale haul first. I bought five bags of books for about $85, and after sorting them all out, cleaning, coding, and pricing most of them, these are what is left over for me to investigate before taking any other drastic action:
A few of these I want to read, a few I want to own for keeps, a few I just want to browse through before attempting to sell, one I want to give away as a gift, and one I will destroy in the process of turning some of its pages into a collage. I used to do a lot of that, before painting became ascendant in my art-life. Long story for another day. Today - these books. I won't name them all, but the keepers include the short humorous novel by J. Trevor Story, The Trouble with Harry (Macmillan 1950), a first edition, interesting to me because I always liked the film Alfred Hitchcock made from the book. But I didn't know it was a book until I saw it at the sale! Maybe I will give it a try, since it looks Thurberesque and highly readable, and one of the characters is a painter. Other keepers include a softcover reprint of something actually Thurberesque, Thurber's The 13 Clocks (Penguin 2008) with an introduction by Neil Gaiman, then the John Dos Passos collection - "articles and scraps of narrative" says the printed note inside - In All Countries (Harcourt, Brace 1934, second printing), and Paul Auster's novel In the Country of Last Things (Viking 1987, a really nice first edition in a near fine jacket). Also, a reprint of The Life of Poetry by Muriel Rukeyser (Paris Press 1996), inside the front cover of which is a note written in faint pencil, thus:
"I am the poet
of small graces..."
Indeed. Will keep, will read, and will take to heart. Sometimes what is written inside books is so quietly stunning and mysterious. Such as. I blinked and I may have even gasped when I opened up one of the Richard Russo hardcovers, and saw this:
What do I do with that? I didn't even know it was signed when I bought it for two bucks. Much less inscribed to some other Sarah, who cast it aside so that I might pick it up. I see that one of the main characters is also named Sarah, and another main character is a painter in Venice. Suppose I'd better read this book...! After I finish another book from this photo, which I have already begun: The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane (Viking 2012) and which is utterly fantastic so far, the kind of book you wish you had the ability and experience to be able to write yourself. Full report on that one whenever I finish it.
By the way, the other Richard Russo hardcover in the photo is also signed, although not to anyone in particular, as is the Terry Tempest Williams book. As I said, that was a really fine little book sale! Still basking in its glow, over a week later.
Enough books for now? No? A few more then, from my own shelves. One I struggled with, regarding the questions of: Should really I put my bookplate in this thing, and if so, where?
Somewhat shabby, it's true, but still a lovely old copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (Rees Welsh & Co 1882). I offered this for sale some years back then decided to keep it for my very own. So, yes to a bookplate. But where? I mean, you open the front cover and there's a veritable circus already underway in there:
We have a publisher's ad tipped in along the gutter, the name of a previous owner, a stamp from another owner, a bookseller's code, and another bookseller's ticket! What to do. The next page is blank except for my own tiny pencil price, now no longer relevant, but I leave it there for old times' sake. So, inside the back cover we go instead, and yes, there is room there. I chose the pastedown, just opposite another piece of ephemera from the publisher, which is laid in, loose, and pleads with us to sell Rees Welsh & Co. our fine libraries and book collections:
I think my hand trembled a bit when I added my bookplate to this jumble. WHEW. This can be nerve-wracking! I have another copy of Leaves of Grass, a later reading copy (Small, Maynard & Company 1897) bound in green buckram, which also now carries my bookplate. I feel stealthy and greedy with two interesting copies of this beloved text, but it is such a good feeling, I must say, so I am going with it. But back to the 1882 printing, in the olive cloth, for a moment - the title page lifts my heart whenever I gaze at it, so here it is:
The text is lovely too. A sample, with the beginning of one of my favorite poems in the whole book, On the Beach at Night, which never fails to prickle my skin:
One more book? How about that large blue hardcover I used to keep the olive Leaves of Grass open, to show the spine and front cover in the photo above? Okay, here it is. I am still working my way through the poetry books, but am finished with those now, except for some strays here and there, and some anthologies. Carl Sandburg was in the Ss.
It was priced at $15. A bit high for this copy, even then, but I bought it anyway. Because the bookseller in question hadn't taken the time to flip one more page in, to see this other ink signature. Unmistakable, his handwriting, written with a generously fat-nibbed fountain pen:
Back to the shelves now with all of these books and more - enough for today!
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Eight years ago I wrote a brief elegy for bookseller Barbara Falk. I bought some wonderful books from her when she kept shop on the Castine road, and when I wrote that elegy, I couldn't find one of the very books I most wanted to describe. All I could remember about the purchase was her voice, clearly saying, when I bought it, "No self-respecting antiquarian bookseller would ever be without it!" (She had many strong opinions such as this and I loved her for it.) Well, some time ago, probably during one of the last rearrangements of the book room, I found it. Or rather, them, since it is a set. I wanted to write about them before now, but today is the day, because I took them off the shelf as I worked my way along, deciding which books to put bookplates in and which not. This is the section I am in right now - poetry - and I put bookplates in a few volumes by or about Keats, then came to the Ls:
Why the cover cloth is so very teal in this picture I do not know, all I know is that I could not get the camera to read the dark forest green that it truly is. Anyway. There they are. In all their glory, the Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow edited by Samuel Longfellow (Ticknor and Company). Volumes I and II are the second edition from 1886 and Final Memorials (ibid) is a first edition from 1887. Longfellow's translation of The Divine Comedy is a reprint (Houghton, Mifflin 1895) and the Library of America edition (2000) of his Poems and Other Writings is faintly waterstained along its bottom edge but otherwise decent and readably compact, for all its 850 pages. But back to Barbara Falk, Bookseller. FINALLY, after eight years (I said back then that someday, there the book would be, in my hand, and lo it has come to pass), here is her notation inside the cover of Volume I:
The blue grease pencil is the old price from Leary's, in Philadelphia. Barbara made a note of it, in pencil. Out of the picture, on the opposite endpaper, she also wrote, with another arrow, "note price mark" - and I wrote, with my own arrow pointing at that, "written by Castine bookseller Barbara Falk" - and now, the crucial question. Since I still have the set, after all these years, and I still have Barbara's voice ringing in ears (am I a "self-respecting antiquarian bookseller" now? was I once? have I ever been?). Should I put my bookplate in this set? And if yes, where? The endpapers are already carrying a heavy information load. Besides all the notes, I also see my own price code (inside the back cover, on the free endpaper), and my actual retail price too (inside the front cover, on the free endpaper), because I attempted to sell this set in my shop, pretty much the entire time I had a shop. I also see some erasures - notes Barbara either made or erased herself, from some previous bookseller unbeknowst to me. I must say I do like this line of succession: Leary's, for $4.00; then Barbara Falk, and I see from my price code that she charged me $22.50 for the set, in 2001; then I had it for sale for $80.00 in my shop (no wonder no one would buy it!). Since the internet scythed used book prices down to bare stubble many years ago, I wonder what I would price it at now, if I were ever to offer it for sale again. Off the top of my head, I would say $40.00, or perhaps $35.00, but I still don't think it would sell, at that price. Not for a few years, anyway. However, that price does strike me as cheap but fair, and the set is in very good condition overall, with just a bit of edgewear and bumping to the cloth covers and light foxing to the endpapers. But. This is all a moot point, because now and possibly forever, it's NFS.
I didn't know when Leary's closed, so I looked it up on the google and quickly found out this most interesting fact: the library at Temple University owns the Leary's archive. The papers look fascinating in their minutae - correspondence, contracts of employment (with names! yay bookstore clerks! otherwise lost in the mists of time!), book orders, sales records, catalogues, posters, prints, photographs, glass negatives, ledgers, and on and on. My, my. The library at Temple employed my father, and he also attended art school in Philadelphia, and surely went to Leary's. He read books like other people do something so common that it would make a great simile if only I could think of one that was apt without sounding trite. In short, he was a reader. Leary's closed in 1969, when I was still a baby, so I never made it there myself, as far as I know. I wish I had. I'll ask my mother, since she too was in art school in Philadelphia. I love that blue grease pencil mark. Someone in receiving - one of those clerks - unpacked the boxes from Ticknor and Company, checked the books against the invoice, and priced the books accordingly. I am a little embarrassed to mention that many of the pages in this set are still uncut. Shall I actually cut all the pages and read it someday? I wonder. I think I shall, since I just made a discovery. I always thought Final Memorials was a tribute volume, with copious other people's funerary remarks and memories of Longfellow. But opening it now, I see otherwise. It is actually Longfellow's journals and selected correspondence, from 1829 through 1882! And they look marvellous! New diaries to read, I cannot wait. Spotted at random, and seems fitting, even though the sun is shining at this moment - from early May, 1872 (p.185):
"5th. A dreary day. Paced up and down the veranda..."
One more note of discovery - I now also see that the set had at least one other owner, besides me, Barbara Falk, and Leary's, because there is a name written on the title page, and a date of 1894, and inside the back cover of just the Final Memorials volume, another small bookseller's mark in pencil, stating the price at $3.00 and the initials or abbreviation "hby" all in lower case. A price or inventory or date code? That clerk? A location within the store? I suppose I'll never know.
If there is still any question by now, then yes, I will add my bookplate to all these layers of occupation. And I'll be sure to pick a good spot for it and leave lots of room, because I hope the next owners of the set will add their names too, in whatever manner suits them best.
At this point I hope it's easy to see why the putting in of the bookplates is, um, taking some time. Good thing this is an ongoing, open-ended project, with no deadlines or even expectations. Because at the rate I am working at it, in and around all the other things of life, not to mention stopping to read all the time, I foresee weeks and months of more of the same. Almost every book I pick up seems to have some story that goes along with it, so I'll be sure to share more such discoveries along the way.