Monday, August 22, 2016

Ice House Ephemera

Everybody likes to find something for nothing. Dealers are particularly fond of “making a hit”; the generic expression for finding “something great” well, WELL below it’s “true value”. A good “hit” makes a great day, week, month or, most pleasingly, one’s “YEAR”. We were not the ones who discovered this “hit” but we are close enough to it that we will, I am confident, share in it’s final distribution in the market. Sit back a read about a good day’s pay!

Intrude upon two young men whose circumstances do not include “going on to school” nor entering the “job market” with anything other than to “keep on doing what we were already doing anyway” for... rural Maine offers little “opportunity”. Odd-jobbing is a resource for the young and un-employed. Often this entry level position develops into a permanent position. One of these two has “a truck” while both have “girlfriends” they “want to marry” “if I get some money” “You know?”. They live in and share an “apartment” that... you wouldn’t live in... ever. Behind this building is a shed they “can use too”.

To do this “holding steady” of week to week, the two combined friendship and circumstance to, as they say: “Do anything”. Caucusing with them includes a tale of shoveling mounds rotting baby diapers up from an access road to a future “waterfront development” using snow shovels. “We pretty much ended up showering together during that because it was so bad we almost got into a fight about who’d shower first”.
Not all opportunities are so foul.

The two do a great many “site demolition” jobs for local contractors and carpenters. This work involves taking down and removing what exists at a site so as to “clear it” for the new construction by these professionals who are “won’t do that work”. “Renovation” is the term the “boss” applies to these smaller commercial or private home jobs. These young men are the “demo team”.

From this calling, they have acquired the shrewd sense to “be sure” and “take anything” they can “sell”. Lumber, hardware and architectural fixtures dominate their acquisitions but they have learned to gather “everything” that’s being thrown out that looks “like there’s a chance”. “GOOD BOYS!” and it follows that my first contact with them began at the next step up from their private… bottom of the food chain… of antiquities and bibliognostes[1].

One step above them and a near neighbor to their parked truck, apartment and “shed” in Topsham (Maine), one may find a considerably older man who is “retired”.
He retired from Bath Iron Works (“BIW”) “early” because they were going to fire him if he didn’t “accept” a “package”. This shrewd Yankee deduced his options by himself and left his fellows only to be “proved me right” by they ...being fired “the next day”. In any case, he turned to new work by opening a “recycling business”. No, no; this is not one of those environmentally sanctioned and true penny corporations seeking to remove “that” from ... YOU “forever”. It is the very opposite whereby he has a magnetic sign that he may put on the side of his truck at his desecration and, preferably, arrive at the home of a forlorn and recent widow who wants to get the former material opulence of her “dead-ee” “OUT” “now”. THIS is recycling for... the antiquarian and ...BIBLIOGNOSTE will find him worth showing up at… to “check on”.

I do. You don’t. That’s why I was there first to hear a “You’ve REALLY gotta SEE THIS!”. Smoking cigarettes from a habitual nervous frenzy at the front door to his little sheds (a coupling of odd buildings forming an enclosed passageway around the rear of his very modest home) he told me that “they” (for he is sure to visit the two young men EVERYDAY) “really found something this time”. The squawking of his grandchildren, (foisted upon him and “Mother” [his wife] by a child that deserted him, her and these children...) and “Mother” squawking back at them... interfered with descriptive discourse. Furthering this was the normal for me but I presume UNUSUAL for you... state of bibliosophy where this man’s illiteracy (he CAN’T read) greatly complicated the detail of “what” he was talking about except to establish that there was a very large amount of printed something discovered the day before by the two young men.
“What is it?”
“The shed is full and they are taking the rest to his mother’s garage.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a lot; all old papers.”
“Is it books?”
“No. Papers. All old ones.”
“What are they?” (a hopeless question for HE CAN’T READ).
“I don’t know but you’ll want them.”
“Where is it?” I asked intending to locate the SOURCE but I was returned to:
“Mostly in the shed so far. I’ll take you over there. They said I could.”
“Is it for sale.”
“No.” This last was a fatal utterance but I went anyway.

At the padlocked shed, a structure without foundation dating from about 1870 and having no attention taken of it’s appearance for a least fifty years, my recycle-er pulled back one door to show, mounded in cubical cascades, blocks of, well... “old paper” piled to the roof line. “Wow!” was more fair then the dealerly “Huh.” I should have uttered while I was informed that “most of it” is at the mother’s garage. “There’s still some more coming too.” I touched several blocks. I pulled a few apart to prove to myself that they truly were what I saw; cubes of tightly packed old paper. It IS crispy white printed pages of old paper stacked imprint upon imprint to form, after evidently being pressed together and remaining that way for one hundred and fifty years... these curious blocks of biblio-gold that one may pick up as if they were, for comparison, a cubical block of Styrofoam. They are dry, stable and oddly light. This “WHAT THE?” has a wonderful explanation.

Up the river (Kennebec) from Topsham but before one reaches Augusta, one passes through older villages whose current decline is founded on the deceased 19th Century agrarian aristocracy. “Abandoned” is the term I used for this pervasive New England village breed. Once glory (and money) brought “great” “farms” to the landscape. These have... “declined”. Some are abandoned. SOME are being “restored”.

The “new” Maine finds us supplied with white collar commuters who “buy a place”, “fix it up” and “work in Portland”. The Yuppie dollar has taken “old places” and made them “beautiful” “again”. Money, money, money flows toward these places where no one ventures to “live” until it’s “ready”. “Ready” means that even in Maine one may find a flourish of interior decorating “firms” who, well, get these places “ready”. Before accurate reproductions of high Victorian wallpaper grace a “parlor” or TWO, “work” is done... by carpenters and contractors. BEFORE this “work” is done, “demo work” is done.

Alone on an abandoned farm with strict instructions to “take all that down” and “get all that” “out of here”, one soon finds two young men with one old “truck”; FOR WEEKS turning to... months. As the old goes out... and the new spaces come in... the giddy “new people” perpetually commend everyone down the food chain while issuing gilded commands to “Get that out too.”, et al. It is a big moment for “recycle-ers”, antiquarians, and bibliophiles: One never knows what they’ll “get rid of”.

Well: They got rid of something this time! On the 1840’s property are several buildings including a barn. To “make that into a studio” was the “architect’s idea”. GOT IT? If you don’t, it means taking a giant old structure that has only had cows and hay in it “forever” and “finishing it” using LOTS of MONEY so that “an artist” may work and live in it. This ain’t the FIRST time this has been done. Our demo team was called to “strip” the barn; they removed the interior constructions (cow stalls, etc.) and “exposed the frame” for “renovation”.
“KISS MY ASS” is what most people think about “doing” “this work” so our team was alone “in there” for weeks. ONE of the “problems” in the barn was a two storied construction that, looking down into it from the upper (second) floor of the barn, showed a giant 12 foot by 12 foot by 24 foot high square “hole” enclosed by “thick” walls with “doors” to the “outside”. This was centered on the north side of the barn; the dark, cold space evidently very carefully selected. What was this enclosed hole? An ice house

It was empty: An empty space traveling two stories up from a field granite floor and two foot stone foundation. One entered from outside and one could, as the blocks of ice were stored ever higher, “get in” from doors further up the enclosure. “Huh.” and “Neat” summarized the interest.

“It goes.” were the orders. A floor has been put in NOW and one would never know such a curiosity was ever in this “old barn”. Our team knew “no problem” when they saw it and… that these walls, inclusive of the 8 inch finished and matched boards with beautiful 19th Century patina and a minimal of nail holes... (“lumber”)... that made up the walls to this room: “It goes? - No problem.”. They knew this old lumber would enhance their pay check if they took extra time and removed the boards very carefully.
“All of it?”
“OK: No problem.”

Starting at the top, the boards came off easily. They carried them to the large front door on the first floor to be “removed from the site”. The walls were 12 inches thick with the near one inch planking preserving an interior space of approximately ten inches. These ten inch spaces ran vertically for the twelve feet of each floor and were enclosed by “studs” that were in fact, ten inch wide rough cut two inch thick boards (“rough pine two by tens”). These, too, were desirable once they “GET IT OUT” - “YES SIR”. It was “odd” “over built” construction, although clean and easy to remove and of traditionally little surprise to discover in the lumber rich state of Maine. Starting at the top of the second floor and working downward, “The work” progressed rapidly until... they struck gold.

Gold appeared about four feet down within the upper floor walls. As the plank removal reached this level, our team discovered that the formerly empty space in these thick walls was “full” of “paper”. From there on down; to the bottom foundation wall, each space (between the studs) was “packed solid” with “old paper”. Just like that; vertical shafts of nearly twenty feet each packed full of old paper. NEAT, even, stacked, DRY columns of old paper, side by side on three walls. The outer barn wall had nothing in it. The joke on that is that the original builders figured (?) “How they gonna know?” because “How they gonna get over there to see it?”. This is the group opinion as to why that wall was empty. The other three were not.

This was “no problem”. All they did was take off a couple of boards and then lift out “chunks” of “old paper”. They put the blocks in the truck and got it ...out of there. Since “most of it is dated from the 1800’s”, they figured it was “good” and they could “sell it”. So they started putting it in the shed behind the apartment. Then into the mother’s garage. “There really is a lot of it!” I was told.
There really IS a lot of it and it took ME micro seconds to begin a calculation as to “just what and how much” “there is”. I didn’t SAY anything, nor have I as I write. ALL I said was “How much you want for that?”
“Well, ah: We don’t know.”
“I’m interested”.
“Yeah, well, ah: We think it’s worth a lot.”
“It is.”
“Yeah, but, ah: HOW MUCH?”
“As much as you want to sell it for.”

There rests the commercial aspects to this moment. There have been some nuances added to it and I suspect... that as the string pulling puppeteers of the old book trade endeavor to fit their ASSES through the door of the... shed..., we’s ah gonna see some fine “opinions” about “what it is” and “how much its worth” “offered” before it’s a “done deal”.

Well, lay bibliolestes[3], you’s ah gonna run a gauntlet including your checkbook and the “reach bottom” of your formerly highly valued perfected “skills” before you’s ah gonna break into the clear PAST ME cause if these two kid’s and their illiterate agent don’t have enough fingers to do the calculations, I’s ah promise that I’S will give you ah goud-un. And I ain’t ah gonna use no DAMN bibliographies like you “I gotta look it up” zombies.
Current conditions rest as follows: After having a series of regional experts “look at it”, the team decided to relocate the lot so as to better protect it from “everything”. This has been done. Several experts have helped the wagon circling impulse by being very, ah, “pushy” “with us”. Thank you for doing this and I do believe it’ll be real hard for just “anyone” to see this whole lot now. I am letting nature take it course and… it is… for the marketing team has selected by themselves a portfolio of a core sample of what THEY feel is “good” to “SHOW”. They have “figured out” how many “things” “there are”; “22,000”. That’s a lot of finger counts for these new bibliophiles. They have, throughout this, told me of and... even shown me “things we found”. They have begrudgingly agreed not to throw out “ANYTHING AT ALL” although at first contact one will quickly deduce that they feel “some of it is no good”. Behind all of their marketing calculations is the resplendent verbal notification that “We really are able to figure this out; we’re learning fast”. This last, for the student of bibliographic studies, includes the antidote assessment that “TOO BAD this stuff doesn’t include the Civil WAR; then we’d REALLY have something”.
The discovery does not included the Civil War for the most recent date of ANY of the paper is 1856. The earliest date? It is, TO DATE, a 1742 Boston theological pamphlet (“about God”). Is there a lot of “18th Century” and “Colonial” “material”? No. How do I know? I have had plenty of time to review the chunks and purvey my thoughts. The paper that packed the shafts was gathered rapidly and locally at the time the walls were built, PROBABLY as the walls “went up”. Above the farm was the publishing house of central Maine (the Augusta area) while below one garnered “toward Portland” imprints. It appears that “What ever you got” was, randomly, pushed down into the shafts. BLOCKS of newspapers “saved”, religious dogma “un-circulated” and the delightful “household ephemera” “not collated” were... SHOVED into place forming layer cakes of BIBLIO “IT’S A GAS TO LOOK AT!” “stuff”. Leaf by leaf may be easily lifted to “get to” the “next one”. All and any printing that would fit seems to have gone down the shafts so, for example, one may find “a stack” of a broadside for a church supper “on the Kennebec This Sunday!”. Or the lone, lost and scrappy hand bill imprinted “Boston, 1801”. Which of these is “better” and how are the curators of this collection doing at inventorying their acquisition? As I said; I am letting nature take a natural course. It is.

While the reader may churn in one’s chair and the ephemerist may palpitate, sweat and then ...feel faint; any sort of dizzy spell will not get you past the more professional check writing teams I’s already am sure have “got on this”. Good luck; visit our store when your in the area but, please... DON’T tell me what you “think” about it or... what I “should do” especially ... if I “get it”.

[1] Bibliognostes: "One knowing in title pages, colophons, editions, dates and place printed, printers and all the minutiae of …rare books".[2]: “ICE”, from the riv-ah, cut in the win-ta, was “an industry” “along the ...riv-ah”. Here found was an ice house BIGGER then usual but surely not “big enough” to be an “Ice Factory”. “Sold some, prob-blie” was the logical use.[3] Bibliolestes: "a book-robber or plunderer".

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