"Can" B. Worth
This speak-to-self maze began with “he (the history professor) doesn’t want the book THANK YOU”. Then the rest followed: “He doesn’t collect books. He doesn’t know a rare book even if he’s holding it in his hand. The old professor (“Can”) knew this… and made fun of it to himself. Can DID collect rare books. The physical trail signs are already obvious but the history professor’s affirmation statement regarding the “handsome copy” “for the wife” collector’s muse …speaks volumes… to Can’s actual collector-collection and …bibliomania. Can consumed himself within the private madness of his bibliomania HERE in THIS ROOM called his “office”? I have found it; this collector-scholar-bibliognost’s lair? I stand in it conversing with his old down-the-hallway neighbor’s doggie… nuisance? For years this history professor has interrupted and bothered Can while he studied and made a personal stew of his rare books… alone… unwatched, untended and unfettered… right here… in this chair… in this room… called “his office”?
The spicy blood of that whirlpool haunt called bibliocharylodis is here suggested by the double edged rare bookman’s words “handsome copy” and Can’s specific usage. In the rare book world… there are “handsome copies” of “rare books”. As a dealer, to have and offer for sale a truly “handsome copy” of a truly rare book… is a pleasure and privilege. Turning the dagger blade of the “handsome copy” usage over, one finds a very different meaning. “Handsome copy” becomes words of severe sarcasm used by true bookmen upon …any book that is NOT a “truly rare book” but LOOKS like one TO A NON-RARE BOOKMAN’S eye; a book that LOOKS “rare”… but is “a nothing”. Most readily, these are “nothing” old books “gussied up” in a fine… or faux fine… binding that makes that book “LOOKS LIKE A RARE BOOK”. A rare bookman may hold one of these books before the unwashed of bibliolation fully confident that “they do not know”. Can did just this… first by purchasing a “handsome copy” for his wife’s “collection”; a collection of ONLY Can purchased “handsome copies” that his wife … couldn’t care less about … and has over FIFTY YEARS of these gifts on shelves and… is actually herself indifferent with minor animosity to ANY rare book. But Can new how to never push that boundary and was simply, from his vantage, offering a periodic reminder of what HE, himself, cared about. There is no finer rare bookman’s revenge then forming a collection of “handsome copies” for each of those who …do not appreciate… and hinder… one’s bibliomania.
By the showing of these gifted “handsome copies” to a “old down-the-hallway neighbor’s doggie… nuisance” was just a passing mark of Zero on “that idiot” (my words). The history professor NEVER caught on; never got it. I GET IT. I got it: This OFFICE contents is a bookman’s dream: A man crazy about rare old books “lived in there a century”. AND: “I’m going to GET IT”… after another twenty-six minutes of pretending?
I turned and faced the desktop and history professor. WE had, though startled on his end, eye contact. I diverted down. I pulled open the top center draw of the desk. It hit the chair back. Past the pens and pencils was an old book AND a … cell phone. I reached down and picked up the cell phone.
“This is his?” I said HANDING it to the history professor.
“Why YES! But it doesn’t work”.
“Doesn’t work?” I said. It looked new to me.
“Can hated it. Never used it. His wife got it for him. So she could keep track of him he said. She never called him. He just left it there. Batteries charged. Huh.” The professor said. Then he set the phone down on the desk. I picked it up, looked at the lighted screen and… put it back in the drawer. It was a problem. Working dead people’s cell phones have to be… PROPERLY “disposed of”.
“I’ll turn that over to the lawyer.” I said, picked the phone back up and… pushed the “CONTACTS” button. The first contact, under “B” was “Brattle Street (books – Boston). I stared at that for a micro second. “Jesus Christ. Never used it” I said to myself and …put the phone in my pocked. Twenty-three minutes left. I picked up the old book. It was a smaller octavo; a “12mo”. I looked at the label on the spine. It read “FISHER’S SCRIPTURE ANIMALS … PORTLAND 1834”. “Jesus Christ” I said again and PUT IT RIGHT BACK down where I found it. I hastily closed that drawer and opened the drawer to the right. There was no cell phone in the clutter. There WAS an old book. I picked it up and looked at the spine. In gilt gold it read “AMONG MY BOOKS – LOWELL”. That’s a nothing; an old book that is not rare, is not worth anything and no one reads. “SAFE TO HANDLE” before “an idiot” therefore. I opened the front cover. There was a small rectangular bookplate. It read “STEPHEN H. WAKEMAN”. I took that in and combined it with the book’s tile AND its “right hand top drawer” discovery position. Truly… only a bibliophile would have a Lowell-AMONG MY BOOKS-Wakeman copy THERE. It was like a Mormon having a Mormon bible THERE. “No biggie” of a rare book but it DOES, HERE, make bibliostatement. I put it back and closed the drawer. I opened the drawer below it. Nineteen minutes left.
This drawer was the classic “deep file drawer” “on the right”. It was full of crushed down manila folders of… papers… with… three books sitting on top; a single thinner black tome upon a two-volume-in-dust-jackets “set”. The top title leaped at my eye: “A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF MAINE IMPRINTS TO 1820”, “R. WEBB NOYES”. Lifting that out I revealed the two volume reprint edition of “A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE STATE OF MAINE” “JOSEPH WILLIAMSON”. I look down at that. I noted something; the volumes had many little pieces of marker paper sticking out them. That means, and including it’s desk drawer location, it is an “active bibliography”; a bibliography being USED by… the person who sat at the desk. I put “Noyes” back on top of the “Williamson”. And closed the drawer. Sighed. Looked up. “Fourteen minutes to go?”. The history professor had never stopped watching my every move. I looked toward the left side of the desk with its two drawers. “Should I?” I queried myself. “Ten minutes left? Go for it”. I watched my hand reach out. So did the historian.
I will quickly tidy up the commentary on the book discoveries above. The “Fisher” is Maine’s most prestigious author illustrated –with charming handmade author signed woodcuts” “high spot” tome; an in-the-top-ten of “collector must have” MAINE rare books. WHY? Please I-search Jonathan Fisher for that “et al”. What was it doing in that drawer? Well… a month later I would inspect it carefully after setting it aside as “very good” to discover that it was MISSING pages 2-13. A “defective copy” even though ALL of the woodcuts, including the title page “are there”. Can knew this. That’s why it was in THAT drawer. I believe it was his only “defective copy”.
The Wakeman Lowell: A sentimental souvenir. The Wakeman collection, sold in 1924, is called “a defining moment in collecting 19th Century American authors”. This book was a total ZERO in that sale but… with the collection bookplate and the sappy title “AMONG MY BOOKS”, in THAT drawer THAT way… it is… bookman biblical. Probably the most lasting Wakeman collection contribution to rare book collecting IS its focus on original states of the books. It had NO “rebound” “handsome copies” of phony rare books in it. It had many, many truly “handsome copies” of truly rare books in “original state, as issued”.
The “Noyes” bibliography is a secondary and for the more “advanced” Maine bibliophile than the “Williamson”. Both are “MUST BE AT HAND” status for an active and serious Maine rare bookman. The key to the alert eye is this “active copy”; Can used these bibliographies “all the time”. He was a Maine bibliography hunter too: Later I would find a copy of the rare but useless McMurtrie's “open letter” bibliography. Among others. It’s a little nitpicking snit-fit bibliography… that all true Maine rare bookman must “dance with at least once”. Can bought it, read it, put it on a shelf, never touched it again and buried it. I was the first person to touch it in fifty years I’m sure.