Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Lobster Catchers: A Rare Maine Book.

The Lobster Catchers:  A Rare Maine Book.

   “THE LOBSTER CATCHERS  A STORY OF THE COAST OF MAINE”.  James Otis, E. P. Dutton & Company, New York, (1900).  Original brown cloth with gilt gold title on the spine and front cover.  Black and white pictorial decoration on the front cover and black and white cartouche decoration on the spine.  Illustrated with engraved and photographic plates.  Top edge gilt. Attractive nasty neat 1900 personal private library notes and “from Uncle John…” inscription on front end papers and fly leaf.  All text compete, as issued and perfect.  (i)-vii, (viii), 1- 308 pp..  6” wide by 8 1/4” tall.  This copy is in particularly very good estate found collector grade fine condition being a clean, crisp and unshaken copy with fine interior, illustrations, end papers and covers noting the frontis tissue guard removed and otherwise only the most minor appropriate surface oxidation, spine end, corner wear, rubbing and lightest exposed cover soiling all appropriate to its age.  As found in a Thomaston, Maine estate.  $165.00

             “Perhaps it is SILLY but… the FAMILY has kept all his books in his library cabinet just the way HE kept them since he died.  I’ve never dared touch them EVER during my whole life!”  She; the eldest granddaughter, really HAD never “touch them EVER” and did not break tradition here before me.  Squatting down, it was I who… eyed them; the spine ends… after opening the locked-with-the-key-in-the-lock double glass door short bookcase-cabinet.  I slowly reach for one book’s spine back top and… slowly slid it outward… and stopped before it was out… and slide it back in.
             “NOW what do I do?” my mind blistered for …I didn’t need to TOUCH any of these old books EITHER.  I JUST NEEDED TO BUY THEM, get them out of there and …LEAVE.  The anarchy of the estate trade purchasing play script touched to ignite the three dimensional chaos of …never ending, always changing and never repeating… estate setting… and that ignited a third bomb of ...dark, cold, wet, rainy, fall and late morning nearing lunch time in a dark, cold, creeping moist and rain spattering against the windows… dead Grandfather’s turned OFF, closed up …and now the… FAMILY’S estate… to raise the radical black flag in my mind of… including the CABINET in the offer TOO.  So I said out loud without rising or turning to face the Granddaughter “One thousand six hundred FIFTY dollars with the bookcase”.
            Silence.  Then a foot-ish shuffling noise on the floor behind me.  Then “Well; that would be fine.” stated to my back by the Granddaughter.
            This… rare Maine book was in that cabinet.

             I have read this book, although not this copy… cover to cover.  It was the photographic illustrations that gripped me with concern that this “juvenile” …wasn’t one.  It is one; a juvenile…and it isn’t one.  It’s a juvenile because it’s about a boy, a girl, some bad boys, a rich man, mother, brothers and sisters and an Uncle whose a minister.  Behind that is the Maine coast, lobstering, lobster men, lobster boats, lobster business and… these are shown in the photographic illustrations.  The boy’s plight, plot and adventures are laid out in text strings that never windup in the end and were evidently designed to create a series upon this single first effort should this “juvenile” take off with youthful readers.  It didn’t.  It is obscure, forgotten and rare.
            Delightfully the story is otherwise a crash course portrayal of a middleman nitch of the lobster catcher industry.  This book is NOT about one man going out in a little boat and “pulling his traps”.  It’s about a bigger steam powered boat that travels about the coastline and islands buying up these single men’s “catches” of 200 to 2000 …bartered for in PENNIES… lobsters, loading them on to the boat and dashing this full boat load of these purchased lobsters to the …wholesale market dealer on shore who ships by train in large wooden barrels full of ice packed lobsters “WEST”.  Far west.  Fast.  They must be sold on shore before (1) the lobsters eat each other (for real) and (2) the price per lobster (in PENNIES) “goes down”.  The story lays this whole circa 1880-1900 lobster middleman’s world out… bare knuckle and in dollars and cents.  That makes this book… wonderful Maine coast occupational history.  And a rare Maine book.

            End of conversation.  Except for one point; a tragic point:  This book, in rare book collection sensibilities… is best and beautiful… as a “condition freak” collector’s “FINE” condition “copy”.  Preferably “super fine”.  This is because it is one of those “old books” that doesn’t appeal to the eye …and diminishes in appeal rapidly… as its condition strays from “super fine”.  A “fine” copy is yummy to the eye.  Otherwise its beauty as an old book drops …and so does interest.  I know of what I write because… I am a dealer and… I am NOT a condition freak.  Most of the Americana I handle avoids the “perfect fine condition” issue by its very nature.  SO WHEN I SAY THIS BOOK IS “best” “in fine condition” I mean what I say.  Most of the few copies that pop up in the market are in bad condition.  Because of this the “know of” and appreciation of this …rare Maine book… is furthered wanting.

            What I’ve found even odder… is that Maine scholarship mention of “THE LOBSTER CATCHERS” is, TOO, wanting.  Usually, in the world of Maine rare books, Maine scholars always way, way, way off and away manage to find a “most obscure” tidbit of historic reference, note it, clearly report on it and… shelve it in their bibliography for all to see.  With this book, I find “zero” for this actually dependable root & route of reference for this Maine coastal GEM of an old book.  Example?  The Martin & Lipfert, Maine Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine, “LOBSTERING AND THE MAINE COAST”; a somewhat line in the sand and certainly “best” reference study to the old Maine coast lobstering trade… not only does not include any mention of this book but also doesn’t include any treatment of the nitch middle market that Otis’ “THE LOBSTER CATCHERS” is about.  Most soundly on Otis, they not only do not include him in their bibliography but their bibliography does …not even have ONE reference under the letter “O”.  They have references under “N” and under “P”, but none for “O”.  Certainly this assures that “THE LOBSTER CATCHERS” is …a rare Maine book.

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