Epilogue - Part One
Was I stupid? Or being stupid? Or just being “normal”? Or just being an …antiques and rare book dealer?
The simple solution to estate purchases is to claim victory at the end of each purchased estate lot when “all of it” “is yours” and the “cashing in” begins. As I stated earlier, once in the storage unit, Dead Can’s “stuff” was “whose in a hurry?” for I knew it was good, profitable and …actually easy to realize this latter. All I had to do was sort through the mound of boxes, take out “anything good” and …sell it. Quickly the boxed mound would be sorted and gone, the storage unit “empty”, the “anything good” turned into cash and… I would be off doing another similar “deal” somewhere else.
I was already proceeding to do just that when I returned to the office with my test box and grocery bag of old books. The latter I took out of the bag… restacked them in approximately the same three piles they’d been stacked in on the table by the window… at the back right far corner of a cleared sorting table... putting the cherub-on-book paperweight on top of one stack and… proceeded to not touch them for several months. It’s not as if those books were “VALUABLE” “RARE BOOKS”. Most were, at best, “attractive” “old” “used books” of no value ($2.00-$15.00). The rest; the clutch of old Maine local histories, were “valuable” as “rare books” until one endeavors to find a premium buyer for… a “HISTORY OF WEST SUMNER MAINE”. At that point, cash-into-wallet “slackens” unless one “sells it cheap” meaning at a price (ten to fifteen bucks) that “anyone would buy it”. Soooo… at the back corner they rested… being “preserved” for me “later”.
The test box was more rudimentary… and tragic. Hefted up on to the sorting table it was… truly… promptly… as fast as possible and …very cavalierly… “sorted” into GOOD, SALEABLE, BOX LOT, NO GOOD. It took about fifteen minutes to go from packed-to-the-top full box to empty old cardboard box DISCARD IT. The whirling ratio of my knowing eye and nimble finger tips “picked” through whole boxes full of “old paper” to display …in just minutes… a neat stack of “rare books” found, a neat stack of more ephemeral “rare books” found and… “the rest of it”. This last was put in another cardboard box that was stacked with actually matching (uniform stacking) cardboard boxes in a new, growing larger …but fully distilled… mound of boxed paper to be “disposed of” “eventually. The “disposed of” is the common plan of all estate “waste”. The “eventually” is what actually happens. It can be… decades… before an estate waste paper lot is ACTUALLY “disposed of”. Usually they end up “getting sold” somehow. But that all “takes years”. Of crucial importance here, the procedure of processing the boxes was started and… raced along… as little piles of “gold” were extracted from box after taped shut box. I was “doing great” at getting that part of the job done and finding… “great stuff” “too”.
Or was I? What I actually found was, as a review of the rare books highlighted so far as this tale has gone along shows; was an “ALL OVER THE PLACE”… gathering… nearing an accumulation at times… of truly “good” “rare books” VERY erratically, very disorderly, very “no plan?” and very “WHAT THE?” stored… in most cases… neatly, safely and CONCIOUSLY within… a non-descript cardboard box …that was stacked up on top of the one before it and …buried after the next one was placed on top of it… in the office… that had been filled; packed-solid-full, from back to front… over decades.
“Hunky-dory” and before I gave any thought to this procedure at all I had… knowingly… selected and processed at least a third and nearly one half of all “the old boxes”. “Knowingly” defines that my sharp eye and quick wit merge early to be able to “spot” an older “Dead Can” box among later or packed-by-me boxes. I “naturally” preferred and selected these because they were “better” meaning they contained older Dead Can collected “rare books”… and I… “liked that better”.
Therein began the new dawn-upon-me light.
First I began to inkle that Dead Can “evolved” as a collector of rare books. He started out a young professor with an empty bookshelf lined office and a “I like old books” attitude and… went from there …until death… ALL in the same room. His early shelf filling was “beginning collector” classic. He read. He liked to read. Therefore he purchased books. To read. By his… highly educated and preferential standards that HE developed as HE went along. Then he began to have an “eye for an old book”. That is; old books caught HIS eye and HE started to prefer them AND be interested in them. And collect them. Sort of. “Sort of” means “money” “spent”. He didn’t spend much. Of course back then the old books didn’t (“Who wants THOSE?) cost much. He began to wander around …into the rare book trade… with a developing eye for “old books”. And… having the education and love for reading that supports that… on a teacher’s salary… “during lunch time”, (?). An example of his colleting of this era? He gathered at least eight “old” but NOT “rare first edition copy” of Sara Orne Jewett’s DEEPHAVEN. All were “a nice copy” but not “valuable”. I did NOT hunt for Dead Can boxes from this era. Most of this era was confined to the long buried book shelves anyway and I… had boxed those books up myself. I… KNEW what THOSE BOOKS WERE, already. The exceptions; treasures of a “good book” are shown by the Longstreet and “FAMOUS FLIES” volumes; found in the open. THEY show the Dead Can of the future actually “finding” “a rare book”. Somehow, during lunch, these tomes had appeared before him, appealed to him, he purchased them and brought them back to the office to become part of… HIS COLLECTION. By my configured timeline, “FAMOUS FLIES” was purchased between 1945 and 1950. But possibly… it could have been purchased TWO decades later… for the same reason.
This first phase Dean Can became MY first phase dawn-upon-me light. I quickly developed the mental portrait of Dean Can. Young, new professor. New wife. New Family. New home… overlooking Casco Bay. New office; empty of books. Lively, interested, interesting, funny, happy, clairvoyant, man on campus, fellow traveler on all University matters, omnivore reader, library frequenter, “loves his wife”, commutes to work in his new car that SHE drives, home for dinner, lunch with “students” or “other members of the faculty. Etc. This etc. means… slowly… old books began to appear on the book shelves in his office and… he read them. And liked them. More and more he “liked” “old books”.
I DID NOT LIKE THEM or this early Dead Can portrait. I …BLEW RIGHT BY IT… looking for “good boxes”; the boxes of Dean Can BOOK COLLECTOR. But I did find, notice and track Dead Can’s trail into the “good boxes” era. I couldn’t miss it and knew it well from seeing others “did the same” in other estates. Therefore, I DID actually “care” without taking responsibility for that caring.
When I found the scattered old Portland, Maine and hither used booksellers business cards… sometimes with a title noted in pencil on the back… I DID care. Printed hand lists of old books offered… sometimes… actually had a book underlined on them… THAT I “knew what it was”, cared about that and FOUND THAT BOOK “later”. One had a purchase receipt in it. I took it out and “BOX LOT – NO GOOD” it went. Later-later I actually looked at the boxed stacked mound with this receipt in mind and pondered “which one (box) do you think it’s in?”.
Within this foggy beginning of book collecting …I… watched Dead Can …leave the water of his good life and …walk on land INTO the devil’s snare of book collecting; bibliomania. Starting as a “fine young man” he became a book collector. One solid step into the jungle of that exotic land following another. I… started to find myself… following him.