The Secrets of the Old Rare Books Collector's Secrets
"Idiots and Cretans"
When she first spoke up about the “dentil work” I was the only one in the room who understood this had nothing to do with her mouth other than her mouth having uttered ‘dentil work’. Several other persons present did that odd jaw and teeth wince that conveyed that they were not... today... having any ‘dentil work’. I did watch the book in her hand be “set off” (she said) behind a table top stack of, well... ‘old books’ that, too, could probably have “dentil work” too? Yes: One old book was set off behind a small stack of other old books. On a small table. Commonly called by antiquarians “a one-drawer stand”. In this case the stand’s ‘style’ was “OF” New England Sheraton. That doesn’t matter to anyone unless the stand was not ‘this style’ and was actually a true Sheraton Period one-drawer stand. Then the woman of the dentil work may be enhanced through my eye of having the sophistication of her eye to know that this stand is New England Sheraton and that she knows, critically, that very well.
Too: The old books and the old stand. And the rest of the humans in the room ...are about to drag all this down ‘to the gutter’
“If they don’t know then they don’t know”.
This was not “tea” (‘a tea’) and it was not a ‘meeting’. Of and for anything. It was a gather. A gather. Sort of. And a little forced. It is Maine. It is the third week of March. No one is late. “A few” are coming. That is all that may be expected. I came because I was talked into it. I usually am very adroit about the ‘NOT’ talked into it. But... it was the old books that did it; the talk into. “Let us just SEE the damn woman’s damn old books”... should she actually have any of those (actual old ‘rare’ books). “Oh THERE we go; a fixed reason... TO GO. So I am here; was there. Seated. Actually comfortably.
The heat was turned up. I mean... turned up for me; a ‘by my standards’. I can’t do that; burn oil like that. She (the book collector) can? No. It’s a special occasion. A forced march... to a Maine March... thermostat. “Turned it up: HAD TO”. So I took that in. Literally; I took in the heat. Basted in it. Some of the others still found it ‘cool’. They kept their sweaters... under their jackets... ‘still on’. Some had caps; knitted wool caps they “made”. None of them had any rare books. I could be sure of that.
Just for the record... it is the dry heat that ‘gets’ (destroys) a (old rare) book. Leaving an old book on the floor of an unheated farm shed for one hundred and fifty years does very little to that old book. Place it in dry heat... coming and going by season... the old book cannot keep up. “Dry”. “Brittle”. “Binding cracked” and... of course... “leaves separated at gutter” (“shaken”). How did the old rare book loose its title page? It fell out; became loose then detached and then floated there at its place until one day it fluttered out and was...
“LOST”. It happens to that page because it is... “at the front of the BOOK”.
So... I am at a gather for “something” “rare books”. Someone said “It would be a NICE idea!” This (old rare books) isn’t about nice. Very few rare books look upon themselves as ‘nice’. YOU may think they are nice and THEY in turn... think you are an idiot. THAT is the foundation of this gather: Rare books for idiots. I was ‘called in’ to endeavor to purvey that at least one person OTHER than the ‘rare book collector’ would “KNOW SOMETHING” about ...well... “RARE BOOKS” so being a “BE THERE TOO”. Got it? I got it. KEEP my mouth shut, my jacket on over my sweater and wool cap at hand... was MY PLAN TOO. And don’t eat anything; any of the “FOOD” that was made for this occasion. Yes... that kind of food... that goes well with spilled crummy tea.
They talked about the tea too. MORE talk about the tea than the rare books. They understand tea; the crummy tea, spilling it and the... crummy china tea service that... that too... no one knows a FIG about old china tea service ware but are emphatic that this crummy service is... “NICE”.
So... can there be a glimmer of rare book hope here; in this setting? “It’s going to SNOW again on THURSDAY”. That kind of setting. “My car”. “My dog”. Followed; bumped along. Getting to a rare book was ... not a logical deductive directive for this gather. This carried to a bit of a snit about “USING E MAIL”
“OH LET US JUST NOT”... use email. Today.
The hostess kept her thermostat up and her rare books stacked on the table and... I could see well past that to the bookcase in this room on into the walls lined with bookcases in the next room and the... doggie in there; restless but ‘staying out’. Probably didn’t like the blue frosted cupcakes either even though in the past it (he?) had eaten them whole including the paper cupcake wrapper... eaten them plenty of times in the past. Yes and that had always PAST TOO; the cupcake wrapper. Anyway... I could see old books off in the distance.
“God has damned the rare book in our world”. Damned the rare book. A sort of ‘go to Hell’. It is there; the rare book is in it’s Hell from being damned by God to be in this ‘our world’. It is very New England; this damning. Puritans. Pilgrims. Cretans. Idiots. The last is the biggest rare book enemy army; the rest have died back. Except the Cretans. When one is around rare books there is always an old Cretan around too. A lot of times it is they (the Cretans) that purport ...and actually do... ‘collect’ ‘rare books’. Today; at a mid March gather in Maine, that makes for thin ice; thin rare book ice. Even if the doggie doesn’t eat the cupcakes. This is where God has damned rare books to... in New England. For a rare book, New England may be Hell. A hot room on a mid March morning... is not good for a rare book.
They (rare books) like being locked in a closed glass paned breakfront bookcase... in the... cool (cold)... dark rooms... with their fellows. They do not like being “taken out” and handled by idiots or a Cretan. They do not like being talked about. Or... “Looked” “At” let alone “SHOWN AROUND”. If you have “rare books” that you show around... you do not have rare books and ...the true rare books hate you.
That’s too abrupt? Your ‘fine’ with the ‘nice’, the ‘gather’, the heat, the doggie, the cupcakes and the... looking glass. Oh you missed that last?
Yes: A looking glass.
With old glass; mirror glass... corroded looking glass... glass. “Can’t SEE YOURSELF”. Of course not you idiot: That ‘mirror’ is three hundred years old and came from France. It’s FRENCH. And that is not good for New England. No... New England is ENGLISH. And so were their looking glasses: ENGLISH. “Except, of course”.
What is an ‘except of course’?
Well... this one... in the rare book collector’s home... has a proper Old New England ‘came from’: “It came from the Colonial Wars” meaning this old French looking glass is an English New England settler family purloinment from French Colonial territory (Canada) during the Colonial (“French and Indian”) Wars... that somehow... at some point and some place... then became the long displayed contraband from those wars... “brought back” by “a member of the family”. No one talks about this any more. No one mentions the old looking glass. Even the doggie ‘doesn’t care’. Dark and old on its ...dark and old... wall... no one ‘thinks it is nice’ either. “Did you know that there is a long ink note on old paper pasted to the back of the old looking glass that ‘tells its whole history’? I didn’t feel you do know that.”
I am right... am I not. So don’t bother everyone by suddenly looking at it; the old looking glass. LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE. Please. Be as I be: Carefully LOOK around and comprehend what you look at and denote the old glass and... shut... up. If it is really a ‘that good’ and you know it you will be able to “FIND OUT”... in ‘all in good time’. For the others of you, now; admit your ignorance and go... eat a cupcake. Maybe... look at a book too? NO. Please do not touch the rare books.
She (the book collector hostess) doesn’t want your frosting sticky finger touching...
NEITHER DO I.
What else that is good (antiques) do I notice... as I again baste myself with the heat? The (dropped leaf Pembroke) table, of course. And the (New England made pressed clear flint glass font upon stepped marble with brass base) (once fluid but now electrified) lamp. It’s a little dark in here (this room) with just the one lamp. And... normally... ‘a little cool’. No one is ‘in here’ or ‘SITS’ here. This room. Whenever. That’s the way it is; the way its suppose to be. The old books: IF she takes one off the shelf to show... that is the first time she’s touched it (that book)... in several decades. Now THAT is book collecting. Find the book, acquire the book, shelve the book and... never touch it again. Don’t let a YOU touch it either. “Go touch your own stupid books you think... you collected. THEN EAT A CUPCAKE.
I don’t stare at the rugs. Yes we all know they are good (19th century ‘oriental’ ‘scatter’ ‘rugs’) and... where the dog went. And the rugs in the other room too; the room of bookcases... filled with old books. HAVE TO WATCH WHERE YOU STEP. Even though ‘everything’ was ‘cleaned up’ just before the gather started. “MISSED ONE” out in the bookcase room. “DON’T SAY ANYTHING”.
After a semblance of order has been established... with that taking up slightly over an hour of no rare book ‘look at’ or ‘this & that’ but including the clatter of the tea service ware... and the getting stuffy hot of the room ‘now that it (the room and/or furnace) is in use’: NO RARE BOOKS. No: Actually there ARE rare books and the rare books are doing just fine and are... displayed for all to see perfectly by the collector who is not as self assured about doing this as I am but DOES, by bibliomanic default, “protect” “the books” resulting in their ‘BEING JUST FINE’ “in there” (on their bookcase shelves) (in the other room) (with the doggie) (“STAY Benjamin!”)
(THE DOG HAS A NAME!)
Now that the gather has parleyed the gather into an hour gone by with... ‘no rare books’ and that being clarified as being an adjoining dark cold room of rare book filled bookcases of certainly old and possibly rare old books engagingly enjoyed from that distance by the visitors at this gather...: Yes I am saying everything is absolutely okay and I, too, am relishing the gather too. HOW can I do that you say?
Well first... I am not like you so understand the rare book, these rare books and the rare books’ collector. And ...that understanding is from my long professional association with ‘rare books’ and their baggage. What is their baggage? Idiots and Cretans.
From my basted vantage I ...need no more ‘rare book’ then ‘this’. A rare book looks like a rare book to the knowing eye and it may be discerned from, let me say
And goes from there; the intercourse of the rare book(s) and the rare book ‘look at them’. So I don’t have to go into the doggie room (Benjamin’s “stay” room) to have a ‘hands on’. Nor does the book collector (book hoarder?) wish me to affront her by being so crass. Why don’t YOU understand this and us? Because of “value”. The idiot assures that ‘old rare books’ are “valuable”. The Cretan is so assured with this value that... it becomes what a rare book “IS” to them (the Cretan). Better check to see if your FEET are getting wet from your own “standing in that puddle”.
Okay: MOST, most, most rare books are not of value. They are rare books but dismissed as that by idiots and Cretans who ‘not (monetary) of value’. So back to the tea and cupcakes we go. Everyone is satisfied: No money, no value, not a rare book. THAT is easy.
At the same time my trained eye rakes the bookcase shelved spine ends of the books and in micro seconds defines for me that ‘all of these’ books are very carefully selected and shelved books... collected. I am saying that a glance at the spine ends on a book shelf tells me in seconds IF THIS IS a collection and IF YOU ARE a collector. AND; this has nothing to do with monetary value. Of the rare books. If... I serve notice... it is a monetary interest to you; these old rare books... go work in a bank. If you; a rare book value-ist, are around rare books when I am (we encounter each other)... YOU... are a Cretan. A “bother”. So are YOUR rare books.