Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Curiosity

Pretty old thing.  That could easily be a whole category of books at the Used Books buying desk; a category it might be best to avoid, frankly.  And avoid them we usually do.  Pretty bindings, embossed covers, gilding, deckled edges, illustrations -- that's a list of what can make an otherwise obscure and or unsaleable book alluring to even the most jaded dealer.  Still, experience teaches that when confronted by such superficial attractions, the dealer should resist stoutly.  Why?  Well, because there were once hundreds if not thousands of lovely new things published just this way, from say the end of the 19th through the first two decades of the 20th Century.  It was a thing, the nice bindings; not a fad per se, like the giant car-stereo speakers of my youth, but more like Cinemascope; an aesthetic enhancement of the familiar entertainment experience, meant also to elevate the price and lend a cultural cachet to even the likes of Bhowani Junction.  (The studios had to do something to compete with Milton Berle.  Simpler times, simpler times.)  Fine bindings were no more a guarantee of quality when it came to  the content of a book.  There were a lot of what one might most charitably now call, "popular authors" of the day who rated the high-end treatment.  (Think of those limited, gift editions of Stephen King that will one day confound our heirs when tagging the estate sale.)  If no one now reads any of such long out-of-print fin de siècle darlings -- and trust me when I say no one certainly seems to want to buy those books anyway -- there may be a lesson in it it for us all, no?  Sic transit gloria mundi, bub.

So then, how decide to actually look up such books online on the off-chance of them being somehow collectible?  Again, there may be less point to this than one would assume.  Most of the time, if the used buyer of any experience has never heard of book or author, ain't nobody likely to be looking.  No harm in checking, but disappointment is all but inevitable.   Here's another.  Price?  Couple o' bucks, pretty and all.

So how'd this one get me?  Who could resist a quick online check of a name like Sadakichi Hartmann?  Not me.  Check it out: Carl Sadakichi Hartmann,(November 8, 1867 - November 22, 1944), German pops and Japanese moms, Symbolist poet, editor, critic, translator, friend to Ezra Pound, published some of the first Haiku in English, and so on.

Look!  He looks like Yeats! 

Now this was an interesting fellow.  And, from a quick browse, this is actually quite an interesting little book.  Hartmann covers a remarkably wide range of pictures, from formal paintings, to illustrated editions of Shakespeare, artists of world reputation to fairly obscure journeyman.  Obviously Hartmann has a lover's knowledge of the plays, and of the pictorial arts, but he has not only those requirements for such a book, but also a poet's eye for telling description.  It looks a most scholarly job, for 1900.

So, yeah, I bought it to try and sell from the Shakespeare section in the bookstore where I work.  It won't sell, even for five bucks, probably, but this one got me.  I could print up my five minute's research on the internet and stick that in the thing, but I don't know that anyone will find all that as fascinating as I did.

I don't care.  During my last performance review with my managers, I did reaffirm our pledge at the Used Books buying desk to continue more cautious and critical in our buying; taking fewer chances, respecting the realities of the business we are primarily in, which is selling new books and used, not being an antiquarian shop, etc., but...

What the hell?  A five dollar fling.  Now and then a curiosity gets the better of the most sober judge.  'sides, it's pretty, ain't it?

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