When the going gets tough the tough go to the library or the book store. This has been my motto since childhood. I was the kid who at the back of the school bus who was called variously Four Eyes, Professor or Book Worm. I did not like the former. The second one was acceptable but the latter was a point of pride. I am an unapologetic reader and lover of books. This part of my personality directed a portion of my antiques business.
People often say “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. However, for me business is personal. My personality and interests drive me in any business I am involved in. I love wood and have been a professional woodcarver, I am currently a cabinetmaker. I worked as a courier for a medical laboratory for 20 years mostly because I love being on the road day after day. The best part of being a paralegal which I hated because I couldn’t set my moral convictions aside was the opportunity to spend time in law libraries.
The digital age seems to threaten the printing press and bindery. It may be that paper itself will become a forgotten artifact. Maybe, I still haven’t seen the paperless office that used to be a sort of techie mantra. A cashless society won’t surprise me but paper will hang around a little longer. It is undeniable that print publishing is going to go through more than it’s fair share of changes. But then it always has.
Format Follows Function
A glossy high quality specialty magazine or coffee table book has little resemblance to a parchment or papyrus manuscript of antiquity. At bottom they perform the same function. The sound that emerges from our mouths becomes a part of the past in the instant of being spoken. it becomes Intangible but still virtual. It’s preservation occurs not by speaking but by hearing. Communicating with the written word developed because it froze the virtual and made it actual, able to be understood consistently by all who beheld it. Well, that’s the theory. Wars have been fought, fair ladies have been won, divorces have begun, both evil and good men have risen and fallen, fortunes won and lost all because of a few words on a document or in a book. For a prime example read Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman telegram.
Publication has gone from simple scraps of paper to leather bound volumes to slick color covers in perfect bindings. The various ways of bringing together a collection of pages has served every ages technologies and material resources. The rate of distribution took a quantum leap courtesy of Mr. Gutenberg. Lithography brought us into the graphics age. Offset printing and photography just blew out all the stops. It’s been a long road to get to the point where ink is not something that can spill and make a mess on your desk. Ink is just another electronic idea. Comic books or quantum mechanics, all have spun from analog to digital expression.
This Place in Time
Our chronological vantage point is advantageous to observers of history. I appreciate the new technologies but still get a warm feeling when I hold a fat volume with calf binding. Marbled endpapers are high art as are good quality engravings. Once upon a time people appreciated the craftsmanship in good bindings. I am not an expert in antiquarian books but I delighted in buying and selling them. Books also fit my model of niche marketing. Specialty subjects proved surprisingly profitable. I lucked into a couple of books on slide rules by Isaac Asimov. They have great collectible value and if you find them in a boxed assortment at a flea market you are sure to get them for next to nothing. Operations manuals for vintage aircraft have a lively trade amongst people who can afford to pay premium prices.
Of course everyone knows about the high value of first editions. As a result you usual find them at inflated prices. The only one I found memorable was in a box lot of children’s books I almost gave away. It was a first edit ion Dr. Seuss, Cat In The Hat. It went on eBay for $400.00. Condition is vital in well known titles but I found that to be less true of books with an esoteric subject matter. In some cases the content is as collectible as the paper and ink. Historical data is a commodity unto itself.
Art and books have a long standing relation. Pre-twentieth century books often have wonderful maps and engravings that are more valuable when separated from the book. Because of this we have the practice of book-breaking. Destroying a great old book just to get the prints out to sell individually is a terrible practice.
Books have always been my friends. They are good company and are always well behaved. The libraries I have known and the booksellers I have haunted are another subject which I will cover the next time I sit down to share my digitized thoughts with you.