As you can see by yesterday’s post, I purchased some beautiful items at yesterday’s house call. They are so pretty I am almost unable to work because I have to stop and look at them every few minutes. I am a sucker for a pretty book, or, in this case, pretty leaves from pretty books.
We’re busy preparing for Halloween here, and I promised Huck I would make his costume from scratch (photos to come tomorrow). This has, inevitably, taken more time than I’d expected but been quite fun. I’m also helping with the Halloween party for Tom’s class at school. I was so excited to show you what I’d got at the house call, but didn’t have the time at the moment to fill in with all the details, so I just posted the pictures, because they really do tell the story of what I found.
I’ve learned a bit about doing housecalls from my mentor, Mr. Z. and from a few other more experienced booksellers I know. I know, for instance, to ask the seller to tell me a bit about the books. Are they old or new? In dustjackets? Leatherbound? How is the general condition? Any mold? Can they tell me the names of a few titles? I make sure the person to whom I’m speaking actually has the authority to sell the books (this is in the case where the original owner of the books has died). There are myriad other small details like these.
Despite this good preparatory advice from other booksellers, I wasn’t prepared for one thing when I started doing housecalls. It wasn’t the fact that many housecalls yield few books I can use for resale. I learned that quickly on my own. It was the fact that when I came upon the house of a person who spent her life collecting magnificent items of all sorts and then died, I felt sad. I wished I could have known her, because I think I would have liked her. Such is the case with the recent house call where I acquired the manuscripts.
In August, I received a call from the niece and nephew of an elderly woman who had passed away. She was not married and had no children, and, as the sole surviving heirs, they were responsible for cleaning out her house and putting it up for sale. “She had a lot of books,” the niece said, “But I don’t know if they’ll be useful to you or not. Want to come and take a look?”
“Sure,” I said, expecting a bookcase full of book club editions.
I posted about my first visit to this house here.
Though the house is not in a particularly wealthy neighborhood, it contained riches of a different sort. The house was filled to the brim with collections of all kinds — toy soldiers, model cars, characters from Star Wars, dragons, birds, type face, crystal, framed art, and room after room of books of all kinds (think used bookstore rather than antiquarian, for most of them, though). Though likely not the sort who could have purchased an entire illuminated book of hours, she had beautifully bound, professionally produced facsimiles of books of hours. She did indulge in the purchase of several illuminated manuscript leaves, two of which were in the photos from yesterday’s post. This woman lived a life of the mind. She had imagination and vision.
“She must have been a very interesting person,” I remarked to the niece as I sifted through a stack of books.
“She was. She was an amateur artist. Those are mostly her paintings you see on the walls.”
As I found books about typography and printing, art and architecture, and even a few books about books, I suddenly felt sad that this woman, whom I’d never met, had died. The collections she assembled, which also included several illuminated manuscript leaves and leaves from some other books, were clearly things which had visual appeal and which had inspired her. Her collection made a statement about who she was and what she liked. She did not collect high spots or history, but things which had a visually pleasing aesthetic.
I think I’d have liked her. I’d like to talk to her about her passion for collecting and about her books and her art.
You might be happy to know that in addition to selling her books and manuscript leaves to me, the family sold her dragon collection to ten-year-old Tom, who likes dragons almost as much as he likes skateboarding. He used his allowance money to buy it, and made the offer to the family himself. Maybe, just maybe, there is a future bookman in there after all.
These are just a few of over 30 dragons from the collection. They now have pride of place atop the bookshelf in Tom and Huck’s bedroom.
I went to the house twice in September and received a call to come back again early this week. “In cleaning out some boxes and closets, I think I have a few other items you’ll like,” said the niece. They are what you saw in yesterday’s post. I wish I could tell the original owner myself that I rarely come across collections so thoughtfully assembled and that I’ll make sure those books and leaves I bought will go on to others who will admire them much as she did and that, though I didn’t know her, I will remember her.
More to come on the specifics of the leaves pictured in yesterday’s post.
See you in the stacks!