So, are you wondering whether or not I saw the bookseller from Bernard Quaritch that I met at the ABAA fair two years ago? In case you’ve forgotten, I am referring to this, one of my first forays into public alone in the antiquarian bookselling world. I told him all about my planned Dante catalogue, which, back in 2007, was only about 15 items. He very kindly encouraged me and then sent me an amazing catalogue from a Dante exhibit at Cambridge University.
Let’s just say that I appreciated his remembering me enough to send me the catalogue but that I also realized that I needed to raise the bar on what I planned to do with my own catalogue if I wished to be considered an antiquarian bookseller. I made plans to continue to add to the catalogue and also refined my choices for what I would include in the catalogue. The catalogue he sent was an inspiration, an example of what could be done with a good catalogue.
He was very kind to me, and, since two years have passed and I have not yet issued my catalogue, I hoped I would not have to actually tell him that I had not yet finished it. I was disappointed not to have completed and mailed it ages ago. I was concerned that he might think I’m a bit of a flake for not finishing it sooner.
Well, I did indeed see the bookseller from Bernard Quaritch at the fair last weekend. I saw him walking around the fair, and I wondered if he would recognize or remember me. Probably not, but just to be safe, I did what any totally out-of-her-element, so-new-to-antiquarian-bookselling, shy bookseller who bragged about her Dante catalogue two years ago would do: I immediately returned to the anonymous safety I had at Mr. Z’s booth and pretended to be busy straightening books on shelves.
I was not to be spared, however. He eventually came by to say hello to Mr. Z. I greeted him.
“Hello,” I said. “I remember you. You were kind enough to send me the Dante catalogue from the Cambridge exhibit two years ago.”
“Yes. I remember meeting you. How’s your business going?”
We chatted for a couple of minutes. Ever the kind gentleman, he never asked about my catalogue. I was relieved, but then I hastily and impulsively confessed that I was still working on my Dante catalogue. “I just gave it to a desktop publishing person last week,” I explained. “It should be done soon,” I blurted out. I should never have brought it up, but I felt compelled to do so.
I wish I knew why.
He smiled back at me, and in my bookseller paranoia, I wondered if it was actually a smirk. I took a second look. No; it seemed to be a genuine smile, though I feel I absolutely deserved a condescending smirk. What serious bookseller takes two years to complete a 50 item catalogue? [Answer: This one. It does not matter whether or not there are good reasons why.]
He politely remarked, “Please don’t forget to send me a copy when you’ve finished it.” He took his leave, and I slumped behind the counter case. I so wished I had the catalogue in hand to give to him then and there so he could see that I am serious about being an antiquarian bookseller.
The point here isn’t just to relate to you, dear reader, what happens when you don’t finish what you start. The point is that I felt like he had been very kind and encouraging two years ago, a time when I only knew about three other booksellers and needed the support and encouragement. Not only had he been kind, but he had gone out of his way and sent me a catalogue that inspired me. I am sure he had no idea that it meant a lot to me to receive a catalogue from a long-established English bookseller like Bernard Quaritch, but it did. In not completing the catalogue, I felt I had (unintentionally) not been gracious in accepting his support and faith that I would complete a good catalogue.
When I finally have a printed catalogue, his copy is going to be among the first mailed, along with my eternal gratitude for his initial encouragment and his patient understanding.
He’ll have his catalogue before the next fair, but I look forward to seeing him again at the 2011 San Francisco Fair so I can thank him in person for his early support.