Friday, September 30, 2011

The Very Booky Week!

I thought I’d be back sooner than this, but we had the big book sale on Tuesday, followed by another big book sale on Wednesday and I had a cold throughout the whole thing. I also absolutely HAD to upload some new books to keep Abe from going as dormant as a tulip bulb in the dead of winter. For me ABE is crucial, as a good seventy-five per cent of our sales derive from there. I know people argue that other sites are better for them, but I think it’s a matter of what you have. When I had my once-a-year picker and his 28 boxes of brand new books alibris and affiliates snapped up the majority, but when I choose books myself the golden goose is ABE – hands down.

I’m happy to report that the sales were fun. In fact, the five-hour-wait -sale Tuesday was as peaceful as the Dali Lama’s bedroom. Only one of the crazies showed up and I think he was on meds given the lack of theatrics. The books were so-so, but I did get a lot for the antiques mall and maybe a half dozen nice things for online, including a 1905 A Child’s Garden of Verses with Jessie Wilcox Smith illustrations and 38 – count ‘em!  -- Lakeside Press annual Christmas issue books from the 40’s through the 60’s. I want to do a blog post about these separately very soon, but I thought I’d mention them because they were a great buy at $40 for the lot.

The next morning, sniffling and sneezing all the way, I showed up at the Wayne County Fairgrounds at seven a.m. for the Wooster AAUW sale.The crowd was down, but word had leaked (ha-ha) that a day of torrential rain had damaged 300 boxes of their donations. There were still a LOT of books, but no specials table which means the best of what they took in in donations got an unwelcome bath. But, even so, I found a lot of books for the antiques mall and some great stuff for online too. The award for most expensive book goes to Eric who unearthed The Tombs of the Doges of Venice by Debra Pincus for a paltry $2. My favorite finds include a 1920's book in superb condition about the Phillipines with a fold-out map (see picture below)and LOTS of  magazines. At fifty cents a copy I got 13 complete years, four issues per year of Antiquity, A Quarterly Review of Archaeology spanning the 50’s and 60’s, plus two stand-alone fat issues with fold-outs from the 1920’s and 13 miscellaneous other issues. I also bought at $1 each a box of Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians so heavy if would make a sumo wrestler tipsy. I know there are many full year runs there – I’m just not sure yet HOW many. Okay, I can hear it already -- she’s nuts! I AM nuts -- about magazines. Love ‘em and they know it so they always go happily off to their new homes for me. Add to all of the above breakfast with our friend Paul from Archer’s Books and the sale was great fun.

This morning I finally got over to the mall loaded up with 15 new books. When I buy mall books I never take everything at once, as it’s better to have something new every weekend. It also took me all of yesterday morning to clean, ticket, and mylar the ones I did take which is another reason I’ve been MIA here. From there we headed to the local library where we met with the new volunteers for the FOL sale. No, no – it’s NOT what you’re thinking. I am NOT going to pre-pick sales. My role was only to advise.They had quite a number of old books that had been around since Noah built the Ark but, sadly, all it took was one glance to understand why. Except for a 1937 University of Akron yearbook and two of those cute art instruction books for kids with the killer color art published by Prang at the turn-of-the-century (their's were mint) the rest was literally landfill.

But the fun part was the stash hidden in a cupboard. They actually had five really nice volumes which is a lot considering that this is not a book town  One I recognized immediately as a $50 book because I sold it twice this year. The others I had never had but I knew they were good, so I showed them how to look things up on bookfinder comparing “apples to apples” and, sure enough, they hit the jackpot every time. I know they would have sold them to me on the spot, and I must say it was tempting, but I have ranted about that like a fishwife here for the past year so it would be hypocritical to even THINK it. So, sadly, I refrained and am glad I did because it truly is a conflict of interest. This library has had a bad rep with dealers and now things are rockin’ and rollin’ under new management so they need those books to lure back the former faithful.

Anyway, it’s been a booky week and there’s an estate sale tomorrow morning which promises “antique books.” Given the fact that we will have to be there at 6:30 in the morning I’m trusting the book gods to smile on us one more time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sale-ing Along ...

Michigan was fun, but it’s nice to be back at work. Today we are off to a book sale and I am looking forward to breaking in that new L.L. Bean bag. It’s even a library sale which, as you know, I place in the same category as a root canal. Oh, the crazies will be there swarming like gnats, but I’m still jazzed (though that could change when I see them). But even the downside has an upside today because I also have a meeting with the publicist hired by NOBS (Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society) to plan strategy for the 2012 antiquarian book and paper show. Yes, this year the 30th anniversary fair has been expanded to include paper which is very exciting because I’m crazy for paper and have sold it for years.

The bad/good part of the book sale is the way it’s handled. It starts at five, but due to the behavior of the aforementioned crazies, the Friends of the Library have found it infinitely more peaceful to hand out numbers at two. While this is great in theory, and actually IS great in a way, because you can leave, have a late lunch or early dinner and come back shortly before the doors open, it also means you need to be there initially at NOON. Yes, noon – and even then you will not be at the front of the line. So we’ll stand around for two hours, grab a number, go off to meet the publicist, and come back around 4:30. The pre-sale publicity doesn’t exactly have me buzzing like a lightning rod, as it seems much too hyped over cookbooks, but I’m counting on liking something they didn’t deem worthy of mention. At any rate, we need books so we will go and hope for the best.

But enough of that. I had the coolest thing happen Friday and haven’t had time to tell you about it. A man called from New England saying that he had stumbled across my blog post from last year about the Chinese autograph book from the 1870’s which contained photos and entries by both American and Chinese teenagers (see Monday, June 14, 2010 &Thursday, July 8, 2010) in the archive. With the help of my oldest daughter we had determined that very likely the book was a relic from the Chinese American educational mission which took place in New England. It’s very difficult to set a price for something like this and I was not entirely hot to sell it anyway, so I tucked it away with our private collection and decided we’d keep it. The caller indicated straight up that he wanted it and I responded immediately with tepid interest. My fear with one-of- a-kind items such as this is that the buyer has only a passing interest and will ultimately not take care of it. In a world increasingly dependent on technological storage (often solely on technological storage) I hang on to items like this with both hands. I guess you might be thinking I’m out of my mind, but I actually can, and have, turned down sales for such reasons. At last year’s antiquarian show we talked a woman out of buying a set of children’s books only to break it up and disperse it amongst her grandchildren across the country!

So, with that in mind, I listened to what he had to say, though doubted greatly that the little black book was about to depart my company. But guess what? If ever a book belonged to someone this one belongs to him. Not only was he a smart guy who knows his way around a bookstore, but also a collector who is incredibly well versed on this little known aspect of American history. He told me so much about it that I actually sat down (and I NEVER sit down to talk on the phone) and listened raptly. Though I knew that the Chinese boys boarded with American families (which is truly incredible) I did not know that many boarded with unmarried Christian women! I also didn’t know that when they returned to China with their shiny new American educations they were not honored at all and ,in fact, paid for it for a time with lessened career opportunities. Ultimately this changed and they became superstars, but first they had to pay their dues for swimming against the tide.

By then I knew I’d found my made-to-order most perfect buyer ever, I told him outright that I’d harbored concerns, but he’d talked his way past them. I also said that Eric and I would think over the weekend about selling it and I’d call him back Monday. I did, he did, and I shipped it this morning priority mail insured.

How cool is THAT?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reading The Irish Rain

The world outside my office window is tinted green and gray today. At least the rain has stopped, but it’s small comfort according to the weather report and the fact that we are leaving tomorrow at 6:30 in the morning for Michigan, so we can stand around in the mud and watch our seven year-old grandson play soccer. There’s something very diabolical about kids’ soccer and rain. We so rarely get to attend a game, but every single time we do it’s conducted in Irish weather. You’d think they’d cancel, but they do not, because Michiganders are nothing if not an exceedingly hardy lot. There could be a monsoon with little players blowing in the wind like scraps of paper and they’d still be out there with their lawn chairs and golf umbrellas screaming “Defense! Defense!”. To Eric and me it’s unnecessary torture, but what do we know? When it comes to sports together we’re not a whole person. In fact, I may actually have the edge, as I was a huge fan of the diminutive NBA player Earl Boykins back when he tore up the court at Eastern Michigan in the early ‘90’s.

One good thing about the weather though is it melds perfectly with the book I’m reading at the moment, Eric Newby’s Round Ireland in Low Gear, recommended by my bookseller friend Paul Bauer of Archer’s Books. A million years ago (in the 70’s) when Eric and I were young and unencumbered we spent a raucous month in Ireland visting both of my clans of relatives, the Chambers in County Mayo and the Carrolls in Cork, but mostly banging around the gorgeous coastline by ourselves. We got there in mid-June and returned home in mid-July, so never experienced Ireland when the Furies were unleashed. Newby and his wife were no spring chickens back in the mid-80’s when they braved gale force winds and days of pounding rain pedaling bicylcles over a steep, desolate, and in winter, virtually uninhabited, terrain. Every night proved a challenge to find a B&B open in the winter and every day an equal challenge to scrounge up lunch and dinner. You would think from the menu that the Irish wouldn’t recognize a vegetable if one walked up and introduced itself in Gaelic.

Of course the romantic view of Ireland is that the rain is “soft” and indeed it can be. For the first two weeks we were there we spotted nary a drop, which must be some kind of record. But the last two weeks more than made up for it with endless days of cold sodden grayness broken only by hours of sudden intense light. I ended up with the mother of all sore throats despite frequent breaks to snug pubs where we sat by open peat fires sipping Irish coffee or an endless hot “cuppa.” By the time I was certain I’d die of strep we were in Killarney at a lovely hotel where the proprietor’s son whisked us away at break-neck speed (at that point I was certain it was the TRIP that would kill me) to a place called St. Clare’s (or was it St. Ann’s?) Lying-In Hospital presided over by a tiny nun who was most distraught to see a Yank in such distress at her establishment. Every time I think of the place I picture Ernest Hemingway tucked up in an iron bed on a ward in a Spanish hospital during the revolution.

As it turned out, it was not strep “a’tall” just a “bit of a nuisance” which could be handled easily, according to the doctor, with “orange” and a spot of medicine I was to buy at the chemist. This “spot of medicine” did not require a prescription, but probably would have in the U.S. as it was most effective. As for “the orange”, the hotel provided Eric with a large pitcher free of charge because they felt so sorry for the “the poor garel” (that would be ME). In the throes of such effusive sympathy, however, they neglected to mention it was to be mixed with water. Over the course of a day and a night I drank the whole thing straight which may very well have expedited my recovery.

Thinking of all of this makes me long to get back to the Irish Furies blowing from the cold Atlantic and pounding the west coast of the auld sod as our poor intrepid cyclists forge on. I think today I will spend the morning readying books for the pilgrimage to the mall tonight (nothing small, I promise!) and then repair to the gloom of the family room this afternoon and settle in, with the book and a pot of tea for comfort, oblivious to the call of the internet.

Besides, it's raining again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Tale of Two Lapses

 I was wrapping orders this morning when Eric came in from the garage waving a book.

“Look what I found in the bag of stuff I bought at Ravenna for the store. I can’t believe you missed it!”

I can't believe I missed it either, as it’s the best book I selected at Saturday’s accidental book sale. Actually I HAD thought there was a third book, but when I didn’t see it after we got home I surmised that perhaps I hadn’t taken it after all. I remember thinking that the spine was a little wonky, but that I could repair it as I had done earlier with a book about the clay products industry which I showed you some time back. But then I got distracted by the gorgeous Hardy novel I found in the literature section and never thought of it again until Eric handed it over. Amazing to forget a 1924 Boni and Liveright first edition of The Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics, a treatise on the Lamarckian theory which posits that organisms may pass characteristics they have acquired in their lifetime to their offspring. Check out the photo above and I think, like me, you’ll wonder why it was even available on the third and final day of the sale. It’s a mystery, but I’m glad the book gods sent it my way.

Actually, I’m also glad it turned up late to give me something positive with which to start this post because my mind has been on something else that occurred on the weekend that wasn’t nearly so pleasant. Interestingly enough, the Lamarkian book and the book that’s the source of my current angst have something in common. Both involved an uncharacteristic mental lapse on my part.

On Thursday when Eric and I made the weekly pilgrimage to the antiques mall to restock I noticed that the tea cart on which I am currently displaying special books seemed a little bare. I brought it to his attention, but he felt certain it was because we’d sold something from it. I allowed myself to be mollified and never thought of it again until Saturday night when I woke with a start knowing that my beloved copy of Alice Underground was missing. But of course books at the mall migrate around the booth like a pack of nomads, so I talked myself out of the trees and went back to sleep.

The next morning we went to the flea market where we had agreed to meet the antiques mall employee I told you about who wanted to trade several of his books for one of ours. As I feared, his were not even close to my cup of tea, but Eric felt he could use them at the store so we made the trade. As Eric was boxing them I mentioned that I may have had a theft of a $50 book. The employee told me that if it turned out to be true to be sure to bring it to the attention of either the manager or the assistant manager. He also said that he would monitor our booth more carefully in the future. Though well intentioned and probably true, it’s not  much comfort, as the place is cavernous. You  stand at the end of an aisle and it looks like no one is there when in fact a battalion of shoppers are hidden in the individual booths.

After the transaction was completed we looked around at the flea market and I bought a Walton’s game based on the old TV show from the 70’s after which we headed over to the mall to drop it off and conduct an extensive search for Alice. Book by book we looked, but I knew she was long gone and indeed she was. This marks our sixth, and most expensive, loss from theft since we opened last November. The first was a rare real photo postcard of an open air streetcar in Columbus, followed by three hand colored Japanese real photo WWII era postcards depicting geishas and the tea ceremony, two hand colored Italian WWI aviation postcards, a Victorian cabinet photograph of an adorable little girl in an exquisite dress taken in a garden, and a brochure with diagrams for building 20 boats. And that’s what we know about. Who knows what else may have drifted off.

I duly reported the loss and the response was both sympathetic and kind, but did nothing of course to bring back Alice. I got her at Case Western Reserve this past spring and she was my favorite book from a sale that was pretty lackluster overall. I’d planned to sell her on my favorite site as I knew she’d be a big hit, but in an impulsive moment took her to the mall instead thinking what a fun find she’d be for someone who loved Alice In Wonderland. If you’ve never seen Alice Underground it’s a facsimile reprint of Lewis Carroll’s original Alice manuscript replete with his hand-printed text. My edition was small and in a slipcase, which, like the boards and the interior art, were colored in pastel hues.

I’ve had plenty of time to mourn the loss and I guess I’m pretty much over it now. In the immortal words of Jimmy Buffet "it's my own damn fault" anyway.It was crazy to take such a small, desirable book over there when I don’t have a locked showcase and even crazier yet to put it out in plain sight practically begging someone to make off with it. You can bet I will never do THAT again.

But isn't it sad that I can't?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Plain Sight

After last week’s auction debacle with the nonexistent books I was determined, as you know, to find a replacement – and, believe it or not, I did. It was in Geauga County which is about an hour and a half from where we live. The trip was lovely though, as the land is green and rolling and the atmosphere pastoral, with none of those sad used-up small towns that never fail to plummet me into a funk. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that we were heading deeper and deeper into Amish country. Whenever I think of Ohio Amish communities I think immediately of Holmes County which is the Amish version of Niagara Falls – not because of cascading water, but cascading tourists. They rush out of busses and cars filled with holiday exuberance and leave in their wake a healthy flow of cash spent on buggy rides, quilts, antiques, inns, Amish cooking, bulk spices, and Amish-made furniture.

Buggies abounded on the road to the auction, as did the sight of farm equipment, horses, cows, and large plain white houses and barns. Nearing our destination though we turned onto a road dotted primarily with modern ranch houses and pulled to a stop in front of the one working farm on it. From the passenger seat I gazed across Eric and out the window at a yard filled with STUFF of all kinds presided over by a small army of Amish men and women scurrying about to bring yet more things from the house and prepare the food for the auction-goers to buy. Many times I have been to auctions with Amish bidders, but this was the first one ever held at an Amish farm. Aside from about four other people, we were the only “English” in attendance which was quite interesting, though Eric does have Amish customers at the store sometimes and when I was editor of a weekly newspaper (first journalism job a million years ago) the Amish drove into town to place classified ads at the newspaper office. But even so, the novelty of it gave the day a welcome little zip.

For about ten minutes we walked around gazing at furniture, dishes, linens, and tools with no books in sight. Normally this would be enough to send my internal alarm into shriek mode, but I was too busy watching a young Amish man to notice. The rest of the men and boys wore long-sleeved blue work shirts topped with black vests, but not this guy. Never mind that it was cold enough to practically see your breath -- he strutted around like a banty rooster in a short-sleeved, very fitted shirt showing off his considerable physique. The pants, while of the Amish button-front style, were also fitted -- think rumble scene in West Side Story. I was quite bemused until Eric spotted the books and beckoned me over

I should have spotted them myself given the crowd hovering around the many boxes, but I don;' recall ever seeing  an Amish guy who not only was a hunk, but KNEW it. Hmmm –  that’s not what we’re here to talk about though, is it? No, it’s not. So then ….

It’s been our experience that the Amish LOVE books and will pay astonishing – make that, staggering -- amounts of money for them. The only time I ever won a bidding war against an Amish man was for an over-sized two volume set of 19th century books about “modern” machinery and it ended up costing me a hundred dollars when I’d expected to pay $50. Ah, but not to worry. After going through a dozen boxes the handwriting was on the wall. Unless you wanted Amish romances, children’s books of the Laura Ingalls Wilder variety, quilting books, cookbooks, German bibles, and cowboy coloring books from the 50’s all colored in, this was not your auction. Sadly. we departed without even registering.

As we turned back onto the main road though Eric spotted a garage sale. Yes, I know I don’t love garage sales, but by then I was desperate. The house was a modern ranch and the very nice lady running the sale a Mennonite. She had had many books, she informed me, but she’d advertised on Craig’s List and all the “good ones” were gone. Fortunately, those consisted of 36 Janet Oke romances, so the pain was more than tolerable, especially after we discovered three surprisingly good books in the garage – The Amish In America; Failed Settlements (it had dates, but I don’t remember and the book is already at the mall), plus Mennonites in Europe and Amish Mennonites in Germany; The Estates Where They Lived, and Their Families.

At that point we were downright giddy with success, so we threw caution to the wind and took a detour through the town of Ravenna. As luck would have it a charity run in town blocked off the main drag and forced us to turn onto a side street which brought us smack in front of the library and a large sign that said BOOK SALE. I knew very well that Saturday was the last day of the picked-over sale, but when the book gods send you a scrap of anything you’re wise to shut up and be grateful. So in we go and within five seconds I am holding a brand new Easton Press leatherbound copy of Together We Cannot Fail; FDR and The American Presidency in the Years of Crisis replete with its CD. A few minutes more and I find an extremely handsome British edition of Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes from the 1960’s in a very nice dustjacket. That, too, is already at the mall. Admittedly, it wasn’t a lot to get excited about, but here’s the thing -- the bill was a dollar. A DOLLAR!

I know, I know, it could still be argued that the excursion was a failure considering how far we traveled. But I beg to differ. Five good books for a song, a great time, and a Thai salad at Panera upon return to civilization is not to be sneezed at. AND, let us not forget, that doesn’t even count the banty rooster and his fitted shirt!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tomorrow! Tomorrow!

Hi everybody,

Just wanted to let you know I'm still on the planet. I have been crazy busy, but will be back tomorrow, the 20th, with a new post. PROMISE!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Searching for Book Sales

Well, it looks like I’m still a bookseller in search of a book sale. My Michgian back-up plan crashed and burned because I remembered the dates wrong. I saw the ad a couple weeks ago, but of course then it was far in the future so I didn’t make notes. When I went back to check this morning my heart sank to my feet. It’s TOMORROW, the day Eric returns from the wilds of Indiana. We can’t even go on the first day which is Thursday (tomorrow night’s the preview) because it’s at nine a.m. which means we’d have to be in line hours earlier and it’s a three hour drive from here. If we could go up the night before it would be great because we could also do the preview, but there’s no way Eric will be up for that after a five hour trip home in a huge truck.

The interesting thing about this sale is it comes equipped with a wrinkle I’ve never seen before. On preview night all books are priced fifty per cent more than they will be the following morning. At first glance you fly back in horror, but here’s the thing. The ad said that on the regular day prices would range from a dollar to ten dollars. So, okay, a $10 book on opening day is a $15 book at the preview. If it’s the right book, who cares? Around here the FOL sales are so inflated they should pass out complimentary vials of smelling salts for when you fall to the floor in a dead faint which is practically guaranteed to happen. It’s nothing to see books priced at $50-$100. Sometimes I even buy them, which probably just encourages them, but I’ve done okay with it and am not complaining about the good stuff. It’s when they get full of themselves over books that are not worth it, or are in deplorable condition, that I get a little cranky.

Condition means nothing to FOL pricers. They “look it up” (oh, how I hate that phrase) compare apples to breadfruit, and then cheerfully pencil in the biggest price they can find. A lot of them then run a print-out which used to be a joke because all you had to do was look at the number of the listing to calculate how many above it were cheaper and also the date at the top which gave away the fact that they’d looked it up LAST YEAR. Ah, but now they are smarter – all numbers and dates are – you guessed it – gone! So it’s still a joke, just a smarter one.

Of course the reason FOLs exist is not to make booksellers wealthy (THERE’S an oxymoron, huh?), but to raise money for the library. I’m definitely all for that and really don’t even get too worked up over the mile-high prices (unless I fall for a bogus one and get burned!). If they get their asking price God bless ‘em. My big complaint centers on allowing the sales to be pre-picked by “volunteers” who are actually dealers whose motives have about as much to do with philanthropy as roller skates have to do with chickens. But it’s a beautiful sunny day and I’m in no mood for a rant of that ilk, so enough said about the whole thing.

Oh! Here’s something fun. Yesterday I sold the BEST dictionary at the antiques mall. If you have not seen the Webster’s from the 30’s that’s a foot thick you haven’t seen a dictionary. This is truly the mother of all dictionaries. It’s been there since November and has been looked at a lot. I know this because nobody seems able to put it back on the shelf, so it usually remains on the floor in front of the shelf. I don’t know what the going price is online these days and don’t much care. I got $70 for it and that was fine by me. I also have a very fine two volume replacement dictionary from the 40’s with gorgeous green marbled edges and color plates I’ll be dragging over Thursday.

Speaking of the mall, a potentially interesting deal got tossed in the works. One of the mall employees wants to get rid of a lot of his own books and would very much like a firearms book we have on display. He was hoping we could swap all of his for the one of ours. The book he wants is $65 though, so it’s not as peachy as it sounds at first glance. Still, you never know. He called yesterday to say he’d left a partial list of what he has in the cabinet under one of the bookcases where I keep extra tickets and my cleaning supplies (one of the responsibilities of selling at the mall is cleaning your own booth), so I will check it out when we’re there. The good news is we’ll be going to an FOL sale near where he lives in a week, so if we can connect it won’t even be an extra trip.

I’m actually anxious to get to the mall because I spent the morning readying some very nice books. In addition to the two volume dictionary, I have a three volume Palfrey’s History of New England (1859); Siebert’s seminal The Underground Railroad; From Slavery to Freedom, first edition, 1899; and the ten volume set of Stoddard's Lectures plus four supplements. I'm telling you, if you can't afford a vacation just book an armchair trip with old Stoddard and you'll not only see the world, but  have a blast doing it. Fabulous pictures and readable prose -- when it comes to vintage travel Stoddard's THE MAN.  Last, but not least, I have a  charming 1883 guide to raising canaries and cage birds illustrated with bright, colorful chromolithographs. The fun part is it’s so earnestly written that the author actually provides the music and lyrics for songs to teach your bird! Anybody up for a rousing Fatinitza March and Chorus? No? Well, anyway and I’ve got a bunch of other stuff too, but those are the goodies.

So on that note (ha-ha) I’m off to accomplish something which probably means snapping endless pictures. The good news is if I do it enough I may gain a back-up skill in case the books go belly-up. But let's not talk about that. EVER.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Strange Case of the Bookless Auction

Here’s an odd thing to start the day. Last week I saw an ad for an auction that contained these magic words “books, books, and more books …” The location was a bit far, however, to commit, so I decided this morning to email the auctioneer and see if he could be a bit more specific. I told him that I buy vintage and antiquarian books and paper in good or better condition and wondered if he could offer a broad topic range and a general overall assessment of their condition. Immediately he zapped back a reply saying that he doesn’t remember SEEING any books in that particular auction! I copied and pasted the above portion of the ad and of course expressed mild surprise. His reply? There was none!!!!

The upside of course is that we won’t gallivant all over hell’s half-acre for nothing, but how incredibly strange is THAT? Most auctioneers aren’t book guys, often don’t even like books, but if they have them they at least snap a couple lousy pictures and mention a few titles or categories. Never have I seen an auctioneer state that he had many books only to realize that he probably didn't have ANY. A few years ago we went to an auction in Galena, Ohio which centered strictly on one man’s Native American book collection. Nothing was very old and we knew that going in, but there were nonetheless enough known prizes to make it worth the trip. Sure enough, collectors and dealers immediately got the ball rolling so briskly that at the half-way point the auctioneer did a complete one-eighty.

“I don’t usually like books, but this could make a believer out of me!” he announced with a grin.

No kidding! He did very well, but so did we. The book I most wanted and actually got was False Faces of the Iroquois, which though exciting, was surpassed by a sleeper hidden in a lot we bought for the store. I immediately laid claim to it and researched it exhaustively to find out why such an ordinary-looking university press book should price in three figures. Unfortunately, I can’t remember its title because it never made it to my database. I sold it on ebay almost instantly for $500. It wasn’t old, but it WAS collectible, primarily due to a controversy that sprang up around it causing most copies to be destroyed.

Anyway, getting back to this auction, I’m very disappointed to say the least, as it was supposed to launch the new season. We haven’t been to a sale in at least three weeks, and maybe even four. I am so itchy to buy books I’m practically jumping out of my skin. We MUST do it this weekend. We MUST, though so far it’s not looking real promising. I do, however, have a little back-up plan that might work in the middle of next week. It would require a trip to Michigan, but that’s okay because we could see the “grands” (love my babies!) and stay at our daughter’s house overnight. Hmmmm … this could work. Okay, I’m happier now.

So on that note I’ll end with something I read this morning from the book pictured above, A Passion for Books by Lawrence Clark Powell, 1958. I’ve had it for a long time, but could never seem to make a decision about it. Every time I get it out of the closet to list it I waffle. No, no can’t sell it. I want it. But then I take it down to the family room bookcases which hold my collection of books about books and waffle yet AGAIN. It’s not a book about bookselling or collecting – it’s a book about librarianship. Of course I love both libraries and librarians -- that goes without saying -- but the Dewey decimal system, is one of those things I'm grateful for, but doesn’t light a fire under me. So, why then you ask, have I not thought to OPEN the book and read past the table of contents to help accelerate the never ending decision-making process? Good question. I thought of it today in fact, whereupon, in the grand tradition of bibliomancy (which we earlier discussed), I opened it at random and read this:

“Suspect he who lives a bookish life from eight to five, then shuts the door to heaven-on-earth and turns to cards, or golf, or worse. Give me the man whose life is encircled with books, who lives and plays, wakes and dreams, sells or lends, and everlastingly reads books, who practices what he preaches, the true gospel that next to a mother’s milk, books are the best food. Thus I view with alarm the invasion of the book world by barbarians who neither believe in books for their totality of being, their fusion of form and content, nor have any sentimental feelings for the book as a thing in itself.”

Decision made! Rock on Lawrence Clark Powell. Rock on.

(NOTE: Lawrence Clark Powell died in 2001 at the age of 95.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Of Books, Bookbags and the Post Office Blues

I wish I could say I didn’t post yesterday because I was burning the place up with industriousness, but that would be about fifty miles west of the truth. I ran around with Nancy in the morning and spent the afternoon reading and working a full week’s worth of New York Times crossword puzzles. Eric called at six and after I talked to him I made some pasta and spinach salad and tortured myself with one of those 9-11 retrospective shows on TV. Sales stayed strong online – one more gun-related book and then zap! the weapon streak snapped like a crisp carrot. After that it was on to genealogy. I am not kidding. I sold two genealogy books within two hours last night – The Butler Family of Lebanon, Connecticut and Certain Topics on the Ingraham, Waterhouse and Allied Families which joined the earlier Stonington Graveyards and Planters of the Commonwealth. I have no idea if there’s any truth to this, but I have substantial anecdotal evidence to show that every time that genealogical TV show, Who Do You Think You Are? sponsored by airs genealogy books fly off the shelf like poltergeists. I noticed last night when I was flipping channels that the segment featuring Lionel Ritchie was on again.

To be honest I also spent a certain portion of yesterday grousing about the post office. When Eric is here he takes the orders to the store with him every morning and ships from there using electronic postage and the small, friendly post office in nearby Lodi. I love the Lodi post office, but it’s ten miles away from here, so when he’s gone I revert to the one in town. I very much like the branch which is located in the grocery store, but if I have overseas orders I can’t use it. Ever since 9-11 all overseas mail must be taken to the main post office. I won’t enumerate all the reasons why I heartily dislike that place, but I most emphatically do. Yesterday they decided I could not insure an overseas package to Great Britain, so rather than make a fuss, Nancy and I took our toys and went to Lodi in a mini-snit. It turned out to be fun though. I am rarely at our store, so the sight of customers inside and out did my heart good, as did watching Nancy’s reaction to the museum.

Over the years Eric, the perpetual historian, has added to his father’s collection of antique Ohio rifles and created a museum – a really, truly honest-to-goodness museum with well researched signage and displays all around the walls of a large room off the main showroom. An enormous fireplace flanks one wall and in the winter it blazes perpetually so people sit around on Saturdays in rocking chairs whiling away the afternon talking and reading. While the rifles are the centerpiece, there are also collections of antique powder horns, Indian relics, Indian beaded items such as moccasins and belts, local history, antique tools and an especially poignant showcase doiminated by a Civil War Union uniform worn by a guy from nearby Lodi. Along with the navy blue jacket is a portrait of him and his discharge papers. I didn’t realize when I was there that I was going to blog about this, so of course it never occurred to me to stop at the house and grab my camera. But I promise I will get Eric to take some pictures this week when he gets back and I will upload them then.

After we checked out the museum, we headed for the “cozy room” upstairs under the eaves of the original old barn structure (the store’s been added onto several times). Every time I’m there I yearn to take over this space with MY books, but Eric has so many up there I couldn’t cram in one more. The books steal the show, but there are also art prints on the walls and even a wooden rocking horse. Maybe the reason it feels so homey to me is that it’s furnished with an old couch that was once  in our family room and the round oak pedestal table that used to grace our kitchen until we put in the island. I’ll get pictures of this too.

Anyway, the books and the museum mellowed my miffed mood, as did The Mill’s breakfast special which Nancy and I enjoyed immediately upon return to Medina. By the time I got home I didn’t even hate the post office anymore because there waiting on the porch was the brand new L.L. Bean deluxe book bag I’d ordered to launch the fall book buying season. We have lots of ratty old canvas bags, but nothing on the order of this beauty which cost an arm and two legs, but is so worth it for it capaciousness, it’s zippered closure, and most especially, it’s rigidity.

One look at it and a feeling of expansiveness poured over me. I think subconsciously I’ve always associated these bags with “real dealers.” I don’t what I’ve been these past 14 years if not a “real dealer”, but the U.S. post office brought me an outward symbol.

So I guess I can’t really harbor a grudge.

Friday, September 09, 2011

New Homes For Book Orphans

My youngest daughter Caitie firmly believes that when something good is happening, but is not definitively resolved, you are wise to shut up and not jinx it with endless blather. Her mother sort of believes it too, but apparently not enough to actually do it. Based on this past week I am here to tentatively suggest that fall may have officially rode in on a speedy horse rounding up people in the mood to buy books. Both online sales and antiques mall sales have been quite robust which is partly why I failed to keep my blogging streak going yesterday.

When I look back at a week’s sales I always like to see what people bought as much as what they spent. As a bookseller I am as in love with the “product” as I am with the jingling of the cash register. I don’t sell widgets and I am not in the business of shipping rectangular objects from hither to yon, so it endlessly fascinates me to look at the list. Hopelessly corny as it probably is, I sometimes think of my inventory as an orphanage of small souls in need of homes, so when one gets adopted it’s always cause for rejoicing, however insignificant the price. Yes I know -- I do complain when all the sales come off the “bad” server and consist of only low-end old stuff that’s been kicking around for more than a decade, but even as I whine I’m sort of tickled anyway.

I haven’t really talked about the weekly sold list, but I woke up this morning thinking it was Saturday and my friend Nancy and I were off to the library to sign the petition to repeal the Ohio governor’s legislation that compromises voting rights for a large segment of the population. I knew there were no sales to go to because I’d checked the paper, but I still thought it was Saturday which is odd because Eric just left yesterday for Indiana. Sometimes if he’s gone and I spend too much time holed up in my office working (I’ve been known to go twelve hours at a stretch) I get a little hermitlike and lose track of the day. Fortunately, I logged onto the computer before I made the coffee, saw the date, and snapped back to reality.

But thinking about Nancy reminded me of two years ago when I tore my rotator cuff by climbing up the basement stairs the day before the Case Western Reserve book sale and somehow entangling my foot in the leg of my capri-length pajamas. Eric had to leave for a trip within a week of this debilitating injury, so I was planning to shut down until Nancy offered to wrap and ship for me. Now get this – Nancy works a 40 hour week and still offered to do this every other night for two weeks. Am I lucky, or what? I truly think, and not just because of this, that Nancy is the finest human being I have ever met. Like clockwork she showed up, cheerful and diligent, and turned out packages as meticulous as those I wrap myself. But the thing I loved most was her delight in what people bought and her amazement at some of the titles awaiting her ministrations. I remember especially a stack of twelve Chemical Abstracts journals published in the 1920’s by the American Chemical Association. Her amazement still makes me laugh – maybe because I’m still pretty amazed myself.

Well, that was a lot of words to get to the point, wasn’t it? Anyway, I thought maybe, book lovers that you are, you would find it fun to sneak a peak at my weekly list. Actually there are two lists – one for online and one for the mall. I won’t enumerate everything, but instead just share some highlights from each.

Online the mood was rather “weaponish” this week with sales for Firearms Investigation Identification and Evidence; Illustrated British Firearms Patents; Remington Autoloading & Pump-Action Rifles: A History of the Centerfire Models 760, 740, 742, 7400 & 7600; Fur Trade Cutlery; The Knife In Homespun America; and A.H. Fox, The Finest Gun in the World. The latter was my first sale from the books I bought from my online customer. Other topics included thatching roofs, building model planes, political buttons, collecting medicine bottles, the history of the United States Navy in two volumes, Border Settlers of Northern Virginia, narrow gauge railroads, the splashy 1926 United States Steel 25th Anniversary retrospective I mentioned earlier that I'd quoted to a customer; and a very cool booklet on short selling from 1931 by Richard Whitney the disgraced and jailed president of the New York Stock Exchange. It even included his card laid-in.  

The antiques mall proved much more eclectic as is often the case. Amongst the claimed books there were a signed first edition by Alistair Cook (best known at our house as Alistair Cookie a la Sesame Street); The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare (Shakespeare rocks at the antiques mall); a book on crowd psychology; an ENORMOUS Currier & Ives calendar from 1968 (think elephant folio); Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; several issues of Ohio Practical Farmer from 1888; a book about Ohio interurbans; a book about Cleveland churches; and Alan Nevins’ eight volume series on the Civil War.

What any of this means in terms of trends is anybody's guess. In fact, I doubt it means a darn thing except that we sell what we have. Other than Leaves of Grass, none of the above are books I would read myself. And yet I love every last one of them and hope they all found good homes where they will be appreciated for a very long time.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Great Excuse To Buy Books Guilt-Free!

Happy National Buy A Book Day! Honest – I did not this make it up, though I might have had it occurred to me. The truth is it happened last year when rumors began flying that Border’s was in deep trouble. Philip Athans, author of (among other books), The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction suggested it on the website Grasping for the Wind; Science Fiction & Fantasy News and Reviews. The directive was for booklovers everywhere to buy one new book, preferably by a living author in any genre and price range as long as the full sticker price was paid. Personal gain was to be set aside so that publishers, booksellers and authors would reap maximum profit and the future of the book supply chain would shine a little brighter in these dark times.

I had forgotten about this until I saw it on Twitter this morning. I can’t remember if I participated last year, but I’m going to this year even though I bought a book on feebay yesterday – a brand new catalog for an auction of Tasha Tudor’s historic costumes. Believe it or not, it’s not for me and it’s not for resale either. For once I actually (did the world slip off its axis for a millisecond?) bought a Christmas present well in advance, though I admit that there was no advance PLANNING involved whatsoever. I saw it and immediately thought of my friend Mary Lynn who has a prodigious collection of Tasha Tudor first editions to which this will make an interesting adjunct. But now I have to buy another book.

What shall I buy? My own wants are satiated having gone to the library last night and brought home not one, but FOUR, books I’ve been wanting to read, which is not only something of a record, but will provide me with much solace while Eric is off to yet another show, this time in Friendship, Indiana. I’m telling you, this guy is all about bright lights, big city. Anyway, I lugged home the following eclectic lot: Lit by Mary Karr, author of the harrowing The Liars’ Club; Round Ireland In Low Gear by Eric Newby; The Man Who Loved Books Too Much; The True Story of a Thief, A Detective and A World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett; and for sheer fun, Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews. I can tell you right now that the big screen high-def TV will be coated in dust this week!

The more I think about this though the more I feel inclined to stretch the parameters of National Buy A Book Day. I get the premise and I KNOW we need to keep the supply chain iron-strong, but used and antiquarian sellers need a break too. So I think I am going to buy TWO books, one new and one used. What would be great would be to add to my stash of Christmas presents which so far consists of the Napoleon Hill success book I bought for my daughter Caitie back in the spring and the soon-to-be auction catalog. I already know what collectible book I’m going to buy – I just have to figure out its title. Eric has been collecting the reprint set from the 70’s of the William Gilmore Simms Revolutionary War series. All he needs is volume eight and he has them all. Well, I had a look in volume one and it appears that the one I want is called Woodcraft. These babies haven’t been cheap when I’ve bought them in the past, but in today’s crazy internet world I might score one for a dollar. Who knows?

Now – the big question is, what should the NEW book be? I'm not sure yet, but it’s a good thing I have to buy online for lack of a bookstore in town, as the U.S. Postal Service just told Congress that it might be in default by the end of the month.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Show and Tell -- Installment One

I just read the comment from Saturday Evening Post on the bookcase redo and how he wishes it were possible to have read the titles of the books. Oh, how absolutely true this is! WHAT was I thinking? No bibliophile wants to see a pretty picture of a full bookcase without knowing what’s in it. It’s like those last few minutes before a book sale begins. All those books visible through the glass and you know you’re going to jump out your skin if you don’t in the next two and a half seconds know what they are. It drives me crazy enough when I look at auction pictures and the photographer stands two miles away and all you can see is rows of color blocks. I guess I was so caught up in the return to beauty and order that I never stopped to consider that I was torturing you! Many apologies.

Of course, it’s impossible to show you everything at once, so how about this? Every once in awhile when I have nothing to talk about – sometimes that actually happens – I’ll take something interesting down and show it to you. A few of the books there are listed, but most are not and even most of the listed ones are purposefully overpriced so they don’t sell. I know – it makes no sense – but it’s a trick I learned from Eric’s dad who used to be an antiques dealer. He did it all the time because it assuaged his conscience for keeping the best stock for himself. And of course if any of it did sell the price was oh-so-right. Believe it or not, sometimes overpriced stock did, and still does, sell. But of course you don’t count on it to pay the winter heating bills.

Okay then, let’s start with what I think are the best books there. These are not even listed at an inflated price because if they were to depart my company I would implode – pfffftttttt! – gone, right on the spot. I got these probably five years ago at the Case Western Reserve University sale on half price day for $300. Back then they allowed even the best of their antiquarian titles to be bargain priced, something they don’t do now. It’s kind of funny too because back then buying there was the equivalent of half price on Godiva chocolate and today it’s like taking out a mortgage for a Hershey bar. Anyway, lucky me, I got this six volume set A Picturesque View of Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland published by William Mackenzie, London. They’re quartos, heavily gilded on the face boards and sporting gilt page edges on all three sides of the text block. Oddly, there is no date on this set, but it is clearly old and very beautiful.

I’ll be honest though. This is one of those examples of when the deal was struck less for content than for the physical objects themselves. You KNOW I love books and read them avidly and emotionally. But sometimes I do respond to a book solely at the object level and this set is a case in point. Not only are they beautiful outside, but look at the paintings of which there are so many, all in color. Actually, it’s interesting to read the commentary on some that are well known, such as Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. I did, however, find them a bit skimpy on Irish castles and estates, but considering “the troubles” I guess it was to be expected.. Eric and I spent a month in Ireland back in the 70’s when we were young and relatively unencumbered. We wandered through so many gorgeous manors they’ve all blended together in my memory. But there is one image that flashes to mind -- a ceiling that looked like a piece of Wedgewood, blue backdrop with raised decoration in white. Imagine having THAT done at today’s prices!

So there you have the first installment on my promise. Enjoy – and maybe, if you haven’t already, fall at least a little in love with antiquarian books.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Rainy Day and Sundays

Overcast skies and drizzle today, but Nancy and I were undeterred from our Sunday walk. We do five miles – the same neighborhood route all the time because we’ve marked it out with a pedometer – unless we go to Hinckley which we must do soon and when we do I must take a camera to show you this jewel of a spot. Storms threatened today (they have so far failed to occur) but we didn’t dare venture onto the trails surrounding the big lake. We did see a deer though, a doe, as we crossed through Reagan Park which connects my neighborhood (Timberlake) to Forest Meadows which is larger. She stood alert a few feet off the drive gazing at us through a clearing as though we were a zoo exhibit. I have had no deer in the yard all summer, which pleases Eric because they munch too heartily on flowers, sometimes eating them to the root. But I know that fall and winter will bring them back again, and I will be glad, as I never tire of their beauty. It’s the eyes I think. Deer look at you with a brown velvet gaze the color of ancient sorrow.

We enjoyed the walk, came back and hung out in the kitchen for awhile and then after Nancy left I rearranged the bookshelves Eric built in the living room. I hadn’t noticed until we went in there to get a book on sulphides, the kind that are cameos enclosed in glass, that my carefully thought out shelves which featured not only books, but other beautiful and whimisical collectibles had become suddenly overcrowded. Books lay sideways on top of books, my cobalt glass vases had become bookends, and the overall look was one of chaos and confusion. The realization drew me up short and brought with it a kind of despair. How had I let this happen? And how had I not realized it? Even now after my ministrations it’s only marginally better, but I am out of space.

Touching the books, which consist of a mishmash of things we like with things that have collectible value, is usually a pleasure, but today served only to deepen my despair. I have worked hard to learn about books for over a decade and yet what remains unlearned is so vast I can barely comprehend it. It’s like gazing up at the night sky and pondering the unfathomable depth and breadth of the universe. I feel such a frustration because it’s so rare to find truly good books here. I have had nice books, I still have nice books, and I am grateful for that--but I have not had the kind I wish to have learned from. How amazing it would have been to have apprenticed with a shop that DOES have fine books. This weekend I sold one antiquarian book, but all the rest were of the usual modern ilk. They ranged in price from $45 to $100 and I am grateful for that too, but these are the not the books that call to me, not the books which decorate my dreams as my brain plays out bizarre scenerios against their backdrop. I truly don’t think that I will ever see these kinds of books or, be versed enough, to deal with them if I do.

The infamous book sale comment I overheard at the Cuyahoga Fall Library sale a few years ago -- “You don’t gotta know nothin’ to sell books”, today rattles around in my head like a pebble in the toe of a shoe. I don’t know whether to raise the ante on my indignation or weep at such utter ignorance. Nancy and I were talking about this today and she said I underestimate myself, that I have never been a know-nothing bookseller even when I first began and knew much less than I know now. I can see how she would say that, as I am a researcher, a caretaker, a bibliophile from birth, but none of that makes it true. Yes, I have moved into a different, and more interesting place than the one at which I began, but the truth is nonetheless this – the journey has been slow, the path steep, and the walker a pilgrim, staff in hand, still forging onward without a map.

It’s pretty hard to get there when you don’t know where “there” is. Is “there” the place where you know everything about typography, small presses, woodcuts, steel engravings, early photography, and edition points. Or is “there” a mile further off to the left of the place where you speak fluently the language of books. Or is “there” even further yet where you have acquired credentials greater than “street cred”? I don’t know, but I do know one thing -- I will not make it to there. Ever. I know this as surely as I know the deer will return this winter. I’m even okay with it.

Except on Sundays when it rains.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Holiday Labor

Finally – the sun is breaking through the trees outside my office window, a necessary component to this holiday-less weekend. While everyone fires up the grill and pays homage to the last rites of summer I will be here wielding the vacuum cleaner, listing books, and at best, reclining on the couch with Erica Bauermeister’s delicious novel The School of Essential Ingredients. As always on the Labor Day weekend, Eric is back at the Great Lakes (no, it's the Great TRAIL!) Festival selling books from an enormous tent, which of course means that it is absolutely, positively NOT allowed to rain, though sometimes it does anyway despite my vehement demands that it not. The most notable time occurred a few years ago in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a picturesque town nestled on the banks of the upper Mississippi. By the time a storm of biblical proportions blew out of town a full third of his show inventory wound up on the warehouse floor like a heap of sodden towels. One glance and the insurance adjuster declared it a total loss. But let’s not go there …

Instead I’m focused on accomplishments today, some of which even include house cleaning. Yesterday I listed books, but mostly floated around the house in a state of ecstacy. Our youngest daughter Caitie landed a job in her new home in Maryland as an account exec for a marketing firm. AND the storm that’s headed for Florida chose to wait until our oldest daughter and her family left Disney World. They landed in Detroit late last night, but already she loaded a couple hundred photos onto Snapfish, which meant I began the day in granny heaven. Isn’t my baby CUTE?

I’m hoping sales pick up at the antiques mall this weekend as they did over the Fourth of July, but honestly it’s not looking good. While online sales have spiked – not in quantity, but definitely in dollar value (which is even better) the mall has slipped into a coma. And that’s not even the worst of it. Someone apparently dropped an antiquarian book on the floor from a top shelf, broke the binding and sent pages scattering like leaves in a windstorm. Then they scooped them all up and shoved them into the binding willy-nilly, which of course is a moot point since the poor book died the second it hit the floor, but still. Someone also left on the floor the plastic bag and ticket for a wonderful ephemera item which had fold-out diagrams for building boats. Even before Eric went through all the baskets looking for the missing brochure I knew we’d experienced theft again. Just as before, it tamped my exuberance like tobacco in the bowl of a pipe.

Oh, but wait, that’s not even all. I left the big one for last. The second I turned into my space with a banker’s box full of books I was greeted by a heap, a mound, no, a MOUNTAIN, of books on the floor. We’re talking Mt. Shasta here, all on antiques and collectibles. I knelt down to reshelve them and immediately realized that the shelf had collapsed. Who knows how long they’d lain there?

“Do you think maybe we made it too heavy?” I asked as Eric knelt down beside me

He stuck his head in the bookcase and had a look around. “Nope. Somebody used it as leverage to stand up. Broke the bracket clean off.”

I glanced over at the chair, the ugly, ugly chair I bought in hopes that it would stick around for a while. The good one departed too fast, so I figured go for ugly, price it high, and I’ve got a chair for life to allow people to browse the bottom shelves. But apparently it doesn’t matter whether or not I have a chair. Fortunately, we live right off the main drag where the antiques mall is located, so Eric left me to make order and shelve the new stuff while he went home and got some tools and another bracket. Forty-five minutes later we were back in business.

Though I went home in a state of high dudgeon, none of this diminishes my love for the mall. The fact is, whether it’s online or in a retail setting, sales go up, sales go down. Books sit on the shelves like jewels and books meet sorry fates (I once fell down the stairs and broke the binding of one I’d just sold. And we won’t even get into the mini-flood of a couple years ago). It's also why other people are firing up grills this weekend while Eric sells books in a tent and I  list the pile on the floor next to my desk

Call it a labor of love. Because, in the end, that's eaxctly what it is.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Rightness of Handwriting

This must be some kind of record – here I am posting four days in a row. I guess there’s been a lot to get “het up” over this week and today is no exception. But how can you not get in a dither when the first thing you read at six o-clock in the morning is an article saying that cursive writing will no longer be taught in the schools in Indiana? Is it just me, or is anyone else freaking out over this? I mentioned it -- well , maybe I thundered down the stairs, flew into the kitchen like a dust storm, and ranted and raved -- to Eric who was reading the New Yorker and eating Grape Nuts at the kitchen island. I was certain he’d join me in mid-whirl and we’d start the day filled with the satisfaction of mutual indignation. But he barely looked up.

“DO YOU REALIZE WHAT THIS MEANS? How will we sign documents? How will we …”

“Oh, I suspect they’ll work something out,” he muttered, returning to an article about haute cuisine and the consumption of insects.

Work something out????? What does he MEAN work something out? There is no working out to be done. We either value the individuation of handwriting, or we don’t. And this from a man whose grandmother took a course in Spencerian script and left behind many documents and letters of artistic beauty. A man who loves signed books even if the autograph is from somebody’s granny who penned a treatise on tatting antimacassars and printed it out on a ditto machine in the basement with smelly purple ink and bound it in construction paper with crooked staples. A man who wrote his future wife a letter on both sides of so many pages of legal pad the thin air mail envelope nearly burst at the seams. All I can say is, if such a man can scarf down Grape Nuts and read about baking bugs at a time like THIS our society is in big trouble.

While I would grant that his handwriting would not win penmanship awards, I love that handwriting and would recognize if from twenty feet without magnification. That handwriting with its regulation capital E’s (mine have since morphed into a thing of beauty if may say so myself) tell the world that Eric Kindig and ONLY Eric Kindig signed this letter, made this will, and wrote this lone poem to his fiancĂ©e (which, by the way, wasn’t bad). His signature, my signature, and yours, are part of who we are, a handprint, as it were, of our very presence on the planet.

I remember learning cursive writing. Oh, how I loved mastering the task of relaxing my grip on the pencil and making  rows and rows and ROWS of looping interconnecting “O’s” big enough to fill the space between the rules on notebook paper. As soon as these became even and natural I got the prize – graduation to the use of a fountain pen. Okay, so maybe such implements weren’t so hot in the hands of a third grader, but I still remember the little plastic vials of ink we called cartridges and the scratchy pen point which sometimes loaded with too much ink and left annoying little spots on the ends of the last letter in a word. But that’s not the point. Well, it IS the point actually, but not that kind of point. The point that matters is that we learned the ancient craft of translating our thoughts into something visible and concrete by the use of our fine muscles, our brains, and our hearts. And in doing so, joined the vast continuum of humanity – ancient man who scratched petroglyphs on stone, medieval monks who left behind manuscripts of dazzling illumination, 18th century farmers who kept track of their expenses in leather ledgers, Victorian letter writers who bled purple prose, and even 20th century teenage girls who rambled about their secret crushes in diaries secured by heart-shaped locks that could be picked with a bobby pin.

I suppose I should add that Indiana children will still learn block printing since it mimics the symbols on keyboards. Or is it keyboards which mimic block letters? The distinction seems vague and almost unnecessary to contemplate these days, but contemplate it I do. I wonder why they even bother to teach printing really. What, after all, are cell phones, I-pads, and computers FOR if not for communication? Maybe it’s in case some poor Hoosier, in a moment of unthinkable departure from home minus cell phone or tablet, gets kidnapped and sequestered in an abandoned warehouse on the mean streets of Gary and needs to send an SOS.

I can’t imagine what else it would be for. Unless maybe to communciate with the dead.