Oh, do I have books for you, my friend. I do, I really, really do. If you collect history or biography dealing with the period of….
Well, wait a minute. I don’t want an even bigger stampede when we open the doors, do I? I won’t tell you we got in a massive collection of books dealing with one of the most popularly collected people of modern history. You’ll have to come and find these for yourself. But I WILL tell you how to recognize them when they get here.
These books belonged to a fanatic collector of this subject. One can deduce this not just from the sheer number of books that came in, but by the large number which were given him by his friends and relatives. It’s good to be a known collector: everybody knows what to get you for your birthday.
He was proud of his collection, and rightly so. Frequently he would write his own name in good, dark ink which soaked through the page onto the next one, even though the person who gave him the book had often already done so. (And frequently on the diagonal. He always signed his name straight, so you can see the contrast.)
As his collection became more famous, he designed a special bookplate for the books in his collection, bearing a portrait of the subject surrounded by ornamental work of the period. He was not shy: he made his bookplate roughly 4 inches by 6 inches, and had to fold it a bit to make it fit into the smaller books.
His library was a place of serious study of his chosen subject. So he removed the gaudy dust jackets. But he did not throw them away: in their own way, they represented original writing about the subject, with color pictures larger than those in the text. So he cut them apart and, throwing away the blank bits, glued them securely to the front endpapers. (If the front endpapers included maps or illustrations, he would check the back endpapers. If, as if usual, the back was simply a duplicate of the front, he noted this fact, also in good, dark ink, next to what he had pasted over the front endpapers.)
Time passed, as it has a nasty habit of doing, and he realized one day that he could not go on forever adding to his collection. He willed the whole thing to a college library, which was very happy to see such a fine collection come in, which might well have gratified the late collector. They then proceeded to add black squares to the spine of each so a white call number could be burned onto it. They stamped the name of the college here and there. I do not know exactly what happened next, but they transferred the collection to another college library. Perhaps they were refocusing their collection, perhaps they needed the space for computer monitors…perhaps both.
The second library was happy with the collection, but already HAD a big collection on the subject, so many of the books were duplicates. This is how they came to me, with an intermediate stop to see if the Newberry, which also collects in the area, already had them.
So it’s a wonderful collection, covering over two hundred years’ worth of writing on this subjects (the earliest book I’ve turned up so far is from 1804). You will recognize them by the dark inscriptions which soaked through the page, the dust jacket scraps glued to the endpapers (he experimented for a while with rubber cement: these are the books with the loose bits of jacket and the dark brown streaks on the pages to which they once were stuck), that monster of a bookplate, the rubber stamps of the library, the burned of white call numbers on the black….
I was going to add a few words about the care of one’s book collection, but I see I’m out of space for today. Maybe some other time.