One of the unforeseen joys of my position at the Newberry is the great number of things I need to do that I’m not allowed to do. I could mention one or two, but the one which leapt to my mind today is this book I’m supposed to sell which I’d better not sell. That is, of course, a group decision. Part of the greater Newberry family is always disappointed when I haven’t sold a copy, while another part worries that I will.
It’s a beautiful book, published in an edition of only 150 copies. The paper was handmade, for a special purpose. The maps, which are housed separately, are facsimiles of rare and probably unobtainable originals. The text booklet was hand printed and hand bound by the same person who designed the box. He has passed beyond the great golden ultimately, so he won’t be making any more like it. The book appeared long before computers entered our daily lives, and was designed to be thoroughly interactive. In fact, if, upon buying a copy, you immediately began to cut it apart, the designers couldn’t have been more pleased.
Of the original 150 copies, I inherited about 60. It was a long time before anybody bothered to tell me what they were. They occupied a shelf in a room I’d been given for my own, but there was some disagreement on whether or not my use included that shelf. (Or shelves, as I will explain in a moment.)
I asked long enough that finally it was explained to me. These were the Sanuto Globe Gores. Gores, which is one of those words I learned working at the Newberry, are the bits of map mapmakers create that can be put together on a sphere to form a globe. Livio Sanuto had made this set in the 16th century, and they had come into the collection of a good friend of the Newberry. He had an idea. Why not produce a limited edition facsimile of the gores and sell them for the benefit of the library?
Simple enough, but a further development of the idea was that they be produced on handmade paper. Machine made paper can shrink in odd ways, leaving gaps in your finished product, but handmade paper, properly prepared, would shrink in the same way these were meant to shrink by Livio Sanuto. One could cut up the facsimiles, assemble them on a sphere of papier mache and create a facsimile of the original globe. (Because the globe gores were in black and white—meant for artisans at the shop to color—the owner of one of these sets could then color the globe as desired.)
David Woodward was the Newberry curator and artist who produced paper, gores, books, and cases. He also signed and numbered each of the 150 books. The Newberry now not only had a very special item for sale, and the world had one of the more expensive build-your-own-globe kits available.
Sales of the first few dozen were rather brisk, but at $600, it was not something you bought your grandchildren. The Newberry found, however, that the book made a wonderful gift for other libraries or librarians. When the Newberry sponsored one of its overseas trips, a few copies would go along to be presented to those institutions hosting our group. And at least one purchaser did, indeed, construct his own Sanuto globe out of the pages. (He kinda cheated, though. Living in another era of technology, he scanned the gores and then printed them on a spherical balloon. No cutting and pasting involved.)
Time passed (the book was printed in 1979), sales dropped off, and people forgot about the book. “Why don’t you try to sell them?” I was asked.
“Sure,” said I, being young and relatively innocent. “What price?”
“Something respectable,” I was told. “Whatever you can get.”
I listed the gores online. When I made my first sale, I ran to the shelf, took down one of the big boxes, and sent it away…to India, as I recall. Some weeks later, I received an angry email. Why had I mailed my buyer an empty box?
Frowning, I ambled over to the shelf to check. NOW I learned, for the first time, that those great big boxes contained, in fact, only the case for the parts. The numbered, signed book was over on THIS shelf, and the sets of gores were over here on THIS shelf. I assembled a new book, chalked this up to experience, and moved on.
The gores were not a quick seller, even at my popular prices, but every few months, another copy sold, frequently to exotic places. (I liked sending one to the Isle of Man, just so I could say I’d done it.) The man who owned the gores was thrilled, but what with one thing and another, it was a while before I mentioned it to anybody upstairs.
“Sold about nine of those sets of gores,” I mentioned one day, fishing for compliments.
The man looked grave. “How many are left?”
“Don’t know,” I said. “Too busy looking at the doughnut to measure the hole.”
“We don’t want to let them ALL go,” he said, still frowning. “We use those as host gifts, you know.”
I did know. What I did not know was that he took his worries to a committee, which passed them to another committee, which eventually sent someone to talk to my bosses, one of whom told me, “Be sure not to sell out of the globe gores. Leave enough for us to use if we want to use them.”
“How many is enough?” I inquired.
“I’ll get back to you on that,” she said.
I had the same conversation with one of her successors just about every time I put the book out for sale where someone could see it. There is no immediate danger that we will run out, unless this blog creates a rush. (The sheer power the Internet places in our hands is terrifying.) If you want one, come and whisper it to me, though, just to be on the safe side.