If you’ve been collecting, or selling, or trying unsuccessfully to sell – hence collecting books – for any length of time, this has probably happened to you. It involves a book you’ve owned or seen several times in the past, a book with which you think you’re familiar, a known quantity in terms of content, rarity, and meaning in the grand scheme of things. Then one day you see the book and something about it catches your eye, and you look more closely at it and you see it in a way you’ve never seen it before.
It’s a pleasant experience – like falling in love again, in a very minor way. It’s the same old book, but it’s new.
This happened to me when I was working on Maritime List 250. I was cataloging a book by one Robert Gould called, unsurprisingly, “The Life of Gould, An Ex-Man-of-War’s-Man.” It’s an interesting, but not first-rate, recollection of life at sea in the mid-19th century. He goes whaling, serves in the Navy, and covers a good part of the watery world, including the Arctic. Oh, and somewhere out there he finds religion. Hence the subtitle, “A Prodigal’s Return.” I always regarded it as a bit of a yawner, a representative of a tired genre – tales told by an old salt who tricks you into thinking he’s going to talk about cannibals, and then talks about religion instead.
But this time, as I was cataloging the book, I noticed something I’d missed the first seven times (I’m not kidding. Seven times! It sounds like a lot, but over the course of forty-one years that’s about once every six years.) I was so excited I made him the poster boy for my blurb about the catalog. Here’s how it went.
Well, I don’t know quite how to characterize Maritime List 250. It’s a fairly even mix of books, manuscripts, and ephemera, with a goodly percentage of the unique, the unusual, and the downright bizarre. I’m quite charmed by “Bílá velryba. Illustroval Rockwell Kent” – Moby Dick in Czech, with the Rockwell Kent illustrations (item #37), but I’ve decided to make Roland Gould my cover boy (item #18), because he’s got an honest face and an interesting back story. I’ve had this book several times, but I never noticed, until I was cataloging this particular copy, that it’s actually a plea for financial support by the poor old sailor, who has gone blind. His shipmate of yore writes in the Preface, “I would commend him to the public, as one worthy of their confidence and sympathy” and a group of his neighbors add, “We cheerfully recommend Mr. Gould and his book to public patronage.” That struck a chord with me. In essence, I’m doing what Mr. Gould was doing – asking for money in exchange for my books. Having said that much, I cheerfully recommend this list to public patronage. You can access this catalog by clicking here.
Speaking of catalogs, I had a hell of a time getting this one up on my website. Two or three years ago I had the whole thing re-designed. While that was going on I had the web guy teach me how to put my own content on the website. That was a semi-brilliant move that, in theory anyway, greatly enhanced my efficiency, flexibility, and control. In practice however, it greatly increased my blood pressure. That was because the whole thing ran on WordPress, an online, open source website creation tool written in PHP. They tell you it is the easiest and most powerful blogging and website content management system (or CMS) in existence today, and maybe it is. What they don’t tell you is that it sucks. It’s miserable to work with. It has a counter intuitive, arcane interface that, unless you’re a trained WordPress mechanic, is an utter torture to use. To try to use. And if that’s not bad enough, the geniuses who run this open source contraption keep “improving” it. Except they don’t tell people like me about the “improvements” they’ve made. Consequently, when I go to do something that I’ve done a dozen times before, all the sudden it no longer works! I tear out my hair for hours, then call the web guy. He’s a lovely, helpful fellow, but he can’t afford to work for free.
Aw, hell. I (we) did manage to get the new catalog online, and it’s been going along quite well, so…
It’s cocktail hour.