Merry Christmas, everyone!
Maritime List 256 is back from the printer, and it looks fine. But I’ve decided to wait until 2018 to send it out. Papermania takes place Jan 5-7, and I’ll be too busy gathering ephemera for that show to properly attend to the flood of orders I anticipate, so I’ll put it in the mail Jan 8.
I wonder what this year’s Papermania will bring? The show has been in decline for the past decade, both in terms of attendance and exhibitors. Affable promoter Gary Gipstein seems content to let the show run along on its own, and as a result it’s running out of steam on its own. I presume it’s still a money maker for him, but as dealer participation dwindles my chances of making a significant find diminish. And who’s it all about, anyway? Well, at least Gary announces the NFL playoff scores throughout the weekend – a tribute to his dad, the late Paul Gipstein. Paul built the show from flea market status to the prime paper show on the east coast. A savvy promoter, he branded the show with Marilyn Monroe’s cutout image (For years the first dealer you saw when you came down the stairs was the specialist in Marilynabilia.)
and never failed to get a spot on local TV and in the Hartford Courant. Skoal, Paul!
Elsewhere in the news, Gourmet Trees© had sold its 210th and final tree by Sunday afternoon December 17th.
Customers appreciate quality product and friendly service, and our repeat business grows by leaps and bounds. If it were Christmas all year, we’d be millionaires.
2018 promises to be a year of big changes. Our daughter and son-in-law are thinking of moving into our old house (we moved there in 1978),
and we plan to relocate to the top floor of Flatrocks Gallery across the street. This will be a radical downsizing – from 3000 to 1350 square feet (with another 600 or so in the basement for my book business).
To get things started in the basement, I consigned all my local history books to colleague Bob Ritchie of Dogtown Book Shop.
But there’s still plenty left to do – enough for several months’ worth of blog entries, anyway, as I experiment with the mechanics of heading for the barn…
But I’m not quite done yet. I spent most of this past week sailing around the world between 1868 and 1883 with Augustus Percival. His 80,000 words worth of letters home to his wife arrived on my doorstep from Hong Kong in a complete jumble. I had to piece the scraps of letters together then arrange them chronologically before I could begin reading them. As far as I’m concerned, there is no aspect of the rare book trade more compelling than reassembling the life of a man who’s been dead for 134 years.
Here’s what I came up with:
Manuscript. Letters Written by Captain Augustus Percival to His Wife, 1868 – 1883. Approximately 100 letters with some fragments, all in Percival’s hand. About 80,000 words. Augustus Percival was born in Barnstable, Mass. in 1830. He was a professional mariner, but had strong attachments ashore, particularly to his wife Mercy. Fortunately for us he was a compulsive writer, keeping a diary while at sea which he refers to in his correspondence, and a constant stream of letters from overseas to his wife back in Orleans, Mass. These letters enable us to follow his career, but they also reveal – in stunning detail – the particulars of a life at sea and the romance, danger, drudgery, frustration, and complexity of commerce with foreign countries. The first three years of letters document his career as a first mate on several ships engaged in the China Trade. He is very specific about the customs and habits of the people with whom he deals, about the goods shipped back and forth, and about financial and business arrangements that support this trade. For example, in a 5000 word series of letters written from Shanghai between March 22 and April 3 1869, he says, rather astonishingly, “This is a valuable cargo – Have some 12 or 15 tons of Opium on board worth some 8 or 10 dollars a lb.” A few months later he writes, “There are some pirates on the coast, but they seldom attack a ship unless there is Opium on board of which they are very fond as are all Chinamen. We brought down 4 cases.” He refers to his supercargo, Mr. Delano, and to a relative who has gone native and become an entrepreneur in Shanghai, running a chandlery, a bar, a billiard parlor and a bowling alley (!) ashore. He tells his wife, “I wish you would get a GOOD ambrotype taken and send me.” Percival was as much a reader as he was a writer, and he keeps his wife informed of what he is reading. In the early 1870s he becomes a captain and begins trading in South Africa, bringing wool back to America in exchange for cargoes of timber, tobacco, and other staples. Then in 1876 he does a stint in the Caribbean, shipping ice down, and sugar and molasses back. He makes one more run to South Africa in 1877, then returns to America and the timber trade, sailing in 1879 from Pensacola to South Africa. In 1882 he trades in Java, the Philippines and Indonesia. Finally in 1883 he takes command of the bark “Thomas E. Goddard” and dies at sea in October of that year. I cannot stress too much the amount of detail in these letters. He names names, lists captains and ships, and tells his wife everything – the troubles of running a crew, nautical news, prices current, financial arrangements with consigners and owners, the customs and habits of people ashore and on board ship, such as a cargo of “24 Chinese girls from 16 to 24 years of age, to be sold at Singapore.” He is attacked by pirates and crewmen, survives shipwrecks, fires, and earthquakes as well as reversals of fortune, betrayals in business, and bouts of ill health. He is a religious man, attending church whenever possible, referring often to sermons and philosophical works he is reading, as well as the God to whom he entrusts his fortunes. However, perhaps typically for his time, he is not disturbed in the least by violence, slavery, or the drug trade. Touchingly, some of his last letters are to his sons Gussie and Georgie. In a letter written to Gussie on May 11, 1883, he talks about having been sick “but I am as well now as ever in my life.” Five months later he was dead. This is a novel-length account of a man’s life at sea. The letters also include a vocabulary, lists of supplies, and a manuscript chart of the Makassar Strait between Borneo and Sulawesi.
Percival’s writing is often cramped, but nearly always legible. Most of the letters are in good condition, though a dozen or so are fragmentary or difficult to date. For comparison purposes, an 1873 letter from Percival in Cuba to his wife (one that got away!) sold for $42 at Heritage Auctions in 2015. This lot, $5000