New car, new grand daughter, daughter (in that order)
Like so many of my colleagues, I’ve been plying my trade for the past year and a half, not from the driver’s seat of my trusty ride (in my case a new, used, 2019 RAV), but from the office chair in front of my Lenovo laptop, running Windows 10.
This has had its advantages. I’m richer, healthier, and better rested. My car remains as used as the day I bought it. I’ve got more time to spend around the house – loafing, doing chores, going on endless summer-afternoon bike rides, playing with grandchildren (see above), and so forth. Cool items have been trickling in (see below), a few purchased at virtual book fairs (their number is dwindling as VBFs exhaust themselves) and a greater number quoted to me or scouted up for me by long-time dealer pals. There’s still plenty of good material available.
Why, then, on my recent trip to Cape Breton, did I find myself fantasizing about quitting the book trade?
Honestly, these fantasies disturbed me. I love the book biz; in large measure, after 45 years, it’s who I am. And yet, I found myself scheming on the possibility of taking on a successor who would pay me over time for the acquisition of my business (providing wife and self with a sort of annuity), of somehow selling my stock or, even better, selling the whole shebang – Ten Pound Island Book Company and all its appurtenances and fixtures, its good name, and its high opinion of itself – all for one money.
It wasn’t until I’d been home for a couple of weeks, back in harness in front of the computer, that I realized the source of my disturbing fantasies.
What I love best about the trade is driving around America, meeting the sorts of odd characters and dear comrades that show up in those snooze-inducing bookseller memoirs, wheeling and dealing, forming alliances and cartels, taking risks, having to think on my feet – and think fast. What I loved, for lack of a better term, was The Life.
Yes, it was sloppy and inefficient, and not always the best way to turn a profit (okay, a lot not always) but it was how I was raised in the trade, and to me, it was the trade. What I’ve been doing for the past 18 months, though it has tangentially to do with books, is nothing more than an office job.
So, I’m handing in my notice. I’m gonna quit my desk job.
I plan to start by going back up to Cape Breton for another week, to see if I can find the good idea I left up there. Then, when I come back, I’ll hit the road. I’ll get my booster shot, stock up on masks (I’ll take a pass on the hydroxychloroquine thanks), and start driving around looking for stuff. And I’m not going to stop until I run out of money. Which, if the past is any guide, shouldn’t take long.
Meanwhile, here’s something that just drifted in, seemingly of its own accord, but actually courtesy of an old-time dealer who was kind enough to remember my name.
Map. Edo-Period Woodblock Map of Tokyo. Presented by US Consul Townsend Harris to Lt. J. C.P. Krafft, “Yeddo 1861.” Hand colored wood block map of old Tokyo, circa 1860, measuring 53 x 47 1/2 inches. Folded into decorated pasteboard covers. With manuscript insertions and printed wrapper.
In 1856, two years after Perry’s arrival, President Pierce named merchant and politician Townsend Harris as first American Consul General to Japan. Two years later, Harris successfully negotiated the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, also known as the “Harris Treaty of 1858,” securing trade with the US and increasing Western influence in Japan’s affairs. An entry in his journal from this period reads, “Friday, December 18, 1857. After an incredible amount of talk and difficulty the Japanese have given me a map of Yado. I am not to give it away, or suffer it to be copied.” Harris resigned his post in July, 1861, pleading ill health, and returned to America late in 1861.
Lt. James C. P. De Krafft, the recipient of the map, was an officer aboard the “U.S.S. Niagra,” which had just arrived in Japan. He later served as lieutenant-commander of the “Niagara” during her Civil War assault on Ft. McCree. Subsequently, he commanded the “U.S.S. Conewaugh” under Farragut at the battle of Mobile Bay. He was promoted to Lt. Commander in 1862, and Commander in 1866, following his service under Farragut.
The presentation inscription to De Krafft on this map is dated, “Yeddo Nov 16th 1861,” which suggests that Harris gave the map to De Krafft upon his departure from Japan. This is supported by the fact that two of Harris’s manuscript notations on the map point to “Niagra’s Landing,” and “Quarters provided for Niagra’s Officers.” According to “American Naval Fighting Ships,” The “Niagra” in June, 1860, transported Japan’s first diplomatic mission from America back to Japan. (This delegation is mentioned in Harris’s biography. They traveled to New York aboard the “Powhatan” in February 1860, and were returned home aboard the “Niagra.”) We may assume, therefore, that Harris’s manuscript notations were contemporary with his gifting the map to De Krafft, a high-ranking officer aboard the “Niagra,” which returned Harris to America. This would explain both the gifting of this map and the inscriptions on it. This map of Yedo is significant as an artifact of America’s earliest diplomatic entry into Japanese affairs.