Friday, April 10, 2009

Pieces of the Past

One of the most interesting aspects of my job involves the opportunity to delve into Gaylord boxes of discarded books and paper ephemera. Most book lovers who attend sales concentrate on books that are either within their personal areas of interest or those that they think can be turned on eBay or Craig's list for cash. I head first for the boxes of pamphlets, chapbooks and paper ephemera. It's called ephemera for a reason and here is where real treasures can be found . . .

Old softcover printings of Gary Snyder's first poems . . . the very first brochures ever distributed when Disneyland opened in Anaheim . . . histories of small communities . . . Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters' fanciful squibs published under pseudonyms . . . small, small press folios representing the earliest works of American writers.

Today, while gathering old books that were falling apart in order to practice book repair and case binding, I brought home a 1888 book in The Mermaid Series, edited by Havelock Ellis and containing The Best Plays of the Old Dramatists: John Ford. Published by Vizetelly & Co. of London, it is not a particuarly valuable or scarce book. The surprise appeared on the inside front cover where I found a small bookplate stating that it was, "From the Library of Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Pines, Putney Hill."

I am not a fan of Swinburne, but he is a known and famous English poet. It is interesting to know that I have before me a book that Swinburne bought, held in his hands and kept in his home. Various things were tucked between the pages and, judging by their age, might have been placed there by the poet. Of course I have no way of knowing if this is true but once again I must marvel at the tenacity of books, these time travelers, who - against all odds - survive their writers and their owners and move among us.

Had I not rescued this survivor, it would have been pulped. In what world will it move after it has left mine?

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