Monday, August 6, 2012

The Last Book Sale

How to design a clipper ship (see below)

In the 19th century people writing one another about commercial matters sometimes used the word “dull” to describe business conditions. Judging from the contexts in which it appeared, the word seems to have two major definitions – “a little slow” and “lousy.”

So, when I say that business this month has been “dull,” please understand that I mean it in the first sense. Not much is going on.

True, someone in Michigan sent me that lovely book on 19th century marine architecture, and I did manage to purchase a whaling log at a recent auction, but for the most part people have been busy vacationing, watching the Olympics, mowing their lawns, and engaging in similar non-revenue generating pastimes. Business has been dull.

A good thing, too, because my time has been completely eaten up by the new building across the street.

We’ve finally got all the construction work done. I’m just about finished cleaning up the mess, and the tenants are moving in. Daughter Celia’s working on getting her flower shop open,

son Brooks and his wife are setting up their photography studio,

and soon Anne Marie and her co-curator (they hate that word) Cynthia will be hanging their first show in the new building.

Now all I’ve got to do is figure out how to pay for the building. My first scheme, despite its originality, is generating revenue more slowly than anticipated. We made $1.05 over the weekend, but someone stole the dollar bill.

A lot of people have been stopping to photograph my sign, so I’m thinking of putting up another sign, charging $3.00 to photograph the first sign. I dunno, it’s a work in progress.

One thing I won’t be doing this week – if only for want of money and time - is flying down to Archer City, Texas for Larry McMurtry’s auction of the hundreds of thousands of used books he’s gathered in his home town.

He’s calling the auction “The Last Book Sale” – a takeoff on his famous “Last Picture Show”

and, indeed, the whole affair has a sort of elegiac tone to it. The end of an era. It seems to me that Larry who, last I heard, was still using a typewriter to write his books, represents the last of the pre-internet book dealers.

When I met him, he was in his prime.

By the 1980s I had expanded my book hunting territory as far south as Washington, DC. It was a productive route – western Connecticut, Westchester Country, over the Tappan Zee to Nyack, northern Jersey, Westchester-Lancaster, Wilmington, then down to DC, where I’d stay with my friends John Thomson and Karen Griffin of Bartleby’s Books. Back then, brick and mortar businesses abounded. We’d scout DC, northern Virginia, and Maryland, but the high point of the trip, always, was going into Larry McMurtry’s shop, Booked Up, in Georgetown.

As Larry recounts in his charming memoir, Books,

he moved to DC in the early 1970s and started a book shop with Marcia Carter. What he does not say in his memoir is that both he and the attractive Ms. Carter were smart and smart with people, able to leverage the fame of his movies into social access. He got into some of the best libraries in town, and his stock always reflected this. Booked Up was the best book store on the east coast.

Larry was generous with discounts and information and, despite his high-toned stock, he was never anything but friendly and encouraging. When I started writing, he had kind words for Gone Boy, and he even wrote a complimentary blurb for the jacket of Hubert’s Freaks.

Later in life, he moved back to Archer City, his Texas home town, and began filling it with books. By his own account he managed to accumulate 400,000 volumes for sale in four buildings, and 28,000 more in his personal library up the street. He says, "I have culled my book stock from at least a thousand bookshops - most of them now closed, in maybe a dozen countries."

Now, apparently, it’s time to start thinning out. According to the catalog, the auctioneers will offer 1400 shelf lots of about 150 books. I have no idea what or where the market is for 200,000 used books. I guess we’ll find out soon.

High on the wall at his Georgetown shop, Larry had a large 19th century chart – I think it was by Maury – showing whaling grounds and migration routes of whales through all the world’s oceans. It was a beautiful thing, not to be confused with the smaller charts in his several editions of Sailing Directions. I asked Larry about it a couple of times, but it was never for sale. Then he was gone, and Marcia was running a smaller Booked Up in a nearby location, and the whale chart wasn’t there.

Maybe it’s in one of those 1400 lots.

Pook, Samuel. A METHOD OF COMPARING THE LINES AND DRAUGHTING VESSELS, PROPELLED BY SAIL OR STEAM, INCLUDING A CHAPTER ON LAYING OFF ON THE MOULD LOFT FLOOR. NY. 1866. 14 b/w folding plans. 70 pp. with tables in text. This is a rare and important book on American Marine architecture, written by the father of the great clipper ship and ironclad designer (also named Samuel) and containing some of the son’s clipper ship plans, as well as the method father and son developed for generating perfect hull forms. Brewington p. 95. (Even 75 years ago he noted that this work was “scarce.”) McDonald 335. Spine ends chipped. Clean and fresh inside. $750

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