Monday, September 5, 2011
A Matter of Luck
Two interesting books on the War of 1812
Recently my blog has gotten a couple of inquiries (for me “a couple” is huge) from customers and colleagues (one inquiry each). These two kindly individuals wanted to know why I haven’t featured any books in my blog for the past month or so?
It’s flattering to know that at least two people read “Bookman’s Log” and that they are paying attention to the books the blog is supposedly advertising. But the sad truth is that I haven’t found anything worth writing about since I bought those excellent books at the Eldred auction last July 20th.
Bernice’s show at Searles Castle, while fun, yielded little more than a couple of prints. At the Vermont Book Fair I was reduced to purchasing an old trunk – a cool item, but hardly worth crowing about. The Summer Papermania Show in Hartford August 20th was good for nothing more than what we in the trade call “chowder” – relatively inexpensive books that, while interesting, will not yield big bucks. And, at the Baltimore Antique (and book) show last week, I bought one lovely thing from a colleague for $1750, but sold it to a retail customer the next day for $2750. Money in my pocket, but nothing to write about.
I’ve been stuck in a book drought of Saharan proportions.
And I’m taking it personally. All around me colleagues are buying good books in their fields. I keep firing blanks.
Over the past thirty-five years I’ve had many such periods. Sometimes, I swear, I can sense them coming, looming black holes accompanied by a sucking sound just at the edge of hearing. These periods of scarcity are no fun, but I’ve learned two things from them.
The first thing is that when you’re on a roll – when books are pouring in so fast you can’t keep up with them – you’ve got to pursue your good fortune with all the energy (and cash!) you can muster. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. When you’re on a hot streak like that, why not just relax and let it happen? Because, Grasshopper, every hot streak comes to an end. And when the end arrives, the books stop. You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines. When things are going good you’ve got to have the focus and discipline to maintain a “pedal to the metal” attitude.
The second thing took me a little longer to realize. I’d always been told - and indeed it has always been an article of faith with me – that one makes one’s own luck. Diligence, perseverance, hard work, and unflagging attention are the true components of good fortune.
I still believe this, but over the decades something else has become apparent. No matter how hard you work, how much time you put in, or how much studying you’ve done, there is still a sense in which the outcome is beyond your control. You can go to places rare books have been seen before, you can study hard to know what a rare book might look like, you can train yourself to have the eyes that will pick that rare book out of a shelf of duds. But without luck, without fate putting that book there in the first place, you don’t stand a chance. You can’t find a book that’s not there.
No matter how prepared we might be, there are times when we just need a little luck,
While I’m sitting around waiting for my ship to come in (as it were), here are a couple of cool War of 1812 items. No, they aren't drought busters. The one on torpedo warfare was purchased last winter. It just came back from the binder. The Brannan book is a consignment item.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. THE ART OF WAR. IN SEVEN BOOKS. (with) HINTS RELATIVE TO TORPEDO WARFARE. BY A GENTLEMAN OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK. Albany, NY. 1815. b/w plans, ills. (1-3), 4-349 pp. This is an interesting assemblage. It features the first printing of any work by Machiavelli in America. It is followed by a collection of biographical anecdotes relating to Machiavelli, and then by a 27 page work on cannon and underwater mines. Judging by the “Gentleman of New York” attribution, this ought to be a pirated version of Robert Fulton’s 1810 work “Torpedo Warfare” or his subsequent lecture, “Torpedos.” But it is neither of those. Instead, it is a crib of Fulton’s theories, disseminated “for the public good” in “times like the present” - (i.e., the ongoing War of 1812) by a writer who admits, for example, that he “possesses no accurate knowledge of the manner in which ignition is produced by a mixture of sulphur and steel dust; he has merely read in old books...” Rink, 2144 says the work is “generally attributed to Robert Fulton,” but I doubt it. That this treatise was published in the year of Fulton’s death may have something to do with the attempt to popularize his ideas. At any rate, an interesting puzzle. A clean copy, attractively bound in half calf over marbled boards, with spine label. $500
Brannan, John. (Editor.) OFFICIAL LETTERS OF THE MILITARY AND NAVAL OFFICERS OF THE UNITED STATES, DURING THE WAR WITH GREAT BRITAIN IN THE YEARS 1812, 13, 14, & 15. WITH SOME ADDITIONAL LETTERS AND DOCUMENTS ELUCIDATING THE HISTORY OF THAT PERIOD. Washington City. 1823. 510 pp. A scarce early documentary source, publishing material relating to the antecedents of the war, as well as the actual battles. This copy is extra-illustrated with an engraved portrait of Lewis Cass, a document signed by War of 1812 hero Charles Morris, first lieutenant on the frigate Constitution and severely wounded leading a boarding party during her victorious action with HMS Guerriere, and a second document signed by Samuel Smith, major general and the commander of the successful defenses of Baltimore during the abortive British attempt to capture that city during the War of 1812. Howes B-722. Sabin 7411. Neeser 8002. Smith II 602. Moebs 59. Bound in 20th century quarter calf over marbled boards with a leather spine label. $800
Finally, just a reminder that The New England chapter of the ABAA will hold an “Unseminar” at Dartmouth College entitled “New Tools: Marketing Approaches, Platforms, & Technologies for Antiquarian Booksellers.” The “Unseminar” will last all day Wednesday September 14. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP to email@example.com. (Full details next week.)
and here's the hole where our bookstore used to be...