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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Chapter Six, in which the broken Mold is lamented

A. Edward Newton should be required reading for every book dealer, and suggested for every collector. When admitting dealers to the ABA, a passing grade on a test on Newton ought to be one of the requirements.

George D. Smith was a beloved and respected dealer in Newton's day. A photograph of him brings to mind the word "gentleman." In those days, it seems book dealer's were all gentlemen. Even those few who were grumpy, or seemed downright rude, did so out of a love for books. Of course, the stories are legendary of those dealers who would growl at a customer, deny having a book in stock, or even send them out of their shop, because the customer asked for something by Goath instead of Goethe. A sale was lost, but that didn't seem to matter to the dealer. As a gentleman, he was the offended party.

A couple weeks ago, a fellow dealer, who we shall call Howard, stopped in our shop. Talk turned to a major upcoming book fair. Howard said he usually avoids this particular event, because the entrance fee is exorbitant, and the competition from professionals is fierce.

I have been to many such events. A curious onlooker would probably stare, mouth agape, at the unseemliness: running when the doors open, shoving to reach certain books, literal shoveling of volumes from table into trunk for safe hording until a more careful selection can be made off to the side. Those are the professionals.

A dear friend of mine, and brilliant observer of American government, often wonders, when learning of certain laws or activities of today, What Would Jefferson Think? I wonder, witnessing these professional book dealers in their baggy shorts and baseball caps, What Would George D. Smith think?

Not so long ago, there were no cell phones available to check prices on books before buying them. A dealer knew his existing stock, knew what he needed to find, and knew, to a certain extent, what constituted a bargain. Perhaps I am lacking a strong business sense, but I would rather use my mind, and my heart, to choose the books I need, want, or must have. Where is the joy in going home and processing what you know you have? When I get home, the joy of discovery, the surprise of a rare find, the sudden crash of high hopes, all still await me to be enjoyed and savored. Someone I don't know said the difference is the same as that between the hunter who sits up in a tree on a stocked ranch, waiting for a deer to wander by, and the hunter who goes out in the wild to track down his deer.

I hope I can bring a small measure of gentlemanliness back to the book trade.

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