Monday, April 18, 2011

The Unexpected Weekend in New Haven

My father, as he has in the past, sent me last weekend as his emmissary to the annual meeting of an ancient New England Society, one that my dad has been a member of for decades. This society is dedicated to preserving the printed American page thru 1871.

One year, I had the pleasure of going to the Grolier Club in New York and viewing that awesome building and collection.

This year, I traveled to New Haven. The Society held its annual meeting in the Yale Center for British Art, and I can not say enough about that collection. Constable is one of my inpirations as a painter and there is a plethora of his sky paintings there.

One of the nights, the Society was the guest of Prof R... for drinks and dinner and were welcomed into his home. I arrived to a lovely home, gracious wife, beautiful food, lovely friends...

Completely unexpected, I walked over to the bookcase shown above. Heretofore, I had not the inkling of what I was in for: as I gazed at these bright leather books and protective cases, one name popped out: Melville, and titles: Ommo, Typee and of course Moby-Dick. These were not the mundane volumes I own, but first editions, not just one, but several, not just Moby-Dick but all of the titles. There was the first British edition of Moby-Dick... and Rockwell Kents, not the ho hum one I have but the "3 in the can", and even the presentation set in pig skin, I believe he said it was pig skin. He did say there were only 6 in existence. I held in my hand not just the English first edition but that presentation Rockwell Kent.

I stood there stunned and at a loss for words, then I noticed small bindings, thin things, and as I realized what I was looking at, I said incredulously: "Are these Melville letters?"

"OH, yes Bill take a look, just dont spill anything on them" Prof R said...

Gently I took one of the many small leather folders off of the shelf and opened it up. In my hand I held a letter written by Herman Melville. I was so awed that I failed to take note to whom and about what. It did not seem to matter anymore, I was speechless.

At the time I really didn't know what to say about this experience, other than this: one of the other guests, a historian of some note said to me later that night: "this is the beauty of the private collector, you can touch things."

To Prof R, I will be forever in his debt and can never repay his kindness....

As for the future of my Moby-Dick Collection... for obvious reasons my collection will never be the kind of collection which I saw on Friday night. But as I drove home and reflected on my collection it became more and more apparent to me that my mission has been and will always be to collect the pedestrian, the mundane, the humble. As I explained it over the phone to LG, during the homeward bound trip, the Moby-Dick Collection blogged about here is a combination of Ray Bradbury's Farenhiet 451 and the Land of the Lost. My mission is to buy everything I can as fast as I can. Because of the Kindle and Nook and I Pad, there will be a day when there are no more paper backs available. We as a society love to throw stuff out and the paper backs will be the first to go. I will have a collection of those paper backs and hard covers, the ones that Prof R doesnt have... The mission is to save the dust jackets, the covers, the type, the illustrations, and the underlining and notes taken... the individuality of each book, once owned and once read...

And of course, when I show my humble collection to friends and visitors, Just as Prof R did for me..I have always, always given them the volume to hold as I point out some quirk that takes my fancy..... Now I know why I do that.... . We, individuals, are not institutions, what we own we own to preserve and share. Hopefully we make a difference. I am unaware of a museum that started organically without the backing of a collector.

Please comment . . . Thanks - BP

1 comment: