Saturday, November 5, 2011

Finding Firsts

There's nothing like settling back in my lounge with a cup of tea or a glass of Root Beer and getting my nose into a good book.  What I really love to do is get into a first - or second - edition of a book; and I don't mean a brand new book, I mean the old ones, the ones that have been around the world a few times and made it into my hands - and my collection - in one piece.  This is something I love to possess.
Scattered around this small office, I have a good lot of First and Second Edition books.  There's  some I've read and some I haven't.  However, with these books, they aren't new ones, they are old books; books that I have spent many years tracking down, so I have no intention of letting them go.
However, my first time at finding a rare or first edition book was in a place and time of my life where I wasn't even thinking of beginning a collection of them.  I  was in the UK on a 7-week holiday with Trafalgar Tours and we were at a toilet stop in a small Welsh village; and I had 45 minutes to kill.  Of course I asked for a bookstore and was pointed in the direction of the only one in town.  I found this place was massive.  It not only had a cafe, but a basement room and a huge area out the back where there was isle upon isle of books.  I seriously needed to come back and look at this place (unfortunately, I didn't have time during that trip; but next time I will take the time to get out there for a few days).  Well, I found 'The Letters of JRR Tolkien' edited by Humphrey Carpenter in hard cover in a small attic room where the wiring was stuffed and I had to use a torch to look at the books.  It cost me twelve pounds and fifty pence; and I did offer more but the lady refused telling me that '... it's just a book!'.  Well, I took my book in its brown paper bag back to the bus and asked my co-ordinator about the book; and told him I had the feeling I've done something terrible.  He took one look at the book and ordered the driver to pull out my suitcase and put it in it until we reached our next hotel.  At the time, I didn't understand what the hell he was fussing about; not until I returned home to Australia and took it in to get it looked at in a reputed book evaluators in the city.  The old man tottered over to me as he pulled out the large black ledger and opened it, wrote down my name and gestured for me to show him the books I had for his perusal.  I had found a few books since I had returned home and wanted to get them all looked at in the one sitting; so waited about a year before I took them in.  He saw I had brought in 'The Stephen King Story' by George Beahm in hard cover and wrote it down.  Then, there was 'The Stephen King Companion' by the same author and gave me a quick quote on them both.  Then, I pulled out the JRR Tolkien book and he dropped his pen on the ledger as his Einstein eyebrows nearly popped off his forehead.  He gingerly handled this book, placing it on the counter and flipped through it, looking at the condition and smiling through his scruffy, gray mustache before asking me exactly where I had gotten it.  I produced the receipt of the bookstore I bought it from and he wrote down the name of the town (seeing I can only pronounce it and not spell it - too many double L's).  He handed the book back carefully and told me to care for it as though it was cash as it was the one of four copies in Australia!  My eyes nearly fell out of my head as my ears didn't believe what they were hearing!  I had to get him to repeat what he said - twice - and he had written the book down in the ledger; so it's now registered as a very rare book and its worth goes up every year I have it in the condition it's in.  
Since that find in 1997, I have been one of those people who will track down market stalls, old book stores, antiques shops and charity stores just to find a first edition.  There are bookstores I haunt when I go on holidays and bookstores I haunt when I go into the city just to look around.  And you know, each time I go on holidays, I always find something brilliant and interesting to bring home.
So far, I've found 'Mozart' by Alfred Einstein (yep, Albert Einstein's cousin!) a great man who looked into how musicians and their music made them the way they are!  It was published in 1946 and the copy I have is a first edition.  Brilliant, I tell ya!  Then, in the same store, I found as second edition of 'Old Man and the Sea' by Ernest Hemmingway which has great illustrations by two artists because the publishers couldn't make up their minds about who they wanted and ended up hiring them both!  It's written in the notes in the front of the book.
I do enjoy finding these books by pure chance; and when I do, it's as though they have been waiting for me the whole time on that very bookshelf in that very store for me to show up and buy them.  It's as though it's fate... and I love it.  So, what books have you stumbled upon by pure chance and found out they were not only First Editions but rare as hens' teeth?  And which book set you off as a person who hunted down these types of books?  Or have you been like this the whole time?  For me, it's what the book looks like, as well as how it's been published, the style of the writing, illustrations and how it's bound that attracts me to first editions.  They are so much better than the new books around today.  Until my next post, happy reading!

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