“Collecting” nightmares . . . Part 1

I imagine that in the course of decades, most of us have had, or will have, experiences which — although they may not cause nightmares — have a certain nightmarish quality as they play themselves out in reality.  I am now going to mention one particular species of nightmare — where damage is done to a collectible, or seems as though it will be done.

I’ll mention three that I remember.  Probably there have been others.  In fact, I just remembered another one.  But I’ll just mention three at the moment.  In two of the three, no real harm was done!

“Facts” stated below may not be 100 percent accurate — but they are close enough.

Back in 1977 or so, I took a number of photos of books in my Professor Hoffmann collection, for possible printing in Professor Hofmann:  A Study, by J.B. Findlay and me.  Off hand, I don’t remember whether the photograph I am about to mention appeared in the book, but the photograph involved a gorgeous copy of the first American edition, in blue cloth, of A Magician in Many Lands, by Charles Bertram — which carried an introduction by Professor Hoffmann.  I was in the den at my parents’ house, where I was living at the time, and I had placed the book on a shelf of a built-in bookcase in that room.  The book was at shoulder height, maybe five feet off the ground.

I don’t know how it happened, but somehow the book tumbled to the carpeted floor.  You might guess that, since I mentioned carpet, this was the instance in which no damage was done.

Not so.  The book must have hit at just the right angle (or just the wrong angle), because terrible damage was inflicted on the book.  As I recall (I have since parted with the book), a large portion of one of the interior hinges became split, and I believe that the corresponding paste-down endpaper was torn.  The spine was largely detached from the book.  Now, depending on how one held the book, one could display the awful damage.  Or, one could close the book, and place on the shelf, and it went back together fairly well, and it still looked pretty nice!

It was a pretty freaky event, but in the big picture, it didn’t impact me gravely.  I still liked the book quite a bit.  I wonder who owns it now.  It is unlikely that, whoever it is, they know the story.  I don’t know whether I have ever told the story before, though it seems quite likely that I told my friend John Cannon, of Fullerton, California — a bookseller who deals largely in older magic publications.  He handled for me –very well — the sale of much of the Professor Hoffmann material that I sold about fifteen years ago.

Actually, I think that a copy of Hoffmann’s Baccarat Fair and Foul might also have been involved — or maybe that was a separate incident.  I think I took a photo of the baccarat book as in lay on the floor, or some other landing-place.

After ruminating on this a little, I seem to remember that I did place a photo of the Bertram book in Professor Hoffmann:  A Study, in which it was shown next to a copy of H.E. Bird’s Chess Novelties, for which Hoffmann wrote an introduction or preface.  I’ll check on this, sooner or later.  [Note:  It turns out that Chess Novelties was shown with The Games of Greco.  That copy of A Magician in Many Lands was not pictured. — 8-2-13.]

Speaking of Charles Bertram and John Cannon, John has on eBay an inscribed copy of Bertram’s Isn’t It Wonderful.  It has replacement endpapers, but even so, I consider the $350 price tag to be fair, to somewhat low.  (It appears to me to be inscribed to a C.R. Barnett Smith, though John interpreted the word before “Smith” as “Barrett.”)  Even if you have no interest in buying the book — you should check out the listing because the item is so interesting, and the listing features a number of great photos.


(To be continued.)

—Tom Sawyer

July 4, 2013

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