I’ve been buying books for most of my life, collecting them though only for the past ten years. Not sure exactly what it was that pushed me over the edge, but I do very clearly remember the exhilaration felt looking at books with completely new eyes.
The first thing I read on collecting was Ian C. Ellis’ Book Finds. It must have been the cover blurb: ‘Includes over 1,000 most collectible Books and Authors’ that made me buy it. From there I purchased and read most of the more familiar titles. The Ahearn collecting and value guide books, Nicholas Bisbanes’ A Gentle Madness, Patience and Fortitude, and Among the Gently Mad (which I had him sign at the New York Antiquarian Bookfair one year) Jackson’s Biblio Mania, John Carter’s ABC for Collectors, Zempel’s guide to First Editions, McCabe’s similar handy pocket book…and so on along the shelf. I even went down to Boston for a book collecting seminar hosted by Seattle Bookdealer David Gregor.
I first met John Hughes in the heat of this freshly lit flame. He sold me a copy of McKerrow’s Introduction to Bibliography, leant me some mylar in which to wrap the dustjackets of my acquisitions, and generally provided encouragement and advice. I don’t frequent his Argosy Bookshop quite as often as I once did. But whenever I’m there, John never fails to be courteous, patient and helpful. Whenever I’ve shown up with books to trade, he has always been extremely generous, accepting I’m sure more than he might normally, offering more than he might normally too I suspect. Pretty well every visit he brings out a treasure for me to fondle and admire. Yesterday it was a signed numbered, illustrated edition of Robert Frost’s West-Running Brook.
With the credit received for my books, I got a VG/VG unclipped first edition of Stephen Spender’s The Making of a Poem. I also paid for paper back copies of John Hollander’s Rhyme’s Reason, Less Than One, Joseph Brodsky’s selected essays, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms , and most happily, Partridge’s Concise Dictionary of Slang and unconventional English from the Works of Eric Partridge, edited by my father’s cousin Paul Beale.
Of all the books purchased at Argosy over the years, the one I value most is a neatly signed copy of W.H. Auden’s A Dyer’s Hand. The most beautiful? This: