Birth of a Bibliophile

A young gentleman came into the shop yesterday; I’d guess he was about 14 or 15 or thereabouts. He was with his Mom. They were both “first-timers,” and were just poking about to see what they could see. After offering to show them where things were (“No thanks.”), I pointed out the coffee, invited them to help themselves and left them alone to poke.

A couple of minutes later he came up to the counter and asked about one of the books in our front display case. That’s the case that we keep locked since it contains some of our older and more expensive books.

We walked over to take a better look and when he pointed it out to me I saw what had drawn his attention.

It wasn’t prominently displayed, and it was one of the older volumes; and just a bit beat-up, actually. It wasn’t in tatters, but it did show its age. It was lying on its side and so it was a little difficult to tell what it was. Elocutions was stamped in gilt on the spine.

I opened the case and handed it to him. He opened it and his eyes got very wide when he saw it had been published in 1774. There were hand-written notes from previous owners on the inside front cover, and the pages were browned and foxed with age. The ink was starting to fade to sepia.

“Mom! You’ve got to see this!”

She came over and marveled with him, turning the pages gingerly. I just stood and watched. At this point they didn’t need any extra commentary from me.

“Can I get it?”

“Well, I don’t know. How much is it?”

It wasn’t cheap. This isn’t the case where I keep the $3 paperbacks, after all.

When I showed them the price written on a post-it note inside the front cover, she groaned. But he really wanted it, and she really wanted him to have it. So I cut them a pretty good deal and quoted a price that was about what I had originally paid for it. That sealed the transaction.

Later, after everything had been bagged and they were heading for the door, I asked him if he knew how to care for it.

He asked how, and that was a good sign.

“Well, for starters, you don’t carry it around like your Mom is carrying it now.” I indicated the plastic bag she was holding by the handles. He immediately took it from her and brought it to me.

“The first thing you do is make sure it stays laying on its side,” I said. “Gravity is the enemy and if you have it standing up on a bookshelf, gravity will tug at the pages and will start to pull them from the binding.”

“Next, keep it out of the sun. And, when you are done with it, keep it safe. Ideally, wrap it in acid-free paper. But at the very least, find a sturdy box when it can be kept safe from everyday wear and tear.”

I told him that the goal was not to restore it. “You’re not good enough at it; I’m not good enough at it.” His goal was to try to preserve it just as it is.

“Look at it this way,” I said. “In 150 years or so, there’s going to be a guy just like you who will want this book. Your job is to take care of it for him.”

He just looked at me and nodded. He got it.

Now, I can’t know for sure of course, but I have a suspicion that today I witnessed the birth of a bibliophile.