Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyHome of the Camel

  • Mon, 05 Jan 2015 04:44:39    Permalink
    Every winter I pay a visit to The Camel. This distinguished dromedary lives on a balcony in a huge steel and concrete structure reminiscent of an airplane hangar. 

    He is tended by kindly old men in funny hats who prefer to do good things for sick children rather than just sit around and drink and tell bad jokes and tired stories. Or, they do good things for sick children AND sit around and drink and tell bad jokes and tired stories. I'm speaking, of course, of the Shriner's Auditorium just off Interstate 93 in Wilmington Mass. Every year, in this venue, promoter Marvin Getmanproduces an event known as the Boston Antiques & Design Show & Sale. And every year I participate in the show, setting up my wares in the area his promotional materials now refer to as “Book & Paper Row.” And every year I write a blog about how refreshing it is to see something more than just books and paper. It's good for the eye; good for the intelligence; good for the spirit.
    But I must have written that blog one time too many. Because this year, when I wheeled my cart into the auditorium all I saw was gray floor
    under death ray florescent lighting, hanging from a ceiling that looked to have been imported from a Russian gulag. The day was raw and a cold wild blew through the big doors where dealers parked their dented vans and schelpped their wares into the hall – their seedy, tired, threadbare wares, into the freezing gray hall. The dealers looked seedy and threadbare, too. I hoped they had pensions or wives with jobs. And health insurance. And thermal underwear.  I passed a seedy mirror and noticed, to my horror, that I looked just like them, that I was one of them. I hauled my wares from their tired boxes and placed them on threadbare shelves. Mind you, the goods on display were not at the level of flea market or yard sale junk. But they certainly were not the sorts of goods you'd find at a toney antiques show. All the jewelry and fabric and prints and furniture and pottery and sculpture and art looked like it had come through a time warp from the attics of a nation of grandmothers, bound for living rooms and dens in an alternate universe inhabited by grandchildren. Homey, funky stuff. Some of it junque, but most of it “interesting” if you had eyes for “interesting.”I had neither eyes nor stomach. I set up my booth, went out to dinner with boothmate Orville Haberman of Connecticut River Books, ate and drank too much as usual, and slid deeper into a funk, which was unusual. Driving to the show next morning for the 10 a.m. opening I told him, “I've got a bad feeling about this one, Orv. We're doomed.”
    I was too busy questioning the meaning of my sorry existence to note or photograph the giant crowd lined up at the entrance. That picture would not appear in this year's blog. This year's blog would be different. Might not appear at all...Then, next thing I knew, I was talking to people, meeting new customers, selling them things. Somehow, Marvin Getman, uber-promoter that he is, had gotten these folks to come out in droves. I wondered what would happen when they discovered that they'd been tricked – that there were no fancy antiques and design items here at the Home of the Camel, that this was decidedly NOT the Winter Antiques Show.But, of course, there was no trick. This was exactly what the people wanted. This airplane hangar full of unsifted, unvetted, under-researched stuff had potential that was limited only by the imagination of the viewer. When you go to a fancy show, there are few surprises. You know what you are going to find there, and you know that you will not be able to afford it. The Shriner's auditorium was full of stuff people could afford to purchase, and it seemed to me quite a few of them were doing just that. At least in the booths of Ten Pound Island and Connecticut River books. Others had less productive shows. But no one could complain about the crowds. I asked Marvin how he got all those people to turn out and he replied, “It's the New Year weekend. What else do they have to do?”Maybe. But I suspect there's more to it than that...
    Here's a splendid piece of paper that no one bought at Marvin's show. Apparently no one this weekend was furnishing a “Shipwreck Room.”Manuscript.Contemporary Fair Copy of Instructions from John Wentworth to James Morris for the Establishment of a Life Saving Station on Sable Island. Folio sheets. Ten pages of manuscript. About 1500 words.
    Sable Island, also known as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic,” has a long and unhappy history. Because it is a narrow, low sandbar in a place where none should be, and because its exact outline shifts over time as the sand erodes in one place and builds up in another, it has accounted for hundreds of shipwrecks and drownings. At the beginning of the 19thcentury, the British Admiralty decided to do something about this hazard to navigation.Dated Halifax, 4th October 1801, these are detailed instructions for the establishment and operation of a life saving station on this infamous hazard to navigation. The original plan was for Morris, a Nova Scotian veteran of the Royal Navy, and four men, to do an eight month tour on the island, erecting a shelter and storing supplies for the purpose of "preventing Shipwreck, or Preserving Persons or Propertry which may be there wrecked." They were charged with warning ships off when possible, and preventing looting, salvage and wrecking in the event of a shipwreck. Morris moved his family there and established a central station, two boat stations, and lookout posts and survival shelters. He remained on the island until his death in 1809. Somewhat soiled and dusty, but completely legible, with short tears at folds. An important document in the history of North Atlantic navigation. $1250

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