Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyObjects of Desire

  • Mon, 18 Mar 2013 10:43:09    Permalink

    The good news is that Ive made a few hefty sales in recent weeks. The bad news is that nobody is in any hurry to pay me. So I left home Friday morning for Ephemera Thirty Three - the Ephemera Societys international conference and show held at the commodious and very pleasant Hyatt Regency Hotelin Greenwich, Connecticut - with about $50,000 in receivables and $30,000 in ummm, obligations rattling along after me like tin cans on a newlyweds car.
    The situation was not conducive to aggressive buying. Indeed, I entered the show determined to sit on my hands (Auction room argot. If youre sitting on your hands, you cant raise them to bid.)
    The Ephemera Society show is another one of those events that has occupied the same venue long enough that most of the dealers know where their booths are, and the easiest ways of getting in and out. Setup was chilly for those poor dealers in the hall across from the entry doors (cold and raw on Friday, snow flurries on Saturday) but otherwise proceeded smoothly. Show promoters John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz were on hand to settle boundary disputes, supply extra tables, and keep traffic moving.
    I set my booth up,took one walk around the show (trying my hardest to conjure images that would support my decision to leave early - dealers working heaps of material like maggots on a carcass, etc., etc.) then accidentally got into a conversation with old friend and colleague Robert Fraker of Savoy Books who wanted to show me something neat.
    It wasnt a book, of course. Not many books at an ephemera fair. And actually, the way things have been going, books are playing a diminished role at book fairs as well. Once they cease being containers of information books become markers of cultural value. They join the class of objects of desire, transmitting a very different kind of information. 
    In the old days wed walk the fairs with lists of books wanted by our customers. Now the list has only a single item on it. The title of the item is What Youve Never Seen Before: Preferably in Fine Condition. And Id certainly never seen this particular object of desire before.
    So I asked Robert to hold it for me and then, to avoid further trouble, I went to the gym. And what did I think about for half an hour on the elliptical machine? And over cocktails, and on my long walk through Stamford, and back to City Limits Diner, and at the bar there, supposedly watching the Syracuse-Georgetown game? You guessed it. I was smitten.
    Every dealer experiences the same thing at one time or another. Sort of like when we were teenagers and saw a girl (boy) wed never met before, and fell head over heels. A mere exchange smiles...
    The similes got legs, friends. Just as we teens tended to objectify our new girl (boy), so the sheen and texture of the new item captures our attention. And, in the same way a few dates might reveal the deeper qualities of the girl (boy), so research leads to a fuller understanding of the newly discovered item - whether it turns out to be more than we initially thought, or less. And finally, you point the girl (boy) out to your chums, and you say, Look at her (him)! Isnt she (he) gorgeous? And they reply, Eh, sorta And you realize that what you see in the new discovery says as much about you as it does about her (him, it).
    Meanwhile, back at the ephemera show Tina Bruno reports that a new board has re-energized the entire conference, and this was borne out by the healthy buzz on the floor throughout the weekend. The opening crowd was as good as its been in years, and it stayed strong. The only complaint I heard - and it wasnt so much a complaint as an observation - was that this crowd was even longer in the tooth than bookfair customers. The dealers, ephemera collectors, and institutional librarians in attendance were an informed, focused, and educational group. But there wasnt a kid among them.
    Maybe some of the lectures and seminars sponsored by the Ephemera Society could focus more on contemporary popular culture. It would be nice to see an infusion of 20th century material into this already fascinating assemblage of 19th century paper.I bought a few more charming things just a series of momentary crushes - and then went over and paid Robert for the object of my desire. It hadnt lost any of its luster.
    18th century shaving kit that belonged to a sailor named Samuel Pettengill. The box is made of honey maple with ivory knobs, brass fittings, brass towel ring, blown glass shaving mug  and a mirror that folds into the top lid. 

    It measures 10 x 6 x 2 inches and is accompanied by photographs of a similar 18thcentury shaving kit in the collection at Sturbridge Village. 
    With it is a letter Pettengill wrote from Hamburg in November, 1799, as his ship was getting ready to sail for the West Indies. Capt Dalton says he will sink ten thousand dollars on the cargo out. He speaks of his private trading ventures, I sold my sugar for twelve dollars and could get no more for it I have two decanters and thre (?) of tumblers and one sugar bole one douzen of wine glasses 
    The other piece of paper is an Inventory of Cloaths belonging to Saml. Pettengall Decd. & found in his Chest. Included in this inventory are 1 Case of Raisors & Shaving Box. At the bottom of the sheet is written
    Sunday Jany 19th taken unwell                     20th had a Doctor on board                      21st went on Shore to the Doctors House by his adviceFriday the 24th Departed this life at 6 in the Morning

    I dunno... Maybe it says as much about me as it does about Sam Pettengill.

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