por·nog·ra·phy (pôr-nŏg’rə-fē) n.
1. Explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause arousal.
If that’s the dictionary definition of pornography, then the Pacific Book Auction catalog for the Fine Books auction to be held on March 18th in San Francisco qualifies as porn for me because, baby, I’m aroused.
Long-time readers and family know that I chase after rare books. I have a theory that I started this hobby as a sop to my low self esteem. I spent my early years defining myself as someone without a college degree. I felt pretty bad about it. Don’t laugh. Pretty Manhattan girls and potential employers like to see a fat degree on your CV. If you haven’t got one, it’s hard to get hired. Or kissed.
I thought that collecting rare books would be seen as an intellectual pursuit, but a funny thing happened along the way. I actually fell in love with it. What a happy accident!
There are a few important pieces in the upcoming auction that are well out of my range of affordability, but they’re worth mentioning. For instance, this is a first edition of Galileo’s groundbreaking work from 1613 whereby he advocated the idea that the planets orbit the sun, which earned him a censure from the dolts in the Vatican. It almost cost him his life. You have to understand; this book NEVER comes up for auction. Auction estimate: $20,000-$30,000.
This rather ordinary looking piece of paper is a leaf (page) from a Gutenberg Bible (c. 1450-1455). It’s not a stretch to say this page came from a book that altered the course of civilization. The Gutenberg Bibles were the first books printed on a movable type letterpress. Prior to these, it was all quills, parchment and sexually frustrated monks locked in towers.
There aren’t many Gutenberg Bibles left because as the centuries passed, people discovered that you could make a hell of a lot more money by disassembling them and selling the individual pages than you could by selling the whole book. If you ever come to New York, there’s a Gutenberg Bible on permanent display in the Morgan Library and also in the big New York Public Library on 42nd and Madison. For this single leaf, the auction estimate is $40,000-$50,000.
Here’s a first edition of Catcher in the Rye with its iconic dust jacket designed by E. Michael Mitchel. The illustration features the Central Park carousel. (The same carousel that’s still up and running today.) The whole thing is beautiful. The design. The color scheme. The fonts. It makes me woozy when I see one in person at a rare book fair. And it’s a pretty good read, too. Auction estimate: $6,000-$9,000.
WTF happened to me? I’ve said this before but it bears repeating; I use to drive drunk, smoke as much weed as I could get my hands on, have unprotected sex and dabble in narcotics. Now, I chase rare books. As Ray Davies would say, where have all the good times gone?