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Diane Cole...[A] lively portrait of rare-book enthusiasts....Their new book begins and ends amid the hunt for ever more esoteric ways to pursue and enjoy their increasingly expensive hobby.
—New York Times Book Review
More than a sequel, Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore is a companion piece for Used and Rare. A delight for the general reader and book collector alike, it details the Goldstones' further explorations into the curious world of book collecting. In Slightly Chipped, they get hooked on the correspondence and couplings of Bloomsbury; they track down Bram Stoker's earliest notes for Dracula; and they are introduced to hyper-moderns. Slightly Chipped is filled with all of the anecdotes and esoterica about the ...
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More than a sequel, Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore is a companion piece for Used and Rare. A delight for the general reader and book collector alike, it details the Goldstones' further explorations into the curious world of book collecting. In Slightly Chipped, they get hooked on the correspondence and couplings of Bloomsbury; they track down Bram Stoker's earliest notes for Dracula; and they are introduced to hyper-moderns. Slightly Chipped is filled with all of the anecdotes and esoterica about the world of book collecting that charmed readers of Used and Rare.
It was the first Friday in May 1997, and we were in Boston for the Fifth Annual Spring Antiquarian Book Fair.
Usually when we are in Boston, even for a fair, we make the rounds of the used-book stores. On this visit, however, we intended to make the rounds of the new-book stores. Our book, Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World, had just come out, and there is nothing quite like seeing your shiny new book sitting there on the shelves.
We weren't Stephen King—we didn't expect to see waist-high stacks of Used and Rare clogging the aisles or crowds of screaming fanatics fighting over that one last copy. However, since some significant sections of Used and Rare had been set in Boston and were devoted to some of the city's more distinguished rare-book dealers, we felt confident that, at least here, booksellers would have ordered a few copies. In our wildest fantasies, there might even be a small stack in the window—four or five books maybe. We dreamed of an assistant manager's eyes going wide in recognition as we walked through the door. He would say: "Aren't you the Goldstones? I loved your book. See, we put them right in the window. Would you mind signing them for us?"
As a result, we had gotten in early and saved the better part of the day to meander about. We started in Back Bay at the giant mall off Boylston Street. Walking slowly to savor the moment, we headed to Doubleday. When we got there, we paused, then held hands and walked in.
We checked the books displayed up front. Usedand Rare was not among them. Oh, well, we hadn't really expected to be in the front anyway. New nonfiction would be just fine, so we strolled over there. Used and Rare wasn't in new nonfiction either.
Trying to look casual, we checked every shelf, including juvenile literature. No books.
"Well, this is a small store."
"Yeah, they have hardly anything. Just best-sellers."
"Yeah. There's another bookstore in this mall. I think it's a Rizzoli. They'll have a better selection."
So we walked on to Rizzoli. We were still holding hands, but the grips had gotten a little tighter.
Rizzoli was a very handsome store and, as we suspected, seemed to favor a more literary selection than Doubleday. Prominently featured was A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, which had been published about six months earlier to glowing though not widespread reviews. If they still had that book on the shelves, maybe they would have ours.
The new nonfiction section was in the center of the store and consisted of about one hundred books, but Used and Rare was not one of them.
We left the mall and made our way to Waterstone on Exeter Street. Our aspirations had now been reduced to just seeing a copy of our book anywhere, and of all the anywheres, Waterstone seemed the best shot. It was a huge, three-storied, twenty-thousand-square-foot store that occupied an entire building and seemed to have everything ever published in any language.
We went up the stairs to the main floor, where literally hundreds of titles of new nonfiction were on display. We examined both by title and by author, just in case we had been misfiled. Nothing. We went over to fiction, just in case they didn't know we'd written a memoir. Nothing.
"I'm going to ask."
"No, Larry, don't."
"I'm going to."
So we walked over to the information desk—one purposefully, one lagging back a bit, trying to look inconspicuous. The information desk was presided over by two men and two women, each of whom looked to be a sophomore English major at one of the local colleges.
"Yes?" It was one of the young women. She had long brown hair pulled straight back, no makeup, and a lot of earrings in one ear.
"Do you have a book called Used and Rare?"
"Who's the author?"
"Uhhh—Goldstone, I think."
She went to her computer. "Yes, we have it. It's on the third floor. It's alllll the way in the back." She gave one long wave with her hand to indicate just how far in the back that was, "You'll have to ask someone when you get up there. Tell them you want literary criticism."
"It's where we put all the books we don't know what else to do with." She shrugged and smiled. "We call it the garbage dump of the store," she added cheerfully.
* * *
After a more subdued lunch than we had anticipated, we decided to visit the Museum of Fine Arts instead of any more bookstores. Then, at about a quarter after four, we headed off toward downtown. (One of the great things about Boston is that it's small enough so that almost everything is within walking distance.) The fair was being held in the Park Plaza Castle, which is a genuine castle on the corner of Arlington Street and Columbus Avenue. The doors were supposed to open at five. We got there with about ten minutes to spare.
It had been a warm afternoon, and since it seems to be a rule that book fairs must be held in stuffy, overheated halls, we were dressed in light clothes, expecting to just walk right in. As we neared the castle, however, we saw a large crowd of people near the front door—something of a surprise for a regional book fair. But there was a lot more than that. The whole place was lit up by huge spotlights in the street. There were trucks, police cars with flashing lights, and people walking around talking frantically into walkie-talkies. Dominating the scene was a crane with a large bucket on the end. The bucket was being held level with a window that had been removed on the top floor of the castle. A man was inside the bucket, and three spotlights were directed right at him. It was almost as if the guy were threatening to jump and they were lighting him up in preparation for Mel Gibson to come and try to talk him out of it.
We looked at each other.
"Can this be for the fair?"
"What else would they be doing up there? They must be coveting it for local television."
"Covering a book fair?"
"I told you books were catching on."
As we got closer, we could see that the crowd consisted of two distinct components. The first was comprised of members of the film crew. They were men and women who looked exactly alike—hip black clothes, leather jackets, baseball hats, and holster belts for their walkie-talkies slung low, gunfighter style. None was over thirty. The other segment was the book-collecting crowd. They were also men and women who looked exactly alike but in this case they wore rumpled clothing, tousled long hair, and glasses. Almost no one in this group was under thirty.
The book collectors seemed to have made a focus of a very large, sullen, extremely Irish Boston police officer who had set himself up as a human barricade between the street and the entrance to the Park Plaza Castle. No one was getting by, and this was making the book buyers frantic. Each was apparently convinced that a competitor had somehow slipped inside and was greedily snapping up the very books that he or she had come here to purchase. As a result, the police officer was being badgered unmercifully, with sentences that began, "Pleeease. You don't understand. You have to let me in because ..."—to which the police officer, an impassive twenty-year veteran of Boston political demonstrations, responded not at all.
There was a woman standing next to us who, by the frustration etched on her face, had obviously been there for some time.
"What's going on?" we asked.
"They're filming a commercial," she said, practically spitting out the words. "They're not going to let anyone in until the crane comes down."
"A commercial? For the book fair?"
She gave us a strange look and gestured with her thumb. "For the mattress store across the street," she said.
A half hour later, after the film crew had gotten all their equipment and mattresses into the top floor of the castle and the temperature had dropped by at least twenty degrees, we were finally allowed to go into the fair. Along with the rest of the herd of muttering bibliophiles, we shivered our way to the front door, paid our $6 apiece for tickets, and trudged into the hall.
The second we were inside, everything changed. We forgot how long we had waited, how cold we were, even that we hadn't seen our book in the stores. We had just entered a large room filled with wonderful books. We even held hands again.
Unlike the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, which is held in November in the prestigious Hynes Auditorium, and which is sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), the Boston Spring Antiquarian Book Fair is sponsored by Mariab, which stands for Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers Inc. (Why they left off the last letter of the acronym is a mystery, unless they decided that "Mariabi" sounded too much like a board game or a Latin dance.) Although there is some overlap between the Mariab membership and that of the ABAA, Mariab, in addition to being regional, is largely comprised of dealers whose prices top out in the hundreds of dollars instead of in the thousands.
This makes for a distinct difference in the atmosphere of the respective fairs. The ABAA fair, like its sister, the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, is filled with treasures. One year in New York, for example, we saw a pristine 1687 first edition of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica—which means the mathematical principles of natural philosophy, by the way—for $210,000. (A very reasonable price, according to the dealer, and he must have been right because it was snapped up immediately.) We've seen Dickens in parts, Gulliver's Travels, first editions of Tocqueville, and other of the great books of the world, all in the best possible condition. It is awe-inspiring to walk up and down the aisles seeing one museum piece after another.
But museums induce respectful silence. When you walk through the Hynes or the Seventh Regiment Armory, where the New York fair is held, you step gingerly, and when you do reach for a book, it is with exaggerated care and under the sharp eye of an often stern dealer dressed in a jacket and tie.
By contrast, the Mariab fair is more like a party, convivial and intimate. The noise hits you instantly. The fair-goers tend to be younger, and everyone is more casually dressed. People walk around eating, chatting each other up, ribbing each other. You'll find one dealer sitting at another's booth, and he'll say, "Oh, his stuff isn't any good. Come over to my booth."
But most importantly, the books are more accessible to people like us. We've always found something at this fair for which we'd been searching for a long time, like The Death Ship by B. Traven or a 1929 edition of Dracula, at a price we could afford. As a dealer friend of ours told us, "Mariab is always interesting. It's the first big fair of the spring, and you never know just what the dealers have squirreled away during the winter."
In our first five minutes of walking the aisles, we saw that this fair was going to be first-rate as well. There was, as always, an eclectic selection of modern firsts, Americana, detective fiction, occult fiction, interesting dust jackets, cookbooks, art books, photography, and avant-garde literature. We wandered through for awhile without even thinking about buying anything, just sucking up the mood and stopping occasionally to chat with old friends.
"Hi," said John Sanderson, a tall, thin golf addict with brown hair and a mustache who had always evoked the image of a Shakespearean scholar, which, in fact, he was. Since we'd moved from the Berkshires to Connecticut, we no longer saw John regularly.
"How's the book doing?" he asked.
"Oh ... great."
He wagged a finger at us. "Don't forget," he said, "I want to play myself in the movie."
We walked a little further, and Rusty Mott came up to us. Rusty ran Howard S. Mott Rare Books in Sheffield, Massachusetts. It was he who had showed us the weathered copy of The Works by Sir William Davenant, in which Herman Melville had taken notes in preparation for writing Moby Dick, and who had sold us a pamphlet about the American Revolution.
"Hi," we said. "Are you exhibiting here?"
"No," he said. "I love this fair. I just come to look. Say, how's the book doing?"
"Oh, its doing just ... great."
After Rusty, we decided that if we wanted to have any fun at this fair, it might be best to try and avoid people we knew. That turned out to be a good idea, and we were able to amble about blissfully and anonymously for about an hour. We hadn't really bought anything, just a twenty-dollar first edition of Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking. Then we came upon a booth toward the far wall on the left, near the front. It was one of the smaller displays, only three or four shelves high, set on tables arranged in an L-shape. The sign said, "ON THE ROAD BOOKS," with the name of a town in Connecticut that we had never heard of underneath.
We had seen this stall before on our first go-through, but we had assumed that the owner had named his shop after the Kerouac novel and that therefore On The Road Books specialized in Beat literature. Beat literature is okay, but not one of our favorites, so we hadn't stopped to look. But this time we did stop, and the second we did, we saw that this booth was going to be special. The books were all remarkably crisp and clear and bright. It was modern literature, and the selection seemed to have been picked out just for us. If we'd had enough money, we would have simply gotten a very large box and transferred the entire display to our library. Then, we noticed one particular book on the top shelf.
"Is that a Mrs. Bridge?"
Mrs. Bridge was written by Evan S. Connell, Jr., and published in 1959. Both Mrs. Bridge and its companion book, Mr. Bridge, published ten years later, were taken very closely from Mr. Connell's own upbringing in a suburb of Kansas City. Set primarily during the 1930s and 1940s, these novels detail the lives of India and Walter Bridge, an upper-middle-class couple, and Ruth, Douglas, and Carolyn, their three children.
Despite a sizable cult following, Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge have never been fully recognized for the masterpieces of American realism that they are. Both novels are written in spare, deceptively gentle prose and presented as a string of loosely related vignettes. (Mrs. Bridge alone has over one hundred chapters, some less than a page long.) They are, all the same, devastating portraits of American suburbia and of the bankruptcy of values and futility of existence of those who live there. Each is every bit as mesmerizing in its way as were Babbitt or the works of John O'Hara in theirs.
For example, in Mrs. Bridge, the chapter entitled "Frozen Fruit" begins:
With Ruth gone and with Carolyn at home only an occasional week end, with Mr. Bridge continuing to spend long hours at the office, and with Douglas appearing only for meals, Mrs. Bridge found the days growing interminable; she could not remember when a day had seemed so long since the infinite hours of childhood, and so she began casting about rueful and disconsolate for some way to occupy the time. There were mornings when she lay in bed wide awake until noon, afraid to get up because there was nothing to do. She knew Harriet would take care of ordering the groceries, Harriet would take care of everything, Harriet somehow was running the house and Mrs. Bridge had the dismal sensation of knowing that she, herself, could leave town for a week and perhaps no one would get overly excited.
She only does get up when she remembers that Mr. Bridge told her to get the car washed and waxed, but, upon emerging from the bedroom with this announcement, is informed by Harriet that the chore had already been performed the previous Saturday.
"Are you sure?" asked Mrs. Bridge.
"Oh. Well, then," she said doubtfully, "I suppose it doesn't need to be done again. Isn't that strange? He must have forgotten to tell me." She noticed Harriet looking at her without expression, but intently, and she became embarrassed. She dropped the car keys back in her purse and slowly took off her hat. She had driven the Lincoln several times since Saturday and it was odd she had not noticed the difference.
Ever more desperate for something to do, Mrs. Bridge finally finds a friend who is as bored as she. The friend agrees to come over. They spend the afternoon drinking coffee (made by Harriet) at the kitchen table, discussing a variety of topics of local interest; for example, that because an increasing number of young men are enlisting to fight in the war, delivery service at the Piggly-Wiggly has deteriorated. Finally, around four o'clock, they decide they are hungry.
They went to the kitchen and Mrs. Bridge looked into the refrigerator.
"Strawberries and whipped cream?" she suggested. "These are frozen, of course. They don't really taste the same as the fresh, but they certainly are a time-saver."
But perhaps the most compelling aspect of the Bridges is their timelessness. If you substitute Range Rovers for Lincolns and cell phones for kitchen gadgets and frozen foods, the books might just as easily have been written last year instead of decades ago. The social inbreeding and the tortured vanity of the suburbs that were—and are—so distinctly American have never been so perfectly depicted as in these books. And, of course, they are an indication that, technology notwithstanding, we haven't progressed so very far at all.
A few years ago, Merchant and Ivory made a film version of both novels called Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, starring Mr. and Mrs. Paul Newman. It was a decent and respectful effort, but the power and relentless grip of the books were sadly absent. We have often lamented that few who saw the film would be inspired to go out and read the infinitely superior books.
We pulled out the Mrs. Bridge from the On The Road display. It had a dust jacket that we had never seen before—white, with a pen-and-ink drawing of a woman of about sixty with a string of pearls around her neck, a tiny mouth set in a tight smile, and a benign, vacant expression on her face. In the background was a conservatively furnished drawing room done in olive and orange watercolor. The woman seemed to be daydreaming in the general direction of a tea table to her left, upon which sat an orange telephone. We turned to the spine and saw the name Heinemann, which we knew to be a British publisher.
"It's the first U.K.," said the dealer, a large man with a small crewcut, sitting in a folding chair next to the booth. "The dust jacket is much more interesting than the American, don't you think?"
We did think. The dust jacket to the American edition had a dull gold background, with three paper dolls representing the children in white silhouette in the foreground, with another tea table, upon which were placed a black telephone and a shocking pink hat and white gloves. A vague drawing of the Lincoln is behind the table, and across the top of the front cover is a place card with the words "Mrs. Bridge" in script. The spine is the same dull gold as the cover, with the title placed in a rectangle colored in the same pink as the hat. There is a pink fan underneath.
Although the book did not have a large printing, it is the use of this pink that makes a first American edition of Mrs. Bridge in good condition sell for well over two hundred dollars. That is because the pink is notoriously susceptible to fading, so the color on the spine almost never matches the color on the telephone. Mr. Bridge, on the other hand, had a much larger printing (and in nonfading colors) and is generally available for under fifty dollars.
We knew a lot about Mrs. Bridge. It was one of the first books we had thought of when the idea of our own library began to take shape. We had searched for it, with no success at all, for over three years.
Then, in the most unlikely of bookshops ...
We had just moved to Connecticut, and, thrown in with the new home, at no extra charge, was a whole new Yellow Pages section of "Book Dealers—Used & Rare" to go through. A quick scan revealed that the closest dealer to us was Kemet Books in Fairfield. It is often hard to tell, just from the listing, what kind of a selection a dealer offers. Sometimes the best (or most-expensive) books are found at dealers who place the least-ostentatious ads. Whoever owned Kemet Books had paid for just the phone number, although he or she had also sprung to have it in capitals and boldface.
We called and got a recording. It was a man's voice, declarative, making no attempt to be clever or cheerful, noting that the shop dealt in used and rare books, special publications, and ephemera and was open Wednesday through Saturday, noon through 6 P.M., but to call if you were coming from a long distance.
Since we were only coming from the next town, the following Wednesday at two o'clock we got into the car and drove through Fairfield and found Kemet Books just before Bridgeport, on the bottom floor of a small, light brown frame house, across the street from Three Brothers Pizza and a vacant shopping center, and just down the road from Drotos Brothers Hungarian Imports & Specialties. There was a little yard, with nothing in it, surrounded by a chain-link fence (in front) and with an American flag hanging from the porch. Kemet Books was on the ground floor and shared the building with Teltronics Engineering and Emil & Tom Grega Painters, who occupied an out-building to the right.
As soon as we got out of the car, we noticed that a sign on the front door read, CLOSED. We walked up and knocked, just in case the dealer had forgotten to change the sign, but it was dark inside, and there was no response.
The next day we called first. A man picked up on the third ring. It was the same voice as was on the answering machine.
"Hello?" he said.
"Is this Kemet Books?"
Who's calling? "Uh, you don't know me. My wife and I are collectors, and we came by yesterday ..."
"I wasn't here yesterday."
"Right. We saw that."
"I don't usually come in on Wednesdays."
"Are you open today?"
"I'll be here until about five. Are you going to come by?"
"Yes. We'll be there in about an hour."
"What's your name?"
This response was evidently satisfactory. "Okay," he said and hung up.
We repeated our drive from the day before and came to the same house. This time the sign on the door read, OPEN.
We pushed the door open. Directly in front of us was a dark narrow staircase, which we assumed led up to Teltronics. To our right was another door. We went in and found ourselves in a small room, about fifteen by twelve, facing a bookcase loaded with old cookbooks, books on art and photography, and a group called "Ancient Civilizations."
"Looking for anything in particular?" The voice came from a man coming though a doorway at the opposite end of the shop. We could see that the room from which he had emerged was even smaller than the one we were now in. This second room was cramped and dimly lit, with hardly space enough for a desk amid the piles and piles of books. There was, however, a tiny television propped up on milk crates.
The man himself was in his forties. He was short and round, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and a dark vest, but no tie. Although we had half expected to be asked for a password, he was completely hospitable. He had an odd way about him, though. He managed to be cheerful and morose at the same time.
"Uh, no. We'd just like to look around."
"Okay," he replied. "But I have a number of items that aren't on the shelves."
"Thank you." The fiction and mystery sections were in a little alcove to the left, and although the shelves and carpet were dingy, the books looked interesting. We immediately noted a number of titles by Steinbeck, Edna Ferber, John O'Hara, and, in mystery, Elmore Leonard and John Le Carré.
"Are these all firsts?"
"There are a lot of firsts there," replied the man, "but I keep my better items over here," and he gestured with his right hand to a bookcase next to the wall that abutted the office.
We took a step in that direction as he removed a book from the upper-left-hand corner of the bookcase. It was pale blue and was encased in a cellophane bag.
"If this had a dust jacket," he said, "it would be worth about eight thousand dollars."
He held it out for us to look at. It was F. Scott Fitzgerald's first book, This Side of Paradise. It looked to be in good condition.
"What are you selling it for without the dust jacket?"
"I'm willing to let it go for twelve hundred fifty," he said. "I'm trying to get money together to do a new catalog."
"If I keep it," he continued, "I'm going to make a clamshell case for it and make the outside of the case look just like the dust jacket."
"That's a good idea," we said.
"Are you sure you are not looking for anything in particular? I have a lot of things in the back that I haven't put out yet. I'm planning on doing a catalog as soon as I can buy some new software."
"No, that's all right, we'll just look," and we turned back to the alcove.
There weren't a lot of books there, and while nothing was extraordinary, the selection was surprisingly good, and the prices were reasonable. In the O'Haras, for example, there was a first edition of And Other Stories for $30 and one of The Big Laugh for $35. Both were in excellent condition. In the Le Carrés, there was a first U.K. of Smiley's People, also in first-class condition, for $50. There was a first edition, second issue of Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down for only $45. The used books were good, too.
"You haven't been in here before, have you?"
We turned around, and he was standing there, not so much watching us as waiting to renew the conversation.
"We just moved here."
"How did you find me?"
"We looked in the Yellow Pages."
He stood there expectantly.
"You have very nice books here."
"Thank you. I can't afford to compete with the big dealers, so I try to get a good selection in good condition and sell them for a little less than anyone else does."
"We don't remember seeing your shop listed in the Connecticut Antiquarian Booksellers Directory," we said. The directory is a thin, blue, letter-envelope-size pamphlet with listings of sixty dealers from all across the state that we had seen at book fairs. "Do you advertise there?"
"No. They wanted two hundred dollars." The man said this with a tone of moral outrage, as if the publishers had demanded that he sell his wife and children into slavery in order to have his business listed in the Connecticut Antiquarian Booksellers Directory.
"Do you display at the fairs?" In addition to regional fairs, we had noted that there was a book fair held right in Fairfield each November.
"I used to, but they charge too much. I can't afford it."
We tried turning back to look at the books again, but the man was indefatigable.
"Are you sure there's nothing special you're looking for?" he asked.
Browsing being hopeless, we thought hard.
"How about ... a ... first edition ... of ... Mrs. Bridge?"
He nodded. "I've got that," he said.
"You do?" Up until then, we had never even seen a first of Mrs. Bridge.
He nodded. "Would you like to have a look at it?"
"We'd love to."
He disappeared into the back room, and when he reemerged, sure enough, there was Mrs. Bridge.
He handed it to us. There was some fading to the pink on the spine, and there was some minor foxing to the back cover, but it was generally in good condition, certainly what would be described in a catalog as "near fine."
We opened to the front endpaper, where most dealers pencil in their prices. The endpaper was blank.
"How much is this?"
"I put my prices on the rear endpaper," he said. "I think it's one eighty."
"Ooh, one eighty, that's a little high," we said. At that time we had no idea what a first edition of Mrs. Bridge actually went for.
The man seemed to spend some time in thought. "Well," he said finally, "you look like you'll be good customers, and I really need money now, so I can let you have it for one fifty."
Although we had no specific idea of the actual value of the book, just the fact that we hadn't seen it once in our three years of searching was enough. It was obviously a hard book to get.
"We'll take it."
The man then proceeded to enter into the most scrupulous invoicing process we had ever seen. First, he took out a clear lucite clipboard with a metal clip, on which were alternating white and yellow 8 x 10 preprinted invoices. The man squeezed open the clip, carefully aligned a piece of carbon paper between the top two sheets, then reclosed the clip. He picked up a pen, but before he wrote, he looked up.
"I'd love to have a computer system that did billing," he said.
He opened to the rear endpaper. There, under the notation, "1st, 1959, author's second book," was a twelve-digit entry, a combination of letters and numbers. He filled in an invoice number (6049), the date, and the name and address of the customer (that was us). Underneath were three columns: description, inventory number, and price. Under description he wrote, "Mrs. Bridge." He lifted the top sheet and the carbon paper, copied the twelve digits on to his (yellow) copy of the invoice, then took out an eraser and carefully erased the entry in the book. His pencil entry was so lightly done that when he was finished erasing, it was impossible to detect that a figure had ever been there in the first place. After that, he painstakingly realigned the carbon paper. For price, he wrote, "$180." We were just about to protest when underneath on a blank line he wrote "Spec Disc" and then wrote, "($30)." He then subtotaled the two figures and added the tax.
This process took about five minutes. "How long have you had the shop?" we asked. If he ever had a crowd in there, he'd have a lot of trouble with throughput.
"Six years," he replied.
"What did you do before?"
"I was an accountant," he said.
Now, a mere six months later, at the On The Road booth, we were confronted with another Mrs. Bridge. We checked the price: $125.
According to the rules as noted in ABC for Book Collectors, a collector is always supposed to "follow the flag" that is, collect the edition from the publisher of the author's nationality even if a foreign edition may have been published first, although this rule has some flexibility as many dealers will, if they can get away with it, list, say, a British first by an American author as "preceding the American" and charge accordingly.
But whatever the provenance, the U.K. edition of Mrs. Bridge had a much more interesting dust jacket than the American, and it was in near-perfect condition. More than that, even though the American edition was technically more valuable, the U.K. edition was unusual and a more eclectic choice for our library. After all, how many first editions could Connell have sold in the U.K.? At the time, he was obscure here.
We stood, holding the book, silently debating. The dealer, in very undealerlike fashion, sat patiently and let us think, making no attempt to sell.
Finally, one of us said to the other, "Let's put it down for a minute and look at the other books."
We put Mrs. Bridge down on a table on the side and started to browse. Immediately we saw, next to the empty space from which we had removed Mrs. Bridge, The Anatomy Lesson and other stories. This was Connell's first book. This also had a striking dust jacket, an etching in white on a dark olive green background of a nude woman posing as if for an artist, with a skull in the foreground. This was also a first U.K. in near-perfect condition.
"I wonder if these stories are any good?" Connell tends to be uneven. Some of his later work was not nearly up to the standard of the Bridges.
"Oh, they're excellent." It was the dealer, speaking for the first time.
We turned. He had said it in such a way that we knew he was speaking as a reader. We took him in. He was kind of bearlike, but exuded an earnestness and gentleness that were incongruous with his size and shape.
"How do you get these books in such great condition?"
"I don't buy that many books," he said, "but it is important to me to sell only books that are in really good condition." He paused. "I often like first U.K. editions better than American. Here, this one is unusual, too." He reached over and extracted a book from the shelf behind him. It was Tender Is the Night. The dust jacket was a charcoal gray drawing of a man walking down a city street at night, wearing a top hat and an obviously expensive overcoat over evening dress, smoking a cigarette.
We opened the book. It had been published in 1953 by Grey Walls Press, and on the title page it read, "With the author's final revisions and a preface by MALCOLM COWLEY." We already had Tender Is the Night, and with the same revisions and preface, but ours was a Scribner's U.S. edition with a plain buff, not particularly attractive dust jacket. Nor was ours in anywhere near this condition.
We opened both The Anatomy Lesson and Tender Is the Night to the front endpaper. Each was $85.
We put these down next to, but not on top of, Mrs. Bridge, and turned back to the shelves.
"Look, Larry, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I always wanted this."
"That's funny," said the dealer with a small smile. "That just happens to be a first U.S., but I have a first U.K. back at the shop."
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was $50.
"How much is the first U.K.?" we asked.
"One twenty-five," he said.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie went down next to, but not on top of, Tender Is the Night and The Anatomy Lesson.
"Okay, what do we do?"
"Which one can you live without?"
"I can definitely live without the first U.K. of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," one of us said virtuously. "The first American will be fine."
"Very good, Nancy. That's a start. And we really should have The Anatomy Lesson."
"Right. And Mrs. Bridge is out of the question. We're not going to spend a hundred and twenty-five dollars on a book we already own."
"Right. It's too bad, though. What a great dust jacket."
"Yeah, I love it, too. That leaves Tender Is the Night."
"Well, we can always get another edition of Tender Is the Night to replace ours, but not like this one. This is striking."
"I suppose so, and since we're not getting Mrs. Bridge ..."
As one, we turned to the dealer.
"If we took all three—" we offered coyly.
He thought for a moment. "I'll give you the dealer discount," he said. "That's twenty percent."
"Thank you," we said gratefully.
Unusual for us after spending this much money, there was not even a hint of hesitation or regret. The three books were clearly worth it.
As he was writing up an invoice, we found our gaze traveling magnetically back to Mrs. Bridge, still sitting there on the desk. Suddenly, an idea dawned.
"We have a first U.S. Would you be willing to swap the first U.K. for it?"
"What kind of condition is it in?" the dealer asked.
We described our copy and also noted that we had paid $150 for it.
"Sure," he said. "I'm willing to do that if you are."
We looked at each other. "What do you think?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"Why don't you do this," said the dealer. "Take this copy home with you and decide what you want to do. Then you can either send this copy back to me, or you can send me yours."
"Really? Do you want us to give you a deposit?"
"No, that's okay."
We were both so surprised, all we could come up with was: "Wow, thanks."
He handed us an invoice for the three books, and we wrote him a check. He looked down at the check once we had handed it over.
"You're the Goldstones?" he said. "I just finished reading your book. A friend of mine gave it to me as a gift. He said, `You're going to love this.' And I did." He stood up for the first time and stuck out his hand.
We felt big, grateful, dopey smiles pass across our faces as we shook hands in turn.
Thus began our friendship with Kevin Rita.
We took the first U.K. Mrs. Bridge home and put it on the top shelf of our new, built-in bookcase, next to the first American. When we started to reach to take the first American down from the shelf, our hands stopped working.
"We're not going to send it back, are we?"
"And we're not going to send back the first U.K. either, are we?"
"We're going to send him a check and keep both, aren't we?"
When we called Kevin to tell him he wasn't getting the first American, just in case he had a customer, he said, "Oh, I didn't say anything, but I thought you'd end up keeping both."
"How did you know?"
"Well, I can usually tell a lot about the people who buy books from me. You seemed to love your books just like I do, and that's what I would have done."