All's well that ends well
By Bruce McKinney
Jeffrey Thomas, the San Francisco rare book dealer passed away in the late spring of 2007. One portion of his books was consigned to old friends John Crichton and John Windle, both ABAA dealers. Another part was consigned to Pacific Book Auctions. All books have their histories, one of them that was sent to auction, a story that would take two years to resolve. In the end it would reflect well on everyone, the experience telling us more about people than it would about the volume itself. It would confirm both Jeffrey's faith in his friends and his plan to send material to PBA. Here is the story.
Eight years ago d'Este du Plessis, a South African by birth and San Franciscan by adoption, contacted Jeffrey about a book she wanted to sell. It was an early German Bible printed in 1569, not a Gutenberg mind you but old enough to have value. Jeffrey did not consider it significant, probably because the title page was lacking, but agreed he would price and place it on the shelves of his open shop. It was priced at $350. "When it sells I'll be in touch." That was in 2002.
Here is the book:
Biblia: Dat ys: De Gantze Hillige Schrifft. . , 305, 217, 149,  ff. Printed in Wittemberch, 1569. Lacking general title and final two text leaves. Woodcut illustrations and initial letters throughout. (Folio) 13 1/4x8 1/4, period blindstamped vellum over wood boards, metal corners and clasp remnants. A reprint of the Magdeburg Bible of 1545
Four years later, in 2006, d'Este contacted Jeffrey to arrange to get it back. Just that year he had closed his shop at tony 49 Geary and retired with his inventory to the home in the Marina district he shared with his wife Evelyne. He explained to d'Este he would have to find the book as it wasn't in any obvious place. What with packing, moving and unpacking many things formerly easy to find were now lost to view. He would look but it would take time. As luck would have it though he was diagnosed with irreversible cancer the same summer and his health soon declined. It was a serious illness that required all of his attention. His book business, such as it was, already reduced by his shift from retail to internet sales from home, slowed to a stop. In the eleven months from diagnosis to death he never located d'Este's book. In the spring of 2007 I interviewed him for an article. He had a great sense of perspective on collecting and was nostalgic in describing life but just beneath the surface he was struggling to maintain an everyday sense of normalcy. Two years later, when d'Este contacted me, I remembered our conversation at his house and believe that books had already faded in importance for him. His wife was also unwell and he was trying hard to be strong for both of them; the books that lined his shelves already merely a backdrop to unfolding personal drama. He died on May 31st.