An Old Man in a New World – recounting my experience with rare books
- by Bruce E. McKinney
Early images of a life with books
Recounting my experience with rare books.
How does someone becomes a book collector? In this recounting I retrace my career with old books from the moment of my first awareness through to the present, the traditional world of books and book collecting for me a receding memory, the electronic world of dealer catalogues and offers, eBay and auctions now every day emerging. And juxtaposed against this flow a database that captures and contextualizes material permitting me to quickly understand what passes into view. This no doubt is the greatest era for book collecting and it is an extraordinary privilege to be involved as the larva, now some four hundred years old, becomes the butterfly. This is my story.
I’m among the 10% of the population that collects seriously. Most of the other 90% collect if not so aggressively, everything from seashells to potholders. What we don’t throw out turns into collections after a while. For those who collect seriously we share some common genes or perhaps a defective one, your view depending on whether you are the collector or live with one.
As a boy I lived in Ohioville, once a trolley stop east of New Paltz in Ulster County, mid-way between New York City and Albany in New York State. My parents owned, by a thread, five weekly newspapers covering the villages between Newburgh to the south, Poughkeepsie to the east and Kingston to the north. This was then a no-man’s land, the bride waiting at the altar for the groom that never arrived. “This place will be big some day,” my father used to say but somehow it never was. For myself it was simply home.
About collecting I don't think I had a choice. Early on I searched boxes stored in our attic and closets and established we had many collections, most of them in hiding. At some point I asked and was told to mind my own business. I was six or seven.
My father had stamp, baseball card and penny collections and all kinds of golf memorabilia, everything from his first golf bag to every scorecard he ever filled out. My mother had books, a lot of them. Nothing old mind you, she simply bought and bought and read and read. Books, after her children, were her most durable companions.
At eight I inquired about book collecting and she, the country newspaper editor, knew our town’s historian and arranged an appointment. That man Bill Heidgerd is the reason I collect today for he regaled this then young man with the power of history and book collecting and challenged me to find what he had what he had not, two obscure local items, one a pamphlet, the other a book.
The first - Bevier’s The Indians printed in Rondout, Ulster County, in 1846. I bought my first copy at the Siebert sale in May 1999. Today I have 4.
The other: James Eldridge Quinlan’s Tom Quick The Indian Slayer, printed in Monticello, in nearby Sullivan County in 1851. I have many copies.
These smooth volumes it turned out contained barbed hooks, that once set, launched my pursuit of the printed word in all its forms. They are innocent to look at.