Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2014 Issue

Thomas ‘Tim’ Heath Belk: The bustle in the house

Edna Vincent Millay wrote this poem in 1866

 

The bustle in the house

The morning after death

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted upon this earth, --

 

The sweeping up the heart,

And putting love away

We shall not want to use again

Until eternity.

 

I was reminded of this poem when visiting the home of a musician, Tim Belk, who outlasted his friends from the 80’s, they all having died of aids, he the last, at 72, to slip away.  He was a musician first and a literary person second, his Russian Hill apartment in San Francisco an orderly outpost of a taste for music, literature and art, his walls decorated, his shelves full, his books both signposts of interest in various European haunts and non-fiction generally.  His upright piano, this piano his way to communicate, was both a source of communication and income.  He was a regular performer at the Curtain Call and Etoile in San Francisco for many years.  He was, to quote his brother/cousin, Joe Belk “beyond all other things a special human being, a signal presence in the lives of many, his influence lasting, his wit and humor incandescent.”  He was an acquirer more than a collector but seems to have been reluctant to part with those things that had, at some point, interested him.  I was asked by Joe to cast an eye over his printed material for the stray object of value.

 

He was a character straight out of a novel, actually, straight out of three, all of them by the highly regarded Pat Conroy that knew him growing up in the late 1960’s in the sandy pines area of South Carolina.  Pat, then a teacher and later a novelist, based characters on him in at least three of his books, all of which went onto acclaim and in two cases, into movies.   He was a gay man on paper and in life.  Recently, in his funeral eulogy for a friendship that lasted thirty years, Pat reminded us that distance and time do not, when the spirit is strong, always diminish friendship.  The distance grew to 2,800 miles and the years became decades but Tim‘s spirit remained close enough for him to make continuing appearances in Conroy novels that have since been read and seen in movies by perhaps ten million people.

 

And he was also a real person who had taste and eclectic interests that in his apartment were discernible, the man gone but his foot and fingerprints everywhere to see.  On the day I visited he was gone, gone to where the memories of those who knew and loved him are stored and cherished.  But he was also present, his Wurlitzer-Kurtzmann piano like him, silent but still in tune.  And this left, to his brother and friends the less than work but nevertheless obligation to clear the place out timely.  And I had a very small role in this, just to look over his printed accumulations.

 

In his case the material was more sentimental than valuable and so the options more about eBay and Goodwill than PBA or Bonhams.

 

But I was also struck by the complexity of the material and it reminded me that collectors of the complex and occasionally expensive have an obligation to provide at least the picture on the puzzle box to help those who pick up the pieces to know if and how they may fit together because, once the main player is gone, there is usually a short-hand scramble to free up the real estate – because those who sort the debris have their own lives and interests, and can not spend a year or two to unearth the logic and value of the often obscure pieces of a collection.

 

This is why I suggest to collectors, when I know them well enough, that they map their course to the finish line and it is why, however difficult it is to see the day coming when no more books or maps or ephemera or manuscripts will be purchased, they nevertheless plan for it.  That is a difficult idea to accept.  For myself I face open-heart surgery in December to correct some inherited defects and even so, am knee-deep in fresh purchases, an exceptional painting of Rondout and an irreplaceable Sanborn atlas of the D and H railroad - mapping every inch of the line from deep into the soul of upstate New York right down to the waterfront in Albany.

 

I suppose I am not ready to die either but neither are most others who have died with their books on their shelves.  We cannot clean house because our love affair with life is expressed in part by our connection and recollection of the past.  But, while I’m continuing to collect I recognize that my collections of the Hudson Valley must be as orderly and understandable as Tim’s turned out to be.  Part of collecting turns out to be preparation for the inevitably unexpected.

 

And of course I hope to get started soon, just as soon as my upcoming surgery has moved from prospective into the rear view mirror.  As for Tim Belk, he has reminded me that even when life has been well lived it still ends.

 

Pat Conroy delivered a eulogy for Tim and I link to it here.  Men build monuments that quickly fall silent.  Mr. Conroy’s words I expect will live longer and so they should.  Here is a link to them:

 

www.patconroy.com/wp/

 

The words are sweet but the greatest gift he gave Tim was to have included him in his books.  Readers, in the years ahead, may not recognize the once flesh and blood character but he’ll be out there, in conversations and in quotes.  If there is an after-life this is it.

Rare Book Monthly

  • CHRISTIE’S
    Valuable Books and Manuscripts
    London auction
    13 December
    Find out more
    Christie’s, Explore now
    TREW, Christoph Jacob (1695–1769). Plantae Selectae quarum imagines ad exemplaria naturalia Londini in hortus curiosorum. [Nuremberg: 1750–1773]. £30,000–40,000
    Christie’s, Explore now
    VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623–88). Liber Organicus Astronomiae Europaeae apud Sinas restituate. [Beijing: Board of Astronomy, 1674]. £250,000–350,000
    Christie’s, Explore now
    PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF ALICE & NIKOLAUS HARNONCOURT. Master of Jean Rolin (active 1445–65). Book of Hours, use of Paris, in Latin and French, [Paris, c.1450–1460]. £120,000–180,000
    Christie’s, Explore now
    A SILVER MICROSCOPE. Probably by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), c.1700. £150,000–250,000
    Christie’s, Explore now
    AN ENGLISH HORARY QUADRANT
    C.1311. £100,000–150,000
  • Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Roberts (David) & Croly (George). The Holy Land, Syria, Idumae, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia. Lond. 1842 - 1843 [-49]. First Edn. €10,000 to €15,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Incunabula: O'Fihily (Maurice). Duns Scotus Joannes: O'Fihely, Maurice Abp… Venice, 20th November 1497. €8,000 to €12,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: An important file of documents with provenance to G.A. Newsom, manager of the Jacob’s Factory in Dublin, occupied by insurgents during Easter Week 1916. €6,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: WILDE (Oscar), 1854-1900, playwright, aesthete and wit. A lock of Wilde’s Hair, presented by his son to the distinguished Irish actor Mícheál MacLiammóir. €6,000 to €8,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Heaney (Seamus). Bog Poems, London, 1975. Special Limited Edition, No. 33 of 150 Copies, Signed by Author. Illus. by Barrie Cooke. €4,000 to €6,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Binding: Burke, Thomas O.P. (de Burgo). Hibernia Dominicana, Sive Historia Provinciae Hiberniae Ordinis Praedicatorum, ... 1762. First Edition. €4,000 to €6,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: COLLINS, Michael. An important TL, 29 July 1922, addressed to GOVERNMENT on ‘suggested Proclamation warning all concerned that troops have orders to shoot prisoners found sniping, ambushing etc.’. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Scott Fitzgerald (F.) The Great Gatsby, New York (Charles Scribner's Sons) 1925, First Edn. €2,000 to €3,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Yeats (W.B.) The Poems of W.B. Yeats, 2 vols. Lond. (MacMillan & Co.) 1949. Limited Edition, No. 46 of 375 Copies Only, Signed by W.B. Yeats. €1,500 to €2,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Miller (William) Publisher. The Costume of the Russian Empire, Description in English and French, Lg. folio London (S. Gosnell) 1803. First Edn. €1,000 to €1,500.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Miller (William) Publisher. The Costume of Turkey, Illustrated by a Series of Engravings. Lg. folio Lond.(T. Bensley) 1802. First Edn. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Mason (Geo. Henry). The Costume of China, Illustrated with Sixty Engravings. Lg. folio London (for W. Miller) 1800. First Edn. €1,400 to €1,800
  • Sotheby’s
    Fine Books and Manuscripts
    8 December 2023
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: [Austen, Jane] — Isaac D'Israeli. Jane Austen's copy of Curiosities of Literature. 100,000 - 150,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: [Austen, Jane]. A handsome first edition in boards of the author's debut novel. 70,000 - 100,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Brontë, Charlotte. "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me..." 100,000 - 150,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Eliot, George. The author's magnum opus. 25,000 - 35,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Whitman, Walt. Manuscript written upon the Death of Lincoln, 1865. 60,000 - 80,000 USD
  • Sotheby’s
    Important Modern Literature from the Library of an American Filmmaker
    8 December 2023
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Kerouac, Jack. Typescript scroll of The Dharma Bums. Typed by Kerouac in Orlando, Florida, 1957, published by Viking in 1958. 300,000 - 500,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Hemingway, Ernest. The autograph manuscript of "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." [Key West, finished April 1936]. 300,000 - 500,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Miller, Henry. Typescript of The Last Book, a working title for Tropic of Cancer, written circa 1931–1932. 100,000 - 150,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Ruscha, Ed. Twentysix Gasoline Stations, with a lengthy inscription to Joe Goode. 40,000 - 60,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Dec. 8: Hemingway, Ernest. in our time, first edition of Hemingway’s second book. 30,000 - 50,000 USD
  • Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: Samuel Augustus Mitchell, A New Map of Texas, Oregon and California with the Regions Adjoining, Philadelphia, 1846. $3,500 to $5,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: 17th–19th-century case maps of various locations. $1,500 to $2,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Andreas Cellarius, Haemisphaerium Stellatum Boreale Cum Subiecto Haemisphaerio Terrestri, celestial chart, Amsterdam, 1708. $2,500 to $3,500.
    Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: Vincenzo Coronelli, Set of engraved gores for Coronelli’s monumental 42-inch terrestrial globe, Venice, circa 1688–97. $18,000 to $22,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, group of four navigational charts, Antwerp, 1580s. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Thomas Bros, Block Book of Berkeley, Oakland, 1920s. $800 to $1,200.
    Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Nieuhoff & John Ogilby, An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, map of China, plan of Canton, London, 1673. $1,200 to $1,800.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Frederick Sander, Reichenbachia, St. Albans, 1888-1894. $5,000 to $7,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Two early illustrated works on horsemanship and breeding, Nuremberg, early 18th century. $700 to $800.
    Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Gould, A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans. Supplement to the First Edition, London, 1834; 1855. $40,000 to $60,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, London, 1808–14. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Oakley Hoopes Bailey, Hackensack, New Jersey, Boston, 1896. $800 to $1,200.

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