It is almost June and the world is starting to stir and take the first few baby steps towards normalcy – which will, of course, be a new normalcy. We will never return to the way things were only a short while ago. Over these past several months, Raven & Gryphon Fine Books had several memorable COVID-19 book sales. I will share these with you, now.
On February 11, 2020, we received an order for the first edition of Spoon River Anthology,
Edgar Lee Masters, 1915, US$400. This book of poetry centres on daily life in a small town in Illinois. It was purchased by an Italian who lives in Arcore, Italy. This small, historic town is only 20k northeast of Milan. It is in the centre of the Pandemic. After I sent the book, I sent him an e-mail letting him know that I posted the book and it should be delivered in two to three weeks, but I was worried about postal slow downs. We corresponded a bit. I told him that I loved Venice and can’t wait for a return visit. He said that I must also go to Ravenna. With a name like that – you betcha! He was very worried about COVID-19. He e-mailed me on March 13, to advise he had received the book. I wished him well.
The horrors of COVID-19 continued in Italy for at least another month. I shall assume the best and think that he has been safe and he has read and enjoyed this wonderful book by an author about whom the buyer stated “Lee Masters is one of my favourite poets.”
On March 29, 2020, I parked my car two stalls away from a car belonging to one of our best customers. This was in a bank parking lot in Tantallon, NS. The customer placed an envelop with cash on the hood of my car and then walked to the unlatched trunk and removed two books that were then placed in the customers car. Then with lots of distance between us we talked of bookish things and wondered when a visit to the book room could be allowed.
The customer had contacted me, wondering if we had anything on the Book of Kells, as she was writing an essay about one of the most fabulous illustrated books in the world. Indeed, I replied, we have two titles of interest. One was a rare folio sized book, Celtic Illuminative Art, in the Gospel Books of Durrow, Lindisfarne and Kells by the Reverend Stanford F. H. Robinson, published by Hodges Figgis, Dublin, 1908. The other book a recent reprint The Book of Kells by Sir Edward Sullivan, originally published in 1920.
I almost felt that I should be wearing a mask, not because of COVID-19, but because it felt like I
was up to some skullduggery!
New York, New York
The travesty in Northern Italy was repeated many times over in New York City. There you could
not go for a walk in the woods or along the shore. People were truly isolated in their habitats. The last two books we sold went to high rise units in New York. The last purchase struck me as very poignant, indeed.
The book was Happy Times, text by Brendan Gill and photographs by Jerome Zerbe, published by Harcourt Brace, New York, 1973. Here is some of the description we had on this item in Abebooks – “Jerome Zerbe (1904 - 1988) was an American photographer. He was one of the originators of a genre of photography that is now common: celebrity paparazzi. Zerbe was a pioneer in the 1930s of shooting photographs of the famous at play and on-the-town. According to the cocktail recipe book Bottoms Up (1951), he is also credited with inventing the vodka martini. Zerbe differed from the common paparazzo in a major way: he never hid in bushes or jumped out and surprised the rich and famous he was photographing. Rather, Zerbe often traveled and vacationed with the film stars themselves.”
It was a joyous book – celebrities having fun without a care in the world.
We hope that these days will return.