The Unbearable Banishment: I got a p*rn*graphic catalog in the mail

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I got a p*rn*graphic catalog in the mail

por·nog·ra·phy (pôr-nŏg'rə-fē) n.
1. Explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause arousal.

If that's the dictionary definition of pornography, then the Pacific Book Auction catalog for the Fine Books auction to be held on March 18th in San Francisco qualifies as porn for me because, baby, I'm aroused.

Long-time readers and family know that I chase after rare books. I have a theory that I started this hobby as a sop to my low self esteem. I spent my early years defining myself as someone without a college degree. I felt pretty bad about it. Don't laugh. Pretty Manhattan girls and potential employers like to see a fat degree on your CV. If you haven't got one, it's hard to get hired. Or kissed.

I thought that collecting rare books would be seen as an intellectual pursuit, but a funny thing happened along the way. I actually fell in love with it. What a happy accident!

There are a few important pieces in the upcoming auction that are well out of my range of affordability, but they're worth mentioning. For instance, this is a first edition of Galileo's groundbreaking work from 1613 whereby he advocated the idea that the planets orbit the sun, which earned him a censure from the dolts in the Vatican. It almost cost him his life. You have to understand; this book NEVER comes up for auction. Auction estimate: $20,000-$30,000.

This rather ordinary looking piece of paper is a leaf (page) from a Gutenberg Bible (c. 1450-1455). It's not a stretch to say this page came from a book that altered the course of civilization. The Gutenberg Bibles were the first books printed on a movable type letterpress. Prior to these, it was all quills, parchment and sexually frustrated monks locked in towers.

There aren't many Gutenberg Bibles left because as the centuries passed, people discovered that you could make a hell of a lot more money by disassembling them and selling the individual pages than you could by selling the whole book. If you ever come to New York, there's a Gutenberg Bible on permanent display in the Morgan Library and also in the big New York Public Library on 42nd and Madison. For this single leaf, the auction estimate is $40,000-$50,000.

Here's a first edition of Catcher in the Rye with its iconic dust jacket designed by
E. Michael Mitchel. The illustration features the Central Park carousel. (The same carousel that's still up and running today.) The whole thing is beautiful. The design. The color scheme. The fonts. It makes me woozy when I see one in person at a rare book fair. And it's a pretty good read, too. Auction estimate: $6,000-$9,000.

WTF happened to me? I've said this before but it bears repeating; I use to drive drunk, smoke as much weed as I could get my hands on, have unprotected sex and dabble in narcotics. Now, I chase rare books. As Ray Davies would say, where have all the good times gone?


Blogger Cat said...

Sometimes I walk in on Yankee enjoying his version of internet porn - Vermont real estate. He gets very embarrassed.

March 10, 2010 at 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we all have our porn... me? i'm fickle. sometimes it's guitars (lusting for a hollow body jazz box). sometimes scuba gear (need a goofy dive skin before my next trip). always maintained a particular spooge-in-ation for fast cars and motorcycles, too... i can't believe the Galileo book is ONLY estimated at $20-30k... seems low. not that i could afford it...

March 10, 2010 at 11:06 PM  
Blogger Ponita in Real Life said...

My porn has four hooves and runs like the wind. Despite not being a horse owner anymore and not even being able to ride anymore... I still surf and search and drool and sigh. I still *feel* what it's like to ride. The World Equestrian Games are in the USA this fall - outside of Europe for the first time ever... I am soooo wanting to go!

We each have something that moves us... uniquely ours in the way it makes us feel.

You've found yours and the fact that stimulates you as it does, is a very good thing! Much better than boozy drives and spacey heads from all that ganga.

March 11, 2010 at 12:31 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Cat: Thank God it's just real estate and not whiskey and whores. Some guys go down a dark path.

Daisy: It's funny you mention that. I, too, thought the estimate seemed low. But you never know. At a public auction, all you need is two stubborn bidders and the sky's the limit.

Ponita: Much better than boozy drives and spacey heads from all that ganga.

Says you.

March 11, 2010 at 7:27 AM  
Anonymous popomatic.jeff said...

I'm shocked at how low the estimate is for a first edition of the Galileo book. Not that Its something I will ever be able to afford but when you consider the amounts paintings can go for at auction, it seems really low.

March 11, 2010 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger Pueblo girl said...

Get thee gone temptation! I find myself wondering what I could sell, steal, beg and borrow to buy the Galileo being slightly more affordable...This is as frightening as gambling!

But imagine what it would feel like to hold it in your hands.

March 11, 2010 at 2:53 PM  
Anonymous nursemyra said...

I get my porn fix from watching arthouse movies

March 11, 2010 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Ellie said...

I always thought of you when I rode the 14 or 414 down the Fulham road and past the old, rare book shops.

March 11, 2010 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Pop: After the auction, I'll post the hammer price. (The hammer price does not include the 20% buyer's premium for the auction house. Whatever the last bid is, you tack 20% on top of that.)

PG: It's weird, but it ALMOST sounds like you can buy it. The Gutenberg Bible page is out of the question.

Nurse: Thank God the internet came along. How would you get your fix without it?!

Ellie: I've spent countless hours exploring the London book shops. Do you know Red Snapper off of Charring Cross? That's my fave. Thanks for the reminder. I'm getting all weepy.

March 11, 2010 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger A Free Man said...

That Catcher in the Rye cover is gorgeous. I'm not much of a collector - we move around to much - but I do hoard music. Much easier now that it's mostly digital.

March 11, 2010 at 10:26 PM  
Anonymous sid said...

I found the comments for this post really interesting. Have a hard time deciding what my version of porn would be.

Also internet connection has been really awfully here in Africa. I've been reading your posts BUT unable to comment on most of them.

March 12, 2010 at 5:57 AM  
Blogger savannah said...

fountain pens

March 12, 2010 at 5:57 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

AFM: You're smart. Music is much easier to collect and much more affordable.

Sid: Perhaps your version of porn is porn itself!

Savannah: There's a HUGE pen fair in Manhattan every year. I love pens. They're very old world and some of them are quite expensive.

March 12, 2010 at 7:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read this. Been away for a while, but what I wonder about is the type of people who actually attend book auctions, and whether they are Frasier Crane types like you'd assume attend art auctions, or if they're a more eclectic set (i.e., people like you who enjoy a wide swath of art, but don't necessarily wear it on their sleeve like an $500 shirt). That might make for an interesting post or two.

Closing in on how to buy a 1ed Dracula out here, via payments. The father of a friend of mine in Rain Town has some real finds. [long, probably boring tangent redacted here].


March 14, 2010 at 1:30 PM  

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