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'Thou shalt make castels thanne in Spayne.'
CHAUCER. 1T is a sad truth that bargains are
met with more frequently in our youth than in our age. The sophist may argue that age begets philo
sophy, and that philosophy contemns all worldly things; yet certain it is that the book-hunter, one of the most philosophical of beings, remains on the look-out for bargains to the very end of his career. Nevertheless, it is a fact that in youth alone do we make those great bargains which lay the foundations of our careers as book-hunters.
It is this sad truth which fosters in most of us the belief that we live in a decadent age, and that the days of our youth were infinitely more seemly than those which we now endure. But it is we who have changed: the bargains are still there, and may still be had at the cost of youthful energy and enthusiasm.
"Ah, but you can't get the bargains nowadays that you could when I was a young man,' says the elderly bookseller, with a knowing shake of his head. Can't you! Then mankind must have changed strangely since the period of this sage's youth. Bargains, and rich ones too, in everything that is bought and sold, are made every day and will continue to be made so long as human nature endures, bargains in books no less among them.
The rich finds of which the aged bookseller dreams are bargains only in the light of presentday prices. As a matter of fact, the great majority of them were not really bargains at all. He may bitterly lament having parted with a copy of the first edition of the Compleat Angler,' in the 'sixties for twenty guineas, but he overlooks the fact that that was then its market value. Had he asked a thousand pounds for it, his sanity would certainly have been open to question. 'Why, when I was a boy,' he says, 'you could buy first editions of Shelley, Keats, or Scott for pence.' Precisely: which was their current value ; by no stretch of the imagination can they be considered bargains. His business is, and has always been, to buy and sell; not to hoard books on the chance that they will become valuable 'some day.' Neither can it be urged that 'people' (by which he means collectors) did not know so much about books fifty years ago.' Collectors know, and have ever known, all that they need for the acquisition of their particular desiderata. If they were ignorant of the prices which volumes common in their day would realise at some future period, why, so were the dealers and every one else concerned ! Judging by analogy, we have every reason to believe that many volumes which we come across almost daily on the bookstalls, marked, perhaps, a few pence, will be fought for one day across the auction-room table.
The chief reason why the elderly bookseller no longer comes across these advantageous purchases is that he has passed the age (though he does not know it) at which bargains are to be had. But bargains are not encountered, they are made. It is the youthful vigour and enthusiasm of the young collector, prompting him into the byways and alleys of book-land, that bring bargains to his shelves.
So, if you are young and enthusiastic, and not to be deterred by a series of wild-goose chases, happy indeed will be your lot. For over the post-prandial pipe you will be able to hand such and such a treasure to your admiring fellowspirit, saying : ‘This I picked up for n-pence in Camden Town; this one cost me x-shillings at Poynder's in Reading; Iredale of Torquay let me have this for a florin ; I found this on the floor in a corner of Commin's shop at Bournemouth; this was on David's stall at Cambridge,
and I nearly lost it to the fat don of King's'; and so on and so on.
Bargains, forsooth! We were once outbid at Sotheby's for a scarce volume which we found, a week later, on a barrow in Clerkenwell for fourpence! The same year we picked up for ten shillings, in London, an early sixteenth-century folio, rubricated and with illuminated initials. It was as fresh as when it issued from the press, and in the original oak and pig-skin binding. We failed to trace the work in any of the bibliographies, nor could the British Museum help us to locate another copy. David's stall at Cambridge once yielded to us a scarce Defoe tract for sixpence. But this being, as Master Pepys said, 'an idle rogueish book,' we sold it to a bookseller for two pounds, that it might not stand in the list of books, nor among them, to disgrace them, if it should be found.' A copy has recently fetched twenty guineas.
Doubtless every bibliophile is perpetually on the look-out for treasures, and it is essential that he learn, early in his career, to make up his mind at once concerning an out-of-the-way book. He who hesitates is lost, and this is doubly true of the book-collector. More than once in our early days of collecting have we hesitated and finally left a book, only to dash back—perhaps a few hours later, perhaps next day—and find it gone.
We recollect a spotlessly clean little square octavo volume of Terence, printed in italics, that once caught our eye upon a bookstall. One shilling was its ransom, but it was not the price that deterred us so much as the fact that every available nook and corner of our sanctum was already filled to overflowing with books. “A nice clean copy of an early-printed book,' we mused. But early-printed books were not in our linethen; had they been in those early days of bookhunting, our library would have been slow indeed of growth. So we passed on and left it.
All that evening the memory of the little square volume would keep recurring most absurdly. We didn't want it, it was not in our line, we should never read it, and so on and so on. But over our pipe that evening the colophon!.. studio & impensis Philippi de Giunta florentini ..., 1505,' came back to our memory; we must have been mad not to have bought it at that price, and such a fine copy too. And so to bed, sorely harassed in our bibliophilic mind.
Next morning we awoke sane and conscious of our folly. An early visit to the bookstall followed, but the little volume had gone; and it was not comforting to learn that it had been sold, shortly after we saw it, to a man who knew a lot about that kind of books.' Let us hope that he treasures the little square volume, printed in italics, as much as we should.