Book People | February 2009 | Nicholas Basbanes

Ron Ravneberg

The community of bibliophiles lost a wonderful friend over the weekend with the passing in Columbus, Ohio, of Ronald L. "Ron" Ravneberg, 60, one of the founders in 2000 of the Aldus Society, and a past president of the group. (See his obituary in the Columbus Dispatch.)

Ron was a great champion of books and of promoting contact and communication among book people everywhere. Members of FABS (Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies) will recall with pleasure Ron's dedication to the group and to its principle of solidarity among book people. I first met Ron in 2004 when he invited the book artist and bookmaker Barry Moser and myself out to Columbus to participate in the Celebration of the Book, organized by Aldus and held in July of that year at Ohio State University. It was a most memorable event.
Ron's enthusiasm and energy as a collector were boundless, as readers of Fine Books & Collections know from his splendid essay, "Chasing Captain Cook: A Collector's Quest," published just a year ago in the January/February 2008 issue of the magazine. Ron's dogged determination to establish his hunch that a copy he had acquired in 2001 of a partial set of John Hawkesworth's 1773 edition of An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere and Successively Performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret and Captain Cook--yes that's the title, and that is why we simply refer to the book as Captain Cook's Voyages--was, in fact, the undocumented printer's copy of the book, is a thrilling example of how the best book collectors are also thorough scholars.

"These books," Ron wrote, "are a window back two centuries in time to the floor of a major London print shop in its prime. One long-ago typesetter even left an ink print so clear that the ridges on his finger are still visible after 234 years."

I had a chance to handle these books a year ago this past December during a trip I made to Cleveland for a talk at Oberlin College, and a drive from there down to Chillicothe some 160 miles away to see the home of the legendary papermaker Dard Hunter. Ron insisted I drop by and visit him in Columbus on the return leg--it's all  pretty much a straight shot back and forth on I-71--and we had a memorable evening enjoying his once-in-a-lifetime find.

What has struck me most profoundly about Ron, I must say, was not so much his love of books or his dedication to book people--as deeply sincere and gratifying as both these qualities certainly were--but for the extraordinarily valiant way he accepted the horrifying news this past July that he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease, and how he comported himself for the remainder of his days. The dignified manner in which he lived out those final weeks, together with his family and in constant, reassuring contact with his friends and colleagues, was nothing short of inspirational. He remained totally involved in Aldus affairs, and was a fountain of enthusiasm and good cheer, to the very end.

Our deepest condolences go out to Ron's wife, Janet, and her family, for their loss.