1 x 700

I am forever fascinated by bibliophiles who go beyond focusing their energy and resources on the collected works of one author to acquiring as many different copies as they can of a single book, oftentimes to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. In A Splendor of Letters I wrote about a collection at the University of Virginia of 400 copies of Lucile, a romantic novel in verse published between 1860 and 1927 in numerous editions, many of them illustrated, and wildly popular in its day, but now virtually forgotten, and the author, Owen Meredith (pseudonym of the poet and statesman Edward Robert Bulwer), a mere footnote in literary history. 

The collection had been assembled by Terry Belanger, recently retired as the founding director of Rare Book School at UVA, as a teaching tool to study various formats used over the years for a single book. I later learned of an even larger Lucile collection at the University of Iowa--almost three times as large, in fact--assembled by Sid Huttner, director there of special collections, and the subject of a dedicated web site known as the Lucile Project. I had the pleasure soon thereafter to meet with Huttner, and to see the collection.

There are some fabulous single-book collections of other titles, too, the late Jock Elliott’s superb Christmas Carol editions coming immediately to mind, and a truly remarkable private collection of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I have had the privilege of seeing on several occasions, but few collectors have the patience (and dare I say the fortitude) to see such a commitment through to these extremes. So it was with uncommon interest that I received a Google news alert yesterday (my name is mentioned parenthetically, thus the heads up) directing me to a piece that had just run in the Sacramento Bee about a collector whose library is brimming with 700 copies of Richard Henry Dana’s 1840 novel, Two Years Before the Mast. Six paragraphs into the story, the reporter, Sam McManis, describes what he saw when he walked into the library of Bill Ewald, a 67-year-old retired firefighter:

At first, it’s just a handsome room: nearly 700 books on oak shelves and display tables, and in cardboard boxes tucked in corners. You smell the mustiness of antiquity. Your eyes catch the glint of gilt spines, the sad fraying of aging cloth covers contrasting with shiny, happy paperbacks.

Then it hits you. These are all the same book.


A proud Californian, Ewald tells McManis he chose to concentrate on Two Years Before the Mast because it is set during the years of the great California gold rush, and because it is one of what veteran collectors know as the Zamorano 80--one of the eighty books determined to be seminal to the history and culture of the Golden State. (The book thief Stephen Blumberg was particularly keen on acquiring all eighty, incidentally, going so far as the steal the Zamorano Club’s own collection of the books, which I wrote about in Chapter 13 of A Gentle Madness.)

Ewald discusses at length his unusual passion in McManis’s piece, and offers some general insights on collecting. There is a sidebar there, too, for beginners looking for pointers, though I have to say I was a bit dismayed by the readers comments posted thus far. one bemusedly calling such an obsession “freaky,” several others fixated on what is obviously a minor error on the part of a headline writer and not the reporter, as anyone who has ever worked for a newspaper will instantly recognize to be the case.

Anyway, give this most entertaining article a look; very nicely done indee
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