Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sunday in Georgetown: Part Two

The Georgetown of Jackie Kennedy’s window shopping days is long gone for certain. Based on the Riggs Bank dome in the picture, I figure that Jackie is somewhere around the current location of J. Crew on M Street.
 I’m not against change…I do change related work for a living. But I feel every associated little seismic shift I think, more so than others. Whether the change or loss is necessary (thank you Judith Viorst) or not, it’s gonna be palpable in Maxminimus land. Shit, who am I kidding? I feel everything deeply. The photo above is the now empty building that used to house The Pottery Barn. I’m glad they went kaput…serves them right. Why such animosity ADG?
 Well you see there was a time when that building housed Larry McMurtry’s shop of rare books…Booked Up. When I first moved to DC in 1989 there was a remnant of it on the back side of that building, then run by folks other than McMurtry himself…but still…a repository of old and rare books none the less. But then came, even before Pottery Barn, that expensive ass…absurdly so…gardening kit store and that was the end of old and rare books at 31st and M.
 Georgetown is becoming as homogenized as the I-20 spur in Florence South Carolina. And the latest victim is Bartleby’s books.
 After finishing my visit at Sterling and Burke, I walked a few feet over to Bartleby’s only to see the notice above. Yep. Another one bites the dust. There will be in its place quite soon, a new restaurant. If not some kind of chain eatery then surely an adjective-laden high dollar de cuisine goat-rodeo of epic ego.
 Bartleby’s wasn’t (their final day was last Saturday—they’ll be selling online from now on) your typical used/discount bookstore. Bargains were there to be had—for sure. But Bartleby’s had higher end stuff and vetted eclectica that won’t now be found in a bricks and mortar locale, at least here in my patch.
 The sporting books were enviable and expensive.
 I passed on Elliott’s Carolina Sports by Land and Water. It was priced, I’m sure appropriately at around $1,300.00.
Travel and adventure too.
More Sporting tomes.
First editions…appropriately behind glass.
 The South Carolina section would have been the envy of even a Charleston based book dealer.
Consistent with my randomness I did buy a few tidbits though. Pee Dee Panorama is an anecdotal meandering through the area of South Carolina where I grew up.
 My people settled in the Pee Dee area well over two hundred years ago.
 It was fun to see some familiar names in the acknowledgments. James Rogers was still the Editor of The Florence Morning News twenty-five years after the publication of Pee Dee Panorama. I know because I used to deliver his Florence Morning News to his home…at about six every morning. He was very much the archetypical, genteel, small town newspaperman. He called me by my nickname from the time I can remember. He was still buying navy blue suits from me at the hometown Trad haberdashery after he became Editor Emeritus.
 So we leave the Pee Dee area and drop in on Gerry Mulligan. I’m going to do a separate post on one of the unique little discoveries in this Mulligan tome.
 I generally don’t pursue fine bindings or rare books so valuable that one is reluctant to handle them. I like my library utilitarian and my books full-contact. I already had a Tour of Dr. Syntax illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson but the gift-binding on this one intrigued me. 
The good people at Bartleby’s explained to me that one could buy a book and commission from the seller, a decorative binding, often referred to as a gift binding.
 So I gifted myself this little first edition version. Published in 1855 and signed I suppose, by the owner in 1857.
 Knickerbocker Nuggets…how could I not buy this little fella…partial leather binding…and full of anecdotes about Whist…the popular 19th century card game. The Nuggets series began in the late 1880’s and remained in print, I think, through 1900.
 The Prince of Wales, later Edward VII and his minions played Whist incessantly at The Marlborough Club. Here’s the caricature of one Whist playing William Amherst, 3rd Earl Amherst, by Carlo Pellegrini … “Ape” of Vanity Fair fame.
 I could give two hoots and a damn about Whist but the piccolo book intrigued me and at eight bucks, why not?
 So long Bartleby’s. At least we can look in on you by way of your website. But like my buddy Tim said, “You can’t smell the Internet.”

Onward. Smelling.



Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

Someday, the term "rare book" will sadly be redundant.

LPC said...

My father has always been a rare book fan. Just scrolling through the photos of those covers feels sort of like having someone avuncular stroke my hair. Too bad to see these things go - the victory of stuff over personality which just cannot ever be good.

Main Line Sportsman said...

'Bout 10 titles in that set of photos that just make me swoon...starting with Rice Planter & Sportsman and on to Ducks and Duck Shooting and the Carolina Sports...with a Winner Take Nothing Papa Hemingway chaser...dija pick up any surprise gifts for your M.L. Sportsman pal??
Damn sad to see joints like that fold...just tragic....Gad-damn Kindles and Big Box centers....

Hilton said...

I'm sad to see the closure of this bookshop. I've strolled by late at night several times on the way back to my car from Martin's tavern, but not during their business hours. Have you ever browsed Bridge Street just around the corner? I know it's not the same as a used bookseller, but not bad for an independent. I had somewhat of an impersonal connection with Phil (or is it Paul?) during my bookselling days.

Every little CMT bumpkins house in South Riding, Virginia is full of crap from The Pottery Barn.

"Because they have no memory... because they are not human."
Melville, "Bartleby the Scrivener"

ilovelimegreen said...

As sad as I am to see places like Bartleby's close, the flip side people - - bibliophiles to be more specific --all around the world can enjoy their offerings. Scrolling through online listings for a bookseller does not replace browsing the shelves in a brick-and-mortar establishment - especially when you find that book you didn't know you were looking for until you saw it or you stumbled across a book misshelved as if it was waiting for you.

NCJack said...

"Can't smell the internet"...brilliant! I don't mess with rare (expensive) stuff either, but an old bookstore always has some gem, just waiting to make me happy when I stumble across it.

vir beātum said...

Beckford's 'Thoughts on Hunting' in the last pic is a must. That was the go-to volume for at least half a century.
I'm lamenting with you. Even libraries are ditching their old tomes to make way for sofas, since they can replicate their collections online. In the future, 'library' will be a synonym for 'cafe'.

ADG said...

vir...I'm lamenting this morning with all of you. I'm a passionate collector of other things so I shy away from more expensive biblio-rarities. But I feel the same way about them as I do vintage cars. Thank God that there are those out there with the money and passion to assemble a collection of these things and ardently look over them. I can tell you firsthand, ardent stewardship ain't manifesting amongst the treasures at the Library of Congress. They don't have the budget or the staff.

NJJack...but you can only get two of those rare gem books in that TT! they can't enjoy their offerings. 'cause you can't touch 'em and smell 'em. And that's two-thirds of the gig. Kinda like women.

Hilton..."CMT bumpkins house in South Riding, Virginia is full of crap from The Pottery Barn." SPOT on. That's why I don't date South Riding gals. I've got LFG today...I'll call you tomorrow.

MainLiner...I'll email you re your buddy Jay. He sounds like just the guy for my car stalking. Listen man, the sporting and exploration stuff at Bartleby's was incredbible. But there wasn't a book behind glass per that category any cheaper than eight hundred bucks. So here's the deal, check with Linc...determine if Jane Doe is out of rehab...arrange a little something. Based on the degree of arrangement. Consider yourself the owner of a one-thousand dollar gift certificate from Bartleby's.

LPC...I LOVE the fact that this little story evoked that for you. Everyone's dad always seems cooler and more fun and intriguing etc from the outside looking in. Especially for me since I really never had much of a dad. So I do hope that your Professor C./dad memory bank is chock-full of great recollections, not unlike this rare-book inspired one.

Yankee-Whiskey....regrettably so. Just like..."coat required"..."thank you"..."excuse me"...and the good sense not to say words like... f%#K in front of children...or anyone for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see the disappearance of all these small, unique shops that made Georgetown what it was. It has really lost it's uniqueness with all the chain stores...and numerous vacancies.

DMT said...

So sad - a wonderful bookshop, and not many like it left (or physical used bookstores for that matter). Although it is certainly handy to find rare treasures online,as you remark, you miss out on the physical aspect of finding the right quirky book that is not only a book, but a story of who has owned the book over the years.

Anonymous said...

What was it your buddy Graham's father said? "If you cure cancer and bring peace to the Middle East, but you close Sessler's, guess which one they will remember you for"? Or words to that effeck...

But that was a generation ago.

Motte Allston Huger Elliot XIII

Anonymous said...

We still have some good rare and old book stores in the San Francisco Bay area. For time being, anyway. I liked your picks (especially the Whist volume. I played like a fiend at university) but I am fretting over The Complete Angler. My dad gave me that book when I was 11 and insisted I read it before he taught me to tie my own flies. I never got the hang of fly fishing. I would get all caught up in the technique and forget that I was supposed to be flirting with and dazzling a trusting old fish under there somewhere. Ah. The hip waders. The strange sensation of being waist deep in cold rushing water without feeling it. Wish I knew what edition the one in your picture is.

CeceliaMc said...

Frankly, I find it alarming that people in damn Georgetown can't afford $1300 first edition books AND that they can't afford $1300 shipping pallets cum "distressed" pine coffee tables with authentic rusty wheels...

In this instance, the fact that some homogeneous corporate Best Buy outlet might make an appearance, should be the least of our worries.

Anonymous said...

The Georgetown of my youth - the 70’s and 80’s was vastly different from the Georgetown of today. It represented both ends of the spectrum. The funky record / paraphernalia shops, small shops selling youth oriented “cool” clothes, weird little gift shops offering plants in macramé hanging planters, pottery, hand made leather goods and sterling silver jewelry. The other end was represented by some rather expensive restaurants and retailers. There wasn’t any meaningful intrusion of any chain restaurants or retailers (there may have been something like a Little Tavern Hamburger stand but that was about it). Sadly that era is gone and there is very little character left. Surprisingly there are parts of Frederick Maryland that remind me a bit of the Georgetown of old. A very well reviewed and pricey restaurant rather close to where my son buys his skateboard components.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

McMurtry has moved Booked Up to Archer City Tx because, face it, books require a lot of space and space is increasingly expensive.

I go there once a year. Wonderful.

Raulston said...

Was there Sunday as well. Muggy and rather warm but a great time indeed!

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Well, that's that. By the time I get up there to restomp my old grounds, I doubt I'll recognize the place. Couldn't they have confined the national chains to the mall? At least it had a nice design and was decently hidden.

Is Clyde's still there?

j.mosby said...

ADG your Library is starting to rival Hemingway's in his Cuban home! Great collection my friend!

Anonymous said...

Bartelby's do a lot of book shows all over the East Coast. You should go to every book show you can, if you don't already--you'll enjoy them.

Young Fogey said...

I'm not sure if it's still true, but Portland used to have more bookstores than anywhere else, or more per capita, or something like that.

It still has Powell's, including all the satellite Powell's. Look 'em up on the Intarwebs.

Both Barnes & Noble and Borders declared bankruptcy this year. Libraries are dumping their "outdated" books at alarming rates. Used bookstores are getting fewer and farther between.

Yet we still have AbeBooks, an Intarwebs system for individual bookstores to have an on-line presence. Only good if you know what you're looking for, but you can help keep bricks-and-mortar book vendors in business, even if they aren't in your neighborhood--or state.