The Bibliomaniac

Pictures and story courtesy of Mr. Richard Blacher.

The Bibliomaniac

by John N. W. Pratt, 1908

#1 of 2  Note: 10 pages (unnumbered)

This book measures 5 7/8" by 4 3/8" with the text body set in Monotype 117J. It was printed in one color on Roycroft handmade paper and bound in suede. This book is #1 of 2 printed.

by Dick Blacher

On a Thursday evening in 1986, a few minutes after I got home from work, the phone rang.

"Hello… is this Mr. B------?"

"Yes?"(expecting a survey, or a pitch on aluminum siding, because my name was mispronounced). It should sound like Blayker.

The caller then told me his name, and said, "I'm in New York visiting my son, and I brought along a trunk full of Roycroft books hoping to sell them. But, none of the dealers who I spoke to were interested, One of them suggested that I give you a call."

My first thought was that if none of the New York dealers was interested, then why should I be. However, I was courteous and asked if he could give me an idea of what he had. The first book he mentioned was Ali Baba, a very nice book, The second was also good. Then: "And this one's called The Bibliomaniac…"

I froze.

A book by that name had been listed in one of the early Roycroft catalogues, but I knew of no institution, or collector, who had a copy. Now he really had my attention. He then went on to list a few more titles, all better than average; limited editions, illumined, etc. I said I was interested, and…perhaps we could set up an appointment? We arranged to meet at 9:30 a. m. that Saturday morning at his son's apartment. I did not sleep well that night.

Friday evening I arrived home fully expecting to find a message on my answering machine saying that he had had a change of heart, and decided to keep the books – or, one of the dealers he had contacted had a change of heart – or,.. Well, you collectors out there are familiar with those nervous rushes, sure you're going to lose something you desperately covet.

SATURDAY: after sleeping only very lightly, I finally gave up, got up about 5:00 a. m., fussed around a little, got dressed, hit the road about 7:00 a. m., and got to his son's building at 8:30. I waited until 9:00 and, with the impatience typical of the biblio-mad, rang the bell. He opened the door after what seemed like another incarnation, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe. We climbed up five flights to the apartment. The place was dark, sparsely furnished, and I had the distinct feeling that there were several people still sleeping somewhere in it. We sat on the floor (yes, floor) next to a large suitcase. He opened it and proceeded to hand me Roycroft books one at a time.

The first was the Ali Baba, an exceptional copy. The next was also a limited edition, in equally fine condition. And next…He handed me the Bibliomaniac. It was a smallish, suede-bound book with a water stain on the cover. I noted immediately that it had a wallet (leather) edge signifying a book of some distinction. The title page was typical, and dated March 27, 1908. The following page had a cryptic dedication, and then I turned to the next page. I read…(to myself)…and froze…again! "Of this edition only two copies were printed of which this is No. One"

It was a few moments before I was able to unclench my eyes and teeth, defense mechanisms necessary to help stifle the rising scream that would surely have awakened the building. "This is really terrific," I heard myself squeak.

A few more books, …observed in a daze.

THEN…He handed me another suede-bound, wallet-edged book entitled A Myth by A. N. Idlyr, obviously a pseudonym. I had never heard of this book. The first blank leaf bore an inscription, and was dated March 27th, 1907 (note: this date is exactly one year prior to the publication date of The Bibliomaniac). The title page was hand-illumined, and when I turned to the next page…

(I had some hair back then, and the apartment was still pretty dark, so the Krakatoan eruption of sweat from the top of my head probably went unnoticed.) …I read, "Of this edition only two copies were printed, of which this is NO. One."

I said that I wanted to buy all the books, and made an offer that I felt—I hoped—he couldn't refuse. Would he respond with the dreaded "Sounds good; let me think it over for a few days," or, "I'm waiting for another offer, and I'll let you
know," or…?

"Okay." He accepted!!! His son, now awake, helped me carry the books down to my car and I drove home to Connecticut on this late morning of a beautiful fall day (at about four miles per hour).

PS: During conversation, the seller told me that he had recently sold The Inn at Stone City (Iowa), which he had purchased and refurbished several years before. The Inn had originally been Grant Wood's famous Art Colony, active in the summers of the early 30's. The books had been found stored in Grant Wood's apartment. Oh, yes – and I also sent the New York dealer who referred him to me a very nice gift.

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