Library fundraising book sales are hit or miss. Sometimes you find something unique, most of the time you don’t.
In the back of most every book dealer’s mind is the faint hope of finding a rare and sought after first edition, one that would be a prestige book in a glass case, a book to give a bookshop gravitas. Something like a first edition Moby Dick (such as the one offered by an Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America member in Boston for $60,000) or Gone With the Wind ($12,000, for sale by an ABAA member in Palm Beach, FL).
Bedlam isn’t looking for the grand slam, of course; we’re just looking for good books to sell to the greater Worcester public at a fair price. It helps to have a creative eye, however, and be able to discern at a glance the difference between a pedestrian book and a special or unique book. One means of doing that is by eliminating the banal from one’s glance and focusing in on the “minute particulars” (to quote Blake) among the array of random volumes. One looks not to see the obvious but to see what mostly goes unnoticed.
And with that in mind, we come to this fascinating volume which caught my eye during a recent library book sale and that now resides in Bedlam’s glass case: Dugald Stewart’s Philosophy of the Human Mind.
This stuck out to me amidst the jumble of common and obviously contemporary books for two reasons. First, the gold gilt date of 1843 stamped on the base of the spine; I’d never seen a date stamped on a spine before. And second, the book’s condition; it appeared quite solid for a book that old and even though it resembled a lone volume from a larger set (which, in general, would render it of little value), I grabbed it and brought it back to Bedlam.
The first edition of this work by the Scottish philosopher and mathematician, Dugald Stewart, appeared in 1792 and was reprinted many times over the last several centuries. Stewart (1753-1828) was born and died in Edinburgh, Scotland and in his lifetime was a noted exponent of the Scottish ‘Common Sense’ school of philosophy. His other major work, beyond this one, was An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764).
As it turns out, this volume is an edition that was published in 1843 (hence the gold gilt date stamped on the spine). The book was then rebound by the National Library Bindery Co., of Atlanta, Georgia a company that opened in 1921 and closed in 2015. The Bindery specialized in rebinding historical books and this copy of Stewart’s Philosophy of the Human Mind is a prime example.
Re-bound books are deceptive, and quirky. Because the National Library Bindery Co. of Atlanta did excellent work, this particular volume is in terrific condition, its reconditioning remaining bright and tight. Yet when you open it, you step back in time and behold period type on surprisingly supple pages and you know you are holding a book from mid-19th century.