“I am the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather.”
We are back, after a brief hiatus.
My excuses are many. There have been a few other projects that demanded attention, and then we took a great vacation to Scotland, home of Arthur Conan Doyle and single malt Scotch whisky.
In that order.
But now we are back and must handle the backlog of material that is piling up on the desk here at Studies in Starrett’s World Headquarters.
We will start, fittingly, with a special copy of the book that jump-started the Sherlock Holmes idolatry in America: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
At the Spring 2016 meeting of the Sons of the Copper Beeches — that happy band of boys who blend wit with wine and other spirits twice per annum — I was approached by Ross E. Davies.
Prof. Davies had in his bag a copy of Starrett’s book, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. He had picked it up in a used bookshop. After showing it to me, he said he had brought it as a gift, and it was mine.
Wow! That was unexpected. I thanked him then and do so again.
The book is a second printing done in January 1934. Based on the number of copies I’ve seen over the years, the second printing was probably smaller and is now harder to find.
As you can see, the book was once in the Haverford College library, and, in an unusual twist, the book was a gift of the author himself. That’s appropriate, since Starrett’s friend and fellow founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, Christopher Morley, was a Haverford graduate and retained strong ties to the college. I can't recall having seen another copy that was donated by Starrett to another library.
The stamp on the front inside cover (“No longer the property of Haverford College”) shows that the book has been de-accessioned from the Haverford collection.
It’s also good to know this was the second copy of the book. That might explain the rather bleak “Date Due” card pasted onto the FEP. (How many of you remember the days when you would take your book to the library counter and a librarian would pull out an ink pad and stamp and with a powerful "thunk" would stamp the date? Somehow, that made taking out a book seem so official. Ah, those were the days.)
There are only two stamps here, both from 1948. That's rather sad.
Let’s hope the other copy was taken out more often.
(I just checked the Haverford College library catalogue online and there is another 1934 printing of Private Life still in the collection. And it’s available!)
That the book was a gift of the author is noted on the accession card pasted onto the front inside cover, and the pencil notation on the lower left corner of the dedication page, “Gift - Vincent Starrett.”
The book’s in pretty good shape for its age and considering it was in the library collection. There are few little problems. The photo of Dr. Joseph Bell opposite page 4 has come loose. The hinges are also a little loose, but otherwise, it’s a perfectly acceptable reading copy.
Once again, thanks Ross!
The second gift came about in this way:
Peter Blau, the irrepressible Sherlockian who has one of the most remarkable Holmes collections in private hands, had asked me to speak at the spring 2016 meeting of The Red Circle of Washington DC. (Despite my meandering style, Carla Coupe was able to stay awake for the presentation and has posted her notes to the Red Circle’s website.)
To sweeten the deal, Peter and his wife, Bev Wolov, offered me the hospitality of their home for the weekend. It was 23 years (give or take) since I last was at a Red Circle meeting and the last time I had seen Peter’s collection he was living in bachelor's quarters on Tunlaw Road, a street name I remember only because Tunlaw is Walnut spelled backwards.
Bev and Peter and their various cats were welcoming and gracious hosts. As we talked, Peter mentioned that his father, Alan J. Blau, helped spark his interest in Holmes. Peter’s father worked at the family clothing store in Pittsfield, Mass., and was also an acquaintance of Ben Abramson, whose history with the early Baker Street Journal is fascinating reading.
“There are some signed Starrett’s up there,” said Peter, pointing to an upper shelf. And sure enough, there were. I pulled down a copy of Coffins for Two and there it was:
“For Alan J. Blau/Good wishes/Vincent Starrett”
Peter had affixed his bookplate ("Peter E. Blau") to the front inside cover, as you can see. Based on a Rockwell Kent print, it shows an open window with the sky, sea and rocks in the distance, a fitting image for a geologist.
Judging from the discoloration on the FEP, the plate has been there for quite a while.
“Take it,” said Peter.
“Really?!?” said I. “Are you sure? This was your father’s.”
“Sure,” Peter said.
And so here it is, an autographed copy of Starrett’s short story collection, Coffins for Two, published in Chicago in 1924 by Covici-McGee Co.
Thank you Peter for sharing your family with me.
What is a book but paper and ink, mixed together to tell a story?
But some books, because of their provenance, become their own story.
These two books have been given new chapters because of the generosity of others.
Again, thank you both.