They understand, at least after their first few misadventures, that many unfortunate things can happen to books in the course of their lives, and book sellers spend a lot of time figuring out how to describe those things. The challenge is to be accurate without dwelling on the flaws any more than necessary.
Take my example book. In case you were uncertain, you are looking at the spine side of the book. If I were describing it, I would probably say: “Spine and all paper joints are gone, so that each leaf is separate and unattached. ” At least that’s how I would have described it before finding the perfect two-word description in the catalog of an antiquarian book dealer (I wish I could remember who). It said simply, “spine perished.” It’s lovely, short, and tells it all.
Well, it tells everything but what possessed me to purchase it in the first place. The book is Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings Around Lake Superior, by J.G. Kohl. It is the first English edition, published by Chapman and Hall, London, in 1860. (An 1859 edition in German preceded it.) First English editions of this book start in the mid three figures and finish in the lower four. Mine is worth considerably less, since it’s falling apart.
But Kohl’s account of the Ojibway of the Lake Superior region is considered to be one of the most objective, sympathetic and unbiased early accounts. He didn’t want to convert the Indians, or subdue them. He was simply fascinated by their culture.
I thought it would be interesting.
And I thought I might try to reattach the pages to each other, and stitch them together, possibly turning it over to a bookbinder to make a cover, if I got that far. Long, tedious projects have never intimidated me, and one beauty of this book (I believe) is that I could hardly make it worth less.
So Kitchi-Gami is my summer project. I will attempt the slow and careful mending of some 428 pages and a 32 page advertising supplement, and then we’ll see. If nothing else, I will be able to read it without losing more material to the chipping on the spine; in the best case, I will have added significant value to my bargain purchase.
And until then, I’ve got a new picture of a book defect that puts a mere remainder mark to shame.