I have some more writing topics I want to cover, but this week I'm obsessed with three things.
Art Nouveau books and desk accessories, like this vintage ink tin in "Peacock Blue" (coming soon to the shop).
Peaky Blinders style, particularly the desks.
And the partner autobiography of Leona Rostenberg & Madeleine Stern, rare book sellers.
The authors, particularly Leona, talk about Finger-Spitzengefühl - "the art of evaluating antiquarian books by handling, experience, and instinct". But it was this from the prologue that piqued my interest:
The electrifying alertness to what is unusual or important in an early printed book has been given the name Finger-Spitzengefühl. When Finger-Spitzengefühl is coupled with serendipity, the gates of paradise open for the dealer in old and rare.
I'm familiar with that "electrifying alertness". Leona describes her early experiences with the feeling while building the inventory for her business:
My Finger-Spitzengefühl had only just begun. It operated especially well one day when I was studying a catalogue just received from the English firm of McLeish & Sons, located on London's Little Russell Street. Mady was deep into Louisa Alcott's grand tour abroad in 1870; Chimpie was dozing on the frong porch; I was turning the pages of the McLeish catalogue, which had just been forwarded to me by my temporary secretary, my mother. I had been uninterested in most of the items listed until my eye lighted upon number 188. Then the Finger-Spitzengefühl became an electrical conductor. My scalp pricked. And I shrieked aloud.
And the humble beginnings of the hunt:
Since we could not prowl or book hunt along Piccadilly or Charing Cross Road, we prowled in the neighboring villages of Maine...we ventured to Berwick and Biddeford, Kennebunk and Kittery, Sanford and Salmon Falls--to the House of the Thousand Chairs and the Old Grange, the Crow's Nest and Grandma's Attic, exploring jumble and dust, mustiness and broken crockery, armless dolls--and books.
Thrilling, no? Ha. Perhaps not, unless you've experienced Finger-Spitzengefühl. A few years ago I heard about a nearby book auction and decided to go, simply out of curiosity. I had no particular intention to buy, and certainly not to sell at that point. I just liked being around old books and was curious to see what kinds of specimens would be at an auction.
The style of auction was a "pick" auction, meaning buyers picked from piles of books to create stacks of up to 10 that would then go up for official auction later. Any remaining unpicked books would be sold in table lots. I had no idea what I was doing, but soon found myself absorbed in the process of picking, pulling books out of piles based on what caught my eye..what I liked or found interesting.
After a while I noticed two chaps hovering nearby wherever I went. Finally, one said, "where's your store?"
"Oh, I'm not a seller", I said.
Two pairs of eyebrows raised as the two looked at each other and then back at me.
"Well, you have a very good eye." the first stated firmly.
Like Leona and Madeleine, I never predicted I would begin selling books (and other vintage/antique literary items). But that first flush of Finger-Spitzengefühl while book picking that day, and the nod from a couple of professional dealers - the momentum had begun. I sold my very first book from the small stack of books I bought at auction that day.
I toyed with the idea of giving you Finger-Spitzengefühl for your word prompt this week, which I imagined could be applied to all kinds of stories, but it still seemed limiting, so instead, I'm giving you another word from the Old Books, Rare Friends excerpts:
Besides writing, what are your obsessions? Let me know in comments, and remember to get your 100 word entry in by Saturday at midnight. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!