|Glen Miranker, left, in conversation with Otto Penzler|
Otto Penzler, not a mystery writer but nevertheless one of the most significant figures in mystery fiction over the past half-century, amassed a collection of some 60,000 books in the genre.
Then he sold them all. He seemed sad about that as he and fellow collector Glen Miranker discussed “Reflections on Collectors and Collecting” at the “Building an Archive” symposium last weekend in Bloomington, IN.
The conference celebrated the move of the Baker Street Irregulars archives from Harvard University to the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington. Many of the panels involved the disease known as bibliomania. Nicholas Basbanes, one of the panelists, wrote a book about the subject called A Gentle Madness.
This ailment, for which there is no known cure, causes otherwise sane people to acquire lots of books, and sometimes artefacts associated with the subject of those books.
“Whatever it is, I’ve got some,” Peter Blau, one of the great collectors of Sherlockiana, said in an early panel. He acknowledged following in the footsteps of the late John Bennett Shaw, who famously admitted to collecting with all the selectivity of a vacuum cleaner.
(Having stayed at Peter’s house once, I know this is true. His library includes some of the same inexpensive items as mine – cheap trinkets, even! – along with, for example, a Holmes volume once owned by T.S. Eliot.)
But collecting is not just about things. “It’s the stories,” Peter said. And he’s a tremendous storyteller. He mentioned that he once had two copies of a particular multi-volume edition of the Canon. One was in better condition, and with dust jackets. But he sold that set and kept the one in poorer condition – because it had belonged to Dame Jean Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur’s daughter.
Otto Penzler is also a fascinating teller of tales. His discussion with Glen Miranker came after dinner, at the end of a jam-packed day that included a display of 221 Sherlockian objects at the Lilly Library. But I’m sure that no one nodded. For me, it was the piece de resistance of a memorable conference.
Publisher, bookseller, editor – that’s Otto Penzler. He described how he backed into bookselling about 40 years ago: He began as a publisher. Eventually, he needed an office that wasn’t just a space in his apartment. Buying a building in Manhattan was cheaper than renting, so he bought a building. He had so much extra space in that building, he decided to fill it with a bookstore.
He now owns five publishing companies. They subsidize the Mysterious Bookshop, which has never made a profit.
It’s the stories.
|This was on display at the Lilly Library|