RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS

12 June 2009

Bookdealer types -- the Polymath


The polymath. A few are to be found in the trade. Ridiculously over educated, versed in several languages with the ability (usually) to decipher titles in Russian, Greek, Atabic, Chinese and even Japanese. Their natural home is Berkeley California. Often of unkempt appearance; their books, too, are sometimes a little scruffy. Colleagues in the trade, some barely literate, urge them to go on 'Who Wants to be Millionaire' but their trash knowledge (or lack of it) would let them down. The fact that Lembit Öpik married one of the Cheeky Girls (for example) has passed them by (pic below)



Very useful as antiquarian booksellers where their Latin helps and they can find significance and saleable features in the dullest old tome. They can identify the first book on Buddhism published in South America or the first kosher cookbook in Ladino or spot a Buxton Forman or Major Byron forgery at 10 feet or even ferret out an undeclared facsimile (woefully overpriced) in some ignorant dealers stock. Possessed of a Funes like memory, fond of puns, sometimes, but not always, a good cook, superb musician and dangerously experimental chemist. Some are libidinous, some uxorious, some live like monks--oddly enough they are seldom boring.

Not to be confused with the faux polymath bookseller--he (always male) thinks that he has absorbed vast quantities of knowledge from his books by osmosis and wears a permanent look of self congratulation. Often a specialist with a good knowledge in his area but little outside of it, he can appear at first to be a brainbox but once you get him off his subject he may seem as dim as a Toc H lamp (as my father used to say.) If, as sometimes happens, he wins some great collection and becomes temporarily wealthy, his vanity knows no bounds and he will fill shelf after shelf with pompous overpriced books and haunt book fairs braying about great auctions of the past etc., The world of modern first editions and even art has similar polymathic types, often sleeker but seldom with such depth and width of knowledge. More types to follow...
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