Posted By DMB

I started this blog to avoid multiple recountings to friends and clients of my recent health problems, then discovered it was possible to publicly vent all sorts of opinions and spleen, thereby clearing out my reservoir of frustrations and resentments. I enjoyed this, but not using all those social media devices myself – I’m on Facebook, but don’t really know how to use it, so don’t – I was unaware that some people were actually reading my tirades. This lead to comments when lapses lengthened the time between postings, which in turn seemed to demand more commitment from me. So, I shall try for more frequent postings. But I think if I’m to use precious time – now after my recent experiences far more valuable than such mundane things as money – than it should be treated according to its relative importance.

This does not mean that I will try to curb my excessive prose style, now too deeply flawed to be correctable, nor my constant meandering, but I will at least attempt to focus on things of more importance than my own petty prejudices. I will try and focus on at least some aspects of the book world which are relevant to all book people whether readers, collectors, or dealers.

 

A huge scandal relating to institutional theft and the book trade is currently evolving and the trade is full of gossip, hearsay and accusations. But in my circle mostly great shock, for the bookseller involved is a man of good reputation who many established dealers, including myself, considered highly professional and dealt with regularly. That, in part, is a component of the problem for many of us. We in the trade automatically extend to members of our worldwide trade organization, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), not just the normal trade courtesies – i.e. discounts, automatic shipping, and complete guarantees which need not even be stated – the certainty that what a colleague offers will be perfectly described as to bibliography and completeness. But more important will be the unspoken guarantee that the material offered will be honestly acquired with direct provenance provable and available.

There are many cases of stolen or otherwise fraudulent books being returned through a line of dealers each absorbing loss because, dealing with humans, error and fraud are always going to be possible. But our trade organization tries to anticipate this by stringent rules which mostly work pretty well.

So yes, we police ourselves and while anyone who’s been around a long time (I served many years in various functions in the Canadian association) knows this, the public doesn’t, necessarily, and will reach their own conclusions.

Already, on a website where many comments on this episode are being aired many people are doing two things which say more about them and the state of democracy in North America, than about the problems.

Many comments imply, or state, that the dealer is obviously guilty based on the assumption which old dealers like me know as widespread, that all booksellers are sleazy crooks who would love to, and often do, buy stolen books.

The second point is worse for it shows clearly that a large proportion of our fellow citizens do not really believe nor even understand the concept of innocent until proof of guilt is seen. This is scary because it indicates that the rule of law and hence democracy is in danger. Already several people, dealers, collectors, and librarians, have said things to me that indicate that in their minds both participants are guilty and worse, that we are only learning this because they were caught. Implicit in all those comments was the understanding that this goes on all the time. As it happens I’ve been discussing this by email with several dealers – one, an old friend who also has 50 years in the trade is as upset as I am, so much so that we’ve had a number of lengthy long-distance phone conversations.

The point I’m making is no group will be as upset as we booksellers. And the reason should be obvious: The librarians and collectors don’t lose directly; we do. Our reputations are at stake and whether outsiders know it, or even think about it, we live by our reputations.

Sadly it no longer matters whether our colleague is innocent or not, he’s ruined, probably for life.

Look at all this “Me Too” movement. No matter how worthy and overdue is the retribution for those sleazy people who used their power and prestige to prey on helpless people, those people have also been ruined – for life – with no trial, no certain proof, just accusations. Just like the McCarthy era. If you’re too young to remember that go to the books and read about the Soviet era and the Cultural Revolution to see the horrors which occur when the mob mentality takes over.

So some of us in the booktrade are very concerned by many of the implications in this case, a case which is a long way from over and one which hurts the trade greatly by its inevitable damage to the trust and confidence amongst book people which for some will be irretrievably damaged.

 
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