Mapping the Terrain of Used and Rare Books
Or, Why I Now Have A Collection of Academic Texts About Rhodesian Colonial History
One hand clasped on the wheel, the other gripping a warm iced-tea sweating condensation. Tense, bumper-to-bumper beach traffic wearing at my nerves. And then, a sign — literally. Emblazoned on a low red barn the sign yelled ANTIQUES FOR SALE; CLOSING; OFFERS ACCEPTED. “This is it, we gotta stop…”
Van tires crunch on gravel as I whip onto the berm and jerk into park, swinging the door open and stepping into the Cape Cod heat.
The barn is packed to the gills with all manner of antique and junk. The friendly proprietor sits behind a desk hidden by catalogs about guns, coins, and military history. This is not a carefully curated antique store, such as one might find elsewhere in the quaint yet fastidiously upper class high streets of Cape Cod. Hitchcock chairs hang from nails in the rafters. Antique maps in cracked glass frames lean against worn 19th century farm implements. Everywhere you look, prints, glassware, furniture, old tools, all manner of miscellany. And then…Books. And lots of em’…
Books indeed. Stacked on metal shelves in a back room down three wooden steps, in a room where the corners are starting to heap with molding detritus and what are honestly rats nests.
“I bought out a book collector, academic type, oh, bout 10 years ago. I’m glad you are interested in those books, no one else seems to be. I’ve been running this place 50 years, and people just don’t care ’bout em’ anymore…”
“I love this stuff…old books, rare books, history, academia, everything. Can’t get enough of the stuff, to be honest. This place doesn’t look so different from my apartment. What are you asking for them?”
“Tell ya’ what…I’m real glad that you care about these, and they have been here for years, so you go ahead a fill up as many of these banana boxes and we will talk ”
And I get to work, searching through piles of books ranging in era from 1990 to 1850, and in condition from literally still in the plastic wrap to so covered in poisonous black mold that I feared for my health.
The books fell into three categories – 19th century English literature, African History, and general colonial history.
While the books varied widely, the one section all appeared to come from the same collection. Stacks upon stacks of books, covering a tall metal shelf in one corner, regarding the colonial history of the now defunct colonial nation of Rhodesia.
I highly suggest you do you own reading (see my amazon page for some texts to start with 🙂), but I will do a brief, incomplete layman’s recap here — originally the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, the nation known as Rhodesia was an independent unrecognized nation which declared independence from Great Britain in 1965 and controlled by heinous white supremacists seeking to prevent the transition of the long time British colony to African rule. Years of guerrilla warfare and strife eventually resulted in the establishment of what is now known as Zimbabwe.
This being said, there is well over a hundred years of back story and history of the life of the colony, unrecognized nation, and the eventual national birth of Zimbabwe. And that is what the books I found are concerned with.
Many are from the Rhodesian Reprint Library, which prints facsimiles of rare 19th century texts about the colonial history of Rhodesia. This collection had numerous duplicate texts from the Rhodesian Reprint Library.
One volume, a handsome oversize book in a slip case, is a guide to the colonial records, a highly uncommon academic resource. Four copies of a book chronicling the history of Sport in Rhodesia (which looks like white colonials in Pith helmets playing Croquet) are stacked on top of 11 (eleven!) copies of The Political History of Munhumatapa, an extremely detailed and researched history of a pre-colonial African society. Having purchased all eleven copies I am currently in possession of more copies of this text than are currently available on the internet.
Regardless of the details this trove also included 20 volumes of a 22 volume set of the works of Charles Dickens from the Riverside Press, 1973; several textbooks on post-colonial central America, and various other topics. These valuable, obscure books which are now filling my remaining book shelves reminded me that no matter how many times you walk into a barn full of what appears to be junk, you will always manage to be surprised.
Please, let me know if you know any person or institution which would be interested in these books. I would be more than happy to discuss them.