( Originally written and posted on MySpace on March 24, 2009 )
Last week I went to a book sale held at the local public library. Set off to the side were "collectibles," more expensive items. Among these were 15 of the 30 volumes comprising the Universal Classics Library, published by M. W. Dunne in 1901. These are sumptuously bound works, printed on watermarked paper, which were printed in different editions, at least one of which, the "de luxe," was numbered. The 15 volumes were part of the de luxe edition.
Most people have encountered one or more of these volumes in their public library. Quite obviously, the sets were sold to the affluent when they were first published. I noted that every single one of the 15 volumes had uncut pages. Not a single volume had been read. Obviously, the volumes had originally been bought for purposes of display. More than a century had passed without their having come into the hands of a reader.
The topics of the volumes also seemed to be selected to appeal to the newly rich. Two volumes are the letters of Lord Chesterfield, two the diaries of John Evelyn, and no less than eight volumes the memoirs of various French courtiers of the 18th century. Only the philosophers included seemed to be unusual: Descartes, Spinoza, Schopenhauer.
I bought the single volume of Spinoza. It was the most modestly priced volume at only $6, the one that I felt that I could afford. The most expensive were those which had more appeal to the newly wealthy who are sine nobilitate. Although I have read this volume of Spinoza before when I encountered it in a library collection, I have decided to read it again.
These uncut volumes reminded me of the richly bound leather volumes I have seen in some local antique shops, which one may buy by the foot. The volumes I have seen were all in Danish and on sale in Arkansas! Obviously, they were being sold solely as items of decor. One must wonder who would buy such volumes by the foot to decorate their living rooms. Would they anticipate having visitors so uninterested in books as to be unlikely even to gaze upon the titles?