Rare Book-Fond Memories
It is kind of funny how things in life converge to make for fascinating circumstances. I had one of those things happen last month. Paul and I try to make it down to the Costa Mesa Gem Show each time it occurs. Even try to go now that there are fewer dealers dedicated to meteorites. Over the last several years the meteorite dealers have found that there was plenty of interest but not many sales. They have moved their promotion budgets to other areas and abandoned the small show circuit. There were two displays by dealers of Campos. The rest of the meteorites at the show were mixed in with minerals, fossils, and artifacts in several rooms. You had to do a little hunting to find all the space rocks.
We headed out early on Saturday morning. There was actually a nice selection across the whole show of meteorites. A pallasite or two here and some irons in another room. Stones and different irons in another. We made our way finally to the ballroom where the beginning of the convergence happened. There are usually no meteorites in the ballroom but we always check out the old book dealers. There was a treasure at one of them. “Our Stone-Pelted Planet” was Nininger’s first book for the general public on meteorites. From 1933 it is one that is rarely seen for sell. This copy was in excellent shape, signed by Harvey with a date in the dedication from 1947.
Well, we got it and thus begins the rest of the convergence of fascinating possibilities. What if I had found this book ten years ago. It would have been the same great read. Actually, I had not read it for more than twenty years till this month when I read it again. But, if it had been ten years ago I could not have gone home and done a two minute Goggle search for the man’s name in the dedication and found pages of information about him.
I am sure that many of the persons that Dr. Nininger dedicated books to were individuals that visited the store and bought one asking the author to sign it. Thumbing through the book I found a copy of a small brochure from “American Meteorite Museum“ leading me to think that is what happen in this case as well. Anyway, the technology of today allowed me to learn almost everything I could ever want to know about the original receiver of this book. Search engines have become powerful tools that we use without even thinking now. But, I would have known nothing of this man a decade ago.
To give you the quick summary of what I found. He was a Major in the Marine Corp when Harvey made the dedication on September 18, 1947. But, just three years later he had been promoted to Lt. Col. His name appearing prominently in a famous battle of the Korean War for which he was highly decorated.
As I have mused over these facts for a month I have wondered if he read the book. If he enjoyed and learned from it. Was or is he a meteorite collector? Or was he just one of thousands who visited the museum. As I mentioned I have read the book again, and yes I found some seriously outdated material in it. I guess that is to be expected after over 70 years. But, there were some remarkable statements made by Harvey in the book. I especially was touched by some things he says about the availability of meteorites and the curating of them. It was as if he was here sitting in any one of a dozen discussions I have had in the last couple years with dealers and collectors. In fact he all but restated some of the arguments with the same words I hear today.
When he wrote “Our Stone-Pelted Planet” there were as he said “about nine hundred falls worldwide” I do not think he realized then that he would himself increase that number by hundreds more. Or that he would have the largest private collection in just a couple decades.
He mentions my favorite place many times in the book. Meteor Crater would bealmost home with the museum only miles away and the crater in his view. I doubt that he could have guessed that he would change our understanding of the crater and impact events through his later studies. At of the time he was writing this first book he was quoting and referring to Barringer’s work and even restating some of his mistaken ideas. He came a long way by the time he signed the dedication to my copy.
I kind of wish that he was still around today to see the last few years, with the thousands of meteorites from Northwest Africa and other areas. I think he would have been a kid in a candy shop just like some of us are. These may be the best of times for us as collectors. I think that they are also the best of times for scientists. And Nininger would have been happy about that as well. Whe he wrote this book he was making estimates and theories with a handful of meteorites as his sample. What would a mind like his have been able to conceive with the sample sizes that exist today. And he would have embraced the power of the computer I think to aid his research.
I have always been in the printing industry in some way. I have set my quota of lead type and run a linotype my share of hours. I know he would have loved a keyboard, a spell checker, and a digital printer. I kept a small letterpress similar to his when I sold my print shop. It was tiny compared to the ones my workers and I ran. The little one had been given to me by a used equipment dealer as an odd gift when I bought a Miehle V50 from him. He was happy to see it go and I was happy to preserve the memory and history it represented.
I examined the small brochure I found in the book and there is little doubt in my mind that Harvey printed it. He may have been a great scientist and the father of much of what we treasure in meteoritics today. But, he was not a great pressman at the time it was printed. The little folded sheet is printed on about 70 pound gloss stock and has all the indications of having been done by someone learning printing on their own. The press was just a little under packed so some of the type is sharp and parts of letters are missing. The tympan sheet was not changed from the last job he did. He has pulled a lot of impressions off the type too. Some of the letters are damaged for one reason or another. His little press was never really designed to do work on gloss without other accessories. The blurred letters on the one edge are unavoidable on a handfed letterpress without slur pins; and using them even today is done by only old guys with a lot of experience. I’m not even sure they can be bought new. They are things passed from old pressmen to younger ones as part of the secret knowledge of the printer clan. The needle sharp points of the slur pins push the sheet away from the type as it pulls from the ink so it does not blur or mark. This little brochure is a real find for me, another treasure for my collection. And I love the old car in the picture on the front page. I wish I could have spent even two hours not discussing meteorites to have given him the short course in letterpress printing. But, as time went by he got much better. I can not know if he enclosed the brochure as advertisement in the book when he mailed it to the Major, or if it was available at the museum when the book was bought . But the bonus of finding it still within the book is wonderful.
I have learned volumes from my use of the internet. But, I remain a person that loves to sit and read a real book. Paper, ink and type have been quite literally in my blood. Paul could tell of my struggles to get rough and raw hands clean enough to meet people after working with ink and chemicals all day. My journey from handset type and linotype, went to phototype and darkrooms, ending at huge four color offset presses with inline uv-coaters. It turns full circle as I sit and read “Our Stone-Pelted Planet” which predates practical offset printing. It was printed on a letterpress. Some workman set the type for this as Nininger did for his little brochure and small books. As we set type in the past it was unavoidable that we learn something (whether we wanted to or not) from the contents of the rough manuscript.
This small volume with its pages of darkening paper will be a treasure in my library, and part of my meteorite collection just as surely as any stone is. It will pass from me to some other owner someday . Will they appreciate it? Or will it just be a rare book to gather dust. Will it have only momentary meaning as the words may have had to the linotype operator who just set them as the job of the day.
As has been my tradition at the turning of the year, I have written another December article trying to find perspective about today from glimpses and experiences of the past. My wish for all of you is a safe, happy and prosperous new year and a wonderful holiday season.