Wednesday, July 26, 2017


A Centennial Display
A friend who is also self-employed describes his work as "finding, minding, and grinding." For me, finding books is where the real delight in the business is. Minding the (virtual) store and taking care of business is something I can face with equanimity. And yet there are grinding elements, too: the tedium of chores and repetitious labor.

But finding! That's where all of the mystery and excitement lies. When I am looking on-line for things to buy, I am, for the most part, looking: hoping and expecting to find something I can use (i.e., sell), even if I don't yet know what it is. But now and then, when I am out at a bookstore, or an antique mall, or an antique auction, I have the pleasure of truly finding something: discovering something I didn't even know I wanted, something I didn't even know existed.

So last week, at an Ohio auction I frequent, I found this little
Front Cover
paperback book in a box full of books, and I was happy to be able to purchase the whole box. From the outside, there's not much to be seen: the gilded printing on the front is almost entirely worn away, but I could (barely) read "Knickerbocker 1878" and "Descriptive Price List," and that was enough for me to know I should look inside.

The first inside page showed a fine engraving of the "Workshops of the Knickerbocker Ice Company," and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. The picture was fine, in its own way, and such engravings of factories are commonplace in these kinds of catalogues. But when one looks at a Victorian trade catalogue, one hopes to see beautiful images of wares to be offered for sale, and I didn't have much hope of having discovered a catalogue full of beautiful pictures of chunks of ice. 

First page of the Catalogue
I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see that the Knickerbocker Company seemed to be engaged in selling virtually everything that was used at every level in the Victorian ice trade, from curry combs to brush the horses that pull the carts that move the ice to the carts themselves. As one can see from the image at the top of the post, just two years before this catalogue, they had had a display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.

One of the Levy-type colored plates.
So I kept flipping, and I was delighted to discover seven plates of exemplary ice carts that the Knickerbocker Ice Company had built and shipped to various customers: these plates are printed in multiple colors by the (then-new) "Levy-type" photochemical engraving process. These colored plates are very charming, and  still very striking. And this one does indeed include a picture of a chunk of ice. 

Sometimes the things we don't expect to see are just what we find, but in ways we never expect. And there's always something new to find--even in old books.