Free Speech

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars

Be sure to check out our Collector’s Corner at There you can find 10,000s of unusual books digitally separated from our 2.5 million other items. Use the keyword function. Enter your hometown, for example, and see what results you get.

Here’s an example using the words cook and book as keywords:

Happy fishing!

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars

I picked up a battered copy of Anthony Boucher’s The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars. It is a first edition. 1939.

A few pages into the mystery novel, two Baker Street Irregulars immigrants were in dialogue. They had fled Nazi Germany and Austria.

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars Text

“It is hard to adjust oneself,” he said in German, “to the fact that in this land one may write what one pleases in a letter and have no fears as to who may read it.”

For my Safire story, I received a comment from someone in…you guess the state. There was nothing controversial about it. It was a nice compliment.

There was nothing…nothing wrong with it.

It was followed up:

Please post my previous comment anonymously—in [this state] posting public comments can get you canceled or worse. Thank you.

Of course, I didn’t “approve” the comment. I did privately thank the person and commiserate that one must walk a tight line in the current environment.

That’s where we are right now.

I walk a tight line in these stories sometimes. I am amazed sometimes at what will set someone off in a fit of self-righteous indignation.

I wonder if these stories will get canceled?

I guess I could go underground…LOL.

Well, there’s nothing controversial here. Just old books. Unless…

There are a lot of ugly and controversial things in books. Just look at history!

We can only hope…

Books of Spanish Leather

If I had the stars from the darkest night
Or the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For the’d all I’m wishing to be ownin’


I was 9 years old.

I would sneak up to brother Jimmie’s garret in the big old Edwardian house in Amherst, New York. I would put his LPs onto his suitcase style stereo.

Magic would pour forth.

This song was from Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a’ Changin’.

They certainly were.

And yes, there is somethin’ you can send back to me
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

I was so fortunate to be growing up in those times.

I am so fortunate that in the last couple years I was able to see Dylan and Baez and Mandolin Orange and The Lumineers.

I hope there will be concerts again soon.


Will I ever go back?

I’ve been 4 or 5 times. I never got to Galicia. That Celtic province has always drawn me. I just never got that far.

The Celts were pushed west. And west. And west by other cultures who wanted their land.

Cornwall. Brittany. Scotland. Ireland. Galicia.

Pushed west violently until they could go no further. There was ocean hemming them in. There was no technology to cross the Atlantic then. Besides, what could there be…beyond? Terra incognita.

History can be ugly.

In England, I never got to Land’s End. Two trips to the southern coast—I drove and drove, but it kept retreating. Too far. Too far.

I made it to Lyme Regis.

I had plans on my next trip to London to catch a train from Paddington to Cornwall.

Time is fleeing. Fleeting, too.

When the Plague is ended, will I be able to go? Will I have the energy? It is a lot of work. Alone.

How old will I be when I can feel safe getting on a plane and staying in it for hours and hours?

But in my experience no trip, no walk, no expedition has ever been a mistake.

I don’t regret any walk I have taken.

You just step out from your door and begin the journey one step after another…

Well, you can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail right round all the seven oceans
Drop it straight into the deep blue sea

I have lived through a renaissance of music.

You would have the radio on in your hand or your bedside table or car and a new song would come on.

“American Pie” for example.

It was immediately imprinted into me, and many of you, for the rest of our lives.

I have lived through a renaissance of food and drink as well as music. Amazing things from everywhere. Available everywhere.

I do not know what I’m living through now.

When I come out the other side, if I come out the other side, what will I be? What will I be able to do?

I miss you.

I miss you.

I miss you.

She’s an angel
She’s an angel
She’s an angel of the first degree

Oh, how can, how can you ask me again
For you know it only brings me sorrow
The same thing I will want today
I would want again tomorrow


I was there two years ago.


Day trips to Toledo and El Escorial.

It only brings me sorrow
The same thing I would want today
I would want again tomorrow

Larry delivered a housecall’s load of books a few weeks ago.

The old books he had segregated to “special” were carted up for me at some point.

(He packs the older or prettier vintage books separately. I pay a much higher rate per box for this upon delivery. I will go through them at a later date. If there’s something to merit ,it I will add a bonus to his next delivery.)

This group languished on carts for a couple weeks or so. I would pass by and think…”when I can.”

I saw there was a shelf and half of Aguilar classics. These are the Spanish versions of what we might find in the Library of America or the French Plieades.

Often they are uniformly bound.

You can pick one out from the crowd from 50 feet away.

They’re quite expensive new.

When I was in Montreal in 2019, I was looking for a special book for a friend. I searched every bookstore I could find. I would see a lot of the French Pleiades. They were about $50 each, if memory serves. They went up in my bookseller estimation.

Last weekend, it was time to pull those carts with the Aguilar classics over to the stool where I was working.

I touched the books, and I was in Spain. Walking up Montserrat and viewing the Black Madonna. Driving across the vast vineyards of Rioja. Watching the Man of La Mancha in Catalan.


Not beautiful books. But functional. The paper is very thin but strong. Bible paper. You can get a lot of pages into a book using this kind of paper. There were English classics published in the late 1800s and early 1900s using similar paper. “Thin Paper Edition.”

I could sort these onto another cart robotically. It didn’t matter how old they were. Or if they were first edition Aguilars. All that mattered was the condition. These were all in great condition. Some still had the old brittle plastic wrap on them.

But what was this?

One after another had exotic decorated edges. Not all. Maybe ten percent.

The cart was laden with many other Spanish books. Some from the 18th century.

Spanish books of Spanish leather.

Spanish Leather Books

I want to go to “Galithia.” I want to see waves crashing upon the shores of the Bay of Biscay.

Some of the books were beautiful. Some of the foredges were decorated—stenciled?—surprises.

Slider image
Slider image

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to Spain. Except in memory.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to…

But if I had the stars from the darkest night. Or diamonds from the deepest ocean. I’d forsake them all… For that’s all I’m wishing to be ownin’.

I can close my eyes and be climbing the steep path to the citadel of Toledo.

And I can close my eyes and be in another time and place with you.

And books can take me there. The merest touch, and I can fly like Peter and Wendy.

I put the books on a cart. I put big prices on them. I don’t mind if they stay here for a year or two.

It looks like I’ll likely be staying here for a year or two too.

But those with the decorated edges…

I posted them for sale on the ABAA Trade site where only other ABAA booksellers can see them. Just a few pictures and a few words. To list them publicly, I would have to do more work, more descriptions and details. I put a big price on them. But not too big. If they were to sell, there had to be room for the buyer to make some money on them.

$95 dollars for the Oscar Wilde with a face on each of the three edges. $35 each for the other 20 or so.

They sold in minutes.

I had to give regrets to four subsequent buyers.

“I’m sorry. They sold prior to your inquiry.”

I don’t regret it. I still have the 40 or 50 others Aguilars. And I still have the enormous Spanish dictionary with the calf spine—so warm and soft it could still be alive.

I’ll have the memory of them as well.

A brief flash in a day at the warehouse during the Plague amongst thousands of books I would send there and there and there.

And the memories.

So take heed, take heed of the western winds
Take heed of stormy weather
And yes there is something you can send back to me
Spanish [books] of Spanish leather.

A long, long time ago. I can still remember how the music used to make me smile…

You might enjoy this:

I knew most of Don Maclean’s “code” the first time I heard it. But that video added many things I had not parsed before.

Christie’s sold the manuscript for this song a couple years ago. It realized $1.2 million.


I awake in the dark. I stayed up late watching YouTube videos of songs—well, you can tell from the above.

Dreamy writing. Memories flowing. Tears flowing.

I slept through the night pretty well. I let the dogs out. Each went slipping across the driveway to find a place to do their business. I got a golfball and tossed it down the steep driveway. Merry went sliding after it. Jack Russells will endure anything to complete a mission.

There had been an ice storm.

I won’t be driving down soon.

Animal testing to save risking my life.

They love it.

I fill the window feeders and toss the excess onto the white roof. Much of the sunflower seed slides off and into the darkness below. Tiny birds try to alight, but their tiny claws cannot get purchase. They slide and flutter and slide and give up and flit away onto nearby branches.

This weather was predicted.

I left work early yesterday to bring enough wood in. I also stopped at Giant for bread and milk and eggs. I ended up buying $200 worth of food. Much of it was so deeply discounted the total was $104. I bought two giant spiral-cut honey hams at 80% off. Why? I cannot resist a deal sometimes. I’ve been pretty successful as a buyer. I guess I’ll give one away. When I got home, I saw the contractors were there building more terrace walls. I’ve had 5 or 6 pallets of Pennsylvania limestone waiting for a couple years.

I backed up to the side porch and began unloading all the stuff. I set the nine 12 packs of diet soda and sparkling water onto the deck. The two 20 pound hams. Bags of stuff. Milk, bread, eggs… Pork chops—I’ll grill those for the dogs. They were so cheap! Then I go up the steps and carry all the groceries in. I leave the truck radio on to finish listening to an FA Cup soccer game. Then I roll the cart to the barn. The cast iron porch rings are almost empty. Whichever dog is loose keeps bringing me a golfball to fetch. He drops it at my feet and looks plaintively, almost painfully, up at me until I bend, pick it up and toss it down the mountain. Each in his turn goes tearing after it. I retrieve cart after cart of firewood and fill the rings. I turn on the exterior lights so the contractors can finish their wall in the dark.

I begin making dinner. Eggs and maple sausage and Jewish seeded rye toast. But I’m interrupted by texts and call. Alarms at a store. Spam call. Texts from friends. Larry’s at the warehouse with a load of loose books and is locked out at this hour. I text whoever I can to try to get him in. No response. I text managers. No one knows who is there in the skeleton crew this night. Finally, a reply, and he is let in. Someone reminds me there is a doorbell. More calls and texts. This is my private time. I came home to write and prepare for the storm.

Tim texts. He’s leaving now. “Wall completed. Another begun. Birdhouses hung.”

I reply: “Drive carefully.” Crackly ice rain is falling, and the outdoor thermometer reads 31.

I put Mozart on and go to sit in the bay window. I want some peace and calm. I stare out at the flickering lights in the dark valley, which stretches to a black horizon.

The phone goes off again.

The alarm company. The front opened at the warehouse.

“Ignore it.” Maybe someone got shut in and had to let themselves out.

(And that is actually what happened!)

I finally eat my meal in peace. It tastes so good. The fresh brown eggs cooked in truffle olive oil. Crushed garlic atop. Some coarsely ground pepper.

A bite of maple sausage.

A bite of toast.

A bite of egg.

A sip of Old Fashioned…


I stayed up late writing the space jam above. And going down rabbit holes of old videos on YouTube.

All the while ice was falling outside.

All because of Spanish leather-bound books and a link to American Pie sent by a friend.

It is after 9 AM Tuesday.

The temperature is still at 31. The birds are still sliding on the roof below the window feeders.

The phone says the temperature will go up to 34 at 10 am. But that’s valley weather. Things are different up here. Sometimes cooler. Often warmer in winter—cold air sinks.

I am trapped and I don’t mind.

I’ll do some more “animal testing” in a while.

I have one more poem to record from a yellow legal pad I discovered buried face down under piles of paper on the desk in my office, which I haven’t used for three or four or nearly five years.

It is from the summer of 2015. A wonderful life-changing time. Each page brings back vivid memories and emotions. Happiness, joy, love, creativity flowed from my pen then. I’m clipping them together. They belong together. That was a “good age.”

Well, 11:20. It finally got up to 32, but the dog test says the steep road is still icy. The phone weather app keeps changing its prediction of when the temperature will rise. Now it says 34 at noon. 36 at 1. 37 at 2. 39 at 3.

I don’t trust it.

There’s a gray fog keeping any sun assistance at bay. I can’t even see the valley.

Fog in Valley

It is strange to be here on a weekday morning. I’ve done a few unusual chores. Lemon oil on a soft cloth to do a bit of much needed furniture dusting.

I had way too much of the French Mariage Frères’s Marco Polo tea. The tea is in bags made of muslin cloth. I just add water and go to the microwave to reheat the big mug. Those frequent trips cause other frequent trips.

Mariage Frères's Marco Polo Tea

I had the radio on a bit. The new Senate Majority leader was on Rachel Maddow. He said the new person in the White House has started a Commission for 180 days to consider expanding the Supreme Court. Will it be 11? 13? 15? 19?

I turned that off. Goodbye…Miss American Pie.

I got that last poem typed up.

Farewell to that golden age as well.

I’ll put the manuscript into a plastic crate. Each page has “Done 1/21” written upon. I’ll print up two copies when I get into work. One copy will go into a crate in my office—I’ll clip this group together as they were all about the same time and the same subject. Then I’ll move onto other old manuscripts hanging around here.

A good COVID project.


I can peck away at this story for a bit.

The woodstove has it at 70 inside. Much warmer than I’m used to here.

The tea is getting very thin. I don’t want the caffeine from a new bag.

This must be what it is like for so many I know trapped at home alone or with a spouse.

It is noon. Still 32.

I performed some more animal testing.

Still ice.

The new stone walls outside the window fit right in. They are snow and ice covered. How many terraces do I have now?

Slider image
Slider image

How many will I have when the Plague ends?

I’m already contemplating a visit to Irwin stone to acquire more pallets. The terraces add architecture and structure to the steep slope below the house. Behind them, I can put in plants and bulbs.

Bulbs…I have about 100 small ones left. Unless the phone is lying, it will get to 41 tomorrow and I will push the rest of them in.

So odd. This has never happened before. The really big snows have trapped me before. Smaller snows I can do something about with machinery. The ice is usually gone when the sun warms the pavement below.

There’s no sunshine.

Once or twice some years ago, I filled the two-wheel spreader with ice melt and kind of skated behind it down the drive.

If you start to lose control, you just sit down and hang on to the spreader’s handles.

I could do that today, but the phone keeps promising warmth.

The walls.

I’ve always loved stone walls. My home in Amherst, New York was surrounded by a stone wall. It was full of fossils. Shells mostly. Since I’ve grown up, I’ve put stone walls up wherever I live. Mostly as borders rather than barriers.

But I love a good wall. There is something permanent about it. Stones speak to me as well.

We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Robert Frost

My library conservator is finished!

My books are all off the floor. She did an incredible job organizing everything.

In the downstairs library, some of my fiction collections are organized. Barbara’s books—Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels and “herself” are no longer spread throughout the house. Robert Graves. Borges. I’ve finished all the Elizabeth Daly’s, and she is down there as well. History. Art.

Downstairs Library

The massive mahogany glass front cases in the downstairs foyer have books about books. Sports, gardening…

The huge one in the utility area—a long room that runs the length of the main house before ending at the garage door—has bookshelves as well.

The VERY massive glass front case along the back wall I acquired about 35 years from Ernie Berger.

Berger Bookcase

Ernie was a fixture in Frederick for many years. A friend my age befriended him long ago. He told me, if memory serves, that Ernie played piano in prohibition honkytonks until the shooting started. For many years, Ernie ran Berger’s Book Store on Market Street in downtown Frederick. It was THE new bookstore in the city. Just before I came to town, he started selling collectibles in a tiny shop underneath the old courthouse—is that true?

Berger FNP Article

I visited it when I scouted the competition in Frederick before taking the leap of faith to open my shop—on a shoestring. He was a sweet old guy. When he got some dread disease, he called me to come buy his books. His home was literally at the bottom of the cliff I live up on today. Nice old home. He had a big pond—which is fed from a spring on my property. When he passed away, I went to his funeral. It was like the torch was being passed in my mind. But I was too shy to get out of my battered Ford F 150 with an aluminum cap over the bed.

Strange too, this bookcase lived down the hill from my house for many, many years—going back to the 1980s and before.

So odd. I look down on the property where another bookseller lived for many years.

Ernie’s bookcase is only about half full now. I’ll have to figure out where I can get some books to fill it.

Further down in this room is a smaller glass case. It was filled with books on wine, food, liquor. It is against the wall in front of my Wine Shrine. It was the previous owner’s (and builder) Gun Safe Room. It is built of cinder block with heavy metal door. Like a bunker—where the last National leader was rushed to when there were several nights of fiery insurrection outside the White House.

Upstairs in the living room, there are built-in shelves he made. He was a master carpenter. On one side, my curator placed the nicest Folio Society books. On the other, my Tolkien books—except the rarities, which are locked away.

Living Room Library

I put in shelves lining the end wall in the laundry and dog pen room. She put tall books on those.

Then there is the Great Room. That had been his spartan but huge carpentry workshop when I bought the place. I designed and had built the beautiful built-ins that line the wall. My old leather and cloth books are there now. Mostly arranged by size.

Great Room Library

The books are all off the floor. There’s space on almost all the shelves throughout the house because I culled tedious things and my curator-culled dupes.

I can start collecting again!

Another COVID success story!

It is now 2pm. 32 degrees. I ventured out. Still black ice.

Trapped in paradise…

It inched to 33 at 4.

The phone says it will be 39 at six. It also says it will be 36 in two minutes.

Lying machine!

It never got above 33.

At some point, I decided I wasn’t going anywhere.

I wrote a lot. I transposed even more. I did a lot of minor chores.

At the end of the day when dinner was warming, I dusted off my compact disc player. I haven’t used it for 5 years or so. It was very dusty.

There was a Roy Buchanan CD next to it. It was as if it was just waiting there.

I relearned its operating rules and started it.

I got a text from the person who had rescued the warehouse cat last week.

“He’s already been neutered. There’s no chip, however.”

“Cool. Let me know if he is tame. “

I don’t know why I said that. I’ve had lots of cats. But none on the mountain. I like being free to travel. The dogs are easy to place temporarily.

Rescued Tom

Beautiful creature.

But I couldn’t bring him home.

Too much stuff to knock over in my bachelor’s crib.

And Merry and Pippin are both very territorial.

There would be trouble in paradise, I’m almost sure.

There were some good books last weekend and during the week.

Larry thinks there’s some signed C S Lewis in the load he brought the other night.

I found this little clutch of pamphlets at home—set aside during the reorganization.


Werewolves in 1850 in German.

Annika did research on several cartloads—I need to review them. I’ve told her she can start processing books she’s confident with her pricing on and put them through without my seeing them.

(Let go. Let go…)

What is left?

I have so much time on my hands.


I’ll figure out something important to do.

We got another plaque this week!

Wonder is a “Top Legacy”!

Top Legacy Plaque

Wait! That means old, doesn’t it?

Larry dropped off a load at 4:30 Thursday. My usual departure. Nothing exciting.

“These are old,” he said. “Around 1810.”

“That’s not old,” I teased. “You’ve found things from 15 and 1600s. Even some older stuff—manuscripts—remember?”

I looked inside the two early 19th century calf bindings. Almost certainly American.

Frederick and Hagerstown, Maryland Imprints

Awwww… Frederick and Hagerstown imprints!

They don’t mean much. People don’t collect imprints like they used to.

Still. It is nice to think I’m part of a long line of Maryland booksellers.

From the early German immigrants fleeing religious persecution, to printers like these, to “emporiums” like Smith’s Temple of Fancy (I see a good many books with their bookseller tags in them), to people like Ernie Berger and Learmonts…to Wonder Book.

I hope we continue rescuing books for many years.

I’m not ready to stop.

I hope books don’t get canceled. Any books!

Long ago, I used to advertise: “We buy and sell popular and unpopular books.”

I’d forgotten that.

And don’t forget—history is often ugly. It is good to see that ugliness. Perhaps it will serve as cautionary tales to avoid repeating ugliness.

6 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    As Henry James once said, “Work is the best, and a certain numbness, a merciful numbness.” I–and a lot of your readers–can identify with how you feel after a year of the pandemic, isolation, and political extremism.
    And if I’m not mistaken, the books on the lower shelf to the left are the Andrew Lang fairy tale books in those fat, gorgeous Folio editions. I own the first four–Red, Blue, Green and Yellow– and debate whether my granddaughter–for whom I bought them– would appreciate them more than I do. Maybe she’d like the Dover paperbacks instead.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I would guess she would appreciate and not damage those beauties when she is 10 or so.

      I hung a dozen framed things last night!
      Getting things done I’ve put off for years.
      Maybe I’ll alphabetize the canned goods if all else fails.

      Looking forward to some decent weather so I can get out and cut wood and do garden winter maintenance.

      Living “small” – tedious – waiting for something good to experience…

      Thanks Michael, it is very edifying to hear from you.

  2. Geoffrey Hughes commented on

    Chuck, So much here this week worthy of comment, but as a geezer who lived through all of it, I’ll just say “Thanks” for the ingenious gloss on American Pie.” Enjoy the coming enforced solitude. Try a day without technology. 🤔

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Geoff
      That is a great video!
      My ice day was low/no tech – except typing on my laptop.
      I’m watching I, Claudius.
      Never watch news and just briefly glance at a few “papers” on my phone
      Driving I used se the satellite for CNN NPRs WMAL …
      Best! And good memories…

  3. Chuck, Anthony Boucher was besides being a writer of mysteries, as you know, was the first editor of the Magazine of Fantasy in 1949, then one issue later, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. One of the elegant things he did was give each story a thoughtful, occasionally lengthy intro. He also mixed in reprinted stories, which at the time I thought was just to save money. Ah, the ignorance of youth, in this case, mine. Tony had great taste in writers and art directors, as he had George Salter as art director. I still treasure the cover art by Salter, Mel Hunter, Ed Emshwiller, Chesley Bonestell, etc. I love mixing good words and good art. It makes my day. Well, I’ve run out of words, so enough to say this case of your ruminations was fine to read. Time for some
    Danny Gatton? Rick

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Rick!
      I haven’t read much Boucher. But your info will have me delve deeper.
      Danny Gatton – that man could play!
      Roy B and the Snake Stretchers … old DC times

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *