From the Depths

Forgotten Mysteries

It has finally rained! And the month long streak of 90 degree plus days may end tomorrow at 84 degrees.

It was getting depressing on top of the plague and rioting and social upheaval. The heat was suffocating. And so dry.

I rarely close the windows and turn the A/C on. But I surrendered over a week ago.

I had to water the recent plantings that hadn’t established enough of a root system to take on the drought. That involved lugging the galvanized watering cans around the three sides of the house where the new beds were. Every day.

I finally surrendered and dragged out the two 75 foot hoses—another thing I rarely use.

It took a lot of time and effort in the mornings when I have numerous chores before I can bump down the mountain to work. Almost every morning I enter things in to my journal. I check on the news and emails and Instagram on my iPhone.

(IG accounts: @wonderbookandvideo, @booksbythefoot, @merryandpippinlotr [that’s me])

Then I shower. Then get the Jack Russells (Merry and Pippin) their food and water and walk them out to their Puppy Chalet.

Maybe I make French press coffee in there somewhere.

I ended up getting to work later and later.

I came up with a shortcut of air-drying in the outdoor sauna as a time saving gambit. I wrap a towel around me as I drag the hose about or lug the water can to more remote plants.

If the towel slips, no one is around to be offended unless a chipmunk is shocked. Their distress calls sound very birdlike:

Indeed, I mistook them for ground birds chirruping for many years. This year has brought a plague of chipmunks. Maybe it was the very mild winter. They’re everywhere this year. To most people, they are cute little rodents like Chip and Dale from the old Disney cartoons.

To gardeners, they are vermin. They nibble off every leaf and bud from columbines. They nipped off all my beans to the ground this week. They’ll dig up lily corms and take a few bites and leave the rest out to die. They burrow into any hole they can find. I’ve been filling holes in the rock walls with expanding foam to deter them (And snakes.) Most walls have raised beds behind them, and I often lean into a wall to work the garden. Imagine this 5-foot or longer black snake slithering out between my knees! Or worse—a copperhead. I don’t think the Timber Rattlers go into walls. They’re usually too fat or lazy. I haven’t seen a poisonous snake up there this year or last. But I usually see one every year or so. I did find this enormous snake dangling from a wall last week.

Enormous Snakeskin

Last night a thunderstorm flew down the mountain towards my home. I could see trees high up the slope behind being shaken as if by giants. When the storm hit me, treetops whipped and flailed above me. Leaves from the forest floor were lifted by the wind and sent in all directions. Lightning crackled and snapped. Thunder boomed. The skies opened, and despite the storm’s violence, I welcomed the rain falling onto the thirsty earth.

This morning was the first I haven’t had to water the plants since June … something. I didn’t track the date—because I had no idea we were on a record pace.

There were some deadfall branches to pick up. I will need to blow the leaves and plant debris from the driveway and deck.

This long hot summer is barely a month old. After the “Winter that Wasn’t” and the “Plague Spring” what will this year bring?

The Four Horsemen? Conquest. War. Famine. Death.

Last week’s book story ended—well, near the end—with a thousand or sample books I needed to go through.

Jessica had selected a few cartloads for use by Books by the Foot. There was a packing slip. About 30 pages long. At least it was alphabetical by title (mostly.) I would flip through to the right title. Check the column with the quantity they were offering. And then write a bid price per book—almost always for the entire stock they had on hand. That soon got tedious, and I enlisted help from someone in the office nearby. I gave her the list. Then I would call out the title. She would find it on the list. Tell me the quantity on hand. I would give her the bid price to write in. That was a LITTLE less tedious.

The cartloads that Jessica was not interested in I went and scanned. I pulled titles I thought we could use for online or store sales. On Saturday, I ordered those with no help. That was tedious. But at least we are rescuing about 100,000 remainder books. 100,000?!

I am guessing as I’m not going to look at that list again!

I love a mystery.

I’ve mentioned we now have staff working in the warehouse on weekends. I am no longer the sole “Keeper of the Books” on Saturdays and Sundays.

I always loved weekends because I could do my work uninterrupted. That is no longer the case. Someone seems to ALWAYS need something. Plus, we are starting to get more weekend deliveries on weekends.

This weekend a scout dropped off a pretty large load. He separates the boxes of old books (pre 1940) from the general run. That’s because I pay him on delivery and pay much more per box for the boxes of vintage stuff.

On Sunday, there was an extra helper, and I had him unpack the boxes and stage them on rolling 6 shelf four wheeled metal book carts. When I went out to see, I was surprised to see they were almost all vintage mysteries from the late 1930s back into the 19th century.

Vintage Mysteries

4 carts.

24 3-foot shelves.

About 35 books per shelf.

800-900 books.

One of the first collections I ever had was at a palatial mansion in Virginia’s hunt country. It had been owned by Arthur Godfrey. Arthur Godfrey was a hugely successful media star through much of the 20th century. He was an entertainer and broadcaster. He was known as The Old Redhead. His heyday was long before my time, but I certainly knew of him. I suppose he would be on the scale of Oprah nowadays.

“The Prince is coming, and we have to clear out the books!”


I was a very new and inexperienced bookseller in 1980 or 81. I drove my once-white battered Ford F-150 pickup with the aluminum cap covering the bed to Leesburg. I anticipated I was going to see treasures in the mansion. When I got to the guardhouse, I was directed instead to the horsebarn. There I was met by a middle-aged woman who introduced herself as the “Horse Mistress” if my recollection is correct.

“The Prince of Saudi Arabia has bought the property, and I have to get my books out of here,” she said.

She led me into the building, which was lined with stained and lacquered stalls. Each stall had a large silver plaque with a horse’s name upon it. I assume they were sterling silver. There were no horses left however. She led me to a stall which was meticulously clean. In it were books piled high on their sides. Hundreds. Upon closer inspection, I noted they were all old mysteries from the 1930s and before. Many were in brilliant dust jackets.

“I need them out today. I’ll get in trouble if they’re here when the Prince comes.”

I made a deal and packed them. I took them home and spread them out in the garage in my home just north of the Mason Dixon Line. It was an old Pennsylvania limestone farmhouse on 7.35 acres. The road was named Natural Dam for the stones blocking up Marsh Creek a little way beyond my property. There were only a half-dozen or so houses on the road.

I didn’t know what to do with them. There was no internet to search for price comps then. I desperately needed money. I called an acquaintance—Nelson Freck who had a shop in DC called Chaos Unlimited. He specialized in collectible Sci Fi and Mystery. He was very excited when he saw and began picking out books.

“I can give you $45 dollars for this one.”

That seemed astronomic then, and I agreed to the first group he bought.

I’d put aside some early Agatha Christie first editions in perfect condition. I knew they were valuable, but also I just liked her writing, and the books were stunning in their vintage dust jackets.

That was the Hammerly collection. Because the Horse Mistress wrote her name in every book.

I did ok. I hope I was paid fairly.

If only I knew then what I know now. They would be worth a fortune.

Anyway, the collection on my dock nearly 40 years later was very much like that. Except that very few of these had jackets, and many had substantial condition issues—ex library, split hinges…

I didn’t look too closely at them. I was far too busy working on other carts.

And I went on a house call in the afternoon that had a lot of books—including many Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels books—but nothing of any value. The surprise about this estate was that it was full of creepy dolls staring at me with nearly dead eyes in every room in the house. More on that later.

Sunday ended.

On Monday, Clif, Ernest and a helper took two Wonder Book vans to the doll house. I’d made a deal with the estate liquidators that we could remove whatever we wanted for a fixed price. The tag sale had ended Sunday afternoon. Everything remaining was to be hauled away and donated or dumped. The house had to be cleared, so it could be marketed for sale. We left by late morning with two big van loads filled with tubs of books and stuff. I’ve been trying to diversify the stores with collectibles and “things” since the future for DVDs is pretty apparent—bleak. Unless there is a revival like LPs have had.

I had driven my Ford Expedition. I filled that up with some cool bookends and “stuff.”

That evening my friends invited me for a belated birthday drink at my old friend Barbara Mertz’s estate which I call “Lothlorien.”

They have done a magnificent job restoring the old stone house and the many, many gardens. Though the heat was oppressive, we toured the acres of plantings. I had my martini glass in hand.

We paused in the shade of the “temple” and its reflecting pool Barbara had built when she imported a life-size marble statue of Discobulus from a visit to Italy. She had laughed at her expensive foolishness, but the result was magnificent. I used to tease her about the anatomically correct naked man in her backyard. My friends and I sat on marble benches and chatted. The water looked so cool I asked if I could take my shoes off and cool my heels.

Cooling Heels

It was marvelous.

I had another martini as we sat inside in the air conditioning chatting about life, the plague, Egypt, Barbara, the universe and…everything.

Maybe I had another.

When I got home, I watered the gardens and put some ribs on the grill and had a couple more drinks or so…

I crashed at some point.

When I awoke about 3 am, I reached for my phone. It was not in bed with me. I got up and pattered about the dark house searching.


I went out and looked in the vehicles with a flashlight. Nope.

I have no landline. I have no Wifi. There was no way to call or email to see if I had left it with my friends.

I became panicked. As dawn broke and things lit up, I searched again and again. I headed into work early and emailed my friends. I didn’t have their phone number. It’s on my phone!

I borrowed a warehouse mobile phone a manager uses to keep in touch while on the road. I drove home and began calling myself.

My life would very different if my phone and all its photos were lost.

I called my number as I entered home. It would ring 5 times and go to voicemail. I’d dial it again. And again. And again—hoping to hear the Cathedral Bells, which is my ring tone.


If my phone was dead, it would be hopeless. Would I stumble upon it under something months from now?

I went outside to the gardens and called. I heard the beloved chimes…somewhere…

I called again and narrowed the general direction.

I was getting warmer and warmer.

“It’s on the deck!”

But I had looked there. Several times.

It was under a bench!

The little black slab was such a welcome sight!

Had I dropped it or had it fallen from my pocket in my exhausted and buzzed state?

Didn’t matter. It was back!

“NEVER again,” I swore.

I walked past those carts of vintage mysteries Tuesday and Wednesday.

But then another load of vintage was delivered along with modern books from an estate. A helper asked if I wanted those carted up as well.


Now I had a lot of carts to go through.

I took a stool out onto the roasting loading docks. The big barrel fan was blowing my long Covid hair as I went through every single mystery.

I checked the title page and copyright page of nearly every book.

Some went onto first edition shelves on another cart. Some went onto shelves that I called “Vintage mysteries.” Some went to Books by the Foot for there were non-mysteries as well as very common bookclub and reprint mysteries and adventure.

There were also about 3 dozen Bomba the Jungle Boy adventure series titles. Many were in jacket. Not a big deal. No one reads Bomba any more. Those readers and collectors are mostly long dead now.

Bomba the Jungle Boy

Some went to be researched.

I decided to put fixed a price on the 1sts and a lower fixed price on the later editions. We can’t possibly research 500-600 mysteries any time soon. The prices will be exorbitant for some, I’m sure. But others will be a bargain. Eventually all the prices will lower and meet their market value. Of course, some of these very obscure authors likely have no known regular “market.” There were about 20 John Rhode 1sts. Never heard of him—or I’ve forgotten if I have. Who knows their value or the value of the hundreds others? All the obscure detectives who never reached the permanent test of time that Miss Marple or Poirot or Sherlock Holmes have.

John Rhode Books

What went to research? There were a dozen or so 1sts that I recognized as Queen’s Quorum titles. These are 125 mysteries selected by author Ellery Queen (actually 2 guys—cousins) as being cornerstones in the history of mystery and detective fiction.

Then there important authors like Ambrose Bierce…and…others you just don’t see like Melville Davisson Post and LeBlanc and…

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Those carts took most of Wednesday and Thursday to sort through.

There were some surprises on the other carts as well.

Alice in Wonderland signed late in life by “Alice” for the Limited Editions Club. It’s very cool. But since maybe 1500 were done, it is not extremely rare. I now have 3!

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I’d never had Nietzche’s also Sprach Zarathustra before.

Sprach Zarathustra

When the scout comes again, he will get a nice bonus check.

No home runs, but a lot of fun and nice things to get a hold of and preserve.

From the Depths

Despite all the exciting diversions, I have been extremely sad this week—again. Must be my nature.

The plague and the upheaval and the madness. The drought and the heat have been getting to me.

Plus, it has left me yet again. You’d think I’d be numb to it. It’s like Charlie Brown running to kick the football Lucy has teed up. She pulls it away every time, and he never leaves.

The world seems going backwards. Diversity of opinion is being screamed at by bull horned voices shouting down the opposition. Any opposition.

To them, there’s only one right opinion. Theirs.


I found this publication from DuPont Circle in D.C. this week. It was published 50 years ago! The authors were angry counterculture kids.

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People on the Streets
People on the Streets

In 1970, I was too young to be angry or counterculture. I would dip into that later—until I outgrew it.

Shakespeare had a lot to do with that. Mobs have been the same…forever…

Having kids and a business forced me to grow up some as well.

On Tuesday as soon as I found my phone at home, I dropped into bed.

Exhausted and spent, I wanted to catch up on all that I had missed. Checking my emails, this listing popped up from my friend—Laurelle Swan who offers some of the most beautiful rarities in the Bookland.

Here’s what I read:

Oscar Wilde…A Man Who Lived Life on His Own Terms

How complicated we all are. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) loved poetry and art, and lived his life to the fullest in pursuit of such. While most of us remember Wilde today for his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (published in 1891) and his play The Importance of Being Earnest (published 1895), he was a deeply passionate man, flamboyant in manners and dress, with a keen mind along with a wry sense of humour (who has not heard his famous quote “I can resist anything except for temptation”).

Born into a literary family, Wilde attended both Trinity College (Dublin) and Magdalen College (Oxford), earning there a degree with honours; during his time at Oxford he also won the Newdigate Prize for his long poem, Ravenna. As with many of us, his years at college helped to shape his personality and self-image. Deeply impressed by the teachings of English writers such as John Ruskin on the importance of art in life and, more importantly, the aesthetic intensity by which one should live one’s life, Wilde became an ardent participant in the Aesthetic movement, and “established himself in social and artistic circles by his wit and flamboyance.”

Although Wilde married and had two children, he formed a deep attachment to Lord Alfred Douglas. Accused by Douglas’ father of being a sodomite (a crime in those days), Wilde sued Douglas’ father for libel – an act which, when Wilde lost the case, would result in imprisonment for two years at hard labour, which would weaken his health from the harsh conditions and emotional isolation.

Serving most of his sentence at Reading Gaol, Wilde was deprived of the ability to write; however, a sympathetic prison governor allowed him paper and pen and, during the three months of January through March of 1897, he would write the long letter to Douglas which would be published as De Profundis (“from the depths”).

For anyone who has ever loved a fellow human, one cannot but be moved by Wilde’s letter to his former lover. The letter opens “…Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain…For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow…”
The suppressed portion is full of not only self-recrimination, but an enduring affection for the young Douglas: “After long and fruitless waiting I have determined to write to you myself, as much for your sake as for mine….Our ill-fated and most lamentable friendship has ended in ruin and public infamy for me, yet the memory of our ancient affection is often with me, and the thought that loathing, bitterness and contempt should forever take place in my heart once held by love is very sad to me…” The letter opens with “Dear Bosie” and would be signed “Your affectionate friend, Oscar Wilde”.

While we lament the tragedy of Wilde’s early death, at the too-young age of 46, we are all made better by the writings he has left; his ability to peer into the depths of the human soul and see both the ugliness and the beauty, and of most importance, the truth of what it means to be human.

N.B. Above information taken mostly from the online Encyclopedia Britannica and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (with a small dash of Wiki thrown in).

Featured Book:

The Suppressed Portion of “De Profundis” by Oscar Wilde, Now for the First Time Published by His Literary Executior Robert Ross, this publication the first in book form, published in 1913 by Paul R. Reynolds, one of 15 copies.

“Written from Wilde’s prison cell at Reading Gaol to his friend and lover Lord Alfred Douglas, De Profundis explodes the conventions of the traditional love letter and offers a scathing indictment of Douglas’s behavior, a mournful elegy for Wilde’s own lost greatness, and an impassioned plea for reconciliation. At once a bracingly honest account of ruinous attachment and a profound meditation on human suffering, De Profundis is a classic of gay literature. Richard Ellmann calls De Profundis ‘a love letter….One of the greatest, and the longest, ever written’.” (N.B., from the web site of the Library Thing.)

When De Profundis was first published (in 1905, five years after Wilde’s death) it was done so as an incomplete version. While parts would be read at a subsequent libel trial and parts published in a periodical, it would be decades (not until 1962) that the entire letter, including the suppressed portion, in a text that was not only complete but correct, would be published.

Extremely scarce; of the fifteen copies published, ten are with institutions per OCLC; the most recent auction record we find was almost forty years ago, in 1981.

Tears welled into my eyes.

De Profundis

“From the Depths”

I sent an instant: “I’ll take it.”

She replied: “That was quick! I’ve already had another inquiry!”

I replied:

Lucking timing.
I misplaced my phone at home and had to get a store phone and go home and call myself, and I finally heard the ring on my deck cuz I had too many martinis last night. 😆 😆 😆 😆
That’s why I was looking at my phone.


That is how I acquired 1 of 15 copies. Almost none are left on the market because institutions have bought most of the others. Maybe 5. Maybe fewer.

It arrived Thursday, and I opened it when things slowed down at the end of the day.

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A Wonder Book Quorum title to be sure.

It rained Thursday. Blessed drenching rain all night.

It is Friday and raining still.

I wrote and wrote and wrote because there was nothing else to do.

I hope both book stories get out today.

I’ll have to catch you up on the creepy doll house next week.

Doll House

2 Comments on Article

  1. Joshua commented on

    Great Saturday morning read as always! Do you have any idea of what the price tag on De Profundis will be?

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Joshua, I’m afraid that one is going into the collection here.
      I really appreciate your taking the time to read the stories and especially commenting!
      Thank you!

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