The Contemplative Life

Rare Book Room

Check out our inventory of Catholicism books in the Collector’s Corner. Many of the rare books from the collection below will end up there once we add them online. Happy hunting!

2/28/21 5:30 am on mountain

The Contemplative Life

I struggle to keep thought away
For in my mind there is no good.
Death decline loneliness
I keep those demons at bay
I labor intensely to that end
Eyes hands back arms legs
Up down, lift place, open shut

I need not contemplate God
I know God
I need not contemplate nature
I know the world

Were I to unleash my mind
I would dwell on age
I’d rather not know old

My thoughts reach only to occupation
What next to busy my hands and eyes
How now to fill my mind
so I can keep contemplation at bay
so age death loneliness stay away?

Sunday, February 28th.

I worked so hard this weekend.

If I fill my mind with labor, other thoughts are kept at bay.

When quitting time Sunday arrived, I was exhausted and dull. Spent. Out of gas. Toast.

I knew it was time to quit when I looked at books and they made no sense to me.

I had put off bidding on the Rare Book Room at the university I visited last week. Stuart Lutz, who had been in charge of the bidding, tweaked me earlier in the day, reminding me the bidding closed at 6 pm.

I had been tossing numbers around in my head all week.

  • Bid #1—I likely would not win the books.
  • Bid #2—I might win the books by a small margin.
  • Bid #3—the Nuclear Option. It was a crazy number. Would anyone be crazier?

At the end of the morning, I girded my loins (figuratively) and drafted an email. I looked at the number.

I looked again.

I looked again.

It was painful.

But risk is part of the charm of the book business.

Maybe I worked so hard on the weekend because the bid troubled me.

I got into a couple very dusty plastic-wrapped pallets of books that had been untouched since our “Move” from the soon to be demolished old warehouse to the new one in 2013-14. We were in a rush—especially toward the deadline of June 30, 2014. On the very last days, I became paralyzed in a way. My office…I just could not clear it out… A long-time manager inserted herself and intervened. She packed much of my office for me on the very last day.

It was a panicked time.

Some of the things I found in the old dirty pallets made sense. A long run of 19th century Danish books—some likely first editions in that language of books originally published in other languages. Back then, I wasn’t sure how to handle them. I have learned so much and our infrastructure has improved so much that I felt confident in 2021 that we could do justice to them.

An old friend reappeared!

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I’d thought about the 1818 Rees Encyclopedia Atlas volume periodically over the last 7 years. I thought it was likely here in the building somewhere…but where?

Mystery solved.

I found an archive of a Kentucky Senator’s correspondence—maybe 300 typed letters signed to him by other politicians. Where did I get this box? I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole when I needed to concentrate on “bulky” stuff—like books. I put it aside. I’ll get around to it.

I found an archive of prospecti from Chelonnidae Press from the 1980s. It was likely when I first met Alan James Robinson. He’s been working on various projects for me during 11 months of lockdown. He is stuck at home in Massachusetts. All his shows have been canceled. I guess you can add “Patron of the Artist” to my curriculum vitae. We are planning another portfolio of: “If There Were No Books … There would be no …” Beowulf will likely be among the prints we will collaborate on.

I was very productive last weekend. I’d guess I made 60 or 70 boxes for the three stores. I made plenty of carts for the internet and a couple for Annika to research as well. (Including the Danish books…LOL.)

When I was done, I had made a sprawling mess of boxes and carts and tubs.

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Before I could go, I had to make sure everything was labeled for the people who would clean up my mess Monday morning.

I was exhausted but was heartened to see the first daffodil of 2021 as I left. It was blooming outside the office door.

First 2021 Daffodil

Soon there will be thousands here and at home lasting in succeeding waves well into May.

Oh! Before I left, I emailed Stuart Lutz my bid. I followed it with a text to verify he had received it. Like snail mail, I have had a number of emails disappear or take forever to get through.

I blame it on COVID.

Then it was time for a cocktail. Another aid to contemplation avoidance.

Monday was March first.

I awoke to a stunning dawn.

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So, 2021 is 16.7% over.

The thick sheet of ice and snow on the forest floor on the mountain has mostly melted. Things have changed drastically in the last 7 days.

Many of the beds are heavily matted with autumn’s dead leaves. A lot of the spring bulbs were forcing their emerald fingertips from under the earth below the snow as well. Some were bent and twisted by the weight of the ice and snow pack, but I know from experience they will straighten themselves and grow and bloom without deformity.

Young Bulbs

Barring unforeseen cold weather events, things have sprung to spring in a matter of few days.

Winter weather is behind us.

But it was just last Monday we were slammed with a snowstorm here during my trip to the rare book library.

The library…I hadn’t checked my email since sending off my bid Sunday.

When I checked Monday morning, there was an email from my ABAA colleague Stuart Lutz.

The subject line read:

“Congrats Chuck”

Ouch! I paid too much!

However, if I hadn’t won the bid, I would have offered too little and been disappointed. “Always wanting what is not…”

Growing up in Amherst, New York, the 3rd floor of the stucco Edwardian house was partially dedicated to a vintage 1918 poolroom. The table was beautiful solid oak. The whole house was very “oaky”—doors, trim, molding… At one end of the table, a bear’s head hung from a wall. (It came with the house when my parents bought it 7 years before I was born.) As a toddler, I was certain the rest of the roaring bear was behind that wall. I would never go up there alone until I was somewhat older. The room also had other early 20th century accoutrements. A deer’s head hung on an exterior wall—so I knew there was no “rest of the deer” behind the head. There were some framed “sayings” as well. One I recall memorizing at an early age was:

As a rule, man is a fool,
When it’s hot, he wants it cool;
When it’s cool, he wants it hot,
Always wanting what is not.

Some attribute that to Benjamin Disraeli. I don’t recall if the sign credited him. As a child, I had no idea who Disraeli was. (I still am a bit foggy on him.)

I wonder where that sign is…maybe it is on a pallet here in the warehouse somewhere awaiting rediscovery.

I finally got the nerve to open Stuart’s email. I am very skittish about such things. I never know when I am in trouble or someone is going to yell at me or something.

Hi Chuck,

Congrats! You are the owner of the [University’s] rare book room with a bid of [$]. Thank you very much—you are certainly helping a struggling Catholic school in their hour of need. I’m sure I’ll read a blog posting about this.


We’ll be in touch in the next day or so to discuss payment & logistics.



Well, I can’t duck it now…

It all began at the end of January when I received this email:

February 1, 2021

To Whom It May Concern,

[A Catholic University] is selling the entire contents of its [Rare Book Room], and they have enlisted my help to deaccession it. I invite you to bid on its sale.

The collection has nearly 3,700 titles, some of which have multiple volumes. I attach a highlight catalog and a PDF with a searchable database. The collection is strong in Catholic materials, Twentieth Century literature, some science and children’s literature, Margaret Armstrong designed books, sets of books, etc. There is a lot of good “general stock” for a used bookstore. In addition, there are a number of books signed by Presidents, famous poets and prominent authors; I did not have time to check all the books, so I am sure there are additional signed books.

If you’d like to see a short film of the front portion of the Rare Book Room, please visit this link.

Here are the rules of the sale:

The sale runs from February 1, 2021 and concludes on February 28, 2021 at 6PM EST.

The Rare Book Room contents are being sold as one lot—please do not ask me to sell certain books separately.

The minimum starting bid is $15,000. There are no commission fees—the highest bid is the winning bid.

If you want to bid, please submit your maximum amount to me at [xxxxxx].

All submitted bids will be sealed—I will not reveal what the current high bid is.

In case of a tie for the final bid, the one submitted earliest will be declared the winner.

The sale is final.

If you are the buyer, one half of the winning bid will be due to [the] University within seven business days of the close of the sale (March 9th, 2021.) The University would like the books removed by mid-March, and the second half of the winning bid will be due at the time of the removal.

[The] University will give the winner a receipt and a letter renouncing ownership to the books.

If you want to visit the Rare Book Room to view the merchandise, please contact me at [xxxxxx] for a time slot. Masking and social distancing are required.

If you have specific questions about a book (i.e. is a plate still present in a book), please email me and I will check the next time I visit the [library].



I toyed with the idea of bidding. The minimum was only about $5 per book.

But then I don’t “need” books. We have a huge backlog.

But then a trip would be fun—especially if its destination was looking at beautiful books…

Last week’s story told part of the adventure.

One Gin
Two Gin
Pink Gin
Blue Gin

4 Gins

When I awoke early Tuesday morning—VERY early (COVID sleep is mercilessly erratic)—I looked at the Instagram accounts (still growing) and the news sites I follow.

Dr. Seuss was getting canceled!?

Many years ago, DC Comics announced The Death of Superman. They did some brilliant marketing.

He was indeed going to be killed off.

We had comic subscriptions back then. We would drive to Baltimore every Tuesday and pick up the week’s releases. We would order enough copies to fill the subscribers’ selections and then order extras to display on our New Comics racks for shoppers.

The big week came. The comic came in an opaque black plastic bag. (If you actually opened the bag, the value was greatly reduced. Those who thought ahead bought two copies. One to read and one to save as an investment.)

Then came the “run.” EVERYBODY wanted a copy. People were lining up—out the door, if memory serves. We quickly sold out. Some people sold back copies at a profit and prices started escalating. Someone accused us of holding back copies—which we didn’t do. This was before the internet, so everyone was going by the seat of their pants.

The problem was—they had printed millions of the thing. Still, like the Game Stop madness, prices kept going up for no “supply and demand” reason.

So, I had experience with this sort of thing. I knew speculators and collectors would go to the stores and snap up the banned copies we had on the shelves.

I also knew, without looking, all our online copies were already gone. Sold overnight. That is the way the markets work.

When I got to the warehouse later, I found they were indeed all gone—the “canceled 6.”

Because we list on multiple sites and the action was so heavy, there were multiple extra orders for copies that had sold moments before on different sites. Our computer automatically deletes sold inventory very quickly, but not quick enough for the flood of orders for the same copies of the “6” banned books.

I also told the store managers to create displays of Dr. Seuss at the front of each store. We have hundreds of Dr. Seuss books at each. As of Thursday afternoon, there are still plenty, and they are Buy 2 Get 1 Free.

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(That’s just the front display—we have additional Seuss books in the kids’ section.)

As for the banned 6…there are millions of used copies out there. When the mania settles, the prices will stabilize as well. I’m sure we have hundreds of assorted Seuss books in boxes that we will discover as they get sorted.

It was just a few years ago we used to buy Gaylords of Children’s books from a broker who works with mega-charities. We would sort through them for our Kids Books by the Box program, as well as books to put online or in the stores. We would find collectibles in them as well. To the sorters that work in those kinds of warehouses, a kids book is a kids book is a kids book…

They also sort purses and shoes into the Gaylords we buy. Just last week, we got 20 Gaylords of media—CDs and DVDs—and as usual, we got plenty of non-media.

They used to sort Dr. Seuss Gaylords for us. Really! For a little premium, they would sell an entire Gaylord—2500-3000 pieces of exclusively Dr. Seuss books! They stopped offering those. Too labor intensive, I guess.

I wish we had a few of those around now.

Now we generate our own kids book Gaylords. We routinely toss Dr. Seuss books into them because they are so common we get too many for online and bookshop sales. We have to decided to “pre-box” all the Toddler and K-2 Gaylords in order to mine out those Dr. Seuss books we have buried.

I wonder how many of the “6” we will dig out?

Of course, the real scary thing is what will get canceled next? To Kill a Mockingbird?

We sponsored a showing of the movie January 5, 2020. Seeing it on the big screen for the first time since my mother took me to see it when I was a small child was so evocative. I teared up many times.

Superman? Rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated.

He somehow came back to life when “Super” revenue was needed.

If you kept your comic book sealed in its black plastic bag, you might get $10 for it now. If you have an open copy, maybe a buck.

Supply and demand.

Wednesday was a beautiful day. Upper 50s. Brilliant.

I was heartened to see that the New York Public Library wasn’t pulling Dr. Seuss from its shelves.

“We don’t censor books.”

We don’t either.

I left work a bit early.

At home, I planted the last of the spring bulbs. There were a couple hundred minor bulbs that I hadn’t got in the ground in December. Since then, the earth has been snow-covered or frozen hard. I got to my knees and pushed my finger into the now-soft soil of a new bed—a COVID bed. I had dumped bags of black dirt behind the stones I had placed as a border. I pressed bulbs into the holes my finger made. Then I smoothed the soil over them. They were still firm. They’d rested on the chilly concrete floor of the garage.

Will they come up?

Who knows? At least I tried.

I walked around the property inspecting the beds. Some plants had been heaved up from the places by the freezing and thawing. I pressed them back down into the earth.

The buds on the trees have not begun swelling yet.

But, oh, the thousands of emerald fingertips were just beginning to push up from beneath the earth. I am so looking forward to the show.

I got out the orange Husqvarna blower. It started on the third pull. I blew a lot of the matted leaves from the flowerbeds. Many bulbs would have trouble pushing their way through that dead brown carpet. I also blew a lot of winter’s flotsam and jetsam from the driveways and porches and walkways. The snows had captured so much dirt and twigs and bits of bark. When the snows melted, the debris remained.

Then I sat at the top of the driveway and tossed balls down the steep slope. One dog or the other would careen downhill after them. While I waited for them to be retrieved, I cracked peanuts—goober peas—and sipped a beer. The sun set below the mountain behind me.


Thursday morning, I had a Zoom meeting with my estate attorney.

It had been about 7 years since we’d last planned my death. Some things had changed and needed updating.

I hope we made the right decisions. But then I won’t know, will I?

It is getting late on Thursday night. I cooked some fat sweet Italian sausages on the grill.

I put on a DVD about Paris. It didn’t look promising.

I was quite surprised. It was about a writer who travels back in time each night during a visit there. He runs into Scott and Zelda, Hemingway, Picasso, Dali… Gertrude Stein agrees to critique the manuscript of his novel.

It was a happy accident.



A Woody Allen movie, of all things.

I had never heard of it.

Paris…it has been about 2 years since I went and walked and walked and walked. I attended the Paris Rare Book Show in the immense glass palace. After dinner with friends on the Left Bank, we wandered toward the Seine. We crossed the bridge and strolled to Notre Dame. We stood in awe before its nighttime majesty.

The next morning it burned.

I need to go to sleep. I’m leaving for the rare book library at 6 in the morning.

I should get there before 10. Stuart, who is an autograph expert, will meet me and we will go over the deal for the Rare Book Room. You might recognize him from his appearances on Pawn Stars. He has that great deadpan look when he has to tell someone their signed rarity is fake.

He has done the school a great service. I knew there was a lot of competition. He had people in every day in the last week or so. I knew I would have to go very high to win the books.

Then I’ll get to packing. I’m going to cherry pick the best stuff, segregate it. Clif and Annika should arrive about noon, and the packing and loading will begin in earnest.

I’ll go for the Galileo.

Galileo & Compass

And the Colettes.

Belles Saisons

And the dozen or so signed Robert Frosts—some from H.G. Wells’ library.

The ancient 16th and 17th century books on alchemy and distilling liquor and beer and wine.


I’ll make sure I get the map of the Garden of Eden.

Garden of Eden

The exotic cookery books.

The Speed Atlas.


The Bible with the wheel binding.

Bible with Wheel Binding

The 20 or so presidential autographed books.

The illuminated Coptic Bible manuscript.

Coptic Bible

The miniatures.

The Auden manuscripts.




Origin of the Species



We are halfway there. Caryn took over the driving for a bit, so I could catch up on this and send images.

I’m taking the Expedition with 30 bankers boxes with lids and a couple tubs. I brought a lot of cloth for things that will need wrapping.

We should get there about 10. We will seek the high spots and perhaps the most fragile material.

Clif and Annika left Frederick two hours after us. They will arrive in a van with 120 boxes or more and a bunch of tubs.

There are some VERY large books there.

I slept poorly—but then I usually do now.


We are heading due east on I 78. If we continued, we would end up at the Holland Tunnel.

I wonder when I will get to Manhattan again? A lot of my favorite places are gone, I understand.

But about halfway, we will turn off north for toward the university.

Caryn has developed into a top book person. She came on the scouting trip as well.

Caryn in Library

She discovered a lot of material that I didn’t recognize. She explained the importance of some of the Alchemy books.

Alchemy Book

I was glad my pre-med curriculum and Zoology major in college stuck. I recognized names like Lavoisier and Faraday…

Periodically, one of us would utter “Wow!”—a summons to:

“Come see what I found!”

I didn’t realize it initially, but Stuart explained on the first trip that the school had been founded by Elizabeth Seton. Saint Elizabeth has very strong ties to Frederick. She taught there as well. Her shrine is just off US 15, not many miles north of my home. There is a peaceful Grotto of Lourdes there as well. Some believe the water which springs from the mountain rock has curative powers.

Stuart pointed out the old graveyard below the library. Hundreds of nuns who spent their part or all of their lives in their calling.


Like many of the books, they are from different times.

There are many books about Catholicism in the collection. We rescue and offer books on all subjects at Wonder Book. Older Catholic books we offer are very popular—in English, Latin and many other languages.

Maybe people are looking for something.

Something bigger than themselves.

Whatever kinds of books bring you comfort and solace, I’m proud we save and put them out for you to find.

Every day is a parade for me…of books.

Today’s parade will be one of the fanciest and most diverse I’ve experienced.

Because we are such a diverse book company, we can do something with everything in this collection.

Maybe that was an advantage we had over some of the specialists Stuart enticed to come see and bid.

Maybe it was my own book madness that had me bid such a crazy sum.

I dunno…my instincts have worked pretty well so far. 40.5 years is not a bad run.

I’m looking forward to what is next.

Another spring, certainly.


Introduce someone you know to a used bookstore. The generation maturing now have lived in a world of very few bookstores of any kind—much less a classic used bookstore.

Find a bookstore. That is not easy in many places. Entice someone you like to go with the promise of ice cream or cocktails afterward.

Mary Statue

6 Comments on Article

  1. Tawn O’Connor commented on

    I’d love to see some of those Margaret Armstrong covers! The Facebook group “The Book Art of Margaret Armstrong” has some dedicated collectors and experts.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Most are very common – but by rarely read authors.
      Maybe I’ll start adding them as “Bindings”
      Thanks for reading and writing!

  2. Michael Dirda commented on

    Even last week I suspected that the college was Seton Hall. As it happens, Father Ian Boyd–one of the world’s great authorities on G.K. Chesterton–taught there. May still teach there. We met a couple of times in Toronto when I’d been invited to participate in Chesterton conferences. All a long time ago. Where do the years go?
    Oh, yes: I’ll take that copy of Colette’s “Belles Saisons.” I say this half serioiusly. My sort-of mentor, Robert Phelps, was Colette’s great champion half a century and more ago. He compiled the autobiographical anthology, “Earthly Paradise,” but also edited Colette’s letters and the delightful volume, “Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook.” In the way of serendipity, when I picked up some book last week at the Gathersburg Store, I naturally looked around while I was there and ended up buying another dozen orso books. One of them was , yes, an extra copy of Robert’s “Belles Saisons,” which I will eventually give to some worthy soul. –md

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you Michael.
      It is an awesome opportunity.
      I’ll tell the the whole story when next we meet.

  3. John Carrigy commented on

    Can’t believe it’s over a year since Charlie and I were over with you – so much has happened in the meantime. Congrats on the great buy above. The Ramon Llull is amazing! It’s nice to see things getting back (closer) to normal for you. Keep up the good work!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Great to hear from you John!
      I do miss your March visits and all the interesting talks and drives.
      I hope you can come soon…and I can go there as well!

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