Dept of Missing Manuscripts
Jorge Luis Borges in 1963. The article notes: "Trafficking in cultural property, including rare
books and manuscripts, is a six-billion-dollar-a-year industry, second only to arms and drugs,
according to estimates often cited in international conferences. Interpol, which two decades ago
opened an office to deal with this kind of crime, says that estimate is impossible to confirm."
Photo: Alicia D'Amico
Source: The Paris Review
An article, by Graciela Mochkofsky, in The Paris Review shows to what lengths some will go to combine their love of books and their love of money. Or of owning something that few or nobody else has.
Mochkofsky writes in "The Missing Borges":
The world of rare books and manuscripts is full of intrigues, betrayals, and frauds. Alberto Casares has lived in this world for decades; as the president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Buenos Aires, he’s an expert on the subject. He’s got the physique du rôl: a gray, messy beard; a soft body; an intense and wary look.
A few months ago, Casares was offered a seventeenth-century original edition of Don Quixote for one million euros. He recognized it as a well-known forgery from the nineteenth century, worth no more than €200,000. The seller took it away, determined to find a more unsuspecting client, and Casares was left alone with the melancholy of having lost something that was never his to own.
What would some people give to own it? Casares told me, “Bibliographers are willing to commit crimes to follow their mad desire to own things.” He was thinking of a former client, Daniel Pastore, a collector of rare books and first editions, heir to a pharmaceutical fortune and owner of Imago Mundi, Buenos Aires’s most elegant antiquarian bookshop, which closed a few years ago after a succession of international scandals involving Pastore.
Casares was annoyed and fascinated by Pastore, who was eighteen the first time he walked into Casare’s bookshop. He was handsome, rich, likeable, and learned—a good client. But he was also pedantic; he claimed to know more about rare books than Casares. Sometimes he did. But not when it came to Jorge Luis Borges.
* * *
One morning in late 1999, Pastore brought in a copy of the first edition of Fervor de Buenos Aires, Borges’s first published book. For men like Casares and Pastore, it was a kind of grail—the most valuable first edition of Argentina’s greatest twentieth-century writer.
The first edition of Fervor was funded by Borges’s father when the author was twenty-three. “The book was actually printed in five days; the printing had to be rushed, because it was necessary for us to return to Europe,” Borges writes in his 1970 essay ”Autobiographical Notes.” “[It] was produced in a somewhat boyish spirit. No proofreading was done, no table of contents was provided, and the pages were unnumbered. My sister made a woodcut for the cover, and three hundred copies were printed … Most of them I just gave away.”
Borges had lived in Europe between 1914 and 1921, and the forty-six poems he gathered in Fervor de Buenos Aires reflect what he found upon returning to Argentina. “The city of his childhood had changed,” says Beatriz Sarlo, a leading expert on his works. “It had almost lost the most colorful marks of its criollo small town past … Borges returned, then, to a place he did not know.”
“Fervor de Buenos Aires foreshadows everything I would do afterward,” wrote Borges. Every self-respecting collector of his works owns a copy from that first edition. Few copies remain—only 150, according to Casares, with no more than fifteen in circulation. But Pastore had that copy in his hands. Could Casares confirm that it was a legitimate first edition?The answer is not so clear, as this article shows. In the buying of selling of rare books, which have both literary and commercial value, the truth or facts are often as elliptical as the myths contained in the pages of such writers' stories. It often becomes a matter of faith, of belief. And for some, this is sufficient. As to why individuals would buy stolen books, it is about obtaining something rare, Mochkofsky says in the article:
According to Travis McDade, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School, owning a unique symbol of universal culture makes some people feel just as unique. “Never underestimate people’s necessity to be considered intelligent,” he says.As if intelligence can be gained through osmosis, or owned by purchase.
You can read more at [ParisReview]