Wednesday 9 December 2020

Collecting Haywood, 2020

2020 was a woeful year in so many ways, so it should be no surprise that so few Haywood items appeared on the market.

At first, it appeared that millions were likely to be stuck at home, out of work and out of money. Embracing a harsh bad-news-may-be-good-news-for-somebody outlook on life, this might have resulted in a flood of new material appearing online, as people turned over the contents of attic and basement, hocking everything they owned out of either desperation or cabin-fever-driven neat-freakery.

Instead, millions of people turned their homes into offices, going on an online buying spree for video cameras, headphones, green-screen backdrops, and booze—the latter being necessary to deal with some of the stress of attempting to work from home, in our new bizzaro-world, while homeschooling children. Others, largely with government support, either entered into a period of sustained stasis or, largely with government interference, attempted to sustain their small businesses in a myriad of ways.

From my perspective, as a collector of not just Haywoodiana but eighteenth-century literature generally, the entire rare book market dried up. And when I say “dried up,” I don’t mean dried up in the way that a ring of moisture left by a wine glass might dry up—quickly and leaving only a subtle mark. No, I mean dried up like the body of a sheep, in the middle of summer, in a dusty and bare drought-stricken paddock—slowly and leaving behind a trauma-inducing corpse.

At the same time that the rare book market was drying up, the postal service was suddenly choked with a massive increase in parcels generated by all the people stuck at home and unable to shop IRL. What little of interest that was available on the book market took two or three times as long to be delivered—by boat, mostly, since so few planes were flying.

I don’t know whether this withering of the book market was the result of people being extra busy working from home (and shifting things into attic and basement to do so), because the auction circuit ground to a halt, or because it was impossible to take books to a bookseller to sell, while the booksellers themselves were shuttered and going broke. Whatever the cause, the result will likely be the permenant closure of many bookshops.

As a result, my Haywood tally for 2020 consists of only five items only: two odd-volumes of La Belle AssemblĂ©e (one bought pre-WuFlu but delivered afterwards) and two sets of The Female Spectator—unquestionably, the two most common Haywood items, and in all four cases duplicates (actually, two duplicates, one triplicate and one quadruplicate).

The fifth item was another copy of Edwin and Lucy—in poor condition, but of modest interest to me as a variant of a number of other copies I have. In the last twenty years, I have only had two years with so little to show for my constant vigilance (the most recent of these being twelve years ago).

However—shockingly, in the midst of this bookish-equivalent of a dought-stricken paddock—a 1740 manuscript receipt, signed by William Hatchett, appeared on the market. The receipt is for a subscription to Hatchett’s Dramatic Pieces, a collection that was never (fully) published. I secured the receipt in June, with a number of similar receipts from the same (contemporary) book-collector. The collection has a long, complex and fascinating provenance, which I hope to explore in an article, but which I hope to preview here in the new year.

It certainly was and is some consolation that my first Haywoodiana manuscript appeared in such a grim year. But not consolation enough: for this, and many other more-honourable reasons, I hope that WuFlu can be brought under control and the bookish drought breaks in 2021.