Dealers at Gallery 18 acquire books from Sir Wilfrid Laurier
by Michael Oliver
A winter afternoon affords a little extra time to talk in many Island shops. At Gallery 18 on Grafton Street in Charlottetown I spent an hour on a snowy Friday listening to Aubrey Bell discussing many features of the antique books and maps and miscellaneous collectibles that he and his partner Patricia Bennett sell to people all around the world.
The purpose of my visit was to view the items Gallery 18 has recently acquired from the library of Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada from 1896 to 1911. This collection was obtained in Montreal from the family of Mrs. Pauline Harvey, a niece of Laurier's. Some of the books belonged to Laurier, others belonged to Mrs. Harvey, but they all relate to Laurier.
There are no items autographed by Laurier, but many are inscribed to him. The book I found most interesting was inscribed to Mrs. Harvey from Mackenzie King, perhaps the most important Prime Minister in Canadian history.
What makes these books appealing is their rich associations. Aubrey Bell holds out his hands and says, to illustrate his meaning, "Laurier once held this book, now you are holding it, and that connects you to this great man from the past."
Like many others, Aubrey Bell began to sell collectibles because of his own passion for collecting-antique maps in his case. In fact, cartography confronts the visitor to Gallery 18 at every turn, especially such treasures as the early prints from copper plates of the 1760 Montresoir Map of Acadia and the 1794 Holland Map of P.E.I. It is impossible to focus only on one thing at Gallery 18. The shop is crammed (but very clean), so it is easy for the mind to wander from the bookshelves to the walls where maps and other prints are hanging and then back again.
The books are mostly modern first editions of Canadian and Island authors. In the Laurier collection, for example, is a first edition of Bonheur d'Occasion by Gabrielle Roy. What Aubrey Bell would like to find, of course, is a first edition, first impression of Anne of Green Gables, like the one that sold for seventeen thousand U.S. dollars in Boston recently.
The Laurier collection has been selling well. So far collectors from the Island and America have purchased items, as have members of the Laurier family. One book was purchased by someone from Norway. But there are still many books available.
The world of antiques and collectibles, says Aubrey Bell, is now a buyer's market, for the simple reason that the Internet allows collectors to pursue the treasures they are seeking all around the globe. In fact, the Internet now sets the pricing standards shops like Gallery 18 must meet to be competitive.
One consequence is that the quiet winter afternoon in Island shops may not be half as quiet as it seems to be to people dropping in to browse and talk. Out back, upstairs-wherever-someone is still busy serving customers online.