On the evening of March 18, 1986, I jumped into bed pulling the covers over my stark naked body, shotgun on my chest.
So begins Roger Wendlick's newly published Shotgun On My Chest: Memoirs of a Lewis and Clark Book Collector. If you've never read and enjoyed a collector's reminiscences before, this could be the place to start, for Mr. Wendlick is a collector like no other. His methods and madness will make sense if you have known true passion, single-minded determination, or the angst of having multiple credit cards in your name.
Mr. Wendlick, a construction worker, musician, and traveler, inherited a souvenir plate from the 1905 Lewis and Clark World's Fair that had belonged to his grandmother. A work-related injury and plenty of work-related stress had him thinking that he needed a hobby. Perhaps collecting? It wasn't long before his World's Fair collection reached world-class proportions.
Then he discovered books, book dealers, and bibliomania. He bought the Reuben Thwaites eight-volume set of The Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, mostly because they had been issued during the 1905 Fair. The $695 price for the set shocked him.
"This was my initiation into the rare book market," he writes.
A quick learner, he mastered the often arcane book terminology and introduced himself to dealers. Preston McMann at The Old Oregon Bookstore became a friend and mentor. Legendary bookmen William Reese, Michael Ginsberg, and Charles Seluzicki bought books with Wendlick's library in mind.
Dealers quickly learned that Roger Wendlick was a serious collector, not a dilettante who would waste their time. Of the multiple printings of the Patrick Gass journal, he writes, "My God, how many printings were there of this man's journal?" The Wagner-Camp bibliography describes seven. Roger's reaction?
"I had to have them all."
He did collect all of the Patrick Gass journals, which preceded the official printing of the Lewis and Clark journals in 1814. He collected printings of the 1814 journals (our beautiful set is pictured below). He collected newspapers, maps, government publications, notices, and proceedings.
How did he do it? How could he afford to? He had credit cards and used them. He mortgaged his house more than once. He walked the thin line between success and self destruction. [Warning: some passages in Shotgun on My Chest are not for the frugal or faint of heart.] And it was done through dealers, catalogues, on the telephone, in book shops, or through the postal service.
He didn't build a collection, he built the collection. The Roger D. Wendlick Collection on Lewis and Clark is now housed at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Some of its highlights are listed online; others are described in The Literature of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Lewis and Clark College also provides a useful on-line resource for better understanding the publication histories associated with the expedition.
Why did he go to bed naked with a 12-gauge shotgun across his chest? Read the book and you'll understand.
Mr. Wendlick's passion for Northwest history is part of what makes Shotgun on My Chest a fast-paced memoir. To hear him speak is to fall under his spell completely. Check out the schedule for the "Ocian in View" lecture series to learn more about his November 6 and 7 speaking engagements.
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Are there really books about books and book collecting? Yes! Though Shotgun on My Chest is shelved with books about the Pacific Northwest, other "books on books" are shelved here.