What, to a collector, constitutes "excessively rare"?
Ask to be shown something in print from Colonial Baltimore. The stuff scarcely exists. The first printer, Nicholas Hasselbach, arrived here in 1765, from Philadelphia. His name is on a Baltimore religious pamphlet -- the only known copy turned up in 1902, and is now at Johns Hopkins University.
The first newspaper began in 1773 (printed by the purchasers of Hasselbach's types, he having been lost at sea in 1770). Otherwise, not much.
But Hasselbach's Baltimore imprint is also on an almanac; a copy of it has just turned up. Again, a library is the owner -- at the University of Maryland College Park. "Poor Robin's: Being an Almanack . . . for the Year of our Lord 1766," which at 21 pages lacks its final leaf, is good for a smile for a modern reader: It closely resembles the annual "Poor Richard's Almanack," from the Philadelphia print shop of Benjamin Franklin.
The discovery was casual, says Tim Pyatt, curator of Marylandia and rare books at McKeldin Library; the almanac, unrecognized, had been in a shelf box of unbound ephemera. Soon it will be on display, under glass.
Envy flashed in the eyes of the directors at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland Historical Society Library and the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis. An out-of-date almanac is only an almanac, but the fourth of Maryland's four big Marylandia collections continues to grow.
The University of Maryland has been in the Marylandia game only since 1958, when McKeldin Library opened, with a Maryland area on the third floor. By now, Mr. Pyatt counts 60,000 books and pamphlets, with maps and the 19th-century era as strengths. In 1985, it was UMCP that bagged the large photo collection of the Baltimore News American.
On the College Park campus of the University of Maryland, the Maryland Room, unlike its three associates, is not a prime genealogy source. Its currents do swirl with students from George Callcott's course in Maryland history, and graduate students and outsiders. The Marylandia department, non-circulating and closed-stack, is open to the public -- at a distance, even, now that McKeldin Library's Victor on-line system is operating.
Organized this year, the Friends of McKeldin Library add to purchase funds for Marylandia. More than ever, the fourth collection is a player.
Good news (one): Johns Hopkins University Press reports that copies will have arrived from the bindery in time for sale on Sept. 10. The reference is to Mencken Day at Pratt Library that day (two days before the Sage's actual birthday on Sept. 12), and Years of Newspaper Work: A Memoir by H. L. Mencken," edited by Fred Hobson, Vince Fitzpatrick and Bradford Jacobs (price: $35). Dr. Hobson, of course, is author of "H. L. Mencken: A Life," which was published in May and was the first comprehensive biography of Mencken in a quarter-century.
Good news (two): Louis D. Rubin, this year's Mencken Memorial lecturer at Pratt (3 p.m. Sept. 10), was, before his self-imposed Virginia and North Carolina exile, an engaged Baltimorean. He taught in the old department of speech, writing and drama at Johns Hopkins, co-founded the Johns Hopkins Review, and was a copy editor at The Sun.
Back to rare books: Volumes from the acclaimed library of the late Douglas H. Gordon will be in Baltimore Book Co.'s next periodic auction, Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Timonium Holiday Inn. Also on the block: a law book owned (and signed, twice) by
John Marshall, in his pre-Supreme Court years.
"Tough Customers: Stories by Richard Rabicoff" (Potpourri Publications, P.O. Box 8278, Prairie Village, Kansas 66208; paperback, $4) assembles eight of Mr. Rabicoff's many published short stories, to form this Baltimorean's first book. He also has finished a novel, "Byron's Works."
For Joan Cornblath, another Baltimore resident, a year isn't a year if there's no London in it. She has traveled to the city many times, and to explain why, to friends and strangers, she has published "Beyond the Tower: London for Return Travelers" (Gateway: paperback, $10.95). Her guidebook is full of practical detail, and is indexed.
Carolyn McKeldin, granddaughter of the late Mayor and Governor Theodore R. McKeldin (for whom UMCP's library is named), is the author of "Japanese Jive: Wacky and Wonderful Products From Japan" (Tengu Books: paperback, $9.95). In a country where Peace and Hope are cigarette brand names, the author has fun with the retailing of consumer products.
After his success in 1992 with "Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls the Brave," Ernest B. Furgurson Jr., formerly of The Sun, has immersed himself in the Confederate home front. His next book is to be an account of life in Richmond while the Civil War raged.