April 12 is the anniversary of the sinking of the Tittanic. Thirty-seven months later, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk. Coincidentally, each sinking had rare-book related aspects that reverberate to this day. One of the Titanic passengers was Henry Elkins Widener. Widener was a noted collector of rare books whose collection included a Gutenberg Bible and a Shakespeare Folio. In the spring of 1912, he went on a book-buying trip to England, where he bought a rare first edition of essays by Francis Bacon. The story goes that after he placed his mother and her maid in a lifeboat, he returned to his room to retrieve the book. He and the book went down with the ship. Mrs. Widener endowed the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library at Harvard in his memory. It remains one of the most famous libraries for rare books in the world. Another book lost, though not Widener’s, was a jeweled copy of “The Rubaiyat” valued at $2,000 — or about $45,000 today.
Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat came aboard the Lusitania with a priceless set of drawings by William Meakepeace Thackeray and a one-of-a-kind edition of “A Christmas Carol” with handwritten notations by Charles Dickens. He did not insure either, figuring that the chance of the Lusitania sinking was “nil.” Both items went to the bottom, but Lauriat managed to save what he considered the real prize: Photos of his baby. In 1922, Lauriat filed a claim against Germany, valuing the Dickens and Thackeray items at more than $51,000. He was awarded $10,000.
Also on the Luisitania was Elbert Hubbard, a writer, publisher and founder of the Roycroft artisan community. Hubbard even wrote a small pamphlet about the sinking of the Titanic.
Now here’s where those coincidences begin piling up: Printed Page bookseller Robert Rust knew Hubbard’s daughter and is a Roycroft historian who’s written and contributed to books about the Roycrofter movement. And three Danboms who died on the Titanic were Printed Page co-owner Dan Danbom’s distant relatives.
Neither Robert nor Dan has any plans to take a transatlantic cruise.