Like seemingly everyone else, I too went through an Antiques Roadshow addiction a few years ago. I’d watch breathlessly as everyday people would shuffle forth with their family heirlooms and flea market discoveries each hoping they were in possession of a rare, miracle find worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most would ultimately return home disappointed while a few would be rewarded with the underwhelming knowledge that they owned a unique piece of history that sadly wasn’t worth much. Every once in a long while someone would have their wildest dreams realized as their eyeballs rolled up into their heads revealing dollars signs and horseshoes.
Most intriguing to me was the fact that there seemed no rhyme or reason to the value of these antiques. Something I thought surely would be appraised in the six figure range would end up being worth the equivalent of an entrée at Boston Pizza. Then the tables would turn and an unspeakably ugly piece of furniture would evoke orgasmic exhortations from the frumpy expert who would declare the piece a national treasure worth a quarter million dollars.
It never made any sense to me but by golly I always dreamed that one day I’d find such a treasure hidden in the bowels of a family member’s home. The Schmidt clan may not have been rich but we were pretty adept at accumulating ugly, so there was always hope.
The Rarest Children’s Book In Existence?
A few years ago, when my grandmother passed away, my grandparents’ entire life needed to be sifted, sorted, and eventually sold. It was a captivating and emotional endeavour that, despite my grief, I was elated to assist with. To look so deeply into loved ones’ lives is a truly spiritual experience. Plus I was guiltily anticipating the revelation of unknown treasures buried among their worldly possessions.
The discoveries were numerous and magnificent but were by and large worthless in a monetary sense though priceless in ways far more meaningful. There also were a few items of furniture known to be relatively valuable but well within the modest range of a couple thousand dollars. Nice for sure, but nothing to get the Antiques Roadshow folks embarrassingly adjusting their undergarments.
Then, with my hopes of finding that one elusive, life-altering treasure slipping into non-existence, I stumbled upon a most remarkable find. Concealed amongst assorted papers and folders in my grandfather’s desk was a thin, blue book that very well could be the rarest piece of children’s literature ever found. A first edition in pristine condition from an initial (and only) print run of, well, exactly one, by an unknown and apparently one time only author; namely, me.
In the five years since its discovery, under tight security and Vatican-like secrecy, world experts on Schmidt Family history, again me, have attempted to establish the legitimacy and etymology of this wondrous book. I can now reveal to you with absolute certainty that I haven’t the foggiest clue when I wrote, illustrated, or published this book but I undoubtedly did because here it is in front of me.
The techniques used to create this masterwork are on one hand so very ubiquitous yet on the other hand so very rare in this medium; pseudo-realism pencil crayon illustrations, led pencil text in a primitive calligraphic font and an avant-garde binding of glossy Canada Post packaging paper. Estimating its value can only incite wild speculation.
This extraordinary book is not only real but for the first time ever it is now available for public consumption exclusively on A Crock of Schmidt, also me. Savour this moment like the first gentle touch of a lover’s lips or the first time you cleanly pulled apart an Oreo. It is unlikely that any human currently alive will ever experience such an, umm, experience again.
What follows are high resolution scans of the book with no alterations or improvements. Everything is as originally presented. I will also provide special author’s commentary for each page. Under typical circumstances this would be invaluable insight into the mind of the creator of a work of art but since I can’t remember making the bloody thing it will likely be a fair bit less evocative.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the world premier of Cats (no, not the musical).
The title and author are printed in fine point, black ink on a bright, royal blue cover which makes them almost illegible. This is an unconventional choice to be sure, but perhaps symbolizes the unseen, master-killer cat patiently waiting to ambush of an unsuspecting prey. The images of Canadian stamps are pretty snazzy too and completely out of place in context of the book subject. Still, it’s kind of fun to see stamps with an actual monetary value on them instead of a P, never mind the quaintness of seeing stamps valued at 8, 12, 14, 17 cents etc instead of the small ransom expected for mailing a letter today.
The title page is just… Oh my. As if this book weren’t rare and valuable already simply due to its existence we can now add ‘printing error’ to the list of exceptional qualities of this book. Look, folks, just look. I spelled my surname incorrectly on the title page. How silly and yet so glorious. I also seem to have been ignorant of the traditional designations for corporations. I can only assume LMT was meant to be LTD.
The dedication page is wonderful; a loving tribute to my grandfather who taught me to print. And by printing I do not mean pencil on page printing but rather letterpress printing, which ironically, is even less in use today than pencil to paper printing. We also have our first glimpse of the magnificent illustrations with the titular creatures in all their two legged, oddly proportioned glory that make this book unforgettable.
The story begins with a simple triple repetition of the title and a picture of three cats. This is a pleasant, melodic opening suggesting that this will perhaps be a rhyming book. All three cats are two legged and one appears to be floating in a crimson sky. A strange, two-dimensional alien world, possibly, with earth-like cat creatures that have mouth shaped markings on their faces but no apparent bodily openings where one would expect them to be.
YES! Rhyming! Oh, how truly wonderful. Children’s books were meant to rhyme, weren’t they? Dr. Seuss would be elated. Now our cat heroes appear to be slightly demonic with raging, red eyes. OH! They now have three legs. Fascinating. And what to make of the emphasis on round bats as though square bats or triangular bats were plausible.
A strong Dali vibe permeates this page. The story has now moved indoors and back to earth judging by the more familiar blue sky. This home, however, has no roof. Is this the author imploring readers to think outside the box? A traditional kitchen clock adorns the wall giving a false sense of comfort that is quickly shattered once the reader notices the peculiar cultural symbol in the centre of the page. Is it a flying saucer, a tear in the fabric of space-time, or a rudimentary Rolling Stones lips logo? Undoubtedly it will be fodder for the conspiracists for decades to come.
Oh my, the three legged cats are back and they speak. THEY SPEAK! It appears to be “whoops”. Wow, English-speaking, alien three-legged cats. Notice the continued use of brazen horizontal brushstrokes indicating the relentless passage of time. Also the amoebic, primary-coloured mat evokes the eternal search for the meaning of life and philosophical questions like the need for a mat the same size as a cat.
This page is clearly the most singular page in the entire book. We see our first four-legged cat but also an alien two-legger. Colliding worlds? The alien cat is falling through a purple sky toward a top hat that the earth cat has reluctantly positioned in a meadow. It must be dusk. Is this a trick, an intergalactic cat circus? Or does it represent something deeper, uglier than that? It is quite possible that we will never know, nor ever wish to know, what the hell that cat is leaping off of. And I do hope he is leaping off of it, whatever it is. The alternative that could be interpreted from the position of the flying cat, its uplifted tail, and the vivid colouring of the ‘object’ is positively ominous. Layers, folks, this book has layers of depth.
And now we finish where we began with three more two-legged cats and the familiar triumvirate repetition of the title. We finish where we began; the end is the start is the end. Except here we see one of the cats appears to have been partly skinned alive. So time may be circular but it is not flawless. And yet its eyes are a happy blue. Is there joy in pain? AH! There is pleasure in giving of oneself; this cat IS selflessness. Bravo.