Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rare Book Cafe: Owen Felix of Tipperary, Ireland

A extraordinary thing happened on a recent Saturday that demonstrates just how modern technology has brought the world a lot closer. Carrie Carnes of Old Tampa Book Company had been scheduled to be the special guest on Rare Book Cafe, the new Blab TV live streaming program about antiquarian books, hosted by Steven Eisenstein and co-hosted by Thorne Donnelley.

Unfortunately, Carrie's computer wouldn't cooperate and she was never able to join the program. However, as fate would have it, an extraordinary gentleman did join the program and proceeded to conduct an amazing guided tour of his home in Tipperary, Ireland. His name is Owen Felix O'Neill, and he is an authority on early English Bibles, the owner of a most unusual collection of rare books, pamphlets, historical documents, and original prints, and, apparently, a reluctant bookseller, who by his own admission refuses to part with 90 per cent of his collection.

Felix also is a consummate host, whose tour of his 200-year-old home on the Rare Book Cafe is pure delight for the book lover. You can watch a replay of the program above. As technical difficulties were the order of the day, Felix joined the program earlier but could not be heard until about 15:58. For a little more than 40 minutes after that, Felix narrated and bantered with Steven and Thorne as he showed such treasures as a William Tyndale New Testament of 1526, a Shakespeare first folio, and Christopher Columbus' personal copy of the 1488 Travels to the Orient by John Mandeville. It was mesmerizing, each new item more astounding than the previous one.

Felix is a well known and respected book dealer in Ireland and the UK, and was called in to appraise the library collection at All Hallows College in Dublin as the 172-year-old institution prepared to sell some of its holdings to forestall closing last year. Felix discovered that several volumes had gone missing as had a collection of letters Jackie Kennedy wrote over a 15-year period to a priest friend who served at the college. Felix discovered that the plundering of valuable books at the school had gone on for years.

Felix also showed his 1877 copies of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Abraham Lincoln's 1861 speech when he won the presidential election, Thomas Jefferson's signed passport,  original hand-painted sketches from one of Capt. James Cook's tours of the Pacific Ocean in the 1760s and 1770s, and "the oldest bottle of Irish whiskey in the world."

What a delight! The visit was comfortable and most entertaining, and Felix promised to revisit Rare Book Cafe again. We can't wait.

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