Meet the Hunters

July 13, 2022

By Trude Hoffacker 


On the final night of the Dickens Universe, participants look forward to a trio of closing events: a fund-raising auction, the announcement of the book(s) chosen for the following year, and a Victorian Dance. The auction brings to the fore two Universe participants, Tim Clark, who serves as auctioneer, and Ron Blumer, his partner in seeking items to auction.

Tim is a retired high school special ed teacher who now devotes 75% of his time to all things Dickens. Ron is a documentary film maker whose list of achievements includes four Emmys; he is also a lifelong bibliophile who haunts bookstores and websites in search of rare books. Both Tim and Ron describe themselves as hunters; both point to their most treasured trophies as bookcases filled with first editions. I asked each of them to share a particularly memorable expedition.

Tim went straight to his bookcase reserved for first editions of Dickens’s works and returned holding up a stack of five small books in their original gold-embossed red covers, a first edition of the set of Dickens’s Christmas Books. “I was paying a visit to the Strand Bookstore in New York back when you could browse in their rare book room,” he explained; “On a bottom shelf in a corner, I spotted the books, bent down to pick them up and checked the price. $600.00! What a steal.” When Tim handed the books to a clerk and indicated he would like to buy the set, agitated concern broke out among the store's employees. There must be some mistake. The manager was summoned to check things — “to make sure I hadn’t doctored the price label,” Tim explained. Of all the first editions he has tracked down, the set of Christmas Books stands out because for Tim, “It is always satisfying to spot your quarry and score a coup.”

Ron’s story was of an extremely difficult hunt that might have discouraged many a hunter. “You can imagine,” he began, “that finding first editions of Frances Harper’s works is extremely difficult, so in hunting for a first edition of Iola Leroy I was after a prize almost impossible to find.” Ron did locate one first edition at Columbia University: “It was water- stained and had torn pages AND a price tag of $20,000” — a price beyond Ron’s means and, he felt sure, beyond the means of bidders at the Dickens Universe. Spurred on by the pleasure of the hunt, Ron kept searching until he bagged a worthy prize, a nineteenth century third edition of Iola Leroy in mint condition priced between three and four thousand dollars. After admiring the book pressed up to Ron’s screen, we turned to talking of ways we might find buyers for this prize at the Universe auction.

While the auction is a rewarding and climactic event for Tim and Ron, the summer Universe gathering is a pleasure not to be missed for them. Tim has returned again and again because he finds it stimulating to share a “common bond” with Dickens lovers for a week and enjoys the atmosphere and environment of the “Dickens Summer Camp,” the descriptor first used by Jill Lepore in her New Yorker feature article on the Universe. Ron echoes Tim’s sentiments. He sees it as “an unusual rarified club of people who share a common interest. In the cafeteria you’ll be sitting across from someone you have never seen before and hear ‘on page 625 Esther says …’ to which someone responds ‘But on page 424 she contradicts herself.’”

As a long-time hunter of first editions and rare books, Ron pursues a wide range of authors. He didn’t get hooked on Dickens until he took up working out regularly at a gym 20 years ago. He found reading Dickens made his stint on the elliptical not just bearable, but also enjoyable. Now he never leaves for the gym without a Dickens book in hand; he finds Dickens's writing for serial publication perfectly suited to a session on the elliptical. Tim credits Sister Mary Thomas, a professor in his British Victorian Literature class at Pace University where he read Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, for inspiring his interest. “Dickens,” Tim writes, “grabbed me with an infatuation that has yet to be relinquished.” He has attended the Greater Los Angeles Dickens Fellowship, founded the Greater Riverside Area Dickens Fellowship, and attended the Rochester and London Bicentennial Dickens events in 2012. Perhaps most notably, his response to the COVID 19 lockdowns was to connect Dickens Fellowships world-wide through Zoom. Even as Fellowships return to in-person meetings, Tim continues to keep in touch with the Fellowships, some of which now hold hybrid meetings.

For readers who will be attending the Universe in Santa Cruz this summer, I encourage you to seek out both Tim and Ron. Tim says that it is not unusual for participants to seek him and Ron out in the Dickens Project library — a true treasure trove of Dickensiana. And if you strike up a conversation with Ron, you may get the bonus of access to his documentaries. He has sent me a link to his three-part series on Ben Franklin.

When on that final Friday, John Jordan announces next year’s book(s), you can be sure no one will be more attentive than Tim and Ron; it will be the start of a new hunting season for these two hunters whose quest is to preserve rather than to destroy.