The late 1800s marked the height (or length, as the case may be) of beards. Then, in the beginning of the 20th century, facial hair fell out of favor, and for a long time it seemed like the collected wisdom of the great bearded age went with it. No books, no papers... no information to be found on the subject, whatsoever. It was as if the amassed knowledge of barbers and pogonophiles had been washed down the drain with the shorn stubble of men everywhere.
While still in England, I managed to learn from a retired research librarian of Upton Uxbridge Underwood, and his works The Language of the Beard and Whiskers of the World. She also told me of the most rare piece in the Uxbridge beard catalog, the pamphlet Poets Ranked by Beard Weight, a text so ambitious it necessitated a research team and laboratory. It was revered as much for its content as its achievement in literary eccentricity. I had found it: The pinnacle of ancient beard wisdom, penned at a time when facial hair was at its finest!
The librarian introduced me to an aging book collector, bearded himself, who had a copy of the obscure gem. The book came to be his when one of London's most notable book collectors passed on, and all of his collection was bequeathed to notable historical societies and museums. All, curiously, except for a mint condition Poets Ranked by Beard Weight. The old man was shrouded in mystery, and our conversations led me to believe that he had the will forged so as to ensure the prized rarity would end up in his possession!
He granted me one hour to study the text for my research. What I found was unquestionably the most detailed look at any subject, let alone beards. I had ever seen. I wasn't allowed to photograph the book, and I had to wear silk gloves while handling it. My time with the book was spent mostly in awe of its breadth (Beard taxidermy!?) rather than in research, and I left the U.K. wondering how I might procure my own copy.
Poets is an exceedingly rare work treasured by wealthy and reclusive book collectors, and tracking a copy down for myself, much less affording one, would eventually prove impossible. You can imagine my joy when I heard that the book was to be resurrected [Skyhorse Publishing, $11.95].
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