Buying Someone Else’s Diary


For 25 years now, I have searched to find “The Journals of Alfred Doten,” a three-volume set, weighing in at roughly forty-pounds. They were edited by Walter Van Tilburg Clark and published by the University of Nevada Press.

Each volume contains plates from engravings, photographs and maps and are bound in cloth with spines lettered in gilt. First edition sets also came with a heavy cardboard slipcase — a prize to anyone who really values Nevada history.

So who is Doten?

Born in 1829 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Doten sailed to California in 1849 to make his fortune during the early days of the California gold rush. Unsuccessful, he headed east to Nevada in 1863 to get in on the silver boom, however — like Samuel Clemens and others — he went into the newspaper business.

Doten worked as a reporter for several Nevada newspapers including the Como Sentinel, the Virginia Daily Union, the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise and the Gold Hill Daily News. He eventually purchased the News in 1872 and made it one of the most important papers on the Comstock.

While a highly respected journalist, Doten’s life ended tragically.

He became an alcoholic, went into debt, lost ownership of the paper, became estranged from his wife and children, and died poor and alone in a rented room. However  Doten’s claim to fame isn’t in his journalistic work but rather on the private journal he started keeping while aboard that ship to California and continued until the very last day of his life in 1903.

Often I’ve looked on-line for the set, only to turn away because of the price (ranging between $175 and $325) or the condition in which the books were in at the time (mostly poor.) I also so took in book sales, visited antique shops and stopped at yard sales if I saw books on display.

So when the Friends of the Washoe County Library held the first of their two yearly book sales, I decided to go have a look. Half an hour later and having already purchased two older books on the history of northern Nevada and eastern California, I was on my way out of the door.

A note of interest: those two books were written by Donald Garate — while I don’t know him — I think I may have worked for his son or perhaps nephew, Gene a few years back. I do love it when history and life fold back into one another. Anyway —

So imagine my surprise when I peered beneath a table and saw the end of a familiar looking slipcase.  I stopped to have a closer look and discovered right at my feet — a first edition set in exquisite condition.

The first time I saw such a set — they were priced at $200 — and they were in fair condition. Over the years I’ve checked the journals out, one volume at a time, from the library — but now I have my very own set and it cost only $125.

My bride’s going to shoot me when she see’s how much I spent at a “USED” book sale.

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