The Napoleon death mask in the North Carolina Collection Gallery, described by Nicholas Graham as “what must be the Gallery’s most unexpected holding,” is rare indeed but not unique. In fact, the recent sale of a similar mask and its proposed export from England are causing a minor international incident.
Interviewed in June by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — Pittsburgh has its own Napoleon mask — former Gallery keeper Neil Fulghum compounded the controversy by expressing doubts about the provenance of the mask sold in England.
If that Napoleonic issue is ever settled, perhaps we can concentrate on the origins of “Able Was I Ere I Saw Elba.”
“…The luminaries of phone-book collecting [include] Gwillim Law, a computational linguist in [Chapel Hill,] North Carolina, who at one point possessed more than 3,500 outdated volumes. (He has since started selling them off.)
“Law was inspired to begin his collection by an interest in cover art…. He continued collecting because ‘I just enjoyed the possibilities for looking things up…..At one point, I did a study of what fast-food chains there were in Connecticut by looking at all of the Yellow Pages.’ ”
— From a Talk of the Town item in The New Yorker, September 13, 2010
Phone-book collecting actually ranks among the more conventional of Gwillim Law’s many pursuits. He is, for instance, the father of statoids — that is, “major administrative divisions of countries.”
This entry from Law’s “Infrequently Asked Questions” page suggests his preoccupation with the concept:
Q. Are there any statoids whose names are palindromes?
A. Yes, there are eight…. Hajjah, Yemen; Karak, Jordan; Matam, Senegal (the latest addition); Nan, Thailand; Neuquén, Argentina; Oio, Guinea-Bissau; Oruro, Bolivia; and Oyo, Nigeria.