Here's an ad I found in the Maui News, on January 6, 1998:
WEST SIDE FRAME SHOP
Dickensian sweatshop seeks
indentured factotum. Must be tire-
less, focused & versatile. Exper.
pref. but will train a suitable appli-
cant with superior eye hand coor-
dination. Call xxxxx
I was intrigued. Who wouldn't be?
You must have several questions. First:
why was I reading the Maui want ads in the first place. That's
an easy one. I was visiting Molokai at the time and in Molokai
if you want to read the news of the world you read the Maui
paper. There's not much to that particular newspaper, or to
Molokai in general, as a matter of fact, so I was just browsing
the Maui want ads because there was nothing better to read that
day. Now you know.
Second: what's a factotum? Everybody I showed this ad to
wanted to know what a factotum was. I think a factotum is like a
servant or a yes-man, if you will. Eyes glaze over when I try to
explain it. I guess everybody knows what a sweat shop is. Nobody
brought up "Dickensian."
Well, the ad continued to tickle me every
time I read it. But I put it away in some "To Do" pile of
not-terribly-important papers until this month when I traveled
once again to Hawaii -- Maui this time. So when I got there, I
called about the ad and was told that the job had been filled. I
would hope so after ten months. I explained that I wasn't
interested in the job but I wanted to talk to the person who
wrote the ad. I was referred to the business owner who laughed
when I told him that I wanted to interview him about the ad for
my online magazine. He said okay and we set up an appointment.
I had no idea what kind of business
enterprise I was heading for, or who the mysterious ad writer
would turn out to be. Maybe a real sweatshop? So I was quite
surprised when I entered the Lahaina Cannery Mall and found the
Lahaina Printsellers, Ltd. They call themselves Hawaii's most
unusual antique map and print gallery. And I think it's true.
There are lots of galleries in Hawaii and most of them show off
the works of local artists, and after a while they all begin to
look alike. You know what I mean -- the tropical flowers, and
underwater fish pictures. This gallery is different.
It has an English flavor and maybe even a faint reminder of the
Charles Dickens era, but with plush carpeting, wood paneling,
antique maps and other beautiful images on display. Alan Walker,
the owner, greeted me cordially. He's a white-haired, bearded
man of middle years, with an intelligent and bemused expression.
He told me he was flattered that I had taken such an interest in
his ad. So I asked him to tell me about it. He said that he
liked to write that kind of ad, and then he remembered an
interesting anecdote. When the Maui newspaper typesetter
reviewed the ad, he figured that Dickensian was a typo.
Apparently there is a street in Lahaina called Dickinson, so the
typesetter changed the ad to read Dickinson without
calling first to double check it. Alan says he was perplexed
about that because it changed the whole flavor of the ad. The
paper changed it back. There were a few responses to the ad and
a suitable employee was hired.
Alan says he and his wife first became interested in antique
prints in 1978. While on a trip to London, they discovered the
first printed images of Hawaii from Captain Cook's voyages of
the late 1790s. He says he remembers asking a London shop owner
if he had any prints of Hawaii. The answer was "no." Then he
asked about the Sandwich Islands, and the answer was, "yes, I
believe so, over in that bin." It appeared that even in 1978,
nearly two hundred years later, the English printsellers had yet
to make the connection between the two names for the islands we
now call Hawaii. That was a bonus for Alan. He now owns the
copyrights to many rare and beautiful antique maps and prints of
Cook's voyages to Hawaii.
We toured the gallery. He
showed me some original antique maps, and then a line of classic
images from Hawaii's golden years by Michael David. We then
looked at a beautiful series of pictographs of the islands, and
some wonderful hand-colored drypoint engravings of Hawaiian
shells, fruits and flowers, all by Steve Strickland. As he
talked about his business, I could tell that his work is a labor
of love. "It's a gratifying business," says Alan. "It's a really
wonderful feeling to handle items, however briefly, that are
historically important and aesthetically pleasing."
Alan explained that they are using
state-of-the-art technology to create fine quality reproductions
of these prints, some are quite reasonably priced. A visit to
their website will give you some idea of what I'm talking about.
So was I disappointed when I didn't find a back-alley sweatshop
featuring a Hawaiian version of Scrooge? Nope. I was delighted
to meet Alan Walker and learn something about his work. Dale and
I even went on a shopping trip there later that week. So if you
ever come by, I'll show off our latest Hawaiian treasures from
that interesting Dickensian sweatshop in Lahaina, Maui.