Charting an historical course
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:45 PM
"For Christopher Charles, the past is his future.Long a collector and occasional seller of antiquarian print material, Charles is in the process of opening Fleet Street Gallery on Winslow Way. The business will sit between Roberts Jewelers and the Roby King Gallery, in the front portion of the space formerly occupied by Dwight's Floral.This is something I've wanted to do for 30 years, said Charles. I've got six kids - one at Bainbridge High School and the rest in college. So now is the time.In real life, the time was almost right. Although Charles had been thinking about a Bainbridge gallery for some time, the opportunity to actually put the business together came as a surprise.The opportunity to rent the place came when I was doing other things, he said. Now, I have to sit down and figure out what I'm going to do each month.The suddenness of it all explains why the opening of Fleet Street is a process, not an event. Charles is installing the hardwood floors, working on walls and lights, waiting for a telephone, and slowly unpacking his collection.There are thousands of items, he said. I've had boxes of things in the house, and now I've got to unpack and sort them all. It's still a work in progress, and I'm also working on our web presence, he said.The business name comes from the London street that was the center of the publishing industry. It was also the street that led from the downtown business district to the wharves, where the naval fleet was docked.It's appropriate for this business on Bainbridge, because the name has both maritime and publishing connotations, and we're so nautical here, Charles said.While Charles' collection/inventory defies ready categorization, it consists principally of old books, manuscripts, prints and maps. The oldest piece in his collection is a hand-written manuscript from the court of King Henry IV in 1406.I have no idea what it means, Charles says of the old-English lettering and spelling.Charles grew up in New Mexico, and spent time in both the Army and the Peace Corps, but after being diagnosed with skin cancer, he left the sunny climate in 1975, moved to Seattle and ended up on Bainbridge in 1986.He spent a number of years in the federal civil service, then became a residential real-estate appraiser, a skill he learned in the Peace Corps.In Venezuela, they were just starting to set up their tax system when I was there, and I was assigned to work on that. So I learned appraising in Caracas, he said.Collecting and reselling old maps and prints was a long-time avocation, and for a time, he had a store in Seattle's Pioneer Square; then he displayed his collection in a corner of the former Harbor Gallery, the predecessor to Roby King.This has been my main focus for a long time, he said, but I couldn't make any money at it. But now I'm going to do what I want to do. This is my retirement. Not surprisingly, his area of special interest is items from or about the Northwest, particularly prints from the early voyages of exploration.The explorers' ships all had artists on them, he said, adding that the monarch financing the voyage wanted some sort of visual report on the discoveries. So we have prints of what Puget Sound looked like to the earliest European explorers.For the moment, the gallery is open sporadically, but Charles says regular business hours will probably be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. or thereabouts.Although Charles hopes that Fleet Street becomes a destination gallery for antiquarians, he says prices will be relatively modest. I aim to fill a gap between pricey galleries and the regular guy, he said. "