Arthur Freeman, Bibliotheca Fictiva: A Collection of Books & Manuscripts Relating to Literary Forgery, 400 BC-AD 2000. London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 2014. 

Earle Havens, ed. Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries: Rare Books and Manuscripts from the Arthur and Janet Freeman Bibliotheca Fictiva Collection. Baltimore: Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University, 2014. 

When I am asked what sort of books I collect, I usually lead with “books about books” and “catalogs of peoples’ libraries,” but it’s almost always the next one, “books about literary forgeries and hoaxes” that the questioner proves most interested in talking about. (Only later might I bring up the collection I actually work at the most, of Fenelon’s Télémaque). Arthur and Janet Freeman, creators of the magnificent, dare I say well-nigh unsurpassable forgery collection documented in Bibliotheca Fictiva, are surely familiar with the particular reaction that the mention of forgeries not infrequently elicits: a sort of conspiratorial, knowing nod, eyebrows half-raised, as if what you’d actually said was that you make literary forgeries rather than collect and study them.

When I received my copy of Bibliotheca Fictiva, impressively produced by Quaritch, and began reading through it, one of my first thoughts was that I might just as well give up the ghost on my own meagre collection of forgery-related material: the thought of building a collection that could rival this is daunting to the extreme. There can be no contest, but there needn’t be; I’ve neither the time, resources, nor inclination to collect as comprehensively as the Freemans have done, and there’s plenty of good material out there to fill the small niche I’m interested in, anyway. Once I’d gotten over that initial, overwhelmed state and really dug into this volume, I found it immensely interesting and useful.

As Arthur Freeman notes in his preface, the collection was more than five decades in the making, eventually with an eye toward the composition of “a comprehensive history of literary and historical forgery, as a genre or tradition from antiquity to the near-present” (xi) which did not come to fruition. In 2011 the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University began to acquire the collection, and this volume covers it to that time, with some of the additions made since. The “intimidating” outlines of the library, Freeman acknowledges, are “to some extent arbitrary and even personal” (xi): it covers “the entire range of literary forgery, that is to say the forgery of texts, whether historical, religious, philological, or ‘creatively’ artistic, in all languages and countries of the civilized Western world, from c. 400 BC to the end of the twentieth century” (xii). But not just the original texts: also their “first and ongoing exposures (or obstinate endorsements), in whatever printed editions seemed most significant (along with manuscripts and correspondence when applicable), with a special emphasis, inevitable for us, on evocative annotated and association copies” (xii). No small task, indeed.

Freeman introduces the collection with an eighty-page overview, broken into eleven sections (Classical and Judeo-Christian Forgery to the Fall of Rome; Medieval Forgery, Religious and Secular; Renaissance Forgery, to 1600; Seventeenth-Century Forgery; Eighteenth-Century British Forgery; Nineteenth-Century British and American Forgery; France After 1700; German, Austrian, and Dutch Forgery; Italy and Spain; Central Europe, Russia, and Greece; and The Twentieth Century). In each he briefly surveys the collection’s holdings in that area, so these eleven sections taken together--given the wide scope of the library and the breadth of its holdings--can fairly effectively serve as a de facto introduction to the genre. While there are a whole lot of names, dates, and titles packed in here, Freeman manages to keep things moving nicely.

The meat of Bibliotheca Fictiva is what Freeman has termed “The Handlist,” a catalog of the collection as it stood at the time of acquisition by Johns Hopkins. Items retained by the Freemans are noted (these include, Freeman reports, duplicates, modern reference books, certain association items, and collections related to the Fortsas hoax and the Guglielmo Libri thefts). In the introductory headnote to the Handlist Freeman outlines several areas in which the Bibliotheca Fictiva complements existing holdings at Hopkins (including the Book of Mormon). The Handlist is organized into thirteen sections--roughly corresponding to the eleven above--next by forger or topic, and finally by date (the index will be of great use). Some 1,676 entries follow, often with annotations as to their provenance, some with descriptions of the binding, and most with a short explanation of their significance.

Reading right through these entries, or at least for any particular area you have an interest in, will be well worth it: even setting aside from the scope, the library includes some truly remarkable material. There’s the (unique?) single-sheet prospectus for the Irelands’ Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments, with Samuel Ireland’s manuscript addition offering a subscription refund to doubters; or there’s Hugh Trevor-Roper’s annotated review copy of Morton Smith’s The Secret Gospel; or John Carter’s own copy of Enquiry, with a letter from Pollard dated “the day after publication,” calling the book “too much of a curate’s egg.” It takes sixty pages to document the vast sub-collection of materials relating to John Payne Collier’s life and works. From the vile (Protocols of the Elders of Zion) to the ridiculous, they’re here, and this volume is one anyone with even the slightest interest in the topic will want to have and refer to often.

The Freemans’ laudable decision to transfer the Bibliotheca Fictiva collection to Hopkins has prompted the publication of additional, complementary texts. The proceedings of a 2012 conference, “Literary Forgery and Patriotic Mythology in Europe, 1450-1800” will soon be published, and a lovely catalog of a Sheridan Libraries exhibition, Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries was released in 2014. As Winston Tabb notes in his Foreword, it is through “exhibitions and publications like this one, which share the fascinating hidden histories of fakes and forgeries throughout the ages and inspire future generations to explore them further” (iv) that we can acknowledge and thank the Freemans for providing the fruits of their long collecting labors to the scholarly community.

In his introduction, Earle Havens, the catalog’s editor, outlines how the decision was taken not only to bring the collection to Baltimore, but also to keep it together, allowing for use, promotion, and study of collection as a whole, not simply as disparate items divorced from their context. He builds a good case for the relevance and usefulness of studying forgeries and their creators as a key component of the historical and cultural record: “to treat forgery as a mode, and at times even an expressive art, of literature” (vii). Along with a checklist of the exhibition, five interpretive essays are included. Earle Havens’ “Catastrophe? Species and Genres of Literary and Historical Forgery” offers a broad overview of scholarly treatments of forgeries over time and a gallop through the “species of forgery” to be found in the Bibliotheca Fictiva, while Neil Weijer explores how one might grapple with historical forgeries (that is, forgeries of historical documents) when both “history” and “forgery” are pretty tough terms to pin down, “if all historical writing is essentially fiction?” (43). Walter Stephens provides an excellent overview of Annius of Viterbo’s works and their afterlives, and Janet E. Gomez treats the distinction between “literature” and “literary forgery” using the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries, the Alberti Tasso forgeries, and Psalmanazar’s Formosa as case studies. Finally, John Hoffmann delves into the nastiness, tackling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well other 19th- and 20th-century racist productions about miscegenation and the like. His conclusion is a fitting one for the whole book and for the topic: “The most important fact for a forger to keep in mind is the prejudice of his audience, and forgers play upon the public’s credulity by indulging unquestioned assumptions. ... Forgeries make illusions seem real, but most important, they bring about real effects” (112).

Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries is beautifully designed and produced, with lovely color illustrations throughout. I await its companion volume with anticipation, and I hope that its contents, along with those of Bibliotheca Fictiva, will prompt much future scholarly inquiry. There could be no better monument to the work of the great collectors who built the Bibliotheca Fictiva.

Cross-posted at PhiloBiblos.

A Moveable Feast Tops French Bestseller Lists

Fifty-one years after the posthumous publication of Ernest Hemingway’s ode to Paris, A Moveable Feast, French booksellers can’t keep the book in stock. It has become something of a cultural touchstone in the aftermath of the November 13 attacks in Paris, and is now left alongside other tributes in memoriam to those slain by terrorists. Why this book? Daily life in Paris has a certain flair--yes, a certain je ne sais quoi-- that has attracted writers, artists, and tourists for centuries, and Hemingway captured that essence.

The book began flying off the shelves after video surfaced showing a seventy-seven year old retired lawyer named Danielle Mérian talking to a reporter about why Hemingway’s book is an enduring symbol of Gallic values. (You can watch the clip here.)  Paris Est Une Fête, the book’s French translation, is even a Twitter hashtag synonymous with resistance and defiance.

Ernest Hemingway, Paris, circa 1924. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Atlantic and NPR ran great stories on the Moveable Feast phenomenon, so it doesn’t make sense to rehash it all here. Rather, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I’m going to paraphrase Hemingway by saying that I’m thankful to have once lived in Paris, even though it was September 2001 and I was far away from home during a time of war. Yet, the city and its people welcomed me and my fellow students, embraced us, and encouraged us to stay. The bonds we forged that year were iron-clad. It was solidarity in the face of evil that sustained my soul, and many years later I am reminded of how fortunate I was to have been an American in Paris. Nous sommes tous Français.

Strand-unpublished-William-Faulkner-300x386.jpgAn early William Faulkner play entitled “Twixt Cup and Lip,” written when the great American novelist was in his early twenties, has been published for the first time in the new issue of The Strand Magazine. The one-act play demonstrates a different side to the typically intense and brooding writer. Light and comedic in tone, “Twixt Cup and Lip” sees two thirty-year-old bachelors vying for the affections of a nineteen-year-old girl.

The play was discovered by Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand, in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Gulli also discovered and published a lost F. Scott Fitzgerald story in The Strand earlier this year.

“I was surprised to find it and I thought it was a fine gem by a young Faulkner who would go on to write works that were dark masterpieces and also some wonderful screenplays,” said Gulli in an interview with The Guardian.

“Twixt Cup and Lip” was written while Faulkner was a member of a University of Mississippi theater troupe in the early 1920s. Faulkner would go on to publish As I Lay Dying in 1929, setting the foundation for his prominent literary career.

Steamy Miami hosted the Miami Book Fair this past week, culminating this weekend with a street fair--with an antiquarian row, I might add--and a packed schedule of author lectures, readings, and signings. I was lucky to be there promoting my first book, Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places, during an hour-long event called “Stories of Books: Cultural Explorations” with Andrea Mays, author of The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio, and James Grissom, author of Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog.

image3.JPGI also had the chance to see a couple of other terrific presentations. FB&C readers will recognize the name Marvin Sackner, co-founder the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, the largest collection of typewriter art and concrete poetry in the world, who is featured in our current issue. Marvin, seen here at left, spoke about how he and his wife, Ruth, began collecting “typed artpoe” in the 1960s and how it turned into the beautiful new book, The Art of Typewriting.

A riveting session on Civil War Stories included a talk by James L. Swanson, collector of Lincolniana and author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. He described how useful artifacts are to him while he is writing--he owns, by the by, a lock of Lincoln’s hair and a shred of the blood-stained shawl worn by actress Laura Keene on the night of the president’s assassination.  

My trip to Miami wasn’t complete without a visit to indie bookseller Books & Books (the flagship site in neighboring Coral Gables), a vibrant shop with an incredible selection of art books. Books & Books was opened 33 years ago by Mitchell Kaplan, not coincidentally the mastermind behind the Miami Book Fair, which celebrated its 32nd anniversary this year. 
Yesterday, author Chris Van Allsburg pulled into the Great Hall in Chicago’s Union Station as part of a multi-city book tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of his beloved 1986 Caldecott Medal-winning picture book, The Polar Express. The author signed books from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m., but the enchantment didn’t end when Van Allsburg left. Children wishing to ride the magical line may do so at Union Station now through January 3. (The Polar Express rides are organized by Rail Events Inc.).

Fast-tracking throughout the Midwest, the book tour started in Kalamazoo, worked through Grand Rapids (Van Allsburg’s hometown), Cincinnati, Louisville, then Chicago, and will reach its final destination today in Milwaukee. Fans who missed the connection needn’t go off the rails, though: publisher Houghton-Mifflin recently released a commemorative edition of the book.

Polar Cover.JPG

For the uninitiated, the captivating story starts with a young boy lying in bed, straining to hear Santa’s sleigh, even after being told Santa isn’t real. Instead of a jingling sleigh, a train whistles, and an old-fashioned steamer, the Polar Express, pulls in front of his home. The boy rides the magical locomotive with other pyjama-clad children all the way to the North Pole, visits with Mr. Claus in the flesh, and reaffirms his belief in magic. The book was an instant success, and since 1985, it has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. School Library Journal named it one of the Top 100 Picture Books of all time, and in 2004 The Polar Express was adapted into an Oscar-nominated motion picture, starring Tom Hanks as the kindly conductor.
polar christmas.JPG
Copyright 1985 Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express. Reproduced with permission from Houghton Mifflin.

My own piece of Polar Express memorabilia has hung on a wall in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house in Massachusetts for twenty-six years. It’s a framed, movie-size poster of the cover, signed by Van Allsburg and dated October 11, 1989. I also remember listening to the book on cassette, narrated by Academy Award-winning actor William Hurt. Even when Christmas was long packed away, my sister and I insisted that the tale be on heavy rotation during the car rides to school, to the point where the audio became fuzzy and crackled. On a whim, I searched for the audio file online, and found it on YouTube. I gathered up my six-year-old daughter, and together we listened to the story. While long-forgotten childhood memories surged to the forefront of my mind, my daughter was enthralled, wrapped up in the narrative, but interrupting periodically to exclaim, “it’s a true story!” and “he met Santa? Lucky!” confirming that the spirit of The Polar Express still rings true, as I’m sure it does for others who believe in the wonder of the holiday season.

Polar Express Interior.JPG

Germaine_Greer,_1972_(cropped).jpgWhile waiting for her airplane at London’s Heathrow Airport in 1976, Germaine Greer began penning a 30,000-word love letter to Martin Amis. The letter, which was never sent, was uncovered in the Germaine Greer archive at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Greer sold her lifetime archive to the University in 2013. The archive was opened to researchers for the first time this fall. 

In 1976, Greer was 37 years old and already famous for her early feminist masterpiece The Female Eunuch. Amis, eleven years her junior, was working on his second novel and employed as a journalist at The New Statesmen. The two had just launched an affair, although both had other partners at the time. Amis, notoriously promiscuous, was in a relationship with the writer Julie Kavanagh.

The lengthy love letter was described by its discoverer, Australian journalist Margaret Simons, as part love letter, part travelogue, and part literary criticism. 

“It’s just a beautiful piece of writing,” said Simons in an interview with Guardian Australia. “It sheds light on Greer herself and also on the time she wrote it.

“Amis and Greer were at the centre of the changes that the world was going through and it’s an extraordinary window about what it was like to be alive at that time, as one of the most famous people in the world.”

The University of Melbourne is interested in releasing the love letter as a slim book, however they have met resistance from Greer who would prefer its contents remain unpublished. In the meantime, Margaret Simons has written a piece about her discovery for publication in the December issue of Australian literary journal Meanjin.

[Image from Wikipedia]

Joannes Blaeu’s first edition of Atlas Major (1662)--“the greatest and finest atlas ever published”--sold for an impressive £581,000 ($882,249) yesterday at Sotheby’s London, more than double its low estimate. Comprised of eleven large folio volumes, Atlas Major is one of the true masterpieces of Dutch cartography. Its 594 engraved maps, plans, and views detail the geographic scope of the known world in the seventeenth century.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 12.37.04 PM.pngThis hand-colored copy had belonged to the late Paul Fentener Van Vlissingen, a Dutch businessman and philanthropist who was ranked as the richest man in Scotland shortly before his death in 2006.  

Fine Books’ map columnist Jeffrey S. Murray wrote about the Blaeu family of mapmakers in our spring 2013 issue. Joannes (Joan) Blaeu succeeded his father Willem, who had studied instrument and globe making under Tycho Brahe, as the head cartographer of the Dutch East India Company. Of the Atlas Major Murray wrote:

The atlas was a remarkable achievement, one that is widely credited as having ushered in what modern collectors like to call “the golden age of Dutch cartography.” With a list of patrons that included European royalty--among them the Emperor Leopold I of Austria, King Louis XIV of France, the French controleur génèral des finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, the prince of Salé (Morocco), and the sultan of Turkey--Atlas Major was fit for a prince.
Image via Sotheby’s. 
Collecting-Childrens-Books-Nov.-2015-Front-Cover copy.jpgPublished this month from husband-and-wife team Noah Fleisher and Lauren Zittle is a sweet, beautifully illustrated book titled Collecting Children’s Books: Art, Memories, Values (Krause Publications, $26.99). It surveys children’s literature from 1900 to the present first with brief historical essays on the best books of each era, followed by spreads that highlight major authors, including Seuss, Sendak, Dahl, Carle, Milne, Disney, Rowling, and many more, and peppered with favorites and recommendations. Get ready for a grand tour down Memory Lane! 

In the introduction, Fleisher, who is by day the public relations director for Heritage Auctions in Dallas, relates how his journey into children’s literature began after the birth of their daughter in 2006. As it is for many families, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon became the springboard for his love of the genre. We learn later that a “very rare true first edition” of this title with its dust jacket recently sold for $800 on eBay.

While the authors do list prices of editions recently sold at auction, the book is not intended to be a price guide, rather, it is meant, Fleisher writes, “to give you a sense of what you can find out there.” A first edition of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline’s Christmas? $168 at PBA Galleries. A first edition (with a fourth-edition jacket) of Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal? $395 on eBay. A second printing of Shel Silverstein’s Falling Up? $531 at Heritage Auctions.

Collecting Children’s Books is great fun to peruse--perhaps with child or grandchild on one’s lap--and for anyone interested in beginning a collection in this area, it’s the perfect introduction.

Image Courtesy of Noah Fleisher.

Joyce’s Ulysses, Illustrated by Matisse

In search of something epic at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair? Look no further than booth 319, where Oak Knoll Books is offering a gem of 20th-century publishing: a 1935 Limited Editions Club (LEC) example of James Joyce’s Ulysses, with etchings by Henri Matisse. This 365-page volume is number 244 in a run of 1500 numbered copies, and is signed by author and illustrator. Bound in brown cloth, the book includes Matisse’s Nausicaa stamped in gold on the front cover. The spine, also stamped in gold, features a miniature of the cover design. This is one of the most highly coveted editions published by LEC, the other being a 1934 edition of AristophanesLysistrata illustrated and signed by Pablo Picasso.


Ulysses, by James Joyce, illustrated by Henri Matisse. Image from Oak Knoll

LEC founder and publisher George Macy wanted his edition of Joyce’s work to be illustrated by one of the best artists of the time. He approached Matisse with his request and $5,000. In the 1930s that sum brought twenty-six full-page illustrations. Matisse was rumored not to have read Joyce’s novel (though he was provided a French translation), and the black-and-white compositions are based on themes pulled from the Greek classic. Readers looking for Matisse’s bold use of color will not find it here. Instead, grand gestures are rendered in strokes of charcoal and pencil, reflecting the artist’s belief that meaning in art could be conveyed through thoughtfully placed lines.

Presented with the Limited Editions Press Monthly Letter and prospectus loosely inserted, Ulysses is being offered for $20,000. 

The award for the longest--and perhaps for the oddest--book at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend goes to an 800-foot manuscript scroll of La Fontaine’s Fables. Carried to these shores by English bookseller Justin Croft, the La Fontaine scroll was transcribed by an unknown person sometime around the turn of the 19th century, presumably from a printed copy.

The complete text of La Fontaine’s Fables is written out--by hand, it’s worth stressing--on two thin strips of paper, which the reader can gradually unfurl as she progresses through the manuscript. Half way through the work, the reader must “rewind” to the beginning to commence reading on line two. Owing to the enormous length of the two strips, which combine to a total of over 800 feet, only the two lines of text are required for the entire transcription.

What inspired the transcriber to embark on this project and how she managed to produce the free time necessary for its completion remain entirely a mystery.

Justin Croft can be found at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend November 13-15. The La Fontaine scroll is priced at £4,000 ($6,000). 

[Image from Justin Croft]

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