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"If you have a garden and a library, you have all you need." Cicero (Epistulae ad familiares,  Book IX, Epistle 4.) 


On November 15 the New York Botanical Garden opened its latest exhibition, but its not in a greenhouse filled with orchids or azaleas. Rather, the plants featured in this show are on the sixth floor of the Mertz Library. Flora Illustrata: A Celebration of Botanical Masterworks is a dazzling display of books, manuscripts, maps and art dedicated to the study of botany and horticulture. Of the library's roughly one million cataloged items (in eighty five languages), just fifty were chosen to highlight the cornucopia of manuscripts, journals, explorer's notebooks, drawings and Renaissance herbals. There's a 1667 Recueil des plantes, commissioned by Louis XIV, by Denis Dodart with illustrations by Nicolas Robert. An edition of Carolus Linnaeus' Systema Naturae demonstrates a turning point in botany with the introduction of the modern system of classification. Two beautiful incunables of Pliny the Elder's Naturalis historia (1483) offer encyclopedic knowledge of ancient herbal remedies. All are on display, alongside other important botanical works. 

The library became one of the world's most authoritative botanical and horticultural collections over a relatively short 125-year period. (The Mertz opened in 1899.) By the early 1900s it was already an established repository and scholarly collection of herbs, flowers and garden materials, assisted by generous early benefactors and philanthropists including J. Pierpont Morgan, a Garden board member, and Andrew Carnegie. Benefactors continue to ensure the library's role as an immense resource for scientists, artists, architects and writers. 

For those unable to make the show, or who wish to bring the show home with them, a companion volume to the exhibition will be available on November 25th (Yale University Press; $50). The eleven essays in the book cover eight centuries of plant history, from an examination of incunables, to works on American gardening and horticulture, to an exploration of European pleasure gardens showcasing French garden and landscape design. Hand-colored engravings, lithographs, and woodcuts depict the Earth's bounty and humanity's relation to it. Happily, the oversize pages allow for close examination of the artwork. Consider Flora Illustrata as a gift for plant enthusiasts, gardeners, architects, and those who love plants but have a perennially brown thumb.

Flora Illustrata: Great Works from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden, edited by Susan Fraser and Vanessa Sellers; Yale University Press, $50, 320 pages (November 25, 2014).

The exhibition Flora Illustrata: A Celebration of Botanical Masterworks will be on display from November 15th to January 2015 in Mertz Library's Rondina and LoFaro Gallery. 


A two-day auction of rare books by the German firm Ketterer Kunst on Monday and Tuesday this week realized impressive prices for herbals. All the herbals on offer at auction sold above estimates, sometimes by significant amounts.  

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The herbal highlight was the Herbarius Patavie, (pictured above), from the collection of botanist and anatomist Lorenz Heister and bearing his signature, which attracted bidders from around the world. In the end, a German bidder won the herbal for $97,500, blowing well past the original estimate of $18,750. Herbarius Patavie was printed by Johann Petri in Passau in 1485. The book contains 150 half-page botanical woodcuts.

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Another highlight was the generously illustrated 1497 Hortus Sanitatis, (pictured above), which went for $67,500 after a bidding war. The estimate on the herbal was $25,000. The 1497 edition was the third Latin edition of one of the fifteenth century's most extensive works on natural history and medicine.

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And the first German edition of the first scientific herbal - the Contrafayt Kreüterbuch from 1532-37 (pictured above) - sold for $24,000, $14,000 over its original estimate of $10,000. The herbal contains 280 woodcuts, most hand-colored.

[Pictures from Ketterer Kunst]



photo 1 copy.jpgSome good news from the book/magazine publishing world today. Scribner publisher Nan Graham announced this morning that Scribner's Magazine, which published some of the best fiction and non-fiction of the early twentieth century during its 1887-1939 run, has been revived and turned into a digital literary magazine. Scribner Magazine will feature its house authors, among them Stephen King, Anthony Doerr, Colm Toibin, and Jeannette Walls.

The first issue hosts a gallery of Ernest Hemingway images, in celebration of his 1926 Scribner-published novel, The Sun Also Rises. Graham told the Wall Street Journal, "I've wanted to do something with the old Scribner's Magazine for a long time because it was such an important part of the culture." The new publication, she said, is not a direct descendant of its illustrious predecessor, but rather a behind-the-scenes look at the life of contemporary authors. 

Image: A 50th-anniversary issue of Scribner's Magazine, published in 1937.    
Moby_Dick_final_chase.jpgThe second biennial public reading of Herman Melville's perennial classic Moby Dick took place this past weekend in New York City. Over the course of three days, a wide variety of participants took turns reading Moby Dick out loud at three different locations around the city. The marathon began at the Ace Hotel on Friday night from 6pm - 11pm, continued on Saturday at the South Street Seaport Museum from 10am - 11 pm, and completed on Sunday at HousingWorks Bookstore from 10am - 4pm. Over the course of those 24 total hours, 138 readers took their turns with the novel. Readers includes actors such as Michael Kostroff of The Wire, writers such as Nathaniel Philbrick and Amor Towles, along with editors from Buzzfeed and Lapham's Quarterly, and a host of Moby Dick fans.

The biennial marathon reading of Moby Dick is the brainchild of Amanda Bullock of the HousingWorks Bookstore and Polly Duff Bresnick of the Sackett Street Writer's Workshop. The two launched the first Moby Dick marathon in 2012. The dates for the event are set to approximately align with the U.S. publication of Moby Dick, which occurred on November 14, 1851. Bullock and Bresnick decided to host the event in New York City because the novel opens in Manhattan and Melville was born and died in the city. They funded the event through a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Asked by The Guardian why the novel lends itself to such an event, author Leslie Jamison said, "It's a book about obsession that lends itself to obsession... You get attached to things you've invested time in. [The marathon] allows us to speak and live within the text."

[Image from Wikipedia]





Lux-Brian Booth copy.jpgOn Saturday afternoon, I spent about five hours tooling around the ABAA's Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. It was, incredibly, my first time visiting the Boston fair, and it was exceedingly pleasant -- smaller, less chaotic, and more genial than the two larger annual fairs in New York and California. A few booksellers admitted that they had avoided Boston for a few years and were toeing the waters there again. I imagine they were pleased by the foot traffic and, as far as I could tell, a good amount of those feet belonged to college-aged people sauntering around the fair.

Reese copy.jpgAt least some of those undergrads--these above from Brown University--were there to get a lesson in rare books from Bill Reese.

While in Reese's booth, I stopped to chat with Joe Fay, formerly of Heritage Auctions and now relocated to Reese's New Haven shop. He showed me one of his favorites on offer: Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex... by Owen Chase (1821) in its original blue paper boards. A modest little book but one that is widely assumed to be the inspiration for Melville's Moby-Dick.

Greenwood copy.jpgIs there a trend in morbid offerings, or is it just that places like the new Morbid Anatomy Museum have focused my attention there of late? I thought this tiny book titled Green-Wood Cemetery at the Old New York Book Shop's booth was sweet. It contained nothing more than a fragile, nineteenth-century folding map of the famous Brooklyn graveyard. That seemed to go with the box of antique glass eye specimens on exhibit at B&L Rootenberg Rare Books & Manuscripts. Or, at John R. Sanderson, Bookseller, a volume that tempted me: Observations on Morbid Poisons, Chronic and Acute (second edition, 1807). Or, at Ken Sanders Rare Books, several pieces of original signed art by filmmaker Tim Burton, including a sculpture he created while making the 1982 stop-motion short film, Vincent, based on a boy who idolizes Vincent Price. 

Crucible copy.jpgAnd though I may be accused of playing favorites, there is always something amazing in the booth of Lux Mentis, and this time my eyes were drawn to this stunning binding of Arthur Miller's The Crucible by Erin Fletcher at Herringbone Bindery. The binding of gray and cream silk has hand-embroidered lettering and decorative flowers and animals (and a noose). What you don't see in this picture is the back cover, a depiction of Joseph McCarthy in embroidery.





Images Credit: Rebecca Rego Barry.


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Detail. Giambattista della Porta. De furtivis literarum notis. 1591. Folger Shakespeare Library



What does Shakespeare have to do with twentieth-century codebreakers? The folks at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. have a pretty good idea, and on Tuesday unveiled its latest exhibit entitled Decoding the Renaissance: 500 Years of Codes and Ciphers. On display are texts illustrating how the science of creating and breaking codes traces its roots to the age of Shakespeare. 

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Johannes Trithemius. Polygraphie et universelle escriture caba. Folger Shakespeare Library 


Bill Sherman, head of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum and curator of the exhibition, explained that most of the materials in the show came from the Folger's own collection and the Library of Congress. "I found that the incredible concentration of books in codes in ciphers was astonishing. Between the Folger and the LOC across the street, they had a first edition -- at least one of each -- for every key text in that field for the first couple hundred years." This is also the first time these texts have been brought together to introduce the field of secret communication to the general public. 

While Henry Folger never set out to intentionally collect intelligence literature, Sherman said that one couldn't possibly cultivate a collection of Renaissance material without the dark arts being caught in the net. (Read about three men who actively collected intelligence material in the Fall 2014 issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine.) "Intelligence, codes and codebreaking is an incredibly widespread field. Almost every aspect of Renaissance culture has some relationship with ciphers, whether through mathematics, language systems, postal services, or machines." Rival courts wanted to keep correspondence confidential while also intercepting and deciphering adversaries' mail, and alongside the proliferation of printing throughout Europe, espionage and intelligence gathering flourished.   

The material from the Library of Congress hails from its George Fabyan Collection. In addition to being a cryptographer who trained analysts to decipher codes during World War I, Fabyan collected seventeenth century English literature focusing on cryptology. He was also fascinated by Francis Bacon, whom he believed was the actual author of Shakespeare's works. To crack the Bacon-Shakespeare code, Fabyan founded Riverbank Laboratories in Geneva, Illinois and assembled a group of literary codebreakers to assist him. Among those people were William and Elizabeth Friedman, whom Sherman calls "The First Couple of Cryptology."  William ran the Army's Signals Intelligence Service in the 1930s, and also led the team that broke Japan's PURPLE cipher in World War II.  Elizabeth was a cryptanalyst for the US Navy and also assisted the Coast Guard to decipher the german Enigma machine. They also reinvented the science of codes and ciphers for the twentieth century,  and they drew directly from the sixteenth century materials that they had first seen at Riverbank.  These, as well as the Friedman's own publications, are on display. 

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William F. Friedman and Elizebeth S. Friedman, ca. 1957. 310 2nd Street SE, Washington, DC. Photo by Walter Bennett. 




In addition to Friedman's own SIGABA cipher machine, which was only declassified ten years ago and whose code was never broken, the great unsolved mystery of the exhibition is the Voynich Manuscript, believed to date from the 1410s. On loan from the Beinecke Library at Yale, this is the first time in fifty years that the manuscript has left New Haven. "It's just a crazy unsolvable manuscript. There may be references to it in other documents, but it's hard to know what to look for," said Sherman. Friedman himself spent years trying to decode the manuscript, to no avail. And while dozens of researchers are currently devoted to solving it, Sherman feels that if the manuscript remains cloaked in secret, so much the better. "In a way, a mystery has more to tell you then the solution," he said. "The mystery makes you think, and ask, and do research." 



Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Hazel Wilkinson of Cambridge and London:

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Where are you from and where do you live?

I am from Surrey originally, and I now live in Cambridge and London.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

My first degree was in English at Oxford University; I then did a Masters in Renaissance Literature at York, before doing a PhD in English at University College London. My PhD was awarded in September 2014, and I'm now a research fellow at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where I am working on my first book, and teaching undergraduate English.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

I collect books of poetry, from Spenser (1552-1599) to Tennyson (1809-1892). Since I was an undergraduate I've enjoyed buying attractive or unusual books, when I've been able to find them for affordable prices. When I was at university I would often go to a second hand bookshop and see if I could find a nice old copy of the poet I was studying that week. Owning a big nineteenth-century volume of Keats made me feel much more intelligent than reading the standard scholarly paperback.  I never thought of myself as a book collector until entering the Anthony Davis Book Collecting competition. I didn't expect to win, as I hadn't assembled my collection particularly deliberately, or spent much money on any of the books. When I thought about the books that I own, I realised that there was a coherent theme running through them, even if I didn't plan it. They are all editions of canonical poets, published after the author's lifetime. I am interested in how each generation reinterprets the literary past. So, for example, I have a copy of Spenser from 1758 which is illustrated in a Classical style, and a copy of Spenser from 1908 which contains Art Deco illustrations. It's interesting to see how Spenser was repackaged and reimagined. Similarly, I have a big, leatherbound Byron from the 1860s, and a Penguin paperback Byron from the 1950s. These books say a lot about how fashions and reading habits changed over the course of a century. A lot of the books in the collection are prize copies, with school book plates. I have a copy of Thomas Gray which was presented to a student leaving Eton, which is quite expected, since Gray wrote about Eton. I also have a Wordsworth which was given as a Botany prize at a Diocesan Training College in nineteenth-century Bristol. I found this provenance really surprising, and incongruous, and it got me thinking about the way books are sometimes produced and kept as trophies, and aren't necessarily read. That will certainly sound familiar to many book collectors, I expect.

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How many books are in your collection?

30-40. Me and my partner, Will, often buy books together, and since we have similar interests there are quite a few jointly owned items, so the collection doesn't have clear boundaries. 

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

I'm not entirely sure, as I never thought of myself as buying "for a collection". However, I won an essay prize when I was an undergraduate and was given £30 in book tokens. I used these at Blackwell's in Oxford to buy an edition of Milton's Paradise Lost with Gustav Dore's illustrations. The book is hughe--nearly a metre high. This might not be the first book in the collection that I bought, but it is the most memorable. 

How about the most recent book?

Will and I went to Alton for a literature conference earlier this year, and we bought an illustrated nineteenth-century copy of Edward Young's poems, and a copy of Tennyson's In Memoriam bound in leather. We often end up in book shops when visiting a new place.  

And your favorite book in your collection?

Probably my 1758 edition of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, because it is the oldest book I own. It is also one of the only books that I tracked down and purchased on the internet. I don't do this too often as I like finding things unexpectedly in bookshops. However, my PhD thesis was on eighteenth-century editions of Spenser, so I thought it would be great to own one of them. Doing a PhD on book history also got me more interested in collecting books, and in thinking more about the ones I already own. I kept an eye on eBay and ABE for months, and finally managed to find a 2 volume illustrated Faerie Queene from 1758 for only £40. It's not in very good condition, but that didn't matter to me as I was interested in studying its paper, type, and illustrations.

Best bargain you've found?

A huge nineteenth-century edition of Byron's complete poems and plays, containing illustrations, notes, introductions, and even facsimiles of Byron's handwriting. It's a big, heavy volume, with an embossed leather spine, marbled covers, and gilt page edges, and it was only £12.50 in Blackwell's in Oxford. I think this is because it isn't a particularly "important" edition, in terms of being a first or early edition, or having a notable editor etc. Later editions of authors are exactly what I find interesting, which is very lucky when it comes to buying books!

How about the One that Got Away?

Since I tend to just by books as and when I find them in bookshops, there's not been anything that really got away. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The 1751 edition of Spenser, illustrated by William Kent. It's my favourite eighteenth-century edition of Spenser, but I'm sure I'll never be able to afford a copy. It was a luxury, high end edition in its day, and it still is now.

What is your favorite bookstore?

I like the Oxfam charity shops in Oxford, and the second hand department in Heffers in Cambridge. 

What would you collect if you didn't collect books?

I don't think I would collect anything. I'm not really a collecting type. My book collection has arisen out of my studies rather than out of a desire to collect something.
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This Gonzo Sword, hand-cast in bronze in 2014, is one of only 100 copies of an art object created in homage to "Gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Offered by Quill & Brush of Dickerson, Maryland, the kooky two-foot long, ten-pound artifact depicts, according to the booksellers, "Thompson's dual-thumbed, peyote-in-the-palm 'Gonzo fist,' first seen on the campaign poster created by Tom Benton when Thompson ran on the 'Freak Power' platform for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, in 1970." It is one of many incredibly cool items for sale at Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend (booth 206). Check out some more highlights here. See you there!

Image via Quill & Brush.
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A protest letter signed by 500 authors and artists has successfully halted Liverpool city plans to close 11 of its 18 branches. The letter described the proposed cuts as a "massacre" and pinpointed children as paying the heaviest cost for the closures.  "The loss would devastate Liverpool," wrote the supporters. "With recent figures showing that one in three children does not own a book, it seems to us terrifying that even the chance of borrowing a book is about to be taken away from many Liverpool children."

The letter was signed by children's laureate Malorie Blackman, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Caitlin Moran, Jonathan Coe, Alan Gibbons, Cathy Cassidy and Meg Rosoff amongst many others. In addition to producing the protest letter, the campaign held rallies, stitched banners, and garnered international support.

Liverpool had seen a dramatic 58% cut in its government funding.  The Liverpool council said the cut would necessitate a £2.5m loss to the library service provided by the city, primarily in the way of branch closures.

In a statement issued yesterday, however, Liverpool city mayor Joe Anderson announced a reversal of plans.

Cathy Cassidy, young adult author and a primary organizer of the campaign, said in an interview with The Guardian, "I asked people to write 'love letters to Liverpool libraries' and send them to Liverpool's mayor, and hundreds of heart-breaking and uplifting letters flooded in from schoolchildren, families and library users as well as supporters all around the UK - this was devised as a positive, peaceful and non-political way for people to show the council how much the libraries mean to them."

[Image of Liverpool central library from Wikipedia]
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Seen here at left is the iconic book jacket for J.D. Salinger's 1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye, featuring E. Michael Mitchell's angry red horse illustration -- or is it? Upon closer inspection, you will note that this Catcher's author is Richard Prince. And the publisher's name on the spine is no longer that of Little Brown, but instead something called American Place.

In 2011, Richard Prince, an artist whose paintings have sold at auction for millions of dollars, created this reproduction of the first edition of Catcher in a limited edition of 500 copies.

It was an act of "provocative appropriation," according to Swann Galleries, which will auction one of the now scarce artist's books on November 18, for an estimated $800-1,200. Prince sold unsigned copies at the 2011 New York Art Book Fair for several hundred dollars and--unbelievably--hawked them one day on a sidewalk outside New York City's Central Park for $40. You can read more about this stunt at the Poetry Foundation's blog.    

Image Courtesy of Swann Galleries. 

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