Requiem for the Bibliophile

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"Lament" reproduced with permission from Nancy Gifford

If Jorge Luis Borges thought paradise would be a library, then he might find the gates of hell in an exhibit mourning the death of libraries and printed materials. Requiem for the Bibliophile opened in September at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara, where seven artists explore how the historical role of libraries is evolving to meet the needs of 21st century patrons. Each of the installations examine the power of the printed word and the emptiness that prevails when physical books are reduced to pixels. 

Artist Emily Jacir's installation of photographic prints documents the 30,000 books that were looted from Palestinian homes by Israeli forces in 1948, and asks what happens when a community is denied access to their literary history.  There's also an installation called "Empty Bookshelf VII" by Jorge Méndez Blake, which looks like a newly assembled project from Ikea - functional, but without books, purposeless. 

By far, the standout piece is a ten foot high, thirty-two feet long collage called "Lament." Artist Nancy Gifford has been incorporating 'altered' books into her work for the past decade, scouring used book stores throughout the country and abroad for raw material.  She gathered over 2,000 antique books for this installation - most in poor condition. "Book covers were once a form of artwork on their own, and "Lament" was an opportunity to breathe new life into a forgotten art, and to take these books off the shelf and expose them to a new audience," explained Gifford to me recently. 

She then adjusted the books and covers further, ripping innards from their hardcovers, painting out spines and leaving only words Gifford felt were charged with meaning.  "When I was invited to participate in this project, I wanted to explore what books represent," she said. Layering books one on top of another, they morph into a literary crypt. 

"Lament" was constructed over the course of one year - a time-lapse video Gifford created (seen here) shows the painstaking work and effort this piece required. The books are affixed with screws to eight archival birch panels.  Each panel is 10 feet high and 4 feet wide, with seams were designed to camouflage that the work is modular.  "The center of the piece exposes the covers' insides, representing the heart of the piece, and the black exterior is the "requiem," or death shroud," Gifford explained. 

Books have always been a positive part of Gifford's life. She remembers fondly the monthly bookmobile visits to her Midwestern hometown. "I cherished those humble experiences, and they planted the seed of fascination for holding a stamped leather binding. As I watch books lose their place in the word, my work with books has changed to reflect that, becoming less deferential and more destructive." In their battered, water-damaged, defaced states, Gifford's books still have valuable stories to tell. 

While Gifford mourns books that have gone from repositories of knowledge to ornamentation for interior decorators, it's not all gloom and doom. The artist created a fifteen minute film entitled "Hope," which sees our increasing desire for reading material as a positive outcome, even if we're doing more of our reading on screens.  

Requiem for the Bibliophile runs through January 14, 2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara. 

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"Lament" reproduced with permission from Nancy Gifford
Hoping to capture some of the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, that book's UK publisher, William Heinemann, has purchased a cache of erotic French love letters from the 1920s. The passionate love letters, written by a wealthy French woman to her younger, married lover were discovered by French ambassador Jean-Yves Berthault while helping a friend clean out an old apartment. The letters were hidden in a leather pouch beneath several jars.

Penned by one "Mademoiselle Simone" to an unidentified man named "Charles," the letters depict increasing erotic obsession in explicit detail.

"We have no way of knowing who Simone or Charles were, or what became of them, only that their affair ended in heartbreak," said Selina Walker of William Heinemann in an interview with The Guardian

"This is a time capsule of a book, a truly extraordinary testament to a period of time and a relationship that was as physical as it was passionate. And the fact that it was such a deeply buried secret for all these years makes it particularly special."

Foreign rights to the manuscript have been sold in several countries already and the book will be published in the US by Spiegel & Grau, a Random House imprint.
Brown Brothers, the first stock photo agency, was founded in New York City in 1904 by Arthur and Charles Brown. Utilized by major newspapers and presidents, Brown Brothers photographers snapped everything from Titanic survivors to Lyndon Baines Johnson. Now an archive of one million Brown Brothers photographs and negatives are for sale, with offers starting at $5 million. Historic documents collector and dealer Eric Caren, whose "How History Unfolds on Paper" collection was profiled in our Fall 2011 issue, is brokering the sale.

img093--BB--01903--72J--Houdini in chains--W.jpgHoudini in Chains, photographed by Brown Brothers. Courtesy of The Caren Archive.

The archive comprises 7,000 boxes, and the images it contains can be haunting: Ellis Island immigrants, charred bodies from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the Hindenburg disaster, and flag-draped caskets from World War II. There are also the more glamorous shots depicting the likes of Mark Twain, Harry Houdini, and Babe Ruth. It is estimated that 30 percent of the archive focuses on New York City. In fact, one of Caren's favorites is "one circa 1910 showing a bunch of eccentric NY Baseball Giants fans perched in a tree watching the game at The Polo Grounds in NYC."  

Caren, who previously handled the sale of the San Francisco Examiner press photos years ago, found this archive so exciting because they aren't wire photos, of which multiples can be found in the marketplace. He said, "This is likely 'The Last of the Mohicans' for massive and unique photography archives." Or, as the Brown Brothers company history put it, "We have photographs no one else has because we had photographers no one else had...No one--absolutely no one else in the world--has these photographs."

Someone will, soon enough. Prospective buyers can view the archive by appointment, and Caren reports "strong" interest from major institutions, picture agencies, collectors, and dealers. The Associated Press revealed that those institutions included "Columbia and Yale universities, California's Huntington Library, and the New York Public Library." The bidding will end on January 14, 2015.

The Caren Archive is also separately offering, for an undisclosed sum, an en bloc collection of 200,000+ printed, manuscript, and photographic originals dating back to the 1500s.
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Sophie Ridley of Shropshire, collector of books on crafts and school education.

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Where are you from / where do you live? 

I'm a country girl through and through having been brought up in rural north Shropshire, close to the Welsh border.

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

I studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Oxford University. Having graduated over the summer I am now aiming at a career in museums. To this end, I am building up as much voluntary curatorial experience as possible at local museums.

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

My collection covers the topic of crafts and their introduction to school education from the 1870s to the 1930s. It traces the transitional period from the highly restrictive education system of 'the three Rs' to one which recognised that a more varied education with practical elements was highly beneficial to children's learning. As such, I have books that were produced as educational treatises, those that aim to inspire and inform teachers, and others that were to be used by children themselves. I am also beginning to include recent books which trace the increasing resurgence of such themes in today's schools. These form their own contextualising section in the broad collection.

How many books are in your collection?

At present my collection stands at 32, but of course there are a number I am ever on the lookout for.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

I hardly know, as I never set out to collect. Rather, the early development of my collection came about during my A-levels where in free periods I would head into town to my local British Red Cross charity shop. They have an interesting selection of older books that are restocked on a rolling basis. I would buy books on any topic that caught my fancy and from this the theme of crafts emerged. It was the chance find of a copy of the first three volumes in Holman's series of 6 volumes 'The Book of School Handwork' that introduced the educational element and really added direction to the crafts theme which came to dominate and ultimately form my collection.

How about the most recent book?

I have just got round to treating myself with my winnings from the Colin Franklin Book Collecting Prize. The book is a first edition of William Morris' 'The Decorative Arts, Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress: An Address Delivered before the Trades' Guild of Learning'. Morris was such an influential figure, both in promoting the value of craftsmanship and also with his socialist views that work should be satisfying. As such this book is highly pertinent to my collection. There is a further significance in that I spent three months this summer doing research work at Kelmscott Manor, his summer home. I am very glad to finally be able to nestle Morris' influential text amongst my other books.

And your favorite book in your collection?

As is perhaps common, I have no single favourite. Indeed, the book I would like to highlight here is far less directly relevant to the theme of my collection than many of the others. Kenneth Grahame's 'The Golden Age' captures a broad change in public attitude towards children, embracing their imaginative creativity. My copy, a first edition published in 1895, came at the cusp of the changes in education that my collection traces. The elevated value of crafts and social reform that Morris and his contemporaries set in motion at last began to seep into school education. Teachers began to recognise the benefit of practical 'handwork' even in subjects like history, geography and mathematics.

Best bargain you've found?

I like to think that all of my books have been relative bargains. The topic area is not one that is commonly collected and most of my finds have been from the fringe stalls at antiques fairs, from charity shops and on occasion even a car-boot sale.

How about The One that Got Away?

To my shame, this missed opportunity was entirely my own doing. At a local antiques fair I came across a lovely copy of Tom Stephenson's 'The Countryside Companion' which has a good section on rural crafts. Despite the very reasonable price of £2 I walked away, convinced it was one in a bundle that I was awaiting delivery of. Unfortunately I was mistaken and I haven't come across it since, but will certainly snap it up when I do.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

This would have to be a copy of Edward Combes' 'On the Value of Technical Training, and the Teaching of Drawing and Handwork in Public Schools'. Published in 1889 as a paper in the September edition of the Journal of the Franklin Institute, it is not something that I have found to be readily available, even on the internet. This early work is heavily referenced in a number of texts already in my collection and I would dearly love to see what Combes says for himself, never mind find a copy for myself.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

As mentioned above, my collection was never set out to be such, and the topic area is quite an overlooked one. Therefore, I have no particular go-to bookshop or seller. Rather, I will still return to the Oswestry British Red Cross shop to browse and for the most part allow my collection to grow slowly through chance finds in unexpected places. It certainly makes each addition more exciting than if I have trawled for it on the internet, although on occasion this has proved necessary.

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

If I didn't collect books I would collect items made from bone. Whilst on an archaeological excavation I had the chance to make some replica artefacts out of bone. I developed a love for the material. This led me to choose Anglo-Saxon bone combs as the subject for my dissertation. These days, unfortunately, there is a rather negative view of bone objects - a feeling that it is a little macabre as a material. I think that this is a great shame as bone has been used by mankind from the earliest times as a key resource, only overtaken with the rise of plastics. A collection of bone objects would be a reminder of the great history of use, but also would be an array of items pleasing both through the craftsmanship displayed and the inherent material properties.  

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 2.46.21 PM.pngWe at FB&C are excited to announce the publication of longtime writer, columnist, and blogger Nate Pedersen's new book: The Starry Wisdom Library: A Catalogue of the Greatest Occult Book Auction of All Time (PS Publishing, jacketed hardcover, £20, $31). Instead of stories, this anthology presents a fanciful "facsimile" of an 1877 rare book auction catalogue, listing 44 volumes "to be sold" by Messrs. Pent & Serenade from the collection of the Church of Starry Wisdom in Providence, Rhode Island. Among the offerings: the possibly 16th-century manuscript called "The Daemonolorum," Hieron Algypton, a seven-foot papyrus scroll dating to 200 B.C., and The Black Book of the Skull, printed by none other than Aldus Manutius in 1511.

The book features essays on the history of major occult tomes from the Lovecraft Mythos, written by contemporary horror authors--one of which, Nick Mamatas, we are proud to say is another FB&C contributor. Each essay takes the form of an auction catalogue entry, formatted to the usual cataloging standards by rare book dealer Jonathan Kearns of Adrian Harrington Rare Books in London, followed by a longer narrative on the volume's creation and provenance. The book's graphic design and six large illustrations perfectly evoke the funereal undercurrent of high Victorianism.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 3.15.24 PM.pngIn addition to editing all of the essays, Pedersen penned an entry on a volume containing Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New English Canaan, later re-bound with: The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. Providence: Bazalgette and Dagg. 1801, enhanced with an obsessed student's marginalia. It is also fun to note that the idea for The Starry Wisdom Library evolved from a 2012 story Pedersen wrote for the FB&C blog about collecting Lovecraft's grimoires--the "fake" books he mentions throughout his fiction.  

Congratulations, Nate!

Images: Cover and interior page, courtesy of Nate Pedersen. 
If anyone really needs an excuse to go to Paris, here's one for you bibliophiles: through January 31, The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is hosting an exhibition showcasing one hundred of its treasures. The world's oldest national library is also one of the largest, with fourteen million items in its repository.  Designating the most exceptional would be Sisyphean. Instead, curator Jean-Marc Chatelain limited his scope to the 11,000 materials that entered the Rare Book Reserve between 1994 to 2014. (In 1995, the BnF opened its massive Mitterrand location in the 13th arrondissement with 248 miles of storage space, giving the acquisitions department room to feather the nest.) 

Catalog cover for Éloge de la rareté: Cent trésors de la Réserve des livres 

The displays, thirteen sections categorized by theme, are an attempt to help redefine what it means for a book to be considered 'rare' or 'exceptional,'  and so the examples run the gamut, from incunables, children's books, and contemporary artists' books. An 1805 edition of Voltaire's epic poem La Henriade, with engravings by draftsman Jean-Michel Moreau (Le Jeune) shares space with a pamphlet from the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition celebrating the opening of the #8 metro line. It's not all French either; there's a 1992 publication of Conrad's Heart of Darkness with etchings by artist Sean Scully

The Éloge de la rareté is also a bid to educate the general public on the existence of the Reserve, which has, for over two hundred years, maintained and preserved France's rich national patrimony. Vive la bibliothèque.    

Éloge de la rareté: Cent trésors de la Réserve des livres rares runs from November 25, 2014 to January 31 2015 at the François-Mitterrand location. Galerie 2.


Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Gloucestershire will auction off a delightful, previously unknown C.S. Lewis letter about his interpretation of joy. The letter, discovered tucked into a used book, reveals the author's view of the emotion: "...real joy... jumps under one's ribs and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o'nights."

The letter, addressed to an unidentified "Mrs Willis," was written in August of 1945. The auctioneers have not been able to find out any further information about Mrs Willis, even though the letter's content reveals a deep, personal friendship between the two, wherein Lewis waxes poetically on philosophical thoughts. The letter was found in a copy of Lewis' "The Problem of Pain," purchased by its owner in a secondhand bookshop. The owner didn't discover the letter until several years later.

Lewis writes in the letter that "the physical sensations of joy and misery are in my case identical." Lewis added a postscript as well, "Don't you know the disappointment when you'd expected joy from a piece of music and get only pleasure: Like finding Leah when you thought you'd married Rachel!"

Lewis expanded on his conception of joy in his memoir, Surprised by Joy, published three years after the letter in 1948.

Lewis letters are uncommon and tend to attract significant interest from bidders when they come up for auction. Dominic Winter has set the estimate for the letter at £1,200-1,500 ($1,800-2,350). It will be included in the Children's and Illustrated Books, Antique Fans, Toys, and Ceramics, and Modern First Editions auction on December 18.

[Image from Dominic Winter]

If you're looking for a trip down Memory Lane--or Clinton Avenue or E. 32nd Street--here it is. Paging through the sale catalogue for tomorrow's auction of vernacular imagery, photo books & fine photographs at Swann Galleries brought to mind Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, a "bitterly nostalgic" blog that charts the city's ever-changing urban landscape. About a dozen lots recall New Yorkers and their city in incredibly evocative historic images.

696269.jpgThe first one that caught my eye is this image of Brooklyn apartment from an album of 7 architectural photographs depicting the home of W.H. Nichols at 353 Clinton Avenue circa 1876. I love the heavy Victorian nature of the image. And a quick search turns up the fact that Nichols was interesting too. Born in 1852, he was a chemist and businessman whose chemical supply company has lived on through various mergers, eventually becoming part of the present-day Honeywell corporation. Nichols was also one of the original founders of the American Chemical Society. The estimate is $500-750.

692676.jpgNext is one of a group of 60 images documenting the businesses along 6th Avenue in midtown in 1937, each with caption information detailing the location of the barber shops, hardware stores, and shoe shines available at the time. The estimate is $1,400-1,800.

698316.jpgThen there's a group of 10 images of Ellis Island immigrants, taken by Augustus Sherman circa 1905. Sherman, an amateur photographer, was chief registry clerk at Ellis Island, and it is assumed that his elaborately costumed subjects were detainees awaiting processing. His pictures were published in magazines and given to visitors as keepsakes. They were finally published in book form in 2005. The estimate is $5,000-7,000.

697780.jpgBernice Abbott's photography pops up a few times in this sale, and my favorite is this silver print, "Newsstand, East 32nd Street and Third Avenue, Manhattan" shot in 1935. It reminds me of the old "Book Row" imagery. The estimate is $2,500-3,500.

In addition, there is a first edition of Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (illustrated) on offer, a photo archive of 145 images of downtown bohemian life taken by Lawrence Shustak in the 1970s, and two Lou Stoumen prints, both of Times Square in 1940.

Images via Swann Galleries. 
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Andrew Ferguson in Virginia who collects science fiction author R. A. Lafferty.

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Where are you from / where do you live?

From the Triangle area of NC; live in Charlottesville, VA.

What do you study at University?

I'm getting my PhD in English at the University of Virginia; I've previously studied Liberal Arts at St. John's College (Annapolis); English at the University of Tulsa; and Science Fiction at the University of Liverpool.

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

I collect the works of the science fiction author R.A. Lafferty. While he was quite popular in the 1960s and '70s, he slid into obscurity in the decades that followed, and many of his works exist only in very small print runs from very small presses. In addition to works that are solely his, I try to collect every appearance of his work in anthologies and the like, in all their different instances, including the works in translation--he has a particularly large and active fanbase in Japan, and translators there have been kind enough to send me several volumes.

How many books are in your collection?

At present, about 230 separate items. I have a long, long way to go.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

A print-on-demand edition of his best short-story collection, Nine Hundred Grandmothers. Oddly, in recent years even that POD edition has become sought-after, because Lafferty's estate pulled all publication agreements prior to selling his literary rights to the Locus Foundation. The only book currently in print is his remarkable novel Okla Hannali, available from the University of Oklahoma Press.

How about the most recent book?

I just picked up the first appearance of his horror story "Berryhill," which was in the semipro magazine Whispers, edited by Stuart David Schiff. As a special bonus, I was able to purchase it from Mr. Schiff himself, at the recent World Fantasy Convention where he was a Guest of Honor.

And your favorite book in your collection?

My favorite book is a two-volume set of Samuel Pepys' diary from Lafferty's personal library, processed in his own idiosyncratic way: he would tape contact paper along the spine and rewrite the title and author in large block letters. After his death, his library was dismantled and sold piecemeal; anybody with information about any of these books is encouraged to pass it on to the good folks at

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Best bargain you've found?

At present prices, likely my copy of Lafferty's novel Archipelago, which was written in the late Fifties then recast a number of times over the decades until finally getting published in 1979 by Rick Norwood's Manuscript Press, which was founded to get unpublished works by major authors into print. I picked up my copy for maybe $35 a decade back; it's difficult to find one much under $200 today.

How about The One that Got Away?

No single one more than any other, though many of the small-press Lafferty publications that I have as signed, numbered copies were also issued as lettered, leather-bound presentation copies; I've had the opportunity to acquire several of these, but never quite yet the resources. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The Holy Grail would be a manuscript for one of his many unpublished works--at last count 13 novels and 40 short stories. I've read the copies of all of these that are held in his University of Tulsa archive, but the actual typed drafts for most of them are still extent, though not likely to change hands any time soon.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I'm a sucker for any bookstore with yard after yard of groaning shelves, but a particular favorite is Reed Books and Museum of Fond Memories in downtown Birmingham, AL. It's packed to the rafters with books, of course, but also with a dizzying accretion of memorabilia, so that every surface offers a potential plunge into nostalgic reverie.

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

I already have tens of thousands of hours of live concert recordings, but that's a pretty inexpensive collection, requiring only the cost of hard drive space. So if it weren't for books, I'd probably throw my resources into collecting videogames, especially on cartridge.

2. Book of Jeremiah-72dpi.jpgBeginning tomorrow, December 9, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will exhibit the Winchester Bible, an illuminated medieval manuscript commissioned by the Bishop of Winchester around 1200. Consisting of four large volumes, the Winchester Bible was written over three decades by a single scribe with at least six different illuminators applying gold and other pigments to the parchment. It is Winchester Cathedral's greatest treasure. Due to renovations there, two of the Bible's four volumes have been allowed to travel to the U.S. for the first time. Joined by an elaborately illustrated double-sided frontispiece--long separated from the Bible and owned by the Morgan Library & Museum--as well as works of medieval sculpture, stained glass, and other examples of manuscript illumination from the Met's own collections, the Bible will remain on view for three months. The museum will also host related gallery talks and tours, as well as a December 14 studio workshop called "From Pigment to Page: Modern Manuscripts with Medieval Techniques." A new book, The Winchester Bible: The First 850 Years, written by Canon Chancellor Roland Reim and published by the Winchester Cathedral Trust, will be available for purchase.

Opening for the Book of Jeremiah (detail) 
Winchester Bible, fol. 148r
Tempera and gold on parchment
Winchester Cathedral Priory of St. Swithun, ca. 1150-80 Lent by the Chapter of Winchester Cathedral © The Chapter of Winchester Cathedral

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