This week already saw the discovery of a famous lost Kerouac letter.  Now we can add a previously unknown First Folio to the tally.

Shakespeare's First Folio - containing 36 of his 38 known plays and printed in 1623 - is one of the most valuable books in English literature.  It's also one of the most closely inventoried. Of the 800 copies thought to have been originally printed in the 17th century, 233 are believed to still exist today.  And now we can add the 234th to the list.

This particular First Folio has lain dormant in the library of Saint-Omer, an obscure French town near Calais, for over two hundred years. 

Medieval literature expert and librarian Rémy Cordonnier stumbled across the book while searching for items to use in a planned exhibition of Anglo-Saxon authors.

"It had been wrongly identified in our catalogue as a book of Shakespeare plays most likely dating from the 18th century," Cordonnier said in an interview with The Guardian. "I didn't instantly recognise it as a book of value. It had been heavily used and was damaged. It had seen better days... [But] it occurred to me that it could be an unidentified First Folio, with historic importance and great intellectual value."

Cordonnier then reached out to American professor Eric Rasmussen for verification.  Rasmussen, affiliated with the University of Nevada, was in Britain at the time to study at the British Library. Rasumussen quickly hopped on a train to France.  After arriving at Saint-Omer, Rasumussen authenticated in the First Folio in a matter of minutes.  

"This is huge," Rasmussen said in an interview with The New York Times. "First folios don't turn up very often, and when they do, it's usually a really chewed up, uninteresting copy. But this one is magnificent."

Needless to say, the book will become the centerpiece of the Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the library next summer. 

In the meantime, don't sit around waiting for the next First Folio to be unearthed.  Their average rate of discovery?  Once every ten years.

[Image of First Folio Table of Contents from Wikipedia]
Guest Post by Catherine Batac Walder

Author Richard Adams, 94, delighted fans in a rare appearance at the book-signing of the new editions of his modern classics, Watership Down and Shardik, in Winchester, Hampshire (UK) on Saturday, November 15. These latest hardback editions are published by Oneworld.

Walder_Richard Adams 1.jpgThe signing lasted only an hour or so, and there was little chance for posed photography or a chat with the author. I realized later that one of his daughters, standing behind him, was helping him to understand what the fans were saying,  so I thought he mustn't have really heard me when I told him that I hope they would also republish The Girl in a Swing, which is my favorite among his books. He did return me a grin.

In a recent interview with The Telegraph, the author remarked, "I don't really live in the literary world. I mean, I ought to know them all but I don't. They don't know me very much. Real authors are continually meeting each other, aren't they?" Some of us, who have as high a regard for the freedom-fighting rabbits of Watership Down as we do for Peter or the Velveteen Rabbit, would disagree.

It is not an unfamiliar story of an author whose writing career began as spoken words to his children. In Adams' case, these were stories he had told to his young daughters during long drives to attend plays in Stratford-upon-Avon, hoping to expose them to Shakespeare's works. Encouraged to write the tales down, Adams, then in his early 50s, suffered several rejections before finally getting an offer from a small publisher. Watership Down went on to delight readers all over the world, selling over 50 million copies since its first publication in 1972. Shardik was published two years later.

The son of a doctor, Adams grew up in Berkshire and has been living with his wife Elizabeth in Whitchurch, Hampshire, for more than 30 years. Not surprisingly, the real Watership Down in Ecchinswell is only a few miles from their home.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a writer living in the UK.

Editor's Note: Blackwell's Oxford announced that it will host Adams for a book signing on Dec. 20 at 3:00.

Image Credit: Catherine Batac Walder.


In 1950, Jack Kerouac famously scrapped his first draft of On the Road after reading a 16,000-word stream-of-consciousness letter from Neal Cassady. That letter - called the "Joan Anderson Letter" and long presumed lost - has resurfaced and will be up for auction in December.

Deeply influenced by Cassady's spontaneous prose in the letter, Kerouac tried to emulate his style when he re-visited On the Road. The author would later claim that if the letter hadn't been lost, Cassady would have secured a place as a major literary voice.

"It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better'n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves," Kerouac said to an interviewer with The Paris Review in 1968.

How the letter was lost - and found again - brings in another famous Beat: Allen Ginsburg. Kerouac lent the letter to the poet, who in turn lent it to a friend who lived on a houseboat in northern California. Ginsburg's friend reported the letter as lost, assuming it blew off the boat and into the water.

"It was my property, a letter to me, so Allen shouldn't have been so careless with it, nor the guy on the houseboat," Kerouac continued in the same Paris Review interview.

The letter, however, was not lost on the houseboat. Ginsburg's friend eventually found the letter again and gave it back to the poet. Ginsburg then sent the letter to the Golden Goose Press in San Francisco for their consideration for publication. There, it lingered - unopened - for years until the press closed down. The Golden Goose intended to trash its unopened submissions but a thoughtful owner of a small record label that shared their office asked to take them home instead. Once again, the submissions lingered in limbo for years until the daughter of the record label owner found the letter after he died. She, in turn, is submitting the letter for auction.

The Joan Anderson Letter - so-named for a girlfriend of Neil Cassady's mentioned in the letter - will be offered by Profiles in History on December 17.

By now many of you have read a bit about the ingenious "First Editions, Second Thoughts" auction scheduled for the evening of December 2 in New York (the New York Times ran an awesome spread of images). Seventy-five modern first editions were mailed out to their respective authors or artists with the request that they annotate, illustrate, extra-illustrate, or mark up the text in some way. Turkish author Orhan Pamuk filled his Snow with original watercolors, while George Saunders provides what resembles a crazed copyedit in various inks and highlighter colors in his CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. Hosted this time by Christie's, the auction benefits the PEN American Center.

What might be news to you, however, is the participation of ABAA bookseller, Between the Covers, in this venture. The New Jersey-based antiquarian bookseller helped to choose the titles, tracked down many of the first editions, and sent them to the authors for annotation. According to Matt Histand at Between the Covers, a few of the authors were able to provide their own books, but "we provided the majority of the literary first editions." Some were already in BTC's vast stock, but Histand had to hunt for others, always looking for "the best copies I could find."   

The most difficult, he said, was Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969). Children's picture books are often hard to locate in their true first edition, first state, with dust jacket--and in collectible condition too. In this case, he reached out to speciality children's booksellers, Jo Ann Reisler of Jo Ann Reisler, Ltd. and Helen Younger of Aleph-Bet Books, neither of whom had recalled seeing a first edition of this title in twenty years. Histand said to himself, "This is not going to happen," and considered settling for an early edition or a different Carle title. Then, by "pure, absolute luck," a book collector contacted him and said that he had, astonishingly, found one at a library sale.

articleimage_firteditions7.jpgHistand also communicated with many of the authors who invested so much time and energy in the annotating process. "Anything that you add will be of value," he told novelist Michael Cunningham, who then created a mix-tape to accompany the first edition of his Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner-winning The Hours.

Last year's auction of the same name in May of 2013, hosted by Sotheby's to benefit English PEN, raised about $690,000, headlined by a first edition of Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone, annotated and illustrated by J.K. Rowling, which sold for $228,600.
Image via Christie's.

"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 it's 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.  

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.

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.

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.


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. 

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. 


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." 

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