9781594204920_large_The_Last_Bookaneer-673x1024.jpgA title like this is bound to be picked up by any fiction-friendly bibliophile. But what exactly is a bookaneer? Matthew Pearl, author of a slew of literary mysteries beginning with The Dante Club back in 2003, has dreamed up this figure, a literary pirate and “mischief maker” who uses the 1790 copyright loophole that left works of foreign authors unprotected, to make his living. Men like Pen Davenport and his long-time rival, who goes by the cryptonym Belial, steal manuscripts and proof sheets and deliver them into the hands of greedy publishers. (Women, too; one named Kitten is said to the best bookaneer there ever was until she unearthed Mary Shelley’s long lost short story and promptly went mad.) But now its 1891, and that loophole is about to close. Three bounty hunters embark on their final adventure--to Samoa, where an ailing Robert Louis Stevenson is finishing his final work. The tropical island, however, proves more than a challenge to this trio of literary bandits, all trying to out-sleuth one another. It’s an enjoyable read, and Pearl certainly deserves points for tackling antiquated copyright law in commercial fiction!   

The Last Bookaneer (Penguin Press, $27.95) is in stores now, and Pearl is currently on book tour, if you want to catch a reading/signing.

Since early 2011, uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East have brought down old regimes, and in the wake of bloodshed and chaos, looters and profiteers have descended onto ancient sites and plundered antiquities and rare books for profit, representing an irreparable loss of our global cultural heritage. The looters’ meticulous organization is astonishing - satellite images detail the scale of the destruction, and timestamped images indicate how quickly these treasures are disappearing. ISIS maintains a sophisticated network of in-house archaeologists and arts experts who identify and document artifacts, because looting is a tremendous business that shows no signs of abating. Where’s all this loot going? To American and European auction houses, or right into the hands of wealthy collectors throughout the world.

Tonight, the HBO newsmagazine VICE is airing an episode dedicated to the robust trade of black-market antiquities flourishing in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.  In “Egyptian Tomb Raiders,” reporter Gianna Toboni visits world heritage sites such as the tombs at Luxor and Abu Sir Al-Malaq. There, a group of professional looters takes her to a site currently under illicit excavation. The camera pans the surroundings - huge holes hastily dug into the dirt, littered with piles of unwrapped mummified skulls and bones, remains ransacked for jewelry buried thousands of years ago. Large tire tracks in the sand indicate the presence of trucks and bulldozers that paved the way for this wholesale desecration.

Egypt (7 of 20).jpg
Photo credit: Courtesy of HBO

Toboni even gets a local boss to detail the export process. Holding a small stone carving of a queen, she asks how much a dealer in Cairo would pay for that one piece. Without hesitating, he estimates it could fetch $33,000 to $37,000, of which he would net around nine thousand dollars, while his pit crew would earn about $4,000. He adds that he does not know the ultimate price an American would pay.  Multiply the value of that one statue by the thousands of antiquities and manuscripts that disappear daily, and the figures become astronomical. (Some estimates put ISIS’s daily income in the millions of dollars.)

In another scene Toboni visits the Cairo Ministry of Antiquities, where a team of three men search online auction sites for stolen goods. At one point, the director holds up a Christie’s Auction Catalog of a sale of Egyptian Antiquities and says, point blank, that some of the items in that sale were stolen, and that dealers falsified provenance to avoid being incriminated for trafficking in stolen cultural property.

Egypt (13 of 20).jpg
Photo credit: Courtesy of HBO

Toboni doesn’t go to Syria, but she does speak with a Syrian archaeologist, Shawnee State University professor Dr. Amr Al-Azm, who is spearheading an effort to document the destruction via a team of dedicated in-country volunteers. It’s an uphill battle against a transnational criminal organization, but at least he’s started the effort to stop it.  

“Egyptian Tomb Raiders” is a fascinating documentary and begs further inquiry into shady auction house practices and leads viewers to wonder why there isn’t legislation that could inhibit the sale of ill-gotten antiques, at least here in the United States. In fact, bill 5703 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2014 that would have authorized the President to impose import restrictions on antiquities from Syria.It was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice on November 24, and remained there, without action, until the end of the 113th Congress, whereupon the bill died. (Read HR 5703 here.)

At one point, Toboni asks a masked tomb raider how he feels about his job. “I feel like I am stealing from my country and selling it,” he says. “But I need to feed my kids.”

Watch VICE Fridays on HBO at 11 PM, 10 PM central, or stream it via HBO Now,
and catch a sneak-peek of tonight’s show here.

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has acquired Lisa Baskin’s women’s history collection. Baskin’s collection of approximately 8,600 rare books, as well as manuscripts, journals, ephemera, and artifacts, was one of the most significant women’s history collections in private hands.  The collection, which includes Virginia Woolf’s writing desk, will be absorbed into the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture within the Rubenstein Library.

“I am delighted that my collection will be available to students, scholars and the community at Duke University, a great teaching and research institution,” Baskin said in a Duke University press release. “Because of Duke’s powerful commitment to the central role of libraries, and digitization in teaching, it is clear to me that my collection will be an integral part of the university in the coming years and long into the future. I trust that this new and exciting life for my books and manuscripts will help to transform and enlarge the notion of what history is about, deeply reflecting my own interests.”

Baskin’s collection includes a large selection of letters and manuscripts from anarchist Emma Goldman, correspondence between important suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Lucretia Mott, decorated bindings from British binders Sara Prideaux, Katharine Adams, and Sybil Pye, and a manuscript of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s publicity blurb for Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

After the collection is cataloged, it will be available to researchers.  Selected items will also go on display in the Rubenstein Library after it completes a renovation scheduled to finish in August 2015.

[Image of Woolf’s writing desk from Duke University]
library25n-1-web.jpgLate last week the Wall Street Journal reported on a federal investigation of rare book theft. According to New York Public Library (NYPL) officials, eight books--seven bibles published between 1692 and 1861 and Benjamin Franklin’s printshop accounts book, known as “Work Book No. 2”--have been seized pursuant to a grand jury subpoena. The Franklin manuscript book, dating from 1759-1766 and offering a look inside the founding father’s printing partnership with David Hall, would alone be worth more than $1 million.

The NYPL was tipped off to the alleged theft when Doyle New York, an auction house based in Manhattan, alerted library officials in June of 2014 that several books with library markings had come in for appraisal and consignment. The would-be consignor, Margaret Tanchuk of Long Island, New York, said the books had been in her family for nearly three decades. The NYPL explained to Doyle that the contested books had never been deaccessioned and had been illegally removed sometime between 1988 and 1991.   

Tanchuk then offered to sell the items to the NYPL for what library officials called a “significant amount.” The NYPL declined, and Tanchuk initiated legal proceedings to have the books declared hers.

Tanchuk told the New York Daily News that she uncovered the books while putting her mother’s estate in order. Her father, a Long Island jewelry dealer, “developed a network for buying and selling valuable items -- often jewelry, but on occasion other rare and valuable assets as well.” Both parents are now deceased. Tanchuk’s lawyer maintained that his client is “bewildered and horrified that the U.S. Attorney would think for a moment that she would do anything illegal.”

Over at Philobiblos, Jeremy Dibbell turned up an old newspaper account about “Work Book No. 2” showing that the manuscript had been originally discovered in a New Jersey resident’s attic in 1924. The famous book dealer A. S. W. Rosenbach pounced on that rare find and likely sold it to the NYPL soon thereafter. A photocopy of “Work Book No. 2” in the Hall papers at the American Philosophical Society lists the original as belonging to the NYPL.  
While Tanchuk and her counsel acknowledge that NYPL may once have owned the books, they contend that since the library failed to pursue the possibly purloined material sooner, it lost its legal right to the books. Her complaint states: “...not once during those 24-27 years did the NYPL make any effort to claim (or re-claim) the contested items, made no announcement of its loss or misplacement, did not report the contested items missing to the police or any other law enforcement agency, did not make any claim to an insurer and did not generate a single internal document acknowledging the loss or misplacement of the contested items.”

Library officials, however, note that it is not unusual for stolen material to resurface after years or decades from research institutions with collections as vast as the NYPL’s. In a statement released to media, NYPL spokesman Ken Weine said, “This material was evidently stolen from the Library, and now someone is trying to profit from it. We will aggressively work to ensure that this material is returned to the public domain where it belongs.”
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Gregory Freeman of Surrey, British Columbia who collects the English Reformation.

Where are you from / where do you live? 

Surrey, British Columbia.

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

I entered the book trade at 19 and have been in the business over ten years as a bookstore employee, working for a number of booksellers in that time as cataloguer. Never attended post-secondary. As a self-taught antiquarian I visit rare books libraries (most of them belong to universities) to engage in my hobby -- searching through early printed books for marginalia as I’ve taught myself in English palaeography. I’ve made some fascinating discoveries over the years. But I haven’t bothered to take any courses; Latin would be my first choice.

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

English Reformation period in history, biography, theology, literature, history of the English language, reflecting my own heritage and religion. I also go back to the Anglo-Saxons (as did the Tudors and Victorians) for a better cultural and lingual understanding. Dictionaries--especially the Oxford English Dictionary of which I have the first edition--is another aspect to my collection, with subsidiary publications and a subsection of philologist-theologian Richard Chenevix Trench. Besides printed books (and books-about-books), I also collect handwritten documents of the 13th-19th centuries to indulge in my palaeographical interest. Provenance to a few of my books include the first Duke of Northumberland, Lord Rosebery, and Canadian prime ministers Sir Charles Tupper and Sir John A Macdonald. 

How many books are in your collection? 

About 450 antiquarian books, leaves, and pamphlets; 60 manuscripts on paper and parchment dating back to circa 1270; plus another couple hundred books post-1900.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

Reading early 20th-century literature at the age of 16-17 sparked the latent antiquarian in me; in senior high school I was already buying cheap Victorian books and sometimes brought them to class. These led to earlier and earlier books, until at the age of 22 in 2007, I acquired my first 16th-17th-century items, A Continuation of Morning-Exercise Questions and Cases of Conscience (1683), followed by Paraphrasis In Psalmos Davidivos (1590), The Gunpowder-Treason (1679), St. Germain’s classic legal text The Dialogue in English (1593), that’s when my serious collecting began. 

How about the most recent book? 

A first edition of bishop John Jewel’s famous Defence of the Apologie for the Churche of Englande (1567), with intriguing marginalia possibly belonging to Stephen Batman the contemporary Elizabethan theologian. 

And your favorite book in your collection? 

A small quarto Bishops Bible printed by Jugge in 1577, bound with The Whole Booke of Psalmes printed by Daye in 1576. It’s bound in early tooled leather over wooden boards, with late Mediaeval MS vellum binder’s waste in gothic lettering (probably cut from a disused breviary) inserted at the front hinge. The Mediaeval fragment is such a splendid commentary on the period : a banned religious service book scrapped for use as binding reinforcement in a Protestant English bible.

1577 Iugge Bishops Bible quarto (9).JPG
Best bargain you’ve found?

It’s difficult to say which is best, but among them have been a 1561 exemplification document on vellum with Elizabeth I’s great wax seal appended; a near fine copy of John Knox’s Historie of the Reformation of the Church of Scotland (1644); plus the 1577 Bishops Bible above. Also, Herbert Coleridge’s A Glossarial Index (1859), annotated in pen by Frederick J. Furnivall, that I bought online for $40--Coleridge and Furnivall were the two earliest editors of what became the OED.

1561 Elizabeth Great Seal document (7).JPG

How about the One that Got Away?

I try to forget them as best I can. Normally when something sells I consider it fate and move on. I can scarcely afford these things anyhow being a bookstore employee. I’m grateful for what I’ve got. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

A 14th-15th-century Wycliffe Bible; a Mediaeval copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History ; any book with a previously-unknown Mediaeval music manuscript used as endleaves in the binding. Perhaps a lost copy of Tyndale’s first edition New Testament.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore? 

J. King in Canada has been my favourite for a long time, with Purpora and MacLeod’s Books in Vancouver, plus a number of other Canadian booksellers more recently whom I’ve met at book fairs, such as Bison Books. 

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

I happen to collect music (on CD) composed in England between the 12th-18th centuries, so perhaps if I didn’t collect books and documents my mania would be focused on period musical instruments such as organs, viols, lutes, sackbutts, etc. Religious relics of the Middle Ages would also be fun.
eliot.jpgThis year marks the one hundredth anniversary of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the starting gun for Modernist poetry, according to some critics. Harvard University (Eliot’s alma mater) is celebrating with an exhibit of the poem’s various forms at the Houghton Library through June 27. Various manuscript and typescript reproductions are displayed alongside multiple printings, from its debut in the June 1915 issue of Poetry magazine to the first edition in book form, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917).

Should it be any surprise that this year, which also marks fifty years since the poet’s death, brings more Eliot-related news? In March the Boston Globe reported that the seven-bedroom house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Eliot summered as a child was purchased in late 2014 by the UK-based T.S. Eliot Foundation. The nonprofit plans to turn the $1.3-million seaside home into a writers’ retreat, slated to open in 2016.

9780374279448.jpgA new biography of the Nobel Prize winner is out too. Robert Crawford’s Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land, the first of a proposed two-volume account, offers a portrait of the poet as a young man. Reviewers have so far gushed over the book; Booklist, in particular, praised, “It’s hard to imagine a literary biography of greater merit being published this year.”  

Images: T.S. Eliot in the Harvard 1910 Class Album, Courtesy Harvard University Archives, HUD 310.04.5. Young Eliot book jacket via Macmillan.  

Macbeth, the Graphic Novel


This week marks 451 years since William Shakespeare’s birth. While festivities in 2015 may not equal those of the Bard’s quadricentennial, there’s always a steady outpouring of fresh material offering the latest theories about the man, his life, and his work. 

And, since 2007, Shakespeare’s words have been immortalized in comic book form. Macbeth was recently adapted into a graphic novel by acclaimed artist Gareth Hinds, whose previous works include adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and King Lear. In graphic-novel format, Macbeth is surprisingly easy to follow. Though Hinds plays with the iambic pentameter in order to accommodate speech bubbles by removing most of the line breaks, Shakespeare’s words ring true and clear, and the great soliloquies remain intact, such as the chilling “Is this a dagger which I see before me”.   

Macbeth. Copyright ©2015 by Gareth Hinds. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick PressSomerville, MA

Hinds’ dark and sinister pencil illustrations perfectly capture the claustrophobia and overall anxiety writ on every line of text. An image where Macbeth contemplates his next bloody move shows a shirtless and heavily muscled man in the throes of his malevolent imaginings. A nod, perhaps to Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine from the X-Men comics, which wouldn’t surprise me at all; teenagers are definitely Hinds’ target audience.  Even Banquo has a tattoo. Swimming pools full of blood, sword-fighting, murder, wonderfully witchy-looking sorceresses, personality disorders, and the temptation of evil are all rendered by a deft artist who clearly enjoys his subject. The author’s notes offer illuminating insight into Hinds’ research for this project and page-by-page explanations for some of the details in his illustrations. This psychological thriller is as entertaining in graphic-novel format as onstage, and demonstrates the Bard’s continued endurance. 

Macbeth, a graphic novel adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds, based on the play by William Shakespeare; Candlewick Press, $21.99, 152 pages, ages 12 and up. (February 2015) 

ilab pop up book fair 2015.jpg
If you happen to be wandering through the Australian bush today, keep an eye open for an antiquarian bookshop operating out of a wool shed.

Antiquarian booksellers across the world are participating in ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) pop up book fairs. From Sydney to Tokyo to Cape Town, then on to Moscow and the major capitals of Europe, and finally to New York, Chicago, and the Pacific Northwest, these pop up book fairs will celebrate UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day by showcasing rare books in ephemera in unexpected places around the globe.

The pop up book fairs will take place in museums, libraries, private clubs, train stations, museums, brew pups, skyscrapers, and on roof terraces, street corners, and boats. Booksellers will aim to engage passers-by with interesting and curated selections of rare books, prints, manuscripts, and ephemera. 

2015 marks the first time that ILAB has participated in UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day, which celebrates the gift--and human right--of reading. Each pop up book fair will feature a large poster of an empty bookcase.  

In addition to offering items for perusal and sale, the pop up book fairs will solicit donations for UNESCO’s South Sudan project. Symbolic book spines will be “sold” (throughout the day to fill up the bookcase: $3 sends one book a child in South Sudan; $15 purchases a set of 12 school books for a classroom, and $500 provides 45 school book collections for a Sudanese community.

Look for a pop up book fair near you today. You can find a full list of the pop up book fair locations on the ILAB website.
9780062356451.jpgMedieval poet John Gower reprises his unlikely yet likable role as narrator and detective in Bruce Holsinger’s new novel, The Invention of Fire (William Morrow, $26.99). A follow up to last year’s A Burnable Book, this tale begins when sixteen corpses are found clogging a London privy channel. Gross! Holsinger, a medieval scholar at the University of Virginia, revels in this kind of pungent, atmospheric detail. We quickly learn how these poor souls met their gruesome end: “Handgonnes. A word new to me in that moment, though one that would shape and fill the weeks to come. I looked out over the graves pocking the St. Bart’s churchyard, their inhabitants victims of pestilence, accident, hunger, and crime, yet despite their numberless fates it seemed that man was ever inventing new ways to die.”

Gower’s sleuthing sidekick, Geoffrey Chaucer, reappears too, as do the city’s many maudlyns (prostitutes) and crooked officials. As in A Burnable Book, Holsinger succeeds where many historical novelists fail, in the creation of unique characters--e.g., Cripplegate hermit Piers Goodman, boy cutpurse Jack Norris, and steely widow Hawisia Stone--and sharp, approachable dialogue. Holsinger risks flaming (no pun intended) in taking up the history of guns and its attendant violence, even within the framework of a mystery set more than six hundred years ago, and yet his agenda, if he has one, is obscured.

The Invention of Fire is substantial and smart. Those who enjoy historical fiction will delight in its layered, well-researched narrative. 

P.S. Should any reader be interested in the “real” Gower, I spied a 1532 edition of his De Confessione Amantis in Justin Croft’s booth at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair earlier this month.
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Leif Norman of Winnipeg, who collects chemistry and photographic books, as well as books about the history of Winnipeg:

leif norman byc.jpg

Where are you from / where do you live?

I grew up in St James and moved to downtown Winnipeg as soon as I was 19.

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

I initially wanted to be a High School Music Teacher, then a Chemistry Teacher, and so I got a 4 year Chemistry degree from the U of W. When I discovered that teaching was akin to babysitting I chose not to get the Education Degree, and because my serious hobby of photography was getting good results I became a photographer. I make all my money with my camera; but I don’t do weddings.

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

I collect 19th century Chemistry texts, anything to do with the History of Winnipeg, including old postcards and matchbooks. I also have a large collection of Photographic books from before the 1950’s because they include the chemical recipes for mixing developers and making your own films.

How many books are in your collection?

There are about 100 books I keep behind glass in a 1930’s cabinet.

leif norman collection byc.jpg

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought which made me think I was actually being an active collector was John William Draper’s 1851 Textbook on Chemistry for Schools and Colleges. Each chapter is a lecture covering very basic Scientific ideas. Anyone can understand it.

How about the most recent book?

The most recent book I bought was “The Growing World, or The Progress of Civilization” from 1885. It is a hodge podge of long and short writings about Astronomy, Exploring in Africa, French Shepherds wearing stilts and much much more. It’s like a Victorian bathroom reader and includes gorgeous illustrations.

And your favorite book in your collection?

My favourite book is the 1st Edition Focal Encyclopedia of Photography from 1956.
It is comically huge with nearly 1300 pages; making it 4 inches thick. I bought it in Toronto and was reading on the VIA rail train back to Winnipeg and everyone was staring incredulously at me with this enormous book.

Best bargain you’ve found?

The best bargain might be a tract by Guy Debord called “Society of the Spectacle” from 1970 Detroit. I have a very small collection of Situationist books and I found this one jammed in a discount box for $5. There is one listed on Biblio for $300 CDN right now.

How about The One that Got Away?

The book that got away would be the one hiding in a corner I never looked in. My girlfriend and I drive to Toronto or Victoria every year and stop in as many vintage, thrift, junk stores along the way searching for treasures, but it’s tiring and I get sloppy. One can only imagine the yard sale that had wonderful things that we never stopped at. Sigh...

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The Holy Grail for me would be an original Pencil of Nature by Fox Talbot, or something by the French Chemist Lavoisier.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

My favourite book store in Winnipeg is Bison Books. They have great stuff, and appreciate ephemera and the old stuff like I do. In Toronto I always go to The Monkey’s Paw and Balfour Books, and in Victoria BC, Russell Books is an endless bunch of fun.

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

If I didn’t collect books, I would collect mid-century teak furniture, vintage film cameras and Victorian carte de visites, ugly coffee mugs and bizarre vinyls records. Wait, I already do that. I might collect vintage mopeds and scooters if I had all the money and space I wanted.

Nominations for entries in our Bright Young Collectors series can be sent to nathan@finebooksmagazine.com

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