Dedicated to rare books and manuscripts, Yale University’s Beinecke Library also houses a massive collection of videocassettes and is currently in the process of digitizing the tapes to preserve them and make them accessible online. Library preservationists are currently working with decades-old recordings of “Sesame Street” from the archives of screenwriter and song writer Tony Geiss (1924-2011).

AnAmericanTailPoster.jpgGeiss spent a lifetime creating programming for children. He co-wrote the animated feature films “An American Tail” and “The Land Before Time” and spent almost 40 years writing for public television’s “Sesame Street,” where he created characters like the Muppet Monsters, Abby Cadabby, and the Honkers. Geiss’ work earned him 22 Emmys, and the adoration of children worldwide. 

Digitizing videocassettes has become a priority for the University, which has nearly 2,000 cassettes in various formats, including VHS, U-matic, Betacam, and 8mm. Cassettes degrade over time, according to Frank Clifford, the library’s video digitization project manager, “It’s a matter of time before a lot of these tapes are not going to be playable at all,” he said in a press release. Another challenge is maintaining the equipment necessary to play these tapes, which also break down. One digitized, the material will be easier to maintain, even if the videos are no longer accessible in their original form.

Since starting the digitization process in January, Clifford has digitized over 600 tapes. Of the archives containing videocassettes, Geiss’ is one of the largest, followed closely by poet Ira Cohen’s papers and the archive of Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky. 

Image: “An AmericanTail” Poster via Wikipedia.
Over 2,000 Hebrew manuscripts held at The British Library will be digitized and made freely available online thanks to a new partnership with the National Library of Israel. The manuscripts date from the Middle Ages through the 19th century and include some of the most important previously unpublished Hebrew documents in existence.

Notable among the manuscripts slated for digitization are the First Gaster Bible, c. 10th century (pictured above), the Second Gaster bible, c. 11th - 12th century, a daily prayer book decorated in Italy in the 15th century, a festival prayer book from 15th century Provence, as well as a variety of Judeo-Persian handwritten books. Many of the manuscripts are richly illustrated.

The digitized copies will be accessible on a website run by The National Library of Israel.  The institution hopes to build online a significant digital library of Hebrew manuscripts, drawing on digitized manuscripts from repositories around the world.

The British Library’s Chief Executive, Roly Keating, said “Hebrew manuscripts are one of the great strengths of the British Library’s vast collections, so we are delighted to be working with our counterparts at the National Library of Israel to make these remarkable manuscripts available online.”

[Image from The British Library]

85_1 (Medium).JPGWho keeps a good autograph book these days? For decades, these handy blank books cherished by celebrity seekers and schoolchildren were employed in the collecting of notable signatures. The ornate--almost outlandish--one seen here, bound in quarter leather and highly decorative boards, served Paul N. Peck, a White House staff administrator during the presidency of Herbert Hoover, 1929-1933. Peck assembled an impressive roster of political autographs, including those of President Hoover, Vice-President Charles Curtis, Secretary of State Henry L. Stinson, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon, and Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, among others. The keepsake is going to auction next week at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago and is estimated to make $3,000-5,000.   

Liber Scriptorum-Heritage copy.jpgThe Authors Club, an association for literary-minded gentlemen, was formed in New York City in 1882. In an effort to raise funds for a permanent clubhouse, its members published Liber Scriptorum, a collection of original work, in 1893. Contributors included Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, William Dean Howells, Andrew Carnegie, and printer Theodore Low De Vinne, who ensured the production of a beautiful book, featuring hand-made paper, wood-block engravings, and fine typography bound in blind- and gilt-tooled brown morocco. Incredibly, each of the 109 writers who submitted a story signed his respective work in each volume, e.g. Twain placed his signature just below his “A Californian’s Tale,” and Roosevelt under his “A Shot at Bull Elk.” The edition ran to 251 copies, each selling for $100. In the meantime, Carnegie had donated a suite a rooms at 57th St. & Seventh Ave. to the club, so the Liber profits were used to decorate the rooms instead.  

Liber Scriptorum; The First Book of the Authors Club. New York-3-1 copy.jpgA copy of Liber Scriptorum (#58 in the edition) goes to auction next week at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. As a relic of this bygone circle of New York’s turn-of-the-century literati, as a fine production by De Vinne, or as the first appearance--and signed--of a Twain short story, it is a ‘textbook’ example of a collectible book. The estimate is $4,000, but bidding starts at $2,000. Proxy bidding ends on August 4, and the live auction happens the following day.

Images: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Rizzoli-Exterior-2-524x402.jpgBibliophiles rejoice! Rizzoli, a New York City landmark among book lovers, has opened today a new 5,000-square-foot store at 1133 Broadway, near Madison Square Park. Rizzoli was formerly located on 57th Street, before its much lamented closure in April 2014. The new shop, occupying the ground floor of the historic St. James Building, has preserved some of the classic hallmarks of its previous home, including its cherry wood bookcases and brass and iron chandeliers. New features include an enormous glass showcase facade, a peaked skylight, and stunning Fornasetti Milano-designed wallpaper of clouds and hot air balloons that pays homage to the printed word.  

“For more than 50 years, the Rizzoli bookstore has attracted discerning patrons from around the globe and provided beautifully produced volumes on art, design, interiors, fashion, as well as literature, and important non-fiction books. We believe we have found the perfect location for our new flagship bookstore and we look forward to joining this vibrant community of innovative thinkers,” said Laura Donnini, CEO of RCS Libri, the book publishing arm of the Milan based RCS MediaGroup. “We expect this customer--both New York-based, and visiting from all points national and international--to embrace the 21st century version of their favorite bookstore.”

Image via Rizzoli.
Sometimes great discoveries are right under our noses. Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss to millions of children) died in 1991, and soon after, Audrey, his widow, found a box of unpublished manuscripts and illustrations in his office during a home renovation. The box was put aside, and remained undisturbed and unopened for another 23 years. In 2013, Audrey took a second pass at cleaning her late husband’s office, this time with Geisel’s longtime secretary, Claudia Prescott, whereupon the box was opened again. This time, the contents were examined more carefully, and inside was the complete manuscript and illustrations for What Pet Shall I Get? The material was quickly sent to Random House, which will publish the book on July 28.

Seuss’ former art director, Cathy Goldsmith, estimates the book was written between 1958 and 1962, since the brother-sister duo in this story are the same pair who appear in the 1960 Seuss classic One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. (The New York Times just ran a wonderful profile on Goldsmith, exploring her eleven-year working relationship with Seuss as well as how she prepared this manuscript for publication.) “My connection to Ted remains as vital as it was when we worked closely together years ago--I know he is looking down, watching over the process, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to do everything just as he would have done himself,” Goldsmith said in a prepared statement. The materials will now be stored at the Geisel Library at UC San Diego.

Next week I’ll share my thoughts on What Pet Shall I Get? over at Literary Features Syndicate.

Image: Reproduced with permission from Random House.

On Saturday, the first part of the library of collector Robert Easton heads to auction at Addison & Sarova in Macon, Georgia. Online bidding is open.

Robert Easton was affectionately dubbed the “Henry Higgins of Hollywood,” working as a language and dialect coach on many films over five decades. Easton began work in Hollywood as an actor, however his true passion was language and his favorite hobby was collecting books.

“While ‘on location,’ from London to Shanghai and across 60 odd years of traveling, I have lovingly collected poetry, prose, humor, history, culture, slang and local literature.....often on my hands and knees in seedy secondhand bookstores, sweltering swap meets and fortuitous flea markets.  What a great time I had!,” said Easton, reflecting on his wonderfully diverse collection of books, many of them related to language and dialect.

One of the auction highlights is a large selection of proverbs offered individually and in small lots. Many were sourced from the William Stirling-Maxwell collection of proverbs from Keir House, Scotland.

Addison & Sarova will follow this week’s auction with another Easton auction in the fall, which will feature some of the rare and important items in his collection.

[Images from Addison & Sarova]

Lincoln_fin2_ws.jpegTennessee sculptor Lundy Cupp has carved faces into many objects: tree trunks, walking sticks, and yes, even pumpkins. He has also set his chisel to books--“primarily old encyclopedias,” he wrote in a recent email--to create fine visages in paper. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was sculpted from the 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica, while Albert Einstein was excavated from the 1969 American Peoples Encyclopedia. “I have a very long list of iconic people that I would like to do,” Cupp added, naming Shakespeare and Twain in particular. His faces, some whimsical, others solemn, are reminiscent of the altered book art of Guy Laramee and Brian Dettmer. Take a gander through his gallery.

Image: Courtesy of Lundy Cupp.

2014HemingwayDays01-t.jpgJuly 21 is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, and in celebration of that, today kicks off “Hemingway Days” in Key West, Florida, until July 26. The 35th annual festival features a Hemingway look-alike contest, an exhibit of memorabilia related to the author, a faux running of the bulls, and both a fishing tournament and a writing competition. A full schedule of this year’s events is here.

Hemingway spent about a decade in the tropical Florida locale, from 1928 until 1939, and it inspired the setting for his 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not. His former residence at 907 Whitehead St. is now the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, a National Historic Landmark, open to the public year-round.

Image: Wally Collins, middle, is congratulated after beating 130 other men to be crowned the 2014 “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest winner late Saturday, July 19, 2014, at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)
9780374139667 copy.jpgOur summer issue offers a list of “8 Beach Reads for Bibliophiles,” one of which is a debut novel by Stephen Jarvis called Death and Mr. Pickwick (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30) that attempts to recover the true story behind the creation of Dickens’ The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. It is a rich, multi-layered novel that re-introduces us to illustrator and caricaturist Robert Seymour, who Jarvis believes initially dreamed up Samuel Pickwick and his fellows. Book and print collectors will be especially interested in how scrupulously the author illuminates the world of nineteenth-century British printmaking and publishing. In the Q &A that follows, Jarvis graciously answers our questions about the novel and its characters.

Q: How did you happen upon the idea for this novel? Do you study/collect nineteenth-century illustration or caricature?

A: In the UK, there is a BBC radio show called Desert Island Discs, in which celebrities have to choose eight records and a book to take to a hypothetical desert island. I happened to be listening when a British comedian called Griff Rhys Jones chose The Pickwick Papers as his book, which he described as “so full of life.” There was something about that phrase which resonated with me, and so I decided to get The Pickwick Papers out of the library, as I had never read it before - indeed, I had read very little Dickens before. I did Oliver Twist in school, but that was about it. Anyway, in the modern preface to the novel, there was one line referring to the suicide of the book’s illustrator, Robert Seymour, and I was instantly fascinated. Part of the fascination was that nothing more was said about the suicide - I wanted to know why he had shot himself. I had never even heard of Robert Seymour before, but I just KNEW that there was something here which had to be investigated and written about. Prior to that, I had had no interest in nineteenth-century illustration and caricature, but I am interested now. It was a golden age of British cartooning. The greatest cartoonist of the age was probably James Gillray, but Seymour was a very substantial cartoonist too. He was the most prolific cartoonist of his time, and it is estimated that he drew one-third of all the cartoons published in London, a phenomenal rate of output.

Q: Your research into the artists, printmakers, and booksellers of Dickensian London must have been massive. Tell us about your process. What books and sources did you find most useful?

A: The research was a mountain. Mostly I did it in the British Library, but I also went to Houghton Library in Harvard, as well as libraries in New York and Philadelphia, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It used to be said that more had been written about The Pickwick Papers than any other work of fiction, and I can believe it: there are literally thousands of books, academic papers and articles about Pickwick, and I made it my goal to read everything ever written about the novel, in order to truly understand the Pickwick phenomenon, and the historical circumstances which created it. I will choose three books as particularly significant. Firstly, City of Laughter by Vic Gatrell. This explores the so-called ‘debauchery prints’  which were around just before Pickwick. The Pickwick Papers emerged from traditions of graphic caricature, but public morality was changing, and the old prints were no longer acceptable, and Gatrell brilliantly documents the period of ‘anything goes’ humour before Pickwick. Second, The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi by Andrew McConnell Stott. Seymour shot himself shortly after drawing a picture of a dying clown for The Pickwick Papers, and the clown was based upon the tragic life of a real person, J S Grimaldi, the son of the great clown Joseph Grimaldi. Stott’s book truly helped me to understand both father and son. Thirdly, The Pickwick Papers: An Annotated Bibliography by Elliot D. Engel. Although this book is now in need of updating, it remains the key guide to the literature on The Pickwick Papers. I would also add that I went through many volumes of newspaper cuttings at the Dickens Museum in London, and these were a wonderful source of material too.

Q: You contend that it was Seymour, not Dickens, who was the creative force behind The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Is this something that Dickens fans and scholars continue to debate?

A: Well, my novel shows that Dickens lied about the origins of The Pickwick Papers. The traditional origin of Pickwick simply cannot be true, and that is that. Some other origin of Pickwick happened, and the question is: what was the real origin of Pickwick? The indications are that Dickens was ‘writing up’ to Seymour, that is following the artist’s lead, which is the exact opposite of what Dickens claimed, and that Seymour’s influence continued after the artist’s death. Just how far Seymour’s influence extended will have to remain an open question, unless new evidence turns up. It is known that a huge amount of evidence about Seymour vanished in 1928 - specifically a 350-page unpublished manuscript, “The Life of Robert Seymour,” written by a man called R D Morewood, who was  a meticulous researcher and a close associate of Seymour’s son. This was the “Holy Grail” of my research, and I spent ages trying to find it - the hunt probably added a year to the time it took to write my book. I didn’t find the manuscript though, and I strongly suspect that it was deliberately suppressed by Dickensians, who did not want the truth about Seymour to come out.  If there is to be further investigation of Seymour’s role in Pickwick, this manuscript need to be found, if it still survives.

Q: Tell us a bit about the character who collects Pickwick

A: The collector is based upon a real person called J. F. Dexter, who devoted fifty years of his life to  collecting what he called “A Perfect Pickwick in Parts” - that is, a set of the serially-issued first-edition parts of Pickwick, which was perfect in every respect. Dexter even wanted every advertising flier that was ever inserted in Pickwick, things which were normally thrown away by readers. He spent his life hunting in attics, salerooms, private libraries and secondhand bookshops, in the hope of attaining perfection, and he came pretty close! His copy of Pickwick is the most valuable in the world. It’s in the British Library, and yes I have examined it!

An excerpt of the novel is available. More information about the book and the author can be found at Death and Mr. Pickwick.

Image via Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

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