May 2010 Archives

Sherlock Holmes as a Young Chap

400px-Sherlock_Holmes_statue_at_Meiringen1.jpgLast spring, for Fine Books & Collections Magazine, I wrote about a coming series of young adult novels in which Sherlock Holmes was going to be a teenager. Written by Andrew Lane, the books were authorized by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Those books are now coming to fruition. Lane, for the Scotsman, highlights his process, a bit of Sherlock Holmes history, and what one can expect with his first novel in the series, Death Cloud

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This past Thursday, as it has done every year since 1948 (when it was designated the "official ceremonial unit" of the United States Army), the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) placed flags on over a quarter-million tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery.  It was one of the increasingly few observances of Memorial Day which remains true to the holiday's original intent.

Once known as Decoration Day, the holiday's origins remain a source of some controversy. What we do know is that celebrations of the holiday have changed considerably over the past 140+ years.

Although not a lot of books have been published about this holiday, a fair number of pamphlets survive from the days when the original intent of the holiday was more widely and officially celebrated (the pamphlet depicted above is from ReRead Books in Little Rock, Arkansas).  Robert Schauffler's Memorial day: (Decoration day) its celebration, spirit, and significance as related in prose and verse, with a non-sectional anthology of the Civil War (1911) remains probably the most comprehensive look at this holiday from the era when it was widely celebrated as originally envisioned. (Original copies of this book are quite scarce, but it remains available in the marketplace as a print-on-demand title.)

The most comprehensive modern examination of the holiday appears to be History of Memorial Day: Unity, Discord, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Richard Harmon & Thomas Curran, 2002).  Part of the series American University Studies, the title surveys how celebrations of the holiday evolved from 1869 to 1993.

In the modern era, more children's books about this holiday appear to have been published than books aimed at adults.  Examples include Christin Ditchfield's Memorial Day, as well as Robin Nelson's, Mir Ansary's and Trudi Trueit's books of the same title.  (The question of whether the holiday should be called Memorial Day or Decoration Day is at the heart of David Brown's self-published fiction title The Decoration/Memorial Day War....)

From yesterday's Guardian newspaper, an audio slideshow about publishing from Allen Lane to Paul Hamlyn by Iain Stevenson, author of the new book, Book Makers: British Publishing in the 20th Century (British Library). It's about two minutes in length, a fun view.

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The Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB) located in New Orleans lost roughly 900 cookbooks from its collection during Hurricane Katrina. It's now looking to replenish and improve its collection of cookbooks and menus by asking people to dust off their bookshelves and send their cookbooks to NOLA. Hardcover, softcover, spiral-bound cookbooks of any taste or region are needed and will become a fully accessible collection as part of the New Orleans Public Library. SoFAB also hopes to create an archive of Southern menus; this collection is housed at the University of New Orleans, where students catalog them. Chris Smith, director of collections at SoFAB said, "We treat cookbooks and menus as artifacts."

So if you have cookbooks or Southern menus that are under-used in your house, consider donating them to this good cause. Send them directly to Chris Smith at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, One Poydras Street, #169, New Orleans, LA 70130-1657.
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Miles Standish glares at you from a shelf. Nearby, so does Little Orphan Annie. She's on the cover of a book so small you can fit the entire tome in the palm of your hand. It's a (red) hair under $100. Elsewhere, the Shadow is fighting crime on the cover of an old magazine, which is selling for several hundred dollars.

Close by sits a first edition of Stephen King's Carrie. The next aisle over has M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf in its original dust jacket and close to the rafts of old postcards and reams of black and white photographs of people long dead.

Collecting, however, will never die, as evidenced by those shopping, marveling and dickering this past weekend at the Seattle Book and Paper Show that took place at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall.

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In its second year, the fair showcased thousands of used and collectible books, maps, posters, photographs, postcards and ephemera. If you love the printed word, you'd love the show. If you had $10 to spend, or $10,000, you'd find something you'd want to take home. Want books? Whether it's a collectible Oz title or a book about the westward expansion of railroads; a book of poems by Robert Service or a history of the Pacific Theater in WWII, the show showed it. Want prints? Botanicals, animals, scenes of all kinds, they were there. Posters? Photographs? There were piles of them, whether they were promoting Austrian travel or promoting John Steinbeck's journalism in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Postcards? They had tons of them. One could have been a shot of West Seattle's long since forgotten Luna Park amusement park at night. Another might have been of downtown Hong Kong fifty years ago. One might of been of Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Another might of been of a monkey. Ephemera? Vintage road maps, old menus, and sci-fi magazines could be found, along with vintage comic books, like 1944's Miss America No. 1 (worth oodles more now than the dime cover price).

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Dealers, though primarily Seattle-focused, came from as far as Portland, Oregon, and Cheyenne, Wyoming; Mesa, Arizona and Venice, Florida. As wide as their geographic location may be, their interests were even wider. Salem's Rob and Jane Edwards specialty was horror magazines. Leavenworth's Far Fetched Books displayed pop-up books. Seattle's Carolyn Staley Fine Japanese Prints offered beautiful images from a land and time gone by, and Bea and Peter Siegal Books, based in Corvallis, offered culinary Americana.

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Books and papers - there were plenty of it to be had at the show, whether it was a first edition of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls or an old Flash comic book.

First published on City Arts online.

A 1794 silver dollar sells for a record-breaking $7.85 million, and the "world's most valuable stamp" also changes hands for an undisclosed amount. Read the report in yesterday's New York Times
Mwbwpl132.pngToday's previous blog post by L.D. Mitchell sparked the remembrance that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Margaret Wise Brown. There can't be many readers out there who don't know her children's books -- Goodnight Moon being the most famous, but Big Red Barn and Runaway Bunny have always been favorites in my house. Though Brown was a hugely successful children's writer, her private life was tumultuous. A biography by children's book historian Leonard S. Marcus was published more than ten years ago, and he is still touring and telling her amazing story.
Five little puppies dug a hole under the fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world....

It has been almost seven decades since those words first appeared in print, the first sentence in a modest little book that became, and remains, one of the best-selling, most widely collected children's books of all time.

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For all the book's success (it has never been out-of-print), most folks would be hard-pressed to recall the author.  This is much to be regretted. (In fact, given the millions of copies sold, Random House should be ashamed of the pathetic little bio they publish on their website.)

When Janette Sebring Lowrey passed away in 1984 at age 92, she died in obscurity, even 
though she had written, in addition to The Poky Little Puppy, dozens of other books for children and young adults during a four-decade career (1930s-1970s).  As Margaret Toal observes in a recent retrospective, among those many other books Lowrey is perhaps best known for Margaret, a title for adolescent girls that was published in 1950 (it remained in print for over a quarter-century).  The book attracted the interest of Walt Disney, who made it into a 19-part TV series.  (Renamed Walt Disney Presents: Annette, to showcase up-and-coming star Annette Funicello, the series was aired in 1958 as part of the third and final year of the original Mickey Mouse Club.)

Because most of Lowrey's other titles have long been out-of-print, it would be a nice little collecting challenge to try and track down Fine copies of The Silver Dollar, A Day in the Jungle, Annunciata and the Shepards, among Lowrey's many other, now largely forgotten titles.

Of course, if you want strawberry shortcake, you first have to track down the First Edition, First Printing of that eighth title in the original Little Golden Books series, published on 1 October 1942....
CircusPoster.jpgReally cool news from the Northeast Document Conservation Center -- conservators at the Andover facility have finished working on a set of late nineteenth-century circus posters that were found pasted to the boards under the siding of an old house. The posters were affixed to a Colchester, Vermont house in 1883, when the circus came to town.

The house's owner donated the posters to the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. Conservators there found the safest way to remove the posters was to take them, boards and all. In early 2010, the NEDCC treated the posters and found yet another clown in the car, so to speak. Several more advertising posters from other circuses were pasted underneath the top layer.

The posters are now on display as part of the Shelburne Museum's new exhibit, Circus Day in America, through October 24. Through art, artifacts, photographs, and film, Circus Day in America looks at the art and experience of the circus during its heyday from 1870-1950. (The image pictured above was published by the Strobridge Litho. Co. in 1882. Courtesy of Shelburne Museum.) An operating vintage carousel operates daily at the museum too; in other words, families welcome! Plus there's also an Ansel Adams photography exhibit going on at the same time.

To read more about the step-by-step conservation of the posters, visit the NEDCC website, or watch the Flickr slideshow.

The Writers Room at 740 Broadway in New York advertises itself as "the nation's largest and oldest urban writers' colony," a vibrant little oasis of creative energy "located in a bright and airy loft at the crossroads of Greenwich Village and the East Village."  Sounds utterly charming, no? A welcoming haven where kindred spirits driven to commit words to paper--excuse me, words to screen--come to realize their full potential as writers.

That is unless, of course, you happen to do your writing on a typewriter, in which case you will be told to pack your gear and leave--and don't let the door whack you on the backside on the way out, either, heaven forbid it might disturb one of the fragile geniuses toiling away in tortured silence in a little carrel nearby. That's what has happened, at least, to a children's book author by the name of Skye Ferrante, who was told to gather up his 1929 Royal and vacate the premises, his incessant tapping of the keys was bothering the other writers.

Back in the old days--and by the old days, like just a few months ago--there was a sign in the Writers Room advising all members that "in the event there are no desks available, laptop users must make room for typists." When Ferrante showed up recently to work--and the dues are $1,400 a year, by the way, so he wasn't there hat in hand--the sign was gone, and he was told he had to either use a laptop, or get out, and that the remainder of his membership fee would be refunded.

"I was told I was the unintended beneficiary of a policy to placate the elderly members who have all since died off," Ferrante, 37, told the New York Daily News. He refused; like a lot of us, he likes working with paper, and he likes the feel of old typewriters. "Some people like to listen to vinyl," he said. "Some people prefer to drive a stick shift."

Writers Room Executive Director Donna Brodie confirmed the ban, explaining that Ferrante's typing was, indeed, a distraction. Allowing him to type, she said, "would mean that everybody else who wanted to work in that room would have to flee. No one wants to work around the clacking of a typewriter. That's why the room had been established."

Really.

Tell that to Cormac McCarthy, or David McCullough, just two writers I can think of off the top of my head who swear by their typewriters, and I guess that would have dealt out the late Robert B. Parker and George V. Higgins as well. I wonder if any of these abused writers ever spent any time in a newsroom--a real newsroom, where the ever-present clatter of typewriters was intoxicating, like the sound of waves rolling up on a beach. And I wonder what the attitude there would be toward someone who might have the temerity to write with a Number 2 pencil. Might the scratching there be a bit too obtrusive as well?

A bright and airy loft, indeed.
Washington winners LettersAboutLiterature_MAY2010_153 low res.JPGSixth grader Reagan Nelson wrote a letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder about almost dying when her house burned down, which happened before she almost got killed in a car wreck. She told the Little House on the Prairie author that she has found a way, as Wilder did, to look at such events as a blessing. Middle Schooler Stephen Hitchcock, meanwhile, wrote to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea author Jules Verne about his effort to understand and forgive bullies who pick on him.

I read the letters and thought I may soon be put out of a job by people who haven't even gotten a pimple yet. The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress read them and determined the Washington state students should win awards in the annual "Letters About Literature" contest that encourages young people to write letters to authors past or present. It promptly named Nelson as a national winner and Hitchcock as worthy of national honor. For her effort, Nelson earned a $500 gift certificate from Target, while the library of her choice will receive a $10,000 grant from the company.

If you read the letters from Nelson or Hitchcock, though, you'll quickly see they didn't write the letters because they wanted to make money. They wrote because they had important things to say. 


"Their maturity level is amazing," says Center for the Book spokesman Guy Lamolinara. "Their thoughts about what they're reading are deep and eloquent, and they did a wonderful job of sharing with the authors how their novels affected them."

Center for the Book founder and director John Y. Cole sees that connection as one of the great gifts that literature provides young readers.

"They write to the authors as a way of writing about their problems," Cole says. "That's how they relate to these books."

I, in turn, can well relate to the 70,000 students who participated in this contest. Just last year, I made my first trip to Concord, Massachusetts to visit Thoreau's cabin and his grave site. I wrote Thoreau a letter to thank him for the enormous impact he has made on my life.

I can't quite imagine how my life would have turned out with his guidance. One thing is for certain: Thoreau, especially in my early years, was someone with whom I could share my struggles and my dreams even when I wasn't comfortable talking to other people about them. Thoreau also challenged me to read at a higher level and to think more deeply about my life and the world around me.

I suspect that's exactly what the Center for the Book has in mind.

Coming Soon: A look at other "Letters" winners




The Horatio Alger Society is a group of collectors committed not only to gathering the books and preserving the legacy of a single author, but also to channeling their passion into worthwhile scholarship. Established in 1961, the affable group had its annual meeting this past weekend in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, hosted by long-time member Arthur Young, and his wife Pat. Young recently retired as the dean of libraries at Northern Illinois University, and is now living in the Granite State.

The busy program included presentations from three members, an auction, a book sale, a reception at the Young home, and a farewell dinner, where a thousand dollar "Strive and Succeed" scholarship was presented to a worthy recipient. I gave the keynote address, my third presentation to the H.A.S. over the past fifteen years, a personal record for me with one group. I was pleasantly surprised by the gift of a lovely plaque noting this milestone, and wish to express my gratitude in this space to the membership.

Single-author societies, as I wrote in Among the Gently Mad, are quite the phenomenon among book collectors, with one of the better known groups being the Baker Street Irregulars, whose passion for everything Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes knows no bounds. There are many confederations of collectors brought together by the pursuit of one writer's works, and collectors just getting started should be alert to their existence. Another that comes immediately to mind is the Thomas Wolfe Society, whose annual meeting I had the pleasure of addressing a few years back,

The Horatio Alger oeuvre is considerable--119 published books, according to Young--a number of the titles so scarce that no single individual, so far as anyone knows, has a complete collection. Art Young has 112, about as many as anyone else.

The H.A.S, I have to say, is a really squared-away group that does much more than pursue elusive titles. In recent years, the focus has expanded beyond Alger to include collectors and enthusiasts of all juvenile literature, including boys' and girls' series books, pulps, and dime novels. Next year they will celebrate their 50th anniversary. Check out their web site, linked above.
Forwarded to you from our Fine Maps columnist, Jeffrey Murray, is an article in the Vancouver Sun about a minor disaster involving thousands of photos, slides, documents, books, and flooding in Revelstoke. From the article:

Dismayed Parks Canada staff arrived at work early Tuesday morning to find the 6,000-square-foot basement of their leased office space under two metres (seven feet) of water. The flood badly damaged the parks' huge archival inventory documenting the cultural and natural history of the area to the early 1900s.

"It was underwater," DiGiandomenico said. ...


lambeth.pngFor those of you who happen to be in London this summer, a major exhibit awaits at Lambeth Palace Library. "Treasures of Lambeth Palace Library" opened today as part of the library's 400th anniversary celebration. According to the press materials, it is one of the earliest public libraries in England. Highlights of the exhibition include the warrant for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, Irish illuminated manuscripts from the ninth century, and several royalty-owned manuscripts and early printed books. Scala Publishers has issued a companion book for those of us who won't make it to the exhibit, running through July 23.
At this year's New York Antiquarian Book Fair, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow journalist and bibliophile Pradeep Sebastian. He writes a column called Shelf Life in Businessworld magazine (based in India). Here's his refreshing take on the fair--meeting Nick Basbanes, catching sight of the Kelmscott Chaucer, and experiencing the joy and wonder of the NYABF. 
Libraries and bookshops have always been great places for people watching.  

What's that guy with the pink mohawk doing with a copy of Finnegan's Wake?

I sometimes wander about such places trying to spot the readers or book buyers who are likely to be academics. You've probably spotted a few of them yourself--they're the ones who keep opening books from the back rather than the front.

Academics often judge books by their scholarly apparatus--i.e., all those things which help a reader verify the accuracy and currency of an author's work: endnotes or footnotes; a bibliography; an index; an appendix for matters that may require more detailed discussion (but would otherwise interrupt the narrative of the main text).  This apparatus traditionally has been included at the back of English-language books.

It's harder to spot academic readers than it used to be, because a lot of publishers have ceased publishing the scholarly apparatus as an integral part of the book. Nowadays, the indices, appendices, bibliographies, etc., are just as likely to be included on a CD-ROM in a pocket inside the book, or made available via a website.

This poses some interesting questions.  If scholars add such books to their private libraries, what happens when they no longer are able to access the CD-ROMs due to changes in technology?  What if the websites containing such apparatus blink out of existence?  

Using the indices might become a bit problematical.  Ditto the bibliographies. Ditto the appendices.

It would be a pretty piece of irony if future scholars find books published decades ago, in which the scholarly apparatus was an integral part of the book, more useful than today's hybrids....
We wanted to share the exciting news that one of our writers, Ellen Firsching Brown, has been awarded two honors for work published in Fine Books. Virginia Press Women awarded Brown first place in its Web/News Article category for her piece Swann Song: A Last Hurrah for the Ritter Collection of Art Books from our June 2009 digital edition. She was also given a third place prize in the Web/Feature category for her interview with collector Peter Strauss from February 2009. As a first-place winner, Brown will now advance to the National Federation of Press Women contest.

Ellen is currently working on her first book, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood, which will be published by Taylor Trade in 2011. Congratulations, Ellen, and good luck!
eastroom.jpgIt seems like the Morgan just re-opened after its extensive face-lift. And now here's a story in today's New York Times about the Morgan's upcoming $4.5 million restoration of the McKim portion of the building, which houses Morgan's original library, pictured here, and office. As one who loved the 'old' Morgan's fustiness, I'm wary of more restoration. At least the director says it will be a "noninvasive restoration."
nwk61wy.jpgA few days ago it was reported in the New York Times that Verizon has asked regulators if they can mail hard copies of the White Pages in New York and New Jersey only to those who 'opt in.' Likening the printed directory to a "rotary-dialed phone," the NYT reports that the White Pages are viewed as obsolete in the digital age. (Paul Collins took up this topic in Slate in 2008, and his recent blog post alerted me to this interesting new development.)

Of course, what becomes rare or obsolete also becomes collectible. Gwillim Law's website Old Telephone Books is a treasure trove of information about antique phone directories. How does he feel about the Verizon news? "It would probably be good for sales of old telephone books if directories went all-electronic. That would boost the interest of the numerous people with telephone nostalgia. When people realize that something is not going to be around much longer, some of them develop an interest in holding on to it," he wrote by email.

Law also pointed out that the regulators may reject the petition, as they did in North Carolina (where Law resides). It has passed in several other states.

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Courtney Cunningham, with her Great collection.

Sweet Briar College in Virginia announced the winners of its Nicole Basbanes Student Book Collecting Contest (Sweet Briar alumna Nicole is the daughter of author and FB&C columnist Nick Basbanes, as well as a special collections librarian.) Courtney Cunningham, a classics major, won $300 for her collection of approximately 40 Alexander the Great books. As the first-place winner, she will proceed to the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Congratulations!    
Have you actually read all the books in your personal library?  90% of them?  50%? Have you read any of them?

Some collectors don't add any books to their private library unless (1) they already have read the book or (2) they intend to read the book.  But not everyone collects books for their informational content.  Some folks are interested primarily in the bindings, or the illustrations, or the typography...reading often is neither anticipated nor required.

Even folks who collect books for their informational content often find that their intentions to read fail to keep pace with their urges to acquire.  What I wonder, though, is this: if reading the books that one collects is important to one's book collecting endeavors, what happens to  such endeavors if one's ability or capacity to read begins to rapidly diminish?

I am not concerned about just any type of reading, but specifically the deep reading that Birkerts (Gutenberg Elegies, 1994) suggested is demanded by works like traditional literary fiction.  Has the infoglut of our modern age, which rewards infosurfing instead of sustained, concentrated engagement with an often complex text, made it more difficult for you to read deeply?  

When was the last time that you read for pleasure a long, complex book?  

Did such reading require a more deliberate, concentrated effort that in times past (i.e., did goings-on outside the pages of your book easily distract you)?  

If maintaining serious engagement with a long, complex book has become more difficult for you, has this difficulty had any impact on the type or number of books that you collect...?
silver_title.jpgFB&C columnist Joel Silver, who also happens to be the curator of books at the Lilly Library (and the author of this month's music feature), has written a book about collectors Josiah Kirby Lilly, Jr. and Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, from whom Lilly bought many books and manuscripts. Lilly's collection was particularly strong in American and British literature, American history, voyages and travels, and the history of science and medicine. Dr. Rosenbach and Mr. Lilly: Book Collecting in a Golden Age profiles these two men but also offers "a microcosm of a great age of book collecting" in the earlier decades of the twentieth century.

The book was printed in a letterpress edition of 140 copies on Arches mouldmade paper and quarter-bound in African goat skin by Bird & Bull Press. Books can be purchased for $425 by contacting birdandbull@yahoo.com.   

How Do You Save Newspapers?

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Print your own. Time Magazine highlights London's Newspaper Club.

How does it work? From the piece...

In an era when traditional newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and staff as their revenues head south, the year-old Newspaper Club is proving there's still untapped demand for the medium -- just not in the traditional sense. The kinds of papers Newspaper Club's clientele tend to print include bloggers' fanzines, literary works, school journalism projects and wedding-day keepsakes. The company also has a growing list of corporate clients, including the BBC, Wired's U.K. edition and smoothie-maker Innocent Drinks. Newspaper Club isn't about the news or the content, explains co-founder Russell Davis, "it's about ink on paper." 

Here's how it works: Gather the words, pictures and graphics you want to see in print. Then design your 12-page (minimum) tabloid-size paper -- either by using Newspaper Club's on-site layout tool and your own software and sending the result to the site as a PDF, or by letting the site's in-house designers do the job for you. Newspaper Club then arranges for a printer to handle your press run and ships the finished work to your door. "It's like hitting the print button [on a computer] in bulk," says Ben Hammersley, editor at large for Wired's U.K. edition, which used Newspaper Club to print 500 copies of a compendium of highlights from several issues of the magazine and then gave them away at two events it sponsored.

The Newspaper Club's formula is based on a dirty little secret in the newspaper business: the giant presses that pump out daily papers by the millions every morning or afternoon sit idle for most of the rest of the day. To fill their downtime, printing plants do small press runs at surprisingly affordable prices.



Sotheby's London's Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History sale went down this morning, to the tune of £1,736,750. Full results are here.

-The archive concerning 1928 meetings between Sir Gilbert Clayton and Ibn Saud, from the British consulate at Jeddah (est. £70,000-100,000) did better than expected, making £301,250.

- The sleepers of the sale were a large engraved portolan chart of the East Indies on vellum, c. 1658. It was estimated at £20,000-30,000, but made £205,250.

- And a selection of 64 photographs of Iraq and Afghanistan (1928-1931), estimated at £3,000-4,000 - it fetched a whopping £91,250!

- William Bradford's The Arctic Regions Illustrated with Photographs taken on an Art Expedition to Greenland (est. £60,000-90,000) made £79,250.

- A set of lithographic views of Russia (1821-1824) sold for £63,650.

- John Gould's Birds of Europe (1832-1837) made £58,850.

- Joannes Janssonius' Theatrum Praecipuarum Urbium (1657), Fernandez de Enciso's Suma de Geographia (1546), Sir Thomas Smith's Voiage and Entertainment in Rushia (1605), Joseph Cartwright's aquatint views of the Ionian Islands (1821), and the 1730 map of New York did not sell.

The afternoon session was the Benevento Collection: Important Maps and Atlases, in 71 lots. Full results are here; the sale brought in a total of £1,347,912. Highlights:

- The expected top seller did end up on top of the heap: a 12-volume mixed-edition set of Blaeu's Atlas Major (1662-1681), housed in a special cabinet constructed by Milan's Colombo Mobili, was expected to make £180,000-200,000; it sold for £289,250.

- The Forlani maps of North America (1565) and the world (1570) each made £121,250.

- A copy of Coronelli's Navi o vascelli, galee, galeazze, galeoni (1697), a very rare collection of ship portraits, sold for £75,650.

There are so many times I wished I had a bricks and mortar bookshop -- to interact with customers every day, to be able to play with displays of books, and to have the sense that I am, indeed, a real bookseller.


There are numerous reasons why that's not a practical thought at this stage in my life -- one of which is the fact that I want to be home after school and on weekends, when my kids are home, and not at a shop across town. Still, if I had a brick and mortar shop, I could also hang up beautiful posters about books, like this one, in the window:


Then I realize that my website and this blog are a sort of virtual store. Pretend that you're walking down the street (to your favorite bookseller, natch) and you see the above poster in the window of her shop. ;)


I attended the California Rare Book School, held at UCLA each summer, two summers ago, taking the Books in the Far West course taught by Gary Kurutz of the California State Library (and, not coincidentally, author of the book California Calls You among others). I had a wonderful time and highly recommend it to collectors, booksellers, and librarians. I am already plotting how I can fit in another week away so I can return to Cal RBS. And, yes, some scholarships are available. Go for it!


See you in the stacks!

_47778168_47778162.jpgPablo Picasso's 1932 painting, "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," sold by Christie's for $106 million, has set a new record for the most expensive art work sold at auction. The painting had belonged to the same collectors since the 1950s. According to the BBC report, this is being taken as a sign that the art market has rebounded from the global financial crisis.
31294_388816059372_73406619372_3831782_6481123_n.jpgThe Bookshop in Old New Castle had its grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony this past weekend. The Bookshop is a co-op of four regional booksellers: Oak Knoll Books, Between the Covers Rare Books, Kelmscott Bookshop, and the Old Bookshop of Bordentown. I asked Dan Gregory of Between the Covers about it, and here is his heart-warming response:

"The Grand Opening was a magnificent success and got the new shop off to a great start! I don't know if Bob Fleck's staff kept count, but at least a hundred librarians, collectors and booksellers, as well as local and state politicians, were on hand to watch the four partners take a giant pair of scissors to cut the ceremonial ribbon ... The shop has a website and all four dealers are no strangers to selling on the Internet, but I think it was a success because people who love books know there is no substitute for seeing them in person, and holding them in your hands. The digital age is wonderful, but for bibliophiles it only reinforces the irreplaceable appreciation for the book as physical objects. Similarly, browsing in a bricks and mortar book store is a unique experience, full of serendipity and surprise, and one we're happy to provide."

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The Bookshop is located in New Castle, Delaware, just minutes from I-95 and the Delaware Memorial Bridge. It will be open for browsers and buyers Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Images courtesy of Between the Covers Rare Books. You can see more on their Facebook page
staley_275.jpgThe news out of the Southwest this week is that after twenty-two years at the helm of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin, Thomas F. Staley will be retiring as director at the end of August. An internationally renowned James Joyce scholar, Staley has had quite a run at what is indisputably one of the outstanding research libraries in the world, and in the field of twentieth-century British and American literary manuscripts and archives, pretty much in a class by itself.

Staley was appointed in 1988 at a time when the HRC was at a crossroads, having been vaulted into the top tier of institutional collections by the late provost Harry Huntt Ransom, who had declared in 1957 his intention to create what he called a "Biliotheque Nationale" in the "only state that started out as an independent nation." The decidedly unconventional approach Ransom pursued to achieve this goal became the stuff of legend--it was what I came to describe as a form of institutional bibliomania that transformed what was then a very good library into a great one--and was at the core of a chapter I wrote for A Gentle Madness that I called "Instant Ivy."

When Staley came to Austin, the massive repository was already filled to bursting with millions of pages of documents, the pace of acquisition so frenetic that many thousands of them were not even catalogued yet. One person familiar with the meteoric growth, the English bookseller Colin Franklin, told me at the time that what the HRC needed to get itself on a steady course "and settle down a bit" was a person like Staley, who, as it turns out, did measurably more than act as caretaker. What he did in essence was to build on greatness and create his own distinctive identity, in much the same way that Mickey Mantle followed Joe Dimaggio into center field for the New York Yankees (or, for Red Sox fans, having Yaz take over left field in Fenway Park for Ted Williams.)

As an administrator, Staley raised $100 million for the center's programs; in collection development, he added a succession of remarkable literary archives, Norman Mailer, Don DeLillo, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Doris Lessing, Julian Barnes, Elizabeth Hardwick, Penelope Fitzgerald, Stella Adler, and Bernard Malamud among them, and he made headlines around the world when he acquired the Watergate files of Washington Post investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Just as significant, in my view, was a new policy of openness and accessibility that Staley introduced at the HRC, making materials much easier for scholars to use. William Powers, president of the university, summed up his contributions with these words: "We owe a great debt of gratitude and deepest appreciation to Tom Staley."

A search will be conducted to name his replacement.
Why do you collect the books you collect?

Is it because you have read those books, they had something meaningful to say to you, and thus you wish to keep copies of them near and dear? Or is it because you hope to read them and you are, like a squirrel in summer, storing them up for a day when intellectual nourishment may be harder to come by?  Perhaps reading has nothing at all to do with your book collecting --  those groaning shelves may merely represent a bit of financial speculation, much like penny stocks or hog futures.

Pose this question to any fairly large but otherwise random group of book collectors and the answers may surprise you.

A collector of Descartes, for example, may lead such a hectic life that her book collection says more about her aspirations for deep reading than about the reality of her reading.  Another may collect manga as a respite from the unimaginative tomes she is obligated to read to advance her professional career.  Yet another may collect local histories because she actively re-imagines a new existence for them. Still another may collect cookbooks because each and every one vividly recalls to mind an exquisite aroma, a savory taste, time well spent with beloved but now long-deceased friends or relatives.

Book collectors and book collections, as I hope to show in future posts to this blog, come in an astonishing diversity of shapes, sizes and colors.  Their stories may well be your story.  Or not.

Why do you collect the books you collect...?

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