June 2010 Archives

cabs1984.jpgI've recently had occasion to gather and read several decades of old AB Bookman's Weekly's and AB Yearbooks (more on this in another post). But last night I came across the ad to the left (click for full view) from 1984's AB Yearbook and was reminded that in only about five weeks, dozens of booksellers (with the occasional collector and librarian) will gather again in Colorado Springs for the annual Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, also known colloquially as "bootcamp for booksellers." The Seminar has been held continuously for the past 32 years and provides "an opportunity for leading specialists to share their expertise and experience [...] in a comprehensive survey of the rare book market, both antiquarian and modern." For those wanting more details, a list of highlights as well as a schedule of this year's events and topics can be found on the Seminar's (recently redesigned) website. Perhaps even better however, of the Seminar's more than 2000 graduates, many over the last few years have shared their experiences online. From fellow FB&C blogger Chris Lowenstein's ringing endorsements to day-by-day wraps-ups of the last two years, there are numerous accounts of Seminar experiences from many points-of-view, and as far as I can tell, all overwhelmingly positive.

I attended in 2006, and as I have written several times in different places, it was quite simply the best thing I ever did for my business:

It is no exaggeration to say that the Seminar easily saved me two or three years of effort and learning on my own. Between the advice given, information bestowed, contacts made, and inspiration received it is an investment in time and money well worth making. Indeed, in the years since I attended I have made back what I spent on my trip many times over simply through the books I've sold to people whom I met via the Seminars. 

In other words, the Seminar is well worth the expense of attending. And then some.

But while it's true the Seminar was the best thing I ever did for my business, it is perhaps even more true that it was quite simply one of the most enjoyable week's of my life. I have rarely laughed harder or had a better time than I did in Colorado. I made close friends I have kept to this day. And it was a joy to be among so many people who share the same -- rather esoteric -- passion.

So go. It's not too late to register. Go to make more money (if you're a bookseller). Go to deepen your knowledge and appreciation of books and their history. Go to make friends with people who love books as much as you do. Go to learn from some of the best in the business. Seriously, just go.
Earlier this week, I posted a press release on our website about the upcoming Yale Library exhibit of Richard Minsky's book art. Although Richard has been featured on the pages of FB&C before, and many of you are well aware of his work, I wanted to ask Richard a few more questions about the exhibit and his recent projects. Enjoy our e-interview below.

This is also the perfect opportunity to announce that Richard has agreed to be our new book arts columnist, beginning in our fall issue. We're thrilled to have him join our esteemed group of columnists!

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1984-1st-400a.jpgFB&C: The earliest piece in the exhibit is a sample book you used when you started tinkering with letterpress at the age of 13. How did you become interested in printing and book arts at such an early age?

RM: I was fortunate to have Mr. (Joseph) Caputo as Graphic Arts Shop teacher at Russell Sage Jr. High in Forest Hills, Queens in 1959. He was of the generation of inspirational teachers who came into the public school system during the Depression. That was where I learned hand type composition, lockup, makeready, and platen press operation, on both Pilot (hand) presses and the motorized 10x15 Chandler & Price.

The following year my mother died of cancer. My father had died two years earlier of a heart attack. Living with my grandmother on Social Security did not provide enough income, and I realized then, at age 13, that I'd best do what I love with my life, and that was printing. So I bought a 5x8 Kelsey hand press and 6 cases of used foundry type. With that I started a job printing business, and hired my homeroom class as a 15%-commission sales team.

sp-ltd-400.jpgFB&C: Your Self-Portrait is also included. This is an oil-on-canvas self-portrait, but the painting itself then became the subject of a limited edition book you printed about the evolution of a piece of art. Which idea came first, or did you always think of it as one large project?

RM: Richard Roth was curating an exhibition titled Local Self Portraits for the Hudson Opera House, here in Hudson, NY, and asked me for one. At first I thought of providing one of my autobiographical books, Minsky in London or Minsky in Bed, but that would involve either borrowing an existing copy from a collection, making one for the show, or framing a page or chapter to hang on the wall. I had not been drawing or painting recently, but had been thinking about getting back to it, so instead I bought a pre-stretched 16 x 20 canvas and started drawing in pencil. The first sketch was nice, and had a good feeling, but didn't really look enough like me, so I took a snapshot, erased much of it and re-drew. After doing that several times the likeness was close enough and I switched to oils. About then I started seeing it as a book. In the end, it is the book that is the work of art, and that is what is in the exhibition.

FB&C: The 50 years covered in this exhibit (1960-2010) witnessed substantial change in printing technologies. You have embraced this in your work -- using letterpress on some projects, inkjet on others -- while others tend to 'choose a side' in this debate. Tell me about that.

RM: Sometimes I use several processes on the same surface. Whatever works best. The cover of my second volume on American Decorated Publishers' Bindings 1872-1929 has an inkjet print on canvas done on an Epson R1800 that is then die-stamped in 22K gold on a 10-ton Kensol hot press. There's more. I've worked with mimeograph, Rexograph (spirit duplicator), Xerox, laser printers, and offset presses. In the 1970s I taught printmaking at The School of Visual Arts, which involved etching, screenprinting, and stone lithography. This fall I'll be teaching a course at SUNY's Purchase College titled Experimental Book. Here's the description:

Experimental Book
VDE 4600 / 4 credits / Fall
Students are encouraged to reconsider what a book is and expand the boundaries of the traditional codex book through workshops in experimental formats, integration of word and image, form and content, sequencing, and physical structure. This may include a variety of projects and the study of video and film structure, historical and contemporary artists' books, and innovative trade books.

FB&C: Yale acquired the Minsky archive in 2004. Is this the first major exhibition of the material since then?

RM: Yes, they have just finished cataloging it.

freedom-front-400.jpgFB&C: Is it possible, as an artist, to have a favorite piece of one's own work? (If so, what it is?)

RM: I love them all. Doing it is what excites me--seeing a metaphor materialize in my hands. That said, right now the most captivating is Freedom of Choice: Three Poems of Love and Death by Lucie Brock-Broido. Two poems are about shotgun suicide and one is about an electrocution. The printing is inkjet on handmade paper, in a goatskin binding chained to an oak electric chair. On the back of the chair is a cabinet containing a 20 gauge shotgun, a Manila hangman's noose, a wakizashi sword, razor blades, poison, and a hypodermic syringe. An MP3 player on the head restraint plays my reading of the poems. You can see how it was constructed at http://minsky.com/choice-details.htm.

Images, top to bottom: Minsky's binding of Nineteen Eighty-Four (2003) on exhibit at Yale; the limited edition of Minsky's Self-Portrait (2010); Minsky's Freedom of Choice (2009). Courtesy of Richard Minsky. 

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Indeed, it's elementary for you to own yourself a copy of A Study of Scarlet, the first appearance of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famed character, Sherlock Holmes, if you have a chunk of change in your pocketbook. Particularly the copy that will be auctioned shortly at Sotheby's - London. It is the only known inscribed copy, apart from the author's own, of the first printing of A Study of Scarlet.

Wow. Booktryst discusses it some, here...

There are only three signed or inscribed copies recorded of this monument in  the detective genre of literature, one of the rarest and most highly sought books of modern times, (only twenty copies in U.S. and British libraries and merely eleven in private hands) a volume keenly desired by Doyle and/or detective fiction collectors all over the world: the author's copy, currently in the possession of the Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle (the author's youngest daughter, who died in 1997); that under notice; and a copy at Yale's Beineke Library. The copy at the Beineke Library, tragically however, was mutilated, its inscribed page excised at some point prior to March 2003, when the crime was discovered. This, then, is one of only two signed or inscribed copies known to exist.

Christie's London will be auctioning the first part of what they're calling "the most valuable collection of illuminated manuscripts ever offered at auction" on 7 July. The first 48 lots from theArcana Collection, comprising illuminated manuscripts and incunabula, are estimated to fetch £11-16 million. The collector has been identified as Ladislaus von Hoffmann, a Washington financier who is on the board of trustees at the Morgan Library & Museum (among other organizations), and founded the Arcana Foundation, Inc.

A neat thing about this sale is that Christie's has included short audio clips from experts about selected lots; you can find these underneath the images in the lot descriptions.

You know it's an important sale when a Nuremberg Chronicle (in Latin) is among the ten lots with the lowest expected estimates; it's listed at £28,000-35,000. Another copy of theNuremberg Chronicle, this one a German copy with rich contemporary illuminations and binding, is estimated at £120,000-160,000.

I'll preview a few of the items from this sale, but the one that really excites me is Lot 5, Jean Grolier's copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Aldus Manutius: Venice, 1499). It's in a Gommar Estienne binding done for Grolier (c. 1552-1555), and post-Grolier owners include Alexandre Albert François, Prince de Bournonville; the great English bibliophile George John, 2nd Earl Spencer; and the John Rylands Library in Manchester (with Spencer's collection; it was deaccessioned and sold at Sotheby's, 1988).

Interestingly, Grolier owned at least five copies of the Hypnerotomachia, including one other bound by Estienne. Thomas Frognall Dibdin wrote about this copy in his work on Earl Spencer's collection, calling it "the most perfect specimen of the press of Aldus. ... Everything in it conspires to charm the tasteful collector [and to] delight and gratify the judgment of the Virtuoso. ... The present copy ... is perhaps unrivalled for its size and beauty." This beautiful book, with a most fascinating pedigree, is estimated to sell for £220,000-260,000.

The lot which rates the top estimate is the Abbey Bible, a fabulously-illuminated manuscript on vellum (Bologna, 1260s) produced for use in a Dominican convent. It's estimated at £2.5-3.5 million. Another top lot is expected to be a book of hours/psalter produced for Elizabeth de Bohun (England, 14th century) and later owned by members of the Astor family. Its estimate is £2-3 million.

Among the other important illuminated manuscripts are the Cauchon Hours, made in the mid-15th century for a noble family of Rheims. This is estimated at £800,000-1,200,000. A book of hours produced for François I (1539-40) by the Master of François de Rohan rates an estimate of £300,000-500,000.

Incunabula include the first edition in Italian of Pliny's Historia naturalis (Venice, 1476), with illuminations; Adrianus Brielis' edition of Hieronymus' Epistolae (Mainz: Peter Schoeffer, 7 September 1470), printed on vellum, with contemporary Schoeffer-workshop decoration. This has passed through the libraries of Sir Thomas Phillipps and Countess Doheny. It's estimated at £800,000-1,200,000. A copy of the first Italian illustrated version of Boccaccio's Decameron, bound with Masuccio's Novellino (both 1492), is estimated at £220,000-280,000. Another Boccaccio work, De claris mulieribus (1473), one of the first works printed at Ulm (and the first illustrated book published there), is expected to sell for £250,000-350,000.

This is going to be a fascinating sale to watch as these amazing and unique items change hands. I'll be sure to have a report once the hammer comes down.

Later sales from the Arcana Collection will include Books and Manuscripts, and Old Master Prints.
Book dealer and colleague John Waite posted the following poignant account of his experiences at this past weekend's Cooperstown Book Fair to the ABAA's private email discussion list. I enjoyed it so much I asked if he would mind my sharing it here as well. I'm very pleased he agreed.

Most book fairs are neither good nor bad, just well organized and run... or not. The Cooperstown fair is one of the former. Housed in an attractive, well-lit athletic and recreational facility not far from the Baseball Hall of Fame, the fair has been held during the latter part of June for many years, more or less standing its ground in the face of declining enthusiasm for book fairs generally. A mostly regional event organized by dealers Will Monie and Ed Brodzinsky, Cooperstown stays in the game like a perennial minor league player who just isn't ready to quit. As is the case with every book fair some exhibitors do well, some don't, but most return for another year.

Yesterday when I left Vermont to begin the four-hour drive to Cooperstown, I hadn't gone more than 15 miles south on I-91 when I noticed a large dog, maybe some kind of yellow lab mix, wandering on the highway in the sad way that dogs do when they are lost or abandoned. He seemed to be making his way north, stopping and tentatively looking this way and that before continuing. Whenever I see dogs walking aimlessly by themselves, the sight depresses me. So the trip to Cooperstown did not begin in the most auspicious way.

On the way I stopped to preview two country auctions, left bids on one or two things at each, and continued my drive. I also made impromptu stops at a used bookstore in Vermont and an antique shop in Glens Falls, NY, neither of which yielded any finds. My four-hour drive had by then had worked into a nearly seven hour safari, and I was still more than a half-hour from Cooperstown when I decided to have dinner, even though stopping then precluded even dropping off my books before the Friday set-up closed at 8 p.m. I checked into my room at KC's motel in East Springfield, 15 miles north of Cooperstown, about 7:45 that evening, got out my laptop to check my email and look-up a few items, phoned my wife, and called it a day.

This morning I left the hotel early to go set up. I took the less-traveled Route 31 on the east side of the lake south towards Cooperstown. On the way I passed a handmade road sign that read in red letters "Thou Shalt Not Steal." It was kind of strange since at that very moment I had been mulling over how much I had recently offered someone for a book that I probably wasn't going to get. Much later it occurred to me that I should have stopped and taken the sign. I was at the fair by 7 a.m., arriving almost in tandem with Will Monie, who kindly helped me unload. Because I usually travel without a lot of material compared to most book dealers, I quickly set-up and in little more than a half-hour was out on the floor nosing around. Because I'm currently long on receivables and short on cash, I had little money to spend. I didn't see much that I wanted to buy, except for a protectionist-themed 19th century fabric broadside with edges in red, white & blue in support of American Labor and American Industry. If I had been more flush with cash, I would have purchased it by myself. As it happened, another dealer liked it too, so we bought it together.

That turned out to be the high point of the fair for me, at least for business. I managed to sell one item to the trade for a full one-third discount, but it didn't even cover the $225 investment for my half-booth. On the other hand, I enjoyed talking with other dealers, including an older man I had not met before who had served for nearly a decade as a US consular official in Pakistan in the 1950s. He told stories of working on commerce issues in Lahore and traveling with a military escort to meet tribal chieftains in Waziristan. In the decades since he had built a considerable library of books on Central and South Asia, in which he now trades.

At the end of the day, it was just another day. I took the most direct route home and returned after a little more than four hours. About three miles from my exit on the interstate, I noticed an animal dead on the right shoulder of the highway. At first I figured it was a deer with the light red-tan coat they wear in early summer. Then I realized it was the dog I saw yesterday just a few miles further south. Confused, lost, and probably not paying much attention, he had walked in front of a car or truck. I felt sickened for a moment then thought, apropos of nothing, that this dog's end might be a metaphor for something. Then I thought maybe it ought to be a metaphor for making metaphors.
The trial of Raymond Scott continued this week in Newcastle. Folger librarian Richard Kuhta testified about Scott's arrival at the library with the stolen folio, noting that the man's entrance was very much a memorable one: 

"He was dressed in tropical clothing; he had on a kind of oversized tee shirt with a very large fish on the front, lightweight slacks and loafers with no socks and a lot of jewellery - rings and bracelets. 

"He apologised for his clothing and said if he'd had time he'd have worn a suit, but that he'd just flown in from Cuba, where he had a villa. 

"He said he liked to fish there and that he was a person of independent means. 

"He said he'd inherited his father's construction building supplies business and had sold it and as a result he was very comfortably off. 

"He said he had something to show me." 

That something was a First Folio, which Scott casually pulled out of a messenger bag. Kuhta told the court he "was startled by the way in which the book was being handled and by the sudden realisation that the man seemed to know it was a first edition." When Kuhta realized that Scott had brought in the stolen Durham University folio, he said, "My heart sank. It was a feeling of sadness to think we were dealing with stolen property. The collections are what we live for, preserving them, building them, making them accessible. It is an emotional thing in our world, the loss and recovery of this precious material." 

The trial resumes on Tuesday, presumably with more witnesses for the prosecution.
It may be hard to believe, but there once was a time, not that long ago, when diligent students looked forwarded to receiving (wait for it...) a book in recognition of their commitment to scholarship.

So-called prize books have routinely been awarded to top scholars in a variety of disciplines since the 16th century, though the past century has seen a precipitous decline in such awards.  (These prize books should not be confused with today's Harvard Book Prize or Yale Book Award or similar prizes awarded by other university alumni associations, none of which are awarded for work done at those institutions.)

Prize books today are collected less for their texts than for their bindings and other matters of scholarly interest:

The research interest is usually not in the individual text of the prize, but rather in the type of text selected, the type of student honored, and the aesthetic attempts in dressing up the prize by means of a special binding, bookplate, calligraphic inscription, etc.

The above comes from the introduction to the Dr. G. J. Brouwer Collection of Dutch Prize Bindings and the William B. Todd Collection of Prize Books at the University of Texas.  (A catalog of the latter collection, some 750 prize books dated 1644-1959 from primarily English, Irish and Scottish schools, was published in 1961.)

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Prize book bindings often incorporate the coat-of-arms of the relevant school, or of the municipality within which such school is located.  The example to your right was awarded by the Latin School in Leiden in the 17th century. Now held by the National Library of New Zealand, the binding

shows Pallas Athene holding a shield containing the arms of that city. It is bound in typical style and includes endbands on the spine in cream and faded pink thread, silk ties alternately pink and white at the fore-edge, and red-sprinkled edges. Thus the red and white colours of the Leiden coat of arms are represented on the whole binding.

A Latin school existed in Leiden from at least the second half of the 13th century, becoming the town school from 1356. From 1586 books were awarded to the best pupils at the half-yearly examinations; folio formats (the largest size) for the top two classes, and quartos and octavos (smaller volumes) for the rest....

Folks interested in collecting Dutch prize book bindings may want to consult a copy of Spoelder's Prijsboeken op de Latijnse school. Een studie naar het verschijnsel prijsuitreiking en prijsboek op de Latijnse scholen in de Noordelijke Nederlanden ca. 1585-1876, met een repertorium van wapenstempels (2000). The definitive reference, its almost 900 pages thoughtfully includes an English-language summary.  (Latin schools provided the equivalent of a pre-university education.)

Because prize books are not avidly pursued by many book collectors, such books often can be obtained for very little money.  (This is not true of particularly early or especially outstanding examples.)  A diligent search (utilizing, perhaps, the help of a specialist independent bookseller) may prove to be quite rewarding....
 
The relationship between book dealers and librarians can often be a bit like that between siblings. We both may come from the same family of book lovers, but that doesn't mean there's not some rivalry or even occasional conflict. This is probably inevitable. After all, institutions and booksellers are often competing for the same materials, and each approaches those materials with differing perspectives and goals. Dealers are ultimately looking to make a profit, while institutions are charged with stewarding materials and making them available for the coming generations.

The annual conference of RBMS, the Rare Book and Manuscript Section of the ALA (American Librarian's Association) was held this week in Philadelphia, and as has been the case for the past several years the ABAA sponsored both the event's opening reception and the Bookseller's Showcase -- a sort of mini book fair, where about 30 rare book dealers display a selection of their wares for a critical mass of some of our most important customers: rare book librarians and special collections curators. It's an opportunity for dealers and librarians to meet and discuss common goals and interests, as well as to explore ways we can work together.

This year was my first exhibiting at RBMS and overall I found the event deeply heartening, not only to be among colleagues and fellow book-lovers, but to be reminded of the enormous diversity of holdings and collections in rare book rooms around the country. I heard about collections of illustrated bibles, Victorian scrapbooks, and Vietnam "reimaginings." I learned about books in surprising places (did you know the US Naval Academy at Annapolis is the repository of seven incunabula?). While it's often the bigger institutions and collections (author archives, etc.) that get most of the press, this event amply demonstrated that there are hundreds and hundreds of growing and evolving archives and collections on all manner of topics at all manner of colleges, universities, and other institutions. 

And if there was one common refrain from those building these collections, it was that too often they are being woefully under-utilized. I met many librarian deeply committed to bringing their world more and more into the curriculum of their schools and classrooms.

Unfortunately, another theme often heard was funding and budget cuts, of furloughs and threatening lay-offs. But for every tone of worry, there was also a note of optimism -- a growing collection, a newly-endowed fund -- even if only tentative. And most hopeful of all were the number of younger, creative, and eager librarians in attendance. It bodes well for the future of our special collections.

For those wanting a fuller taste of this year's event, my colleague Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis booksellers has been posting daily updates on his blog. And for an even fuller idea of what the conference is all about, audio and PDFs from last year's RBMS have been posted on the conference website.

37567936.jpgThe John Steinbeck archive, which went on the block Wednesday in Bloomsbury's Travel, Literature, Autographs, and Fine Books sale, sold poorly. Seen here is lot #180 -- scarce, unrevised galley proofs of The Grapes of Wrath went under estimate for $7,500 (exclusive of buyer's premium). His Nobel Prize correspondence? Also low, at $2,800. More than half of the Steinbeck lots went unsold. The total sale was $73,950, well below the estimated $200,000-250,000.

According to the press release, the collection "consists of the contents of the John Steinbeck archive gathered from the apartment in New York City that he and his third wife, Elaine, shared for thirteen years. The items include many important autograph manuscripts, voluminous correspondence, several inscribed illustrated works including original drawings and photographs. Steinbeck's personal library comprising some 500 books, including first editions, presentation copies, many with his rubber stamp as well as later presentation copies to Elaine Steinbeck, is offered as a stand-alone group..."

Read more from the AP, with a photo slide show.
About two weeks ago I received a mailer from Bonhams to promote its June 23rd Fine Books & Manuscripts sale. I was intrigued to see Dard Hunter's Papermaking by Hand in America (1950) as a featured item, with an estimate of $5,000-8,000. The sale also included a number of other Dard Hunter titles. Dard is a fascinating figure in the history of American printing, and FB&C readers may recall an excellent piece Karen Edwards wrote for us back in March (text online).

erez.jpgWhen the results came in today, I was blown away by the numbers. Papermaking by Hand... (1950) went for a paltry $854 -- what a steal! On the other hand, one of his more obscure titles, Chinese Ceremonial Papers, printed at the Mountain House in 1937, brought in $4,575. Old Papermaking (1923) also did well, for $4,270. But Dard's first solo printing/publishing project, The Etching of Figures, (on which Edwards wrote, "Although Hunter didn't write the book--William Bradley was the author--it's still recognized today as the world's first one-man book.") left Bonhams for $244. That stings. Some lots went unsold, including this lovely signed limited edition put together by Dard Hunter II: The Life Work of Dard Hunter: A Progressive Illustrated Assemblage of his Works as Artist, Craftsman, Author, Papermaker, and Printer. Chillicothe, Ohio: Mountain House Press, 1981-83. It had an estimate of $6,000-9,000.
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The one above, according to the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and 49 others.
baldwinbook.jpgFB&C readers will be pleased to learn that the new edition of Baldwin's diary is now available (it was excerpted in our spring issue). Titled A Place in My Chronicle: A New Edition of the Diary of Christopher Columbus Baldwin, 1829-1835, it is a diary of the American Antiquarian Society's first librarian. This edition includes more than 160 illustrations. In a blog post last week announcing the publication, co-editor Caroline Sloat wrote, "Baldwin took up his appointment as AAS librarian on April 1, 1832, and thereafter followed his passions for books, history, and collecting. He admired scholars such as the young Jared Sparks who was embarking on an edition of George Washington's papers. He happily labored in 90 degree temperatures in a smelly Boston oil warehouse to pack pamphlets and a missing volume of Cotton Mather's diary that would fill a wagon, only to be deflated when he returned to Worcester by the dismissive reaction of the Council to his treasure. (They later changed their minds.)"

This book is the first publication in honor of AAS's 2012 bicentennial. It can be purchased online at AAS or through Oak Knoll Books.  
Review-OxfordCompanion.jpgYesterday a birthday gift arrived, nearly two months late but well worth the wait. Two very thoughtful people (my in-laws) have given me the Oxford Companion to the Book, the two-volume reference published earlier this year by Oxford University Press (and reviewed in our spring issue by Jeremy Dibbell). Why the delay? My guess is Oxford underestimated the bibliophile market. My set was ordered in mid-April from a major online retailer that stipulated the book would ship within days, but the ship date kept changing and, eventually, the book was listed as unavailable. The publisher's website also categorized it as temporarily unavailable in early May. Around this time, a subscriber wrote in to FB&C to inquire about the Oxford Companion, asking why some online booksellers were now charging nearly double the original retail cost (he had seen our review and wondered about the disconnect between the price as printed and the current prices online). I did a bit of research for him, and it seemed likely that Oxford had sold its initial printing and was now scrambling to supply the demand; some booksellers saw an opportunity. The subscriber ended up ordering the book abroad for less than it could be found state-side. As for me, my in-laws were tired of waiting for the online retailer to fulfill the order it had promised to ship more than a month before, and they placed a second order directly with the publisher. Another month passed, and the publisher finally delivered. All's well that ends well? I'm thrilled to have a copy of this amazing book in my library, but surely there's a lesson (or two) here about publishing and bookselling. 
In an ideal world, we all would have whatever time and money we need to construct the private libraries of our dreams.

For example: I would dearly love to collect early illustrated herbals, but unless Bill Gates adopts me (or I win the lottery) I am unlikely ever to have the financial means to pursue such books.  (The fact that many of these early illustrated herbals are locked away in institutional collections also could prove a hindrance.)

Another example: I recently have developed an interest in early Sanskrit literature (such as the Mahābhārata, one of the world's earliest and longest epic poems, the word length of which is roughly ten times that of The Illiad and The Odyssey combined).  My collecting challenge here is not that early Sanskrit literature is not readily available and affordable (in modern editions), but that (1) I don't read Sanskrit and thus must rely on translations and (2) I am not familiar enough with the literature to determine what may or may not be a good translation.  Because I do not have the financial wherewithal (or time) to waste money on bad translations, a little expert guidance in this regard would be helpful.  Fortunately, such guidance is readily available in a form that allows me to build a private library of early Sanskrit literature by proxy.

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines proxy as the agency, function, or office of a deputy who acts as a substitute for another.  In my case, instead of me selecting appropriate, well-translated titles for my bookshelves, I am relying on someone else to select such titles for me.  

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Such an instance of building a private library by proxy is neither new nor unusual. Folks who do not read Latin, for example, have long relied on the Loeb Classical Library and the I Tatti Renaissance Library to do much the same thing for classical and renaissance Latin literature.  Folks who are unfamiliar with canonical American literature (or at least one entity's take on what that canon might be) rely on the Library of America.  In my case, the proxy is the Clay Sanskrit Library.

Of course, a number of quite valid objections can be made to building a private library by proxy.  The thrill of the hunt, for example, is almost completely diminished (since someone else is doing the hunting for you).  Proxy-selected titles, being uniformly printed and bound, likely will lack the aesthetic charm of titles that you yourself would have selected (which might well have represented the output of numerous publishers over the course of several centuries).  And almost certainly one will lose in a private library built by proxy a sense of how things like literary translation change (and are perceived) over time.

Against this, of course, must be set the very considerable advantages of not wasting time and money on titles that you personally do not have the expertise to evaluate. (One can somewhat offset this disadvantage, of course, by utilizing an independent bookseller who specializes in the topic one is attempting to collect....)
A fun Friday read about historian James Goode's bookplate collection, now on exhibit at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and the Rare Book School in Alderman Library through July 29.

From the article in the University of Virginia Magazine:

Goode's exhibit, titled "Three Centuries of American Bookplates," opens a window on a pastime--and for some a passion--that dates to the immediate aftermath of the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455. One of the prizes in Goode's collection is a circa 1500 bookplate by German artist Albrecht Durer. "He was one of the first professional designers to make bookplates, and he made about a dozen," Goode says.

There's also a neat 4-minute video clip of Goode describing his collection. Enjoy!
On The Bloc-TwainMss.jpgToday in New York more of James S. Copley's library went under the hammer at Sotheby's. The "big news," is that the July 1776 broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence came in under estimate at $572,500, and Mark Twain's unpublished "Family Sketch" (pictured here) came in way over at $242,500 (both numbers include buyer's premium).

Other highlights include a pen-and-ink portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Robert Kastor, with a signed quotation by Fitzgerald, which went for $98,500, even though its estimate was only $25-$35,000. A Charlotte Bronte letter sold for $68,500, and a group of manuscript letters and scraps from newspaperman William Randolph Hearst climbed over estimate to $40,625.

My personal favorite (of course) is a fragment of Thoreau's Autumnal Tints manuscript. Yes, just a fragment for $3,750.
Fine Books & Collections editor Rebecca Rego Barry noted last February that Mount Vernon announced a Donald W. Reynolds Foundation grant of $38 million to fund construction of a 45,000-square-foot library. What's also exciting about the new facility is that you don't have to carry $38 million in your wallet to be a part of George Washington's new library.

Enter the "Adopt-A-Book" sponsorship program that seeks to buy more books for the library and to digitize more of the 18,000 volumes and 6,000 historical manuscripts so that they can be shared with the world. According to a beautifully done fundraising piece I got in the mail, fewer than 200 researchers were able to visit the Mount Vernon Library and use materials in the collection. "Through an Adopt-A-Book sponsorship for digitization, you will help expand our potential audience to billions through the computers in their own homes."

The estate is asking people to help in a variety of ways by purchasing three modern books, a single rare manuscript, and to digitize or preserve already purchased artifacts. Depending on the level of gift, you can be linked by name with your book's or manuscript's official listing in the online catalog, be acknowledged by name with a nicely designed digital bookplate accessible through that listing, receive a certificate suitable for framing that describes your books or manuscripts or receive a set of twelve Crane's note cards with beautifully reproduced color images taken from one of the Mount Vernon Library's rare books.

I spend a lot of time at Mount Vernon -- sometimes roaming the Virginia grounds with notebook in hand learning as much as I can, other times stopping there for lunch during a day of bike riding. I was actually sitting on the lawn overlooking the Potomac River during one of my frequent visits to Washington D.C. that I began to think seriously about moving here. Not many better places for history junkie and writer than the D.C. area. Since making the move and spending my spare time in libraries all over the region, I've dreamed about being able to do more to give something back to them.

Now I know what I can do. I can leave a small legacy in the library of one our nation's great founders.
Don't miss Ralph Gardner Jr.'s fun little read in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about sleuthing for first editions at a country library book sale. An enticing excerpt:

I inherited the collecting, or at least acquisitory, gene from my father, who passed away in 2005. His collection included a first edition of "Huckleberry Finn," as well as the even rarer Huck Finn salesman's prospectus. We'd gone to auctions at Sotheby's during the '60s--it was then called Sotheby Parke-Bernet and was situated on Madison Avenue in the 70s--and I'd bid on Hemingway and Steinbeck first editions that I'd get for a few dollars. However, my greatest discovery was a first edition of "The Great Gatsby" that I found for $10 in the back of an old bookstore on a visit to Princeton when I was applying to college. It's worth about $5,000 today. If it had the almost impossible to find dust jacket, it could be worth more than $100,000.
getEdFrontImage.jpgIt was reported in yesterday's Scotsman newspaper that Scotland has take steps toward repatriation of a 700-year-old 'medieval passport' believed to have been owned by Scottish hero William Wallace. The document has been in English hands since they hanged Wallace in 1305. It is currently held in the National Archives in Surrey, and many Scots are asking for its return to its homeland. From the article:

The medieval "passport" is said to have been found in a pouch on his belt prior to his execution. George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: "It is remarkable how a 700-year-old document still stirs such emotion today."

According to the National Archives of Scotland, "An academic research group of distinguished historians and archivists from Scotland, England and France will study the document's provenance, to find out where and why it was created...The group will conclude its work with a seminar on the document at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh in the spring of 2011 and present a report to Scottish and UK ministers. Based on this report, there will be an agreement on the future custody of the document...An exhibition on the document is planned in Edinburgh during 2012, to tie in with the culture and creativity focus of the Homecoming legacy. It will feature the latest virtualisation technologies allowing visitors to experience the document."
Back in January, I blogged about the lure of the antique typewriter. Last month, Nick Basbanes reported that New York's Writers Room had banned typewriters. Typewriters still fascinate us, and here's one that will thrill those that straddle the traditional/techie divide: a USB typewriter. An old-fashioned typewriter keyboard that can be plugged into a standard USB so you can view on screen and save the file. You get the comforting click-clack-click-clack and the assurance that you can modify and save your work as needed. You can buy one of these outright, or send your own in for customization. Neat!


TomSwift.jpgOne of the great stories in the annals of American juvenile publishing was the creation a century ago by Edward Stratemayer, founder of the Stratemayer Syndicate, a book-packaging firm, of Tom Swift, the boy inventor who appeared in 105 books written by various authors in five separate series over the years, and whose sales totaled in the many millions. His adventures coveted by collectors--none more desirable than the gee-whiz kid's first appearance, "Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle," 1910, at right--the iconic character has his own fan club, which will be mounting a centennial convention next month in San Diego that promises to be quite the bash.

Organizer of the event is James D. Keeline, for many years a bookseller with Prince and the Pauper Collectible Children's Books in San Diego, and now, with his wife Kim, crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's for what is being billed as the 100th Anniversary Tom Swift Convention (TS100), an ambitious get-together of kindred spirits scheduled for Friday, July 16, through Sunday, July 18, at the Sheraton Mission Valley Hotel in San Diego.

TomSwift100.pngActivities include several tours that should be of particular interest to Tom Swift fans, the San Diego Automotive Museum and the San Diego Air & Space Museum. In conjunction with the convention, there will be what sounds like a terrific exhibition of books and artifacts at the Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego; programs at the fair include presentations on such topics as "How Tom Swift Invented Everything," "Tom Swift on the Silver Screen," "Tom Swift Science Vs. Real World Science," and "Artists of Tom Swift." There will be  round-table discussions for collectors, plus lots more--Tom Swift themed doo-dads and many books for sale, and great things on display--including a wood model of the Aeroship designed for an unproduced Tom Swift film that Twentieth Century Fox had worked on in the mid-'60s.

All in all, sounds like a great take-in. The convention's motto says it all: "100 Years of Making Science and Invention Cool."
Why are so many cookbooks devoted to the humble potato?  American cuisine revolves around a mere handful of varieties, which most of us consume in the guise of potato chips, french fries, hash browns, mashed or baked potatoes.

What else is there?  Why the need for all those cookbooks?  And who the heck is buying them?  Is there some sort of underground Vary Your Potato Intake movement of which I'm unaware?  Should I be concerned that I'm not ingesting enough tattie scones or boxty pancakes or bryndzové halušky?  

And why it is it that most folks who collect potato cookbooks seem to stop there? The humble tater, as even the most cursory review of the published literature will suggest, has so much more to offer....

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Domesticated for over eight thousand years, documented in over 5000 varieties, cultivated across a wide range of climates and soil conditions, Solanum tuberosum is the world's fourth most important food crop.  It's also much beloved by devotees of aquavit.

But if all most book collectors collect about potatoes is cookbooks, a large part of this versatile veggie's story is being overlooked. That's because few cookbooks delve into the potato's long and complicated history.  

How many book collectors, for example, are aware of Engels' declaration that cultivation of the humble potato was every bit as historically revolutionary as the production of iron?  That distribution of the potato impacted, among other things, the growth of railroads?That the potato once was considered a delicacy by Chinese royalty (and that China itself is now the world's largest producer of spuds)? 

Next time a tater cookbook catches your eye, you might want to see if there are any spud histories nearby to give that cookbook some context....
This from yesterday's New York Times: Steve Green, the 46-year-old president of Hobby Lobby, is buying up bibles with the idea of creating a museum in Dallas...

The Green collection aims to be one of a kind. Other Bible collections in the United States, including one at the American Bible Society in Manhattan, generally intend to inspire readership, said Dr. Scott Carroll, who began advising Mr. Green about six months ago. "Our goal is to inspire people with the story of the Bible and its history."
If you like solving riddles, stop by our Facebook page and post your guess to the following before Saturday, 8 p.m. EST...

I am a book.
I was expurgated in the 1950s.
I was adapted to film in the 1960s.
I was exhibited as a Book of the Century in the 1990s.
I was lusted after in the 2000s.
Who am I?

Not already a Friend on Facebook? Come on by!
I almost choked on my breakfast bar this morning when I read that Washington D.C.'s beloved Politics and Prose bookstore is up for sale. The 26-year-old shop's owners are aging and say they just don't have the energy they used to.

I'm sure the news is sending tremors across the book-loving nation's capital. Politics and Prose is the place to go to soak in that independent bookstore experience ... to find items selected by human touch rather than just sales charts. It's the place to go to meet authors of all kinds of books who see the store as a must-visit destination. It's the place to go when you want to turn your brain on full power ... to mingle with staff and fellow shoppers who truly love books. Like many Washingtonians, my life is enriched every time I enter the store. Even the Washington Post described it as "iconic." 

If you know anyone who is looking to buy a wildly popular bookstore, Politics and Prose is available. I can't speak to its balance sheet or offer financial advice, but an entire city hopes the right kind of buyer steps forward to save one of Washington's most monumental sites.


This fun little Smart Set article about business cards reminded me that I collected business cards for a year or two when I was a kid. I also collected rocks, stamps, stickers, super balls, and inkwells at one time or another. Werner Muensterberger might call me compulsive, and I am certainly a 'collector.' Today I'm posing a question to our readers: what do you collect (aside from books or manuscripts)?

The Best Bookstores in the World

From Brussels to Los Angeles, London to Kyoyo, spectacular, they are.

Bookstore.jpg
If one were to survey a very large and random group of book collectors, I strongly suspect that not a single one of them would fess up to collecting self-published authors.  Scott McKenzie penned an interesting rant on Slushpile a few years back which suggests why this is so:

You remember Bobby? That weird kid in high school who went out of his way to wear plaid pants, day-glo sneakers, a green mohawk, maybe a little goth makeup, and sucked on a pacifier all day? Bobby spent more time planning his anti-conformity outfit (because, "you know, he just does his own thing, he's such an individual") every morning than Jenny the Cheerleader dedicated to her hair. But then he always bitched and moaned about how Pam the Prom Queen ignored him. Some self-published authors are the same way. They act like idiots and then wonder why they face such disdain....

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McKenzie's point was not that self-publishing in itself is necessarily a bad thing, merely that the editorial processes which exist in the "real" publishing world help save most authors from themselves.  That being said, the sheer number of books that have been self-published over the centuries almost guarantees that many advanced book collectors have not a few self-published volumes on their shelves: think Atwood, Blake, Proust, Whitman...the list actually is quite lengthy.

The more interesting question is not do book collectors have the occasional self-published title on their shelves, but do any of us go out of our way to collect such titles in the same diligent, methodical way that we collect Shakespeare or hypermodern firsts or fine press or whatever it is that rings our bells.

Scholars are quite fond of extensive, well-considered book collections that tell them something they did not know previously.  What would an extensive, well-considered collection of self-published authors tell future scholars about the state of publishing, the distribution and reception of texts, etc., in this Late Age of Print, awash as we are with print-on-demand and other technologies that make it easier (and less expensive) than ever to self-publish...?
Alas, we're not in London for the Olympia fair, but we can take a look at the available treasures nonetheless. The fair opened late today and runs through Saturday.

281.jpg
From Peter Harrington, a second folio of Shakespeare bound in
red goatskin by Riviere & Son in the nineteenth century. £235,000

293.jpgFrom Jonkers Rare Books, twelve issues of the Strand
Magazine
, featuring the original Sherlock Holmes stories. £6000

297.jpgFrom Jonkers Rare Books, an original manuscript of a Charles Dickens
story, bound with related correspondence in red morocco. £45,000


277.jpgFrom Jonathan Potter, a large-scale map
of eighteenth-century London. £5000

289.jpgFrom Jonkers Rare Books, a two-page autograph letter from George
Orwell to a friend, written while researching his book, Down and Out in
Paris and London
(read more in June's auction report). £12,500


Tom Post, managing editor of Forbes, took a tour of the Folger Shakespeare Library's vault. Read his report on the folios he fondled. Who's not jealous?
skip.jpgBack in March, the Library of Virginia presented the 2010 Virginia Women in History awards. They honored eight women who have made important contributions to Virginia and the nation. One neat pick this year was Jean Miller Skipwith (1748-1826), described as "an avid book collector and amateur botanist." She assembled one the largest libraries owned by an American woman in her time. Her 800 volumes included travel and history, novels, cookbooks, encyclopedias, essay collections, and children's literature.

The collection also included gardening and botanical books. She collected specimens and made botanical notes that are still of interest and use to horticultural historians. Pictured here is her manuscript list of wildflowers growing in her garden (now at the Swem Library, College of William and Mary).

My thanks to 'How I Got Started' columnist Ellen Firsching Brown for sending along this interesting news!

medium.pngFilm review? Yes, book lovers, there is a new documentary that should be on your radar. Released on DVD just last week, Typeface is an excellent film about the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Directed and produced by Justine Nagan of Kartemquin Films, Typeface is an eloquent portrait of a small town and what was its biggest employer for more than a century, the Hamilton wood type company, which had been making wood type since 1880. The company was enormously successful, putting its competitors out of business and cashing in on the ornamental typography craze. (Think "Wanted" posters.)

The film does a wonderful job weaving together many strands -- from townsfolk sharing memories of working at Hamilton, to board members trying to keep the museum afloat, to young graphic designers discussing the importance of typography and art, and letterpress operators demonstrating how it all works. As designer and professor Dennis Y. Ichiyama of Purdue University put it: "Great characters, both wood and human."

Enhanced by the music of Josh Ritter, Typeface has broad appeal. The DVD also includes bonus scenes, such as an interview with Paul F. Gehl of the Newberry about type specimen books and a gallery of art inspired by the film.  

There is a private screening of the film tonight in New York City, followed by Norway, England, Germany, LA, etc. You can view a clip on YouTube, and order a limited edition DVD online.

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