December 2011 Archives

Today I direct your attention to a speech given by Alan Bamberger (a dealer of rare and out-of-print art books and an art consultant) to the Friends of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC. It's titled "Collecting Art Like a Pro," but I think you'll find it could very easily apply to books, or any other type of collectible.

...Regardless of how you view your collecting, whether serious or recreational, there are techniques that you can use to maximize not only the quality and value of your art, but also your own personal enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of that art. Step one is being true to your tastes. This means acknowledging that you like certain types of art regardless of what you think you're supposed to like or what seems to be the current rage. All great collectors share this trait-- that's one thing makes their collections stand out. When personal preference is ignored in favor of the status quo, one collection begins to look just like the next. A few people dictate, the masses follow, everyone walks in lock-step, and the art you see from collection to collection becomes boring and repetitive....[Link to more]
marx-das-kapital.jpg I'm a sucker for year-end lists and I enjoyed reading Abebooks' freshly released list of its most expensive sales in 2011. The list is conveniently divided into a variety of categories--overall highest sales figures are followed by an array of genres and fields, including science fiction, mystery, photography, art, science, travel, and religion.

By far the highest grosser this year was a first edition of Das Kapital by Karl Marx which went for a little over $50,000. It doubled the price of the runner-up, a signed first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird which took in $25,000. Other notables in the top ten include a complete run of Aspen magazine ($22,900), a first edition of The Hobbit ($20,400), and a first edition of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs de Mal ($14,900). The most unique item on the list was a handwritten manuscript by John Ruskin reflecting on his reading of Thomas Carlyle which was purchased for $18,700.
A 'Secret Index' of investment-worthy autographs, you say? Yes, and it has produced a 14.84% return per year since 2000.

A Secret Index Autograph Investment Report published by Paul Fraser Collectibles of Bristol, England, tracks the forty rarest and most investment-worthy autographs in the world. The price of the average autograph from the PFC40 rose 14.84% per year. And, he notes, "The rising trend shows no sign of stopping."

Calling autographs a "mid- to long-term alternative investment that you may not have thought of before," Paul Fraser believes the market for collectibles is gaining strength, and he cites several reasons: 1) baby boomers are "nostalgia investors" who have a lot of wealth; 2) China is a nation of enthusiasts; 3) there are an estimated 200 million collectors in the world, and that is predicted to double in 20 years; 4) leading collectors continue to fight over the best pieces; 5) museums are still actively acquiring; and 6) there is a finite supply and growing demand.

Some of the autograph examples PFC offers in the Secret Index (recently featured on MSN Money) are Neil Armstrong (up 981.8% since 2000), Fidel Castro (up 22% since 2000), Walt Disney (up 22.65% since 2000), and George Harrison (up 26.10% since 2000). Other figures on the list include Salvadore Dali, Bob Dylan, and J.K. Rowling.

The earning power of these items is quite aside from the fact that autograph collecting, like book collecting, is often a personal pursuit. But the fruits of that pursuit are genuinely good investments, some better than others. It's certainly worth a look at the Secret Index!
Casanova_ritratto.jpg The original manuscript of Casanova's lively memoir is on display for the first time at the National Library of France. It is the centerpiece of a new exhibition called "Casanova--the Passion for Freedom," which is open to the public through February 19, 2012 in Paris.

Casanova was an Italian by birth, but lived in France before getting himself expelled from Paris in 1760 after seducing various wives and daughters of the French royal court. Casanova's adventures led him back and forth across Europe until his death at age 73 in Bohemia in 1798. Casanova completed his 4,000 page memoirs shortly before he died.
One reason I look forward to Christmas is that I'll stock up on winter reading. Every year for the past few years, my mother-in-law graciously buys my "want list" of current fiction and non-fiction, wraps them beautifully, and presents them in a gorgeous bag (this year, a designer fabric bag by Stephanie Barnes). This is an amazing gift, because while I do buy "new" books throughout the year (binge at the Harvard Bookstore for my birthday in the spring), and I receive about two dozen books from publishers for review, I don't often splurge the time or money on bedside reading. So I've taken to keeping a list of books I know I want to read but can wait until Christmas to get.

This year, I asked for ten titles, and ten I did receive. As you'll see, books about books and literary fiction are my main genres. Some were recommended by others, some I learned about through reviews, and some are part of "collections" within my library.
How familiar are you with the literature of Christmas?

Below are snippets from five Christmas "classics." Can you identify the book or short story from which each is excerpted? Can you identify each work's author? What about each work's original date of publication?

Answers will be found at the end of this post. Have a safe and joyous holiday!

The Challenge:

(a) "Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took every present!
Pop guns! And bicycles! Roller skates! Drums!
Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums!"

(b) "[T]he butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the Squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the Squire himself; for it was a beverage in the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself, alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; being composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface."
12910.jpgOn display through December 31 at Bard Graduate Center's Focus Gallery in New York City, is a selection of Christmas cards that serve as "an introduction to a large artifactual and aesthetic field that until now has been largely unexplored ... These cards constitute a category of American material culture that is rich in documentary potential yet has been nearly invisible in the scholarly literature." Seen above is a modified French-fold card in green, black, and gold lithography on lightweight imitation parchment, short fold at bottom, ca. 1935, from the Bard Graduate Center exhibit and book, American Christmas Cards, 1900-1960.

An accompanying book, edited by Kenneth L. Ames, contains 375 images with text that examines their visual and cultural history. It's a perfect guide for collectors of ephemera, collectors of graphic history, and, of course, collectors of Christmas material.

Happy holidays!
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with David Eilenberger, our first southern bookseller, and the proprietor of Eilenberger Rare Books in Durham, North Carolina.

davideilenberger.jpg NP: How did you get started in rare books?

DE: I was tending bar during the late 1990's, near the end of my ill-fated graduate school career in European history. Doug O'Dell of Chapel Hill Rare Books was one of my regulars. Knowing of my interest in history and writing, he hired me as a cataloger. It was a wonderful experience. The shop was a treasure trove of manuscripts, photographs, maps, and ephemera as well as rare books, and I was quickly hooked. Doug was a shrewd businessman, but saw our mission as one of scholarship as well as profit. As a result, I had free reign to research the historical context of our most important items, sometimes above and beyond what might have been strictly necessary to sell the materials. For me, the work was not just a job, but a continuation of my education. And, I hope, this intellectual curiosity made for some interesting catalogs and helped sell a few books.
Ralph_Waldo_Emerson_ca1857_retouched.jpgLast month, I received my Walden Woods/Thoreau Institute newsletter--always a welcome piece of mail bearing good news about education and preservation at Walden Pond. Even better, this newsletter had a bit of rare book news. Bookseller Mark Stirling of Upcountry Letters, who specializes in the Transcendentalists, sold (at a discount) his personal collection of Emerson material to the Thoreau Institute. Stirling wrote to me recently, "I was pleased that the items were returning to their hometown, so to speak, and that they would be available for study."

As one would assume, the Institute's Thoreau collections are fabulous, but in Stirling's words, "it needed Emerson, his essential associate in the history of ideas." The vast collection is primarily manuscript and association items, accumulated by Stirling over the course of twenty years. Some fine examples, according to Jeff Cramer, curator of collections at the Thoreau Institute in Massachusetts, are a first edition, first state copy of Nature, a manuscript leaf from Emerson's lecture, "Reform," and one of only five hundred printed copies of An Oration, Delivered Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at Cambridge, August 31, 1837 ("The American Scholar").
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the books featured in the first season of HBO's much-lauded period drama, Boardwalk Empire.  The second season came to a shocking end just over a week ago.  Much of the blogosphere is debating the controversial ending to the season, but I thought over here at Fine Books we'd take a look at what books were featured prominently this year.  Once again, HBO deserves props for its close attention to period detail - the early 1920s come vividly to life in the series and the same goes for the featured books.

The first book to feature prominently in an episode was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.  In episode two, Chalky White, a gangster and prominent member of the African-American community in Atlantic City, is being held in jail.  His wife brings him a copy of David Cooperfield to read while he's waiting to be released.  Chalky, however, is largely illiterate, a fact he has managed to keep hidden from his wife.  When asked by his fellow inmates what book he has, Chalky answers Tom Sawyer, unsure of the book's actual title.  An inmate unfamiliar with Chalky's prestige knocks the book out of his hand, taunting him for being too cultured.  Chalky calmly calls for his fellow inmates, all of whom owe him a favor or two, to beat the fellow up.  They quickly and brutally do so, then hand the book, now slightly bloodied, back to Chalky.  Chalky asks if any of them "know their letters," then gives the book to one of them so he can read it out loud to the other inmates.  His act is a confession of his own ignorance.

boardwalk books 2-1.png

Dickens.jpgCharles Dickens missed dinner with his wealthy benefactor, Angela Burdett-Coutts, because he had a gig that night. In this letter, offered by James Cummins Rare Books in New York City for $12,000, Dickens sends his regrets, for he is "going to Bradford in Yorkshire to give a Christmas Reading to some three thousand people." That was December, 1854, one year after Dickens began giving such public readings of A Christmas Carol. Turned out that 3,700 people attended his performance.

Seeing this letter about Dickens' 'theatrical career,' if we can call it that, brought to mind a feature we published two years ago about his stage performances in America and the prompt book he carried--containing the marginalia that reminded him know how to inflect certain words or lines, when to turn a page, and how to deliver particular phrases--which now resides at the New York Public Library.

The holiday catalogue from James Cummins is a wonderful selection of Christmas books, letters, and cards. From the first printed illustration of Santa going down a chimney in the New York Mirror, 1841, to a first edition, first issue of The Christmas Carol with "very rare variant state with pink endpapers" and an even more scarce "trial issue" of that book. Grab some eggnog and take a look.
Catalogue Review: Ken Sanders Rare Books, Holiday Catalogue, #43

Sanders.pngLocated as they are in Salt Lake City, it's no wonder that Ken Sanders is a primary resource of antiquarian books related to the West, Utah, and Mormonism. And those areas are well represented in this newest catalogue, with second, third, and fifth editions of the Book of Mormon (all at $40,000 or above), as well as a Brigham Young signature ($3,000), and other related items.

But it is some of the other categories that elicited by interest. Wordless novels, for example. I find that an intriguing area, perhaps because as our winter issue goes to press with an article about Lynd Ward, it's at the forefront of my mind. And here he turns up on page 30 of Sanders' catalogue--a limited edition of Ward's first novel in woodcuts, Gods' Man, published a year after its original publication in 1929. Signed by the author ($1,500). Another of Ward's wordless novels, Mad Man's Dreams, is also here in a very good first edition inscribed by Ward ($450), as well as two books from the 1930s with Ward illustrations.
103334242.jpgIt would greatly remiss of us not to pause for a brief moment and think about George Whitman, a 98-year-old Paris bookseller, who died yesterday, fittingly in the apartment over his bookshop, Shakespeare & Co. According the shop's website, Whitman was born in 1913 in East Orange, New Jersey. He moved to Paris in 1948, opened Le Mistral bookshop, and soon renamed it Shakespeare & Co. after the famous shop owned earlier in the century by Sylvia Beach. Whitman was known for his free spirit, and for allowing thousands of lodgers to stay in the shop in exchange for a few hours of book sorting and shelving.

One of those many lodgers over the years was journalist Jeremy Mercer, who, in 2005, published an account of this bohemian lifestyle, Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. I greatly enjoyed reading this memoir several years back, and for anyone who knows little about Whitman or his amazing bookstore, it is absolutely worth a read.

The store remains open, run by Whitman's daughter. For more about Whitman, see the Shakespeare & Co. website and the New York Times obituary.
Last week, I wrote about a new documentary series called the Great Big American Auction on ABC. To follow up on this recent trend marrying auctions and reality television, I spoke with Eric Lindstrom at National Book Auctions about the several potential television pilots which will feature his company. Eric also offered his thoughts on the trend in general and what makes an auction such an attractive event for a reality show.
Thumbnail image for David_Hall_small2.jpg David Hall, of National Book Auctions, at Cornell University.


NP: Could you tell us about your upcoming partnerships with television production companies?

EL: There are essentially three separate projects going on with National Book Auctions--any of which could grow into a longer form media project--television or online--with the reality show format. One is a reality show pilot we're being asked to shoot, where we're being asked to give full access to our company. The second is a documentary which, again, could turn into some other reality show based format. And the third would be something more from a public broadcasting perspective a la Antiques Roadshow, where items come in to be consigned. While the consignor may have a sense of what the value of a book or piece of ephemera might be, of course how it does at auction can be radically different in either direction. Those are the three projects we're working on, and any one of them could turn into something in the future.
Back in October, the Florida Bibliophile Society was pleased to have scholar and writer Maureen E. Mulvihill give a lecture, at the University of Tampa Library, called "The Evolution and Education of a Collector (1980s-): The Mulvihill Collection of Rare and Special Books and Images." She spoke of 'Ephelia' (Mary Villiers Stuart, Duchess of Richmond), Mary Tighe, Mary Leadbeater, Anne Finch, Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, Lucy Hutchinson, Anna Maria Van Schurman, and others in her collection. A two-table display of her selected books, prints, and ephemera were available for viewing as well (see an image below, taken by Florida collector and blogger, Jerry Morris). Mulvihill's principal interest is Irish and English women writers, mostly pre-1800.

mulvihillimage.png

A feature containing excerpts and photos from the presentation is available from The Newsletter of the Florida Bibliophile Society.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Dan Whitmore, proprietor of Whitmore Rare Books in Pasadena, California:

danny.jpg NP: How did you get started in rare books?

DW: I am a reader. I loved reading literature from an early age and realized during college, that I didn't have the time to read all the books that I wanted to. As a result, I focused on the classics, although from several different genres: Russian, Victorian, Modern, Children's, etc. While attending law school in Philadelphia, I stumbled upon a first edition of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and I was hooked. My pursuit of modern firsts quickly outgrew the shops in Philadelphia and I had to venture further afield. I found Royal Books in Baltimore and was very impressed. The owner, Kevin Johnson, took the time to guide me in collecting and, later, would act as a mentor for me when I launched my own company.

NP: When did you open Whitmore Rare Books?

DW: My transition from collector into dealer was relatively rapid. I sold my first book in April of 2009 and then proceeded to sell on consignment for the remainder of the year. With much encouragement and support from my lovely wife, I gave notice about six months from my first book sale and was ready to sell under our own banner in early 2010.
heller.jpgComing up this week Bonhams' Fine Books and Manuscripts sale on December 15, a desk owned and used by Joseph Heller, complete with coffee ring stains to the top. From the picture, the twentieth-century wooden desk does look a bit worn, but considering that the celebrated author owned it for about thirty years, let's call it a writer's patina. It is believed that Heller wrote at least some of the following works sitting at this very desk in his East Hampton, New York, home: God Knows (1984); No Laughing Matter (1986); Picture This (1988); Closing Time (1994); Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here (1998); and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man (published in 2000). Heller died in 1999. His desk will be offered without reserve and is (conservatively) estimated to reach $1,500-2,500. Lamp included.

Reminds me of Melville's lap desk Bonhams had not so long ago. That one sold for $34,160.
Catalogue Review: Pickering & Chatto #787

P&C.pngThe newest catalogue from longtime London booksellers (established 1820) Pickering & Chatto is titled Women in Literature and Society. There are many books and ephemera dealing with the suffrage/suffragette movement, prostitution, ideal feminine beauty and health, and the like. It's fascinating material, the more so because there is such breadth and depth in the catalogue. There are unusual pieces on every page, and first-class descriptions to help draw out their unique stories.

One example is the 1854 memoir of Marie Lafarge, Heures de Prison (£385). LaFarge was convicted in 1840 of poisoning her husband with arsenic, and this is the story of her eleven years in jail. Says the catalogue: "The Lafarge case became a cause celebre is France, with many prominent figures, including George Sand, arguing publicly that the conviction was based on insufficient evidence." Indeed, in 1978, Lafarge was vindicated when it was revealed that the husband actually died of typhoid fever.
Great-Big-American-Auction-Heritage.jpg

Like it or not, reality television found an ideal partner in the antiques and collectables market.  The drama of the hunt, the suspense of the reveal, the rags-to-riches stories: these elements of collecting can make for compelling television. We here at Fine Books have been watching as this partnership has edged closer and closer to our neck of the woods: rare books and manuscripts.  Several pilots are currently being produced around the country which will focus at least in part on rare book auctions.  It remains to be seen which programs will sell to national networks.  But in the meantime, a new reality show that debuts tonight will occasionally dabble in collectable books:
The Paris Review is holding an online holiday auction. So if you're in the market for some unique, tres literary gifts--like naming a character in an upcoming novel, high tea with an author, or a literary tour of Greenwich Village--take a look at its auction on Bidding for Good, now through Dec. 11. What other treasures await?
Bolano.jpgOriginal artwork by Leanne Shapton for Robert Bolano's The Third Reich. There are four pieces available, as well as a working sketch of captions. The illustration seen here appeared on the front cover of The Paris Review and in the first serialization of Bolano's novel. Signed and framed in a shadowbox. There is already spirited bidding on this piece, which is estimated at $750.
eBook Treasures, a new venture from Armadillo Systems in Great Britain, publishes digital facsimiles of some of the greatest (and rarest) masterpieces of world literature.  You can flip through William Blake's personal notebook, or browse through Mercator's Atlas of Europe on your iPhone or iPad.  We recently interviewed Michael Stocking, Managing Director of Armadillo Systems about eBook Treasures and bridging the gap between the codex and the digital reader:

arundel.jpg NP: How did eBook Treasures begin?

MS: About 10 years ago we developed some software for libraries and museums to display digital facsimiles on touchscreens and the web called Turning the Pages. This became fairly successful, but earlier this year we started to look at how we could provide access to rare books in a compelling way on mobile devices, specifically tablets. I love print facsimiles, but we thought by offering digital facsimiles we could provide great quality images, additional interpretation like audio or video, a simple one-click download and at a price everyone could afford. We looked at building an app and Kindle, but in the end opted for the iBook platform, as it offered the best user experience
lf.jpgComing up for auction this week at Heritage Auctions is this library book due date slip (remember those?) bearing the penciled signature of "J. Salinger." The worn card with seventeen other signatures dates from December 1959. And what was the famous 40-year-old author reading? Norman Forrest's Death Took a Publisher, a bibliomystery from 1936. Presumably this library card comes from a public library close to Cornish, New Hampshire. Salinger moved there in the early fifties and gradually slipped into a reclusive lifestyle.

Quite an incredible Salinger collectible for the estimate of $800-$1,200 (much prettier and display-worthy than, say, the Salinger toilet up for auction on eBay last year). Online bidding has already begun and looks competitive. The live auction happens in New York on Thursday of this week.
Catalogue Review: Richardson Books, #47

Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury writers are consistent favorites for readers and collectors, so it seems Jon and Margaret Richardson of York, Maine, made quite a wise decision when they focused their bookselling business on that eminent group (read more about them here). In this catalogue #47, we are treated to 168 items from the likes of the Woolfs, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, Vita Sackville-West, and E. M. Forster. The Hogarth Press also looms large, of course, and the very first listing in the catalogue shows fourteen first editions by the Hogarth Press, ranging in price from $175 for The Moment to $1,900 for Jacob's Room. A selection of Leonard and Virginia's limited, hand-printed books are also available.

An "exceeding rare book" by Leonard Woolf, The Wise Virgins: A Story of Words, Opinions And A Few Emotions is here ($7,500), and the catalogue further entices with the booksellers' comment that is this "only the second copy we have had in 25 years." Plus, it has the added association value of having belonged to Sydney Waterlow, a former suitor of Virginia's.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Jonathan Smalter, proprietor of Yesterday's Muse, in Webster, New York.  Jonathan just released his first catalogue, which is available to download here.jonathan-smalter.jpgNP: How did you get started as a bookseller?

JS: I began working in a used bookstore when I was 17, but I think my love of books started much earlier than that. The first memory I have is of my grandmother teaching me to properly turn the pages of a book. My first book-related job was all data entry, and I had a chance to handle a lot of interesting books. I was hooked.

NP: When did you open Yesterday's Muse?

JS: Yesterday's Muse has been in operation since 2002, when I literally began selling books out of my closet during college. I've been making a living doing this full-time since college, and opened a brick-and-mortar shop towards the end of 2008.

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