Richard Minsky has launched a new exhibit and catalogue of publishers' bindings, titled Trade Bindings with Native American Themes, 1875-1933. The book artist (and FB&C Book Art columnist) turned up 116 different decorative and pictorial covers and more than 20 variants by Margaret Armstrong, Frank Hazenplug, The Decorative Designers, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, Blanche Helen McLane, Rome K. Richardson, George W. Hood, Thomas Watson Ball, Angel de Cora, Amy Rand, George W. Hood, and many others. They are currently on display in his Hudson, New York, studio.

indians-book-1923-700.jpgMinsky is an expert in American decorated publishers' bindings. His first three exhibition catalogues documented more than 1,000 covers, and each exhibition was acquired by a different institutional library. In 2012, he mounted and catalogued a single-artist exhibition devoted to Thomas Watson Ball, which went en bloc to Penn State. Last year, George Braziller published a paperback edition of Minsky's book, The Art of American Book Covers, 1875-1930.

I asked him if he sought out Native American-themed books for this new project, or if the theme presented itself while he was researching the larger topic of American decorated publishers' bindings. "I have some books with this theme and it's one that was not highlighted in any of the previous exhibitions. Searching for more covers with this subject matter turned up some amazing designs--enough for an exhibition," he told me. "Only five of the designs are among the nearly 1,200 in the previous catalogues." In a newsletter to collectors and friends, Minsky also clarified the exhibit's theme: "This exhibition is titled Trade Bindings with Native American Themes rather than American Indian themes because of its geographic and temporal scope. The books are about indigenous peoples from the Aleuts and Inuit of the arctic to South Americans, and fictional prehistoric inhabitants that may predate those believed to have migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge and the Paleoamericans who may have migrated by boat."

Through March 31, Minsky is offering a pre-publication discount on the limited edition or the deluxe edition of the catalogue.  

Image: The Indians' Book
Recorded and edited by Natalie Curtis
Unsigned cover design likely by Angel de Cora ((Hinook Mahiwi Kilinaka, Winnebago)
Harper and Brothers, ©1923
Courtesy of Richard Minsky. 
With a few exceptions, every great writer gets his start in newspapers, magazines, and smaller publications. Before his big break, Mark Twain published news stories in a handful of western newspapers. "Firsts" of Hemingway's short stories can be found in Esquire, and Dorothy Parker's first published poem appears in a 1914 issue of Vanity Fair. For completist collectors, these early pieces are an integral part of a collection, and usually not too expensive.

Updike.jpgThe prolific John Updike--pity the completist--is no different. We can trace his journalism all the way back to his high school newspaper, Chatterbox. Updike attended Shillington High School in Pennsylvania, and he held many positions over the years at the school's paper, including editor. On April 2, a collection of original mimeographed Chatterbox issues from 1949-1950, showing more than eighty Updike contributions, goes to auction in New York City. Among Updike's adolescent jottings, there are reviews, such as "Hamlet Reviewed (an orgy of superlatives)" from Feb. 25, 1949, and many poems, for example, "Ode to the Seniors" from April 14, 1949 and "Valentine to the Hydrogen Bomb" from Feb. 10, 1950.

This run of newspapers was originally collected and owned by Updike's classmate, Barry Nelson, who worked as the paper's sports editor.

The auction estimate is $4,000, with bids being taken online by Heritage Auctions until April 1.

Image via Heritage Auctions.


Marcus Books, a landmark Black bookshop in San Francisco, may close its doors if it is unable to raise $1 million in funding to purchase their building. The bookshop has launched a GoFundMe campaign in the hopes of raising the necessary capital.

Marcus Books was the brainchild of Julian and Raye Richardson, who founded the shop under the name Success Book Store in 1960.  Ten years later, after an inspired reading of Marcus Garvey's Philosophy and Opinions, the Richardsons renamed their shop "Marcus Books." The store moved to its present location on Fillmore St, between Sutter and Post, in 1981. 

Continuously in operation for 53 years, the bookshop has claimed the distinction of being the oldest Black bookshop in America. The shop has also become a cornerstone of African American literary culture, hosting readings from everyone from Malcolm X to Oprah.

The current owners of Marcus Books - Gregory and Karen Johnson - reached an agreement with the building owners: if the store can raise $2.6m, the San Francisco Community Land Trust will purchase the building, letting Marcus Books stay as its tenant in perpetuity.

Marcus Books raised over half of the amount before turning to crowdsourcing for the final $1m.

[Image from GoFundMe campaign]

Next week at Sotheby's London, the library of Franklin Brooke-Hitching, a collection encompassing 1,500 books, 350+ years, and 7 continents, begins its turn at auction. It is, writes Anthony Payne in the catalogue's introduction, "the finest private collection of English global exploration and discovery to have been formed in the last century."

Captain Cook's untitled chart of "The Great Pacific Ocean" and "South Pacific Ocean" (London: Joseph Banks, 1772) is the first printed map of Australia. Only three are extant, and this is the only one in private hands. The auction estimate is $130,000-195,000.

Captain Cook, Walter Raleigh, David Livingstone, Ernest Shackleton, Charles Darwin -- these are just some of the explorers in this collection that spans 1576-1939. The March 27 sale is the first of four, with the next scheduled to be held in September, and two following in the spring of 2015. Two of the highlights of this first sale include the earliest printed map of Australia (above) and the first book printed in Alaska.

Brooke-Hitching, 72, has been collecting for more than 40 years, and as a banker-turned-bookseller, only bought the best. From all accounts, he is a meticulous and persistent collector -- his fine bindings are in the best condition, and many of the books are unique or rare presentation copies. This auction is one for the ages!

Image via Sotheby's. 

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Allison Jai O'Dell, Special Collections Cataloging and Metadata Librarian at the University of Miami.


How did you get started in rare books?

By following sage advice.  My undergraduate degrees were in ancient history and classical languages.  This educational path doesn't often translate into a ready (let alone lucrative) career, so I went to work as a database administrator.  I quickly became enamored of information management and enrolled in library school at The Catholic University of America.  During the first months of my MLS program, everyone kept saying, "You know Latin and Greek?  Have you thought about rare books?"  So, I heeded their collective recommendation and registered for courses on book history and rare books librarianship.  Being trained in archaeological methodology, exploring book history felt natural to me.  Something clicked: this was the perfect way to combine my academic background and professional experience.


I hear you also have a background in book arts. Tell us more:

Once I immersed myself in rare book cataloging, it became clear that to do the work justice, I was going to have to learn to reverse engineer a book artifact.  That is, I was going to have to learn to make books.  I enrolled in the Corcoran College of Art and Design's M.A. program in "Art and the Book."  Studio practice in printmaking, typography, layout design, binding, and papermaking offered a foundation for assessing the products of these activities that has proved invaluable in describing and arranging them.  I draw upon my knowledge of the book arts constantly in my work, and always refer new professionals to Kathleen Walkup's essay, "Why Book Arts Matter." 

What is your role at your institution?

I serve as the Special Collections Cataloging and Metadata Librarian for the University of Miami Libraries.  Practically speaking, I am involved in all things that relate to facilitating intellectual access to print and manuscript materials in our special collections.  My duties include "traditional" rare book cataloging, metadata management, policy development, and collaborative work with the systems and web development teams to build better user experiences. 

I am fortunate to work with future-focused colleagues who are creatively reconsidering the habits of twenty-first-century information consumers.  Lately, I have been facilitating usability studies to improve and invent front-end interfaces, coordinating library-wide discussions to address implementation of linked data features and open metadata strategies, and investigating possibilities available in new systems and schemas. 

And naturally, I take pictures and blog.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

I adore Melissa Jay Craig's work.  She engages with book aesthetics and book form through the corporeal nature of handmade paper, and she creates conversations about the experience of reading in the absence of textual content.  Finding "Working Philosophy" at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts was definitely my favorite book-object experience.

What do you personally collect?

My apartment is full of prints, books, and textiles made by friends and colleagues.  I keep them for their sentimental value - because I know the stories behind their creation, I respect the labor involved in making, and I'm fond of their makers.  But I don't endeavor to be a collector.  I live with two house rabbits who frequently make snacks out of works on paper.  My home isn't the most appropriate space for stewarding artifacts into future use.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I love being employed in the study of material culture.  Everyday objects, such as books and ephemera, are a record of who we are, what we do, and what we want.  I'm fascinated by the anthropological aspects of my career.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I see an increasingly exhibition-heavy role for special collections and rare book libraries.  A few days ago, I was explaining my job to a new friend.  I said that I work to help users access the information in our catalogs and databases.  Her response was, "So, you make infographics?"  I laughed, but it was a very telling moment.  The public assumes that information professionals will curate information for them, and services that distill content into a meaningful and digestible product appear attractive.  Besides, audiences expect museum-like programming when we promote the artifactual value of our material.  Graphic displays and narrative formats have the power to extract and present knowledge, and we can harness this capacity through exhibits, blogs, data visualizations - and yes, infographics.

 I also envision research analyst positions growing among the special collections workforce.  We train as researchers in book and human history; we become intimately familiar with our collections and their descriptive metadata; we cultivate strengths in investigative methodologies and data mining techniques - and yet, we typically stop short of performing research services ourselves.  In an age of information obesity, and given the potential for collaboration available in the digital humanities, I think that might change. 

 Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?

The Jackie Gleason Collection focuses on parapsychology, including both scholarly and popular works in areas such as occultism, reincarnation, hypnotism, UFOs, ghosts, spiritual healing, demonology, magic, telepathy, astral projection, clairvoyance... really, really cool stuff.

 Our Artists' Books Collection is what drew me to the University of Miami.  It's a top-notch representation of the genre and highly regarded among contemporary artists. 

 I was surprised to discover that our zine collections are both quite substantial and fully described.  They provide amazing primary source material for researching political, social, sexual, and musical subcultures of the latter 20th century.  The Firefly Zine Collection was donated by former residents of the Firefly, a local Miami collective house and important part of Miami's punk rock and activist scene.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Golly, lots!  "?#@*$%! the Mainstream: The Art of DIY Self Expression," which ran at the University of Miami Lowe Art Museum this past winter, will be seeing a reprise at the Otto G. Richter Library in the coming year.  Our Special Collections Division is working on an exhibit showcasing local culinary culture.  (Being a cultural melting pot with indigenous tropical fruits, Miami is a great place for chow!)  The Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) is a partner in bringing the Guantanamo Public Memory Project to the University of Miami in October.  And the CHC's fall 2014 exhibition will be on Manuel Ochoa, founder of the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

The HMS Bounty was just a small merchant vessel on its way to Tahiti to collect breadfruit. Under the command of the now infamous Captain Bligh, the ship left dock in December of 1787 for its arduous ten-month journey at sea, during which time Bligh demoted his sailing master and replaced him with Fletcher Christian, a move he would surely come to regret. Still, they made it to Tahiti, where the crew stayed for five months. In April of 1789, they left the island and headed for disaster.

It took only a few weeks for the mutiny to foment. Christian and his band of mutineers took the ship (eventually to Pitcairn Island, where they eluded the Royal Navy), and set Bligh and his loyalists adrift in a small boat. Amazingly, Bligh returned his crew to England.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 9.21.31 AM.pngIt is, of course, a story that was sensational from the beginning, providing the basis for many books and films. One of the first publications was the printed minutes of the 1792 court-martial of the Bounty mutineers--those the Navy had caught, anyway. Ten men went to trial, of which three were hanged. For a collector of Bounty books and relics, this is undoubtedly a high spot. Bonhams sold one last year for slightly more than $50,000.

Edward R. Leahy is one such Bounty collector. His interest lies in the historical efforts to demonize Bligh, who was often portrayed as tyrannical. "From Bligh's Narrative to the mutineer's court martial transcripts to the spurious Fletcher Christian letters and the authentic and extremely rare Peter Heywood letters, Mr. Leahy has assembled the historical evidence," according to the University of Scranton special collections librarian Michael Knies. "But he has also collected the start of the Mutiny saga in the arts with works like Lord Byron's The Island."

Mutiny Small Boat 2.jpgThe image seen here of the small boat that Bligh and his crew survived in after the mutiny, from Leahy's 1818 first edition of An Account of the Dangerous Voyage, Performed by Captain Bligh, With a part of the crew of His Majesty's Ship Bounty, in an open boat, over twelve hundred leagues of the Ocean, with an Appendix, In which is contained an Account of the Island of Otaheite (London, Juvenile Library edition). With other selections from Leahy's library, it is currently on display through April 17 at the University of Scranton's Weinberg Library in an exhibit called The Mutiny on the Bounty: A 225-Year Voyage from Fiction to Fact. On April 9, Leahy will present a lecture on the facts and the myths of the Bounty.

Images: Top, courtesy of Bonhams; Bottom, courtesy of the University of Scranton, Weinberg Library.

Flights of Fancy


AVIARY WONDERS INC. ©2014 Kate Samworth. Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers.

Hunting, habitat loss and climate change are driving bird species to extinction at a record clip. But what if carrier pigeons could once more take flight, simply by assembling various interchangeable parts?  Debut author-illustrator Kate Samworth explores this imaginative possibility in a book that is by turns funny and unsettling.  Samworth says the inspiration to sketch a bird catalog came after listening to New Orleans residents talk about the eerie lack of birdsounds post-Katrina.   


AVIARY WONDERS INC. ©2014 Kate Samworth. Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers.

Modeled after an old-fashioned mail-order catalog, this fantasy avian sales prospectus is the brainchild of logging company magnate Alfred Wallis, who established Aviary Wonders Inc. after noticing that birds vanished shortly after loggers chopped down their homes. The catalog offers an assortment of feathers, bodies, beaks and legs for bird lovers to create a feathered friend to call their very own.  The second half of the catalog is amusingly devoted to assembly, troubleshooting tips, and even includes an order form.  


AVIARY WONDERS INC. ©2014 Kate Samworth. Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers.

The 'catalog' is peppered with cheeky advertising banter alongside some very real facts about endangered and extinct species. Samworth's stunning oil paintings are as bright and cheerful as the underlying message of habitat destruction is serious. 

Aviary Wonders Inc. flies solo as one of the most unique books for bird-lovers of all ages, and despite its zany premise, will spur lively environmental and scientific discussions.

"Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual: Renewing the World's Bird Supply since 2031," by Kate Samworth, Clarion Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 9-12.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Katharine Chandler, Reference Librarian in the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

How did you get started in rare books?

I majored in medieval studies at Smith College and had some familiarity with medieval manuscripts, but was not involved with special collections until I studied with D. W. Krummel at the University of Illinois in preparation for my library degree.  I attended U of I in order to become a music librarian, and my first course in library school was his famous bibliography class. I continued to take all courses offered at U of I related to special collections (this was before they offered a special collections certificate). I also acted as Professor Krummel's assistant for his Rare Book School (RBS) course, "The Music of America on Paper," and absolutely fell in love with RBS.

I made my way to Philadelphia to become a music librarian, and eventually transferred to the Rare Book Department (RBD) within the Free Library of Philadelphia. Once in the RBD, I dedicated myself to rare book librarianship and haven't looked back.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned my MLS at the University of Illinois, and my MA in medieval history at Villanova University. 

What is your role at your institution?

I am a curator, reference librarian, page, you name it.  It's a small department and we only have two seats in the study!  I interpret collections, teach classes, curate full-scale exhibitions, conduct research, help researchers and scholars find what they need, catalog, create metadata--the list goes on. I also regularly tweet pictures of items in the collections and have a personal blog

Most of the special collections librarians that we've interviewed so far work for academic institutions. Any particular challenges or benefits to working for special collections in a public library setting?

One major benefit to working in a public library is that I work in a full curatorial capacity. We also offer tours to the general public on a daily basis, and I have the opportunity to educate people from all over the world, from all walks of life--I show real objects: a cuneiform tablet, a leaf from a Gutenberg Bible, an Egyptian Book of the Dead from around 800 BC, a Book of Hours, a disappearing fore-edge painting, a horn book, early children's books, and vanity bindings.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

The most exciting book I ever came across was a noted Beneventan missal at the Walters (W 6). Beneventan musical notation is quite rare, especially so in an entire codex (11th century). 

What do you personally collect?

I presently have an Indiana Jones complex, but that might change over time.  Right now I only look to collect for the institution.  As my nieces get older, I might start thinking about collecting for them.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The materials, of course.  A job working with these kinds of objects never grows tiresome.  I love teaching classes and working with scholars.  I enjoy imparting the information I have and learning more about the materials from experts.  I believe I have a special role, caring for collections that are part of society's heritage.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

As an historian, I feel that the use of material texts is becoming increasingly relevant. The trend in the humanities (especially so in the study of history) in the middle part of the 20th century was to use secondary sources.  This has begun to change over the last twenty or thirty years.  More recently, students of the humanities, and in other fields, are turning not just to published primary texts, but to artifacts themselves.  I think special collections professionals will become vitally more important as a result of this trend. 

Additionally, I think we all know how incredibly important it is to become more tech-savvy as a field and as individual professionals. I work for a public library, and we don't have the same kind of funding as a major university might.  However, in our small way, we've been able to get some parts of collections digitized and available to the world. The numbers of visitors to the collections that have been digitized directly correlate--for instance, the more medieval manuscripts we have examples of online, the more visitors we've had in the department to use them from all over the world. The more children's books we have in our online catalog, the more folks we have making appointments to come in and see them in person. There are arguments that once there are digital surrogates of materials online, people won't need to see the original artifacts, and I find that is not the case at all.  In fact, I believe it increases a library's usership.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?

I'm always afraid special collections professionals, scholars, and students are unaware of the amazing treasures we have. 
Founded in 1891, the Free Library was part of a growth of circulating libraries wherein people could borrow books without paying an annual fee. The first librarian and his assistant received their first rare collection of incunabula in 1899. The Rare Book Department, permanently installed by 1949, comprises wonderful collections of Poe, Dickens, Beatrix Potter, medieval manuscripts, "Oriental" manuscripts, Americana, cuneiform tablets, Rackham, children's books, and illustrators.
One collection in particular that is so far not in the OPAC nor digitized is the Horace collection. Given to the Free Library by Moncure Biddle, the Horace collection is a treasure of great printers and fine bindings from the incunabula period to the present.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
I would like to mention that right now, we have a newly opened space, the William B. Dietrich Gallery.  On display for the 450th birthday of Shakespeare is our First Folio, considered to be one of the two rarest in the world. That exhibition is "Shakespeare For All Time," and we're very excited about it.  I'm working with a colleague on the next exhibition, which will open this summer. The focus will be on calendars, the zodiac, and astrology from all over the world: drawing on our medieval manuscripts, non-Western manuscripts, prints, and Americana.

first+caldecott.pngComing up this weekend is the 33rd annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, to be held in St. Petersburg's historic coliseum. More than 115 dealers in rare books, manuscripts, maps, prints and ephemera will descend upon the Sunshine State. Some of the highlights include a first edition of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1820), a first edition of Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (1957), and an inscribed first trade edition of Stephen King's The Eyes of the Dragon (1987). This year's fair focuses on children's literature, so expect a great selection of Caldecott winners, such as the one shown here from Books Tell You Why. Helen Dean Fish's Animals of the Bible (1937) was the first winner of the award.

For those lucky enough to extend their stay in Florida, the weekend following the book fair offers another bookish event. Patricia Pistner, a member of the Florida Bibliophile Society and the Grolier Club, will give an illustrated talk and exhibit of her miniature books collection. Hosted by the Florida Bibliophile Society and introduced by Maureen E. Mulvihill on Sunday, March 23, at the Seminole Community College Library in St. Petersburg.
Tenth of December Jacket Image.jpg
George Saunders has won the inaugural Folio Prize for his collection of short stories entitled Tenth of December. The Folio Prize, sponsored by The Folio Society, is open to writers in English from around the world. Its stated mission is to "celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible."

Saunders - no stranger to awards - has received wide acclaim for Tenth of December, his most recent collection of short stories, that "illuminates human experience and explores figures lost in a labyrinth of troubling preoccupations." Saunders even made The New York Times Best Sellers List with Tenth of December, an astonishing achievement for a literary collection of short stories. Lavinia Greenlaw, chair of the judges for the award, said of Saunders, "Unflinching, delightful, adventurous, compassionate, he is a true original whose work is absolutely of the moment."

Andrew Kidd, founder of The Folio Prize, said of the choice, "...they have recognized one of the great writers of our age, and one of the undisputed masters of his form."

Toby Hartwell, Managing Director of The Folio Society, awarded the winner's trophy to Saunders along with its accompanying £40,000 purse.

In addition to Tenth of December, the shortlist for this year's Folio Prize included:

  • Red Doc> by Anne Carson (Random House/Jonathan Cape) 
  • Schroder by Amity Gaige (Faber & Faber) 
  • Last Friends by Jane Gardam (Little, Brown) 
  • Benediction by Kent Haruf (Picador) 
  • The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner (Random House/Harvill Secker) 
  • A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Galley Beggar Press) 
  • A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava (Maclehose Editions)

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