Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Gregory Freeman of Surrey, British Columbia who collects the English Reformation.

Where are you from / where do you live? 

Surrey, British Columbia.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I entered the book trade at 19 and have been in the business over ten years as a bookstore employee, working for a number of booksellers in that time as cataloguer. Never attended post-secondary. As a self-taught antiquarian I visit rare books libraries (most of them belong to universities) to engage in my hobby -- searching through early printed books for marginalia as I’ve taught myself in English palaeography. I’ve made some fascinating discoveries over the years. But I haven’t bothered to take any courses; Latin would be my first choice.

Please introduce us to your book collection. What areas do you collect in? 

English Reformation period in history, biography, theology, literature, history of the English language, reflecting my own heritage and religion. I also go back to the Anglo-Saxons (as did the Tudors and Victorians) for a better cultural and lingual understanding. Dictionaries--especially the Oxford English Dictionary of which I have the first edition--is another aspect to my collection, with subsidiary publications and a subsection of philologist-theologian Richard Chenevix Trench. Besides printed books (and books-about-books), I also collect handwritten documents of the 13th-19th centuries to indulge in my palaeographical interest. Provenance to a few of my books include the first Duke of Northumberland, Lord Rosebery, and Canadian prime ministers Sir Charles Tupper and Sir John A Macdonald. 

How many books are in your collection? 

About 450 antiquarian books, leaves, and pamphlets; 60 manuscripts on paper and parchment dating back to circa 1270; plus another couple hundred books post-1900.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

Reading early 20th-century literature at the age of 16-17 sparked the latent antiquarian in me; in senior high school I was already buying cheap Victorian books and sometimes brought them to class. These led to earlier and earlier books, until at the age of 22 in 2007, I acquired my first 16th-17th-century items, A Continuation of Morning-Exercise Questions and Cases of Conscience (1683), followed by Paraphrasis In Psalmos Davidivos (1590), The Gunpowder-Treason (1679), St. Germain’s classic legal text The Dialogue in English (1593), that’s when my serious collecting began. 

How about the most recent book? 

A first edition of bishop John Jewel’s famous Defence of the Apologie for the Churche of Englande (1567), with intriguing marginalia possibly belonging to Stephen Batman the contemporary Elizabethan theologian. 

And your favorite book in your collection? 

A small quarto Bishops Bible printed by Jugge in 1577, bound with The Whole Booke of Psalmes printed by Daye in 1576. It’s bound in early tooled leather over wooden boards, with late Mediaeval MS vellum binder’s waste in gothic lettering (probably cut from a disused breviary) inserted at the front hinge. The Mediaeval fragment is such a splendid commentary on the period : a banned religious service book scrapped for use as binding reinforcement in a Protestant English bible.

1577 Iugge Bishops Bible quarto (9).JPG
Best bargain you’ve found?

It’s difficult to say which is best, but among them have been a 1561 exemplification document on vellum with Elizabeth I’s great wax seal appended; a near fine copy of John Knox’s Historie of the Reformation of the Church of Scotland (1644); plus the 1577 Bishops Bible above. Also, Herbert Coleridge’s A Glossarial Index (1859), annotated in pen by Frederick J. Furnivall, that I bought online for $40--Coleridge and Furnivall were the two earliest editors of what became the OED.

1561 Elizabeth Great Seal document (7).JPG

How about the One that Got Away?

I try to forget them as best I can. Normally when something sells I consider it fate and move on. I can scarcely afford these things anyhow being a bookstore employee. I’m grateful for what I’ve got. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

A 14th-15th-century Wycliffe Bible; a Mediaeval copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History ; any book with a previously-unknown Mediaeval music manuscript used as endleaves in the binding. Perhaps a lost copy of Tyndale’s first edition New Testament.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore? 

J. King in Canada has been my favourite for a long time, with Purpora and MacLeod’s Books in Vancouver, plus a number of other Canadian booksellers more recently whom I’ve met at book fairs, such as Bison Books. 

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

I happen to collect music (on CD) composed in England between the 12th-18th centuries, so perhaps if I didn’t collect books and documents my mania would be focused on period musical instruments such as organs, viols, lutes, sackbutts, etc. Religious relics of the Middle Ages would also be fun.
eliot.jpgThis year marks the one hundredth anniversary of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the starting gun for Modernist poetry, according to some critics. Harvard University (Eliot’s alma mater) is celebrating with an exhibit of the poem’s various forms at the Houghton Library through June 27. Various manuscript and typescript reproductions are displayed alongside multiple printings, from its debut in the June 1915 issue of Poetry magazine to the first edition in book form, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917).

Should it be any surprise that this year, which also marks fifty years since the poet’s death, brings more Eliot-related news? In March the Boston Globe reported that the seven-bedroom house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Eliot summered as a child was purchased in late 2014 by the UK-based T.S. Eliot Foundation. The nonprofit plans to turn the $1.3-million seaside home into a writers’ retreat, slated to open in 2016.

9780374279448.jpgA new biography of the Nobel Prize winner is out too. Robert Crawford’s Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land, the first of a proposed two-volume account, offers a portrait of the poet as a young man. Reviewers have so far gushed over the book; Booklist, in particular, praised, “It’s hard to imagine a literary biography of greater merit being published this year.”  

Images: T.S. Eliot in the Harvard 1910 Class Album, Courtesy Harvard University Archives, HUD 310.04.5. Young Eliot book jacket via Macmillan.  

Macbeth, the Graphic Novel


This week marks 451 years since William Shakespeare’s birth. While festivities in 2015 may not equal those of the Bard’s quadricentennial, there’s always a steady outpouring of fresh material offering the latest theories about the man, his life, and his work. 

And, since 2007, Shakespeare’s words have been immortalized in comic book form. Macbeth was recently adapted into a graphic novel by acclaimed artist Gareth Hinds, whose previous works include adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and King Lear. In graphic-novel format, Macbeth is surprisingly easy to follow. Though Hinds plays with the iambic pentameter in order to accommodate speech bubbles by removing most of the line breaks, Shakespeare’s words ring true and clear, and the great soliloquies remain intact, such as the chilling “Is this a dagger which I see before me”.   

Macbeth. Copyright ©2015 by Gareth Hinds. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick PressSomerville, MA

Hinds’ dark and sinister pencil illustrations perfectly capture the claustrophobia and overall anxiety writ on every line of text. An image where Macbeth contemplates his next bloody move shows a shirtless and heavily muscled man in the throes of his malevolent imaginings. A nod, perhaps to Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine from the X-Men comics, which wouldn’t surprise me at all; teenagers are definitely Hinds’ target audience.  Even Banquo has a tattoo. Swimming pools full of blood, sword-fighting, murder, wonderfully witchy-looking sorceresses, personality disorders, and the temptation of evil are all rendered by a deft artist who clearly enjoys his subject. The author’s notes offer illuminating insight into Hinds’ research for this project and page-by-page explanations for some of the details in his illustrations. This psychological thriller is as entertaining in graphic-novel format as onstage, and demonstrates the Bard’s continued endurance. 

Macbeth, a graphic novel adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds, based on the play by William Shakespeare; Candlewick Press, $21.99, 152 pages, ages 12 and up. (February 2015) 

ilab pop up book fair 2015.jpg
If you happen to be wandering through the Australian bush today, keep an eye open for an antiquarian bookshop operating out of a wool shed.

Antiquarian booksellers across the world are participating in ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) pop up book fairs. From Sydney to Tokyo to Cape Town, then on to Moscow and the major capitals of Europe, and finally to New York, Chicago, and the Pacific Northwest, these pop up book fairs will celebrate UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day by showcasing rare books in ephemera in unexpected places around the globe.

The pop up book fairs will take place in museums, libraries, private clubs, train stations, museums, brew pups, skyscrapers, and on roof terraces, street corners, and boats. Booksellers will aim to engage passers-by with interesting and curated selections of rare books, prints, manuscripts, and ephemera. 

2015 marks the first time that ILAB has participated in UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day, which celebrates the gift--and human right--of reading. Each pop up book fair will feature a large poster of an empty bookcase.  

In addition to offering items for perusal and sale, the pop up book fairs will solicit donations for UNESCO’s South Sudan project. Symbolic book spines will be “sold” (throughout the day to fill up the bookcase: $3 sends one book a child in South Sudan; $15 purchases a set of 12 school books for a classroom, and $500 provides 45 school book collections for a Sudanese community.

Look for a pop up book fair near you today. You can find a full list of the pop up book fair locations on the ILAB website.
9780062356451.jpgMedieval poet John Gower reprises his unlikely yet likable role as narrator and detective in Bruce Holsinger’s new novel, The Invention of Fire (William Morrow, $26.99). A follow up to last year’s A Burnable Book, this tale begins when sixteen corpses are found clogging a London privy channel. Gross! Holsinger, a medieval scholar at the University of Virginia, revels in this kind of pungent, atmospheric detail. We quickly learn how these poor souls met their gruesome end: “Handgonnes. A word new to me in that moment, though one that would shape and fill the weeks to come. I looked out over the graves pocking the St. Bart’s churchyard, their inhabitants victims of pestilence, accident, hunger, and crime, yet despite their numberless fates it seemed that man was ever inventing new ways to die.”

Gower’s sleuthing sidekick, Geoffrey Chaucer, reappears too, as do the city’s many maudlyns (prostitutes) and crooked officials. As in A Burnable Book, Holsinger succeeds where many historical novelists fail, in the creation of unique characters--e.g., Cripplegate hermit Piers Goodman, boy cutpurse Jack Norris, and steely widow Hawisia Stone--and sharp, approachable dialogue. Holsinger risks flaming (no pun intended) in taking up the history of guns and its attendant violence, even within the framework of a mystery set more than six hundred years ago, and yet his agenda, if he has one, is obscured.

The Invention of Fire is substantial and smart. Those who enjoy historical fiction will delight in its layered, well-researched narrative. 

P.S. Should any reader be interested in the “real” Gower, I spied a 1532 edition of his De Confessione Amantis in Justin Croft’s booth at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair earlier this month.
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Leif Norman of Winnipeg, who collects chemistry and photographic books, as well as books about the history of Winnipeg:

leif norman byc.jpg

Where are you from / where do you live?

I grew up in St James and moved to downtown Winnipeg as soon as I was 19.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I initially wanted to be a High School Music Teacher, then a Chemistry Teacher, and so I got a 4 year Chemistry degree from the U of W. When I discovered that teaching was akin to babysitting I chose not to get the Education Degree, and because my serious hobby of photography was getting good results I became a photographer. I make all my money with my camera; but I don’t do weddings.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

I collect 19th century Chemistry texts, anything to do with the History of Winnipeg, including old postcards and matchbooks. I also have a large collection of Photographic books from before the 1950’s because they include the chemical recipes for mixing developers and making your own films.

How many books are in your collection?

There are about 100 books I keep behind glass in a 1930’s cabinet.

leif norman collection byc.jpg

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought which made me think I was actually being an active collector was John William Draper’s 1851 Textbook on Chemistry for Schools and Colleges. Each chapter is a lecture covering very basic Scientific ideas. Anyone can understand it.

How about the most recent book?

The most recent book I bought was “The Growing World, or The Progress of Civilization” from 1885. It is a hodge podge of long and short writings about Astronomy, Exploring in Africa, French Shepherds wearing stilts and much much more. It’s like a Victorian bathroom reader and includes gorgeous illustrations.

And your favorite book in your collection?

My favourite book is the 1st Edition Focal Encyclopedia of Photography from 1956.
It is comically huge with nearly 1300 pages; making it 4 inches thick. I bought it in Toronto and was reading on the VIA rail train back to Winnipeg and everyone was staring incredulously at me with this enormous book.

Best bargain you’ve found?

The best bargain might be a tract by Guy Debord called “Society of the Spectacle” from 1970 Detroit. I have a very small collection of Situationist books and I found this one jammed in a discount box for $5. There is one listed on Biblio for $300 CDN right now.

How about The One that Got Away?

The book that got away would be the one hiding in a corner I never looked in. My girlfriend and I drive to Toronto or Victoria every year and stop in as many vintage, thrift, junk stores along the way searching for treasures, but it’s tiring and I get sloppy. One can only imagine the yard sale that had wonderful things that we never stopped at. Sigh...

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The Holy Grail for me would be an original Pencil of Nature by Fox Talbot, or something by the French Chemist Lavoisier.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

My favourite book store in Winnipeg is Bison Books. They have great stuff, and appreciate ephemera and the old stuff like I do. In Toronto I always go to The Monkey’s Paw and Balfour Books, and in Victoria BC, Russell Books is an endless bunch of fun.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

If I didn’t collect books, I would collect mid-century teak furniture, vintage film cameras and Victorian carte de visites, ugly coffee mugs and bizarre vinyls records. Wait, I already do that. I might collect vintage mopeds and scooters if I had all the money and space I wanted.

Nominations for entries in our Bright Young Collectors series can be sent to nathan@finebooksmagazine.com

Coming to auction this week at Freeman’s in Philadelphia is this neat piece of royal (or Revolutionary War) ephemera: a ticket to King George III’s coronation, held “At Mr. Carruther’s in New Palace Yard, Westminster” in 1761. The text is printed with some filled-in bits in manuscript; the red wax seal is present and lovely. The auction house estimate is $600-900, on par with what it made when last seen at auction eleven years ago, when Bonhams London sold it for £549 ($825) at the sale of the Enys Collection of autograph manuscripts. 

Averybook.jpgThe famous Schoenberg Collection of Pre-Modern Manuscripts, a 2011 bequest to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and valued at about $20 million, will be the subject of a roundtable discussion at the University of Tampa Library, April 19, 2015, at 1:30. Sixty-five selections from the collection were on show from Jan-Feb 2015, at the Selby Gallery, Ringling College of Art & Design.

This event was initiated & organized by Dr. Maureen E. Mulvihill (Princeton Research Forum, Princeton NJ; Vice President, Florida Bibliophile Society).  

Here is her Schoenberg event webpage (mark of the Cuala Press, Dublin, displayed at foot of page) ~

Image: Book of Hours, c. 1475-1500. Courtesy of the Florida Bibliophile Society.

Book Smell for the 21st Century

Ask an antiquarian book collector what a room full of books smells like, and responses will probably include the familiar scents of glue, ink, various types of paper, even mold. “Old Book Smell” even attracted the attention of The Smithsonian Magazine, which ran a story on its blog in 2013 exploring the chemical breakdown of a book’s odeur. (Scientists behind the study deduced that old books emit a “combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.” 

E-books can’t compete with that unmistakable aromatic, but technology has advanced to the point where new digital books can be infused with scent. Think of the Smell-O-Vision, (a 1960 invention intended to perfume movie theaters) but on a mobile device.  Last year, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup Vapor Communications announced the creation of the oPhone, an app capable of emitting scent that corresponds to digitally written material. Here’s how it works: type an oNote using email or SMS. When the message shows up in the oNotes app, a scent wafts from a Bluetooth-enabled oPhone, which looks like two miniature steel chimneys affixed atop a white and stainless-steel platter. Now that same technology, generally called oMedia, exists for a range of products - oSongs, oClothing, and oBooks made with ‘scent-tagged’ images. 

Right now, there’s only one oBook, a collaborative effort with Melcher Media called Goldilocks and the Three Bears: The Smelly Version. Infused with fruit scents, Goldilocks is designed to encourage children to select healthy snacks like apricots and oranges. 

Goldilocks 3.jpg
image courtesy of Vapor Communications 

None of the various oMedia products are available in stores yet, and attempts to download the oNotes app from the company website were unsuccessful. However, on Saturday, April 18, curious parties can test the Goldilocks oBook at Museum of the Moving Image in New York, where it’s part of an installation called Sensory Stories: An Exhibition of New Narrative Experiences.  Another olfactory exhibit, Memory | Witness of the Unimaginable, opens today at Le Laboratoire in Cambridge, MA. Created by music composer Dániel Péter Biró, master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel, and oMedia creators David Edwards and Rachel Field, installations examine how the combination of scent and sound can transform a sensory experience.

At this rate, oMedia is eerily close to fulfilling Anne of Green Gable’s author L.M. Montgomery’s desire: “I wish we could see perfumes as well as smell them. I’m sure they would be very beautiful.” 

Sensory Stories: An Exhibition of New Narrative Experiences runs from April 18 through July 26 at the Museum of the Moving Image 36-01 35 Ave, Astoria, NY 11106 718 777 6888. More information is at: http://www.movingimage.us/ 

Memory | Witness of the Unimaginable is at Le Laboratoire Cambridge from April 18 through August 26. 650 East Kendall St. Cambridge, MA 02142 info@lelaboratoirecambridge.com Tel: 617-945-7515 http://www.lelaboratoirecambridge.com/#!exhibitions/c5jx

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Liam McGahern of Patrick McGahern Books in Ottawa:

liam mcgahern.jpg

How did you get started in rare books?
I started working in my fathers shop when I was 12 (1986). I was trying to raise money to go to Europe, on an student exchange with my glass. I’d take the bus downtown after school, and then run errands: deliver parcels to the post office, take out the garbage, get coffee for the other staff, and straighten the shelves...
When did you take ownership of McGahern Books and what do you specialize in?
When you work in a family business, you never really take ownership... My father started in 1969, and I started full time in 1999 when I finished university. We still work together.
We specialize (and publish catalogues) in 18th and 19th century books that relate to Canada (and North America) and the Arctic. We also specialize in fishing and angling, and Irish History and Literature.
What is a typical day for you?
Every day is different. Mostly though, I arrive at our office downtown, go through usual checking emails, returning calls, and then spend most of the day wrapping and shipping orders and cataloguing books.
What do you love about the book trade?
I’ve always loved business. All of my grandparents ran businesses, and I think it is really ingrained deep in my DNA.

I love the variety of the book trade. Every copy of every book is different, and every customer is  different.  If I sold car batteries, I probably would have gone crazy along time ago. Booksellers are constantly learning new things, discovering lost treasurers. Many Canadians are very passive about their history. I believe that I’m helping promote and preserve Canada’s history and heritage, by doing what I do, and I take pride in that.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?
In 2014 we sold off the Franklin Search Collection of Bertram Plimer, one of the finest collections in private hands. It took over a year to catalogue. The catalogue which contained 460 items over 160 illustrated pages has become a reference book in itself. You know when other dealers are willing to pay for your catalogue, you’ve done something right. My father was responsible for 90 percent of the work, but it was thrilling just to be involved with it.
What do you personally collect?
I collect books about a small part of the Ottawa River where my family is from. Samuel Champlain and Alexander Mackenzie both paddled up that river.  There is very little about the area, which makes collecting a challenge... and more fun. I also have a Salinger collection which I started as a teenager. Its grown a bit stale though, as I can’t afford to buy and keep the few things I don’t have.
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
I’m not too worried about the next 20 years. The market is changed greatly, but collectors keep collecting, and great copies keep selling. The internet has changed the world forever, and we can’t turn the clock backward. It’s a bit sad to see the bottom end books disappear, but not much we can do about it. Markets change, and you need to be able to react to them. Nobody know what the future holds, so why worry? 

Collecting is ingrained in human nature. I believe its always been about having it, owning it. This hasn’t changed.  
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
We’ll be exhibiting at the Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair in November of 2015, and our local fair as well. We currently have a Polar, Early Canadian, Irish History and Angling catalogues all in the works.

Nominations for entries in our Bright Young Booksellers series can be sent to nathan@finebooksmagazine.com

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