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On June 12, New York’s Lion Heart Autographs, Inc. will offer at auction the prison diary kept by a British Royal Air Force Officer imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II.

As part of a 175-piece sale, this diary belonged to Joseph Gueuffen (1914-2009), a POW held at the Luftwaffe’s Stalag Luft III camp. The Belgian-born Gueffen was shot down by the Germans three months after he joined the RAF.  He spent the remainder of the war at Stalag Luft III until being returned to England in May 1945.

Gueffen’s grey-blue, linen-covered diary, issued by the Red Cross and the international Young Men’s Christian Association, includes pencil sketches of pin-ups, a man (presumably Gueffen) in uniform, cartoons, and drawings of Block 109 where Gueffen was held. History buffs may recall that the detainees of that ward were some of the masterminds behind the “Great Escape” of March 1944, when fellow RAF POW Roger Bushell developed a plan to tunnel to freedom. Of the nearly 600 prisoners who participated in the tunneling, only 76 escaped and 73 were recaptured. One entry includes the list of the fifty men executed after attempting to escape. The 1963 film, The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Charles Bronson, was based on the event.

The bidding starts at $3,500 and will be live-streamed at See this and other lots, including a note from spy Mata Hari, here.

The unofficial kickoff to summer is upon us! Whether you will find yourself in London or Edinburgh, Chicago or Portland this summer, there are many antiquarian book fairs and book festivals to keep in mind, including: 

Granite State Book and Ephemera Fair (now known as the Northern New England Bookfair). June 2. Everett Arena, 15 Loudon Rd., Concord, NH.

Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair. June 7-9. Battersea Park, London.

Printers Row Lit Fest. June 8-9. South Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL.

Nantucket Book Festival. June 13-16, 2019.

Rose City Book & Paper Fair. June 14-15. Doubletree Hotel, 1000 NE Multnomah, Portland, OR.

Chicago Book & Paper Fair. June 15. Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union Hall.

ANZAAB Australian Antiquarian Book Fair. July 12-14. Wilson Hall, The University of Melbourne, Australia.

GonzoFest (a Hunter S. Thompson celebration). July 20. Louisville Free Public Library, Louisville, KY.

Detroit Festival of Books. July 21. Eastern Market, Sheds 5 and 6, Detroit, MI.

Newberry Library Book Fair. July 25-July 28. Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, IL.

Tennessee Antiquarian Book Fair. July 27-28. The Factory, 230 Franklin Rd., Franklin, TN.

Rocky Mountain Book & Paper Fair. August 2-3. Denver Merchandise Mart - Expo Building, I-25 at 58th Ave., Denver, CO.

Edinburgh International Book Festival. August 10-26. Address: Charlotte Square Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland.
PulpFest. Aug. 15-18. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 910 Sheraton Dr., Mars, PA.

Baltimore Summer Antiques Show. Aug. 29-Sept. 1. Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, MD.

The Library of Congress National Book Festival. Aug. 31. Address: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Courtney Asztalos, Curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts at Syracuse University.

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts at the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at Syracuse University Libraries (SUL). I maximize student and faculty engagement with SCRC holdings of rare plastics artifacts and collections by creating and delivering interactive instructional sessions and curating exhibitions. I photograph and inventory artifacts for inclusion in the Libraries' Plastics Collection Website and arrange for optimal storage of the objects. I also work with donors to further develop the collections.

Tell us about the plastics collection:

The Plastics Collection at Syracuse University Libraries serves as a research and programming resource to advance the study and understanding of plastics in modern society, including its role in chemistry, technology, industry, marketing, health, art, design and other fields. The Plastics Collection includes books, periodicals, manuscripts and over 5,000 plastic objects produced from the late 19th century to the present day. The collection holds a variety of early plastics made of celluloid, thermoset plastics such as Bakelite and Catalin and plastics made popular after WWII. The archival collection contains material related to important plastics companies and pioneers in the field of Plastics. The collection expanded dramatically in 2008 when the National Plastics Center and Museum located in Leominster, Massachusetts closed and transferred its collections of artifacts, books and manuscripts to Syracuse University (SU). This acquisition expanded the Libraries’ already significant holdings in industrial design, science, and technology.

How did you get started in special collections?

As an artist, my own work has been collected by several Special Collections libraries before being employed in this field. I remember admiring Special Collections as spaces that supported artists actively through artist book collecting. My undergraduate education in Studio Art and Photography at Florida State University frequently brought us to the Special Collections there. I was always so inspired when handling and seeing the materials. Prior to graduate school, I worked in various roles, ranging from art handler to Curatorial Assistant for Performing Arts Curator Raelle Myrick-Hodges at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in New Orleans. I left New Orleans to pursue a Master's degree in Art Photography from the Transmedia Department at SU. Before, during, and after graduate school I often coordinated, curated and organized contemporary art exhibitions in a variety of spaces. I was awarded the opportunity to teach courses both as a TA and as the sole instructor of record during my graduate program and post-graduation when hired on as an adjunct. This teaching experience was invaluable. While in graduate school, I was awarded a semester-long artist-residency program in Los Angeles, where I gained experience at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) as a curatorial intern working with Edward Hayes Jr., Curator of Exhibitions. Working in these various roles at both the CAC and MOLAA prepared me to thrive in an environment where staff at smaller institutions wear many hats. After the semester residency program in Los Angeles, I was especially drawn to SCRC as a grad student researcher because it was a hybrid between a museum and a library—notably with the Plastics Artifacts Collection and photography collections. I completed a semester of independent study as a research assistant for our former SCRC Director, Dr. Lucy Mulroney. Post-graduate school, I was hired as a media preservation assistant working with describing, photographing, and rehousing the physical media collections at SCRC's Belfer Audio Archive. I also began to teach history of photography instruction sessions at SCRC. Once my contract was up for the media preservation assignment, I was then hired to photograph artifacts for inclusion in the Plastics Collection website before being hired on in my current position. I’ve been in this role for a year now and am so grateful to be here—SCRC is such a vibrant place to work. On top of having such amazing collections, the staff here are so friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about the unique collections here—their enthusiasm is energizing.

Favorite rare book / ephemera / plastic that you've handled?

Favorite plastic artifact from the Plastics Artifacts Collection? There are so many—it's so hard to choose! I love anytime I can interact with the Albany Billiard Ball Company billiard balls, union daguerreotype cases, celluloid combs, Bakelite Corp. artifacts, Henry Ford’s soybean-based fiberboard license plates and many of the historical plastic samples with unique packaging. I enjoy reviewing plastics product literature—i.e., Catalin product pamphlets and Lucite Boudoir catalogs. We are also just digitizing for inclusion in our online collections the Antique Comb Collectors Club Newsletters, written and edited by a rotating group of dedicated and curious antique comb collectors from 1987 to 2014. The network of "combers" is fascinating and shows a truly unique community that gathered around the history of hair ornaments. For teaching, I love pulling our Baby Brownie Kodak camera designed by Walter Dorwin Teague and "Residential" saucers designed by Russel Wright. Teaching with these artifacts allows me to also share materials from both Teague's and Wright's manuscript collections and talk about how the Plastics Artifacts Collection intersect with our Industrial Design collections.

What do you personally collect?

8-track tapes! I love the combination of image, sound, and (plastic!) form.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love working on creative projects—individually and collaboratively. I love listening to music, traveling, reading, and cooking.

What excites you about special collections librarianship?

Teaching with the collections and fostering curiosity and creativity. I love empowering students to investigate, interpret and explore plastics' material culture—it is such a crucial time to connect with how our cultural relationship with plastics began and evolved. By illuminating, sharing, uncovering, and encouraging hands-on instruction with our materials, each session is an opportunity for students to consider how this material shaped the 20th century and reflect on their relationship to plastic.

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

As technology advances, there is so much potential to work with departments across campus in new and exciting ways. As VR and 3D printing technology advances, I look forward to seeing how the field will combine this technology with instruction and digitization. I've enjoyed a partnership with SU Art Instructor Jacob Riddle in collaborating with his Digital Fabrication students to 3D scan plastics artifacts and "remix" them in VR and 3D printing. I've also been very excited to partner with Syracuse Chemistry of Artifacts Project (SCOAP) from SU’s Department of Chemistry. SCOAP is identifying the chemical composition of our plastics artifacts using the nondestructive technique of Raman spectroscopy. There is still much to figure out in the future on how to integrate plastics conservation in a Special Collections context.

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

I’m a huge fan of our fabulous collections and could go on… For now, I will point to the plastics-related Foster Grant Collection—it includes product literature, catalogs, photographs, as well as early correspondence related to the Foster Grant Heart-Lung Pump between Dr. Sigmund Wesolowski, Dr. Herman Sugarman, and Robert Ward. If you like the Foster Grant Company, then you can also find in our Plastics Artifacts Collection many Foster Grant sunglasses, molds, and material samples used in the manufacturing process of eyewear.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your Library?

Syracuse University is celebrating its sesquicentennial next year, and our University Archivist Meg Mason is curating “150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University” to open Fall of 2019! I'm currently working on an exhibition about Edwin Bushman—a Plastics Engineer and pioneer in the fields of acrylic and fiberglass products—for our Plastics Pioneers Reading Room.

The first paparazzo? Jerome Zerbe may have some claim to the title, as the New York Times noted in his 1988 obituary, “He was one of those who in the 1930's pioneered the type of photography adopted decades later by the paparazzi: candid shots of socialites and entertainers out-on-the-town and eager to be seen.” Yet Zerbe wasn’t hounding celebrities for their photographs, they were posing for him, often with the blue-and-white zebra decor of New York City’s famous El Morocco supper club in the background.

Zerbe became the former speakeasy’s first official staff photographer* in 1934, and he snapped thousands of shots there over five years. About three hundred of his blue duotone images were published by the club’s owner in a volume titled John Perona’s El Morocco Family Album in 1937. Zerbe later became the photo editor at Town & Country magazine and did some commercial photography; glamorous parties and beautiful people remained his subjects of choice.

A trio of auctions this week:

Bubb Kuyper holds a massive sale from Tuesday, May 21 through Friday, May 24, totaling 6,126 lots. See their Order of the Sale page for information what will be sold when, and their Invaluable page for the full catalogue. An eighteenth-century manuscript map of Timor could fetch €15,000–25,000, and a manuscript songbook from around 1600 is estimated at €12,000–15,000.

Vintage Posters at Potter & Potter on Wednesday, May 22, in 724 lots. This sale catalogue certainly makes a fun browse! The top estimate goes to a ~1895 poster for "The World's Greatest Psychic Sensation," Samri S. and Miss Baldwin ($4,000–6,000). Lots of interesting Disneyland and airline posters.

On Thursday, May 23, Graphic Design at Swann Galleries, in 273 lots. At $40,000–60,000 estimates we find two 1919 posters by Wladyslaw Strzeminki, "[Create the 'Week of the Red Gift' Everywhere]" and "[The Organization of Production is Victory over the Capitalist System]" and a 1926 Peugeot poster by Charles Loupot (pictured). Another Loupot poster, for Twining tea (1930), is estimated at $30,000–40,000.

After the 2013 publication of Nick Basbanes’ On Paper, book artist Tim Ely called the author and requested the unbound sheets of the book, just as they appeared off the press. Basbanes’ editor kindly obliged, and off On Paper went to Washington State to Ely's art studio where he forges one-of-a-kind, handmade books that have been compared to illuminated manuscripts for their impeccable detail and expression.

Basbanes didn’t hear from Ely for five and a half years, but considering that Ely's work is found in private collections as well as the Library of Congress, Yale University, Smith College, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Lilly Library, and the Boston Athenaeum, there was hardly any rush. Then, earlier this spring, the artist sent Basbanes a note saying the book was ready, and had it shipped to Massachusetts under the most careful of conditions.

Unwrapped, Basbanes came face-to-face with his book, now clad in a creamy off-white clamshell box with marbled borders. The book itself is now bound with strips of handmade Japanese paper, papyrus strips, and leather. Peppering the front and back boards are Ely’s own glyphs--symbols the artist calls “cribform” that take on different meanings depending on their placement and the tool used to create them. It is, said Basbanes, “a most exquisite piece of art.”

Ely, who had been doing what he called “a slow deep read of On Paper,” set himself a goal to “require every self-proclaimed book artist to read it and know it,” likening the use of paper to the “idea of drawing as a major expression,” finding inspiration in using paper as “a medium for telepathy.”  

“Beyond deep reading, I have found that the best way to become informed about an event or gather a bit of enlightenment is to make an expressive book,” Ely said a few years back. Indeed, his work is a kind of bookmaking alchemy, fusing the ancient art of monastic manuscript binding with contemporary expression.

“Keeping time, time, time,” as Edgar Allan Poe writes in his poem, “The Bells,” preoccupied the author’s short life, which makes the object headed to auction next month in New York all the more fascinating: his pocket watch. Made of 18-karat gold, the open-face pocket watch is engraved in French, “Echappement A Cylindre En – Aiguilley – Edgar A. Poe – Pierre Huit Trous En Rubis.”

Poe was notoriously cash-strapped, but, according to Christie’s, his brief success in Philadelphia as an editor at Graham’s Magazine in 1841-42 would have offered him the wherewithal to purchase such an item. Unfortunately, the creditors soon came calling, and it appears that he used the watch as collateral or payment to a tailor named J. W. Albright. The auction catalogue contains a detailed description of the relic’s provenance of private ownership. 

The timepiece is estimated to reach $80,000-120,000. One can’t help but wonder if the preeminent Poe collector Susan Jaffe Tane, who purchased Poe’s engraved engagement ring in 2012 for $80,000 and subsequently put it on display at the Grolier Club, is interested.

As the Christie’s cataloguer notes, “It is difficult to envision a literary artifact more evocative of Poe's work than his personal pocket watch, chiming every quarter hour. Time itself is, of course, a recurring motif across his body of work, and clocks and watches in various incarnations appear as literal mechanical instruments, as place-names or titles, and as looming abstractions taunting the reader.“

Charles Dickens was one of the first global literary superstars who finessed his personal brand with a careful eye on an international reading public – indeed, a tenth of the books in his private library are related to travel. The fascinating Global Dickens: For Every Nation Upon Earth, now running at the Dickens Museum in London, showcases this obsession and the reach of his works with books, printed ephemera, and other intriguing objects dispersed throughout virtually all the rooms and floors of Dickens’ former home.

As some readers may recall, we published a feature last autumn called “Booksellers’ Best,” an illustrated listing of a dozen rare books and manuscripts that antiquarian booksellers offered up as their most noteworthy sales of the year. This year, we’ll be doing the same thing, with one small twist: two categories, Under $500 and Over $500. In both, we’re looking for entries that present unique stories. Last year we highlighted a Standing Rock artist’s book; a ten-volume, extra illustrated copy of John Muir’s writings; and perhaps my favorite of the bunch, a 547-year-old book, printed by the famous French printer and type designer Nicolas Jenson, with “an almost unbroken, and somewhat distinguished, provenance,” sold by Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford (pictured above).

So booksellers: we invite you to submit information on the most unique or interesting book or manuscript you've sold over the last twelve months. Fine Books staff will choose a selection of submissions to be featured in the upcoming fall issue of Fine Books & Collections magazine.

To submit your book for consideration please email me (rebecca dot barry at with the title, author, price, details about what makes the item special, and a high-resolution image by June 5.

From a quiet auction week to one that's absolutely jam-packed!

First, we've got three sales on Tuesday, May 14:

- At Sotheby's London, Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History, in 280 lots. A large folio volume of hand-colored engravings by Gabriel Huquier (~1745) is estimated at £100,000–150,000. Christian Snouk Hurgronje's own four-volume copy of his books and portfolios of photographs of Mecca (1889) rates an £80,000–120,000 estimate. A lovely copy of the 1676 edition of John Speed's atlas The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain is estimated at £75,000–90,000.

- Swann Galleries sells 19th & 20th Century Literature, in 273 lots. A rare presentation copy of Graham and Dodd's Security Analysis (1934), signed by Graham to Wall Street trader Melbourne S. Moyer rated the top estimate, at $18,000–25,000. A trio of books are each estimated at $12,000–18,000: a first impression of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, a presentation copy of Fleming's Goldfinger inscribed to golfer Henry Cotton, and a copy of the first American edition of The Phantom of the Opera in the very uncommon dust jacket.

- Historical Manuscripts at Heritage Auctions, in 280 lots. A 1793 patent, one of just seven known examples signed by both Washington and Jefferson, has an opening bid of $60,000. A signed Lincoln CDV opens at $40,000, and some manuscript notes by Jefferson relating to a land dispute has a $40,000 reserve. Other lots that caught my eye in this one include a journal and letters written by Civil War soldier George G. Thwing of the 30th Massachusetts Infantry (opening at $5,000) and a 1751 survey description and plat map by George Washington (opening at $10,000; pictured above).

On Wednesday, May 15, Dominic Winter Auctioneers holds a 566-lot sale of Printed Maps, Books, Travel, Exploration, Natural History, Prints, Archaeology & Gastronomy. Most lots are in the three- to four-figure range, but a really beautiful 1540 Paris world map could sell for £20,000–30,000.

Also on Wednesday, University Archives sells Declaration Signers, Autographs, Signed Books & Relics, in 292 lots. An 1863 Lincoln letter to the Secretary of War about the Illinois Central Railroad rates the top estimate, at $30,000–50,000. An 1805 letter from Thomas Paine to Hartford newspaper publisher Elisha Babcock, asking for information about potential monarchist sentiments among New England Federalists, could sell for $30,000–35,000.

At PBA Galleries on Thursday, May 17, Rare Golf Books & Memorabilia, in 471 lots. A first edition of the 1891 publication The Duffers' Golf Club Papers, in original wrappers, is estimated at $15,000–25,000. An 1881 first edition of Robert Forgan's The Golfer's Handbook could sell for $12,000–18,000. One of fifty large-paper copies of Wethered and Simpon's The Architectural Side of Golf, signed by both authors, rates an estimate of $15,000–18,000. Lots 387–471 are being sold without reserve.

Skinner Inc.'s 293-lot online sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts also ends on Thursday. The top estimate there, at $30,000–50,000, is shared between a first edition of Newton's Opticks (1704) from the collection of Dr. Adrian Pollock and a 1776 Massachusetts broadside proclamation docketed "to the Town Clerk of Danvers."