October 2011

Two hundred years ago today, on 30 October 1811, the London publisher Thomas Egerton released to the public a three-decker which, its title page noted, had been authored "By a Lady." The novel, originally titled Elinor and Marianne, had been penned while its author was but a lass. (Actually, the book's author had penned an even earlier novel, but that novel would not see publication in its author's lifetime.)

Our three-decker, which cost its anonymous author over a third of her annual income to publish, sold out its initial print run (750 copies) within 19 months, giving the author a modest return of about 30% on her original investment. (The author's brother, who acted as her literary agent, had no small part in the success of our author's debut novel, as well as in the success of her subsequent publications.)
Catalogue Review: Jo Ann Reisler, #87

From first sight of the cover, showing an original Margaret Tarrant watercolor of fairies ($10,000), it was impossible not to be bewitched by this delightful catalogue by Jo Ann Reisler. A fine mix of children's books and illustrated books, from old favorites to surprising finds, that manifest the good eye and decades of experience from this bookseller.

When we hear children's books, many of us tend to think first editions or signed editions of Seuss or Sendak, and while that kind of material is here, it's interesting to see books like Afternoon Tea, published in Boston in 1891. It's a book of eight black-and-white mounted photographs showing two children going through the afternoon tea ritual ($400).
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Joshua Mann and Sunday Steinkirchner, the young proprietors of B&B Rare Books in New York City:

NP: How did you both get started in rare books?

SS: It was quite accidental! Josh and I met in college and moved to NYC after we graduated. I was starting a graduate school program and Josh was looking for work, and we were searching for our way to pay our rent and make extra money. We found antiquarian books for sale at a street sale one day, and it just clicked. Josh's father was a book collector, so he had a basic knowledge of the collectible market, and we quickly learned about the value of first editions. We started purchasing books at estate sales in Queens and Long Island, and worked to sell them and meet customers online.
 
NP: When did you open B&B?

SS: We started selling books in 2003, but officially incorporated our business in 2005.

NP: What does B&B specialize in?

SS: 19th and 20th century English and American literature.
As if you needed a good reason to travel to Toronto, its International Antiquarian Book Fair is coming up this weekend. From Friday Oct. 28 through Sunday Oct. 30, nearly fifty booksellers will fill the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with an amazing selection of collectible books, manuscripts, maps, and ephemera. Here are a few items to look out for.

Nansen.jpgThanks to one of our freelancers, Erica Olsen, who wrote about the 100th anniversary of Sydpolen in our current issue, I know that 2011 is "Nansen-Amundsen Year" in Norway, and, as she put it, "polarlitteratur is hot." The Wayfarer's Bookshop of North Vancouver has this original signed Nansen letter in English from 1899, together with a studio cabinet photograph of Fridtjof Nansen. Price: $2,750.
As Halloween fast approaches, it's time to bundle up beside a fire and read a scary story late into the night. One of my favorite horror authors is H. P. Lovecraft, a writer who holds a special place in the heart of many bibliophiles for the wonderfully evocative (if entirely fictional) grimoires that populate his stories. I can't think of a fake collection I'd rather own than a complete run of the arcane tomes mentioned in Lovecraft's (and related authors') stories.

Lovecraft wrote in a letter once, "As for seriously-written books on dark, occult, and supernatural themes--in all truth they don't amount to much. That is why it's more fun to invent mythical works like the Necronomicon and Book of Eibon."

I couldn't agree more.

Let's take a look at a few fake collection highlights:
Cover2.jpgA fabulous new book is out this week, and I can't stop talking about it. It's innovative, fun, perfect for lovers of history, literature, and illustrated novels. Here's the gist: author Caroline Preston has put together a "scrapbook novel" with text set against full-color pages of historical ephemera, both of which combine to tell the story of Frankie Pratt, a smart young woman who graduates high school in 1920 and goes on to college, Paris, and the writing life.

It's such a fresh idea, and each page is vivid and welcoming. You dive right into Frankie's story, told in typewritten snippets, and page through reading both the text and the images. The tone is smart and sassy. It's like reading an entire book of Anne Taintor.
This past Friday I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest awards ceremony and reception at the Library of Congress. So with twenty-four hours on the clock, I visited two of the biggest and best libraries in the country--which happen to be right around the corner from each other.

042523W5.jpgFirst stop: The Folger Shakespeare Library. I sauntered through Manifold Greatness, the amazing King James Bible exhibit, part of which traveled from Oxford. My favorites from the exhibit were William Blake's biblical illustrations, a "squirrel" binding, and Queen Elizabeth I's red velvet-bound Bishops' bible. I toured the reading room, which is so lovely because it retains an 'old-fashioned' library feel (all too often scrubbed out of our state-of-the-art libraries). Tapestries on the wall, stained-glass windows, heavy wooden tables, and a bust of the Bard scanning the room. My private tour included a trip to the special collections areas, where I marveled at a collection of porcelain collectibles, costumes, and yes--the 82 folios. I only wish I had had the forethought to book a ticket for Othello, playing in the cozy, Elizabethan-style Folger Shakespeare theatre.
Catalogue Review: The Veatchs Arts of the Book, #70

Easy as ABC? Not so! This catalogue, dedicated to ornamental alphabets, is the latest from the Veatchs Arts of the Book in Northhampton, Massachusetts. Bob and Lynne Veatch have been in business since 1975, specializing in book arts, illustrated books, fine printing, and graphic design.

Gehenna Press, Cheloniidae Press, and Parrot Press are well represented among the 87 items in the catalogue. You could easily be charmed by a set of nineteenth-century pen-and-ink drawings on Crane's paper depicting a young woman supported by a letter of the alphabet in a natural landscape ($2,500) or Geoffrey Chaucer's A.B.C. called La Priere de Nostre Dame from the Grabhorn-Hoyem Press, 1967 ($75).

Suzanne Moore's A Christmas ABCXY&Z, a 32-page accordion-style book calligraphed in water colors and illuminated in silver and gold, would be a beautiful holiday gift ($700).

The Album Calligraphique, containing twelve original alphabets hand painted in colors, metallics, and gold sounds absolutely stunning ($18,000). I felt a small disappointment in not seeing an image of it on the page, but when I flipped to the back cover, was glad of the surprise of seeing a few examples printed there.

This catalogue is well laid out in black and white on smooth paper, with a few tantalizing color images printed on the inside covers. Contact them for a copy, or grab the PDF here.
We reported yesterday that Reykjavík was the most recent inductee into the UNESCO City of Literature network, joining Edinburgh, Melbourne, Dublin, and Iowa City.  Today, I thought we might take a look at Iceland from a rare books perspective.  And books don't come much rarer, or much more important, than Iceland's great contribution to world literature: its medieval epics, the Sagas of the Icelanders and the Poetic Edda.

The Sagas of the Icelanders are the histories of the Norse and Celtic settlers in Iceland in the 10th and 11th centuries.  They were written in the 13th and 14th centuries, likely transcribed from a long-standing oral tradition.  The Poetic Edda are a collection of Old Norse Poems, delving deeply into Norse mythology and Germanic legend.

Today, most of the original Saga manuscripts are held at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík.  The Institute is named after Árni Magnússon (1663 - 1730), a librarian, scholar, and prodigious collector of manuscripts, who built an enormously important collection of early Icelandic texts.  Magnusson traveled through Iceland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, purchasing every manuscript he could find and making copies of any he could not personally secure.  On his death, he left his collection, which included a number of the Sagas, to the Danish Royal Library, where it remained for two and half centuries.  (Denmark was, at the time, the sovereign ruler of Iceland).
It cannot escape notice that there's a bounteous crop of literary-inspired films coming to theaters this fall. Get out your popcorn--here's a preview.  

Anonymous is a film that proclaims that Shakespeare didn't write anything, and Edward deVere is the true author of what we've come to know as the Shakespearean canon. This idea is, of course, not without controversy. In the New York Times earlier this week, James Shapiro, author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, wrote of the film: "The most troubling thing about "Anonymous" is not that it turns Shakespeare into an illiterate money-grubber. It's not even that England's virgin Queen Elizabeth is turned into a wantonly promiscuous woman who is revealed to be both the lover and mother of de Vere. Rather, it's that in making the case for de Vere, the film turns great plays into propaganda."