If anyone really needs an excuse to go to Paris, here's one for you bibliophiles: through January 31, The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is hosting an exhibition showcasing one hundred of its treasures. The world's oldest national library is also one of the largest, with fourteen million items in its repository.  Designating the most exceptional would be Sisyphean. Instead, curator Jean-Marc Chatelain limited his scope to the 11,000 materials that entered the Rare Book Reserve between 1994 to 2014. (In 1995, the BnF opened its massive Mitterrand location in the 13th arrondissement with 248 miles of storage space, giving the acquisitions department room to feather the nest.) 

Catalog cover for ?loge de la rareté: Cent trésors de la Réserve des livres 

The displays, thirteen sections categorized by theme, are an attempt to help redefine what it means for a book to be considered 'rare' or 'exceptional,'  and so the examples run the gamut, from incunables, children's books, and contemporary artists' books. An 1805 edition of Voltaire's epic poem La Henriade, with engravings by draftsman Jean-Michel Moreau (Le Jeune) shares space with a pamphlet from the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition celebrating the opening of the #8 metro line. It's not all French either; there's a 1992 publication of Conrad's Heart of Darkness with etchings by artist Sean Scully

The ?loge de la rareté is also a bid to educate the general public on the existence of the Reserve, which has, for over two hundred years, maintained and preserved France's rich national patrimony. Vive la bibliothèque.    

?loge de la rareté: Cent trésors de la Réserve des livres rares runs from November 25, 2014 to January 31 2015 at the François-Mitterrand location. Galerie 2. http://www.bnf.fr/fr/acc/x.accueil.html


Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Gloucestershire will auction off a delightful, previously unknown C.S. Lewis letter about his interpretation of joy. The letter, discovered tucked into a used book, reveals the author's view of the emotion: "...real joy... jumps under one's ribs and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o'nights."

The letter, addressed to an unidentified "Mrs Willis," was written in August of 1945. The auctioneers have not been able to find out any further information about Mrs Willis, even though the letter's content reveals a deep, personal friendship between the two, wherein Lewis waxes poetically on philosophical thoughts. The letter was found in a copy of Lewis' "The Problem of Pain," purchased by its owner in a secondhand bookshop. The owner didn't discover the letter until several years later.

Lewis writes in the letter that "the physical sensations of joy and misery are in my case identical." Lewis added a postscript as well, "Don't you know the disappointment when you'd expected joy from a piece of music and get only pleasure: Like finding Leah when you thought you'd married Rachel!"

Lewis expanded on his conception of joy in his memoir, Surprised by Joy, published three years after the letter in 1948.

Lewis letters are uncommon and tend to attract significant interest from bidders when they come up for auction. Dominic Winter has set the estimate for the letter at £1,200-1,500 ($1,800-2,350). It will be included in the Children's and Illustrated Books, Antique Fans, Toys, and Ceramics, and Modern First Editions auction on December 18.

[Image from Dominic Winter]

If you're looking for a trip down Memory Lane--or Clinton Avenue or E. 32nd Street--here it is. Paging through the sale catalogue for tomorrow's auction of vernacular imagery, photo books & fine photographs at Swann Galleries brought to mind Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, a "bitterly nostalgic" blog that charts the city's ever-changing urban landscape. About a dozen lots recall New Yorkers and their city in incredibly evocative historic images.

696269.jpgThe first one that caught my eye is this image of Brooklyn apartment from an album of 7 architectural photographs depicting the home of W.H. Nichols at 353 Clinton Avenue circa 1876. I love the heavy Victorian nature of the image. And a quick search turns up the fact that Nichols was interesting too. Born in 1852, he was a chemist and businessman whose chemical supply company has lived on through various mergers, eventually becoming part of the present-day Honeywell corporation. Nichols was also one of the original founders of the American Chemical Society. The estimate is $500-750.

692676.jpgNext is one of a group of 60 images documenting the businesses along 6th Avenue in midtown in 1937, each with caption information detailing the location of the barber shops, hardware stores, and shoe shines available at the time. The estimate is $1,400-1,800.

698316.jpgThen there's a group of 10 images of Ellis Island immigrants, taken by Augustus Sherman circa 1905. Sherman, an amateur photographer, was chief registry clerk at Ellis Island, and it is assumed that his elaborately costumed subjects were detainees awaiting processing. His pictures were published in magazines and given to visitors as keepsakes. They were finally published in book form in 2005. The estimate is $5,000-7,000.

697780.jpgBernice Abbott's photography pops up a few times in this sale, and my favorite is this silver print, "Newsstand, East 32nd Street and Third Avenue, Manhattan" shot in 1935. It reminds me of the old "Book Row" imagery. The estimate is $2,500-3,500.

In addition, there is a first edition of Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (illustrated) on offer, a photo archive of 145 images of downtown bohemian life taken by Lawrence Shustak in the 1970s, and two Lou Stoumen prints, both of Times Square in 1940.

Images via Swann Galleries. 
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Andrew Ferguson in Virginia who collects science fiction author R. A. Lafferty.

andrew ferguson photo.jpg

Where are you from / where do you live?

From the Triangle area of NC; live in Charlottesville, VA.

What do you study at University?

I'm getting my PhD in English at the University of Virginia; I've previously studied Liberal Arts at St. John's College (Annapolis); English at the University of Tulsa; and Science Fiction at the University of Liverpool.

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

I collect the works of the science fiction author R.A. Lafferty. While he was quite popular in the 1960s and '70s, he slid into obscurity in the decades that followed, and many of his works exist only in very small print runs from very small presses. In addition to works that are solely his, I try to collect every appearance of his work in anthologies and the like, in all their different instances, including the works in translation--he has a particularly large and active fanbase in Japan, and translators there have been kind enough to send me several volumes.

How many books are in your collection?

At present, about 230 separate items. I have a long, long way to go.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

A print-on-demand edition of his best short-story collection, Nine Hundred Grandmothers. Oddly, in recent years even that POD edition has become sought-after, because Lafferty's estate pulled all publication agreements prior to selling his literary rights to the Locus Foundation. The only book currently in print is his remarkable novel Okla Hannali, available from the University of Oklahoma Press.

How about the most recent book?

I just picked up the first appearance of his horror story "Berryhill," which was in the semipro magazine Whispers, edited by Stuart David Schiff. As a special bonus, I was able to purchase it from Mr. Schiff himself, at the recent World Fantasy Convention where he was a Guest of Honor.

And your favorite book in your collection?

My favorite book is a two-volume set of Samuel Pepys' diary from Lafferty's personal library, processed in his own idiosyncratic way: he would tape contact paper along the spine and rewrite the title and author in large block letters. After his death, his library was dismantled and sold piecemeal; anybody with information about any of these books is encouraged to pass it on to the good folks at http://www.ralafferty.org/library/.

lafferty pepys.png

Best bargain you've found?

At present prices, likely my copy of Lafferty's novel Archipelago, which was written in the late Fifties then recast a number of times over the decades until finally getting published in 1979 by Rick Norwood's Manuscript Press, which was founded to get unpublished works by major authors into print. I picked up my copy for maybe $35 a decade back; it's difficult to find one much under $200 today.

How about The One that Got Away?

No single one more than any other, though many of the small-press Lafferty publications that I have as signed, numbered copies were also issued as lettered, leather-bound presentation copies; I've had the opportunity to acquire several of these, but never quite yet the resources. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The Holy Grail would be a manuscript for one of his many unpublished works--at last count 13 novels and 40 short stories. I've read the copies of all of these that are held in his University of Tulsa archive, but the actual typed drafts for most of them are still extent, though not likely to change hands any time soon.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I'm a sucker for any bookstore with yard after yard of groaning shelves, but a particular favorite is Reed Books and Museum of Fond Memories in downtown Birmingham, AL. It's packed to the rafters with books, of course, but also with a dizzying accretion of memorabilia, so that every surface offers a potential plunge into nostalgic reverie.

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

I already have tens of thousands of hours of live concert recordings, but that's a pretty inexpensive collection, requiring only the cost of hard drive space. So if it weren't for books, I'd probably throw my resources into collecting videogames, especially on cartridge.

2. Book of Jeremiah-72dpi.jpgBeginning tomorrow, December 9, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will exhibit the Winchester Bible, an illuminated medieval manuscript commissioned by the Bishop of Winchester around 1200. Consisting of four large volumes, the Winchester Bible was written over three decades by a single scribe with at least six different illuminators applying gold and other pigments to the parchment. It is Winchester Cathedral's greatest treasure. Due to renovations there, two of the Bible's four volumes have been allowed to travel to the U.S. for the first time. Joined by an elaborately illustrated double-sided frontispiece--long separated from the Bible and owned by the Morgan Library & Museum--as well as works of medieval sculpture, stained glass, and other examples of manuscript illumination from the Met's own collections, the Bible will remain on view for three months. The museum will also host related gallery talks and tours, as well as a December 14 studio workshop called "From Pigment to Page: Modern Manuscripts with Medieval Techniques." A new book, The Winchester Bible: The First 850 Years, written by Canon Chancellor Roland Reim and published by the Winchester Cathedral Trust, will be available for purchase.

Opening for the Book of Jeremiah (detail) ??Winchester Bible, fol. 148r??Tempera and gold on parchment??Winchester Cathedral Priory of St. Swithun, ca. 1150-80 Lent by the Chapter of Winchester Cathedral © The Chapter of Winchester Cathedral

The stories of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter Rabbit are beloved worldwide, and their creator mined her own childhood experiences with wildlife as inspiration. Beatrix Potter lived in a typical upper-class family in London, where governesses attended to her schooling and she interacted little with her parents, both of whom were preoccupied with their own artistic talents and social groups. Her governesses recognized her talent early, and nurtured it. Soon the young girl was drawing her own illustrations for cherished fairytales like "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty." 
Cover of the first edition, The Tale of Peter ...

Cover of the first edition, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the time she was eight, Potter, a budding naturalist, was filling sketchbooks with drawings of plants and animals. She and her younger brother Bertram would observe creatures in their natural habitat and smuggle hedgehogs, frogs and rabbits into their house for further examination. These later became household pets, a habit that would continue into adulthood. As a mostly self-taught student when she was enrolled in courses at the National Art Training School, she found rendering images of plants and vases too stiff and restricting. Potter returned to her roots and dedicated herself to studying and drawing plant and animal specimens at London's Natural History Museum.  

While exploring the scientific world of the animal kingdom, Potter began corresponding with the children of Anne Moore, her former governess.  Peter Rabbit first appeared in these charming illustrated letters. She used these early sketches to draft her stories of the cunning creature. (Since she did not keep copies for herself, Potter asked Moore's son if she could borrow the letters she had sent him in order to copy them.) 

Earlier this week, Sotheby's auctioned an array of fine books, manuscripts, and illustrations that included many works by notable British children's book authors such as A.A. Milne and J.K Rowling. Among the items up for bid were seven lots of Potter papers, letters and books. Lot 252 included thirty first editions in their original pictorial boards and included stories like The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and The Tale of Tom Kitten. The auction house had valued it between $10,000 and $15,000. The hammer price was $43,750, an impressive rabbit to pull out of any hat. 

2015 will mark the bicentennial of the publication of Jane Austen's novel Emma. To celebrate that anniversary, Goucher College in Baltimore - home to the largest Austen collection in North America - hopes to digitize its copy of the extremely rare 1816 Philadelphia edition of Emma.  That edition was the first - and only - American publication of Austen's work during her lifetime. Only six copies are known to have survived.

Goucher College wants to digitize its copy and make it freely available as an open-access edition online. Scholars, students - and Austen enthusiasts - from across the world will be able to view the rare book in its entirety.  Goucher also has plans to add contextual materials and create an interactive experience for readers.

The college library needs $70,000 to digitize the novel with the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. Of that $70k, $30,000 has already been raised.  Goucher hopes to source the rest through a crowdfunding campaign launched on Razoo. Visit the campaign's website to learn more or contribute.

[Image from the Razoo campaign]

JoshuaReynoldsParty.jpgIn 1764, two prominent Englishmen, artist Joshua Reynolds and essayist/dictionary creator Samuel Johnson, founded a famously literary dining club. Featuring decent food and better conversation, the Club, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, originally consisted of the two founding members plus seven of their friends: Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, John Hawkins, Topham Beauclerk, Anthony Chamier, Bennet Langton, and Christopher Nugent (Samuel Dyer joined them soon after). Meeting once a week at the Turk's Head tavern, the group was limited to a dozen elected "good fellows"--literary men, politicians, earls & barons--at any given time. Although its motto was "Esto perpetua"--Latin for "Let it be perpetual"--the Club ceased to exist in the twentieth century. A history of the club was first published in 1914.

2084038.jpgNow, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the dining club, the London rare books firm Henry Sotheran's is offering for sale a book called New Annals of The Club, with essays by David Cannadine, Peter Hennessy, and Charles Saumarez Smith. The new publication, an octavo bound in cloth and containing 142 pages, with 41 color illustrations, can be purchased at Sotheran's for £100 (approximately $155).

Images, Top: A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds' published by Owen Bailey on October 1, 1851, via Wikimedia; Left: Courtesy of Sotheran's. 
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Aarom Renolt Von Hemmersbach, a tattoo artist in Canada who collects Aldines:


Where do you live?

I live in Winnipeg, Canada.

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

I studied History in University and am planning on returning to get my masters in the classics. I have been tattooing for 14 years and have had my own shop for the past 8 years now, which has given me the freedom to travel and seek out new additions to my collection.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  In what areas do you collect? 

I collect mostly early printed works, incunabula and 16th century books. However, my main focus is on editions from the Aldine Press.

And do you have a tattoo related to your book collection?

As a matter of fact.. I do!

aldine tattoo.jpg

How many books do you have in your collection?

I have about 250 books that are pre 17th century, and another 400 or so that are from before the 19th century, mostly in the categories of history, the occult, early science and classics. The jewels of my collection are the 34 Aldines, which I enjoy collecting the most.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought was a 1683 copy of Muret's Funeral Rites. I remember being so fascinated that one could just simply purchase something so old and beautiful...something that I assumed should be in a special archive or museum. I knew in that moment I wanted to protect these treasures, and be their temporary custodian. The funny thing is, I had planned on buying the book for a friend for his birthday, and I ended up keeping it for myself! I think I ended up buying him a coffee mug instead. Selfish, I know!

How about the most recent book?

The most recent book I bought was a 1516 Aldine copy of Lodovico printed a year after the death of Aldus Manutius. It has beautiful rubricated initials throughout the volume, I was excited beyond belief when it came to me!

And your favorite book in your collection?

I'd be truly hard pressed to choose which book in my collection is my favorite..but if I had to choose, I'd say my Aldine copy of Macrobius. I love the world map inside as well as the incredible perspectives the book contains of such an ancient era. It also has sentimental value to me as it lead me to a fantastic friendship abroad.

Best bargain you've found?

The best bargain I found was a copy of George Burchett's Memoirs of a Tattooist. He was as old school as one could get, and a forefather in my industry. I found the book at a flea market, perfect condition with dust jacket, underneath an old fedora hat. I was more than happy to pay the two dollars the seller was asking for it.

How about The One that Got Away?

A while back I had the chance to bid on an Aldine Odyssey from 1517, but i was travelling at the time and the hotel Wifi was unreliable to say the least. That one got away due to a technical malfunction, incredibly frustrating!

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

I would love to get, (and I seem like a broken record) an Aldine Dante's Inferno, 1515, I'd also love to have a work from Sweinheim and Pannartz one day..but the holy grail for me would be a copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili 1499, although I might have a heart attack on the spot if that ever happened!

What are your favorite bookstores / booksellers?

So many to name, but I really like Forum Antiquariaat in Netherlands, Aimee at Bison Books in Canada, MacLeod's Books in Vancouver, Schilb Antiquarian Rare Books, Powell's in Portland USA, Pirages Fine Books is great out that way as well...so many to mention!

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

I'd probably collect suits of armor or ancient greek pottery or something..something ancient that would make my friends yawn with boredom like they do now!

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 10.04.19 AM.pngBarnes & Noble has added something new to its line of exclusive collectible and classic reprints: make-your-own-book-art editions. Under the name "ArtFolds," B&N offers a hardcover edition of a classic text that, when one is finished reading it, can be transformed into a book sculpture that displays a word (e.g. Joy, Love, Read) simply by folding its pages. It's not origami--and, according to the marketing copy, if you follow the "exclusive, patent-pending instructions" ... "the process is fun and easy and takes surprisingly little time." Several ArtFolds editions are now available. Anne of Green Gables, once folded, displays "Joy;" Sense & Sensibility shows "Love"; and Jane Eyre commands us to "Read" (seen here). These books are meant to be read and then physically manipulated into a piece of art (or home decor). It's an interesting concept for mass production.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 10.04.41 AM.pngA second ArtFolds series designed by Luciana Frigerio, a Vermont-based folded paper artist who sells her wares through Etsy, are pre-folded. At double the price ($33.95) of the "unfolded" classics, they do seem manufactured for the holiday gift market, or if the less crafty among us fail at the "patent-pending instructions" referenced above, a pre-fab is at the ready.

Images via B&N.com.

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