If there's anything new to learn from Characters, a series of personality portraits written by the ancient Greek Theophrastus (c. 371 - c. 287 BC), it is that gluttons, chatterboxes, drunks, idiots, and others are not unique to any time or place in human history.  This robust little volume of character sketches has been widely published and translated since its first appearance twenty-three centuries ago--Jean de la Bruyère's Les Caractères (1688), Character Writings of the Seventeenth Century (1891) and the Loeb Classical Library's edition are a few that come to mind--but each translation is an interpretative undertaking, meaning there is always a renewed need for fresh viewpoints.

On October 1, Characters will be once again published in English, this time by Callaway Arts & Entertainment. Translated by Pamela Mensch with vibrant pen-and-ink illustrations by acclaimed caricature artist André Carrillo, this edition includes insightful annotations by Bard College classics professor and Guggenheim recipient James Romm. 

Part the enduring appeal of Characters is that bad behavior, however caustic, is, whether we like it or not, universal; who doesn't know a busybody who "stands up and promises what he can't deliver," a slovenly fellow "afflicted with dull-white eczema and black fingernails, go[ing] about saying that these illnesses are hereditary," and the friend of scoundrels who "fraternizes with men who have been defeated in court and convicted in public trials; he assumes that if he's friendly with them, he'll become more worldly and formidable."

"These are flesh-and-blood people, with very familiar flaws and foibles," Romm explained. "They remind us that ancient Greeks were actual human beings, not marble busts. The past no longer feels like a foreign country. It's a true gift to be able to 'feel' the reality of the classical world." As Romm points out in his introduction, some previous translators could not square with the lack of judgement in Theophrastus's sketches and inserted their own. This edition strips away those addendums, allowing the original descriptions to be read on their own merit.

And yet, English-speakers don't suffer for lack options: Penguin released a paperback version as recently as 2015, so why a new translation now? "There's a very practical reason," Romm said. "The Greek text of Characters is rather messy, with lots of sentences in dispute (or simply unintelligible) due to copyists' errors in the transmission process. Only a few years ago, a new edition of the Greek text by James Diggle sorted out many of these problems. This new English version by Pamela Mensch takes advantage of that cleaned-up Greek text."

Contemporary readers may be familiar with Theophrastus's exhaustive Inquiry into Plants and Causes of Plants. However, Characters reveals more of the author's natural verve and wit, which has led some scholars to dispute whether Theophrastus deserves the attribution. "The contrast between Characters and the botanical works is indeed sharp," Romm said. "Assuming Theophrastus wrote both, he seems to have wanted to take an occasional break from science to compose light satire, and perhaps, like all good teachers, sought a way to bring some levity to his 'classroom' -- in his case, the Lyceum, founded by Aristotle."

We may see a bit of ourselves, our friends, and our political leaders in these portraits, but how might have an ancient Athenian reacted? After all, these were sketches based on actual people Theophrastus encountered on a daily basis. Romm believes the Greeks would have taken it in stride-- "With a laugh and a nod of recognition, and probably a bit of embarrassment!" 

Society needs writers who document human behavior, even if that behavior never seems to change. But those records needn't always be gloomy. "Thucydides famously wrote that human nature is constant over time, so that the deeds he recorded in the Peloponnesian War would be seen again," Romm said. "In his case, that's a tragic message, since he mostly records atrocities. Theophrastus supplies the comic side of the same equation."   

When Elizabeth Crawford became a rare book dealer, setting up her first stand at a monthly fair in London in 1984, she was not the only woman in the room, but she was, she recalls, "on her own in the room" -- women booksellers were, and still are, often accompanied by their spouses or partners in bookselling. 
She took up the rare book business in part because of her interest in women writers, women's history, and in part because of the flexible schedule it provided her. She had young children at home and could still make a business out of her interest in the the lives and work of women, a subject that had been completely ignored in her studies in history and politics at Exeter University. The book trade afforded her access to her curiosity, provided her the opporutnity to research what she loved, and allowed her flexible hours she set herself, and she would take her children to book fairs when necessary.    

In her 34 years as a bookseller since Crawford published her first catalogue, which was called, "Admirable Novels By Intelligent Englishwomen," Crawford has issued a tremendous and celebration-worthy 197 catalogues devoted to what is not a niche subject but treated like one in the book trade -- the lives, work, and contributions of women.
Her rare book trade also led her to a robust career as an independent scholar, particularly of suffrage. Her latest book is Art and Suffrage: a biographical dictionary of suffrage artists. Over email she shared a brief recollection of getting started:
"My work as an independent scholar around the women's suffrage movement and women's lives in the 19th and 20th century stemmed directly from my 'trade' in second-hand books by and about women. From the outset these were the books I sold, inspired, to some degree by, for fiction, Nicola Beauman, A Very Great Profession, and, for non-fiction, Janet Horowitz Murray, Strong-minded Women: and other lost voices from 19th-century England. I had read both not long before the idea came to me of taking a stand at a Bloomsbury book fair and was enthused with the idea of finding copies of the original editions of the books these authors mentioned. Although I have a university degree in history and politics 'women', as such, were never discussed in the courses I followed back in the 1960s and 'women's studies' had barely entered the curriculum when I became a bookseller in 1984 - so I was venturing into terra incognita."

Exploring terra incognita was a smart career move for Elizabeth Crawford and her work as a bookwoman is a benefit not only to the trade, but to our history. Reflecting on her duel-armed business, she added, "There is no doubt that I have benefitted greatly from the opportunity to study so much material relating to the suffrage movement at first hand, from series of bound volumes of suffrage newspapers to suffragette cups and saucers, and that my book business has fuelled my parallel career as an historian. As one makes no money writing books, it is just as well I have my book and ephemera business in order to buy me the time to research and write. And, conversely, I hope that my reputation as an historian gives reassurance to customers buying my catalogued suffrage material."

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Whitney Buccicone, Special Collections Cataloging Librarian at the University of Washington in Seattle.

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Special Collections Cataloging Librarian at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. I am responsible for cataloging all the amazing materials, both print and archival, that are housed in UW's Special Collections. I also create and modify authority records and subject headings for NACO and SACO. Beyond that, I do my best to help diminish backlogs, document procedures, and make sure workflows are efficient.

How did you get started in rare books?

I began as a page at the Lilly Library (Indiana University Libraries rare books and special collections library) when I was 20 and a junior at Indiana University. Pages retrieve materials from the Lilly's closed stacks for patron and staff use then reshelf them after (along with other duties). My first boss there called me "the Robot" because I never misshelved a book and understood the Library of Congress classification system quickly. I continued doing well enough that I eventually was convinced by my boss at the time to go to library school.  I began cataloging during that time and was hired in a full-time temporary cataloger position after graduation. From there, I was promoted to permanent paraprofessional positions and worked there for almost 9.5 years before coming to UW in a librarian position.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I received both my MLS and Master's in Arts Administration from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

I have too many favorites to name but the most recent is a commonplace book purchased by our Curator of History of Science and Medicine, Lisa Oberg. The original book was a text on chemistry (First lines of the practice of physic, for the use of students in the University of Edinburgh by William Cullen, M.D., printed in 1777). That text was annotated by someone previously before a ship's doctor from the British Navy pasted articles about agriculture and gardening from magazines and included his own annotations about those throughout. Before all of that though, the book was unbound and newspaper from France was used to reinforce the spine of each gathering. The book was then rebound. What makes this my favorite item is just the obvious impact that owners on their books. That's what has always excited me about working in special collections -- we preserve and provide access to humans' impacts on books and vice versa.

What do you personally collect?

In regards to books, I collect sci-fi/fantasy and poetry written by women of color. I also have a robust comic book collection where I focus on comics from the early 1990s as well as a vinyl collection that highlights all my favorite artists from my childhood.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to thrift shop to find art, jewelry, and old ceramics to plant succulents in. I garden (which is rather difficult in Seattle), knit, and read.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Collaborating with my colleagues -- whether that is a curator here at UW or with another cataloger at a different institution. The more we share knowledge, the better we serve our users by creating accurate and detailed catalog records, finding aids, and exhibits. I see so much of that at conferences, on Twitter, and other places -- I am grateful to be surrounded by colleagues who want to share knowledge freely and warmly, not horde it away.

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

Being an older "Bright Young" librarian, I am excited about the colleagues I see coming up after me. I trained multiple catalogers who are now off doing amazing work across the country and that makes me feel that the future of our field is in great hands. I'm happy to be working alongside them and hope to continue to collaborate with them.

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

We have so many great collections at UW Special Collections. Our Jewish Archives has oral histories from Holocaust survivors and preserving that history of a marginalized community is very important to our mission here. We also have some amazing ephemera: butcher knives from the local butchers union; scientific instruments going back to the early 19th century in our History of Science and Medicine collection; and some of the earliest maps detailing the Washington Territory.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

 In fall 2019, our exhibit will be "The Seattle General Strike and Centralia Tragedy of 1919: the legacy of the Industrial Workers of the World in the Pacific Northwest" curated by Conor Casey, our Labor Archivist. Our Labor Archives is a wonderful resource for those researching the labor movement and other social justice issues and this exhibit will focus on a transformative time for the labor movement in the PNW.

Next week the eclectic collection of the late Robin Williams and his wife, Marsha, goes to auction in New York. The offerings range from artworks by Banksy (five of them!) to film props; fancy watches to toy figurines. And, like fellow actors Charlton Heston and Sylvester Stallone, Williams accumulated a handful of rare books, too. Fifteen are included in this sale, some with neat backstories.  

The most poignant might be the lot containing three first editions (the true first from Paris, a first UK, and a first American) of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, estimated at $1,500-2,500). In 1988, Williams starred in a production of the play at Lincoln Center, alongside Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham, directed by Mike Nichols. According to the auction house, "It was this role that helped expose Williams' performative breadth and established his place as a serious actor capable of moving beyond the comedic and into more dramatic roles."

Along the same lines is this inscribed, presentation copy of Konstantin Stanislavski's 1936 book, An Actor Prepares, bound in half purple morocco over floral cloth boards. It is estimated at $2,000-3,000. 

Could it be that this collection of illustrations from Tennyson's Idylls was a keepsake from his Dead Poets Society days? This "book" is really an album containing eight illuminated vellum leaves, c. 1862. According to the catalogue, "A note accompanying the volume suggests that these leaves were used for making color-lithograph plates, and that they were later mounted and bound into this album, which was then presented to Tennyson as a memento." It is estimated at $4,000-6,000. (Of related interest: Williams' own Dead Poets Society vest!) 

No, there's no Whitman ("O Captain! My Captain!") here for DPS fans, but there is a first edition of Walden. As the Sotheby's cataloguer reminds us, "In Dead Poet[s] Society (Touchstone, 1989), Thoreau was one of the writers that Williams' character, Mr. Keating, quoted to his students as he inspired them to lead lives marked by individualism and self-reliance, tenets at the heart of the transcendentalist movement." The volume shows some wear. Its estimate is $10,000-15,000. 

It's no surprise to find Mark Twain among Williams' special books, and here is a pirated Canadian edition of his Sketches with a fantastic contemporary inscription on the endpaper that reads, "This book was published in 1880--one year before entered so it says--see title page--It means that the thieves never entered it at all does it not?" Under that, in Twain's own hand, is an addendum: "Pirate edition, I suppose. Mark Twain." It is estimated at $2,000-3,000. The next lot is 25-volume autograph edition of Twain's works, bound in maroon morocco, and estimated at $3,000-5,000. 

And then there's the Arion Press edition of Moby-Dick (1979), with woodcuts by Barry Moser, printed on handmade paper. The San Francisco-based Arion Press sets the standard for fine press books in America, and this folio is estimated at $6,000-8,000. According to Sotheby's, "Robin and Marsha were avid supporters of the Arion Press and Grabhorn Institute." 

But that's not all -- the remainder include a first edition Oxford English Dictionary, a W. Heath Robinson-illustrated Shakespeare, and the 1847 edition of Euclid's works.   

A pretty full calendar of sales this week. Here are a few highlights:

On Tuesday, September 25 at Bonhams New York, Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, in 305 lots. A rare copy of Aurora Australis, the first book printed in Antarctica ("at the Sign of 'The Penguins'") during Shackleton's 1908-1909 Nimrod expedition and bound in boards made from packing crates, is estimated at $70,000-100,000. The same estimate is given for a first edition of Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625-1626). A later manuscript copy of Don Alonso de Arellano's 1565 account of an east-west crossing of the Pacific, from the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps, could fetch $50,000-80,000. A spectacular 1881 Mark Twain letter to aspiring author Bruce Munro about writing is estimated at $30,000-50,000. (More on the sale here in our autumn Auction Guide.)   

University Archives sells Autographed Documents, Manuscripts, Books & Relics on Wednesday, September 26, in 288 lots. A 1784 letter from James Watt about the first grist mill to employ Watt's steam engine could sell for $18,000-20,000, while an odd volume from Thomas Jefferson's library, with his ownership marks, is estimated at $16,000-18,000. A 1790 document signed by Washington as president and also by Declaration signer William Ellery could fetch $12,000-14,000.

Forum Auctions in London will hold two sales this week: Editions and Works on Paper on Wednesday and Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper on Thursday--the latter offering the William Morris-owned quill pen highlighted on our blog earlier this month.       

On Thursday, September 27, Swann Galleries hosts a sale of Printed & Manuscript Americana, in 516 lots, with the Harold Holzer Collection of Lincolniana comprising the first 176 lots. A 1577 Mexico City imprint, the first edition of the first book of sermons in the Nahuatl language, is estimated at $30,000-40,000 (pictured above). A copy of the first number of Thomas Paine's The American Crisis, printed at Fishkill, New York in early 1777, could fetch $25,000-35,000. A near-complete copy of the Aitken Bible is estimated at $20,000-30,000. (Again, more on the sale here.)

Also on Thursday, Freeman's sells Books & Manuscripts, in 479 lots. Top lots are expected to include a twenty-four volume set of Voyages Pittoresques et Romantiques dans l'ancienne France (1820-1878), containing nearly 3,000 plates and estimated at $10,000-15,000, and an eighteenth-century composite atlas at the same estimate range. A copy of the octavo edition of Audubon's Quadrupeds is estimated at $8,000-12,000.

Having seen (and enjoyed) American Animals, a film about four college students attempting to steal a copy of Audubon's Birds of America from a university library, and still pining to see The Bookshop, adapted from Penelope Fitzgerald's novel about a widow who opens a bookshop in a coastal English town in 1959, I'm excited, if slightly worried, to hear about yet another book-themed blockbuster this year. After all, I can't get to the theater that often!

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the juicy 2008 book by celebrity biographer-turned-forger Lee Israel in which she describes how she falsified letters of famous authors for profit. It may feel a little 'too close to home' for the book dealers and collectors out there, but with Melissa McCarthy playing Lee ... it is apt to be fantastic. Take a look at the trailer:


"So Matilda's strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea." That quote and many others extolling the virtues of reading great books comes from Roald Dahl's Matilda. Originally published on October 1, 1988, Dahl's now-classic tale of a gifted girl cursed with horrible parents and a tyrannical headmistresses was an immediate success. Receiving the Children's Book Award in 1989, becoming a major motion picture in 1996, and inspiring the 2010 musical adaptation, Matilda is perhaps Dahl's best-selling book, with over 17 million copies in print.

Collectors should head to British rare bookseller Peter Harrington who is offering six first editions of Matilda. "In recent years, Matilda has become our top-selling book," explained Peter Harrington's son and current owner, Pom. "Matilda is a fabulous spirited girl and the book is loved by adults and children alike."

Among the six copies offered for sale are two inscribed first editions, one being a presentation copy with, "To all the Briggs, with love, Roald. 9/4/88" at the front. Michael Briggs had operated on Dahl's spine in 1978, after which the men became good friends. This copy is available for £4,000 ($5,300). The second inscribed copy, available for for £3,500 ($4,630) reads: "Camilla, love Roald Dahl."  

Additionally, Penguin Random House will be releasing special editions of the book on October 4 with new cover images by the book's original illustrator, Quentin Blake. Each of the three covers features a grown-up Matilda as an astrophysicist, a world traveler, and Chief Executive of the British Library. These 30th anniversary editions are available for pre-order starting at $17.99. 

SP Books, of Paris, has published this month a limited-edition reproduction of the original handwritten manuscript for The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde's only novel, widely considered a Gothic classic, was first published in a censored version in Lippincott's magazine in 1890, where it still attracted significant controversy. Wilde wrote a revised version for publication again the following year, removing some of the incisive content, but adding in an eloquent preface in defense of the role of art in society. That edition in turn became the standard text for all subsequent publications of the novel.

The new edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray from SP Books is the first publication of the novel in its original, unedited form, in Wilde's own autograph, inclusive of Wilde's own struck-out paragraphs. The SP edition also includes a foreword from Wilde's grandson, the scholar Merlin Holland.

The book itself is presented in a limited, large format, luxury edition of 1,000 hand-numbered copies, with gilt-embossed slipcase and cover ornamentations. It is available for $250 from the publisher. 

The Fine Art Print Fair, organized by International Fine Print Dealers Association, lands in New York just over a month from now, from October 24 (preview night) to October 28. As the largest fair dedicated to prints, it covers a lot of ground. From works by leading contemporary artists to the masterworks of the form, there will be a lot to see. Here's a quick preview of Fine Books' favorites.  

Coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 18-19, at Sotheby's London, The Erwin Tomash Library on the History of Computing, in 942 lots. I'll have more on this sale in the next print issue, but an expected highlight is a presentation copy of Galileo's Difesa (1607), inscribed by Galileo to Girolamo Cappello, a riformatore at Padua University. It is estimated at £300,000-400,000. A copy of the second issue of Galileo's first published work, on the operation of the geometrical compass, rates an estimate of £60,000-80,000.

Quite a few other lots of interest in this sale, including Ada Lovelace's translation of L. F. Menabrea's report on a series of lectures delivered by Charles Babbage in Turin. From the library of the Lovelace family at Horsley Towers, it is estimated at £6,000-8,000. A 12th-century Arabic arithmetical manuscript (pictured below) by Mubashir Ibn Ahmad al-Razi could sell for £20,000-30,000. The Macclesfield copy of William Pratt's Arithmeticall Jewell (1617) is estimated at £15,000-20,000.

On Thursday, September 20, PBA Galleries sells Rare Books & Manuscripts from the Library of James "Ted" Watkins, in 309 lots. A 1647 letter from Louise de Merillac de Gras to Vincent de Paul (both future saints), and a Sangorski & Sutcliffe illuminated manuscript of James Russell Lowell's The Vision of Sir Launfal (1908) share the top estimate of $10,000-15,000. A copy of the Lakeside Press Moby Dick, signed by Kent on the title page with a pencil sketch of the whale-tail motif used on the covers of the volumes, could fetch $7,000-10,000. A partial set (14 of 25 volumes) of the 1957-67 Robert Speller & Sons edition of Hough's American Woods is estimated at $2,000-3,000.

At Ader in Paris, also on Thursday, Livres de Photographies, in 289 lots. Top lots are expected to include Germaine Krull's Métal (1928), estimated at ??8,000-10,000; the first four numbers of the photographic quarterly Camera Work (1903), edited and published by Alfred Stieglitz (sold separately as lots 2-5); and a 1930 edition of Gérard de Nerval's Le Valois with photographs by Germaine Krull (??3,500-4,500).