The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., recently announced a major expansion project, adding a 12,000-square-foot public pavilion under the Folger’s lawn and updating other spaces. The 1932 building, designed by Paul Philippe Cret, will begin renovation next year in order to “expand public space, improve accessibility, and enhance the experience for all who come to the Folger,” according to its website. The proposed Shakespeare Exhibition Hall, a new permanent installation devoted to the Bard, will include a First Folio gallery that features the library’s signature collection of all of the First Folios collected by the Folgers. The project is expected to take two years.
A trio of sales to kick off the new month:
On Wednesday, May 1, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers sells Fine Books and Manuscripts, in 654 lots. Expected top lots include one of just four examples known of Martha Washington using her "free frank" postage privilege, on an October 1800 letter from Tobias Lear to cancel a newspaper subscription ($30,000-40,000); the 1909 certificate of incorporation for the Wright Company, signed by both Orville and Wilbur ($20,000-30,000); the first printed edition of Alhazen's Opticae thesaurus (Basel, 1572), estimated at $18,000-25,000; and a 1908 photograph of the first hour-long airplane flight, signed by both Orville and Wilbur Wright ($8,000-12,000).
At PBA Galleries on Thursday, May 2, Rare Americana, including California & the West, in 455 lots. Sharing the high estimate at $30,000-50,000 are a copy of the Taber Photographic Album of Principal Business Houses, Residences and Persons (San Francisco, 1889), with 110 mounted photographs; and the 1843-1844 expense ledger of William Alexander Leidesdorff. At $15,000-25,000 we find an 1846 third edition of Henry Tanner's map of Mexico and a copy of the 1858 Selma first edition of Reid's Tramp, an account of John C. Reid's travels through the American southwest. Lots 419-455 are being sold without reserve.
Also on Thursday, Forum Auctions holds a 193-lot online sale of Books and Works on Paper. René-Primevère Lesson's three volumes on hummingbirds (1829-1833) rate the top estimate, at £1,500-2,000. An 1803 James Gillray etching, "The Hand-Writing Upon the Wall," is estimated at £600-800. An unrecorded Book of Common Prayer, dated 1666 and perhaps a piracy published for the Irish market, could sell for £600-800. A collection of Thomas Chatterton volumes from the library of Stuart Schimmel is estimated at £500-700.
A breathtaking selection of the rarest American bibles went on exhibit last week at the New-York Historical Society. In God We Trust: Early Bible Printings from the David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection puts on public display, some for the first time, the most significant examples of early American religious texts.
Those who recall the 2013 sale of the "Bay Psalm Book," the first book printed in colonial America, for $14.2 million, may remember that its buyer was collector and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein. Only eleven copies of the 1640 tome are known to exist, and his is the only one in private hands. (To read more about the Bay Psalm Book, see Joel Silver's brief, excellent history here.)
In addition to that "holy grail," many "firsts" abound here, such as the first American bible printed in a European language and the first bible translated by a woman. Here are a few more "firsts" highlighted in the exhibition:
The first Bible printed in America: John Eliot's "Indian Bible," Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God. Cambridge, 1663 & 1661. David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection.
The first Catholic Bible printed in America: The Holy Bible, Translated from the Latin Vulgate. Printed by Carey, Stewart, and Co., printers. Philadelphia, 1790. David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection.
The first Hebrew Bible printed in America: Biblia Hebraica. Printed by William Fry, printer; Thomas Dobson, publisher. Philadelphia, 1814. David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection.
"We are thrilled to display these outstanding examples of early American books, many never before seen by the public and all fruits of Mr. Rubenstein's passion for collecting American history in the service of the public good," commented Dr. Louise Mirrer, New-York Historical president and CEO, in a press release.
The exhibition will be on view through July 28.
Images courtesy of the N-YHS
Like a lot of people, I stumbled into the book trade, although unlike some, I wasn't initially all that keen on rare books. I got my start in 2006 at Cellar Stories Bookstore, a used and rare shop in Providence, Rhode Island, when the owner joked that I'd checked the shelves for a title so quickly I ought to work there. I decided he was right and told him so, and he must've seen that I was serious because I started the next week, eventually becoming the manager and staying on for the better part of seven years.
It took a while for me to appreciate rare books, though -- in the beginning, I considered books valuable for their content alone, and thought only rich people bought rare books. Over time, as I helped customers with both rare and used books and saw how delighted they were with their purchases, regardless, I began to understand the value of the book as object, too, and the satisfaction of selling rare books. That became especially true when, after another year-and-a-half stint at Blue Jacket Books, in Xenia, Ohio, a used and rare shop, I landed a job at Tavistock Books, the first antiquarian shop I worked at, in Alameda, CA. There, with the aid of a weeklong immersion in the field at CABS, I was introduced to the more scholarly uses of bibliography and the breathtaking expertise that can be wielded by rare book dealers, collectors and special collections librarians. I also got my first taste of working with archival and vernacular material, which I immediately found I had a knack for, and enjoy immensely.
Having now worked my way across the country, and worked for something like 12 different dealers, in one capacity or another, I can safely say that I love the rare book trade -- and that my education is still only just beginning.
When did you open Kate Mitas, Bookseller and what do you specialize in?
I took out my resale license on my birthday, in June 2017. I'm still largely an opportunist more than a specialist -- if I know something will sell, I'll buy it -- but I focus on archival and vernacular material and ephemera that reveals something about social and/or cultural history, particularly women's history. Also, anything just plain weird that tickles my fancy for one reason or another.
What do you love about the book trade?
I love that I learn something new every day, whether it's the convoluted printing history of Margaret Sanger's Family Limitation, the cultural history of roller skating, or the backstory of a long-dead diarist whose journals I'm cataloguing, pieced together from census records and newspaper accounts. Perhaps even more than that, though, I love that the book trade is both a community and a profession, one that's chock-full of extremely knowledgeable, inspiring people who care deeply about what they do and are often happy to help out us "young" up-and-comers. I hope to some day be able to pass on even a fraction of the help that's been given to me.
Describe a typical day for you:
There are no typical days. In part, that's because I do a lot of gig work for other booksellers to support myself while I build the business -- which has been a phenomenal learning experience, but has meant that on any given day I might be cataloguing a lesbian BDSM archive in the Mission, working on Hogarth Press material in the Financial District, sorting a Black Student Movement archive in Berkeley, or doing numerous other jobs, in addition to working on my own material. I'm gradually weaning myself away from working for other dealers, however, and focusing on actually selling some of the things I've been pouring my money into.
So, on a good day, I'm up and working in my pajamas by 7:30, answering email and generally trying not to wake up my roommates. Then I'll process any orders and, when the coast is clear, make a ruckus to my heart's content while I package them up. Once that's done, I sit down to catalogue and research for a while, take photos, wrangle with my website, and maybe post a photo to social media. Eventually I'll realize I'm still in my pajamas and get dressed, then walk over to the post office and, some days, head across the Bay to the Mission, where my "office" is. At this point, that's really just a few shelves and a borrowed desk in the back corner of Meyer Boswell Books, which Joe Luttrell has been kind enough to set aside for me, but as time goes on I plan to rent out more of the shop and spend more of the week working there. It's a beautiful thirdfloor space right across the hall from Bolerium Books, overlooking the sidewalk vendors and occasional brawls on Mission Street.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you've handled?
When it comes to favorites, I'm an inconstant lover: blissfully entranced by one item until the next fascinating or instructional or gloriously strange one comes along and thrills me. Currently, my heart has been captured by the 1940s working papers of a local woman inventor who came up some absolutely batshit contraptions, including a blimp-like creation with "lighter than air" wings, propellers and bulletproof glass that she named the Golden California. There are all of these detailed, improbable drawings in the collection, most of them even notarized as if for patent purposes, but she doesn't seem to have had the math and science skills to realize her ideas (or un-realize them, as the case may be), and mental illness may have been a factor. It's a tough collection, because it's also quite fragmented and came to me as a box of rolled up scrolls of paper, but there's a story behind it that's both tragic and, in the creativity evident in her work and her desire to solve life's problems, wonderful. I haven't figured out how to tell it yet, but I'm utterly grateful to have encountered it.
What do you personally collect?
I'd say nothing, but that wouldn't be fair to the stacks of bookseller catalogues I've hoovered up over the past few years and placed at strategic tripping spots around my room, or the small bucket of writing instruments in my desk that will last through the apocalypse. Nevertheless, I've been very good about not adding things I should sell to my own shelves -- even if I do sometimes hang onto a few particular items for longer than I ought to. I always tell myself I'll put ridiculously high prices on them and bring them to fairs so I can at least pretend I'm not trying to keep them, but then I cave and price them reasonably and have to console myself with old photos when they inevitably sell.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I haven't quite gotten the hang of the whole work-life balance thing since I started the business, so "outside of work" is kind of a foreign concept. That's not good, I know! My goal for this year is to get back into hiking, biking, and going to the many literary events around the Bay Area. And catching up on some of the enormous backlog of reading I have, it goes without saying.
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
I'm cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, there are a lot of brilliant young booksellers making a place for themselves in the trade, in ways that I think appeal to a different, more diverse generation of collectors, and I think that's fantastic. I'm also encouraged by the efforts of more established dealers to adjust their methods as the market moves away from traditional books, while still hanging onto their book-loving clients and encouraging new collectors in that area -- a line that I'm sure isn't always easy to walk. On the other hand, booksellers aren't exactly known for adapting quickly, and I think climate change will cause tectonic shifts in the way we do business, affecting everything from institutional budgets to bookseller insurance costs and collectors' focuses. I hope that the trade as a whole will meet this new challenge with grace, foresight and innovation, and will do so without becoming prohibitively expensive for the next generation of booksellers.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
I'll be exhibiting at Rare Books LAX and the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair, in October 2019. With any luck, I'll get a few lists out between now and then!
[Image provided by Kate Mitas]
A quiet sale week coming up:
On Thursday, April 25, ALDE sells the library of collector Guy Bigorie, in 250 lots. Estimates are mostly in the three- to low-four-figure range. Some expected highlights include Leconte de Lisle's Les ?rinnyes (1908), with original watercolors by Franz Kupka at ??6,000-8,000, and a number of lots all estimated at ??4,000-5,000: Chenier's Les Bucoliques (1905) in a binding by Charles Meunier and with additions; a set of three Flaubert volumes bound by Georges Mercier (1892-1895); Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin (1883) with original Paul-Albert Laurens watercolors and a Gautier autograph poem; Gautier's La Chaîne d'or (1896) with original drawings and watercolors; mockups for an unfinished Pierre Louÿs work (~1903); Maupassant's Contes choisis (1891-1892) with an added album of 25 original drawings; and Musset's Les Nuits (1911) in a striking binding with additional material (pictured below).
Potter & Potter will sell The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet on Saturday, April 27, in 565 lots. The only known copy of a 1911 letterpress broadside advertising a Houdini show at the Southampton Hippodrome, inscribed by Houdini to his magician and collector John Mulholland, rates the top estimate at $15,000-25,000. The auction house notes that British law required that a show be staged before a live audience in order for it to be protected by copyright, and that this performance may have been put on for "an audience of one." A copy of Harry Kellar's A Magician's Tour (1886), incribed by Kellar to magician Howard Thurston, is estimated at $2,500-3,500. Quite a few interesting lithographic posters, &c. in this sale, too.
Image credit: ALDE
Literary forgers have plied their trade as long as there's been something worth copying, "creating" purely for financial reasons or simply being able to get away with it. Throughout history, some forgers have been content to "gild the lily," so to speak, while others attempted to rewrite history. Some fakes were so good they did alter history.
Notable literary hoaxes include a document in Emperor Constantine's hand circa 756 AD that donated land to the Catholic Church. Scholar Lorenzo Valla proved it was a fake in 1440, but the Church suppressed Valla's findings until 1929 when it finally returned the land in question to Italy.
Sometimes, forgers were seeking approval. In 1794, eighteen-year-old William Henry (W.H.) Ireland showed his bookseller father (and Shakespeare aficionado) a mortgage bearing the Bard's signature, which happened to turn up in the law office where young W.H. worked. More Shakespeare papers continued to miraculously appear out of this same office, including a love letter and a hitherto unknown Shakespeare play called Vortigern. The Irelands showed the script to a local theater operator, who smelled something fishy but went along with the charade, going so far as to stage it. But the actors, unwilling to play along, eviscerated it in its solo performance, thoroughly mocking Vortigern to the point that W.H. eventually confessed his forgeries. His poor father, meanwhile, insisted until his death that the discoveries were real.
Even Renaissance antiquarians were duped by fabricated testimonies. French humanists like Francois Rabelais believed that Latin texts itemizing the existence of ancient Roman relics beneath modern cities were authentic. In fact, these bogus "revelations" were created by 16th-century forgers cashing in on humanists' desires to verify their noble Roman heritage.
Book collections have been intentionally built around forgeries as well--Arthur and Janet Freeman amassed over 1,700 volumes of literary fakes, dubbed the Bibliotheca Fictiva, which was acquired in 2011 by Johns Hopkins University. This collection inspired the recently published Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, edited by Walter Stephens, Earle A. Havens, and Janet E. Gomez (Johns Hopkins Press, $54.95). Thirteen essays composed by some of the world's leading humanities scholars explore the notion that early forgeries form their own literary genre and, rather than being derided as knock-offs, fakes are very much worthy of serious scholarship.
Truth-twisting, outright fabrication, and efforts to uncover forgeries through history make for entertaining academic investigations, revealing the thin line between what's real and what isn't, and why so many people, from collectors to scholars, are willing to overlook inaccuracies.
Victorian art critic John Ruskin got it half right when he wrote in 1843 that, "the essence of lying is in the deception, not in words." Literary Forgery argues that it's both.
We learned via the Exlibris list earlier this week that a Little Blue Books bibliography, in the making for more than fifteen years, has been published online by Jake Gibbs. Along the way, Gibbs amassed a collection of 20,000 Little Blue Books, according to the bibliography's preface. He also examined collections at more than twenty college and university libraries.
As some readers may recall, Steven Cox, the curator of special collections and university archives at Pittsburg State University (PSU) in Pittsburg, Kansas, where the Haldeman-Julius Collection is located, wrote a short history of the Little Blue Books in our summer 2018 issue. Like Cox, Gibbs was inspired by G. Thomas Tanselle to study this once ubiquitous series founded by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius.
Little Blue Books appeal to book collectors for many reasons, including affordability. Indeed, upon hearing of the new bibliography, Andy Foster, a California-based bookseller, replied to Gibbs, "Your work allows ordinary people with limited resources to enter the book collecting world on a solid footing, creating collections of lasting value."
Other booksellers chimed in to applaud Gibbs' work, calling it "fabulous" and "awesome." Kevin Mac Donnell of Mac Donnell Rare Books wrote, "My five inches of Mark Twain LBBs (all different states, imprints, colors, etc.) has been more confounding than my three feet of Twain Tauchnitz publications. It will be fun to sit down with them and see if I had them all sorted out correctly over the years. Wading into a five inch stack of Twain LBBs in the past felt dangerous, but now I'll have some bibliographic water-wings."
Image via the Little Blue Books Bibliography site
Suntup Editions, California-based publisher of fine limited editions, will be publishing a special edition of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The publication will include an exclusive introduction by Joyce Carol Oates, seven illustrations by Ryan Pancoast, and a wood engraving by Richard Wagener. Limited to 276 copies, the edition will be presented in both Lettered and Limited states and signed by Oates, Pancoast, and Wagener.
McCarthy's The Road, a post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son on a journey through a desolate America, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007 and is widely considered one of the high spots of 21st century literature.
The Limited Edition will be published in full cloth and limited to 250 copies. The spine will feature a leather foil-stamped label and the cover will include an inset print of the Richard Wagener engraving. Endsheets are Hahnemühle Bugra and the edition is printed offset on Mohawk Via Vellum Flax paper. It will be housed in a cloth covered slipcase.
The Lettered Edition will be published in a hand-sewn Coptic binding with waxed linen threads and limited to 26 copies (A-Z). It will be printed on French Speckletone paper. The pastedown will be Mexican Mayan acid-free paper, handmade with renewable plant fibers. The frontispiece engraving will be a printed letterpress from the original boxwood block. It will be housed in a custom clamshell enclosure.
Publication is scheduled for Fall 2019. Collectors can pre-order the book currently at https://shop.suntup.press.
[Image provided by Suntup Editions]
The small but interesting exhibition celebrating 175 years of the London publisher Batsford (now an imprint of Pavilion, based in nearby Bloomsbury) is fittingly being held in the capital's Holborn area where Bradley Thomas Batsford first set up shop in 1843. The last of the 18th-century publisher-booksellers, Batsford initially concentrated on medical titles but quickly focused on art, architecture, fashion, and heritage. The exhibition--sadly, all displayed in glass cabinets--features a wide range of its highly illustrated titles including Architectural Works of Inigo Jones (1901) by Henry Tanner and Inigo Triggs, Cecil Beaton's Scrapbook (1937) and Gertrude Stein's memoir Wars I Have Seen (1945) as well as the iconic colorful artwork produced for the travel titles by Brian Cook, one of the Batsford family himself. There is also a copy of J.K. Colling's English Medieval Foliage and Coloured Decoration (1874) on show, the first publication released under the Batsford imprint, plus more recent unusual titles including the guidebook London and the Single Girl by Betty James (1967) and The Cat-Lover's Bedside Book edited by Grace Pond (1974).
Curated by Frida Green, Vaughan Grylls, Helen Lewis, and Tina Persaud, Batsford: 175 Years of a Bloomsbury Publisher runs until June 28 at the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre.
Images: (Top) Installation view of the Batsford exhibition featuring Cook's imaginary Scottish scene incorporating Eilean Donan Castle from the dust jacket of The Face of Scotland by Harry Batsford and Charles Fry, 1933; (Middle) Beaton's Scrapbook (under glass). Courtesy of the author