July 2019

Who can forget the searing images of Notre-Dame burning on April 15 of this year? The 850-year old-cathedral is not merely a religious center, but represents the beating heart of Paris. Indeed, the city and the banks of the Seine River are included on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, with the cathedral at its core. Though much of the wooden trusses and spire were destroyed by the flames, the cathedral’s rose windows, religious relics, and other works of art were saved by staff and city emergency workers trained to rescue irreplaceable treasures.

Even the rare book world is abuzz with lunar madness this week. Earlier today, Christie’s offered the Apollo 11 Timeline Book, a three-ring-bound manual flown aboard the LM Eagle and annotated by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they landed on the moon. But the book failed to launch, however true the statement in the Christie’s catalogue: “No more significant document of space exploration history is likely to ever be created as future manned missions will be more fully digitized and will not leave this human trace.”

The Timeline Book was meant to be the star lot among 150+ pieces of space memorabilia offered by Christie’s in One Giant Leap: Celebrating Space Exploration 50 Years after Apollo 11.

SP Books has brought together the three notebooks in which Virginia Woolf wrote Mrs Dalloway and published them in one hand-bound manuscript facsimile edition, the first of its kind. The manuscript includes revisions, crossed-out passages, and marginalia in Woolf's own handwriting. Accompanied by a foreword from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham (The Hours), the limited edition publication is hand-numbered from 1 to 1000.

Woolf's husband described the notebooks in which she wrote Mrs Dalloway as bound in the ‘coloured, patterned Italian papers’ of which she was very fond. The notebooks show all the edits that Woolf made in flowing purple ink, providing a unique insight into her creative process. Woolf drew pencil margins on each page of her notebooks, where she would record the date, word count, and other interesting bits of marginalia including personal memos and notes for her essays.

Kirk Hammett, lead guitarist of the band Metallica, has become well known in collector circles in recent years. In 2017, The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts, put a selection of his classic horror and sci-fi posters on exhibit. Then, last year, a 1933 Swedish King Kong poster from his collection sold at Heritage Auctions for $26,290, and a super rare 1932 lithograph advertising The Mummy with Boris Karloff was offered at Sotheby’s for $1 million but failed to sell.

Now, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto has unveiled the Canadian-exclusive presentation of PEM’s exhibition, It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection.

"I got into the business of collecting horror, which is really not a business at all, a long time ago. I think it’s become my midnight calling or maybe my lifetime obsession. I guess some would say obsession, some may say occupation and others would say it’s just plain insanity," said Hammett.

Featuring 100+ vintage cinema posters from the 1920s to the 1980s, including the only surviving copy of the original 1931 Frankenstein poster, the exhibition explores how poster art conveys the underlying anxieties of particular eras. “Like the films they promote, these pieces are important metaphors for the issues of the times in which they were created,” said Arlene Gehmacher, ROM curator of Canadian paintings, prints & drawings. “Some of the posters are riveting. They can provoke, excite, and enthrall, reflecting but also shaping the visible and psychological fears of an individual, community, or nation.”

The Toronto exhibition is open through January 5, 2020. It will then return to the U.S. for a stop at the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina, where it will be on view from February 13-May 17, 2020. 

This week isn't quite as jam-packed as the last couple have been, but here's what I'll be watching:

At Christie's New York on Thursday, July 18, One Giant Leap: Celebrating Space Exploration 50 Years after Apollo 11, in 195 lots. Estimated at $7–9 million is the Apollo 11 LM Timeline Book, annotated by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in real time. Inscribed by Aldrin, this copy was previously sold by him at auction in 2007. A star chart used to determine the position of the Eagle on the moon, signed and inscribed by Aldrin, is estimated at $80,000–120,000. A number of other flight plans and additional lots containing objects used during the Apollo missions are also up for sale.

Forum Auctions holds an online sale of the remaining archives of F.A. Hayek on Thursday, in 21 lots. The manuscript of Hayek's "A Disquisition of the Reactionary Character of the Socialist Conception" (1978) is estimated at £20,000–30,000.

On August 9 at 4pm, Harvard’s Houghton Library will close as part of a yearlong renovation project that will increase accessibility and refresh existing academic and research space.

The renovation will be overseen by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Ann Beha Architects, the same firm that led the Grolier Club’s recent facelift. Planned updates include fresh landscape, wheelchair-accessible paths, elevators, soundproofing in the reading room, and a separate space where patrons and staff can examine materials privately.

“We want all of Houghton Library--the collections, the building, and our expert staff--to generate interest in and passion for the humanities, the social sciences, and more,” said Thomas Hyry, the Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library in the January 14 issue of the Harvard Gazette.

Funding for the renovation came primarily through donations, one major benefactor being investment banker and Harvard alum Peter J. Solomon and his wife, Susan, whose collection of rare children’s literature is housed at the Houghton. (Among the highlights is a copy of the first suppressed edition of Alice in Wonderland.)

Houghton’s collections will be available to professors and researchers during the overhaul; starting August 26, a temporary reading room will open in Widener, and Houghton staff will relocate to spaces constructed in the Pusey library for this purpose.

Until the closure, Houghton is featuring an exhibition examining the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, with first editions of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton sharing space with items from that historic flight--a fitting final exhibition as Houghton keeps reaching for the stars as well. 


The British Library announced earlier this week its acquisition of the archive of the UK magazine, Granta. The much-lauded literary journal is marking the 40th anniversary of its relaunch this year.  

Comprised of about three hundred boxes of material, the Granta archive features correspondence from many significant contemporary authors, including Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Zadie Smith. Deeper in the collection are letters from Raymond Carver, Susan Sontag, and Martha Gellhorn.

Much has been written about Poet of the Body, the Walt Whitman exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York City. But for those of you who won’t have the chance to see it before it closes on July 27, never fear: a hardcover exhibition companion book — we hesitate to call it a catalogue — is a fine stand-in.

It is brimming, of course, with incredible color illustrations of manuscripts, various editions of Whitman’s books, and related artifacts. My favorites are the quirkier, seldom-seen pieces that an exhibition (or catalogue) like this offers up for public view. For example, Whitman’s 1852 season ticket for the Brooklyn Marine Swimming Baths, a restaurant token to one of his frequent haunts, or an original brass sunrise/sunset die used in the cover design of the third edition of Leaves of Grass.  

Beyond biography and checklist, this volume admirably delves into the poet’s relationship to photography, as well as his focus on copyright issues. Most compelling, however, is the section that discusses Whitman’s afterlife, i.e., the ways in which he and his image have been collected, used, and manipulated, even by the likes of musician Iggy Pop.     

The exhibition’s curatorial team, which includes collector Susan Jaffe Tane, Dr. Karen Karbiener, Julie Carlsen, and Gabriel Mckee, wrote the book, and the Grolier Club did an exceptional job with its production; the pink dust jacket, purple cloth binding, and vintage map endpapers are all eye-catching.

Jane Austen’s House Museum in England is hoping a crowdsourcing appeal will safeguard one of the author’s letters from being sold into private hands.

The call for public donations is for part of a letter written by Jane to her niece Anna on November 29, 1814 during a visit to her brother Henry in London. It mentions her cottage home in Chawton, Hampshire, now the site of the museum, and includes comments such as ‘I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other. They are but one remove from Br. & Sr.’ while she says about a visit to the theatre that: ‘I took two Pocket handkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either.’

The museum already holds a dozen letters written by Jane and the plan is to put this letter immediately on display if the money is raised as part of this year’s 70th anniversary of its opening. It has already been awarded several grants towards the total price of £35,000 but needs to find £10,000 more from the public. As of this morning, they have nearly reached that goal, with £8,748.66 in the coffer so far.

You can donate at the museum’s dedicated Just Giving page up to July 31, and there is also a fundraising event at Maggs Bros. Ltd Rare Books and Manuscripts premises (where George Eliot once studied maths at what was then Bedford College) in London on July 23 where a page of the letter will be on display and Austen scholar Professor Kathryn Sutherland will deliver a talk.

A busy week coming up in the auction rooms: here's what I'm keeping an eye on:

An online sale of English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations at Sotheby's ends on Tuesday, July 9. The expected top seller from the 292 lots is the January 24, 1962 original contract between the Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein. It is estimated at £200,000–300,000. A rare copy of the proclamation of the Irish Republic's independence, printed on April 23, 1916, could sell for £50,000–70,000.

Also on Tuesday, Christie's London sells The Golden Age of Russian Literature: A Private European Collection and Important Scientific Books from the Collection of Peter and Margarethe Braune. In the former, comprising 121 lots, top sellers are expected to be a first edition of Puskin's Eugene Onegin is estimated at £120,000–160,000, while Gogol's Vechera na khutore bliz dikan'ki ("Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka") could sell for £70,000–100,000.