August 2019

This past June Manhattan welcomed a new museum whose goal is to bring outdoor advertising indoors. Dubbed Poster House, it’s the first in the United States entirely devoted to exploring the enduring history and influence of posters. The museum’s 7,000-piece collection highlights 150 years of outdoor advertising, and now it’s adding to that total with the acquisition of 55 posters from the personal archive of graphic designer Paula Scher.

Known for creating the brand identities for Citibank and Tiffany & Co. in her role at Pentagram design studio, Scher’s donation includes rare prints of her own work ranging from the mid-1900s through today.

“These posters are a landmark addition to our permanent collection,” Poster House director Julia Knight commented in a press release. “Paula Scher is among the most renowned graphic designers in the world and we are honored to be housing such incredible examples of her innovative typography and unparalleled sense of design.”

Learn more about this funky new museum and what its founders hope to achieve when your fall issue of Fine Books & Collections arrives in mailboxes this week and next.

Think of French painter Paul Gauguin, and surely Tahiti will come to mind. He first traveled there in 1891, and though disappointed by the pervasiveness of French colonial culture there, he stayed for two years and tried to immerse himself in island culture. He returned in 1895 and stayed on for another few years. It’s clear from this Tahitian-French dictionary in his hand, which is headed to auction on September 5, that he also tried to learn the language.

The four-page dictionary, which lists approximately 246 Tahitian/Polynesian words and their French translations, will be offered among a strong selection of artists’ letters and sketches known as the Maurice Car Collection of Arts and Sciences at Heritage Auctions in New York. The auctioneer believes the artist “probably created this manuscript during one of the two periods of time he lived in Tahiti.” Examples of the words listed in the dictionary are "Ani" for the French word "Demander" (request) and "Ta ahu" for "Habiller" (dress). Gauguin ultimately gave up on Tahiti, though, moving to the French Polynesian island of Hiva Oa in 1901; he died there two years later.

The opening bid for the artist’s work of lexicography is $4,000. You can read more about the Car Collection in our Autumn Auction Guide.

As sales of audiobooks rise, so there are also increasing numbers of literary podcasts to cater for readers interested in listening to book discussions. In the UK, there is a particular dearth of radio programs about books, especially those not recently published, so both Backlisted and the Slightly Foxed podcast are very welcome.

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. announced last week its acquisition of one of the most important photographic works of the American Civil War and the nineteenth century: Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866). Gardner, who ran Mathew Brady’s D.C. studio and was present at both of Abraham Lincoln’s inaugurations, is said to have captured Lincoln’s likeness more than any other photographer. His Sketch Book spans the entire war and contains a total of one hundred albumen prints organized chronologically and “intentionally composed to elicit an emotional response from the viewer,” according to the NGA. “Among the subjects featured in the photographs are the engineering accomplishments necessary to prepare for battle: pontoon bridges, wooden railroad trestles, fortifications, and batteries. Other photographs depict army headquarters and posed scenes of camp life, while a handful of images show the destruction wrought on cities and the dead on the field at Gettysburg.”

Gardner’s Sketch Book was a costly project at the time and only two hundred were produced. When it appears at auction in fine condition, it sells in the $100,000-200,000 range.


A couple fairly quiet weeks coming up, with just two sales I'm watching this week:

PBA Galleries holds a 522-lot sale of Americana, Travel, Cartography, the Mexican War - with Material from the Warren Heckrotte Collection on Thursday, August 22. Expected to lead the way is a copy of Michael Collins' Liftoff: The Story of America's Adventure in Space (1988), signed not only by Collins himself but also by his Apollo XI colleagues Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. It is estimated at $10,000–15,000. George Wilkins Kendall's The War Between the United States and Mexico Illustrated, with lithographs of artwork by Carl Nebel (1851) could sell for $8,000–12,000. A third edition of the six-volume account of the 1838–42 Wilkes Expedition (1845) is estimated at $5,000–8,000. The sixth issue of the first California newspaper, The Californian, rates the same estimate.

Lots 439–474 comprise Mexican-American War material being sold without reserve, and Lots 475–522 include more general material also sold without reserve.

On Friday, August 23, Leland Little Auctions sells Advertising & Americana, The Collection of Mary Wells of Greensboro, NC. The 295 lots include a huge variety of advertising material, mostly for tobacco and soda products, but with a few display posters and other items included, such as the 1930s poster for a Mother Goose pantomime illustrated above.

The latest issue of Pottering About, the newsletter devoted to the events of the Beatrix Potter Society, welcomed August with a few seasonal tidbits:

  • Green thumbs interested in planting a garden inspired by Potter are invited to peruse the Beatrix Potter Society’s website. Only available to members, this particular section of the website lists plants grown at Hill Top, Potter’s farmhouse now protected by the UK’s National Trust. Plants are grouped by the month in which they bloom and are accompanied by photos for quick identification.

  • The UK celebrated National Meadows Day with an announcement from the National Trust that Hill Top’s three meadows have been successfully returned to their pre-WWII condition, when they were ploughed over for crops. "We manage the land using the same traditional practices that would have been used in Beatrix Potter's day,” said National Trust’s Paul Farringdon in a recent article in Country Living. The Hill Top fields are alive once again with flora and fauna and are “believed to be some of the most species-rich fields in the National Trust portfolio." This is a big deal since over 97 percent of the UK’s meadows have disappeared in the name of agriculture since the 1930s. Interestingly, the Potter society also reports that the “re-wilding” movement that focuses on returning land to its most primitive state puts meadows like the one at Hill Top at risk, with hundreds of species of wildflowers and animals likely to disappear.

  • Finally, a giant Peter Rabbit made entirely out of straw is being taken down. Constructed in 2016 in front of a Snugburys ice cream shop in Nantwich, Cheshire, the 40-foot structure was the victim of arsonists in 2017, but was rebuilt a year later, much to the delight of local fans. Snugbury’s creates straw figures annually and proceeds from sales related to the sculpture (chocolate bunnies, theme-flavored ice cream) are donated to the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust, a UK-based charity that facilitates vacations for children with disabilities and terminal illnesses.


Unless you’ve been there, you might not know that Alcatraz, aka The Rock, has its very own bookstore, run by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Inside you can find a selection of Alcatraz histories and memoirs. When I visited earlier this week, not only did I get the chance to pick up a copy of Alcatraz #1259, a first-hand account of life on the inside, by William G. Baker, I also got to meet Baker, one of the last living former inmates of the notorious prison. He signed my book, too!

Under the editorship of Andrew Gulli, The Strand magazine, a quarterly literary magazine based in Michigan, has made headlines multiple times for unearthing previously lost or forgotten works by major 20th-century writers and releasing them for the first time. Their new issue, released two weeks ago, continue that fine tradition with the publication of a humorous John Steinbeck story, previously only published in French in 1954.

While staying in Paris in the mid 20th century, Steinbeck wrote a series of short pieces, mostly nonfiction, for the newspaper Le Figaro. He wrote the pieces in English, which were then translated into French for publication by the newspaper itself. One of this pieces was the short story The Amiable Fleas, about a legendary gourmet, his beloved cat and confidant Apollo, and the impending visit of an influential restaurant critic. A researcher working for Gulli uncovered the original manuscript for "The Amiable Fleas" while sifting through the John Steinbeck collection at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin. Gulli then reached out the Steinbeck estate who granted him permission to publish the story in The Strand.

“I read this one and I was like, ‘Oh my god,’” said Gulli in an interview with the New York Times. “From the perspective of a short story editor, this one really interested me. There was something universal about it with the gourmet, the cat, the family conflict and the tension.”

In the story, a famous chef working at a fictional restaurant called The Amiable Fleas is fretting over the impeding visit of a restaurant critic, while relying upon his cat, Apollo, to taste his food and nod an approval or disapproval.

The lighter Steinbeck fare, a far cry from his weighty work in epic novels like The Grapes of Wrath, is available in the current issue of The Strand on newsstands now.


After Seattle, road-tripping bibliophiles will undoubtedly make their way to Portland, Oregon, to visit Powell’s, one of the ten best indie shops in the world, according to readers polled by the Guardian. I agree — it’s sprawling but well signposted, and fun surprises await around every corner. I could have spent all day there, but, on this occasion, two hours had to suffice. Book purchased: The Faithful Executioner, a 2013 non-fiction title based on the journal of a Renaissance-era executioner found in a “dusty German bookshop.” You had me at dusty German bookshop.

Next stop: California.

Here are the auctions I'll be watching this week:

Doyle New York holds an online sale of Angling & Miscellaneous Books from the Library of Arnold "Jake" Johnson, ending on Tuesday, August 13. The 365 lots include a copy of the 1866 Little, Brown edition of Izaak Walton's Complete Angler in a binding by the Philadelphia firm Pawson & Nicholson ($800–1,200). A photo album documenting a fishing trip on Quebec's Saguenay River around 1900 could fetch $500–800; a first edition of John Brown's The American Angler's Guide (1845), the first angling book written by an American, rates the same estimate.

Heritage Auctions sells The Glynn and Suzanne Crain Science Fiction Collection on Tuesday and Wednesday (August 13–14), in 461 lots. Several pieces of original cover art are expected to lead the way: they include James Allen St. John's 1922 oil on board painting used for the dust jacket of Edgar Rice Burroughs' At the Earth's Core (estimated at $75,000+). A full set of first U.S. editions of all seven Harry Potter books (the first four signed by Rowling) had been bid up to $12,500 as of Sunday afternoon.

Also on Wednesday, Dominic Winter Auctioneers sells 251 lots of Printed Books, Maps & Documents. A 64-volume set of Pevsner's The Buildings of England, Wales & Scotland is estimated at £400–600, or you could buy a 72-volume lot of bindings (£300–500). Several large lots of Folio Society publications are also up for grabs.

On Saturday, August 17, Addison & Sarova hold a 614-lot sale of Rare Books & Ephemera. Among the books and manuscripts, an 1807 passport signed by both Jefferson and Madison is estimated at $3,000–5,000. A first edition of Johann Joachim Becker's 1660 work on metals could sell for $2,000–4,000. A log book documenting the June–December 1838 voyage of the American whaler William is estimated at $2,000–3,000. The two-volume 1763 catalogue of the library of Camille Falconet, largely priced in manuscript, rates an estimate of $1,500–2,500. A 1790–99 ledger kept by William Ellery as customs collector of Newport is estimated at just $700–1,000.