August 2019

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.

Martha's Vineyard’s reputation as a haven for writers and poets is well-documented--Dorothy West, Art Buchwald, David McCullough, and Judy Blume represent a few who have called the island home--and since 2005 the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival has brought authors from far and wide to celebrate reading and writing. Originally conceived as a biannual event, the free festival turned into an annual August rite starting in 2015. The brainchild of Suellen Lazarus, a former director at the World Bank Group and longtime summer Island resident, the festival is modeled on the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. as a space where authors can discuss their work and engage in thoughtful conversation.

The event has grown over the past decade; this year, the festival opened on August 2 with a conversation between Chelsea Handler and Seth Meyers at the island’s Performing Arts Center. The next two days brought over thirty authors to four separate stages set up under billowing tents in the up-Island town of Chilmark. Among others, bestselling authors John Grisham, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Joan Nathan, and Richard Russo talked about their work and participated in panel discussions ranging from the role of the press to the future of life on earth.

Well, readers, I’m on vacation this week, which means, among other things, visiting bookstores I’ve never visited before. My fellow travelers generally allow me one per city. In Seattle, it was the landmark Elliott Bay Book Company, of course, where I purchased a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Then we took a ferry out to Bainbridge Island, where, in the city of Winslow, I happened upon Eagle Harbor Book Co. I spied there a copy of Hollow Kingdom, a new novel set in Washington and featuring bold jacket art that screams "pick me up." Reader, I bought it. 

The new exhibition Writing in Times of Conflict at the Senate House Library, University of London, in Bloomsbury, looks at how writers have worked towards peace in their work over the last 100 years. Using examples from the library’s own collection, the works are divided into four sections: Writing for Peace, Writing in Wartime, Writing from Exile, and Writing in Protest.

Among items on display is the Nazi Black Book (Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.), first produced by the Gestapo secret police in 1940, which contains a special wanted list in alphabetical order of nearly 3,000 British politicians, writers, peace activists, émigrés, intelligence agents, scientists, and artists who were to be arrested immediately after an invasion. Many important Jews in living in Britain are also listed. Around 20,000 handbooks were published but nearly all were destroyed in bombing – the one on show is a photostatic copy given to the Library in 1945 by the Ministry of Information.

Also displayed is a rare signed first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s first collection of short stories, In Our Time, published by Three Mountains Press in 1924 and one of a small print run of only 170. There is also a letter from Virginia Woolf to her friend Gladys Easdale describing how the WWII bombers had recently been flying overhead in early September 1940 during the Battle of Britain.

The exhibition runs until December 14.

 

The Miniature Book Society’s annual conclave is coming up. This year, the three-day event will be held on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, from August 9-12, and its title is Tiny Matters: Creative Exploration of the Miniature Arts & Book History.

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

On Wednesday, August 7, Swann Galleries will sell Vintage Posters, in 574 lots. Alphonse Mucha's third and final poster version of the Four Seasons, printed on silk in 1900, is estimated at $15,000–20,000, as is a 1914 Ludwig Hohlwein poster for Mercedes. A 1933 E.H. Fairhurst poster for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, promoting the introduction of the new Princess Royal steam locomotive, could sell for $10,000–15,000.

Forum Auctions holds an online sale of Books and Works on Paper on Thursday, August 8. The 217 lots include some material from the estate of the late James Stevens Cox, FSA. Estimated at £600–800 are Sir Robert Dallington's A Method for Travell (London, 1605); a set of seventeen folio illustrations by William Daniell (after Robert Smirke) for the Arabian Nights (1814); a first edition of John Maynard Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936); and the three-volume Galerie du Palais Royale (Paris, 1786–1808).

Also on Thursday, PBA Galleries sells a Summer Miscellany & Golf Books, in 314 lots. A complete, seventeen-volume set of the USGA Golf Classics Facsimiles (1981–1996) is estimated at $1,000–1,500. A first printing of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Silverado Squatters (1883) could sell for $500–800. At the same estimate range are a copy of the official program for the 1953 USGA Open Championship and a first edition of Bernard Darwin's The Golf Courses of the British Isles (1910). Lots 195–291 are being sold without reserve, and Lots 292–314 are shelf lots being sold without reserve.