September 2019

Originally founded in 1694 as a private bank to the British government, today the Bank of England serves as the central bank for the United Kingdom, and much has changed in the past 325 years in the world of monetary policy. To recognize the milestone, the world’s second-oldest central bank recently opened an exhibition at its adjoining museum that explores three centuries of money and its handlers.

325 Years, 325 Objects draws from the Bank of England Museum’s archives to illustrate the ever-evolving world of money, with the earliest items hailing from the Roman era. Examples of seventeenth-century items include paper banknotes with the denominations filled in by hand, and other pieces showcase the workaday world of a bank: calculators, banknote sorters, paper postal orders (created in 1881) a printing block from The Old Lady, a staff magazine published from 1921 through 2007; there's even a forged banknote confiscated by tellers in 1895. The exhibition goes straight through to the present day with paperless transactions, though cash remains as vital as ever to the economy, with 70 billion pounds currently in circulation, double the number of notes in circulation just ten years ago.

Cash may not be going anywhere, but its future may not be made from paper. The Bank of England issued its first polymer-based bankote, a fiver (£5), in September 2016, followed by a £10 in 2017, with plans to continue rolling out new synthetic-based money to replace the bank's currency. Why? According to the BoE, polymer banknotes are stronger, cleaner, more durable, and have a smaller carbon footprint than paper money.

The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10am through 5pm excluding, clearly, bank holidays. Admission is free. The show is on display through May 2020. 

Earlier this year the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport announced an export ban on the notebooks of nineteenth-century geologist Sir Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin’s mentor. A total of 294 notebooks and manuscripts, which had been kept in the family until now, contain Lyell’s field notes, conversations with fellow scientists, and his transcribed correspondence with Darwin himself. They are in danger of being sold abroad and/or being sold piecemeal unless £966,000 (revised from £1.4 million) can be raised before October 15.

“This archive reveals the workings of one of the most influential scientists of the last 200 years and provides us with an extraordinary insight into a time when science was changing long-held beliefs about the world,” commented Arts Minister Michael Ellis.

Working to keep the notebooks together and 'in country,' the University of Edinburgh launched a pledge drive this past July in which the university and nearly 1,000 other supporters collectively promised £600,000+ toward the goal. That amount convinced Ellis to give the university a three-month extension for fundraising, but the October deadline is fast approaching. At this point, they are still short about £296,000.

Lyell, who died in 1875, is best known for his Principles of Geology (1830-33), a work that is credited with establishing a firm footing for the study of earth sciences. His influence on Darwin—and on science in general—was vast; as Darwin wrote, “I always feel as if my books came half from Lyell’s brains.”

If the university’s appeal is successful, it intends to make the Lyell collection accessible to the public through conservation and digitization.

 

Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, England, the now publicly owned ancestral home of Lord Byron, has just opened a new exhibition of objects on loan from the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth showing the influence that Byron had on the Brontë family who grew up in the years after his death in 1824.

On display is a first edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë’s second novel which has a distinctly Byronic chief male protagonist, and Branwell Brontë's notebook from his time working at Luddendenfoot railway station in Calderdale, filled with poetry and sketches that includes examples of his interest in boxing, which Byron also enjoyed.

Also on show is a lovely watercolor painting by Charlotte Brontë, a copy of The Atheist viewing the dead body of his wife by Alfred B Clayton. “The central figure has been utterly Byronified,” said Simon Brown, curator at Newstead Abbey. The exhibition runs until April 2020.

At the Brontë Parsonage Museum itself, the Patrick Brontë: In Sickness and In Health exhibition presenting the medical life and times of the siblings’ father runs until January 1 and includes Anne’s blood-speckled handkerchief, Patrick’s carefully annotated medical manuals, and the family’s spectacles.

And finishing at the end of October this year at the parsonage is the Shall Earth No More Inspire Thee audio experience featuring ten of Emily Brontë’s poems set to music by Adrian McNally and sung by popular folk group The Unthanks. Listeners can enjoy the music on headphones as they take a circular walk through the churchyard and onto the moors towards Penistone Hill, close to the parsonage.

Charles Dickens was no teetotaler, as this 1870 manuscript record of his spirits cellar makes clear. In fact, he clearly enjoyed sherry, brandy, rum, and whisky, all of which he accounted for in his slim “Gad’s Hill Cellar Casks” notebook, which heads to auction at Sotheby’s in London later this month. Nor is it the only such boozy checklist he kept — another, from 1865, is currently on loan at the Dickens House Museum in London. As the auctioneer dryly notes, “[I]n the intervening years Dickens appears to have switched from gin to whisky.”

Gads Hill Place was Dickens’ home in Higham, Kent. This inventory of the home’s cellar, in the author’s own hand, only covers May-June, 1870. It was written just days before his death on June 9 of that year.

Running to four pages, this manuscript forms a small part of an amazing Charles Dickens collection that includes more than 200 first editions, inscribed/presentation copies, original serial parts, and Dickens ephemera — there’s even the famous author’s annotated ‘prompt’ or public reading copy of Mrs. Gamp (1868), presented on the final night of his American book tour to his Boston publisher, H.M. Ticknor. The 84-year-old collector, Lawrence Drizen, writes in the auction catalogue that after “55 years of vigorous collecting,” it is time to disperse his prized possessions to other collectors. “The sale will be a very sad occasion for me.”

The “Gad’s Hill Cellar Casks” notebook was last seen at auction ten years ago at Christie’s in London, where it made £5,000 ($8,181), roughly as much as it is expected to raise this time around.

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

On Wednesday, Dominic Winter Auctioneers sells Printed Books, Maps & Documents, in 410 lots. The top-estimated lot is a copy of the 1527 Giunta edition of the Decameron (Florence), in a Grolieresque binding for Michele da Prato (£5,000–8,000). The Rome 1525 edition of Hippocrates, containing the first complete Latin text of his works, in a contemporary blind-tooled pigskin binding and with early marginalia, could fetch £3,000–5,000. The December 1520 edition of Thomas More's Epigrammata (Basel), with early English provenance and original English binding panels inlaid on the upper and lower boards, is estimated at £3,000–5,000. A copy of the Kelmscott Press History of Reynard the Fox (1892), one of 300 copies on paper, could sell for £3,000–4,000.

Also on Wednesday, Photographs & Photobooks at Freeman's, in 253 lots. One of just fifty copies of The Quiet in the Land portfolio (Laumont Editions, 2006), is estimated at $5,000–7,000. A gelatin silver print of Lillian Bassman's 1959 photograph of Ann St. Marie for Chanel, inscribed by Bassman, could sell for $4,000–6,000, while an 1876 five-print Joshua H. Beal panoramic view of Manhattan showing the Brooklyn Bridge under construction (in fact taken from the bridge's East Tower), is estimated at $3,000–5,000.

Heritage Auctions will hold an online sale of 471 items from the Glynn and Suzanne Crain Science Fiction Collection on Thursday, September 12. Among the top lots in that sale so far are a Virgil Finlay scratch board illustration for Ray Bradbury's story "A Sound of Thunder," first published in Wonder Stories Anthology in 1957 (up to $7,750 as of Sunday afternoon).

As if there ever needs to be justification for a trip to the City of Light: the Paris Biennale art fair takes place next week from September 13-18 at the Grand Palais, where exhibitors from around the world will showcase art spanning 6,000 years. Meanwhile, fairgoers looking for more action should trek a quarter mile up the Champs-Elysées to the headquarters of auction house Artcurial, which will host a sale of materials from the collection of renowned antiques dealer and collector, Joseph Altounian (1890-1954).

"The Joseph Altounian Collection is a rare testimony of the relationship between the Altounian family of antique dealers and the greatest artists of the 20th century: Auguste Rodin, Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani, to name a few,” said Artcurial’s associate director and auctioneer Stéphane Aubert. “Artcurial is proud to unveil this never-seen before collection of the Altounian family who provided the greatest American museums and collectors worldwide. "

Armenian-born Altounian made his mark in Paris, where he developed friendships and business relationships with Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, Amedeo Modigliani, and other artists and writers. Altounian opened his first gallery in 1918 and eventually became the go-to dealer for top collectors throughout Europe and the United States. Pieces sold by Altounian are now found in the Louvre, the Rodin Museum and the Met, among other institutions both public and private. 

After marrying antique-dealing scion Henriette Lourbet, Altounian continued to cultivate a personal passion for art through his own collecting, which became a tradition continued by his children. 

This sale of 400 sculptures, art objects, drawings, and even furniture hail from antiquity through the modern day and represent Altounian’s impressive range. Highlights include an Egyptian statue dating from roughly 2040-1782 BC (€50,000 - 60,000); Roman sculptures, and medieval medallions, but perhaps the blockbusters are six Modigliani drawings that have, until now, remained in the family archives. One signed drawing, entitled Tête, drawn circa 1911-1912, is being offered with presale estimates of €250,000-350,000 (pictured above). Modigliani's work and reputation skyrocketed after his death at age 35, and just last year one of his paintings sold at Sotheby's for $175 million. 

Artcurial's entire catalogue devoted to the Altounian sale may be previewed here

Artcurial will host a presale exhibition at 7 rond-pont des Champs-Elysées from Sept. 11-17. The auction takes place in two parts: on Sept. 17 at 7pm, and Sept. 18 at 2pm. 

 

The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, which makes its sixth annual return to the Brooklyn Expo Center this weekend, has become a vibrant kick-off to the fall book fair schedule. Featuring 110 dealers and a slate of engaging events, it should not be missed. Some booksellers circulated lists of their fair highlights earlier this week. Here are a few that particularly caught my eye:

The Vermont-based Augur Down Books is bringing several items of NYC interest, including three watercolors on board, dating from c. 1937-1940, depicting automobile intersections in Queens. The bookseller aptly describes them as “interesting relics from the Robert Moses era, which shaped the infrastructure landscape of New York City.” Pictured above is an undated watercolor, "Linden Boulevard Overpass at Southern Parkway.” The price is $1,200.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Alexis Sirrakos, proprietor of Walnut Street Paper in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.  Alexis and Walnut Street will have a booth at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend in New York.

How did you get started in rare books?

Bookstores and libraries have always been a favorite space of mine. As a child, I was lucky enough to live across from a library and would often go there to relax in a quiet corner and read about different worlds, different lives, and overall immerse myself in the stories I would find there. Even as a child, I recognized and appreciated that some objects have more of a historical and intrinsic value than others, which fueled much of my collecting growing up, starting with stamps (my father just retired from the Postal Service) and continuing with some of my favorite books.

As I got older, in the back of my mind I would fantasize about owning my own bookstore someday. At the time it didn’t seem very feasible and so in college I took a different path and became a science teacher. Once I became a mother, I decided to leave the profession and stay home to raise my two little girls. During the next 5 years, I had the opportunity to really reflect about my future as a professional and my dream of becoming a bookstore owner or bookseller became more and more enticing and doable.

So over the last two years I have been buying some inventory here and there while researching how to do it. I have learned quite a bit by continuously asking questions to current bookstore owners whose shops I come across, the local small business development center in our town, and friends who are booksellers and business owners while also attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) this past summer. With this beginner’s knowledge under my belt, my appreciation for collectible objects, coupled with my love of books, allowed me to really believe that becoming a rare bookseller is the professional journey I want to take.

When did you open Walnut Street and what do you specialize in?

Over the last two years we have been selling vintage advertisements and antique/rare books through small street fairs in our town, however, we officially made Walnut Street Paper a company in August 2019! We just signed a lease on a small space above the new/used bookstore in our small town. Our goal is to officially open in mid-October and we are currently working on giving the space our own personal touch. Our specialties, thus far, are illustrated literature classics and children’s books, beautiful, ornate, interestingly bound books, original movie posters, maps and magazine ads. We are really hoping to be considered a shop for curated gifts and new collectors.

What do you love about the book trade?

What I have loved so far is the camaraderie of the trade. Most sellers I speak with have been very willing to impart their own knowledge, be supportive in my desire to be a part of their community, and are ready to connect with me as a new colleague.

Describe a typical day for you:

My typical day consists of getting my children ready for school, walking them there, and coming home to get work done on the business until I have to go pick them up. Since going to CABS, I have really been focusing on researching and cataloguing inventory in preparation for the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair. I have also been working on securing a retail space, purchasing inventory, as well as the branding and marketing for the business.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

In our inventory right now, my favorite is a first edition copy of Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish (Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY: 1904). I really admire Parrish’s artistic abilities and seek out his illustrations, magazine covers, and posters when I can.

What do you personally collect?

I have always been a collector of things starting with stamps, old pennies, some books, magazine ads or photographs I found interesting and even current newspapers that memorialize an incredible event. I unknowingly started collecting Pride & Prejudice sequels, remakes, and spin-offs, but would love to start collecting different editions of Alice in Wonderland.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to read, photograph, paddle board and kayak, play board/card games, and hike.

Thoughts on the present state or future of the rare book trade?

I am hopeful. Hopeful that in this age of technology the new generations will still understand and appreciate artifacts for their historical value.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Our very first fair will be the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair in Greenpoint, NY on September 7th & 8th and we will also have a booth at the Allentown Paper Show on October 5th & 6th.

A quartet of sales I'll be watching this week:

On Wednesday, September 4, Heritage Auctions sells The Maurice Car Collection of Arts and Sciences Featuring Rare Books and Manuscripts, in 243 lots. A leaf of Isaac Newton manuscript notes on physics and geometry has an opening bid of $25,000. A collection of Tristan Tzara manuscripts about Dadaism, exquisitely bound by Paul Bonet, was bid up to $23,000 by Saturday afternoon. Other lots include a collection of Ezra Pound letters (opening at $5,000); a Paul Gauguin manuscript French/Polynesian dictionary (opening at $4,000); and letters and sketches by the likes of Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse.

Forum Auctions holds an online sale of Books and Works on Paper on Thursday, September 5, in 205 lots. Lots 1–19 are from the library of the late Dr. Gutala Krishnamurti, the founder of the Eighteen Nineties Society. Expected to lead the way are a 1778–79 quarto edition of the Encyclopédie and a 1662 Paris folio edition of Laonicus' Histoire Generale des Turcs (both estimated at £1,000–1,500). A near-complete set of Matrix is estimated at £800–1,200.

Also on Thursday, PBA Galleries sells Rare Books & Manuscripts on Thursday, in 302 lots. A sixty-volume limited edition set of Dickens published in 1902, and including a tipped-in autograph letter by Dickens, rates the top estimate at $8,000–12,000. Victor Rendu's Ampelographie Française (1857), with seventy chromolithographic plates, could fetch $7,000–10,000. An inscribed copy of Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast with a tipped-in presentation letter is estimated at $6,000–9,000. Lots following Lot 259 are being sold without reserve.

Rounding out Thursday's sale is Heritage Auctions' Rare Books Signature Auction Featuring The Otto Penzler Collection of Mystery Fiction, Part II. There are 828 lots on offer, including a first edition of Ulysses (with reserve set at $38,500). A lovely copy of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock (1938), in the original jacket, was bid up to $21,000 by Saturday. An original Arthur Rackham frontispiece for The Pied Piper of Hamelin starts at $14,500. Also on the block are a presentation copy of Wilkie Collins' After Dark (starting at $5,000) and a copy of the first American edition of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (starting at $1,750).

Richard Booth, who died on August 19 aged 80, established the small market town of Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli Gandryll) in Wales as the world’s first book town.

Booth was born in Devon in the southwest of England but grew up in Hay and was educated at the historic school Rugby before going to Oxford to study history where he became interested in book collecting. After a short-lived stint as an accountant, Booth opened his first bookshop in 1961 in Hay’s former fire station and built up his stock by shipping books over from the USA as well as buying up well-stocked personal libraries from the great and the good in the UK. His efforts throughout the 1970s were followed by others until Hay became known as the world’s leading location for secondhand bookshops.

Although bookselling was close to his heart, his ambition was much wider. He saw Hay as the beginning of an international project in which sustainable book towns in rural locations around the world would be set up and supported to revive local economies and halt migration towards cities. His inspiration transformed Hay’s local economy which today still attracts visitors from all over the world and Booth was rewarded with an MBE for services to Welsh tourism. One spin-off from his success is the annual 10-day Hay Literary Festival which itself has spawned sister ‘Hay’ festivals around the world.  

When I wrote a book about the international book town movement two years ago, representatives of every book town around the world spoke his name in reverent tones, keenly aware that without him the entire network would probably never have been established. Unsurprisingly, he was made honorary life president of the International Organisation of Booktowns and at various times planned to move abroad permanently to several of them.

Booth’s achievement stemmed partly from his skill as a headline-grabbing showman with a strong dislike of bureaucracy, centralization, and politicians, as a quick browse of his website Richard King of Hay reveals. In 1977 he crowned himself the King of Hay or King Richard Cœur de Livre and announced his home town was an independent kingdom, garnering spectacular media attention in the process as he appointed his horse as his prime minister and issued his own passports. Despite the eccentricities, his devotion to books was such that when the dilapidated Hay Castle which he owned caught fire that same year, firefighters are said to have been obliged to tie him to a tree as the only way of restraining him from rushing inside repeatedly to save books from the flames. His 1999, My Kingdom of Books, details his version of these events in typically spirited fashion.

Over the years he set up various bookshops in Hay, the main operation being Richard Booth’s Bookshop, at one time certified as the world’s largest secondhand bookshop, which is still open, a decade after he relinquished the reins to American businesswoman Elizabeth Haycox.

Booth’s funeral in Hay at the end of August was held in a packed church, with several hundred people also attending outside. There are plans for future celebrations this month on September 12, his birthday, and October 31. He is survived by his third wife, Hope Barrie.