October 2019

Opening this Friday at the British Library is an exhibition exploring the roots, philosophy, and relevance of Buddhism—and that means a display of rare books and manuscripts encompassing Buddhist scriptures, literary works, and historical narratives. From sacred scriptures written on tree bark or palm leaves to twentieth-century “folding books,” Buddhism covers twenty countries and over 2,000 years.  

Certain to be one of the highlights is a copy of the Lotus Sūtra in a lavishly decorated scroll from Japan, written in gold and silver ink on indigo-dyed paper dating back to 1636.

Jana Igunma, lead curator of Buddhism at the British Library, commented in a press statement: “Buddhism continues to inspire diverse artistic expression and lifestyles and, with the concept of mindfulness becoming mainstream, we are excited to host the British Library’s largest ever display of Buddhist collections, shining a light on the Library’s lesser-known treasures from across the world.”

The exhibition will be on view through February 23, 2020.

Relatedly, the BL recently launched a new website called Discovering Sacred Texts that brings together more than 250 digitized items (printed items, manuscripts, films, articles) from several different faiths and makes them freely available for study.

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

On Wednesday, October 23, Bonhams New Yorks sells Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Dodge Family Autograph Collection, Natural History, Travel and Americana, in 323 lots. A very rare Jesse James autograph letter to a Mr. Flood demanding that the recipient retract comments he had made suggesting that James was a horse thief, is estimated at $200,000–300,000. An 1813 letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra could sell for $80,000–100,000. The unpublished manuscript maquette for Christopher Webb Smith's Indian Ornithology, once in the collection of H. Bradley Martin, rates a $50,000–80,000 estimate.

PBA Galleries holds an Americana – Yosemite – Travel & Exploration – World History – Cartography sale on Thursday, October 24. The 382 lots include Sun Pictures of the Yo Semite Valley (1874), containing forty-four photographs of Yosemite by Charles Weed and Eadward Muybridge ($40,000–60,000). Petrus Bertius' Tabularum Geographicarum Contractarum Libri Septem (1618), a French-language edition of this work with 220 engraved maps, could fetch $15,000–25,000. The daybook and ledger of the Mariposa Hotel near Yosemite, covering the period 1890–1895, are estimated at $800–1,200. Lots 333–382 are being sold without reserve.

Also on Thursday, it will be Early Printed, Travel, Scientific & Medical Books at Swann Galleries, in 254 lots. A first issue of Newton's Opticks (1704), is estimated at $15,000–25,000. Sharing an estimate of $10,000–15,000 are an attractive nine-volume set of the official accounts of the voyages of Captain Cook, and a first edition of Galileo's Dialogo (1632). Quite a few interesting incunabula in this one.

On Friday, October 25, Christie's New York sells Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana, in 153 lots. John Forbes Nash's Nobel Prize medal and associated documents are expected to sell for $500,000–800,000. Reinhard Selten's Nobel Prize medal, also awarded in 1994, is estimated at $200,000–300,000. Rating the same estimate is an operational Apple-1 motherboard from 1976. Maria Sibylla Merian's insect books, bound in one volume, are estimated at $180,000–250,000. For the Americana fans: the Brinley copy of Thomas Morton's New English Canaan (1637), is estimated at $35,000–45,000, and Samuel Groom's A Glass for the People of New England (1676), also from Brinley's collection, could fetch $20,000–40,000.

Kolbe & Fanning sell books from the library of George F. Kolbe on Saturday, October 26, in 562 lots.

At time of writing, Heritage Auctions' website was down due to a malware attack, with a note that "all currently affected auctions will be extended or rescheduled." So watch for updates there on their scheduled sales for this week: Historical Manuscripts Featuring the Bret J. Formichi American Civil War Rarities Collection on October 23 and Estate of John and Elaine Steinbeck Manuscripts on October 24.

It’s the time of year when organizations start asking for donations, and here’s one that ought to pique the interest of you bibliophiles out there: the nonprofit TYPA studio of Estonia is looking for boosters for its letterpress edition of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince.

Formerly known as the Estonian Print and Paper Museum, TYPA is a private museum and studio focused primarily on preserving historic printing and papermaking techniques, and regularly hosts workshops such as hand-crafting paper, linocuts, and creating notebooks using its 150-year old letterpress. Now, TYPA is asking for donations to fund its ambitious limited edition of The Little Prince.

The book’s type will be cast line by line via a Linotype typecasting machine, and illustrations will be etched into metal plates using the 19th-century technique known as photozincography. Ultimately, TYPA plans to release three variations of the book, each of which are available at increasing price points to donors; a letterpress edition ($111), each individually numbered and bound in cloth, while the collector’s edition ($223) will boast marbled endpapers and a binders mark; and the exclusive gift edition ($334) will include an extra title page with the option of including a dedication that will be entirely typeset by hand. And finally, for $556, donors are invited to TYPA’s Estonia headquarters where they will help create their own copy of The Little Prince. All books are expected to ship in February 2020.

The fundraising campaign has, to date, raised nearly $3,000 of its approximately $34,000 goal, and has 23 days left in its campaign. Learn all about it here.

The Library of Congress announced yesterday the winner of its first annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film is Flannery, a film about National Book Award-winner Flannery O’Connor. Directed by Loyola University professor Elizabeth Coffman and Jesuit priest Mark Bosco, the documentary chronicles the life of the Georgia author known for her provocative, Southern Gothic fiction (and a penchant for peacocks). The filmmakers will receive a $200,000 finishing grant.

From eighty submissions, the winner was selected by the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in consultation with filmmaker Ken Burns.

Flannery is an extraordinary documentary that allows us to follow the creative process of one of our country’s greatest writers,” said Burns. “It also provides us a glimpse into her life, including her Catholic faith, her unusual sensitivity to race as a Southern white woman and her daily struggles with illness and the prospect and reality of an early mortality. The story is beautifully told and captures the power of her Southern birth and life. We’re hopeful that a new generation of readers will rediscover the writings of Flannery O’Connor because of this film.”

You can watch the trailer here; or read more about the film and its makers.

Relatedly, a collection of more than 100 unpublished letters from O’Connor and her circle of friends (Walker Percy, Katherine Anne Porter) has just been published. Titled Good Things Out of Nazareth, the volume “explores such themes as creativity, faith, suffering, and writing.” 

Modern British graphic design owes a significant debt to the work of German-born Marie Neurath, an excellent display of which finishes early next month at the House of Illustration in London.

Marie Neurath: Picturing Science showcases the work she did from the 1940s to the 1970s working initially with her husband Otto on what they called Isotypes (‘international system of typographic picture education’). These were a mixture of infographics and diagrams, mainly about science subjects, which were used in more than 80 schoolbooks throughout the UK, although they were also popular in translation in Italian, Japanese, and French. Neurath described her work as a ‘transformer,’ refashioning information into pictorial form, rather than a graphic artist.

She also worked in a strongly collaborative way with writers and researchers as the exhibition explains in five sections from first concepts, through various stages of the design process, through to final spreads and the colorful book covers themselves, concentrating on her books about physics, engineering, and technology.

The work on display comes from Neurath’s collection which she donated to the University of Reading and is also part of the year-long Insiders/Outsiders arts festival celebrating refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture. The exhibition runs until November 3.

Also running at the moment at the House of Illustration is Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics, an exhibition of 100 original Cuban propaganda posters and 70 magazines produced by the designers at OSPAAAL (Organisation of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America). The bold and colorful works in the exhibition cover the period 1965 to 1992 and feature the work of more than 30 designers, many of whom were women. Designed in Cuba runs until January 19, 2020. One ticket includes admission to both exhibitions (and indeed to all others open on the day).

Any book signed by presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth would be intriguing, but one titled Rifles and Rifle Practice (1859) is positively spine-chilling. The book, featuring a gilt-stamped image of a solider on the front cover and containing diagrams, illustrations, and charts related to the art of shooting, clearly signals the impeding war. Indeed, Booth’s inscription, “John Wilkes Booth, May 10th 1861,” was penned less than a month after Fort Sumter.

Lots of auction action coming up at the end of the week:

On Thursday, October 17, ALDE sells Lettres & Manuscrits Autographes, in 151 lots. Expected to lead the way with an €80,000–120,000 estimate is the early French photobook by Gustave le Gray, Souvenirs du camp de Châlons. A collection of seventeen Marcel Proust letters to poet Fernand Gregh could sell for €40,000–50,000.

Also on Thursday, Forum Auctions holds an online sale of Modern Literature, Children's and Illustrated Books, Private Press, and Limited Editions.

At Swann Galleries on Thursday, Classic & Contemporary Photographs, in 426 lots. A 1978 print of Irving Penn's Cuzco Children, Peru, December, is estimated at $80,000–120,000.

Rounding out Thursday's sales, Garth's Auctioneers & Appraisers will sell the Collection of Jim Richards of Duck Creek Books. The 352-lot online sale includes a near-complete set of Bell's Poets of Great Britain ($2,250–4,500). There are a number of quite interesting sets up for grabs in this auction, so I'd definitely recommend having a look through the listings.

On Friday at ALDE, Bibliothèque Albert-Jean Guibert, in 284 lots. Among the top-estimated items are a copy of the very rare Les Précieuses ridicules by Moliére (1660), at €50,000–60,000; a 1668 copy of Jean de la Fontaine's Fables, estimated at €20,000–30,000; and Descartes' Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison & chercher la vérité dans les sciences (1637), also estimated at €20,000–30,000.

Potter & Potter sells Fine Books & Manuscripts on Friday, in 652 lots. Briseaux's L’Art de Batir des Maisons de Campagne (1743), from the library of chancellor Henri François D’Auguesseau, is estimated at $6,000–8,000.

The Litquake Literary Festival is taking over San Francisco from October 10th through the 19th, with events taking place all across the city. (The name of the festival comes from a poem written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who recited the piece at the 2002 festival after arriving two hours late due to car trouble.)

With so many literary festivities--just take a look at the program--how do you pick and choose what to attend? Feminist poetry readings in a bike shop? Bookbinding at the San Francisco Public Library? Perhaps competitive wordsmithing at the Bay Area Pun-Off? Or the Lit Crawl, a "a massive, one-night literary pub crawl throughout the city’s Mission District" that "brings together 500+ authors and close to 10,000 fans for the world’s largest free pop-up literary event"--including a book fair on the festival's closing day/night. Truly, Litquake offers something to suit bibliophiles of all types. 

One event that might pique the interest of our readers is the Book Club of California's presentation of Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad. Stanford University history professor and author Gordon H. Chang will be talking about his book that explores and celebrates the role of Chinese railroad workers in remaking and shaping America's Transcontinental Railroad. Chang will discuss the contributions of these early migrant workers and how their story was long relegated to the sidelines of history, which he hopes his book will help correct. 

The event, which will be held at the Book Club of California on Monday, October 14th is free with registration requested here. Hospitality begins at 5pm, with the presentation starting at 6pm. 

The American Library Association (ALA) released the longlist for its 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Non-Fiction. The list includes 49 titles (24 fiction, 25 nonfiction), and we’re pleased to report that one of our contributors, Holly George-Warren, is among the honored authors.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Jesse Erickson of the University of Delaware:

What is your role at your institution?

I have a somewhat unique arrangement at the University of Delaware that allows me to work in three different interconnected roles. I am currently the coordinator of special collections and digital humanities at the University of Delaware Library, Museums, and Press; I am an assistant professor in the Department of English; and, I am also the associate director of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center (IHRC). Although not without its challenges, I find the arrangement to be intellectually stimulating. I am afforded the opportunity to teach full-credit, semester-long courses around specific archival and rare book collections while still maintaining all the duties of a rare book librarian including reference, collection development, and curatorial work. Additionally, my role at the IHRC challenges me to help come up with new strategies for supporting interdisciplinary partnerships and collaborations among different departments on campus as well as local museums and community organizations. It is really the best of all worlds.

How did you get started in special collections?

I often hear people share that they got their start in special collections by chance, either from library experience as a student worker, or something else along those lines. My path to special collections, however, was somewhat uncommon in that it was something that I set out to achieve upon returning to school in my mid-twenties at the undergraduate level. Back then, a little over thirteen years ago now, I was going through a very rough period in my life. My mother unexpectedly passed away at the young age of forty-nine, and I had been struggling to emerge from living a life of transience—sleeping outside, on friend’s couches, living in hostels and hotels, washing dishes to get by, that sort of thing. After learning about the then recent opening of the California Rare Book School, my path became clear to me. Regardless of any obstacles that would come my way, I was determined to land a career in rare books. I quit the dishwashing jobs I had been working at to survive, and by that combination of grit and providence so intrinsic to the American spirit, I landed my first library position as a messenger clerk at the Los Angeles Public Library. Before the California Rare Book School brought the field of rare books to my attention, I wasn’t even aware that there was a specialized field in librarianship that involved this kind of work. I had always loved the world of books and libraries; and growing up, my mother would take me to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens so often that we even had a season pass one year when I was in my teens. Suddenly, I realized that being a rare book librarian would mean that I could work in place like that, the library of my dreams. So, I set everything I had in me toward achieving that goal. The whole idea seemed so remote as to be in the realm of fantasy. And there were so many subtle messages coming at me to dissuade a person of my background from pursuing this field. Tenacity and determination, however, would not allow me to give up on the dream. Here I am, all these years later, doing what I set out to do. And none of this would have been possible without the mentorship of so many others who supported me along the way.     

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned both my MLIS and my PhD in Information Studies from the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, where I had the honor of being advised by Dr. Johanna Drucker.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

Given that the University of Delaware Library, Museums, and Press houses the renowned Mark Samuels Lasner Collection of late Victorian literature, I have had the chance to handle my all-time favorite novel, Ouida’s Folle-Farine (1871), inscribed by the author to her lawyer James Anderson Rose, Esq. I’ll confess that the experience brought me to tears of elation. Even so, I would say that the book in our collection with the most personal resonance would be Arthur Alfonso Schomburg and Charles F. Heartman’s A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry (1916), which includes Schomburg’s inscription to teacher, writer, and activist, Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935). The many connections embodied in this book dealing with Black history, bibliography, book collecting, and the book trade are an encapsulation of everything my journey in this field represents.

What do you personally collect?

I have been collecting exclusively in a single author for around five or six years now. I started collecting works from Victorian period author Ouida (1839-1908) after I fell in love with her novels in the summer of 2013. Since that time, I have become one of the biggest fans of her work alive today. I binge read her twenty-six three-decker novels, back-to-back, over the course of three years. To date, I have read all fifty-two of her published books, most of her published essays, and at least two unpublished manuscript essays. One thing about my collection that makes it unusual in the world of antiquarian book collecting is that I place a great deal of value on traces of ownership, readership, and use.  At her peak, Ouida was a popular celebrity and bestselling author; so, in my eyes, if a copy is in poor condition, damaged, with tons of annotation, it is much more reflective of her circulation history than a crisp, unread copy in fine condition would be. Other collectors might think this is crazy, but I’ve never had the means to go after extremely expensive editions in the first place, so there is no point in trying to compete at that level. Nevertheless, even without a great deal of resources at my disposal, I have managed to acquire some real gems. No Ouida collection would be complete without the 1906 Roycrofters edition of A Dog of Flanders (1872). I managed to acquire a copy of her earliest piece of published writing, “Dashwood’s Drag,” which was featured in Volume XLV of Bentley’s Miscellany (1859). I prize the American first editions from J. B. Lippincott & Co. most. My collection includes thirteen of these, as well as a special illustrated Lippincott edition of Under Two Flags (1867) with a letter from the author to the North American Review tipped in. My collection also includes an American first edition of Signa (1875) signed by Jack London’s daughter, Bess “Becky” London, which is significant because Jack London cited reading Ouida’s Signa as one of his earliest inspirations to pursue a career as a novelist. And, beyond just books, I possess an interesting array of Ouida-related periodicals and ephemera. I have an Ogden’s Guinea Gold cigarette card featuring one of the few photographic images taken of the author during her lifetime. I have the September 1897 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine that includes an article she wrote about fashion. And I own an animation production cel from the 1997 Japanese animated adaptation of A Dog of Flanders. Whether it’s getting something truly special for a great deal, or watching something that has been on the market slip past me before I had the chance to buy it, the ups and downs of collecting Ouida has been one of the greatest joys of my life.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I tend to take on a lot of projects in my working life, so getting free time outside of work is something of a challenge. I most enjoy having the chance to spend time with my family. My son and daughter are so much fun. We go to a lot of town carnivals in the summer and hayrides and train rides in the fall. Even when the weather is bad, we can still have a good time just playing around at home. My wife and I are both into contemporary hip hop and R&B, so we’re always keeping up with the latest artists and discussing the newest music. There’s pleasure reading, of course, especially when it’s something by Ouida; but I also have several interests and hobbies that would fall into the category of a living a “Neo-Victorian” lifestyle. For example, I’ll enjoy a relaxing cup of loose-leaf tea, the occasional cigar and bourbon-based cocktail, old-fashioned grooming with a straight razor, arranging flowers, scrapbooking, and other activities that were popular in the nineteenth century.    

What excites you about special collections librarianship?

Virtually everything about this field excites me! Since I am living out my dreams, I never take this blessing for granted. More than that, this is really such an exciting time to be working in special collections. I may sound like an optimist, but in my eyes, we are at the threshold of so much positive change. I see many possibilities for new directions, and it is wonderful to have a seat at the table and be a part of that process. Whether it is working to be a more inclusive field or finding new ways to support digital scholarship, primary source literacy, and interdisciplinarity, there are so many opportunities for this field to work better for the benefit of all.

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

What a question! I could go on and on about this one, but I will instead direct those readers who care most about these issues to keep an eye on my published scholarship and public lectures moving forward because I devote a great deal of attention to this subject. I’ll just say that we are still only at the very beginning stages of creating the conditions for a more diverse and inclusive culture in our field. There is so much work that needs to be done on that front. Furthermore, I am excited by shifts in our relationship to research and pedagogy that I believe will fundamentally change the ways in which we operate at every level. I am interested in the integration of everything from co-working office environments and special collections makerspaces to virtual reality reading rooms for digital collections and mobile pop-up exhibitions. The possibilities feel limitless the more we can expand our vision to entertain new and innovative ideas.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?

The richness of the Library’s collections was one of the many reasons that I was so eager to work at the University of Delaware. I am especially impressed with the scrapbook and ephemera collections and those covering book and printing history. However, I’ll use this opportunity to call attention to the Library’s marvelous collections of paper samples and watermarks. In addition to collections from such papermakers and scholars as Thomas Gravell, Dard Hunter, and Frank Tober, these diverse holdings include sample books of traditional Japanese and Korean paper.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have two truly amazing exhibits that recently opened in our Library’s gallery space. The first is Flowers of Freedom, an exhibit that I curated in commemoration of 1619. Focusing on the literary and scholarly accomplishments of African Americans post-emancipation, the exhibit features works by everyone from Irvine Garland Penn to Alice Dunbar-Nelson. Currently, our main gallery exhibition is From Thought to Print, a major exhibition curated by Rebecca Johnson Melvin, which highlights the complexities of the writing process from typescript to publishing to the criticism that follows. The exhibit includes samples from J. D. Salinger, Paul Bowles, Emily Coleman, Ishmael Reed, Tennessee Williams, and several other important writers.