It's old news that vintage comic books are global phenoms, inspiring massive conventions and blockbuster movies. Collectors obsess over completing their sets and hunting down rare editions. (Is there a suffixed word of Greek origin akin to bibliomania to describe this particular drive to acquire? There should be.)

But now, as some so-called rare editions aren’t as exceptional as once believed, some collectors are turning to original artwork, and paying top dollar, too: consider the 2012 Heritage Auction sale of Todd McFarlane’s Amazing Spider Man 1990 #328 cover art, which fetched a princely $685,000. In May 2018, Frank Frazetta’s Egyptian Queen, which appeared in print as the cover for Eerie magazine #23 in mid-1969, sold for $5,400,000, also at Heritage, setting the world record for the most expensive piece of comic art sold at auction. The previous record was $1.79 million, also for a Frazetta original.

There’s more to comic art than Stan Lee originals; European artists have been perfecting the genre for decades. (A 2016 story from Paste magazine provides a detailed history of European comic artists.) And, to that end, Line and Frame: A Survey of European Comic Art will open in New York later this month highlighting over 50 original European strips and illustrations of comic art from the last 70 years. Artists in the exhibition include Franco-Belgian masters such as Moebius (aka Jean Giraud), a designer who also worked on sci-fi films including Tron, Alien, and The Fifth Element); Enki Bilal, who has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Louvre and at Arts and Métiers; Florence Cestac, the first woman to win France’s top comics prize; and Jacques de Loustal, whose work has graced the cover of the New Yorker.

The show is organized by comic art collector Philippe Labaune, the founder of Art9, an organization whose mission is introduce the original European comic art to Americans. After a career in finance, Labaune turned his attention to building his comic art collection and established Art9 in the process. His is a member of the Society of Illustrators, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Morgan Library. This exhibition is presented in coordination with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, the Consulate of the Kingdom of Belgium, the Cultural Services for Wallonie-Bruxelles International, and the French-American Foundation.

Line and Frame will be on view February 27 through March 14, 2020 at Danese-Corey on 511 West 22nd Street in New York.

Charnel House, longtime publisher of artfully designed limited editions in Catskill, New York, has released Ellison Under Glass, a collection of stories written mostly in bookstore windows, hence the Calvino-esque title. Typing away in bookstore windows was something Harlan Ellison became known for, and it resulted in stories like “Objects of Desire Are Closer than They Appear,” written at Dangerous Visions bookstore in Los Angeles in 1998, and “The Diagnosis of Dr. D’Arqueangel,” written at London’s Words & Music, on Charing Cross, in 1976.

Collected here for the first time are twenty-nine such stories on thick paper with wide margins, striking typography, black and white photo illustrations, and decorative endpapers. The unsigned edition of 250, which retails for $200, beautifully evokes the “glass" theme, bound as it is in handmade paper embedded with glittering mica chips.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Mary Catherine Kinniburgh of Granary Books in New York City.

How did you get started in rare books?

To me, books have always had an incantatory quality. As a kid, I liked to make them—I illustrated and wrote chapbooks about things I found in the backyard with my sister, then later zines and literary magazines. And I’ve always liked large amounts of books—this took the form of maxing out my library card on weekends growing up, and later, carrying suitcases of books across Central Park as I worked on my graduate thesis.

As they say in the Teaches of Peaches, “stay in school, coz it’s the best”—so my undergraduate major was English at University of Virginia as a Jefferson Scholar. I taught yoga, waited tables, then went to Columbia for an MA in English and Comparative Literature, and later completed a PhD in English at The Graduate Center, CUNY. There, I became heavily involved in Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative—a project that publishes underpublished or understudied twentieth-century authors, generally from archival sources. This entailed going to numerous institutional archives, to storage units or garages, and working closely with librarians, estates, and poets alike.

After a particularly positive time working at UNC-Chapel Hill in the Diane di Prima Papers, I bit the bullet and lucked into a job as a page at the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at The New York Public Library, and later became a literary manuscripts specialist there. At that time, I was obsessed with A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing 1960-1980, by Steve Clay and Rodney Philips, a book that documented the mimeograph revolution and counterculture publications in an NYPL exhibition, through collection development at the Berg, and later a digital resource. It made poetry feel close, dangerous, completely possible. Not long after I began at NYPL, I met Steve Clay at a poetry reading by Julie Ezelle Patton and Steve Dickison (who I had met on my Diane di Prima research trails). I asked if he was “the” Steve Clay, I was so excited.

After a few twists and turns, I now work at Steve Clay’s Granary Books, an independent publisher that also deals in archives and rare books. I’m proud to still be hauling boxes of books and archives from all sorts of places, and making sure they end up where they can keep contributing to our cultural record.

What is your role at Granary Books?

Granary Books has been operating for over thirty-five years, and is known for publishing limited-edition artists’ books—especially collaborations between artists and poets—as well as trade books that contribute to our understanding of artists’ books and books as material objects. Through the relationships Steve Clay built in publishing this type of work, he began to facilitate the sale of archives to institutions, and assisting in this process is one of my primary roles. In addition to processing and describing archives, I also develop rare book catalogues, tag along with publishing projects, and am on hand for whatever else the day requires.

Tell us a bit about your academic work.

I wrote a dissertation on how postwar American poets collected and conceived of their personal libraries, focusing on the libraries of Charles Olson (1910–1970) and Diane di Prima (1934–). However, I have plans to keep writing about other poets’ libraries too—especially libraries that are not placed at institutions, which is frankly many of them. Legacy libraries on the whole are notorious difficult to sell or acquire, since we consider the singular book as conceptual unit (thus, possible “duplicates” are often a consideration in acquiring legacy libraries) and lack of inscription or annotation to mean lack of evidence. And author popularity can be fickle, too—think of Herman Melville’s library, which was sold to alleviate debt after his death. Now individual books clear huge sums at auction.

I argue in my research that keeping poets’ libraries together physically, or at least documenting or examining them as such, provides us important evidence when it comes to understanding the history of information science alongside how poets built their own structures of knowledge in Cold War America—an act that for them was akin to political resistance, structuring knowledge in their own way especially on topics that were considered taboo, unintellectual, or even worth of FBI investigation. So for us too, collecting is a political act, and who and what we collect says what we value, and in particular, what or who we don’t.

What do you love about the book trade?

I will never forget the feeling of being in the stacks alone for the first time. No call slips, no paging requests, no online databases—just the books. I never wanted to give up my ability to experience that freedom, with documents I felt had changed the world. At Granary Books, that feeling is multiplied a thousand-fold—not only is Steve Clay’s personal collection jaw-dropping, but encountering special objects “in the wild” as we catalog them is a joy and an adventure. Books are some of the most readily discarded and defaced objects we kick around, but also some of the most rarefied. Seeing a copy of Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters you didn’t know existed in the bottom of a box at a storage unit just makes you want to dance. And I do!

Describe a typical day for you:

There are no typical days (I’ve found yet!), but practical rhythms. Sometimes Steve and I travel to work on archives outside of New York City, so there will be days in a family’s storage unit, artist studio, or home cataloging at lightning speed, making time for cups of tea with whoever is around. Days hauling boxes from someone’s house to our workspace, taking the best possible reference images of mimeograph magazines, cataloging glorious piles of books, emailing with curators and collectors I admire and appreciate. There is never a shortage of beautiful things to look at or work with, and I find the work that I do with authors, artists, and estates genuinely meaningful.

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

Granary Books limited-edition artists’ books are my consistently favorite things to handle right now—whether it’s paper embedded with red lentils in Alison Knowles’s Time Samples, fantastic latex sheets bound into Henrik Drescher’s Too Much Bliss, or a Daniel Kelm binding that lets you open a book the way they must all open in heaven…well, Drescher’s titled sums it up. The type of work that Steve Clay has been able to create, in terms of collaborations between poets and artists, bookbinders and printers, and all the craft that goes into these objects, makes me glad I spent years in graduate school studying alchemy—so I would know it when I saw it.

What do you personally collect?

Right now, I don’t collect. Most of my time is spent learning from collections that others have put together, or trying to understand the logic of an archive I’m working on—sometimes even documenting collections that are set to be disbanded. But I will say: the future is young collectors, and I’m glad for conversations and projects that both encourage and teach in this vein.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a member of the Steering Committee of the Maud/Olson Library, a community-based repository in Gloucester, Massachusetts, affiliated with the Gloucester Writers Center. The “MOL,” as we call it, consists of all the books that Charles Olson was thought to have ever read, collected by scholar and book collector Ralph Maud. An article on this space and how it informs our understanding of poets’ libraries as conceptual units is forthcoming in Book History this year, and I hope we can continue to attract more scholars and readers to work with these materials.

I’ve been a part of an ongoing poetry workshop with close friends for the past seven years, and I write when I can—but there are a few non-book things, too! I roller skate in the recreational league of Gotham Girls Roller Derby in New York City, and when I’m not trying to drag friends out to roller rinks, I love walking around the city, going to all the great breweries in Brooklyn, spending time with my husband, dog, and friends.

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

By the time I began working in the book trade, I had experienced archives and rare book collections from both sides of the reference desk. This gave me a strong desire to help shape collections to make a wider variety of research possible, and consider how outreach and education can better acknowledge the consequences of how collections are traditionally built. In doing so, we can create accountability, and also space for new ways of working with books and the histories they represent. Working in the book trade allows me to use my skills for this greater good, to try and invite in more voices and collections that are deserving of quality research, institutional homes, and our attention.

To that end, many of us are invested in addressing archival silences—histories (and people) that have been traditionally excluded from special collections. Sitting in graduate school seminars, it is very easy to think of archival silence as a monolithic feature, when we might also consider it as the result of a series of choices by people involved in special collections ecosystems—still today! I love collaborating with curators to find things that fit their research and teaching agendas for collections, especially those that can show others that the power to collect and transform archival and rare book institutions is really in each of our hands.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I’m thrilled to share that Granary Books has an exhibition opening at Poets House in New York City this spring, with works from 2000 onward. We’ll have forthcoming publications for 2020 on display, including a limited-edition artists’ book by Timothy Ely and Whit Griffin, as well as a facsimile reproduction of Jane Wodening’s stunning scrapbooks from the 1960s.

The best way to hear what we’re offering—including archives and rare book catalogs—is to join our mailing list, at the bottom of our website’s main page. Recent book collections include a prospectus of Ron Padgett’s print publications and 0 to 9 magazine and books; and archives include the papers of Marjorie Welish, Jane Wodening, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Anselm Hollo, Ron Padgett, and many others that you can browse on our “Archives” page.


Today sees the publication of Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote (Avid Reader Press, $30) by Craig Fehrman, a journalist and historian who has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and—full disclosure—Fine Books. In the book, Fehrman offers a decade of painstaking research boiled down into a supremely engaging narrative about presidents and their relationship to reading and writing. (The Wall Street Journal raved about the book last week, calling it "One of the best books on the American presidency to appear in recent years.")

Craig graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his research and how to collect in this genre, and he weighed in on the best presidential prose.  

RRB: What made you decide to write about presidential autobiographies/memoirs? 

CF: I first started thinking about this topic in 2008. Like everyone else that year, I was obsessing about the election, and I realized Obama's books were a) really good; and b) really resonating with voters. This was not a very original realization! But I found myself wondering if there was a history here, and that history turned out to be much richer than I expected — rich in books that made big impacts, and rich in new behind-the-scenes stories about some of our most beloved presidents.

RRB: Your narrative weaves in so many interesting strands — e.g., John Quincy Adams’ poetic ambitions, Wilson’s penchant for mystery novels, Kennedy’s desperate pitch for the Pulitzer — what surprised you the most in the research?

CF: There were a lot of surprises, and you mentioned some of my favorites, but the big one is easy: that Lincoln wrote a bestseller, and that his decision to write it reveals so much about his heart and mind. The book was called (deep breath!) Political Debates between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, and it collected the best transcripts of the famous debates between Lincoln and Douglas. Lincoln's biographers have totally missed this book — both how hard Lincoln worked on it, alone and secret, and how important it was in helping him win the White House in 1860.

Fine Books & Collections readers will appreciate this: the only scholars who have taken Lincoln's book seriously are the old-school bibliographers, who have carefully compared the various early editions (and there are a ton of variants because it sold so well). Those bibliographers have also inventoried the copies Lincoln signed and dated, with many of those copies remaining in private collections.

RRB: The cynics among us might argue that a president, at least one within the last half-century, is just another celebrity with yet another slapdash, ghostwritten legacy book. How do you respond to that?

CF: This is a fair point, but I would offer two counters. First, the previous president, Barack Obama, won his election in large part because of a fantastic and deeply personal book. So while presidents have written plenty of books best described as "slapdash," they've also written some good ones — and the good books have made a difference.

Second, I would draw a distinction between a slapdash ghostwritten book and a decent ghostwritten book. Not every president needs to be an Obama or a John Quincy Adams. Aspiring to be, say, a Ronald Reagan — who worked quite hard with his ghostwriter on a now-forgotten bestseller, the fascinating and revealing Where's the Rest of Me? — is plenty good enough. I think it's a mistake to dismiss a book simply because it's ghostwritten, and history makes it clear that this distinction matters to other writers far more than it matters to readers. The better question, to me, is: is this a decent and useful book? Ghostwriting can produce that so long as everyone works hard, as Reagan and his ghost did.

RRB: I couldn’t help but think of collectors when I got to the book’s appendix, where you offer a short list of the best presidential prose. It struck me as a great place to begin a collection if one were so inclined. I know you used digital sources and library loans, but did you end up acquiring any physical copies of the books along the way? Did you ever feel the lure of collecting during the process of research and writing?

CF: I bought a lot of modern presidential books, but they were always easy to find and cheap — a byproduct of of the genre's popularity, I guess. According to my Amazon account, I bought Reagan's second (and far worse) book An American Life on March 24, 2010, for 43 cents.

A trio of sales to watch this week:

On Wednesday, February 12, Printed Books, Maps & Documents at Dominic Winter Auctioneers. The 280 lots are mostly estimated in the mid-three-figure range. At £700–1,000 estimates are the Medici Society's four-volume edition of Le Morte Darthur (1910–11) and a set of signed proofs of Stephen Gooden's engraved for a 1940 edition of the Rubaiyat. A 1710 collection of Rubens engravings of the Marie de Medici cycle are estimated at £400–600, while a copy of the limited edition of Sir William Russell Flint's Drawings (1950) could fetch £400–500. A 102-volume collection of Folio Society publications is estimated at £300–400. There are a bunch of other large lots that may be of interest, so I would encourage a look through this sale.

Also on Wednesday, Irish Historical Interest Books, &c. at Purcell Auctioneers, in 657 lots. Notwithstanding the sale title, the top estimate goes to the 1852 large folio volume The Rhine: Its Scenery and Its Mountains, containing fifty color lithographs of German topography (€2,000–2,500). A Victorian-period family album containing photographs, postcards, and autographs documenting Anglo-Irish upper-class life could fetch €800–1,000.

Swann Galleries sells Vintage Posters on Thursday, February 13, in 429 lots. Expected to lead the way is an impressive collection of more than 350 posters produced in Puerto Rico from the 1960s through the present decade, many under the auspices of the Division of Community Education (DIVEDCO). The collection is estimated at $20,000–30,000. Alphonse Mucha's Cycles Perfecta poster (1897) could sell for $15,000–20,000, and there are many more lots which will be of interest to the Mucha collector. 

Collectors focusing on the Golden State often point to first editions of the Zamorano 80 as their collective black tulip--that carefully curated list of books created in 1945 by the Zamorano Club deemed most significant to the history of California. Founded in 1928 and named in honor California’s first printer, Agustin Vicente Zamorano (1832-1833), the club’s members initially hoped to identify 100 volumes but could only agree on eighty. Among the books to make the list include The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta (1854), considered one of the rarest of them all and often one of the determining factors in whether a collection is complete or falls just short.

Even the Zamorano Club does not have a complete set of 80s, and only four individuals have completed their collections: Thomas Streeter was the first--his books were sold at auction between 1966 and 1969. Frederick Beinecke completed his run by buying Streeter’s Joaquin Murieta and immediately gave his collection to the library named after his family at Yale University. Today, the Beinecke remains the only institution to possess a complete set of firsts. Henry Clifford was the third Zamorano 80 completist, and his collection was sold at auction in 1995. The most recent complete collection was assembled by Daniel Volkmann, whose Zamorano archive fetched an impressive $883,608.25 at auction in 2003.

What’s on the list? The entire Zamorano 80 may be consulted here.

Bibliophiles may also recall that Stephen Blumberg, the notorious book thief whose deeds and trial are chronicled in Nick Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness--a book celebrating 25 years in print in 2020--set a personal goal of acquiring every book listed on the Zamorano 80. (He did not succeed.)

Next week, PBA Galleries is holding an Americana auction including the Robert M. Ebiner Zamorano 80 Collection. The Los Angeles-based bibliophile managed to acquire 57 of the coveted 80, which are listed in the auction as lots 319 through 376. No, there isn’t a copy of the Joaquín Murieta, but there is plenty here to entice Zamorano 80 chasers. 

The auction preview will be at 605 Addison Street, Berkeley, California on Tuesday, February 18, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, Wednesday, February 19, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.Thursday, February 20, 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The sale will take place on the 20th at 11am Pacific Time.

An important collection of African Americana heads to auction later this month in Chicago. It all started with a photograph that collector Steve Turner bought at an antique show in 1996 and now encompasses hundreds of historical treasures, including the last known studio portrait of Harriet Tubman and a California imprint of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

But, as someone with a keen interest in literary memorabilia, my eye was drawn to the item pictured above: Frederick Douglass’s walking stick. While on a speaking tour of the South in 1888, an African-American militia unit calling themselves the Douglass Light Infantry presented this decorative cane to Douglass. The gold-topped cap features wild strawberry leaves “symbolizing righteousness and spiritual merit in Christian art,” according to the auctioneer. It is expected to sell for $3,000-5,000.

Because this weekend will see the grand, 53rd annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair, the time seemed right to call attention to a beautifully produced new book written by California bookseller John Crichton about a fellow Golden State bookman, Henry Evans. Published by the Book Club of California (BCC), the 51-page volume stems from a 2018 exhibition that Crichton curated at the BCC, Henry Evans, the Peregrine Press, and the Porpoise Bookshop.

With that exhibition and this book, Crichton, proprietor of San Francisco’s Brick Row Book Shop, seeks to renew interest in Evans, a mid-century bookseller, letterpress printer, and later, botanical printmaker. To that end, Crichton offers a short biography, illustrated by archival photos and examples from the Peregrine Press. Evans was, it appears, very independently-minded and only printed exactly what he wanted to print; Crichton relays a delicious anecdote about Evans turning down the opportunity to print Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl," referring the poet to City Lights instead.  

Increasingly, Evans and his first wife, Patricia, focused on artist portfolios and experimental printing, including his own linoleum block prints. Bright color illustrations accompany this section of Crichton’s book. Evans’ botanical prints fared well with collectors, to the point where he fazed out of antiquarian bookselling entirely. His magnum opus, California Native Wildflowers (1976-1984) was a fully subscribed limited edition of fifty books, each costing $1,500, and was “one of the most remarkable books of its genre,” writes Crichton.

For collectors and scholars, a chronological checklist of the publications of the Peregrine Press, the Porpoise Bookshop, and Henry Evans, Printmaker, 1948-1990, follows Crichton’s admirable biography.

Henry Evans: Bookseller, Printer, Publisher, Printmaker can be ordered from the BCC’s site for $35.

The National Archives in London celebrates Valentine’s Day with a new exhibition called With Love. Highlights include the will of Anne Lister, the early nineteenth-century lesbian entrepreneur and diarist whose life has recently been dramatized in the popular BBC-HBO television drama Gentleman Jack.

Using 500 years of love letters, the exhibition also looks at lovers divided by geography including love letters sent to William Crawford, a soldier who died in the First World War from his sweetheart ‘Hetty’ (including a birthday card, pictured above).

A special preview on February 13 includes free exhibition tours and an interactive pop-up letterpress studio run by Simon Trewin of The Garage Press print shop in Brixton. Other events in conjunction with the display include two talks: "Hidden Love? LGBTQ+ lives in the archives" on February 20, and "Victoria and Albert: myth and reality" on March 19.

With Love runs February 14 to July 5, 2020. Free entry to exhibition but talks require tickets.

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

At Christie's Paris on Tuesday, 4 February, Paul Destribats: Bibliothèque des avant-gardes, Partie II. The 276 lots include a maquette for of Iliazd's La Maigre (published in 1952), estimated at €80,000–120,000. A lovely copy of Tzara and Picasso's La Rose et le Chien (1958), with an original signed drawing by Picasso and extra suites of the illustration could sell for €60,000–80,000. Several other works by Iliazd are expected to sell very well.

Also on Tuesday, Doyle will hold another online sale of Sporting & Travel Books from the Library of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. The 350 lots are expected to be in the three-figure range, for the most part. Highlights could include the first volume of the Transactions of the Literary and Philosophical Society of New-York (1815), estimated at $600–800, and two volumes of Wenham Lake Shooting Records, from the library of Edward Sands Lichfield (also estimated at $600–800).

PBA Galleries will sell Rare Books & Manuscripts at the Pasadena Book Fair on Thursday, February 6, in 168 lots. A Taber viewbook of Pacific Coast sites from around 1890 containing forty-six mounted photographs is estimated at $80,000–120,000. David Roberts' Egypt and Nubia (1846–1849), with the three volumes bound in two, could sell for $40,000–60,000. A suite of John Martin's colored mezzotints for an 1827 edition of Paradise Lost is estimated at $15,000–25,000. Also on offer is a seventeenth-century manuscript book of horoscopes ($12,000–18,000).

Rounding out the week, Lettres & Manuscrits Autographes at Ader on Thursday, in 413 lots. A papal bull from 1147 concerning a Cistercian abbey rates the top estimate, at €13,000–15,000.