Coming to auction next week at Doyle is the library of Duncan Crawford, and one of its highlights is a first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in its exceptionally preserved first issue binding. Printed and bound by hand in Brooklyn in 1855, it is one of a small group of copies prepared by Whitman for the English market. It includes Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous letter to Whitman in which he wrote, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career."

In today’s “Video Friday,” Doyle’s Peter Costanzo offers a five-minute introduction to this copy, which hasn’t been seen at auction in more than sixty years. More on the sale here.

Philadelphia has a history of collaborative exhibitions of rare books and manuscripts, and plans were set for another major show earlier this year. Stemming from Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, a regional project that catalogued and digitized nearly 500 medieval and early modern manuscripts, the capstone exhibition, Making the Renaissance Manuscript, opened at the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt-Dietrich Library in February, but was cut short by the pandemic. The project’s celebratory moment at the 66th annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America this past April was also canceled.

But the good news is a monumental catalogue has been made available: Making the Renaissance Manuscript: Discoveries from Philadelphia Libraries by Nicholas Herman (published by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and distributed by Oak Knoll). Bursting with full-color illustrations, the tall, thick, paperbound volume examines a broad range of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century manuscripts, cuttings, and incunabula from the region. You will find scientific manuscripts showing diagrams and measurements alongside lavish, illuminated books of hours, as well as some bland (by comparison) translations. Divided into three sections: Crafting the Codex, Showcasing Salvation, and Transmitting Knowledge, the exhibition introduces us to the patrons, artists, scribes, illuminators, scholars, and collectors that Philadelphia’s rare book repositories safeguard and share.

Lenders to the project and exhibition included Bryn Mawr College Library; The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; The Free Library of Philadelphia; La Salle University Library; Lehigh University Libraries; Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Rosenbach Museum & Library; Temple University Libraries; University of Pennsylvania Libraries; and an unnamed private collection.  

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Rachel Fletcher, PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and one of the two co-winners of this year's David Murray Book Collecting contest.

Where are you from / where do you live?

I grew up in the south of England, but I've been living in Scotland for four years now, doing first an MPhil and now a PhD at the University of Glasgow.

What do you study at University?

My BA was at Magdalene College, Cambridge; I spent the first two years in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, then finished off my degree with another two years in Linguistics. Since then I've found myself circling back round to the mediaeval side of things. My PhD is an analysis of dictionaries of Old English from the seventeenth century to the present, and specifically how they define the end of Old English as a linguistic period: does it end in 1066 with the Battle of Hastings, or at some other time, how do we categorise texts from the transitional period that might or might not be considered Old English, and how (and why) is all this conveyed in dictionary format?

Please introduce us to your book collection. What areas do you collect in?

My collection focuses on dictionaries, particularly dictionaries that have an interesting connection to the history of English. Some of these are period dictionaries, which look back on an earlier stage of English (such as Old or Middle English) and document its vocabulary for the benefit of modern scholars. Others, when they were compiled, were aiming (partly or exclusively) to record the English language used at that time, but still tell us something interesting about the history of English. This might be because they're concerned with tracing the historical origins of words, or simply because English has changed since they were compiled. I also have a few books that aren't dictionaries but are in some way about dictionaries: works on the history of English written by people who worked as lexicographers, for instance.

How many books are in your collection?

As I submitted it for the David Murray Book Collecting Prize, my collection was only eighteen books. I've bought several more since then, but the boundaries of the collection are fuzzy at best. It grew spontaneously out of books I found, was given, bought on a whim, or purchased for my research, so how many I have depends very much on how I define the collection. I try not to let it grow too quickly, though; a student budget and limited shelf-space keep some of my wilder impulses in check.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

Because I started collecting dictionaries almost without noticing, it's hard to pin down the first. The first that I bought for no other purpose than to add it to the collection was probably my 1832 two volume edition of Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language; it was also the first pre-twentieth-century book I bought. I knew when I found it that it would be much easier to read one of the many digitised versions out there, so I suppose that was the point that I admitted to myself that I was collecting purely for the sake of collecting!

How about the most recent book?

I've just bought a very battered copy of John Jamieson's A Dictionary of the Scottish Language, in the abridged edition of 1846. I ordered it online and the seller hadn't included much information about it, but I was intrigued by the mention of some interleaved notes, which are proving very interesting. It seems that they may have been moved from an 1818 edition of the same dictionary, and it's likely that they were written by James Morton, who edited and translated the early Middle English Ancrene Riwle, or Guide for Anchoresses, for the Camden Society in 1853. That means the book fits nicely within my collection on the history of English, despite Jamieson's work being a dictionary of Scots.

And your favorite book in your collection?

It's hard to choose just one! I am very fond of my second edition Webster's New International, partly because of its ludicrously impractical size (it weighs seven and a half kilogrammes) and partly because of its famous 'ghost word'; the entry for 'dord', said to mean density, was added in error and the word never really existed. For amusement value, though, the winner is probably The Super Dictionary (1978). It doesn't have the same connection to the history of English that most of my books do, but it does have the dubious honour of having achieved internet meme status, so when I saw a copy for sale I couldn't resist buying it. Who wouldn't want a dictionary that contains an image of Wonder Woman having her shoes stolen by a whale?

Best bargain you’ve found?

Definitely the Johnson. I was browsing a bric-a-brac shop in Glasgow when I found one volume of the two-volume set. I rummaged around for the other volume and was disappointed not to find it anywhere, so I asked the shopkeeper, who told me that he thought it must have been lost, so he'd give me a discount on the single volume. Some weeks later I was browsing there again and found the second volume halfway down a huge pile of books. The shopkeeper was very kind and didn't charge me full price now I had the matching set!

How about The One that Got Away?

I came very close to bidding on a copy of William Somner's Dictionarium Saxonico-Latino-Anglicum at Bonhams, before deciding that I couldn't justify spending more than one and a half thousand pounds on a seventeenth-century book that I didn't have any appropriate storage for. It was very tempting, though; I wrote my MPhil thesis on Somner's dictionary, so I have a particular attachment to it, and this copy was owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, who was himself both a lexicographer and a scholar of Old English. If I had my time again, I'd probably go for it.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

In an ideal world, very possibly that Somner!

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I think my favourite book-buying experience will always be encountering something unexpected in a charity shop or second hand stall, and knowing that by buying it I'm making sure it goes to an appreciative home when it might otherwise have been overlooked.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

Funnily enough, it's a bit of a running joke in my family that I don't have much of a collector's instinct. Books seem to be my exception because I can always justify it to myself by pretending I'll get round to reading them.

A recently opened exhibition and a new book offer fresh perspective on Ansel Adams, the much admired (and highly collectible) photographer of the American West.   

This past weekend, Ansel Adams in Our Time went on view at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The exhibition takes one hundred of Adams’ most iconic works and displays them alongside both nineteenth-century predecessors and contemporary successors “who both influenced, and were influenced by, the legendary American artist.” The exhibition will remain up through January 3, 2021, after which it will travel to the Portland Art Museum for a spring run.  

There’s also a new book out on Adams titled Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams by Rebecca A. Senf, published by Yale University Press in association with the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. Senf traces the first three decades of the artist’s practice, from an album he made in childhood to his national parks photography of the 1940s. These less well-known images, she argues, “are crucial to understanding Adams’s artistic development and offer new insights into many aspects of the artist’s mature oeuvre.” In both the book and the exhibition noted above, the photographer’s environmentalism is one area that takes on more significance, particularly as the effects of climate change become increasingly evident around us.  

Coming up this week, and then again in October, the author is participating in a few virtual events that may be of interest:

    •    September 23 at 6 p.m. (Eastern) — Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures in partnership with Silver Eye, PGH Photo Fair, and Carnegie Museum of Art
    •    September 24 at 5 p.m. (Eastern) — West Virginia University Museum of Art
    •    October 21 at 2 p.m. (Pacific) — Medium Summit – Ansel Adams and the YPCCO

Here's what's coming up this week:

Artcurial in Paris will sell Livres & Manuscrits on Tuesday, September 22, in 236 lots. One of twenty deluxe copies of the 1959 exhibition catalog of the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Boîte Alerte: Missives lascives, is expected to lead the way, estimated at €50,000–80,000. A first edition of Aucler's La Thréicie (1799) could sell for €20,000–30,000, while a first edition of Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932) is estimated at €15,000–20,000.

Also on Tuesday, 134 lots of Books and Manuscripts at Il Ponte in Milan. Estimates are mostly in the three-figure range, but a copy of the 1494 Lascaris Anthologia Graeca Planudea is estimated at €10,000–15,000.

On Thursday, September 24, Forum Auctions will sell A Further Selection of 16th & 17th-Century English Books from the Fox Pointe Manor Library, in 340 lots. A second issue copy of Locke's Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690) rates the top estimate at £12,000–18,000. A 1579 London edition of Plutarch's Lives, translated by James Amyot and Thomas North, could fetch £8,000–12,000. Both parts of Sir Thomas More's Co[n]futacyon of Tyndales Answere (1532–1533), bound together and with early annotations, are estimated at £6,000–8,000. Marmaduke Stephens' A Call from Death to Life (1660), about the persecution of Quakers in early Boston, is estimated at £4,000–6,000.

Swann Galleries sells 364 lots of Printed & Manuscript Americana on Thursday, including a Civil War sketchbook by artist John Richard ($25,000–35,000), and an 1865 cavalry officer's diary which describes some particularly gruesome scenes ($15,000–25,000). A complete copy of Pedro de Arenas' 1611 Vocabulario Manual de las Lenguas Castellana, y Mexicana (printed at Mexico City) is estimated at $12,000–18,000; no copy has been traced at auction since 1926.

Rounding out Thursday's sales, Americana – Travel & Exploration – World History – Cartography at PBA Galleries. The 437 lots include Matthieu Bonafous' Histoire Naturelle, Agricole et Économique du Maïs (1836), called "the most sumptuous monograph of the nineteenth century about corn," with engravings after Redouté and others ($5,000–8,000). At the same estimate is a broken run of the California State Mining Bureau's Summary of Operations from 1919 to 1936.

Finally for the week, Forum Auctions sells Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper on Friday, September 25. The 234 lots include Marc Chagall's Cirque (1967), estimated at £100,000–150,000, and a c.1928 illuminated manuscript of Poe's Annabel Lee and Other Poems, in a jewelled binding by Alberto Sangorski (£50,000–70,000). The issue of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society containing Darwin and Wallace's first printed exposition of natural selection could fetch £12,000–18,000.

Earlier this month, Rare Book School hosted a panel discussion “to explore ways that scholars in the Black community are continuing to move the scholarship of Black print culture forward.” This event’s panelists were Jesse Erickson, Brenna W. Greer, and Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. Vanesa Evers and Curtis Small co-moderated the session. It has just been posted online and is important to share.

You can check out many more videos from the Rare Book School Youtube Channel.

A digital edition of the 8th-century Codex Zacynthius, launched by the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing and Cambridge University Library, is now freely available in full for the first time.

The Codex Zacynthius is a palimpsest, with the oldest level containing an 8th-century copy of St Luke’s Gospel (only parts of the first eleven chapters survive) with a marginal commentary. At the end of the 12th century, it was replaced with a lectionary of the New Testament. Both texts are in Greek. The Codex is the oldest copy of the New Testament to contain a commentary written in the margins.

Gifted in 1820 to an English army general on the Greek island of Zante, it was donated to the British and Foreign Bible Society and then bought by Cambridge University Library in 2014 for £1.1 million following a public fundraising campaign. As part of a two-year digitization project run by Professor David Parker and Professor Hugh Houghton at the University of Birmingham, specialists from the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library created high-resolution images of each page taken under different wavelengths of light to make the original text visible.

The 8th-century manuscript includes commentaries on Luke by the 4th-century Bishop Titus of Bostra and 5th-century Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, as well as thirty-eight lengthy extracts from the theologian Severus of Antioch whose books were banned by the emperor Justinian.  

“We are delighted that this project has been so successful in enabling this important manuscript to be read once again, and to take its place in scholarship on the transmission and interpretation of the New Testament in the early Church," said Professor Houghton.

The Codex Zacynthius will be featured in a forthcoming exhibition due to open in November 2020, Ghost Words: Reading the Past, focusing on palimpsest manuscripts at Cambridge University Library.

In 1955, Ramona Quimby blew into the world of picture books with the gale-force that only a young child can summon. In Beezus and Ramona, the rambunctious four-year old plows her tricycle right into the coffee table, the would-be foil to the responsible older sister thus steals the show--this is the first and only book in the Ramona series narrated by Beezus--and cements her place in the pantheon of American children's literature.

Created by Beverly Cleary (who, it should be noted, is 103 years old), Ramona embodies the boisterous spunk of so many children who "can not wait," and whose honesty, even when admitting she's been misbehaving, remains a refreshing palliative to what feels like an overwhelming sense of apathy and cynicism. Though she always seems to be doing the wrong thing, Ramona's heart is generally in the right place, and that's what makes her so thoroughly relatable. 

To mark sixty-five years in print, Chronicle Books recently published a retrospective of the illustrations prepared for the various Ramona books, entitled, fittingly, The Art of Ramona Quimby.  Author Anna Katz explores the evolution of Ramona through the years by examining the ways the five illustrators interpreted this unlikely heroine with pen and ink. Ramona illustrator Jacqueline Rogers provides an essay on her experience illustrating the series in 2012, discussing her goals with refashioning a classic for a new generation of children. 

Adult readers who encountered the series as children may find themselves drawn to the illustrations they recall from their youth. but whether in the hands of Louis Darling, Tracy Dockray, Joanne Scribner, or Alan Tiegreen, Ramona emerges as effervescent and scrappy, wholly embodying the spectrum of human emotion.

A bumper crop of books about books this summer/early fall has kept me up past my bedtime, and all to your benefit, dear reader. Highlighted here are five novels with bookish themes that I have enjoyed these past few months and which I can recommend. If you’re looking for great bibliofiction, choose the one—or two, or five—that suits you best.

Let’s begin with plague, because, well you know why. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a rich, dark novel about the Black Death, true, but as its title suggests, it is also about William Shakespeare. More precisely, it tells the story of Shakespeare’s free-spirited and intelligent wife, Anne Hathaway, here called Agnes, and his children, Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith. O’Farrell vividly evokes marriage and motherhood in Elizabethan England, all the while spinning a subtext to Shakespeare’s famous play, “Hamlet.”  A national bestseller in the UK and winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Hamnet is charged by its originality and its emotional depth.   

From Shakespeare to Brontë  … and why not? In Brontë’s Mistress, author Finola Austin, aka the Secret Victorianist, takes the gossip surrounding Branwell Brontë’s affair with the older, married Lydia Robinson, and develops a complex and compelling tale that gives Lydia a voice. The novel opens (deliciously) with the discovery in a Yorkshire school’s “storage room” of a manuscript written by Lydia that describes her scandalous relationship with Branwell, the ne’er do well brother of novelists Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—all of whom would certainly have blushed to read this account of their illicit romance.

Charlie Lovett is the author of several bookish novels, including The Bookman’s Tale, First Impressions, and The Lost Book of the Grail, and his new one, I am happy to report, keeps bibliophila front and center. Escaping Dreamland features a dual storyline that toggles between modern-day author Robert Parrish, who is obsessed with a set of children’s books, and the three friends who penned the books in New York City circa 1906. Fans of the Stratemeyer Syndicate—i.e., Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift—will get a kick out of the spotlight Lovett shines on anonymously/pseudonymously-written children’s book series, and just about anyone who calls themself a “book lover” will relish his latest.

The Lost Diary of Venice by Margaux DeRoux also weaves together two captivating narratives. In the present day, Rose Newlin is a bookseller and book restorer whose client, artist William Lomazzo, brings in a manuscript dated 1571, likely written by his ancestor, Giovanni Lomazzo. That manuscript, a palimpsest, is both an art treatise and a chronicle that recounts the personal and political machinations Gio gets mixed up in as the Ottoman fleet nears Venice. Sparks fly between Rose and William—and between Giovanni and Chiara, his patron’s courtesan—and the result is utterly enticing.

And, if you perused our current issue or read last week’s Q & A with the author, you’ll already be familiar with Bradford Morrow’s new bibliomystery, The Forger’s Daughter, the sequel to The Forgers (2014). This time around, the main character, Will, becomes ensnared in a plot to counterfeit a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane, a notable rarity. Morrow creates authentic, complicated characters, and he revels in the minutiae of rare books. What more could you ask for?    

Need more recommendations? Stay tuned for mini reviews of a few standout nonfiction books about books next week, and, in the meantime, revisit my summer or spring roundups.

The Brontë Society has launched an appeal to help ensure the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth’s survival following the financial effects of the coronavirus lockdown on visitor numbers. The severe dip in income has also opened up the possibility of redundancies.

The literary landmark in Yorkshire in the north of England reopened its doors at the end of last month following help from Arts Council England’s Emergency Response funding package to help pay for better booking systems and new safety measures such as protective screens.

More than 70,000 visitors from around the world visit the museum, which opened in 1928. Despite an increase in membership and sales from its online shop over the lockdown period as well as a program of virtual talks and readings, the closure over the last six months during what is normally its busiest period of the year has seen a drop in estimated income of more than £500,000 and the society projects an end of year deficit of £100,000. On top of this, visitor numbers are expected to be down in 2021.

Trish Gurney, chair of the Brontë Society Board of Trustees paid tribute to the dedicated and hardworking staff at the museum, but said: “We are very sad to be in this position, but difficult decisions are now necessary in order for the charity to survive. It is painfully evident that the charity needs to significantly cut costs further. It is with great reluctance that we have therefore notified our staff of our intention to enter a period of consultation with them, which may lead to redundancies.”   

The appeal on JustGiving has already three-quarters of its £100,000 target and follows the success of a similar appeal to buy a rare Charlotte Brontë 'little book' at auction last year as reported by Fine Books.

Last week, news broke that the T.S. Eliot estate had contributed £20,000—some of its Cats musical earnings—to the struggling Parsonage.  

Clare Reihill, trustee of the Eliot estate told the BBC, "The Eliot estate are very fortunate to have access to funds because of the success of Cats and it seems to me crucial we help other literary bodies should they run into trouble.”