Over the years, Fine Books columnists and contributors have published several books of note, typically covering the same subject featured in our magazine: books! Today I’d like to call attention to two of the latest productions from our extended Fine Books family.

Full-time ghostwriter and longtime FB&C contributor Barbara Basbanes Richter just published the first modern English translation of Fanny Reybaud’s 1854 novel of the French Revolution, Mademoiselle de Malepeire. Said Publishers Weekly of it: “This ripping yarn shows why Reybaud had such a huge following during her lifetime. Fans of 19th-century French literature will want to take a look.”

Alex Johnson, our UK correspondent and author of many books about books, offers practical advice and insight in his latest, How to Give Your Child a Lifelong Love of Reading. Published by the British Library, this guidebook is brimming with helpful information and thoughtful enthusiasm; if your child or grandchild is in need of an antidote to today’s screen-centric life, here you go!

Coming to auction in Chicago on October 8 are two letters written by artist John James Audubon, both of which demonstrate his hands-on approach to bookselling. In the one pictured above, Audubon writes to Edinburgh bookseller Alexander Hill on July 17, 1830, referencing one of the first American subscribers to his now famous double-elephant folio, The Birds of America, and requesting money: “I have been in London a fortnight and am yet without any answer to my last letter sent to you from Liverpool about a month ago, in which I desire you to collect the money due to me by Miss Harriet Douglas of New York. I am extremely anxious to have your answer and some money from you…”  

Douglas, the auctioneer points out, later turns up in Audubon’s journal when he mentions the fact that she seems not to have taken good care of the prints from her copy of Birds. He writes, “This, however, was not my concern, and I regretted it only on her account, that so little care should be taken of a book that in fifty years will be sold at immense prices because of its rarity….” Indeed, it is the second most expensive printed book ever sold at auction. Heck, even this letter is estimated at $4,000-6,000.

Last month, in honor of the U.S. Copyright Act’s 150th anniversary, the Library of Congress launched an interesting new digital collection: Early Copyright Materials of the United States, 1790-1890. It might sound bland, but the result is an online database of 50,000 title pages of books published during that time that were deposited with the LOC by the publisher—and sometimes the author—prior to publication in order to fully register them per the terms of the law.

“The documents — just the first wave of tens of thousands of old copyright entries that we’re digitizing — form a uniquely American record of creativity, dreams and aspirations from a world gone by,” writes Elizabeth Gettins, a digital library specialist, on the LOC blog.

As Gettins points out, some of the deposited title pages offer intriguing bits of literary history. For example, Mark Twain’s 1875 application for The Adventures of Tow Sawyer (pictured above) “bears a sub-title that didn’t make it to publication.” Many authors, including Frederick Douglass and Nathaniel Hawthorne, signed their submissions.

Librarians are continuing their efforts with a focus on copyright ledgers, bulky volumes in which clerks recorded applicants’ names, titles, and dates. For more on this project, read Gettins’ full post.

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 Prize.

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.