A First for Women at Peter Harrington's
A week ago on Tuesday, February 26, Peter Harrington, the distinguished London rare book firm, marked its 50th year by launching In Her Own Words: Works by Exceptional Women, an exhibition of its new catalogue of works by women, a first in the firm's history.
To a bustling crowd of press at a breakfast in the morning, and bibliophiles and collectors in the evening, staff briskly opened glass cabinets in order to show off their favorite items. Put together by Harrington booksellers Theodora Robinson and Emma Walshe, the books and items featured in the exhibition highlight the work of women in a variety of fields, but what brings them together, they note in their introduction, is that "these were women who pushed legal, intellectual, and and physical boundaries."
The catalogue overflows with signed and presentation copies of women who broke boundaries and ceilings, pursued freedom, civil rights, equality, from Charlotte Perkins GiIman's feminist Utopian novel Herland -- signed to Californian suffragette Alice Locke Park -- to two inscribed works by Dorothy Parker (who left her estate to the NAACP) to renowned screenwriter Frances Marion to great, but overlooked women in science, like Ada Lovelace and Rosalind Franklin, whose contributions are still debated today.
There are also tremendous association copies, including a copy of Sappho given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to his daughter Sara.
One related item crossing the ocean this week to be at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair is Giovanni Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus, second edition, dating to the mid-15th century, which is the first collection of biographies devoted exclusively to women. They're also bringing one of (!) their rare Lovelace volumes, a first edition of the paper she wrote, annotated by her math tutor.
There's also a Pank-a-Squith gameboard, which is difficult to find with its suffragette game pieces, a rare hand-painted WSPU donation tin, and a Women's Freedom League sash, once owned by the suffragette Hodgson sisters.
As we approach International Women's Day on March 8, many booksellers are honoring the much overlooked work of women, including Alembic Rare Books and Deborah Coltham, who are issuing a joint catalogue of women in science. Bernard Quaritch also published a catalogue focused on "Women." And it's worth noting that the next catalogue of women's work issued by book dealer Elizabeth Crawford will be her 200th.
The exhibition of work is on display at Peter Harrington through Friday, March 15 at its shop located at 43 Dover Street.
Images, from top: Joséphine Baker: Felix Achille de la Cámara; Pepito Abatino. Mon sang dans tes veines. Paris: Les editions Isis, 1931. Ada Lovelace: Menabrea, Luigi Federico. Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage, Esq. With Notes by the Translator. Franz von. Kleist's translation of Sappho. Giovanni Boccacchio. De claris mulieribus. Strassburg: Georg Husner, about 1474-75, not after 1479. All credit: www.peterharrington.co.uk.
A. N. Devers is a long-time contributor to Fine Books and owns The Second Shelf, a new London bookshop of rare books, first editions, and rediscovered work by women.