The secret to great book design may be akin to an exquisite ballet performance: the experience is nearly perfect when the effort and work put into the creation of the piece is invisible. In A Grammar of Typography: Classical Book Design in the Digital Age, author and book designer Mark Argetsinger compares the work of a book designer to that of an architect--everything in balance and in proper proportion to the project at hand. And though form serves function, it needn’t be dull or an afterthought--great design elevates and enhances the overall experience.

And now, it seems that Argetsinger has created what will be considered the definitive work on the subject of the history and application of  book design. Released May 5 by Godine, A Grammar of Typography is no lightweight; my bathroom scale registered the volume at a precise five pounds. From the mathematical roots of typographical classicism to the transition to digital book design, there is plenty to engage everyone from the casual typophile to the professional designer.

Perhaps, to my mind at least, two of the most engrossing chapters (if only two could be chosen) are those exploring the transition to digital design. Chapter three heralds the new dawn of digital printing by providing a brief chronology in the history of desktop publishing (including a fascinating look at the so-called “Font Wars” between Adobe and Apple in the 1980s) while chapter eight examines what Argetsinger calls the restoration of a typographer’s powers with the advent of OpenType, a digital typographic tool. Over 425 images, many in color, round out this impressive work.

As exhaustive as A Grammar of Typography may be, Argetsinger encourages eager readers to further their study by examining other typographic and design manuals in his excellent annotated bibliography.

What font was selected for this book? Dutch Type Library (DTL) Fleischmann, a robust, digital font developed in the 1990s that Argetsinger calls “charming” and “sculptural.”

Classic book design didn’t disappear with the arrival of the digital revolution--it is alive and well, which Argetsinger adroitly proves in this handy, hefty compendium.

The trade edition of A Grammar of Typography is available for $65, while a deluxe slipcased version--in an edition of 123 copies--only available through Godine, is $95.

Among the exhibitions that agile curators have successfully adapted for online consumption is the excellent The Art of Advertising, at Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. It covers more than two centuries of advertising, from black and white letterpress trade cards for coffins and packing cases, to colorful 1930s chromolithographic posters extolling the delights of the new Morris Oxford Six cars for female drivers.

The exhibition heavily mines the library’s John Johnson Collection, one of the world’s finest archives of printed ephemera, described by the eponymous Oxford printer as “everything which would ordinarily go into the wastepaper basket after use, everything printed which is not actually a book.” The online incarnation of the exhibition broadly traces the history of printed advertising from the 1740s to the 1930s.

Well, the verdict is in: antiquarian bookseller John Schulman of Caliban Book Shop and former Carnegie Library archivist Gregory Priore were given light sentences for stealing about 300 rare books from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library over two decades. In addition to paying $55,000 in restitution, Schulman must serve four years of house arrest and twelve years of probation. Priore received three years of house arrest and twelve years of probation.

Replacement value for the rarities, which included a book signed by Thomas Jefferson, is estimated at $8 million. Book theft is seldom taken very seriously from a legal point of view. However, the judge, Alexander P. Bicket, did suggest that the sentences might have been more harsh if not for Covid-19.   

The charges against the two men were first announced in 2018. Though both plead guilty, Schulman sent an email to supporters in January proclaiming his innocence, a move that dismayed the judge.

On a rare books electronic mailing list, one well-known and outspoken collector commented, “In a sense, the sentences to the pair of confessed thieves are unimportant. Their careers in rare books are gone.”

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), for its part, put out a statement condemning the actions of the two individuals and reasserting that Schulman ceased to be a member of the ABAA within days of his indictment. ABAA President Brad Johnson wrote, “As antiquarian booksellers, we are the custodians and caretakers of cultural materials. This incident is not only a violation of that responsibility and our rigorous Code of Ethics, it is also a tremendous loss to scholarship in the Pittsburgh community and beyond. When we were alerted to the thefts, the ABAA published lists of the stolen and missing material. Our members continue to assist the authorities and collectors around the globe in identification and recovery activities. We co-sponsored an international seminar on provenance at the Grolier Club in 2019 and as a result, bolstered our communications efforts and stolen and missing books blog. We are continuing to work with our colleagues and law enforcement agencies throughout the world and our counterparts in special collections libraries to develop a more robust international stolen books database and increase awareness on the importance of security and provenance.”

And this wasn’t the only disappointing denouement in a book theft case last week. As Travis McDade, curator of rare books at the University of Illinois College of Law and author most recently of Torn from their Bindings, pointed out on Twitter, a former University of Illinois employee who plead guilty to stealing two rare books from the UI library (although more than 25 are missing) was sentenced to two years of probation.

As an object of desire for book collectors, it would be hard to top this replica of rare book dealer John Fleming’s 57th Street Gallery, where he bought and sold in “baronial splendor” according to the New York Times, from 1952 to 1987. Encased in a leaded glass enclosure, the dollhouse-sized library setting features oak bookshelves full of book models, including six “real” miniature books, as well as a silver tea service, a globe, and other plush furnishings that will make some bibliophiles swoon — one of whom will no doubt bid on it at auction on June 23, when it is estimated to reach $1,500-2,500.

Fleming (1910-1987) has been hailed by colleagues as "the dean of American antiquarian booksellers,” whose storied career began at age 15 when he apprenticed himself to Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, the "Napoleon of Books,” trader in Gutenberg Bibles and First Folios. When Rosenbach died in 1952, Fleming bought his boss’s rumored $2-million stock of rarities and continued in the same high-end style in Rosenbach’s former townhouse. (He also co-wrote a biography of Rosenbach.)

A 1969 New York Magazine profile of Fleming reported that he preferred "buying to selling and has been known to refuse handsome offers from those he considers unworthy of the distinction the particular book confers. The result is 6,000 or 7,000 volumes housed in an apartment/office so large that a Rolls-Royce parked in one corner would be about as conspicuous as a footstool."

Our Bright Young Things series continues today with Spencer W. Stuart, a collections advisor and book historian in Canada.

How did you get started working with rare books?

My experience with rare materials began with two positions I occupied during my dual undergraduate degree in Art History and Film Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. The first was with the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and the second was with a photograph repatriation project entitled “Views from the North”, which sought to ensure that archival images of Northern communities were returned to community members and properly presented and contextualized by Elders. Both experiences brought about an awareness of the way in which collections are amassed and interpreted. 

But it was really in the Winter of 2014, at the age of 24, when I was hired by Bonhams Auctioneers in their Toronto office that I was able to dedicate my focus to fine books. Having recently graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art, where I received a Master’s in the History of Art, I began the position as business manager with the thought that I would transition into one of the Visual Arts departments. This thought decisively changed, however, with exposure to a rapid succession of quality book collections in the Greater Toronto Area that had me dealing directly with material related to Modern Irish Literature, Travel and Exploration, and finally the Natural Sciences, including a selection of the books and manuscripts of Charles Darwin.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to handle and examine these rare items and was then that I began developing working relationship with the UK Director of the Book Department, Matthew Haley, and NY Director, Christina Geiger (now with Christie’s). Following a client visit up to Toronto, Christina invited me to work with the Book Department on their up-coming sale in September of 2015 that featured the collection of a prominent figure in the Bay Area Rare Book community, Barbara J. Land. It was there, and with the subsequent two-week visits to work the auctions, that I was introduced to colleagues who have taught me to catalogue and evaluate rare books as well as provide me with opportunities to develop auctions alongside them. (It was during those visits that I would first hear of the Rare Book School as well.)

During my time with Bonhams I was able to work with colleagues on some fine collections such as the Andrew Caren Archive, the Harry E. Gould, Jr. Autograph Collection, and rare books and manuscripts such as first editions of James Joyce, letters of Charles Darwin, and, perhaps most notably, the first known printing of Aristotle’s De animalibus.

Please introduce us to your work as a collections advisor. What does that entail? How did you get started?

In the Summer of 2017, I started Spencer W Stuart, Collections Advisor aiding collectors at various stages acquisition, cataloguing, deaccession, and donation.

The decision to start my own collection advisory business stemmed from continual house visits where I was met with a similar scenario, representatives of a collector’s estate left to divest of collections under duress with little information nor time. In addressing this, I work with active collectors to devise strategies for deaccession.

In tandem, as a younger participant in the industry, I work closely with new collectors. This is a demographic that is more technologically connected to their markets of interest and they are participating in the auction room, albeit mostly remotely. I provide advice on where to look and what to look for when developing a collection.

Please introduce us as well to your Lifecycles program. We understand you also have an upcoming Lifecycles webinar:

I built the Programs based on case study research of collections from the past and my personal experience with collectors and collections. Lifecycles focuses on collecting art (prints, photography, and painting) and building private libraries. It covers the complete timeline of a collector and their collections, discussing the initial attractions that move one to collect through to the steps one must take to ensure a collection’s legacy beyond one’s very personal time and place.

The webinar is a condensed version of the three-part program and is intended for a more general audience of collectors, curator/librarians, appraisal professionals, trusts & estates representatives and dealers. I also do specialized versions of the Program to cater to the specific interests of individual groups mentioned above.

And how about your work as a book historian?

My writing and lecturing about book history developed in parallel with the establishment is my advisory practice and has me contributing to a variety of publications including Amphora, Worthwhile and The Book Collector on subjects of interest to me through travels and research of collections I am working with.

In the Fall of 2018 I was invited to become a monthly guest on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (equivalent to NPR) radio show North By Northwest where I lead conversations relating to publishing histories with a particular focus on raising awareness of the conditions that shape the creation and reception of the written word..

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

Recently, it would be inventorying, cataloguing, and stabilizing a 100-plus poster collection from 1965 to present of the graphic designer Milton Glaser.

How about a favorite collection you've helped curate?

I believe a collection provides a unique, kaleidoscopic view onto a topic, simultaneously it reflects a collector and therefore their story to tell. To that point, I don’t curate collections. I assist in cataloguing, stabilizing and strategizing with collectors to achieve their goals.

A collection I recently aided in inventorying and evaluating was a comprehensive collection of material related to Allen Ginsberg, which was a personal pleasure and joy to work with.

What do you personally collect?

I have built a couple collections over the years. The first were typewriter models favored by authors based on examining photographs and primary documents: Royal Quiet Deluxe (Hemingway), Hermes 3000 (Plath), 1930s Portable Royal Standard (Kerouac) to name a few.

The collection was dispersed among friends as I moved from city to city.

The second was a Hard Bop vinyl collection. Also sold in recent years.

At the moment, my interest and resources are directed toward building my reference library.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I sing in choirs (bass), drum, bike, hike, run and farm.

Where can our readers go to learn more about your work?

spencerwstuart.com

Today, an exhibition that explores one of Pablo Picasso’s lesser-known talents opens at Tokyo’s Instituto Cervantes. Picasso Escritor (Picasso, the Writer), initiated by Museo Picasso Málaga, celebrates the Málaga, Spain-born painter who was, it turns out, also a poet.

Picasso, the Writer features facsimiles, photographs and publications relating to Picasso’s literary output, along with poems and a documentary specially produced for the occasion, in which Spanish authors and intellectuals, including the director of the Instituto Cervantes, poet Luis García Montero, reflect upon Picasso and his written work,” according to a press statement.

Having traveled first to Beijing and Shanghai in 2019, the exhibition’s stop in Japan will take the opportunity to illustrate Picasso’s relationship to Japanese author Kuninosuke Matsuo and to showcase six original ceramics by Picasso, courtesy of art collector Toshiyasu Fujinawa, president of the Yoku Moku cookie company.

The exhibition runs through September 30. For those who won’t make it to Japan this summer, an exhibition catalogue has been published. For more information on how to see the exhibition, visit: picasso-escritor-junio16-24.peatix.com.

Another very busy week coming up in the auction world! Here are some of the things I'll be watching:

At Druout on Tuesday, June 16, Aristophil sale 29, Beaux-Arts, in 159 lots. A November 1888 Van Gogh letter to artist Émile Bernard, with an additional note from Gauguin, rates the top estimate, at €180,000–250,000. A Gauguin letter from around 1896 to the "unknown amateur," with a drawing by the artist at the top of the page, could sell for €180,000–200,000. A Bella Chagall notebook of translated poetry which Marc Chagall kept for decades after her death, adding drawings and paintings, is estimated at €80,000–120,000.

Aristophil sale 30 will be held at Artcurial on Wednesday, June 17, comprising 126 lots of Littérature Française du XXe Siècle. A complete autograph version of Céline's Nord, in four volumes, is expected to lead the sale at €300,000–500,000. One of just 25 copies of the original edition of Apollinaire's Case d'Armons (1915) is estimated at €80,000–100,000.

Lyon & Turnbull hold a 392-lot sale of Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs on Wednesday, with an inscribed copy of the first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone rating the top estimate at £80,000–120,000. Also on offer in Edinburgh are a first edition copy of Fleming's Casino Royale (£20,000–30,000); several Robert Burns letters; and a Thomas Cromwell letter about the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves (£3,500–4,500).

Also on Wednesday, Travel, Natural History, Americana & Sporting Books at Doyle (soft close will begin at 10 a.m. EDT). Among the interesting lots is a poster for the Titanic ($1,000–1,500).

Rounding out Wednesday's sales, Bibliothèque R. & B. L.: une décennie de ventes at Sotheby's, in 274 lots. Sharing the top estimate at €30,000–40,000 are a set of the Marquis de Sade's La Nouvelle Justine and L’Histoire de Juliette and a first edition of Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932). Even more French literature to choose from in this one!

Ader will host Aristophil sale 31 on Thursday, June 18: Sciences: Archéologie, Savants et Philosophies. The 161 lots include a piece of the Fukang meteorite (€75,000–85,000); a 1929 Einstein manuscript (€70,000–80,000); and a 1610 Johannes Kepler letter to Christian II, Elector of Saxony (€40,000–50,000).

At Forum Auctions on Thursday, Books and Works on Paper, in 245 lots.

Two Christie's sales end on Thursday. The first, Selections from the Library of Lorenzo H. Zambrano: Latin Americana, Science, and Literature, includes 51 lots, among them a very nice first edition of Darwin's Origin ($100,000–150,000) and a copy of the colored issue of Viscount Kingsborough's Antiquities of Mexico ($80,000–120,000).

The second Christie's sale ending on Thursday is The Open Book: Fine Travel, Americana, Literature and History in Print and Manuscript, in 112 lots. Expected the lead the way here with an estimate of $300,000–500,000 is the September 20, 1814 issue of the Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser, containing the first dated printing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (being deaccessioned as a duplicate by the American Antiquarian Society). Estimated at $180,000–250,000 are a rare copy of Martín Fernández de Enciso's 1519 account of the Spanish explorations in the Americas and an early French compilation of "New World" travel accounts, which appears to be unrecorded in auction records. A copy of Audubon's Quadrupeds is also on the block, estimated at $120,000–180,000.

Also ending on Thursday is the 412-lot PBA Galleries timed-lot sale of Publications of the Arthur H. Clark Company.

Finally, on Friday June 19, Aristophile sale 32 at Aguttes, Littérature Les Années 1920–1930, in 192 lots. An impressive collection of Proust letters, manuscripts, drawings, &c. rates the top estimate, at €120,000–150,000, while a set of 38 Franz Kafka letters to Robert Klopstock could sell for €100,000–150,000. There will be much of interest here to the André Breton fans, as well.

The headline may be a little misleading — this is a painting by Audubon, but not by John James Audubon of Birds of America fame. Instead, this is the work of his eldest son, Victor Gifford Audubon, who assisted with the publication of Birds between 1827 and 1838, when he was in his twenties, and largely followed in the footsteps of his artist-naturalist father. 

Victor honed his craft with painting lessons in London with the Scottish artist John Wilson in the 1830s, and then returned to America in 1840 to help his father with his next major book production, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. According to the Edinburgh auction house Lyon & Turnbull, which recently sold the painting pictured above, Victor contributed “to the landscape details of the final volume, accurately depicting trees, plants, and general landscape backgrounds that he had become so talented with and fond of.”

That comes through in this oil on canvas, A View of Symonds Yat, Hudson River, New York State, a majestic and romantic scene that manifests the qualities of the Hudson River School of Art pioneered by the likes of Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, and Asher B. Durand.

Due to Victor's “skill in depicting nature with acute accuracy,” as well as to his connection to his father’s more famous works, the painting sold at auction late last month for £10,000 ($12,600).

"Where were you during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020," will become a common query of us by generations to come. Some of us will respond with poetry--there's been plenty of time to write, and America's poets have answered Covid-19 with verse. Notably among them is Daniel Mark Epstein, who recently launched a series of sonnets created during the early days of the shelter-in-place order.

Dubbed "Cruel April: Poems from the Pandemic," Epstein's suite of ten sonnets explore the world as it has become, and our roles in it. “They are part of a larger sequence of sonnets that explore the themes of isolation, danger, and the strangeness of our new reality," Epstein explains. “The themes include the anguish of loved ones being separated, the dangers of the virus to young and old alike, and the healing power of love."

Though believed to have been originally conceived as a form to be read silently, the sonnet's intrinsic musicality of fourteen lines of rhymed iambic pentameter lend itself to being shared aloud, and as such, Epstein, whose own accolades include National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim fellowships, tapped stars of the screen and stage to record themselves reading the poems: Emmy award-winning actors Tyne Daly and Paul Hecht, voice over narrator Jennifer Van Dyck, and screen legend Harris Yulin provided their voices, while visuals created at the Tivoli Arts Gallery in New York accompany the readings. As such, the series of poems is very much a multi-sensory endeavor. 

Pestilence as poetic inspiration is hardly new--the Illiad opens with Apollo punishing the Greeks with nine-day plague, while the protagonists of Boccacio's Decameron flee a disease-riddled Florence--and even now, Knopf has already published a volume of poetry created during the pandemic. “Cruel April,” meanwhile, is not a commercial enterprise--the poems are freely available online--and are intended to inspire and rally viewers to the notion that, despite our struggles with calamity and death, we can persevere, united and strong.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Charles Dickens in 1870 (as well as his brush with death five years previously in a train crash). Sadly, lockdown has meant the cancelation of many commemorative events, though the Dickens Museum has just released the first of a new collection of colorized photographs ahead of a planned major new exhibition focusing on his image.

Hugely popular in his day, Dickens' work remains remarkably collectible in the twenty-first century as does general Dickensiana – a collar for one of his dogs sold at auction for $11,590 in 2010 and the mahogany writing table at which he was working on The Mystery of Edwin Drood at his death is currently being auctioned online by Christie’s, estimated at $12,000-18,000.

“By the time of his death in 1870, there was already an established market for Dickens’ books,” said Adam Douglas, senior specialist in rare books at Peter Harrington in London. “In fact, his eldest son Charley was able to finance the purchase of Dickens’ house, which had not been bequeathed to him, by selling the contents of his father’s library, an indication that there was already a significant market among collectors of his works."

Then, in 1912, Douglas explained, "the Dickens centenary generated renewed interest, and many collectors’ copies from that era feature the commemorative centenary stamp. Dickens’ popularity among modern collectors shows no signs of diminishing. Perhaps part of the reason is that there is something of value and interest to be found in every part of his oeuvre.”

For those thinking about starting to collect Dickens, Douglas suggests beginning with the first editions of Dickens’ major novels in demy octavo format in good contemporary bindings, while another affordable point of entry are American editions of Dickens’ works. “Dickens was also a prodigious writer of private correspondence, and his letters on a wide variety of subjects regularly come up for sale," he said.