March 2011 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Catalogue Review: PRB&M

Catalogue Review: Philadelphia Rare Book & Manuscripts Company

Well here it my second week of weekly catalogue reviews and already I'm struggling to decide what constitutes a catalogue versus a "list," and if it really matters in this forum. I'm leaning toward the idea that any grouping of titles presented to potential buyers that is outstanding--whether for its design or content--is fair game. What caught my eye this week was the six-page list circulated by David Szewczyk & Cynthia Davis Buffington, proprietors of PRB&M, titled Libraries -- Librarians -- Labors!

What a fantastic topic. The selection is encompassing and, dare I add, whimsical, making it all the more enjoyable. How about a report from 1826 written by the architect of the Capitol building Charles Bulfinch on fire-proofing the library room ($40). A limited edition of T. S. Eliot's 1952 address to the London Library wherein he expressed his belief that "The great private libraries have had their day, and are gone" ($60). A printed edition of a speech on Northwest history given by the man who would become the first librarian of the Newberry Library ($70). The presentation copy of the printed "Dedicatory Exercises" of the Washburn Memorial Library in Livermore, Maine from 1885 sounds like a gem ($150).

Another thing to like about this list is the prices. They range from $12.50 for the Society for the History of Belgian Protestantism that includes a duplicate handwritten letter from the Society's agent to the librarian of the NJ Historical Society, to $1,675 for librarian Charles Nice Davies' own first edition of John Jewel's A Defence of the Apologie of the Churche of Englande...(1567). The rest fall between the two, making these titles within the grasp of most collectors. It reminds me that PRB&M did an "under $500" case at last year's New York Antiquarian Book Fair, primarily to entice younger and new collectors. It's admirable, and lists like this make one optimistic for the future of book collecting.