October 2018 | Rebecca Rego Barry

The Second Shelf Publishes a Catalogue/Literary Magazine

Regular readers of Fine Books, in print and online, need no introduction to A.N. Devers, who not only writes for us but, in having recently launched her own rare book business, has also been featured as a Bright Young Bookseller. The Second Shelf focuses on "rare books, modern first editions, and rediscovered work by and about women writers." 

The Second Shelf has just released its first catalogue, which is unlike any rare book catalogue any of us has ever seen. For a few years in an earlier iteration of this blog, I wrote weekly catalogue reviews, but that sputtered out as I saw the same format, and sometimes the same books, over and over again. What makes The Second Shelf: A Quarterly of Rare Books stick out -- and makes it worthy of reviving the Friday catalogue review -- is its unique design: part catalogue, and part literary magazine.   

The literary components include pieces of writing about women by women, including essays by TJ Jarrett on Gwendolyn Brooks and Nell Stevens on Elizabeth Gaskell, the latter illustrated with lush photography by Jo Emmerson. There's also an original poem by Ariana Reines, commissioned by The Second Shelf to address one of the catalogue's highlights: Sylvia Plath's tartan plaid skirt (price £12,500; $16,350).

As a catalogue, here are some of the offerings that caught my eye: a Robert Indiana lithograph of a costume design for Gertrude Stein (£800; $1,050). There's a set of super charming hand-painted folk art dominoes dating to 1901 (£800; $1,050). There are some excellent editions of Austen, Bronte, and Du Maurier, as well. And, in addition to the tartan skirt and some other Plath memorabilia, there's a privately printed, spiral-bound book from 1989 called Last Encounters (£575; $750), written by Plath's neighbor Trevor Thomas Bedford, and which portrayed Ted Hughes in a bad light. Hughes took Bedford to court and attempted to have all copies of the book destroyed. Plath's brown sleeveless dress, priced at £2,600 ($3,400), has already sold, according to Devers. 

Speaking of what has sold so far, Devers has placed some Miriam Tlali editions in a library, as well as an edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. "My favorite thing in the catalogue is a Boots' library copy of Patricia Highsmith, which we hung by a noose and the noose is included, and it sold!" There has also been interest in a collection of eleven Yayoi Kusama first editions.

The catalogue hasn't been fully distributed yet--it's still landing in mailboxes around the world. Devers printed 2,000 copies, of which half are spoken for in sales of single issues and subscriptions. A free trade list without the essays and features can be obtained by signing up for the Second Shelf newsletter, said Devers. 

Devers, who was featured in Vanity Fair this week, is also founding a shop in London at 14 Smiths Court. She expects to open in mid-November.