Today, the country’s oldest and largest bibliophilic society, the New York-based Grolier Club, will unveil the fruits of a three-and-a-half-year, $5-million renovation of the organization’s entire first floor and exhibition hall with, appropriately, a show highlighting the club’s Francophile roots. French Book Arts: Manuscripts, Books, Bindings, Prints, and Documents, 12th-21st Century includes nearly one hundred items pulled from the Grolier’s rich trove of French books and illuminated manuscripts. Also in the show are six items that once hailed from the collection of the “Prince of Bibliophiles” and club namesake, Jean Grolier (1489-1565).

  

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The exhibition and accompanying book were curated and written by Grolier Club member George Fletcher. A member since 1973, Fletcher’s lifelong love of books led him to the Morgan Library as the Astor Curator of printed books and bindings, followed by a position as director of special collections at the NYPL. In 2013, Fletcher was bestowed with the title of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. “As the inaugural exhibition in our new gallery, this is the first that presents a survey of so many areas of French bibliophilia, going back to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary livres d’artistes,” Fletcher explained during a press tour. Expect to see sumptuous illuminated Books of Hours, miniatures by Boyvin, a letter by a distraught Thomas Jefferson to a French bookseller concerning a shipment of waterlogged books, and decorative bindings hailing from the 14th to the 21st centuries.

  
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As to the renovation: it’s a complete overhaul. Previously, the first floor exhibition hall was awash in mauve-toned walls, light wood flooring, and track lighting (see below). Standard-issue glass cases lined the walls while the back of the hall was dominated by a faux-Palladian window, also mauve. The upper balcony, where many of the Grolier Club’s treasures are stored, was flanked by white solid-wood railings. With a client portfolio that includes renovations at places like the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston Symphony Hall, Ann Beha Associates of Boston took up the challenge to update the aesthetics of the space while also addressing conservation issues, lighting, ventilation, and sound systems.

  

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“The Grolier Club put together a nine-member design team task force, and together we examined various issues while also keeping in mind the club’s history and stewardship of collections,” explained Ann Beha at the press preview. “Part of the preparation included hopping in a van and visiting other institutions throughout New York that had also recently undergone renovations, such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt.” Staying true to the Grolier Club’s roots was essential. “The Club prides itself on welcoming the public to free exhibitions and various programs, and this renovation took that into consideration. This design incorporates heritage and technology, welcomes new visitors and promotes scholarship and engagement,” Beha said.

  

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Now, the exhibition hall features custom-built Goppion glass cases lit by LED bulbs, a properly balanced ventilation system, and mahogany-stained floors and wall panels. Gone is the mauve Palladian faux paneling in favor of a multi-paneled video wall, and the wood paneling on the upper balcony has been replaced with glass, allowing visitors on the ground level to fully appreciate the impressive surroundings. Plus, the Grolier’s 60th Street townhouse is handicapped accessible. The hall feels more open and inviting, yet still suffused with the tradition and history of the space. In short: Beha seems to have hit a home run. (Professional photos are being shot Monday, so check back here for images shortly.)

  

The club invited members earlier this week to tour the hall before it opens to the public as well as to listen to a lecture given on Wednesday night by Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress.

  
Just as Jean Grolier was known to share his library and its treasures with friends, the public is welcome to revel in the richness of human ingenuity and talent and the newly redesigned hall, too. As an added incentive, Mr. Fletcher will be offering free lunchtime tours of the exhibition today, December 19, and February 1, all from 1-2 p.m. No reservations needed. 

   

Images, from top: Matisse in a Brugalla Binding Henry de Montherlant. Pasiphaé : Chant de Minos (les Crétois) Gravures originales by Henri Matisse Paris : Martin Fabiani, 1944; Homer. Opera (Greek). Two volumes Venice: Aldus Manutius, after 31 October 1504. Both Collection of The Grolier Club and reproduced with permssion; Grolier Club Exhibition Hall pre-renovation reproduced with permission of Grolier Club; Renovation rendering reproduced with permission of Ann Beha and Grolier Club. 

From January 7-18, Londoners will have the chance to see a selection of books and rarities not often in public view in an exhibition titled Voyages: a Journey in Books from Eton College Library. Hosted by Bonhams Knightsbridge and supported by Martin Randall Travel, an agency that specializes in cultural travel, the free display of eighty items focuses on far-flung locales and how people perceived the world beyond their doorsteps. “Voyages draws on the college’s phenomenal holdings of manuscripts, printed books and literary archives to explore historical travels. It reflects on travel not just as a physical experience but also as an act of the imagination,” said Matthew Haley, head of books and manuscripts at Bonhams.

Travel Bookcase copy.jpgAmong the rare maps and classic explorers’ accounts is this amazing travel library, owned by a twentieth-century “man of letters,” Maurice Baring. (Eton College Library Lz 1-Lzz.4. Reproduced by permission of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College.)

Other exhibition highlights include: a fifteenth-century manuscript in Greek of Homer’s Odyssey, which belonged to the uncle of Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci; A voyage round the world by the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville; A voyage towards the South Pole, and around the world (1777) by Captain Cook; a late sixteenth-century Portolan chart made in Naples by Vincentius Demetrius Voltius of Dubrovnik, one of only twenty such charts by Voltius known to have survived; and Daniel Defoe’s The life and strange surprizing adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Erika Jenns, Engagement Consultant for the Southern Tier Library System in Painted Post, New York


Jenns_Headshot.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?


I am the Engagement Consultant for the Southern Tier Library System in Painted Post, New York. If you’re unfamiliar with the vast, unknown, Upstate part of New York, Painted Post is a small town next to Corning, which is a slightly larger small town, located south of the Finger Lakes. The Southern Tier Library System (STLS) is a cooperative library system made up of 48 public library outlets, across five counties in the Southern Tier region. In my role as the Engagement Consultant, I oversee digital collections and resources for the system, assist libraries with annual reports to the state and website development, manage social media, public relations, and marketing, and create workshops and continuing education opportunities for member library staff.

 

After reading that description, you might wonder how I’ve come to be associated with the world of rare books and special collections. My response is twofold. First, while my current position isn’t rooted in special collections, I do assist our member libraries with handling historical collections, digitization, and donations of special collections materials. Second, my education and prior library experience are in special collections. In a short time, I’ve held several positions. Prior to STLS, I was the Scholarly Engagement Librarian at Indiana University, and before that, I held a variety of positions at the Lilly Library in both public services and conservation. I am also occasionally an assistant to antiquarian bookseller Paul Dowling of Liber Antiquus, and I devote a not-inconsequential amount of time to work on RBMS committees.


How did you get started in rare books?


Like many others interviewed before me, my introduction to and subsequent involvement in the world of special collections was slow to develop and fairly circuitous. I began my college education at Indiana University as a journalism major, switched to psychology, added English and creative writing, some Spanish, and I still had no idea that an incredible special collections library (the Lilly Library) was housed in a building that I walked past every day. Even further from my realm of understanding was that those items housed in the Lilly could help me advance my studies and that many would one day become objects of fascination for me.

 

During my junior year, I took a class on American poetry, and finally the introduction was made. I was lucky to have a professor, Christoph Irmscher, who recognized the importance of familiarizing his students with special collections repositories and the items held within them. As a class, we visited the Lilly Library several times throughout the semester to work with special collections materials. In doing so, we were introduced to the Plath manuscripts, Poe’s Tamerlane and Other Poems (the Lilly has one of 12 surviving copies), and Whitman’s many editions of Leaves of Grass. To conclude the course, I wrote a paper comparing seven editions of Leaves of Grass, and for the first time, I began to consider using special collections materials as tools for understanding authorship and readership. In Whitman’s works, I encountered marginalia, differences in the typesetting and cover design, and saw the way Whitman evolved as a poet and printer. This course piqued my interest in rare books, and I spent the following summer at the Watkinson Library at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. As an intern there, I modified catalogue records for 207 volumes by Lydia H. Sigourney (a 19th-century American poet). I found ephemera and marginalia between the pages of her texts, and the experience solidified my decision to pursue a degree in library science with a specialization in rare books and special collections.

 

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?


I received both my MLS with the Rare Books and Special Collections Specialization and my MA in English from Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


Forgive me while I digress. In eighth grade, my English teacher asked us to memorize and recite for the class one of three poems: “O Captain! My Captain!” by Whitman, “The Raven” by Poe, and a third poem, which I can’t recall. I chose “The Raven.” The assignment sparked my interest in poetry, and from there, I pursued creative writing. My commitment to writing ebbed and flowed, but I did ultimately complete an undergraduate degree in creative writing with a focus on poetry. Because of this, Poe, and especially “The Raven,” has always had a special place in my heart, and there’s something about Édouard Manet’s illustrations for Stephane Mallarmé’s translation, “Le Corbeau,” that really speak to me.

 

Now, back to the topic at hand. In November at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, bookseller Benjamin Spademan had a copy of “Le Corbeau,” and for the first time, I got to see Manet’s rendering of the raven, in print (not a reproduction) and full scale. It was lovely. I’ve also handled Poe’s hair; two locks are held at the Lilly Library, one of which is encased in a broach - hair in special collections is weird, but cool. The Lilly also has an interesting collection of materials on early bicycling. I helped process the collection when it came in, and some of my favorite items depicted “women awheel.” I particularly enjoyed learning about the transition in women’s clothing from full skirts to bloomers to accommodate bicycling and the controversies that ensued.

 

What do you personally collect?


I have a small, eclectic collection. Some discernable categories include: children’s books, especially with marginalia or interesting illustrations; small press books, particularly those written and printed by friends; exhibition catalogues; and books about books and printing. The remaining space on my shelves is occupied by books I purchased for my graduate courses, including works by Sidney Berger, Bamber Gascoigne, Philip Gaskell, and Thomas Tanselle.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?


Outside of work, I like to be outside. My recent (just over a year ago) move to Upstate New York has been fantastic for this. Beautiful lakes, waterfalls, nature preserves, and parks abound here. In addition to hiking my way through that list, I spend winters downhill skiing. Fortunately, there are infinitely more places to do that here, as compared to Indiana. I also play Ultimate (Frisbee) several times a week, which I enjoy immensely.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Marginalia! There’s such an intimate quality to handwriting, and I rarely encounter it in my daily work life, where communication is largely conducted via email. Each time I find something written in the margins or pressed between the pages of a text, I feel excited and want to know more about who left it, why, and what it can tell me about contemporary readers.

 

Outside of the text, it’s the relationships I’ve had the opportunity to build as part of the rare books and special collections community that excite me about rare book librarianship. The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL has been the perfect professional home for me. Through my work on the Membership and Professional Development (M&PD) committee and on the RMBS Mentoring Program, I’ve met so many wonderful people who’ve been friends, mentors, supporters, encouragers, and advocates.

M&PD was the first committee meeting I attended at an RBMS conference. Patrick Olson, my conference buddy at RBMS14, invited me to join. Even as a first-time conference attendee, I felt like I could speak up and share my thoughts at the table. Now, as co-chair of M&PD with Diane Dias De Fazio, I hope that we are able to cultivate the same welcoming atmosphere. Facilitating connections between my peers in special collections excites me most. My greatest professional pleasure and sense of achievement comes when I connect someone with a mentor and know that the relationship will be mutually beneficial.


Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?


I often find that people are surprised when I tell them that I’m a librarian, and then, confused when I mention special collections. I think the surprise is because they aren’t expecting the response of “librarian” in answer to the question “What do you do?” I guess because I don’t look like the default stereotypes of librarianship that they have stored away. After moving beyond the surprise, the other side of the conversation tends to turn to how libraries will soon be obsolete, don’t offer anything other than books, ebooks are taking over the world, and “Aren’t you worried about job security?” While I do enjoy reading post-apocalyptic fiction, and I believe my vigorous consumption of the genre has prepared me for success in such an environment, I do not believe that the death of print is imminent. In particular, special collections give me hope. These repositories go above and beyond in preserving history and helping users engage with items from our collective and shared past. Even the small, rural libraries that I work with in my current position are doing this work as they digitize collections of local newspapers and maintain local genealogy collections. There is a place for books and the printed word now, and there will continue to be. As things become increasingly digital, we’ll crave a return to what is natural and known.

 

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?


Since I’m not technically working in a library setting, this is a tough question, but it does give me the opportunity to brag about the STLS member libraries. Many of the libraries are situated in small, rural communities, and as you might imagine, they’ve become repositories for local history collections, newspapers, collections of arrowheads, and other miscellaneous medium-rare items. The libraries themselves are often located in buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places. For example, the building that houses the Belmont Literary and Historical Society Free Library was built between 1893 and 1904. It is a triangular brick structure that features a three-story clock tower. The clock itself must be hand wound every week and is one of three in existence. Each of the libraries in our system is unique, and I love traveling to visit them. If you’re ever driving across the state, I highly recommend making a few detours to visit the local public libraries.


[Image provided by Erika Jenns]
















With a nod to our current issue’s cover picturing author/illustrator Eric Carle and celebrating the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of one of his most famous children’s picture books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, it was welcome news to hear that collectors are on the same page. Last week at Swann Galleries, a hand-painted collage on board of the ravenous caterpillar, signed and framed, sold for $20,000, more than doubling the low estimate of $8,000. In recent years, a first edition of Caterpillar has sold in the range of $11,000-16,000.

  

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Carle’s Caterpillar, first published in 1969, is also the subject of a current exhibition at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. It’s on view through March 24, 2019.

  

Image courtesy of Swann Galleries

Before we get to the very busy calendar of sales coming up this week, I must note a couple of the results from last week’s auction at Christie’s, which saw Einstein’s “God Letter” set a new auction record for an Einstein letter at $2,892,500, and a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone capture the auction record for Harry Potter at $162,500.

  

Here’s what I’ve got my eyes on this week:

  

Ader holds a sale of Lettres et Manuscrits Autographes on Monday and Tuesday, December 10-11, in 716 lots over the two days. Expected to lead the first day’s sale are a Gaspare Spontini musical manuscript (€15,000-20,000) and a Paul Verlaine manuscript poem (€8,000-10,000). The second day’s offerings include a number of Karl Marx letters which rate the top estimates of the day.

  

Bonhams London sells Entertainment Memorabilia on Tuesday, in 161 lots. Some of the printed and manuscript material on offer includes an Eric Clapton autograph copy of the first verse of the lyrics for “Layla” (£35,000-45,000) and a carbon copy of Ian Fleming’s second draft proposal for the first James Bond movie (£30,000-40,000).

  

Also on Tuesday, Artcurial holds a Books & Manuscripts sale, in 293 lots. A copy of Roberts’ Holy Land rates the top estimate, at €20,000-25,000. An illuminated Book of Hours, produced around 1500 for the use of Bourges, could fetch €12,000-15,000.

bears.pngDominic Winter Auctioneers will sell Printed Books & Maps; Children’s & Illustrated Books; 20th Century Literature on Wednesday, December 12, in 539 lots. The 1835 edition of William Curtis’ Flora Londinensis rates the top estimate, at £5,000-7,000. On Thursday, December 13, Dominic Winter holds a Modern Literature & First Editions sale, in 464 lots. Rating the top estimate there are a pair of very early teddy bears (pictured above), with the original owner’s copy of the book The Roosevelt Bears, Their Travels and Adventures (£7,000-10,000).

  

At Christie’s London on Wednesday, Valuable Books and Manuscripts, in 279 lots. Quite an array of excellent lots here! Adam Smith’s own copy of his Wealth of Nations, later owned by the great Smith collector Homer Vanderblue, is expected to sell for £500,000-800,000. A presentation copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, inscribed to his cousin Nanette Philips, is estimated at £150,000-250,000. Also on the block will be two manuscript sledging journals from the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition by Tryggve Gran (£120,000-180,000); the 1488 editio princeps of Homer (£100,000-150,000); a first edition Hypnerotomachia (£80,000-120,000); and an extremely rare copy of the Qing “Blue Map” of the world (£50,000-80,000).

  

Swann Galleries sells Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books on Thursday, December 13, in 385 lots. A 1593 Cornelis De Jode polar-projection world map is expected the lead the sale at $15,000-20,000. A copy of the third octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds and the royal octavo Quadrupeds could fetch $20,000-30,000, and a chart of the mid-Atlantic coast from Des Barres’ Atlantic Neptune (1780) is estimated at $18,000-22,000.

  

Also on Thursday, PBA Galleries holds a sale of Americana, Travel & Exploration, Hunting & Sporting, World History, and Cartography, in 573 lots, and Sotheby’s New York sells Fine Autograph Letters and Manuscripts from a Distinguished Private Collection: Part II | Music, Americana, English and Continental Literature, in 152 lots. A few of the many potential highlights from this sale include a collection of fourteen Giuseppe Verdi letters to impresario Alessandro Lanari ($100,000-150,000); a “lost” 1810 Beethoven letter to a friend asking for a boot-black recipe ($50,000-80,000); and a 1755 Benjamin Franklin letter to his friend James Wright about the Braddock expedition ($30,000-40,000).

   

Rounding out the week, Sotheby’s Paris will sell books from the library of Pierre Bergé on Friday, December 14.

  

Image courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers

A gentle reminder to all Ticknor Society members: next Tuesday, December 11 will be the annual Show and Tell meeting at 6 p.m. at Boston’s First Church at 66 Marlborough Street. The popular event serves as a venue for members to share their various and wide-ranging activities as collectors and conservators in the book world.


On the docket is an impressive list of participants. Beth Carroll-Horrocks, a Ticknor Society member and head of Special Collections at the State Library of Massachusetts, plans to discuss her latest pursuit: pin cushion postcards. These early 20th century creations feature a raised, padded pin cushion often shaped to match the subject of the postcard at hand--a heart for Valentine’s Day or a wreath for Christmas.


Meanwhile, Bromer Bookseller’s Philip C. Salmon will talk about his Seamus Heaney collection and how it has evolved into its present state. Society member Shannon Struble has a trove of Jane Eyre material to discuss, and in a nod to the festive time of the year, Thomas Harakal will give a talk on Charles Dalton’s “A Christmas Eve Family Story,” a volume designed by typographer Bruce Rogers and privately printed at Riverside Press in 1904 expressly for family members and friends. 

  

Book conservator Marie Oedel plans to share a trove of letters sent to her from a descendant of Anna Eliot Ticknor and the process of transcribing and conserving these delicate papers for future research opportunities. Finally, author and former professional ballerina Nancy Upper will talk about Diggins from many Ampersandhogs, a holiday keepsake published for members of the Typophiles club in 1936.


Comprised of book collectors, booksellers, librarians, historians, and the run-of-the-mill bibliophile, the Ticknor Society (named in honor of Boston-based academic and bibliophile George Ticknor) strives to promote the joy that books bring. The breadth of presentations next week ably adhere’s to the Ticknor motto of “suum cuique” (to each is own) and will be well worth the trek into Boston for those able to make it.

The British Library recently opened an exhibition with super meow-power: Cats on the Page, on view through March 17, presents an array of books, manuscripts, and artwork that features felines.

“Cats have inspired our imagination and creativity for many years--long before their days of dominance on the internet,” Alison Bailey, lead curator of the exhibition, commented in a press release. “By bringing cats we know and love together with new ones from unexpected sources, Cats on the Page showcases the light-hearted side of the British Library’s world-class collections through a selection of just some of the hundreds of paws prowling the pages of its books and manuscripts.”

Here are five of those cool cats:

theprettyplayfultortoiseshellcatlondon1817cthebritishlibraryboard1 copy.jpgThe Pretty Playful Tortoise Shell Cat, London, 1817 (c) The British Library Board

tabbypolkabypbucalossi1865cthebritishlibraryboard copy.jpgTabby Polka by P- Bucalossi, 1865 (c) The British Library Board

pussysbreakfasttimelondonernestnister1892cthebritishlibraryboard copy.jpgPussy’s Breakfast Time, London, Ernest Nister, 1892 (c) The British Library Board
jelliclecatsillustrationaxelschefflerpublishedinoldpossumsbookofpracticalcatsctseliotcfaberfaber copy.jpgJellicle Cats illustration (c) Axel Scheffler published in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (c) T. S. Eliot and Faber & Faber

kitty-in-boots-frederick-warne-and-co-2016-original-copyright-in-illustrations--quentin-blake-2016 copy.jpgKitty in Boots (c) Frederick Warne and co 2016, original copyright in illustrations (c) Quentin Blake, 2016

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Mark Wiltshire, Associate Specialist in the Books & Manuscripts department  at Christie’s in London.

 

mark_wiltshire_2_001.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

 

My first introduction to rare books came at university when I called one up from the stacks of the Bodleian Library. It was an 18th-century book of doggerel which I’d discovered down a rabbit-hole of research for an essay. I remember being surprised that it was handed over to me with very few questions asked; it seemed too precious to be let out of the librarian’s sight. Nowadays, I regularly handle books of greater rarity, age, and commercial value but that first sense of awe has stuck with me.

 

Out of university, I was very lucky to be offered an internship with the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, where I had my first taste of cataloguing while working with the autograph letters of Thomas Bewick. Soon after, I began working with Robert Frew, the well-known dealer and past ABA president, based in South Kensington. It is to him that I owe my proper introduction to the world of rare books, its major characters, its written and unwritten rules, and the first stirrings of an instinct for a good book. I was then offered the incredible opportunity to join the Books and Manuscripts department at Christie’s, where I have been working for two years.

 

What is your role at Christie’s?

 

I am an Associate Specialist in printed books. My role encompasses various aspects of the auction process, from business-getting to catalogue and exhibition design, with a large amount of researching and cataloguing in between. I am privileged to handle an exceptionally wide variety of printed material but I have a particular focus on English Literature.

 

What do you love about the auction business?

 

Apart from the obvious excitement of sale day, the best thing about working in the auction business is the constant renewal of material. Holding numerous sales per year means that I am always working on something new and unusual, which I consider to be the best way of growing my expertise. Christie’s has such a wide range of specialist knowledge in over 60 specialist departments that the opportunities to learn about art and the art market seem endless.

 

Describe a typical day for you:

 

The auction business is seasonal, so my typical day will vary from month to month. Now, at the height of the auction season, my day typically revolves around meeting and messaging our clients, answering their questions, and generally showing off the lots on offer. At other times of the year, my focus will shift to traveling and visiting collections, to cataloguing, and so on. It’s one big cycle.

 

Favourite rare book that you’ve handled?

 

My favourite book that I’ve handled is actually being offered here in London on 12 December. It is John Clare’s copy of the first edition of John Keats’s Endymion: an extraordinary association copy linking two of the great English poets. As somebody with an academic background in the Romantic poets, the discovery of this book was just thrilling. Bound in full crushed-morocco by the Doves Bindery, it is, to quote the poem’s opening line, ‘a thing of beauty’.

 

What do you personally collect?

 

The problem with working at Christie’s is that I’ve cultivated a taste that far exceeds my means. So, for the moment, I’m content with helping to grow other collections rather than building my own.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?

 

I like to spend time exploring the city with my partner Alanna. I’ve lived in London my whole life but there is still so much of it left to know. Like the auction world, London offers a constant sense of renewal. We read a lot, especially poetry, and I write occasionally too. Supporting Tottenham Hotspur also occupies more time and energy than I care to admit.

 

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

 

The market seems to be in very good health and collectors are collecting enthusiastically. In the future, I hope and expect to see the growth of new markets focusing on hitherto neglected materials that can be rightly celebrated for their cultural importance, beauty, and rarity. There is a strong group of intelligent and innovative young booksellers in the UK, many of whom work with established dealers and auction houses, while some have set up their own enterprises. While I cannot predict the future, I am confident that the trade will be led very ably in the years to come.

 

Any upcoming sales you’re particularly excited about?

 

Our Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale on 12 December includes some astonishingly good lots. I’m thinking in particular about Adam Smith’s own copy of the Wealth of Nations (est. £500,000-800,000), a presentation copy of the first edition of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (est. £150,000-250,000) and the two autograph sledging journals of Tryggve Gran (est. £120,000-180,000), an extremely important piece of Polar history.


[Image credit: Christie’s]


Floyd-Vinland.JPGMuch like the Voynich Manuscript, the purportedly fifteenth-century Vinland Map continues to be a subject of study and debate in the rare book world. Earlier this year, the map underwent multispectral imaging at Yale University (its owner) and was the focus of an exhibition called Science, Myth, and Mystery: The Vinland Map Saga at the Mystic Seaport Museum. Now, Scottish researcher John Paul Floyd has published a book, A Sorry Saga, that offers tantalizing new details about the role theft and forgery played in the map’s history. We asked him about it.  

Briefly describe the Vinland Map for our readers.

  

It’s a medieval-style map of the world, which depicts North America as an island named Vinland. When Yale University announced the map’s existence in a 1965 book, it created a sensation. Experts claimed that the map had been drawn around 1440: over fifty years before Columbus set sail. Latin inscriptions on the parchment linked the map to Norse explorations made around the year 1000 (voyages already known to scholars from ancient Icelandic records). The Yale book sparked a heated debate over who deserved the credit for “discovering” America, and the map’s authenticity was challenged. The verdict of scientific tests of the ink in 1974 seemed damning: Yale had to concede that the map might be a forgery. But in the 1980s other scientists, using different techniques, called the earlier results into question, and in 1996 a second edition of the Yale book hit the press. Other studies followed, reaffirming forgery, and the debate grew very confused.
 
Why did you find its story so appealing? And how long have you been researching it?

  

Back in 2011 I came across a 1971 book of conference proceedings which caught my attention and led me to investigate further. I read about how the map had emerged onto the antiquarian bookselling scene in 1957, in association with two genuine medieval manuscripts: the “Tartar Relation” of C. de Bridia (an unknown friar), and a fragment of the Speculum historiale of Vincent of Beauvais. Clearly these two manuscripts must have had some prior history, whether the Vinland Map was authentic or not: yet in 2011 their pre-1957 provenance was as much shrouded in mystery as the map itself. So I began a casual search for “C. de Bridia” online. Within a few hours I came across a Spanish exhibition catalogue from 1893, proving that both documents had formerly belonged to Zaragoza Cathedral Library (significantly, the catalogue description makes no mention of a map). That evening, so far as I could tell, I was the only person in the world who knew about this connection. It was an exciting moment!
 
Book and manuscript theft, particularly from the Zaragoza Cathedral Library in the 1950s, plays a larger role in all this than previously thought. Can you tell us a bit about that?

  

The reason the Zaragoza connection is so important is that the man who “found” the Vinland Map -- an Italian book dealer by the name of Enzo Ferrajoli -- was convicted of stealing books and manuscripts from Zaragoza Cathedral Library. The Vinland Map can’t be traced beyond Ferrajoli’s ownership (perhaps for good reason), but the manuscripts associated with the map came from that library. The Zaragoza affair is one of the great forgotten scandals of twentieth-century bookselling; hundreds of valuable stolen items were smuggled from Spain and found their way into institutional collections (not all of which, sad to say, acted with propriety at the time). The Vinland Map story cannot be properly understood without a proper understanding of this context.
 
Was untangling that part of the story the impetus for your book?

  

Yes, in part. There is no detailed narrative in English of the Zaragoza affair, so I’ve done my best to remedy the situation using archival documentation as well as published sources. I’m not in any sense a manuscript scholar, but I have been able to identify for the first time the Zaragozan provenance of a number of items in present-day collections. However, my main aim in writing was to vindicate one of the main persons suspected of forging the map (the cartographer Father Josef Fischer), and to present a new, compelling argument against its authenticity. I believe the creator of the Vinland Map made a fatal blunder, in copying details from an eighteenth-century engraving by Vincenzio Formaleoni (1752-1797). The mapmaker’s dependence upon Formaleoni is, to my mind, very obvious; interested readers can look at the images in my book, and decide for themselves. It is a simple, basic discovery; one which decisively settles the forgery issue without the need for scientific analysis -- yet it somehow escaped the experts for half a century!
 
Regarding the multispectral imaging and analysis by Yale earlier this year: what did that contribute to the saga of the Vinland Map?

  

I’m impressed by the thoroughness of the Yale scientific team’s investigation, and look forward to the final publication of their research. There was an interesting preliminary presentation at a recent symposium on the map, which can be found on YouTube. I shall have to revise the scientific chapter of my book to take account of the new studies, but there’s one finding in particular that I am very pleased about. In my book, I discussed a puzzling inscription on the back of the map at some length, and concluded that it was half-fake and half-genuine. When a slide appeared on the screen at the symposium substantiating my prediction, I pretty much leapt in the air.
 
Tell us about yourself: an independent historian? collector?

  

I am 49, from Glasgow, Scotland. I have a science degree (metallurgy), although I’ve never really used it. I’ve been known to buy and sell the occasional rare book, and I enjoy investigating historical mysteries, but I am a total amateur in the fields of cartography and manuscript studies. To steal the title of Betty MacDonald’s comic memoir, I like to think of my first book as evidence that “Anybody can do Anything.”

Image courtesy of John Paul Floyd



Here are the sales I’ll be watching this week:

  

On Tuesday, December 4, Sotheby’s London holds a sale of Music, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, and Continental Books, in 323 lots. A copy of the 1535 Nuremberg edition of Witelo’s treatise on perspective, Id est de natura, in a contemporary roll-tooled binding, is expected to fetch £60,000-80,000. Two miniatures by the Master of the Houghton Miniatures, “King David in Penitence” and “The Coronation of the Virgin” are each estimated at £50,000-70,000, as are manuscripts by Brahms and Schubert. A manuscript book of hours, use of Sarum, produced in the southern Netherlands around the 1470s and later in the Rothschild library, is estimated at £40,000-60,000.

  

Also on Tuesday, Christie’s New York will sell Albert Einstein’s “God Letter,” estimated at $1-1.5 million, as well as Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana, in 222 lots. A copy of the Stone Declaration of Independence facsimile on parchment rates the high estimate there, at $600,000-800,000. An original 1976 watercolor drawing by Maurice Sendak, “A Wild Thing Christmas,” could fetch $300,000-400,000. A Latin Nuremberg Chronicle with early hand-coloring and illumination is estimated at $250,000-300,000. Many, many more high spots to watch in this sale, too.

     

And one more on Tuesday: Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures at Bloomsbury Auctions.

  

At Bonhams New York on Wednesday, December 5, Fine Books and Manuscripts including the World of Hilary Knight, in 303 lots. The original Park Plaza Hotel portrait of Eloise (pictured below) is estimated at $100,000-150,000, as is Glenn Gould’s annotated copy of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. A great deal here for any Hilary Knight collector. Later at Bonhams, History of Science and Technology, including Space History, in 658 lots. Highlights are expected to include a working Apple-1 computer ($250,000-350,000), an Albert Einstein manuscript ($150,000-200,000); and a collection of Kurt Gödel correspondence sent to Dr. Martin Davis ($40,000-60,000).

  

eloise.pngUniversity Archives sells Rare Autographs, Books, and Relics on Wednesday, in 283 lots. A flag believed to have been flying on JFK’s limousine at the time of the president’s assassination is estimated at $60,000-80,000, while a Junipero Serra manuscript about the San Gabriel mission in California could fetch $40,000-45,000.

  

On Thursday, December 6, Swann Galleries sells Illustration Art, in 284 lots. Norman Rockwell’s “The Pharmacist,” for the March 18, 1939 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, could sell for $70,000-100,000. Much of interest here for those with an interest in Ludwig Bemelmans, Maurice Sendak, and others.

  

Finally, on Friday, Books, Maps & Manuscripts are on tap at Stockholms Auktionsverk.

  

Image credit: Bonhams

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