The Summer of Hamilton

Has the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton reached its zenith? After a twelve-month run that grossed $90 million dollars in ticket sales, the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, made his final appearance onstage in June. Now, doorbuster ticket prices are diping below $500 per seat. Still, if that’s too rich for your blood, check out the New-York Historical Society’s museum-wide celebration of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury and his influence shaping the U.S. government.

Replicas of the dueling pistols used by Hamilton and Burr on view at the New-York Historical Society, on loan from the JPMorgan Chase Historical Collection. Photo credit: New-York Historical Society, Courtesy of the JPMorgan Chase Historical Collection.

The Summer of Hamilton exhibit includes some of the items from the museum’s 2015 installation that also showcased the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, but there are new items as well: Life-size bronze statues depicting Hamilton and Burr in their deadly duel; Hamilton’s 1797 gift of a tall case clock to the Bank of New York; and his writing desk, on loan from the Museum of the City of New York.

hamilton letter.jpg

Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, October 5, 1780 (The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GL C00773) Photo Credit: New-York Historical Society

In addition, the NYHS will display nine documents written by Hamilton, including his touching love letter to fiancée Elizabeth Schuyler; his infamous letter to mistress Maria Reynolds; and his proposal for the federal government that he presented at the Constitutional Convention.


In a letter (also on display) where Hamilton supports Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr as president, his complaints sound remarkably prescient when read against the backdrop of today’s riotous political bickering: “In a choice of Evils let them take the least--Jefferson is in every view less dangerous than Burr.”

7 Hamilton Statue Closeup.jpg
Kim Crowley, Alexander Hamilton, bronze, 2004, New-York Historical Society (photo: Don Pollard)

And back by popular demand, the NYHS will recreate the infamous Hamilton-Burr duel on Sunday, August 7 with actors from American Historical Theatre.

                                                                                                                                               Visit The New-York Historical Society’s website for a complete list of programming and hours.

Island Garden Green.jpgWe’re posting today an exhibition review by Nick Basbanes covering his recent trip to the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts, to see American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals, an exhibit of forty oil paintings and watercolors that pays homage to one of Nick’s favorite books, Celia Thaxter’s An Island Garden (Houghton Mifflin, 1894). Read it here.

This special report was made possible by the support of The Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company.

Image courtesy of Nicholas A. Basbanes.


Selena Chambers_authorpic.jpgSelena Chambers has just released an illustrated, limited edition chapbook about her travels in Europe in the wake of Mary Shelley. Entitled Wandering Spirits, the book is available in a small run of 200 copies from Tallhat press. Chambers, whose work has been nominated for Pushcart, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, recently answered our questions over email:

Please introduce us to the story behind Wandering Spirits:

Wandering Spirits is an account of my journey through the landscape of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The physical travel was conducted in 2010 during my honeymoon while en route from Nice, France to Ansbach, Germany, but the drive and impulse had been developing since I was 13-years old. I think it was through Poe that I became turned on to Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and through them, I found Mary. 

While I had your typical lit-crushes on the Romantic guys, with Mary, it was for real. At the time, the lady writers I’d encountered were Austen and Brontë, both brilliant but for various societal reasons, kept their bodies and body of work close to their homes in England. They wrote about marriage and relationships and what they knew within their limited realm, and while they added their particular brand of nineteenth century feminist empowerment into their novels, I craved something more weird and adventurous.

I finally found that with Mary. Not only was she close to my age during the Year Without Summer, but she ran away to foreign lands in the name of love, consequently suffered through ruin and the loss of her first child, and proved she could hang with the other rock stars of her time, all while quietly synthesizing her experiences into what would become one of the most influential novels ever written. For a young, budding lit-nerd like myself, her romance was intoxicating, and I contracted an acute wanderlust that would go unexpressed until I was twenty-eight and started retracing her footsteps throughout Europe.

The book is framed as a series of letters.  Could you tell us about this decision?

Wandering Spirits was pitched to as a column, and I first started writing it as a standard non-fiction article. However, no matter how much I toyed with it, the essay format felt stale and too distant from the subject matter, the landscape, and the reader. When I am stuck on my writing, I turn to my betters, and so started reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark because it had been Mary Shelley’s source text during her travels. Letters is very vulnerable, poignant, and what we’d now call Gonzo--a first-hand experience exploring the material as well as the abstract. I loved how she discussed ideas alongside descriptions of her surroundings and emotions, and how even though she wrote these letters in 1796, it felt like they had been recently composed and mailed first-class to me, the reader. This made me realize that the epistolary format is one of the most intimate but also enigmatic ways a writer can commune with the reader. I think Mary Shelley believed this too, and is why she cast Frankenstein in an epistolary frame narrative. In both cases, the effects were exactly what I wanted to render in Wandering Spirits.

Were you able to find lingering traces of Romanticism on your travels?

Oh, yes. The ghosts of Romanticism lingered everywhere I went, especially at Mont Blanc, which is and remains the temple of the Sublime. While Geneva and Ingolstadt bore the pockmarks of progress, Mont Blanc was practically untouched with one tiny exception of tourists. However, Mont Blanc has been a major tourist destination since the late eighteenth century, so while Mary and the gang never made mention of it, I imagine they encountered some similar interruptions of reverie. 

While I visited Mont Blanc and the Mer de Glace, I was constantly reminded of how trivial we all were in the face of nature--people were interacting with the landscape in all kind of ways:  sightseeing, mountain-climbing, and habitation, and from where I stood, everyone appeared minuscule and anonymous. This ultimate sublime feeling was further punctuated by seeing how much the Mer de Glace had moved through time.

Every few years, an entrance into the glacier is drilled to set up a mini-tourist playground inside. Outside, this drilling has presented a visual marker showing how much the ice has drifted. Without these markers, the glacier just looks like a static plane of ice and not a constant force of quiet and steady propulsion. Confronted with this sort of visual contradiction conjures up all sorts of ephemeral questions, to which, as Shelley wrote:  “None can reply--all seems eternal now.”

WS Cover.jpegThe book has been published in an illustrated, limited edition.  Could you tell us more about the press and artist you worked with for Wandering Spirits?

It is published by Tallhat Press as a special limited-edition, illustrated chapbook of 200 copies for nine months. After that, it’ll be taken off the market regardless of how many copies haven’t sold by that time. Tallhat Press is a small press interested in publishing Genre-based non-fiction in attractive print editions. The mastermind behind the press is Yves Tourigny, who is a game designer and artist from Ottawa, Canada, and he did all of the layout and graphic design, as well as give the manuscript a thorough and much-needed editorial scrubbing. 

He does really neat, high-concept table top games, like Expedition Northwest Passage, and is a devout man of Weird letters, as seen in his other major project:  They Who Dwell in the Cracks. It is an online site dedicated to archiving, cataloguing, and examining the works of Laird Barron. So far, it features an extensive bibliography of Barron’s work, as well as annotations, and it is not only a fitting tribute to the horror master’s work, but a great reader’s guide for fans who want to delve...well deeper into the cracks of Barron’s world.

Working with Yves has been one of the best collaborating experiences of my career, and not only would I do it again in a second, I highly recommend anyone with interesting non-fiction projects to approach him. Below are some links of interest regarding his work:

Tallhat Press

Personal Website  

They Who Dwell in the Cracks  

Was the June 16 publication date purposeful?

Absolutely. While Frankenstein itself won’t turn 200-years old until 2018, I knew that the Villa Diodati bicentennial on June 2016 would be equally, if not more mythically, significant. I wanted to help celebrate, and what better way than to release these letters into the world in a style evocative of the Romantic spirit. The thing I loved most about Yves’ design is that he understood the aesthetic immediately, and really did help turn the words into an artifact. 

The time-limit of the chapbook’s availability is significant, too. It will only be available for sale until February--a total of nine months. I chose to do this to represent how long it took Mary to actually compose Frankenstein.

Are you planning on a similar trip, in a similar vein?  Any other author trails you’d like to follow? 

The desire is there. As I say in my acknowledgments, the three sites in this travelogue is just the tip of the iceberg as far as landscape and geography go within Frankenstein. There are about 37 cities mentioned throughout, but not all of them have as much page-time as Geneva, Ingolstadt, or Chamonix--the novel’s geographical lodestones. Even so, I’d like to engage in a few more Frankenstein stops, especially the tour from the Rhine up to through the North Sea undertaken by Victor and Henry Clerval, as well as stomping around the Black Forest some more as the Creature would have done. Outside of the novel, it would be cool to spend time along the Italian coast where Shelley spent his last days.

As to other author trails--yes! I am especially interested in literary travel pertaining to women writers--George Sands’ Paris, Mina Loy’s Florence, Sarah Helen Whitman’s Providence--these are all things I’d like to work on in the future.

Where can our readers learn more about you and your work?

Despite how awful I am at the Internet, I do try to maintain a website and engage on social media: Twitter and Facebook

And if I may, I’d like to invite your readers to join me over at Pornokitsch for a Mary Shelley read-along, where we are reading everything else she’s written besides the big F. This is my other way of helping celebrate her legacy--by showing there was much more to her than her Modern Prometheus. Readers interested in following can start here.

Coming to auction next week in San Francisco is a striking set of four letterpress broadsides by Mexican political printmaker José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Known as calaveras, from the Spanish word for skulls, these posters use macabre imagery to satirize the iron-fisted, 35-year presidency of Porfirio Díaz. Though he died poor and obscure, Posada’s style influenced many artists and cartoonists and is closely associated with the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead (October 31).

196818_0.jpgPBA Galleries is offering the posters, published c. 1910 by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, as one lot containing Calavera de la Penitenciaria, Calaveras Dominigales, Calavera del Drenaje (pictured here), and Barata de Calaveras. The estimate is $1,500-2,500.

To read (and see) more about Posada’s art, go here.

Image via PBA Galleries.

Tolkien_1916.jpgJRR Tolkien’s long poem in the tradition of a medieval lay, entitled “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun,” will be published again this autumn for the first time in 70 years. The poem has been out of print since it was first published in the journal The Welsh Review in 1945. HarperCollins will publish the poem in a collection with other Tolkien poetry about the Korrigan (a Breton term for fairy-like creatures) on November 3.

The dark poem was inspired by Celtic legends in Brittany and concerns the sad dealings of a couple - Aotrou and Itroun - with a Korrigan in a desperate effort to have a child. The Korrigan in the poem is thought to be a direct inspiration for the Elf Queen Galadriel, who features in The Lord of the Rings.

The themes of “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun” are similar to those in the Breton ballad Lord Nann and the Corrigan, which Tolkien owned a copy of.

Verlyn Flieger, professor emerita at the University of Maryland and a Tolkien scholar, is editing and introducing the new HarperCollins edition. He called the poem, “dark, powerful, compelling, a significant departure from the Tolkien we think we know.”

The Corrigan poetry will join other recently republished Tolkien works, including The Children of Hurin, a translation of Beowulf, and a long poem about King Arthur entitled The Fall of Arthur.

[Image from Wikipedia]

I just returned from a two-week cross-country road trip designed mainly with national parks in mind, but we did stop at a few museums along the way where I was delighted to catch two shows we’ve recently covered in Fine Books.

wov_identity_5x2.jpgFirst, at Chicago’s Field Museum, I had the chance to see “Women of Vision (WOV): National Geographic Photographers on Assignment.” Subscribers will recall our lengthy feature story on this exhibit in Autumn 2014. I found the selection of photographs by these eleven female photojournalists so powerful and heart-wrenching, particularly the work of Lynsey Addario whose recent book, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (2015) is now on my to-read list. WOV has been traveling ever since its launch in October 2013. It remains up at the Field Museum through Sept. 11, and from there it travels to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 11.19.12 AM.pngSecond, a stop at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, allowed me to see “An Anonymous Art: American Snapshots from the Peter J. Cohen Gift,” an exhibit of vernacular photography we highlighted this past winter (“Behold the Lowly Snapshot” by Andrea L. Volpe) when it was being shown at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Categorized simply into small groupings, the vintage photographs of anonymous men, women, and children are by turns thoughtful and humorous and, above all, very human. I was also pleased to find that the collector, Peter J. Cohen, has put together several books of these “found” images, including the very cool Snapshots of Dangerous Women (2015). The exhibit remains up through Sept. 4.


Images ©Stephanie Sinclair/National Geographic; Unknown maker, American. Double Exposure: Girls with dolls and father, ca. 1920s. Gelatin silver print, 3 ¾ x 2 ½ inches. Gift of Peter J. Cohen, 2015.9.111.

Flying High with Aviation Books

Earlier this week I strapped on a leather cap and goggles, stepped aboard an open-cockpit biplane built in 1942 and took an aerial tour of Martha’s Vineyard and the surrounding vicinity. The plane is part of a small fleet stationed at Katama Airfield, the largest remaining active grass runway in America. The airfield and surrounding costal heathlands are now protected nature zones, home to nearly a dozen endangered plants and animals, a paradox of man, machine, and nature existing in symbiosis.


Biplanes at Katama Airfield, circa 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Though the view was glittering, truth be told, as Cole Porter wrote, I get no kick in a plane. I’d make a horrible hotshot. When not focusing on the horizon during the twenty-minute jaunt, I thought about classic aviation books to soothe my nerves. Volumes rejoicing in the miracle of flight have been flying off bookshelves for over a century, and certainly some are worth more than others--my 1953 book club edition of Charles Lindbergh’s Pulitzer Prize winner The Spirit of Saint Louis isn’t worth much more than forty bucks. Meanwhile, a first-edition, first-printing of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, purchased at the Book Den East in Oak Bluffs for ten dollars in 2000 is probably worth 150 dollars today. Every so often I enjoy reading Anne’s lyrical prose about dealing with the turmoil and chaos of modern life during the Eisenhower era.


Cover for Gift from the Sea

Some complaints never change. 

                                                                                                                                                      The black tulip for certain serious aviation collectors is a first edition paperback of Mossyface: A Romance of the Air, by William Earle and published in 1922. “William Earle” was the pseudonym for Biggles series creator Captain William Earl Johns, and many early collectors didn’t recognize the connection. (I hate to say it, but it’s not much of a pseudonym.) Most copies were pulped long ago, and surviving books are often a mess. One dealer is offering his copy online for nearly seven thousand dollars, complete with wrinkled spine and deteriorating paper.  

Pilots may drink the wine of gods, but I’ll stick to the terrestrial pleasures of books.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Cassie Brand, Methodist Library Associate and Special Collections Cataloger and, at the moment, Interim Head of Special Collections, at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.


Cassie Brand.JPGWhat is your role at your institution?


I am currently serving as Interim Head of Special Collections, University Archives and Methodist Librarian, but my normal job title is Methodist Library Associate and Special Collections Cataloger, which is still a mouthful. I am in charge of overseeing the reading room, supervising student workers, answering reference requests, and cataloging rare books. I have a lot of variety in my job, which I really like. I get to work with a lot of different collections and a lot of different researchers, which keeps things interesting and makes certain I am always learning.


My position is interesting in that I work for both Drew University Library Special Collections and the United Methodist Archives and History Center. The Methodist Center consists of the Methodist Library of Drew University and the Archive of the General Commission on Archives and History of the Methodist Church. Together we have arguably (and we do argue) the largest collection of global Methodism in the world. The Methodist Collections are amazing and so full of history. We also have amazing religious collections that are non-Methodist, as well as literary collections, science fiction, popular culture, and so much more. And I get to work with all of them.

How did you get started in rare books?


I always knew I was going to work with books in some way, but I had always planned on going into publishing. I had an internship with a local publishing company and especially enjoyed learning about the decisions that were made to create a physical object appropriate for the text it would hold. I spoke about my interest in these decisions with Arnie Sanders, a professor at Goucher College were I did my undergrad. He invited me to join him in the rare book room where he was working on studying a sammelband from 1495. He put the book into my hands and I was hooked. I joined his research team as a volunteer and then later became a student worker for Special Collections and Archives at Goucher. From that point, I couldn’t imagine doing anything but becoming a rare book librarian.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree? 


I attended Indiana University for my library degree and concentrated in Rare Books and Special Collections. I took every class offered by Joel Silver or taught at the Lilly Library and I was fortunate enough to have a student position at the Lilly. It was amazing to work at the Lilly Library, as the staff is so knowledgeable and the collections are amazing. I am currently working on a PhD in History and Culture, with a concentration in Book History at Drew University.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This answer changes with my mood, the day, and what I’ve handled most recently. It’s so hard to choose! However, I will never forget this one Bible at the Library of Congress. It was 13th century, written in Hungary, but illustrated in an Italian style. It was so beautiful and unique I feel I could have stared at it for hours.


My favorite book in the collections at Drew is probably the Nuremberg Chronicle. Our copy is beautifully preserved and professionally hand colored. It’s such a great example of printing, early illustration techniques, history, and the view of the world in that time period. Because there are so many great aspects to the book, I pull it out for teaching in lots of different classes.


What do you personally collect?


I mainly collect books about books. I have been working to build a good reference library for myself as well as collecting bibliomysteries, which I love to read. I also have a small collection of etiquette books from the late 19th/early 20th century, as etiquette and social rules fascinate me.

What do you like to do outside of work?


Most of my time spent outside of work is devoted to my PhD work, but in rare moments of free time, I like to visit museums, hang out with friends, sew, knit, and of course read!


What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I love introducing people to rare books and book history. Introducing students to rare books for the first time and handing them a book that’s over 400 years old is just plain fun. I get to see the misconceptions fall away as they handle an incunable that isn’t falling apart or dusty and I get to teach about the materials that were used to make a book that lasts that long.


One of my favorite moments in the reading room was when several undergraduate students from a class were working with rare books for an assignment. They had to describe the book as a physical object and discuss its importance. There were probably 4 or 5 from the class in at one time and they kept calling each other over to share what they were finding. I ended up bouncing around from table to table answering questions and explaining signatures, binding and illustration techniques, and helping to read marginalia.


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


People tell me that we should just digitize everything and get rid of the books, or ask if books are going away, or wonder if people still read anymore. The great thing about being a rare book librarian now is that we get to pair the technology from 1450 with the new digital technologies. We have several programs and classes in which the professors are working with special collections to integrate rare books into digital humanities projects, so I’ve been learning a lot more about the digital tools we can use to both study and showcase our collections. Moving into the future, we will be able to use technology to develop even more ways to learn about and understand our rare books and special collections.


I’m also excited about the ways in which special collections are becoming more open and accessible. Librarians and faculty are inviting more classes in to work with rare books, teaching about them and making them more open and welcoming. At the same time, digital tools are making collections available across the world, which allows them to be used and discovered more widely. The increased openness and ability for people to work with the collections will make for interest research in the future.

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


We have really amazing collections for such a small school and there are so many things in the Methodist Collections you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in a library. We have African tribal masks, John Wesley’s death mask, and a bone from George Whitfield’s thumb. We also have every first edition from Lord Byron and Walt Whitman, as well as some great collections of prayer books, hymnbooks, graphic arts, and science fiction. And of course, I have to mention our famous recently rediscovered first edition of the King James Bible.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


I’m really excited about our upcoming exhibit schedule. Like so many other libraries, we will be celebrating the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with the First Folio on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library. I am curating a concurrent exhibit Books in the Time of Shakespeare that will look at the materiality of the book and book production in that time period. We also have started planning an exhibit for early 2018 in which we will collaborate with a local artist who works with the language of flowers and pair her work with our collection of botanical books.


As I recently told book fair promoter Marvin Getman, I rely on serendipity as a book collector. That’s not a very practical way to collect, but it works for me. Case in point: this past April during Rare Book Week, I spent a few hours at Getman’s “satellite fair” on Saturday. Typically I roam from booth to booth, scanning the offerings, seeing what catches my eye, and chatting with the proprietor if they’re so inclined. My husband and I shop separately and meet up to make decisions. But as we were conferring about a book he wanted to purchase, he pulled a slim unmarked volume bound in burgundy cloth from a nearby shelf, gave its contents a quizzical glance, and asked me if I didn’t have a book like this at home. I did, I said, but mine was leather-bound and contained four times as many pages.

IMG_0679.JPGIt took a moment to realize what he had found: a publisher’s dummy for a heavily illustrated history of Manhattan called Darkness and Daylight, or Lights and Shadows of New York Life (1897). Written by social reformer Helen Campbell, the lengthy book details the dark underbelly of city life at the turn of the twentieth century--tenement living, homelessness, child labor, unsanitary hospitals, etc. I have had the book on my shelf for about ten years now, having purchased it at a Syracuse University Library charity auction for no other reasons than an interest in New York City history and a desire to donate to my undergraduate alma mater’s library fund.

IMG_0681.JPGI bought the dummy, and I could barely wait to get home and set the two side by side for comparison. I learned that the book was produced in three styles--a low-priced edition in plain cloth with 232 text illustrations (lacking full-page steel engravings) for $2.50, a mid-range edition in extra fine cloth with gold stamping, complete with 252 illustrations, for $3.00, and a deluxe edition in leather for $4.00. The dummy contains pages of accolades for the book and about a dozen fill-in pages to list subscribers and what style they preferred. The man who previously owned my copy of the “real” book, H. L. Estes of Freeport, Maine, who signed and dated one of the free front endpapers, splurged--although considering the date, December 25, 1897, it was likely a gift.

How fun it was to peek into the history of this book and to imagine the salesman or agent whose job it was to sell Darkness and Daylight. The experience was also a prime example of a book finding its owner, instead of the other way around. I wasn’t looking for it, I didn’t even know it existed, and yet, within a minute of holding it in my hand, I knew that book had to be mine.   

Images courtesy of the author.

c917330f69622313f81144ce2e103346.jpgA new volume is about to be added to the strange and bizarre library of literature written by dictators.

The last fictional offering of the late Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, will be translated into English and published by UK publisher Hesperus. Entitled variously as “Get Out You Damned One,” or “Begone Devils,” the novella was written in 2003 and smuggled out of Iraq after the American invasion by Hussein’s daughter Raghad Saddam Hussein.  Raghad secured a Jordan publishing deal for the book as early as 2005, however it was quickly banned from sale, resulting in an outpouring of offerings of the book on the black market. The book surfaced again in Japan in 2006 where Tokuma Shoten published it under the title “Devil’s Dance.” Hesperus, in its turn, will release the English version of the novella in December of 2016, timing their release with the tenth anniversary of Hussein’s execution.

While the novella was Hussein’s final literary contribution, it was by no means his first. He also wrote the novels “Zabibah and the King” (2000), “The Fortified Castle” (2001), and “Men and the City” (2002), in addition to his memoirs. Like most dictators who dabbled in literature, Hussein had his novels added to the national school syllabus throughout the country he ruled. 

Hesperus described the final Hussein book as “a mix between Game of Thrones and the UK House of Cards-style fiction,” in an interview with The Guardian, but that they would be “keeping the rest secret until Christmas.”

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