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.

  

748280_view 02_02.jpg      

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

“If we didn’t already have libraries, they would now have to be invented. They are the keys to American success in fully exploiting the information highways of the future,” wrote James H. Billington in the winter 1994 issue of Media Strategies Journal. At the time, the thirteenth Librarian of Congress was reminding a nation enthralled with the nascence of the internet that libraries would be as important as ever in the electronic age, as preservation repositories, testing grounds for experiments in digitization, and strongholds where anyone could freely access humankind’s various written efforts.


Billington wasn’t just offering his opinion; he was engaged in what would become a battle to preserve the mission of the Library of Congress (LOC).


In 1995, a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested, in an effort to streamline operations at the LOC, that the library’s $350 million annual operating budget be slashed to practically nothing and turn its focus to “increasing revenue” (whatever that means) rather than building and sustaining the country’s knowledge hub. Luckily, Congress committee members charged with reviewing the document rejected the plan. As Billington noted in Patience & Fortitude (Basbanes, 2001), the attempt to undermine the LOC’s mission was hardly noticed by the national media. “The Messiah could make a personal appearance in the main reading room, and the chances are fifty-fifty that it would get any attention from the press,” he said. But the GAO’s report, if acted upon, would have had serious consequences for the future of America’s library, and Billington “went after it tooth and nail....because it was a cautionary issue of no small significance.”


Indeed, what was at stake, as the career humanist realized, was whether the world’s largest library--charged with, as he put it, “stockpiling information”--could continue to ensure that anyone could browse the LOC’s unique treasures.

  

And yet, Billington did not shy away from the new digital medium. In fact, he embraced what this technology could offer. During his tenure from 1987 to 2015, Billington oversaw great change at the LOC, ushering in dozens of free digital initiatives like the online American culture resource for K-12 education now known as the National Digital Library; thomas.gov, a free portal to U.S. federal legislative information; National Jukebox, which provides free access to over 10,000 out-of-print music and spoken word recordings; and a digital talking books app. He also established programs like the National Book Festival and the Veterans History Project.


And though cost-cutting was often on the wish-list of many political agendas, over the years, Billington raised over half a billion dollars to supplement Congressional financial support no matter who was in office.


Billington faced the future of book culture with steely-eyed awareness and an understanding that far surpassed many contemporaries. He welcomed the Internet age as a liberation of physical books from the cumbersome task of storing facts and figures. “With the move to electronic formats, what I believe you will now see is that books containing data will be online, and the serious kind of traditional literature that has always been in book form will continue to appear in book form. The book, in my view, will be freed from a very heavy burden that it has to bear all these years,” he explained in Patience & Fortitude. “It will be allowed to flourish anew.”

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Samuel V. Lemley of Charlottesville, Virginia, winner of the 2018 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest:


Lemley 2.pngWhere are you from / where do you live?


I grew up in Northern California but currently live in Charlottesville, where I am a PhD candidate in English at the University of Virginia. 
 
What did you study as an undergraduate?

I studied English literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (where I worked as an awed and eager assistant in the Rare Book Collection); earned a masters degree in library science at the Palmer School in New York City; and now study, teach, and write about early modern English literature, seventeenth-century antiquarianism, bibliography, and Renaissance science, among other things. 

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

I’ve figured the collection as a bibliographic genealogy, or ‘biblio-genealogy’: it tells the story of my Sicilian ancestry and heritage in the form of books printed in Sicily during the years for which genealogical records of my ancestors survive. The chronological limits of my collection (1704 to 1893) reflect this: Gabriele Militello, my earliest documented ancestor, was born in Bivona in 1704; my great-grandfather, Pietro Marchese, an emigrant to the United States in the aftermath of World War I, was born in Pollina in 1893. These are the genetic bookends of my Sicilian family tree and the figurative bookends of the collection.

My collection is also cast as a supplement to a genealogical history compiled and written over several decades by my grandfather, Vincent J. Militello, and finished last year. His research and mind guide my acquisitive habit and inspire the collection’s form. I am trying to acquire one item (book, manuscript, or pamphlet) for each of my documented Sicilian ancestors by direct lineal descent, printed or made in Sicily during the decade of their birth. 

How many books are in your collection?

The unusual criteria I use in selecting books and the relative scarcity of Sicilian imprints mean that it’s slow growing. Somehow, though, I’ve managed to assemble about fifty items, various in genre and format (manuscripts, pamphlets, ephemera, and books) over the last few years. 

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

A vellum-bound and fittingly flyspecked treatise on the plague, Relazione istorica della peste (Palermo, 1743). I found it at the ‘shadow fair’ in New York City, I think in 2014. 
 
How about the most recent book?

I just bought a preternaturally unspoiled copy of an important nineteenth-century bibliography of Siciliana, Alessio Narbone’s Bibliografia Sicola Sistematica (Palermo, 1850-55). The book is uncut in pale yellow paper wrappers, and some of its volumes are tied together with what appears to be nineteenth-century twine. Evidently it was never read. It’s a useful book (it lists thousands of texts printed in Sicily or on Sicilian subjects, so I’d have cause to cite it), but I probably won’t use it--a digital facsimile online suits and lets me keep my copy safe and unsullied on its shelf.  

And your favorite book in your collection?

It changes. Right now, I’m enamored of one book that describes the path of a large comet that appeared above Europe in July, 1819. It’s by Sicilian astronomer Niccoló Cacciatore, who is famed for encrypting his name in the stars: in an 1814 star catalog, Cacciatore assigned the vaguely Slavic-sounding names Sualocin and Rotanev to Alpha and Beta Delphini, two binary stars in the Delphinus constellation. It took astronomers nearly forty-five years to decipher Cacciatore’s onomastic conceit: Cacciatore’s name, Latinized to ‘Nicolaus Venator’ and reversed, yields Sualocin Rotanev. I like the book for its author’s tongue-in-cheek professionalism, but also because it illustrates the importance of Palermo’s Royal Observatory in nineteenth-century astronomy--it was there, for example, that Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the dwarf planet Ceres in 1802. 
 
Best bargain you’ve found?

For its age and rarity, my first Sicilian book (Relazione istorica della peste, Palermo, 1743) was enticingly priced--somewhere well below $100, if I remember correctly. That book convinced me that collecting Sicilian imprints could be done affordably. But my most exciting purchase came during a recent trip to Palermo’s mercato delle pulci--a row of garage-like shopfronts just north of the city’s Norman palace. Amidst an assortment of knickknacks and kitsch, I found an unbound sheaf of four folded sheets bearing a manuscript homily in Italian. After glancing through it and discovering that it was a Christmas sermon written by a Sicilian priest sometime in the nineteenth century (I think circa 1830), I offered the shop’s owner a wadded ten Euro note and left to decipher the manuscript’s contents over dinner in a nearby trattoria. Hauntingly, the text of the sermon is apparently unrecorded elsewhere--it carries a scribal record of a voice that echoes still across two centuries or more. Beyond its intrinsic value and interest, though, the manuscript carries personal associations that will remain forever bound in with my collection: that same morning I had met with cousins at their home in the northern Sicilian countryside and visited the room in which my great-grandfather had died. Near the end of his life, he returned to his hometown, leaving family and America behind to die on his mother’s land, south of Cefalù. All that for 10 Euros. 

How about The One that Got Away?

I’ve somehow avoided that heartbreak.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

Any illustrated book from the press of eighteenth-century Palermitan printer Angelo Felicella, or a copy of Giuseppe Piazzi’s pioneering star catalog, the Praecipuarum stellarum inerrantium (Palermo, 1803). 

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

The Bookery in Placerville, California was the bookstore of my childhood and so tenants my mind as a kind of Platonic ideal for ‘Bookstore.’ Thinking of it now conjures its shelves, scents, and staff, including a graying dog I’d sit beside while browsing for Redwall books, circa 1999. I revisit it whenever I’m back home in a sort of bookish pilgrimage. More recently, my favorite sellers work in the rarefied world of antiquarian books. W.P. Watson’s catalogs teem with remarkable things and bristle with Rick Watson’s incomparable erudition and expertise. I’ve been privileged to work for Watson at ABAA and ILAB fairs in New York, California, and London--I feel I’ve learned from the best. I also admire A.N. Devers, owner of The Second Shelf in London, from afar. She’s doing brilliant things to open up the often tweedy and very male world of antiquarian books to women sellers and collectors and seems to be the best kind of badass. I hope to meet her someday.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

Plants. 

[Image credit: Dan Addison]


Another very crowded auction week:

  

On Monday, November 26, Ketterer Kunst held a sale of Rare Books in Hamburg. A German copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle in a mid-sixteenth-century binding sold for €147,600, and a Latin Book of Hours (use of Troyes) from around 1480 in a nineteenth-century find binding by Simier fetched €70,110.

  

Bonhams London sold Fine Books, Manuscripts, Atlases and Historical Photographs on Tuesday, November 27, in 216 lots. A Robert Schumann manuscript of his Fantasiestücke for piano led the sale, selling for £224,750. A copy of John Gould’s Monograph of the Trochilidae (1849-1861) made £47,500. A seventeenth-century Ethiopian manuscript in Ge’ez sold for £22,500.

  

warhol.pngWednesday, November 28, Binoche et Giquello sells Livres Anciens et Manuscrits, in 53 lots. A very rare copy of Étienne Dolet’s Le Second Enfer d’Estienne Dolet, natif d’Orléans (1544) is expected to lead the way, with estimates of €80,000-100,000. Chiswick Auctions holds an auction of Rare Books & Works on Paper in 338 lots: among those with high estimates are a presentation copy of Andy Warhol and Suzie Frankfort’s Wild Raspberries (1959), at £10,000-12,000 (pictured at left); and an incomplete copy of the Tyndale Bible, at £8,000-10,000.

  

Also on Wednesday, Rossini sells books, manuscripts, and autographs from the library of philosophy professor John Lefranc (1927-2015), in 211 lots. And at Christie’s London, Russian Literary First Editions & Manuscripts: Highlights from the R. Eden Martin Collection, in 228 lots. Rating the top estimate is Osip Emil’evich Mandel’shtam’s Kamen (1913), inscribed by the author to poet Viacheslav Ivanov (£60,000-90,000); just one other inscribed copy is known. A rare copy of Gogol’s Vechera na khutore bliz dikan’ki (1831-1832) is estimated at £50,000-70,000. I’ll have more on this sale in the next print issue.

  

On Thursday, November 29, Forum Auctions sells Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper, in 347 lots. A set of Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux (1770-1786) is estimated at £70,000-90,000, and a first edition of the King James Bible (“He” version) could fetch £30,000-40,000.

  

Also on Thursday, PBA Galleries sells The Craig Noble Collection of L. Frank Baum & the Wizard of Oz, in 257 lots. An inscribed copy of Baum’s Sam Steele’s Adventures in Panama (1907) is assigned the top estimate at $8,000-12,000.

  

Friday, November 30 sees a History of Science and Technology sale at Sotheby’s New York, in 109 lots. Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize medal is expected to sell for as much as $800,000-1,200,000; his copy of Dirac’s Principles of Quantum Mechanics is another highlight. Several lots of Feynman manuscripts are also part of the sale. A bible signed and inscribed by Albert Einstein is estimated at £200,000-300,000, and a working-condition three-rotor Enigma machine could sell for £180,000-200,000.

  

Image credit: Chiswick Auctions

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