Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with James McBride of William Reese Company in New Haven, Connecticut. 

IMG_1924up.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

My background is in rare book and special collections librarianship.  I did my library degree at the University of Texas at Austin and also completed a second Master’s degree in Book History at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.  While I was at Texas, I also worked as a rare book cataloguer for the Harry Ransom Center, working on 16th century Italian, mostly Aldine imprints.  I figured when I returned to the States from Scotland in the fall of 2015, I would continue on that track and find a library position as a Rare Books Cataloguer.  Bill hired me instead, and so here I am in the trade, thoroughly enjoying myself.

What is your role at William Reese Company?

My official title is Americana Cataloguer, or perhaps Americana Associate.  The second is probably more appropriate.  Principally, I do research and write cataloguing for most of our incoming material, but I also carry out many other duties as the need arises -- filling orders, responding to questions and inquiries, answering the phone, purchasing and collecting new materials, making visits to customers, sellers, and institutions, going to book fairs, bidding at auctions, and, of course, trying to sell books.

What do you love about the book trade?

Working for Reese Co. allows me the luxury of getting to see and to work with amazing material on a daily basis.  Another one of the great things is the variation my job affords me -- there are so many different aspects to working in the trade that it is difficult to get stuck in a rut.  It is also a pleasure to be able to meet and to interact with the fun and interesting characters that populate our world.  And if they’re not fun and/or interesting, at least they’re probably crazy.

Describe a typical day for you:

Generally, I come in and first deal with orders and inquiries that have come in overnight, and then discuss with my colleagues if we have anything that needs our special attention during the course of the day, which is usually the case.  I can then turn my attention to cataloguing, though this is liberally interspersed with other tasks that land on my desk throughout the day.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

One of my favorite books so far would have to be the private first printing of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia.  It was the first really important thing that I was sent out to collect, and I spent the entire drive back to New Haven checking my bag in the passenger seat every five minutes to make sure it hadn’t magically disappeared.  I’ve also gotten to spend some time with a complete set of Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian, an impressive thing, to say the least.  More recently, I saw a copy of the first pamphlet printing of the Declaration of Independence, made on July 8, 1776, just a few days after the vote for independence and Dunlap’s broadside.

What do you personally collect?

I have a record collection that grows in fits and starts.  Mostly punk albums, with some jazz and rock thrown in, and a few oddities like LPs of the Mr. Rogers songbook and Jazzercise tunes.  In terms of books, I tend toward travel narratives, though recently I’ve been trying to build up something of a reference collection.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend far too much time watching soccer on weekend mornings, and am also a particular and rather long-suffering devotee of the New York Mets.  The only sport in which I still retain some passable skill is skiing, though I don’t get to do nearly enough of it.  In other, apparently unaffiliated parts of my brain, I have a thing for old gangster movies and for long train rides.

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

It is my fond hope that the good people of the book world continue to buy enough books from us to keep me in a job. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We recently put out a catalog of material on Colonial America (#341), as well as two smaller lists on Natural History (Bulletin #45) and Manuscripts (Bulletin #46).  And coming quite soon will be a catalogue focusing on Latin Americana (#342).

Image courtesy of James McBride.

Coming up this Sunday, March 26 at 9 p.m., Masterpiece presents To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, written and directed by Sally Wainwright. The two-hour BBC drama traces the lives of the Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë from dutiful daughters into audacious authors. To Walk Invisible was filmed in and around Haworth, the Yorkshire village where the Brontës lived; a replica of their home, the Parsonage, was created for filming on location last year, as A. N. Devers reported in our summer 2016 feature story, “A Breath of Jane Eyre.”

To Walk Invisible_24 copy.jpgBased largely on Charlotte’s letters--which are artfully read throughout--To Walk Invisible focuses on the three-year period in the mid-1840s when the women decided to move ahead with the publication of their collective poems. The drama’s title comes from one of these letters, in which Charlotte writes, “I think if a good fairy were to offer me the choice of a gift, I would say--grant me the power to walk invisible.” Their Poems appeared in 1846 (under the male pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell), closely followed in 1847 by their individual novels--Charlotte’s Jane Eyre as a stand-alone, and Emily’s Wuthering Heights bundled into three volumes with Anne’s Agnes Grey.

                                                                                                                                                                                    In this dramatic retelling of their story, Anne and Branwell are restored to the bigger picture; Anne being the sweetest sibling, Branwell being the wildest. Emily, played by Chloe Pirrie, is matter of fact and unafraid to stand up to her devilish brother. She is also quite wonderful in disrupting a cozy library scene when she accuses Charlotte of reading her poems without permission. Charlotte (Finn Atkins) is more severe than we might imagine her. She is also the mastermind of their literary futures.

Historical dramas too often bait viewers with pretty gowns and lush landscapes, so it’s refreshing here to see some realism both in content (Branwell’s abusive alcoholism), scenery (from dirty interior walls to muddy outside lanes), and costumes that are plain and true to the people wearing them. The moors are there too, don’t worry. Viewer’s tip: The tones are hushed in many scenes, so turn up the volume.
PBS granted a press preview to Fine Books for this post. Watch a 30-second clip here.

                                                                                                                                                                     An exhibit, To Walk Invisible: From Parsonage to Production, is currently on view at the Parsonage through January 1, 2018.

                                                                                                                                                                     Image: Pictured (from left to right) Emily Brontë (Chloe Pirrie), Anne Brontë (Charlie Murphy), and Charlotte Brontë  (Finn Atkins). Credit: Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE.

Figure-1-set-360x371.pngLast month, Sandra Clark, a Jane Austen collector in Texas, surprised Chawton House, the ancestral home of Austen, by gifting them a complete set of the author’s novels that had once been housed in the family library. The Austen set was published in 1833 by Richard Bentley and bears the bookplate of Montagu George Knight, the son of Jane Austen’s nephew, Edward Knight. The books are known to have been held in the Chawton House library until at least 1908, however why the books were sold (or to whom) remains a mystery.  The books eventually made their way to south Texas, where they were discovered again by Clark.

The Bentley set of Austen novels are also significant for being the first reprinting of Austen’s works after her death. Bentley’s decision to publish the books as part of his “Standard Novels” series helped establish Austen’s place in the literary canon.

An upcoming exhibition at Chawton House Library entitled “Fickle Fortunes: Jane Austen and Germaine de Staël” will include the set, along with a variety of other first editions, manuscripts, and letters.

Interested readers can learn more about the discovery in a post from Professor Janine Barchas of the University of Texas at Austin and a board member of the North American Friends of Chawton House Library. Barchas recognized the Knight bookplate in Clark’s Austen collection and helped facilitate the gift.

[Image from Chawton House]

Bob Dylan manuscripts have trickled into the market in recent years--the pinnacle at auction being the original handwritten lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone,” which sold for $2 million at Sotheby’s in 2014--and now that he has won the Nobel Prize in literature, that seems unlikely to change.   

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 10.17.16 AM.pngCase in point: Coming up at Bonhams New York next week is an early, two-page manuscript of the legendary musician. Written in pencil, this manuscript was originally in the possession of Dylan’s Hibbing High School friend, Dale Boutang, and indeed the two poems describe the antics of teenage life in the mid-1950s; one is labeled a “Good Poem,” the other a “Bad Poem.” With the manuscript comes a silver gelatin print of a young Dylan seated on a motorcyle with a friend (Boutang?) standing alongside.

Last seen at auction eleven years ago, the manuscript is estimated to reach $10,000-15,000.

Image courtesy of Bonhams.

A Book-Lover’s Guide to St. Patrick’s Day

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, meaning Irish pubs from Boston to Dublin will be busier than usual and just about everyone will be sporting some sort of good luck charm. However, if the idea of day-drinking and parade-hopping turns you green, there’s still a few ways to let your inner Irish spirit free, even from the comfort of your own library. Behold, a bibliophile’s guide to St. Patrick’s Day:


Credit John Vernon Lord for Folio Society

1. Ready to meet your goal of finally reading James Joyce’s Ulysses? Consider picking up the edition recently published by the Folio Society, which refers to the original 1922 publication. Joyce scholars John O’ Hanlon and Danis Rose provide a note regarding the present iteration, and Stacey Herbert discusses the history of Ulysses in print. Award-winning artist John Vernon Lord created 18 color illustrations capturing various episodes in the book, helpfully guiding readers through this 752-page day in the life of Leopold Bloom. Complete with a Gaelic-green slipcase depicting the waves of Dublin Bay, there is perhaps no better way to say Éire go Brách for bibliophiles today. Available for $195.95 from the Folio Society.


Plunkett with the flag (University of South Florida) 

2. Over 150,000 Irish Americans fought for the Union in the Civil War, and many of their stories of loyalty and bravery are chronicled in Susannah Ural’s The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 (NYU Press, 2006). Thomas Plunkett was one of these combattants, serving as a color bearer for the Worcester-based 21st Massachusetts Regiment Volunteer Infantry. During the Battle of Fredericksburg a fellow flag-bearer was shot down, so Plunkett picked up the colors and led his unit until cannon fire ripped away his arms. Despite the injury, Plunkett pressed the flag to his chest with the remains of his limbs and held fast until relieved by a fellow soldier. Plunkett survived the war and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in battle, and the blood-stained flag is now at the Massachusetts State House. 

3. Across the Atlantic, the National Library of Ireland is closed for the holiday, but its permanent exhibition dedicated to poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is free and open to the public during regular business hours and accessible online



Portrait of young William Butler Yeats by his father, John Butler Yeats (Photo: Wikipedia).



 Oscar Wilde, photographic print on card mount: albumen. (Photo: Wikimedia                                                                                                                         

4. In case you missed “L’impertinent absolu” (“Insolence Incarnate”), the first major French exhibition dedicated to Oscar Wilde at the Petit Palais that closed in January, fear not; now you can own a piece of Wilde’s childhood. A hotel built by Wilde’s parents is for sale in Ireland. The ten-bedroom oceanfront property in the coastal resort town of Bray was constructed in 1850 by Wilde’s parents as a seaside retreat. Upon their death, Wilde inherited the property, but sold it in 1878. Recently converted into a hotel, this piece of literary history could be yours for €2.2 million. 

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Alexander Akin of Bolerium Books in San Francisco:

AlexanderAkin.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

My mom has a yellowed newspaper clipping that shows me in a baby carrier on her back as she and my dad peruse books at the UC Riverside library book sale. I guess my parents got me hooked early. My dad was a steelworker, and my mom a union organizer, and as a kid I thought every working-class family had a huge library at home. I remember my first purchase of a rare (though not expensive) book when I was ten, when I found a hardcover tract published by missionaries in China about a hundred years ago, using a phonetic transcription to represent the local dialect of a coastal town. I paid something like four weeks’ allowance for it, and still have it. The first item I ever got signed was a campaign brochure from when Angela Davis was running for vice president. (It wasn’t exactly a huge coup to get her autograph, since my mom worked with her). Through high school and college I worked summers for a coin dealer who specialized in medieval Islamic and Indian coins, and I collected books relevant to these fields for a working library. While collecting books, though, I never thought of selling them until I was in graduate school, when I started scouting for the (late, lamented) firm of McIntyre and Moore in Cambridge, MA. I kept finding books I didn’t need for myself, but that I recognized as worthwhile, and it occurred to me that I could try selling them or trading them for store credit. I was working on a dissertation in late imperial Chinese cartography, and I traded stacks of unrelated tomes from nearby thrift shops, estate sales, and even piles of academic books left on the sidewalk before recycling pickup, in exchange for many a title in Chinese history from M&M. I then started selling on Amazon to keep a larger proportion of the proceeds. We moved to San Francisco to follow a job opportunity for my wife, while I was in the writing-up stage of my dissertation and taking care of my daughter during the day. I carried her around in a Baby Bjorn while visiting various bookstores to keep from going stir-crazy. One day I walked into Bolerium and I realized I had found paradise on earth.

What is your role at Bolerium?

It started from the fact that I was spending more money there than my dissertation completion grant could really allow. I started bugging John Durham about doing some sort of work at the shop for store credit. Eventually, he set me loose on the towering piles of boxes in storage, sorting stuff out by category, completing runs of serials, etc, while I set aside things that I wanted for myself in payment. One day I found a box of Chinese-language gay travel guides to Taiwan, going back to the first one that was published. He had no idea how they had found their way into Bolerium’s storage. (There were - and still are - boxes on our second floor that haven’t been touched in 20 years). Mike Pincus, his business partner at the time, picked up the phone and sold the lot to an east coast library in a flash. That might have been the incident that led John to take me more seriously as a potential asset to the shop. My dissertation completion grant had concluded and I was eligible to work for pay, so he hired me as a packer (which was great training for what sells and to whom), working on cataloging after the shipping was done for the day. I had finished my dissertation, however, and with a PhD from Harvard I went on the job market, fully expecting to become a professor of Chinese history. I found a short-term position in Boston as the Smith Fellow at Roxbury Latin School (a wonderful experience), while also filling in at Brandeis in the afternoons for a faculty member who was on leave for the year. The fiscal crisis at that time (2010) had really decimated the market for my field of late imperial Chinese history. Budgets were slashed and many university jobs that had been advertised were quietly canceled. Worst of all, in many cases teaching at colleges on an adjunct basis actually paid less than Bolerium. Since my wife had found a lucrative niche in San Francisco, I realized that it didn’t make sense for me to drag the family around the country scrambling from post to post until I found something with tenure. I came back to Bolerium, this time for good, and after a couple of years we incorporated. I became the junior partner, with John the majority owner. I’ve expanded the shop’s specialties to include more Asian and Asian-American material, and I also buy and catalog stock related to radical politics, Judaica and African American history. When we do book fairs I usually travel with John, though in some cases I represent the shop alone, such as at last year’s Boston ABAA show.

What do you love about the book trade?

As an historian I love discovering new things. You can have all the Hemingway first editions you want; I’ll take the trove of mimeographed newsletters published in the 1940s by underground activists in Chinatown. Our trade is quite diverse, with room for all sorts of specialties and variant approaches. At an ABAA fair I can see things that I fantasize about collecting if I won the lottery, like illuminated French manuscripts from the 15th century. The stuff I really like to handle, though, is what I envision as the raw material for researchers working on relatively understudied fields. Our shop has been cited in the acknowledgements of many books on political history and LGBT studies, and I tremendously enjoy finding librarians who “click” with us and helping them to build their research collections. Some time back we sold a book about a gay religious utopian commune near San Diego, a work of truly awe-inspiring strangeness, to a famous theological seminary - and last year out of the blue we received a letter from a grad student thanking us for having sourced that work, which became a centerpiece of his research. This job combines my academic background with the romance of the treasure hunt, offering endless opportunities for sleuthing.

Describe a typical day for you:

Get up at 6:30 to get the kids ready for school. By the time I head for the shop, sometimes stopping at one of our storage units to pick up or drop off material, most of the orders that came in overnight have been processed by our hardworking early birds, but I may pitch in to find items in foreign languages or to search for recalcitrant titles that nobody else has been able to put their finger on yet (a frequent problem in a large shop where some stock was cataloged years ago). I have stacks of papers, pamphlets and books arrayed around my workspace that crave cataloging, but the amount of this work that gets done depends on all sorts of other factors. Calls come in all the time from people trying to unburden themselves of books or ephemera, and sometimes it’s worth throwing out the day’s plans to make an emergency trip to someone’s garage in the East Bay in pursuit of some trove or other. One respect in which we differ from most shops is that our specialties in radical politics and LGBT history bring us lots of leads from retired activists or their heirs. I like doing these book calls with my partner John, because we have different priorities and different ideas of what things are worth to us, and it can be valuable to bounce these ideas back and forth. The leads often come to us because of John’s own activism in various groups going back to the 1970s. In any case, whatever interruptions the day has brought to my cataloging, by the afternoon I head out to pick up the kids, and it’s family time until they go to bed, after which I often work on cataloging stuff I’ve brought home with me, or I put together thematic pricelists. Sometimes I can get more cataloging done in a couple of uninterrupted hours at night than I can all day in the shop.

PaperSon.jpgFavorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

The most amazing thing in the past year was a handwritten prompt book for a “paper son,” someone immigrating from China to the US in the 1930s under a false identity. A racist law from 1882 had banned general Chinese immigration, but there was a loophole if you were the child of a previously naturalized citizen who had gone back to China and married there. (Since Chinese women could not usually immigrate, and it was illegal in many places to marry someone of another ethnicity, going back to China was the easiest way to have a family - often the kids would live there for years before being brought over). In the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the local records burned up, which opened a window of opportunity because there was no easy way to verify claims about who had been born in the city. Thus a small industry of “paper sons” sprang up, in which people in China would pay for a false identity as the grown child of a Chinese-American citizen. Immigration officials (correctly) assumed that a significant proportion of such claims were false, so they interrogated would-be immigrants about the most minute details of their family connections, the arrangement of rooms in the house they lived in, what businesses were in their neighborhood in the ancestral village in China, and so on. People who claimed to be related would be interrogated in separate rooms to see if their answers corresponded. In order to prepare for these interviews, handwritten booklets would be produced that listed every conceivable question, paired with an answer for the “paper son” to memorize. The booklet we had included a sketch map of the neighborhood around the alleged clan compound. It is very unusual for these prompt books to survive, because of course discovery would mean serious trouble, including expulsion from the US. The example we handled is now in the collections of the Chinese Historical Society here in San Francisco.

What do you personally collect?

Books on Asian and Islamic numismatics, Chinese propaganda publications intended for foreign audiences, ephemera related to the World Festival of Youth and Students, lots of other series that have personal or academic significance for me. The one arena where I spend serious money is my collection of pro-Khmer Rouge propaganda. When I was in grad school I encountered a book in the library stacks that had been published by a sectarian communist group based in Chicago that had a friendship visit to Cambodia, during which they met Pol Pot and other senior leaders, toured communal farms, and so on. The book was lavishly illustrated with photographs of cheerful peasants in labor camps, children smiling with guns, and so on. Given what was known even then about the Killing Fields and mass starvation, the naiveté of these American visitors seems astonishing. For some radical political groups that are committed to excavating hidden injustices in their own countries, there is a desire to perceive a more just society in some foreign utopia. To see this in Cambodia under Pol Pot struck me as just about the furthest one could push this “grass is greener” complex. I have known a number of Cambodian immigrants who grew up in this period, all of whom have physical scars as well as emotional ones, and somehow it became a passion of mine to seek out everything I could that was published by foreign enablers, endorsers, or supporters of the Khmer Rouge. China was of course their main diplomatic sponsor, and as I can read Chinese I search for relevant material on the Chinese market, including children’s comic books from the 1970s that feature Khmer Rouge guerrillas as heroes, doing things like throwing grenades into boatloads of Lon Nol government soldiers. I have material from all over the world, and my plan is to write a book about this phenomenon - but I still find material that surprises me and adds new dimensions to the picture, so I’m not yet ready.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have two kids, 3 and 10, and I spend a lot of time with them. That’s an advantage to this business, the freedom of scheduling, especially for a shop like ours that has several employees. I used to be a big hiker, going on multi-day treks, but it’s harder with kids of this age. I still have some tenuous connections to the coin business and I sometimes travel to do translation at auctions of Chinese coins; last year I went to a show in Hong Kong to represent the firm I used to work for. I still do research in the field of Chinese historical cartography, presenting papers at conferences of the Association for Asian Studies and the American Association of Geographers, and publishing articles. I also spend more time than I should on Facebook, to be honest!

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

Every urban bookstore faces the problem of rising rent, unless the proprietor is also the landlord, and I see many cities becoming culturally desertified. A few years back I went to an academic conference in San Diego and I printed out a list someone had posted online a year or two previously, naming his ten favorite best bookstores downtown. After finishing my other business, I started tracking them down, and found that every single shop on this particular list had closed - one of them just a week earlier. Of course the books are still out there, but the market is atomized, with countless individuals dealing online from their basements or garages, and many collectors, even serious collectors, have little to do with ABAA-level shops. One thing I’ve been happy to see in my area is that even as some shops have been driven out of San Francisco by rising rent and the sterilization of the city’s cultural legacy, relatively young people are opening shops across the bay in places like Oakland. When I read the laments of long-time booksellers about what the internet has done to business, I feel glad that I only came onto the scene long after the process was already underway. This allows me to focus on the opportunities this brings (like selling to buyers all over the world, or being able to scout online for under-described or unappreciated items), rather than the way of life it has undermined. The greatest fear I have, for a business like ours with its orientation to libraries, is the seemingly ever-increasing turn to digital repositories. Many younger librarians seem to be under the impression that everything they need is already digitized somewhere, and their focus is on purchasing access rights rather than seeking out physical material that is unknown (but would cost money to process and store).

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Having recently finished the ABAA fair in Oakland, our next out-of-shop experience will be at RBMS in Iowa City this summer. I’m also putting together a catalog of political handbills, from the Knights of Labor to Black Lives Matter.

[Images provided by Alexander Akin]

At TEFAF Maastricht this week, North American manuscript dealers Les Enluminures closed a more than $3 million deal with the Kreis Warendorf and the Sparkasse Münsterland Ost to bring the thousand-year-old Liesborn Gospels “home” to Germany.

LiesbornGospels1 copy.jpgThe illuminated manuscript was written and decorated on parchment around the year 980 by the scribe Gerwardus and used at Liesborn Abbey, a convent of nuns in Westphalia, a region in the northwestern part of the country. In the twelfth century, the abbey was “re-founded” as a monastery for monks. The manuscript remained tucked away until its closure in 1803, nearly a millennium after the book’s creation. It was later acquired by the famous English book collector Sir Thomas Phillips and changed hands (and lands) several times, relocating to California, Norway, and Switzerland, until its acquisition by Les Enluminures. Incredibly, the book is in “almost perfect condition” and retains its medieval wooden binding as well.  

“It was until now one of the oldest manuscripts of the Gospels still in private possession,” according to a press statement. “It is always a source of very great satisfaction when a manuscript finally returns to its rightful and ancestral home,” said Professor Sandra Hindman, founder and president of Les Enluminures.

                                                                                                                                                                               Image courtesy of Les Enluminures.

Schindler,_Oskar.jpgGerman industrialist Oskar Schindler saved the lives of approximately 1,200 Jews during the Nazi regime by employing them in his enamelware factory in occupied Poland and subsequently at his armaments factory in occupied Czechoslovakia, a story immortalized in the novel, Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally and the subsequent film, Schindler’s List, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Schindler drew up seven lists of Jews to be transferred by special arrangement from the concentration camp at Plaszòw to work at his Czechoslovakia factory in 1944 and 1945, a move which almost certainly saved their lives. Schindler spent his entire fortune during the war to bribe Nazi officials and save his workers from deportation and death.

Of the seven original Schindler’s lists, only four are thought to have survived. Two are held in Israel at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, and one is held at the US Holocaust museum in Washington DC. This fourth list, the penultimate list from April, 1945, is the only list in private hands. It is currently being offered for sale by documents dealer Moments in Time.

The reserve price is $2.4m.

[Image of Oskar Schindler from Wikipedia]

IMG_0803.JPGFriday was a marathon day of book fair browsing. I started my day uptown at the NYC Book and Ephemera Fair, where I caught up with booksellers, several “Bright Young Booksellers” among them. I had the chance to meet Edmund Brumfitt, a London-based bookseller who was exhibiting on his own in New York for the first time (he was previously with Pickering & Chatto). He showed me a “pocket guide to physiognomy” c. 1805 that I found intriguing, primarily for its folding leaf of illustrations. (Considering my penchant for medical/surgical illustration, it was tempting, but more on that later.) We did come away from this fair with one purchase, a gift for my daughters: American Girl’s Home Book of Work and Play (1883), from John Liberati Books, where we struck gold last year with a serendipitous find.

From there, I ventured to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, where five or six hours of serious looking (and not-so-serious chatting) barely scratches the surface of what this fair has to offer. I was taken aback by a 1793 needlework map of the world, offered by Boston Rare Maps (pictured below). A large and beautiful world map executed in silk thread on satin, it is amazing to behold, perhaps even more so when one reads that it was made “almost certainly [by] an English girl of school age.”  

BRM2711-Barwick-embroidered-World-1783_lowres-1024x640.jpgRaptis Rare Books, which recently relocated to Palm Beach, Florida, showcased a wall of titles with an economic/political/timely bent, including the rare first edition of Asa Greene’s The Perils of Pearl Street, Including a Taste of the Dangers of Wall Street (1834). Between the Covers Rare Books was offering a substantial and wow-inducing archive of children’s book editor and author Charlotte Zolotow. I also enjoyed perusing their first edition of the unfamiliar (to me, anyway) dos-a-dos volume penned by Dorothy Parker (Men I’m Not Married To) and Franklin P. Adams (Women I’m Not Married To) and published in 1922. As always, vernacular art, photography, and agitprop--from Donald Trump to Harvey Milk--commanded attention in the vibrant booth shared by Brian Cassidy Bookseller and Lux Mentis Booksellers. And a trip to the fair would have been incomplete without a look at Seth Kaller’s $2+ million Alexander Hamilton collection; more on that here.  
IMG_0056.JPGOne of the gems at this fair, in my opinion, was a stunning fine binding of Butterflies and Moths (British) by Hannah Brown, offered by Bromer Booksellers (pictured above). The full leather binding is embroidered over colored leather inlays with silk thread; brass “pins” inserted through the boards appear to hold each in place. Its custom wooden case is made to look like a specimen box.

And ... two further purchases were made: a medical treatise on the eye from 1833 with a dazzling illustration and lovely contemporary marbled boards, from Jarndyce Booksellers; and the South African first edition of J. M. Coetzee’s The Life & Times of Michael K (1983), one of my all-time favorite novels, from Jeff Bergman Books.

                                                                                                                                             Images, top: Courtesy of the author; middle: Courtesy of Boston Rare Maps; bottom: Courtesy of the author.

Rare Book Week NYC: Navigating the Bazaar


Book Week has arrived in New York, and there’s plenty to do and little time to do it in. What are the best ways to get the most bang for your buck? Below, a few suggestions to help make your Book Week a rousing success:

1. Go to rarebookweek.org, browse the list of exhibitors, and study the layout of the shows (there’s three this year). With over two hundred exhibitors at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair (NYABF) alone, it’s wise to have some sense of which dealers you want to see first. What do you do if you don’t have a clue about who’s who? The NYABF is mantaining a robust Instagram page where various exhibitor-provided highlights give a sense of the vendors and their specialties.
2. Pack smart. If your game plan includes active acquisition, tuck a sturdy canvas tote into your carry-all or purse.
3. Find your Fair. The NYABF is Book Week’s crown jewel, and tantalizing offerings include a $3,000 children’s book entitled Die Wunderfahrt at Pierre Coumans’ booth, a stunning 40-volume collection of Balzac presented by Imperial Fine Books ($15,000), and other not-to-be-missed items. Still, if all the glitz and glamor of the Park Avenue bazaar is too rich for your blood, head over to the Uptown Satellite Show at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Wallace Hall at 980 Park Avenue. Sixty dealers, such as Rare PaperLizz Young, and Jonathan Kearns, are participating. Don’t be surprised if you see a few dealers from the NYABF browsing here as well. Free shuttle service between both locations runs from 7:45 am-6:45 pm throughout the weekend. And finally, the hip “Shadow Show” takes place on Saturday from 10pm to 5pm directly across from the Armory at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, where show organizer John Bruno (as seen on PBS’s “Market Warriors”) will be conducting appraisals from 1-3pm.
4. Do your homework. Active collectors know that education is key to making smart purchases. See the bibliographies in A Gentle Madness and Among the Gently Mad for worthwhile guides to book hunting. As noted author and collector Michael Sadleir said in 1937, “In nature the bird who gets up earliest catches the most worms, but in book collecting the prizes fall to birds who know worms when they see them.”
5. Get there early. Though the NYABF and the Satellite Show are running extended hours this year, the good stuff always goes first.
6. Talk to the exhibitors. Booksellers, especially antiquarian booksellers, are a highly educated lot, so a conversation on Renaissance illuminated manuscripts could lead into all sorts of glorious directions. 
7. Take it in stride, i.e., wear comfortable walking shoes--your feet will thank you.
8. Are you driving? Bring a roll of quarters in case you’re one of the lucky few who snags street parking. Failing to feed the parking meter could set you back $65, and that’s no way to end a great day at the Fair.

What are your best practices for a successful Book Week? Let us know!

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