A breathtaking selection of the rarest American bibles went on exhibit last week at the New-York Historical Society. In God We Trust: Early Bible Printings from the David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection puts on public display, some for the first time, the most significant examples of early American religious texts.

Those who recall the 2013 sale of the “Bay Psalm Book,” the first book printed in colonial America, for $14.2 million, may remember that its buyer was collector and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein. Only eleven copies of the 1640 tome are known to exist, and his is the only one in private hands. (To read more about the Bay Psalm Book, see Joel Silver’s brief, excellent history here.)


In addition to that “holy grail,” many “firsts” abound here, such as the first American bible printed in a European language and the first bible translated by a woman. Here are a few more “firsts” highlighted in the exhibition:  

2a Eliot IL2018_107_2_title.jpgThe first Bible printed in America: John Eliot’s “Indian Bible,” Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God. Cambridge, 1663 & 1661. David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection.

4a Carey Catholic IL2018_107_7_title.jpgThe first Catholic Bible printed in America: The Holy Bible, Translated from the Latin Vulgate. Printed by Carey, Stewart, and Co., printers. Philadelphia, 1790. David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection.

5 Biblia Hebraica IL2018_107_8a_p130v.jpgThe first Hebrew Bible printed in America: Biblia Hebraica. Printed by William Fry, printer; Thomas Dobson, publisher. Philadelphia, 1814. David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection.

“We are thrilled to display these outstanding examples of early American books, many never before seen by the public and all fruits of Mr. Rubenstein’s passion for collecting American history in the service of the public good,” commented Dr. Louise Mirrer, New-York Historical president and CEO, in a press release.

The exhibition will be on view through July 28.

Images courtesy of the N-YHS

A quiet sale week coming up:


On Thursday, April 25, ALDE sells the library of collector Guy Bigorie, in 250 lots. Estimates are mostly in the three- to low-four-figure range. Some expected highlights include Leconte de Lisle’s Les Érinnyes (1908), with original watercolors by Franz Kupka at €6,000-8,000, and a number of lots all estimated at €4,000-5,000: Chenier’s Les Bucoliques (1905) in a binding by Charles Meunier and with additions; a set of three Flaubert volumes bound by Georges Mercier (1892-1895); Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin (1883) with original Paul-Albert Laurens watercolors and a Gautier autograph poem; Gautier’s La Chaîne d’or (1896) with original drawings and watercolors; mockups for an unfinished Pierre Louÿs work (~1903); Maupassant’s Contes choisis (1891-1892) with an added album of 25 original drawings; and Musset’s Les Nuits (1911) in a striking binding with additional material (pictured below).



Potter & Potter will sell The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet on Saturday, April 27, in 565 lots. The only known copy of a 1911 letterpress broadside advertising a Houdini show at the Southampton Hippodrome, inscribed by Houdini to his magician and collector John Mulholland, rates the top estimate at $15,000-25,000. The auction house notes that British law required that a show be staged before a live audience in order for it to be protected by copyright, and that this performance may have been put on for “an audience of one.” A copy of Harry Kellar’s A Magician’s Tour (1886), incribed by Kellar to magician Howard Thurston, is estimated at $2,500-3,500. Quite a few interesting lithographic posters, &c. in this sale, too.


Image credit: ALDE

Literary forgers have plied their trade as long as there’s been something worth copying, “creating” purely for financial reasons or simply being able to get away with it. Throughout history, some forgers have been content to “gild the lily,” so to speak, while others attempted to rewrite history. Some fakes were so good they did alter history.

Notable literary hoaxes include a document in Emperor Constantine’s hand circa 756 AD that donated land to the Catholic Church. Scholar Lorenzo Valla proved it was a fake in 1440, but the Church suppressed Valla’s findings until 1929 when it finally returned the land in question to Italy.

Sometimes, forgers were seeking approval. In 1794, eighteen-year-old William Henry (W.H.) Ireland showed his bookseller father (and Shakespeare aficionado) a mortgage bearing the Bard’s signature, which happened to turn up in the law office where young W.H. worked. More Shakespeare papers continued to miraculously appear out of this same office, including a love letter and a hitherto unknown Shakespeare play called Vortigern. The Irelands showed the script to a local theater operator, who smelled something fishy but went along with the charade, going so far as to stage it. But the actors, unwilling to play along, eviscerated it in its solo performance, thoroughly mocking Vortigern to the point that W.H. eventually confessed his forgeries. His poor father, meanwhile, insisted until his death that the discoveries were real.

Even Renaissance antiquarians were duped by fabricated testimonies. French humanists like Francois Rabelais believed that Latin texts itemizing the existence of ancient Roman relics beneath modern cities were authentic. In fact, these bogus “revelations” were created by 16th-century forgers cashing in on humanists’ desires to verify their noble Roman heritage.

forgery.JPGBook collections have been intentionally built around forgeries as well--Arthur and Janet Freeman amassed over 1,700 volumes of literary fakes, dubbed the Bibliotheca Fictiva, which was acquired in 2011 by Johns Hopkins University. This collection inspired the recently published Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, edited by Walter Stephens, Earle A. Havens, and Janet E. Gomez (Johns Hopkins Press, $54.95). Thirteen essays composed by some of the world’s leading humanities scholars explore the notion that early forgeries form their own literary genre and, rather than being derided as knock-offs, fakes are very much worthy of serious scholarship.

Truth-twisting, outright fabrication, and efforts to uncover forgeries through history make for entertaining academic investigations, revealing the thin line between what’s real and what isn’t, and why so many people, from collectors to scholars, are willing to overlook inaccuracies.

Victorian art critic John Ruskin got it half right when he wrote in 1843 that, “the essence of lying is in the deception, not in words.” Literary Forgery argues that it’s both.

We learned via the Exlibris list earlier this week that a Little Blue Books bibliography, in the making for more than fifteen years, has been published online by Jake Gibbs. Along the way, Gibbs amassed a collection of 20,000 Little Blue Books, according to the bibliography’s preface. He also examined collections at more than twenty college and university libraries.   

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 1.35.41 PM.pngAs some readers may recall, Steven Cox, the curator of special collections and university archives at Pittsburg State University (PSU) in Pittsburg, Kansas, where the Haldeman-Julius Collection is located, wrote a short history of the Little Blue Books in our summer 2018 issue. Like Cox, Gibbs was inspired by G. Thomas Tanselle to study this once ubiquitous series founded by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius.

Little Blue Books appeal to book collectors for many reasons, including affordability. Indeed, upon hearing of the new bibliography, Andy Foster, a California-based bookseller, replied to Gibbs, “Your work allows ordinary people with limited resources to enter the book collecting world on a solid footing, creating collections of lasting value.”

Other booksellers chimed in to applaud Gibbs’ work, calling it “fabulous” and “awesome.” Kevin Mac Donnell of Mac Donnell Rare Books wrote, “My five inches of Mark Twain LBBs (all different states, imprints, colors, etc.) has been more confounding than my three feet of Twain Tauchnitz publications. It will be fun to sit down with them and see if I had them all sorted out correctly over the years. Wading into a five inch stack of Twain LBBs in the past felt dangerous, but now I’ll have some bibliographic water-wings.”

Image via the Little Blue Books Bibliography site


Suntup Editions, California-based publisher of fine limited editions, will be publishing a special edition of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The publication will include an exclusive introduction by Joyce Carol Oates, seven illustrations by Ryan Pancoast, and a wood engraving by Richard Wagener. Limited to 276 copies, the edition will be presented in both Lettered and Limited states and signed by Oates, Pancoast, and Wagener. 

McCarthy’s The Road, a post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son on a journey through a desolate America, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007 and is widely considered one of the high spots of 21st century literature.

The Limited Edition will be published in full cloth and limited to 250 copies.  The spine will feature a leather foil-stamped label and the cover will include an inset print of the Richard Wagener engraving. Endsheets are Hahnemühle Bugra and the edition is printed offset on Mohawk Via Vellum Flax paper. It will be housed in a cloth covered slipcase.

The Lettered Edition will be published in a hand-sewn Coptic binding with waxed linen threads and limited to 26 copies (A-Z). It will be printed on French Speckletone paper. The pastedown will be Mexican Mayan acid-free paper, handmade with renewable plant fibers. The frontispiece engraving will be a printed letterpress from the original boxwood block. It will be housed in a custom clamshell enclosure.

Publication is scheduled for Fall 2019.  Collectors can pre-order the book currently at https://shop.suntup.press.

[Image provided by Suntup Editions]

batsford general.JPGThe small but interesting exhibition celebrating 175 years of the London publisher Batsford (now an imprint of Pavilion, based in nearby Bloomsbury) is fittingly being held in the capital’s Holborn area where Bradley Thomas Batsford first set up shop in 1843. The last of the 18th-century publisher-booksellers, Batsford initially concentrated on medical titles but quickly focused on art, architecture, fashion, and heritage. The exhibition--sadly, all displayed in glass cabinets--features a wide range of its highly illustrated titles including Architectural Works of Inigo Jones (1901) by Henry Tanner and Inigo Triggs, Cecil Beaton’s Scrapbook (1937) and Gertrude Stein’s memoir Wars I Have Seen (1945) as well as the iconic colorful artwork produced for the travel titles by Brian Cook, one of the Batsford family himself. There is also a copy of J.K. Colling’s English Medieval Foliage and Coloured Decoration (1874) on show, the first publication released under the Batsford imprint, plus more recent unusual titles including the guidebook London and the Single Girl by Betty James (1967) and The Cat-Lover’s Bedside Book edited by Grace Pond (1974). 


batsford beaton.JPGCurated by Frida Green, Vaughan Grylls, Helen Lewis, and Tina Persaud, Batsford: 175 Years of a Bloomsbury Publisher runs until June 28 at the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre


Images: (Top) Installation view of the Batsford exhibition featuring Cook’s imaginary Scottish scene incorporating Eilean Donan Castle from the dust jacket of The Face of Scotland by Harry Batsford and Charles Fry, 1933; (Middle) Beaton’s Scrapbook (under glass). Courtesy of the author    



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


mexicanpoems.pngOn Tuesday, April 16, Printed & Manuscript Americana at Swann Galleries, in 356 lots. Among the expected highlights are a manuscript diary written by William Farrar Smith on the Whiting-Smith expedition from San Antonio to El Paso in 1849 ($30,000-40,000); the first edition of an early work by Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico City, 1677; pictured), also estimated at $30,000-40,000; a copy of a 1614 collection of sermons intended to be delivered in Nahuatl, the first complete copy at auction since the Thomas Phillipps copy was sold in 1986 ($20,000-30,000); and the first law book printed in the Americas (Mexico City, 1563), of which no copy has been recorded at auction for more than eighty years ($15,000-25,000). A lot of more than 340 early American almanacs from Jay Snider’s collection is estimated at $12,000-18,000; at the same estimate is a copy of the May 6, 1775 issue of the Virginia Gazette, featuring reports from Lexington and Concord, and a 1529 manuscript decree protecting the Mexican estates of Hernán Cortés.


Other very interesting lots from this sale include a broadside “extra” of the Detroit Daily Advertiser, printed at 9 a.m. on the morning of April 15, 1865 announcing the death of President Lincoln ($5,000-7,000); manuscript notes by a delegate to the Massachusetts ratifying convention of the Constitution ($2,000-3,000); and George Brinley’s copy of an 1820 Paris auction catalogue of books relating to North America ($2,000-3,000).


Doyle New York holds a sale of Rare Books, Autographs & Maps on Wednesday, April 17, in 352 lots. Autograph drafts of the epilogue to Hemingway’s The Dangerous Summer (1960) could sell for $30,000-60,000 (see Rebecca’s post from last week for more on these), and an imperfect copy of the first edition of Redouté’s Les Roses (1817-1824) is estimated at $30,000-50,000. A first edition of Jane Austen’s Emma in a contemporary binding rates a $30,000-40,000 estimate. A sub-section of this sale, books from the library of a Maine collector, will be highlighted in the next issue of Fine Books & Collections.


At PBA Galleries on Thursday, April 18, a Travel & Exploration - World History - Cartography sale, in 312 lots. A copy of the Paris Atlas Universel (1757-1758) is estimated at $15,000-25,000, while a copy of the 1621 Padua edition of Ptolemy’s Geografia, edited by Giovanni Antonio Magini, could fetch $8,000-12,000. A 1612 Ortelius miniature atlas in a contemporary vellum binding is estimated at $5,000-8,000. A group of seventeen photographs related to Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition rates a $3,000-5,000 estimate. Lots 277-312 are being sold without reserve.


Image courtesy of Swann Galleries

Each semester, the Houghton Library at Harvard University hosts a series of workshops on letterpress printing. The last one for the spring term happens today from 3 to 5 p.m.

Participants (Harvard affiliates only) experience just how printing got done from the fifteenth century until hot metal typesetting in the nineteenth century rendered movable type commercially obsolete.


Each two-hour session, hosted by Houghton’s printing and graphic arts curator Hope Mayo, explores the history and technology of letterpress printing followed by opportunities to set type into the iron handpress and produce a memento of the visit.

Harvard University has employed a printing press since 1638, when the Reverend Joseph Glover had his personal machine and locksmith-turned-printmaster Stephen Daye shipped from England. Daye would eventually print The Bay Psalm Bible in 1640, the first piece of printing to appear in North America. Though an estimated 1,700 copies of Daye’s work were printed, only 11 survive today.

The Houghton Printing Room, meanwhile, took shape in 1938 at the direction of Philip Hofer, the founder of Harvard’s Printing and Graphic Arts Collection, who set up the handpress, type, and other equipment in the basement of Lamont Library so that students could understand the mechanics behind printing books like The Bay Psalm.

Today’s session is full, but the fall semester will bring with it another opportunity to ink up.

One of several thoughts that occurred to me while reading the immensely enjoyable new book Ungovernable: The Victorian Parent’s Guide to Raising Flawless Children was that a collection of Victorian parenting guides could be a fun “new path” (as John Carter might have put it) for beginning book collectors. In this book, author Therese Oneill uses a selection of nineteenth-century advice books to describe child-rearing techniques that surprise and shock, e.g. feeding infants donkey milk is good, but fruit is bad; beating a child with a shoe is recommended, but too much education for girls is not. Oneill keeps it light and tongue-in-cheek, a perfect complement to her first book, Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners.

But I digress. Throughout Ungovernable, and then collected in the bibliography at the end, Oneill points out her source material, thus creating a good starter list for a collection in this subject. Here are some she mentions:

Mother at Home .jpgJohn S.C. Abbott’s The Mother at Home, or The Principles of Maternal Duty, Familiarly Illustrated (New York: Harper, 1855). (The 1852 edition pictured here courtesy of the Internet Archive.)

Thomas Bull’s The Maternal Management of Children, in Health and Disease (New York: Appleton, 1849).

A Few Suggestions to Mothers on the Management of Their Children by “A. Mother” [pseud.] (London: Churchill, 1884).

Theodore Dwight’s The Father’s Book ... (Boston: Merriam, 1835).

Depending upon condition and edition, these are books that can be found in the three-figure range, ideal for budding collectors.

That said, Oneill’s book would make a great Mother’s Day gift, even if the mother you’re buying it for has no interest at all in book collecting.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Eric Albritton of Ed’s Editions in Columbia, South Carolina:


ericaedseditions.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

My father has been selling books since the mid-nineties, I started by helping him move boxes of books and scouting. After college and a short first career working in China, I came back to the family bookstore and began to take it more seriously. 
What is your role at Ed’s Editions?
A bit of everything: acquisitions, customer service, marketing/social media, cataloging, shipping online sales, etc. I’m lucky enough not to handle payroll, taxes and other financial paperwork. My business card says I’m the Manager.
What do you love about the book trade?
I love that books are timeless. I love the mixture of cool interesting material and people I come across. I love that it’s always a work in progress. 
Describe a typical day for you:
Nothing gets done until the cat is fed. I then make a cup of coffee, answer emails, find and prepare online orders. Around the time these tasks are completed, there are (hopefully) a few customers milling about the store and asking questions. I dive into cataloging recent acquisitions, social media, and exceptionally fun paperwork until it is time to feed the cat again and head home.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?
We had a copy of Alice in Wonderland illustrated and signed by Salvador Dali. The illustrations had the surrealism of Dali (drooping clocks and all) set with the characters of Alice in Wonderland. I’m not an art connoisseur but those were some cool illustrations.  
What do you personally collect?
That changes a bit over time. I’ve consistently collected Mark Twain, early pioneer and Native American narratives. Lately I’ve been collecting books on the Black Death and Appalachian/Southern woodworking as well. I keep telling myself woodworking is going to be my new hobby.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Traveling and visiting other bookstores. Cooking, camping, playing with my dogs. Having a beer with friends. And of course...reading.
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
There’s no doubt the book trade has substantially changed over the past 20 years. In some ways it’s still ironing out into what will be its new normal. I don’t think we will ever have the number of open shops that we once had but rare books are still being collected. It seems the more information becomes digitized the more rare books become appreciated for being historical objects as well. Almost half of our rare book customers are under the age of 35. They may not collect what their parents collected but they are indeed collecting.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
This year we’ve got fairs in Virginia (Richmond), Georgia (Decatur), Tennessee (Franklin), and Florida (St. Petersburg) lined up. As for catalogues, we are looking to bring those back in the next year.


[Photo credit: Liz Brooker]


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