July 2010 Archives

If you read my previous post, you’ll know about the Providence Public Library and what its special collections librarian has been up to these days. What might a bookish tourist do while vacationing in Rhode Island this summer? Eric Boutin, a grad student in the MLIS program at the University of RI, alerted me to an exhibit of Civil War ballads he has curated for the University of RI-Kingston, running in August and September. It highlights the PPL’s collection of Caleb Fiske Harris. An extensive online exhibit with tons of great images and explanation is available at the link above.

About 30 miles south, there is much to see in Newport, Rhode Island. Something to put on your list is the Redwood Library’s new exhibit, In Pursuit of Natural History: An Exhibition of Works on Natural History from the Redwood Library Collections, curated by Dr. Philip Weimerskirch. Running now through November 18, it includes the first book on the natural history of the New World, an unrecorded pamphlet by a noted Philadelphia engraver, an elephant folio edition of Audubon’s book on quadrupeds, and more. The Redwood Library is named for its founder, Abraham Redwood, a botanist. 
Something wonderful arrived in my mail last week. Richard Ring, special collections librarian at the Providence Public Library sent a sampling of Occasional Nuggets from the Rare & Special Collections of the Providence Public Library. Each issue highlights something wonderful from the collection -- from the Uncle Tom’s Cabin collection to the manuscript pattern-book of a ship figurehead carver. Ring, a past (and hopefully future) contributor to Fine Books has been writing a blog called Notes for Bibliophiles, but he wrote to me, “I wanted something more tangible, being a book person, so I started this ‘paper blog.’”

cover.jpgThe beautifully designed quarterly, with its covers printed letterpress by the local AS220 Community Print shop, is produced in an edition of 200, nearly half of which are already spoken for by subscribers. According to Rick’s blog, a subscription can be had for the bargain price of $15. Pictured here is Issue #1, Spring 2010.

As some of you may already know, Rick has taken a new professional position. As of August 1, he will be the head curator & librarian of the Watkinson Library at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. However, he will still be available at PPL once a week until a new librarian is named.     

slide_8890_117818_large.jpgThe third in the Huffington Post’s trilogy of “Most Amazing” bookish places (the previous being libraries and independent bookstores), here is their list of the 9 most amazing bookstores: “the places that would make any reader shut their laptop, put aside their eReader, and go out to buy a book. From New York to Portugal to China, we’ve picked the most beautiful, impressive, and inspiring.” It’s worth a look at these beauties. Pictured here is the Cafebreria El Pendulo in Mexico City. 
I am forever fascinated by bibliophiles who go beyond focusing their energy and resources on the collected works of one author to acquiring as many different copies as they can of a single book, oftentimes to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. In A Splendor of Letters I wrote about a collection at the University of Virginia of 400 copies of Lucile, a romantic novel in verse published between 1860 and 1927 in numerous editions, many of them illustrated, and wildly popular in its day, but now virtually forgotten, and the author, Owen Meredith (pseudonym of the poet and statesman Edward Robert Bulwer), a mere footnote in literary history. 

The collection had been assembled by Terry Belanger, recently retired as the founding director of Rare Book School at UVA, as a teaching tool to study various formats used over the years for a single book. I later learned of an even larger Lucile collection at the University of Iowa--almost three times as large, in fact--assembled by Sid Huttner, director there of special collections, and the subject of a dedicated web site known as the Lucile Project. I had the pleasure soon thereafter to meet with Huttner, and to see the collection.

There are some fabulous single-book collections of other titles, too, the late Jock Elliott’s superb Christmas Carol editions coming immediately to mind, and a truly remarkable private collection of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I have had the privilege of seeing on several occasions, but few collectors have the patience (and dare I say the fortitude) to see such a commitment through to these extremes. So it was with uncommon interest that I received a Google news alert yesterday (my name is mentioned parenthetically, thus the heads up) directing me to a piece that had just run in the Sacramento Bee about a collector whose library is brimming with 700 copies of Richard Henry Dana’s 1840 novel, Two Years Before the Mast. Six paragraphs into the story, the reporter, Sam McManis, describes what he saw when he walked into the library of Bill Ewald, a 67-year-old retired firefighter:

At first, it’s just a handsome room: nearly 700 books on oak shelves and display tables, and in cardboard boxes tucked in corners. You smell the mustiness of antiquity. Your eyes catch the glint of gilt spines, the sad fraying of aging cloth covers contrasting with shiny, happy paperbacks.

Then it hits you. These are all the same book.

A proud Californian, Ewald tells McManis he chose to concentrate on Two Years Before the Mast because it is set during the years of the great California gold rush, and because it is one of what veteran collectors know as the Zamorano 80--one of the eighty books determined to be seminal to the history and culture of the Golden State. (The book thief Stephen Blumberg was particularly keen on acquiring all eighty, incidentally, going so far as the steal the Zamorano Club’s own collection of the books, which I wrote about in Chapter 13 of A Gentle Madness.)

Ewald discusses at length his unusual passion in McManis’s piece, and offers some general insights on collecting. There is a sidebar there, too, for beginners looking for pointers, though I have to say I was a bit dismayed by the readers comments posted thus far. one bemusedly calling such an obsession “freaky,” several others fixated on what is obviously a minor error on the part of a headline writer and not the reporter, as anyone who has ever worked for a newspaper will instantly recognize to be the case.

Anyway, give this most entertaining article a look; very nicely done indee

Who Owns Literature?

A Percy Shelley poem is discovered. It is an amazing find. The manuscript belongs to a bookseller. The bookseller owns the piece but do they own the contents on that piece of paper?

The Guardian weighs in...

As the dust settles after all the to-ing and fro-ing over Kafka’s papers, it seems a good time to ask some questions about who, exactly, owns literature.

In most countries, property law means that people can take possession of manuscripts and, in some circumstances, a lone copy of a printed text. In these cases - where only one copy of the work exists - the owners of the manuscript also find themselves in possession of its literature. Yet the two things ought not to be conflated. We can easily envisage an owner owning a manuscript while we collectively own and know the piece of literature it contains. But in the case of the works of Kafka that are lying in those safes, we’re not allowed to do that. Both the manuscripts and the literature are in the possession of the owners.

And of course, it’s not the first time.

One room was abandoned when the piles neared the ceiling, and at some point a subsidence of books blocked the door from the inside, sealing the room off.  He established an annex in the garage, where piles of loose books mingled with unopened purchases from local shops and parcels from overseas....

Unless you are (or used to be) a bookseller in Los Angeles, or you were an especially close reader of Nicholas Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness, the name Michael Hurley is unlikely to mean much to you.  But to more than one generation of booksellers in Los Angeles, Michael Hurley was something of a legend.  

In Basbanes’ Gentle Madness interview with renowned Los Angeles bookseller Glen Dawson, Dawson observed that Hurley “never married...never owned a car...wore the same suit year in and year out...lived in a small house that he rented, and the only furniture he had was bookcases.”  Reading this, one might be inclined to imagine rooms piled high with dog-eared copies of National Geographic, stack upon stack of yellowing newspapers, with perhaps an occasional great tottering mound of paperbacks thrown in for good measure.

But when Hurley passed away in 1984, what folks discovered was...

  • Shakespeare’s Second Folio
  • the 2-volume First Edition of The Life of Samuel Johnson
  • the First Edition of Shelley’s Queen Mab
  • an inscribed First Edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • the First Edition of Winnie the Pooh, signed by Milne and illustrator E. H. Shephard, one of only 20 copies bound in vellum....
among many, many other wondrous items.  All of which had been collected on the salary of a postal clerk over a 50-year period.  Some 35,000 volumes.

Because Hurley died intestate, posterity treated this wonderful collection very, very poorly.  Not only was Hurley’s collection scattered to the winds, but an astounding number of rare and important books were sold for a mere pittance by order of the Los Angeles County Public Administrator . 

We should perhaps be grateful that Dawson’s, which had learned of Hurley’s death from Hurley’s sisters, was able to select some 800 items for more respectful treatment.  These were cataloged by Stephen Tabor in two sales that Dawson’s conducted in August 1984 (catalog # 477, 206 items) and May 1985 (catalog # 479, 554 items).  It is from Tabor’s introduction to these catalogs that we have what little is known about Hurley.  Even with this more respectful treatment of his books, the Prices Realized will make you weep.

Even in death, though, new life arises.  And from the ashes of a great but now obscure book collection arose not only a new generation of book collectors...but booksellers as well.  Lillian Cole, for example....

12thStreet30.jpgThe respected Santa Monica bookseller, a well-known specialist in gemology, was just getting into the bookselling business when Michael Hurley passed away.  She cites Hurley’s death as one of the 3 major influences on her career as a bookseller:

[i]t was [then] that I experienced my very first auction, as well as the acquisition of hundreds of books that became my starter inventory. They were wonderful books on all subjects: travel, poetry, literature, children’s and one gemological book - The Book of the Pearl by Kunz and Stevenson, published 1908. While I recognized it as a very special and unique book, I didn’t have a specialty of any kind at that time, and so tucked it away very carefully for some future time.

Twenty-five years later (July 2009), Cole issued a very special anniversary catalog (depicted above left).  This catalog, along with the two Dawson catalogs and Basbanes’ brief mention of the collector, will likely be Hurley’s only legacy.  For a collection that Roger Gozdecki has estimated was likely worth several million dollars at the time of Hurley’s death, this has to be accounted a major blow to bibliophilia....


Safety deposit boxes in Switzerland.  The crushing weight of bureuacracy.  A long disputed will.  The makings of a Kafka story?  No, just all part of the ongoing saga to release a huge chunk of Kafka’s unpublished writings to the public.

Ten safety deposit boxes full of never-before-seen Kafka manuscripts are trapped in an ongoing trial over disputed ownership.  On one side are two elderly Israeli women who claim to have inherited the manuscripts from their mother.  On the other side is the Israeli National Library who claim the manuscripts should have passed to them.  And in the middle lies a treasure trove of Kafka writings, of untold cultural and monetary value.

A quick summary of the dispute: Kafka dies in 1924.  In his will, he bequeaths his writings to his friend and publisher, Max Brod, instructing him to burn everything unread.  Brod ignores this wish and publishes most of Kafka’s manuscripts anyway, including “The Castle” and “The Trial.”  Brod flees the Nazis and smuggles the remainder of the manuscripts with him into pre-state Israel.  There he dies in 1968, passing on his literary estate to his personal secretary, Esther Hoffe, and instructing her to leave Kafka’s writings to an institution.  Hoffe ignores Brod’s wishes; sells off a few of Kafka’s writings including the original of “The Trial” which sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby’s in 1988.  Hoffe died three years later, leaving the remainder of the papers to her daughters Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler.  The Israeli National Library files an injunction against the execution of Hoffe’s will, claiming the collection should have gone to them.  Finally, a year ago, the Tel Aviv court orders the papers to be examined before making its decision about the case.  And here we are today, with literary experts in two cities examining the contents and a court ruling only a few weeks away.

Kafkaesque indeed.

For more of the story, see the AP article.

Today, the University of South Carolina dedicated its new $18-million, 50,000-square-foot Hollings Library, which will house the university’s S.C. Political Collections, as well as the Irwin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and Digital Collections. Senator Ernest F. Hollings helped the university secure $14 million in federal funds for the LEED Gold building. What’s inside? A vault containing a rare 1699 state charter and numerous first editions. It also contains a Zeutschal scanner -- the only one in the U.S., according to the USC Office of Media Relations. The Zeutschal is a large format scanner that allows library staff to scan folios, maps, and other oversized material. To read more about the state-of-the-art library, see The State. Vice-President Joe Biden (personal friend of Sen. Hollings) was on hand at today’s dedication.

Take a peek inside the new library:

RenegadeCraft.jpgThe Renegade Craft Fair is coming to Los Angeles this weekend. I heard about this fair from the Typeface documentary I watched recently. It’s basically a big fair that features hundreds of independent artists and handmade crafts, including letterpress posters, prints, and stationery. The fair is held in several cities throughout the year (was in Brooklyn back in June, will be in Chicago in Sept., etc.). Looks like the biblio-artists line-up in LA includes Bound in Circles, ExLibris Anonymous, Dandy Lion Press, InVita Paper Studio, Krank Press, Paper & Type, Paper Pastries, Paper Scoundrels, Pie Bird Press, Power & Light Press, RarRar Press, Redstar Ink, Squid Ink Collective, Sweetie Pie Press, Tiselle Letterpress, and more. Could be some very cool finds for collectors of letterpress and/or the Avant-garde.
6574LB.jpgAs some of you may know, Lame Duck Books of Cambridge, Mass., is closing its shop in September. So this will be a summer of liquidation for the Harvard Square bookseller, and collectors stand to save between 25-50% off of books, manuscripts, art, and photography. Bittersweet news. The sale is both online and in store. Pictured here is an inscribed photographic portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright from Lame Duck’s inventory.

Lame Duck owner John Wronoski graciously agreed to answer some questions about the shop’s closure and his experience in the book business. Our Q&A follows.   

RRB: Are you just closing the physical shop, or are you getting out of the business? Why?

JW: The closing of the physical shop is part of a slightly longer-term process in which I’ll be assessing the future prospects of the business. I have an art gallery next door to the current bookshop and I’ll probably try somehow to consolidate the two businesses for some relatively brief period of time while I decide whether it makes sense to continue on in Cambridge, or at all. Although I have no sense that it will be possible to sell the business as a going concern, I’m very much open to that as an option, and I’d do what I could to make it possible for an interested party to acquire it under congenial terms, including staying on as an unpaid adviser during an interim period. Assuming that that won’t happen, I’m intent on liquidating as much of the stock as I can in the relatively near future. It’s highly likely that regardless of what might happen with Lame Duck Books I’d remain active in the book trade after some fashion, whether as an agent in the sale of collections and literary archives, an appraiser or even a consultant, or for that matter a private librarian. It’s too intimate a part of my life to simply abandon it, much though I’ve often fantasized just that.

RRB: How long have you been a book dealer?

JW: I began putting the shop together in Philadelphia in 1983, when I was 24 years old. It opened in January 1984.

RRB: Do you have a favorite piece -- book, mss., letter -- that’s come through your shop?

JW: A lot of them haven’t quite finished coming through it.  My principal focus is literary archives and manuscripts and important association copies of literary works of art, so I’ve handled quite a lot of really extraordinary things. If I had to specify one that made me feel like the air had left the room and I was in the presence of eternity, it would probably be the only known manuscript version of Borges’s Pierre Menard autor del Quixote -- my art gallery is named after it.

RRB: Are you a collector yourself?

JW: Only by virtue of having failed to sell some of my books. I think of myself as more akin to a birdwatcher than to a proper collector. I want to have seen it, maybe even gotten quite close, perhaps even for longer than would seem normal to a lot of people, but I don’t need to possess it in the end.  On the other hand, I’ve sold some astonishing things that I’ve never even touched.

The Art of McSweeney’s

Some twelve years ago, Dave Eggers started a literary journal. It was called McSweeney’s. It is now a literary empire. They publish books. They produce DVDs. They’ve created The Believer magazine. Their website is a daily chuckle-fest. Their publications have won oodles of awards from AIGA and Print, amongst many others. Their work has appeared in the Pasadena Museum and in that one museum in Washington, D.C. called the Smithsonian.

To celebrate their creativity, their artistry, the words they’ve produced and the use of graphic design that is unparalleled, Chronicle Books is publishing Art of McSweeney’s. Within its pages? Interviews with McSweeney’s collaborators like Chris Ware and Michael Chabon and a plethora of insights in regards to their creative process.

title_board.sized.jpgThe Berkshire WordFest gets underway next weekend, July 23-25. This is the inaugural WordFest, what is hoped to be a celebration of words and ideas set in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It will be held at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s historic home and gardens (an absolutely lovely place), in Lenox, Mass. The festival opens Friday evening with a talk by Francine Prose, followed by two days of literary discussions, interviews, readings, signings, and more. Some of the  authors in the weekend’s schedule are Garrison Keillor, Kurt Andersen, Roy Blount, Jr., Simon Winchester, and Susan Orlean. (For a longer preview of WordFest, see the Albany Times-Union.) Several exhibits will also be open for viewing, including Edith Wharton and the First World War and Dramatic License: Wharton on Stage and Screen (see image at left). Having fought its way back from foreclosure, The Mount seems to have a new lease on life and will make a perfect home for WordFest.

We all collect according to our interests and circumstances.  And we often begin our book collecting adventures with very little thought as to what exactly a new-found collecting interest might eventually entail in terms of time, money and effort expended.  

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.  Some of the world’s greatest book collections have begun serendipitously and proceeded willy-nilly for a number of years.  At some point, though, virtually every book collector realizes that he or she will not live forever.  Thus it is that book collectors often devise some sort of plan to better utilize their remaining years and resources.

These plans run the gamut from very simple to very complex.  The best of these can easily hold their own against the collection development plans of professional librarians.  It sometimes dawns upon book collectors who have reached this point that they no longer are collecting for themselves...they are collecting for posterity.

Of course, a few especially thoughtful collectors may actually begin their book collecting adventures with a plan firmly in place.  More frequently, though, most book collectors simply...begin.  Especially for book collecting that is generated by a response to something “in the news,” it may be years before any sort of plan suggests itself.  

Consider the BP oil spill.  How does one build a meaningful book collection about this event, given that the impact of the event may not be fully known for decades?  

Perhaps one starts by adding to one’s bookshelves titles about oil spills in general (mindful that such titles have been published for both adult and juvenile markets).  One may discover that oil companies (and their suppliers) have published a great many titles that anticipate the possibility of oil spills (response guides and the like) , and thus these also may be added to one’s bookshelves.  What else?

Biographies, autobiographies and histories of the major players (British Petroleum, Tony Hayward, etc.) would seem to be important for such a collection.  As would material published in response to the event (Congressional hearings; leaflets, broadsides and other ephemeral printed material issued by activists in affected areas; etc.).  [Because the Federal Government is committed to making the documents of its various agencies available electronically, one may have to print such documents oneself to add them to one’s bookshelves.]

As time passes, one also may be able to add to one’s shelves scientific analyses of the spill’s impact on various environments, local economies and so forth; technical treatises on how well the technologies deployed in response to the spill did or did not work; memoirs of particular individuals affected by the spill (local fishermen, politicians, etc.); and so on and so on and so on.

But this event is still unfolding, and so book collectors who are collecting in response to this event may be forgiven for not yet knowing exactly where they are going, or where they may eventually end up.  Whether they are collecting simply for themselves, or for posterity....
tradefront3.jpgFine Books Press, an imprint of FB&C magazine, recently published Nick Basbanes’ About the Author: Inside the Creative Process. Here’s a glowing review from the July issue of the Midwest Book Review:

Nicholas Basbanes was literary editor of the Worcester, Massachusetts Telegram & Gazette from 1978-1991, in which capacity he was able to interview hundreds of authors whose publicity tours took them through the city of Boston. In “About the Author: Inside the Creative Process”, Basbanes draws upon his conversations with an immense diversity of literary greats ranging from Alfred Kazin, Arthur Miller, John Updike, and Toni Morrison, to Doris Lessing, Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Simon and Alice Walker, to explore the motivations and processes that authors experience and utilize to create their novels, poetry, histories, and other literary works. A fascinating read from beginning to end, this 246-page compendium is as informed and informative as it is insightful and inspiring. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, “About the Author: Inside the Creative Process” is highly recommended reading and a seminal work for both academic and community library Literary Studies reference collections.

Well-done, Nick! About the Author is available in both a trade edition and a signed limited edition in the FB store. 
There’s an important article in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education by Jennifer Howard (follow her on Twitter at @JenHoward) about bibliography’s place in today’s academic culture. Good quotes here from David Vander Meulen and Michael Suarez, among others - Michael’s quotes about theory vs. praxis are particularly useful, I think.

Howard also touches on some places that are doing very interesting things with bibliographic instruction: not just Rare Book School, but also Texas Tech (where bibliography is embedded in the English Department’s curriculum), and Florida State, home of the three-year History of Text Technologies program.

I don’t say this often, but I will for this one: read the whole thing.
Recently I was browsing in the wonderful little Hudson Valley town of Rhinebeck, New York, when some window dressing caught my eye (pun intended). Inside a lovely paper and stationery shop called Paper Trail was an exhibit of paper dresses and shoes. The shop happened to be closed at the time, so when I returned home, I went straight to my computer to research the shop and the exhibit. The exhibit is called Texture con Texture, and it features the work of Linda Filley and Ramon Lascano. Filley makes paper dresses and shoes, and Lascano makes conceptual book art and altered book art. Both are stunning.

The paper fashions were something I had never seen before, and I was quite taken with them. As examples, Filley’s Bluebird dress and Shoe Boot are pictured here. I emailed her to ask more about it, and here is our Q&A.

BlueBird-frntl.jpgRRB: How did you come up with the idea for paper dresses and shoes? I’ve seen paper jewelry before, but never anything like this!

LF: The dresses came about when Maureen and Serine [owners of Paper Trail] bought the forms to use for a holiday ornaments display. After the holidays they suggested weaving some paper through the forms which are made of wire. It all came so naturally to me. I have always loved fashion and wrapping gifts so the two finally met. That was 4 1/2 years ago and I have probably made about 20 dresses since. The shoes are a recent project. I made 1 each for Maureen and Serine this past holiday season and used them for the topping of their presents. Maureen then suggested I make some more and we could include them in the Spring show which was the second one Ramon and I have done at Paper Trail. The first show was called Fashion and Fiction.

RRB: How do you describe your art -- or yourself -- book art, book artist? paper designer?

LF: I guess I would describe myself as a paper artist. I have always loved to make something from nothing and make it as appealing as possible. The next best thing to making the dresses and shoes is the search for different material and to use it outside of its original intent, e.g. packaging material, odd little bits of ribbon from the store and the plastic mesh bags that onions come in.

shoeboot400l.jpgRRB: What is your artist background?

LF: I am self-taught. I have been drawn most of my life to making visual stories out of different items whether it be window/table display for a store or just placing things picked up from a walk.

RRB: It’s interesting to me that Paper Trail -- a retail paper & gift store -- is holding an art exhibition. How did this collaboration come about?

LF: Three years ago  when Maureen and Serine moved Paper Trail from the back space to its current location, it gave them a new chance to expand the scope of the store beyond gifts and stationery. The room on your left when you first enter the store is a natural space for displaying art.

Paper couture, I like it. If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Paper Trail. You can also see images from the exhibit online.

1926hellinnewjersey-460x632.jpgI could not pass up the opportunity to share this striking Image of the Week from ephemerastudies.org. (Sorry, I grew up in NJ, actually quite close to the city featured in this 1926 booklet, so I found it particularly amusing.)

Ephemera Studies is a rather new website, curated by Saul Zalesch of Louisiana Tech University. He posts all kinds of amazing American ephemera. Take a gander at his gallery.  
So July 4th weekend has come and gone, the hot hot weather is finally here (at least in my neck of the woods), and I have spent some time with some beach reading. Beach reading for the literary set, I should append. Beach reading for the collecting set, I might even add.

69026012.JPGTwo such novels caught my eye this summer. Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector (Dial Press, 2010) just went on sale last week. It’s terrific. Goodman h been round the literary circuit before -- her debut was a National Book Award finalist, and her most recent a New York Times bestseller. But this book appeals to the bookish in a whole new way. The main characters are two intelligent twenty-something sisters, Jessamine and Emily. Emily is the CEO of a Silicon Valley start-up, who seems just a little too sweet and ethical for the job. The younger and less ambitious Jess works part-time at Yorick’s Used and Rare Books in Berkeley when she’s not out trying to save the redwoods. But Jess becomes enamored by a set of rare cookbooks that her boss acquired. With his encouragement, she begins cataloguing the books, finding erotic drawings and poems in the margins that signal the former owner’s obsession with an unknown woman. One might think from this description that the novel’s plot would focus on this mystery, a la Matthew Pearl, but it is but one element in a grander scheme of loves, losses, and lucidity. Bibliophiles who enjoy novels should not miss it. Where else in modern fiction are you going to read a line of dialogue like this, “You think there’s something materialistic about collecting books, but really collectors are the last romantics. We’re the only ones who still love books as objects.”

62164160.JPGThe second novel in my proverbial beach bag is The Summer We Read Gatsby (Viking, 2010) by Danielle Ganek. Set in the Hamptons, this novel is about two half-sisters, somewhat estranged and brought together when they inherit a beach cottage called Fool’s House (after the Jasper Johns painting). The recently divorced Cassie is back in the United States for one month to settle the estate of her aunt, while her eccentric sister Peck plays socialite. Their aunt, a sometime artist and art collector, told them there was something of “utmost value” to be found in the house, so between parties, dates, and shopping sprees, a secret or two percolates. Cassie thinks the valuable thing might be a Fitzgerald first edition:

    “I don’t know why, but I had this idea we might find a first-edition Great Gatsby hardcover with a dust jacket. Signed, maybe.”
    “What would that be worth?” Peck asked, scoffing. “Nothing. Maybe a few grand?”
    “Signed?” I reached for the packet of letters and untied the ribbon. “Those things are worth a lot to some people.” [Note: Like $180,000 at Bonhams record-breaking auction last year.]

Less intricate than Goodman’s novel, Ganek’s story is winsome nonetheless. Enjoy!

For several decades now it’s been well nigh impossible to avoid predictions about the demise of the printed book.  In addition to all the hand-wringing about ebooks eventually replacing printed books altogether, there is the usual moaning and groaning about all those other things that steal precious minutes away from reading: TV, video games, the Internet, (insert here your own personal villain). Much of this is targeted at what all this means for “the younger generation.”  If kids today aren’t reading, for whatever reason, from whence will arise the next generation of book collectors?

yuck-icky-sticky-gross-stuff-in-your-garden-pam-rosenberg-hardcover-cover-art.jpgAs I have observed elsewhere, my personal opinion is that much of this hand-wringing is a bit over-wrought. As any parent knows, it’s not that difficult to get a child to relish reading at an early age.  The key is not to push that whole “joy of reading Homer in the original Greek” at the age of three.  

Rather, focus on what the child knows, can relate to, and has an interest in: poop, for example.  Or just about any other bodily function.  Books about bugs also would make for a nice beginning book collection--the higher the bug ranks on your child’s personal icky-ness meter, the better.  Very young children, especially, have an insatiable curiosity about themselves, adults, the natural world, which curiosity can readily be put to good use creating a new generation of book collectors.

To paraphrase Gordon GeckkoGross...is good. Gross is right.  Gross works!

[P.S.  Due to prior commitments this Sunday, this is appearing a couple of days early.]
A swell slide show is available for your perusal and edification, care of the Huffington Post.

Pictured above: An inscribed first-edition copy of Oliver Twist. It sold, setting a world record for the most expensive Charles Dickens books.
[Note: For background, see my preview of this sale, here.]

The sale of the first portion of the Arcana Collection was held this afternoon at Christie’s London, for a total take of £8,169,800. Results are listed here. Just eight of the 48 lots failed to sell, but three of the major pieces were among them.

Things got started pretty quickly, with Lot 2, an early German Bible (1477) beating estimates and selling for £169,250. While Boccaccio’s De claris mulieribus (1473), estimated at £250,000-350,000, did not find a buyer, his Decameron, bound with Masuccio’s Novellino, fetched £361,250 (again surpassing estimates). Jean Grolier’s copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilimade £313,250, and the amazing copy of Hieronymus’ Epistolae (1470) fetched £937,250. A 1484 Paris edition of Ovid sold for £97,250while Pliny’s Historia naturalis (Venice, 1476) made £313,250.

The Latin Nuremberg Chronicle sold for £67,250 (beating the estimates handily), and then theGerman copy (with illuminations) made an eye-popping £541,250 (estimates had it at £120,000-160,000).

The expected big-ticket items among the illuminated manuscripts didn’t do much: the Abbey Bible, a fabulously-illuminated manuscript on vellum (Bologna, 1260s) and the Elizabeth de Bohun psalter/book of hours (England, 14th century), both estimated at £2 million plus, didn’t sell. Nor did the Cauchon Hours.

There was a little manuscript action, though: a manuscript of Bartholomaeus Anglicus’ Le livre des propriétés des choses (Paris, c. 1390), beat expectations to become the top seller of today’s sale, reaching £1,105,250. An illuminated triptych on vellum over wood panels (Bruges, c. 1540) made £241,250, as did a pair of French books of hours from around the 1460s (Lots 36 and 37). A French manuscript of Ovid’s Heroides (Paris, c. 1493), with lovely miniatures, made £601,250 (within the estimate range). And the Hours of François I fetched £337,250 (on estimates of £300,000-500,000).

Overall, not bad, but not a good day for the headliners.
cvwonder.jpgNovelist Harlan Ellison is selling off some stuff--including many scripts, first editions, and comics--from his collection. From his site: “It’s been more than two years since the last book purge, and we’ve found, acquired, and assembled more interesting Ellison goodies from from his personal ‘underground archives.’”

Book Purge 2010 began yesterday and runs through Thursday. A black-and-white HTML version of the for-sale list is available here, with descriptions at the bottom.

Image: Ellison Wonderland. Signet paperback. Art by Robert Pepper.
photo-large-amos_cover.jpgSeveral weeks ago, I reviewed an excellent new documentary called Typeface. Over this past weekend, I had the chance to see another fantastic documentary about letterpress printing. Proceed and Be Bold follows Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., who, at the age of 40, gave up a rather comfortable life to follow his dream of becoming a master printer. The film was released in late 2008, but is still screening all over the country. By turns provocative and poignant, Kennedy’s story is an inspiring one. Produced and directed by Laura Zinger of 20k Films, Proceed and Be Bold will be of interest to all you book- and print-loving readers out there (and your spouses too). At the center is this delightful character--in his overalls--who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules, but we also get a look at the world of art printing and how it is evolving.   

But don’t just take my word for it, enjoy a short preview here.

And, one last thing: Kennedy’s bold prints are available online. Browse his poster gallery.

What better way for bibliophiles to observe the Fourth of July than to reflect a bit on the legendary passion the author of the Declaration of Independence had for his books, and for the care he took not only in selecting them, but in one amusing instance, expressing his regrets to a hopeful bookseller trying to make a sale.

Thomas Jefferson’s best known comment on the subject--“I cannot live without books”--was confided in a letter to John Adams in 1815, and has been celebrated on everything from coffee mugs to T-shirts. (I used it myself fifteen years ago as one of four epigraphs for A Gentle Madness.) But in another letter written four years earlier Jefferson made clear that while books certainly were essential to his sanity and well-being, he was not about to read everything that might come his way.

Responding to a query submitted to him by his friend Thomas Law to subscribe his name for a translation of a French atlas of the world then in preparation, Jefferson wrote a lengthy letter of considerable wit that expressed why such a purchase made little sense for him. It begins thusly:

“I am now entered on my 69th year. The tables of mortality tell me I have 7 years to live. My bibliomany has possessed me of perhaps 20,000 volumes. Of these there are probably 1000 which I would read, of choice, before I should the historical, genealogical, chronological, & geographical Atlas of M. Le Sage. But it is also probable I shall decamp before I get through 50. of them,.Why then add an unit to the 19,950 which I shall never read? To encourage the work?”

The full text of Jefferson’s wonderful response has been edited and published online by The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Retirement Series, based in Monticello, Virginia, and embarked on creating a definitive edition of Jefferson’s  papers for the period from 1809 to 1826. 

Editor of the series is J. Jefferson Looney, who my wife and I had the good fortune to meet a few weeks ago at the Horatio Alger Society annual meeting. Jeff kindly sent this letter along, which I saved for use today. He advises me too that this letter is previously unpublished, so it should be of considerable interest to admirers of Jefferson, especially as it relates to his “bibliomany.” Indeed, two-thirds of Jefferson’s outgoing correspondence--and 80 percent of what he received--edited by the Retirement Series thus far has not been published before.

So check out the Retirement Series site, it’s great fun.

Folks sometimes forget that not everyone living in late 18th century America supported the cause of revolution.  In fact, historians estimate that some 20% of the population actually supported Great Britain.  For lots of reasons: family ties; financial ties; fear of mob rule; conscientious objection....

However, as patriots gained control of publishing centers in the 1770s, broadsides, pamphlets and books published in support of the loyalist cause naturally became increasingly scarce, and today such items often fetch very tidy sums.

0872206947.jpgJames Rivington, the pre-eminent loyalist publisher, saw not a few of his publications (e.g., Joseph Galloway’s A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims of Great-Britain and the Colonies, 1775) put to the torch in several colonies.  Other loyalist publications--those of the Rev. Samuel Seabury (America’s 1st Episcopal bishop) and Daniel Leonard, for example--suffered similar indignities, anonymity being no shield against patriotic fervor.

Fortunately, surviving loyalist tracts often are available in modern reprints.  Thus, even book collectors who are disinclined to spend time and money seeking out original examples of the opposition press can still create reasonably balanced collections....
When I was in Charlottesville, VA in June for Rare Book School, I came across a book with a very interesting provenance during one of the bookshop jaunts (in this case, to Franklin Gilliam Rare Books on South Street). Well, the book arrived in the mail this week, so I can finally write about it in more detail.

The book itself I can’t say much about yet since I’ve not read it, but it is I Says, Says I; a novel, by Thinks-I-To-Myself (i.e. Edward Nares). This is the first American edition, published at Boston by Bradford & Read and Philadelphia by Anthony Finley [printed at Boston by Munroe & Francis], dated 17 October 1812 (the first edition was published at London, also in 1812). A light penciled note on the title page appears to read “Trash, Trash” (which may be an indication of the quality of the text - you can judge for yourself if you wish, since Google Books has scanned this edition).

No, the interesting thing about this book is the signature(s) on the title page (pictured at left, full-size version here). The upper signature reads “Jean Skipwith / Prestwould”, and the other (in red ink faded to a very bright pink) “Lionel Skipwith - 1895.”

I’ve written about Lady Jean Skipwith (1748-1826) before (here), after I finished adding her library to LibraryThing. She was the most voracious female book collector in early America; her library included a vast number of novels and other literary writings (I suspect she had a fair majority of all English novels written by women during her lifetime; check out her author cloud). In her will she left 200 volumes each to her daughter-in-law Sarah Nivison Skipwith (wife of her son Humberston) and her two daughters Helen and Selena.

Sarah Nivison Skipwith having died before her mother-in-law, the books meant for her were apparently given to her widower, Jean’s son Humberston Skipwith (1791-1862). From there this novel likely passed to Humberston’s son Grey (1840-1895), and from him to his son Lionel (1882-1918); the date of Lionel’s signature coincides with the year of his father’s death.

So this book has quite a story (to me, an irresistible one, in fact), and that’s why it’s now on my shelves.

In honor of our upcoming national holiday, take a moment to hear about the New York Public Library’s copy of the Declaration of Independence -- the copy once owned by Jefferson. In the video, curator William Stingone explains why it’s so special.

67898-large.jpgOn Saturday, Peter Rabbit: The tale of The Tale opens at the V&A Museum in London. It traces the evolution of that naughty little bunny, from 1893, when Beatrix Potter first wrote about him, until today. This exhibit caught my eye because our summer issue (in the mail as I type) has a wonderful article about children’s book illustration and art and how popular it has become at major museums in the past few years. Curious George, Babar, and the work of Maurice Sendak, in particular. Now, Peter Rabbit joins in the fun.

Image copyright F. Warne & Co., 2010. Courtesy of the V&A.
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