August 2010 Archives

On Thursday, PBA Galleries in San Francisco will hold an auction of Beer, Wine & Food: The Marlene & Doug Calhoun Gastronomical Library. Section I will contain books on beer, wine, and other libations, while section II focuses on food, cookery, and domestic economy. The Calhouns, who have been ABAA (and PBFA) booksellers, developed the collection over decades, traveling in the U.S., England, and Scotland. According to the sale catalogue, Doug Calhoun used the collection to write a bibliography on beer books that is “about finished now.”

In addition to brewing manuals and early ‘art of brewing’ titles (such as the rare English one pictured at left from 1692 with an estimate of $5,000-$8,000), section 1 contains early twentieth-century Guinness guidebooks, brewery souvenirs and coasters, and The Savoy Cocktail Book: Being in the main a complete compendium of Cocktails, Rickeys, Daisies, Cobblers, Fixes, and other Drinks from 1930.
Mary_Shelley_f556.jpg In honor of Mary Shelley’s birthday today (she was born in 1797), here are a few goodies about Mary from Fine Books

Ian McKay’s auction report from May of last year detailing a review copy of Frankenstein:
That very review copy of the 1818 first edition, the three volumes, bound as one in period calf, lacked the half-titles and advertisements and there was spotting throughout, but firsts of Frankenstein are rare beasts, and those shortcomings were in some way compensated for by its unusual provenance. It made £36,425 ($52,090).
roughtp.jpg There is not much mystery about Balham nowadays--unless it be why anyone should wish either to go or stay there; but in the summer of 1876 it was a name to conjure with, a word of sinister significance and power, compelling for many months the attention of the English-speaking race. ...

Don’t reach for that Collected Sherlock Holmes on your bookshelf--Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t pen the above. Nor did Wilkie Collins. Nor did any other novelist of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

The above quotation is in fact not from a work of fiction at all. Malice Domestic, or The Balham Mystery, is a report about a real-life crime, one of many penned by an extraordinary individual with whom few book collectors nowadays are likely to be acquainted--even though that individual virtually invented the genre of true crime as we know it today.
800px-Kindle_2_-_Volume.jpg ... but certainly not the first.

The Atlantic knows this. In fact, there have been oodles of reading revolutions before the Kindle Revolution. Indeed, Tim Carmody runs them down for us.

From the piece ...

5. The shift from scroll to codex was in turn enabled by a shift from papyrus to parchment and then paper, but honestly, the continual changes in materials essential to writing and reading alone could constitute a few dozen revolutions, at different places and times all over the world. Let’s just say that what the

Retired FBI agent Robert Wittman’s new memoir Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures (Crown, 2010), written with journalist John Shiffman, begins and ends, appropriately, with the biggest case Wittman ever worked on: the greatest unsolved art heist in history, by which I mean the blockbuster 1990 thefts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Wittman suggests in the book that he (through underworld contacts) was probably within days or weeks of recovering the paintings several years ago, but that bureaucratic infighting and turf battles between various FBI offices and foreign law enforcement agencies blew the deal.

Reading the chapters in which Wittman recounts how this happened was incredibly frustrating, because if Wittman’s version is accurate (and frankly he seems to have established some pretty serious credibility over the years), the Gardner art might be back where it belongs (about a half mile from where I sit as I type) and not languishing in some European gangster’s storage unit (Wittman has said he believes the paintings are--or at least were fairly recently--probably in Spain or southern France).
A new exhibit titled Experimental Women in Flux: Selective Reading in the Silverman Reference Library opened at the Museum of Modern Art earlier this month. Fluxus, if you’re not familiar, is an avant-garde art form that emerged in the 1960s. As described on MoMA’s site: “With an emphasis on performance and play, Fluxus artists aimed to bring art and life together, collapsing the traditional divisions between mediums and undermining the authority of the artist through collaboration and audience participation.”

4-ChadwickDoor.jpgIn 2009, MoMA acquired the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, which included the reference library of more than 1,500 artists’ books, event scores, exhibition catalogues, periodicals, and examples of the alternative press. This exhibit, organized by Sheelagh Bevan with David Senior, includes the work of artists like Alison Knowles, Takako Saito, Mieko Shiomi, Yoko Ono, Dorothy Iannone, and others. Shown here at left is Helen Chadwick and David Mayor’s conceptual photobook, Door to Door, from Beau Geste Press (1973).

The exhibit runs through Nov. 8 at MoMA’s Cullman Education & Research Building (entrance at 4 West 54th St.).
For the last couple of weeks, the booktryst blog has been running a series of moving tributes to a legendary California bookseller under the collective heading, “A Wake for the Still Alive: Peter B. Howard.” People who either don’t know Peter or who have never been to Serendipity Books might reasonably regard this as audacious at best, but since everything about Peter is completely honest and candid, it is very much in character. For a case in point, just take a look at his no-nonsense website. “If you’re in Berkeley, California, feel free to come in and browse,” he writes. “We are usually friendly.”
scan0001.jpg One of the reasons that my wife and I get along so well is that we both suffer from some of the same afflictions. Both of us have seriously collected books for decades. We both love simple, honest food. And we both love film, especially quirky, independent films.

And thereby hangs a tale. For we have found that simply by purchasing DVDs of many of our favorite films, we also have enlarged our respective book collections.

How so? Well, at first accidentally, then deliberately, by buying a fair number of the films which interest us from a single film distributor, The Criterion Collection.
The highly-respected English novelist A.S. Byatt says that women who write industrial-strength fiction are treated by critics as oddities, “like a dog standing on its hind legs.”

Byatt said this while firmly standing on the only two legs she has as she addressed the Edinburgh international book festival this week, accepting the James Tait Black memorial prize for her novel, “The Children’s Book.” Previous recipients of this literary award, Britain’s oldest, include D.H. Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.

POTUS Seen Buying Books

POTUS, otherwise known as the President of the United States, is vacationing in Vineyard Haven on Nantucket Island and made his first public appearance today. Emerging from Blue Heron Farm at precisely 11:40 a.m., the President and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, made a bee-line by motorcade to a locally-renowned bookstore, Bunch of Grapes. His selections? Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and, for himself, Johnathan Franzen’s “Freedom.”
It is unclear how POTUS obtained the latter, since it is not scheduled to be officially published until August 31st. Perhaps a Congressional investigation will be required.<gr>

On the 4th of July in 2008, the bookstore, a village icon, was decimated by a fire.

This bookstore was also a favorite of Bill Clinton, for whom the bookstore was closed with whatever customers were inside unable to leave or any new customers permitted to enter by the Secret Service. We must presume that a similar protocol was observed today with the current POTUS.
7850.jpg Richard Goodman, known to you all as a long-time FB&C contributor, has published his third book, A New York Memoir, which hits stores this week. The story begins in 1975, when Goodman arrived in New York City, where he lives today. It follows the author as he meets remarkable people and grapples with the city’s ups and downs. Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue, said of the book, “So much more than an engaging memoir of New York, this is a heart laid bare. One can learn much from this man who feels tender toward cobblestones and old women, nostalgic about a daughter’s childhood, frightened at the prospect of dying alone—a rare individual who, with honesty, sensuousness, and keen observation, turns yearning and remembrance into art.”

Taking this opportunity to chat with Richard about something aside from rare books and deadlines, I asked him about creating this memoir and about his life in New York City.
Golden Legend Inc. of Beverly Hills, California, has just published a limited edition of John Ward and His Magnificent Collection, which looks at Ward as an educator, collector, and curator. Ward devoted his life to collecting rare music scores and original editions, all of which are now at Harvard.

From the book’s introduction: “The purpose of John Ward and His Magnificent Collection, call it another festschrift, is to examine and celebrate John Ward’s labors since his retirement. In these twenty five years, his second career continues the first and expands his work as a collector and curator of a vast and internationally important collection of original music and dance material for the Harvard University libraries.”

Edited by bookseller Gordon Hollis, the 168-page book contains an introduction by Hollis and a transcription of an engaging interview between Hollis and Ward. It also contains chapters by noted antiquarian music dealers John and Jude Lubrano (“La Chasse et Le Professeur; or, Reminiscences of Four Decades on the Prowl”), Sir Curtis Price (“Origins of the King’s Theatre Collection”), and Professor D.W. Krummel (“Lutebooks on the Loose”), among other curators and librarians.

The edition of 200 in hardcover costs $75 and may be ordered directly from Golden Legend. All profits will go to the Harvard Theatre Collection.

To read more about antiquarian music collecting, check out the feature written by Joel Silver from FB&C’s May issue.  
A few days ago, this story popped up in the AP about a trove of nineteenth-century architectural drawings of Central Park features and other public spaces in New York City. It seems that a New Jersey real estate broker named Sam Buckley, who inherited the documents from his father, recently placed many of them with Christie’s for an upcoming sale. Buckley said his father told him he found them in a city dumpster sometime before 1960. Now seen as priceless city archives, “The city asked a court to order the drawings turned over or award at least $1 million in damages” reported the AP. My reaction to that is, “What?!” I would love to hear what our readers think.

Bethesda Fountain and Terrace in NYC’s Central Park. Drawings of these features by
architect Jacob Wrey Mould are the subject of legal wrangling. Credit: Alonso Javier Torres. 

Incidentally, in this month’s digital edition, I reviewed David Howard’s new book, Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic which touches upon the same issues. How can anyone determine how an historic document was acquired 50 or 150 years ago? How much time can pass before cities, states, or governments are no longer able to make ownership claims? Particularly if they never attempted to get to back (e.g. in North Carolina), or never even knew it existed (e.g. in New York), or discarded it back in the days when ‘institutional archives’ were attics and basements with poor security and little professionalism.  

You may soon have an opportunity to purchase America’s largest collection of books. The asking price will be steep and you will have to compete with one of Forbes’ “400 Richest Americans.”

Barnes and Noble announced on August 3rd that it is thinking of selling itself. Why? The push may be coming from billionaire Ron Burkle, who likes to buy and sell supermarket chains and is part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s been acquiring stock in Barnes and Noble since 2008, although he is not a majority shareholder.

Most discussions about bookstores eventually head down one conversational aisle: e-books. Burkle is convinced that Barnes and Noble should become - wait for it - a consumer electronics company.  He doesn’t just mean that Barnes and Noble’s e-book reader, NOOK, should compete more heavily with Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, he feels that Barnes and Noble stores should go all out and become a retailing hydra: selling books, e-book readers and consumer electronics products from Hewlett-Packard. (Think Apple Stores with “Twilight” and Dan Brown novels over near the restroom.)

Burkle has been involved in a nasty proxy lawsuit with the Barnes and Noble board. The Delaware judge overseeing the fight, Vice Chancellor Leo Strine, struck down Burkle’s suit, writing in his ruling, “At bottom, Yucaipa is simply positioning an absurd scenario at best fit for a discussion by a Red Bull fueled group of nerdy second year law school corporate law junkies, who find themselves dateless (big surprise) on yet another Saturday night.”

Ouch.  Talk about being kicked in the nook.

header_right.jpgThe 18th annual conference for the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing begins on Tuesday in Helsinki, Finland. Titled “Book Culture From Below,” the conference’s focus is book culture among ‘everyday’ readers (peasants and proletarians). More than 250 scholars from various fields will delve into topics like Twentieth-Century Reading and Book Markets, Private Libraries in Rural Cultures, Publishing Fairy Tales in New Contexts, Transmission of Books and Manuscripts, and Materiality of Books, among others. The program lists numerous panel discussions and lectures (with links to PDF documents that contain abstracts on each topic). A few of the events will be available through webcasts.

Book historians doing webcasts? In a recent email, SHARP’s vice-president, Dr. Ian Gadd of Bath Spa University wrote, “SHARP 2010 in Helsinki will be the most online SHARP conference yet, with webcasting, Facebook, Flickr photographs, and Twitter.” So there are ways for those of us with an interest (that is not necessarily academic) to participate in this fascinating conference.

It should also be noted that SHARP recently redesigned its website, which is now a scholarly nook for book history news, academic events, and research guides. 
I sometimes encounter at book fairs, trade shows and the like, book collectors who complain that “there’s nothing new to collect.”  This often is after these collectors have come away empty-handed from such affairs, despite several hours spent wandering concrete floors.

Perhaps the subjects or authors they collect are subjects and authors other collectors also collect.  This can lead to depleted bookseller inventories, to much higher prices than they are accustomed to (or willing to) pay, and so forth.  

It is then that such collectors often seek what John Carter termed New Paths in Book Collecting--which is to say, there must be some interesting author or subject out there that no other book collector has yet latched on to--something that can be collected comprehensively, and relatively inexpensively, because no one else is yet collecting it.  But what?

Hello...!  Have you ever heard of libraries?!  What about bookstores?!  A few hours of wandering aimlessly about either of these will expose you to countless collecting possibilities.

Oops.  “My bad!”  I forgot that municipalities nationwide are shuttering their libraries.  And are just as rapidly withdrawing their support for brick-and-mortar independent bookstores.  So much for serendipity.

Or not.  The Internet is brimming with serendipity, as anyone can vouch for who has ever wasted time on social networking sites like StumbleUpon.  Consider, for example, the book collecting possibilities of a topic I recently came across in just such a serendiptious manner, synesthesia....

According to MedicineNet, synesthesia is a medical condition in which normally separate senses are not separate. Sight may mingle with sound, taste with touch, etc. The senses are cross-wired. For example, when a digit-color synesthete sees or just thinks of a number, the number appears with a color film over it. A given number’s color never changes; it appears every time with the number. Synesthesia can take many forms. A synesthete may sense the taste of chicken as a pointed object. Other synesthetes hear colors.

Why collect books about this subject (assuming oneself or a loved one does not have this condition)?  Well, for one thing, the printed literature is not that vast. The earliest reference I could locate was a pamphlet published in 1820.  Most of the literature dates from the mid-20th century onwards.  Not more than a few hundred titles altogether.

Moreover, the majority of these titles do not appear to be particularly expensive (a couple of typical examples are depicted below).

Articles about synesthesia might also warrant some space on one’s bookshelves--many of these are readily available electronically (although the more scientific articles often require payment for access).  As with books, the literature is not that vast...yet.

Of course, someone may already have beaten you to the punch, and is furiously collecting everything he or she can about synesthesia....

In the current issue of Drew Magazine (of Drew University in Madison, NJ), editor Renee Olson brings to light a document buried deep in the university’s archives, a document I had the pleasure of holding in my hands when I worked on the Drew Library’s Gibbons collection back in 2004 and 2005. Her article, “Paper Cuts,” describes a racist caricature and poem about Sally Hemings that Thomas Gibbons owned. Gibbons, a wealthy Southern planter, mayor, and steamboat magnate, was notoriously anti-Jeffersonian. The drawing is titled “Mrs. Sally Jefferson.” The artist/poet can only be guessed at, and until recently, the document itself was unknown to all but a few Drew librarians and researchers. When Olson spoke to Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses: An American Family, she was told that only two other representations of Hemings are known. 
loc-app.pngThe Library of Congress launched an iPhone or (iPod Touch) app this week (you can download it here), which includes photo galleries, audio and video tours, and background essays on many of the library’s major collections. The section on Jefferson’s Library is particularly worth a browse (but then, I’m a bit biased).

Picture 2.pngThe Raab Collection, historic document dealers located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, has just published a new catalogue titled Great Collections: The 19th Century. Fully accessible online, the new guide includes chapters on how to build a collection, tips on preserving, displaying, loaning, or donating items, and highlights from their 19th-century holdings. “Our goal is ... to demonstrate the scope and nature of a great collection and to arm the reader with the tools to create one.” For collectors, history buffs, or genealogists who are just beginning to build a collection and need advice on things like archival framing, acid-free binders, and insurance riders, this handy and well-illustrated guide is perfect. The images and  descriptions of several noteworthy autographs and historic documents make for enjoyable perusing, and, as an added bonus, they have reprinted an article on facsimiles that Raab recently wrote for Forbes.

For a longer treatment of historical autographs and document collecting, Raab published a more elaborate guide last year, In the Presence of History, which is available for purchase from their site. With 178 pages and hundreds of illustrations, it is much more comprehensive and appeals to serious collectors.   
poster2_frame.pngDavid Rees, a former comic artist in Beacon, New York, has started a business in which he hand-sharpens his customers’ pencils. His company is called Artisanal Pencil Sharpening, And here I thought I was super cool with my wall-mounted Boston sharpener. The cost for this service is $15. On his site, the endearing Rees begs you to understand that this is not a joke, even if it does make you smile. For $60, you can get a super sharp No. 2 and a signed, limited edition print (seen here at left) that Rees made to celebrate the opening of his webfront.

On August 20th, Rees will be sharpening at the Montague Bookmill, near Amherst, Massachusetts. If you’re in the area, check it out!

Many thanks to FB&C contributor Jonathan Shipley for posting a link on his blog to yesterday’s LA Times story about David Rees and his unusual business.
Running from Sept. 2-5 at the Baltimore Convention Center, the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show is widely recognized as the largest indoor antiques show in the U.S. It includes a 70-dealer antiquarian book fair within the show. A few of those dealers booked for Baltimore shared some highlights with us.

BlueRoom2.jpgThe rare book department at Arader Galleries is bringing some treasures from its travel and natural history libraries at 72nd Street in New York (seen above). According to Arader’s Kate Hunter, “Some of the highlights of [Arader’s] collections that we will be bringing to Baltimore include Audubon’s iconic The Birds of America, from Drawings made in the United States and America, published in seven volumes in Philadelphia between 1839 and 1844, this is the first octavo edition with 500 hand-colored lithographed plates after originals by Audubon, and including 65 images not found in the earlier celebrated Elephant folio edition of 1827-1838. In recording the birds of America and imbuing each image with natural grace and scientific accuracy Audubon established himself as the premier bird artist of his age and since.” She said they’ve also packed a fine copy of Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal, from the famous library of Beriah Botfield, and including 500 superbly hand-colored copper engravings. She called it “one of the most comprehensive and most beautiful records of English and exotic flora.” Arader will also offer the first major work of Sir Hans Sloane, A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica, with the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees... Kate Hunter invites readers to stop by stand 808 to see these (and other) rare treasures from Arader.

49638r.jpgGriffon’s Medieval Manuscripts of St. Petersburg, Florida, will have a medieval leaf and a Piranesi print among its offerings. The leaf, seen here at left, is from an illuminated Antiphoner manuscript, Bologna, circa 1300, with a $30,000 price tag. There are seven lines of text, in a gothic liturgical hand and of music on a four line red stave. The Giovanni Battista Piranesi print titled “Veduta dell’ Atrio del Portico di Ottavia” dates to 1760 and is in very good to excellent condition. Griffon’s also17021r.jpg has a rare map of early America by Henri Abraham Chatelain, as well a pristine miniature leaf from a finely illuminated Dewan, early 19th century, seen here at right. At $475, it speaks to the company’s mission of introducing people to affordable art. As Dr. Anthony Griffon has written of his company, “Our goal is to attract the average person to experience a different and exciting arena of art collecting.”

Ian J. Kahn of Lux Mentis Booksellers in Maine shared some stunning images of the material he’s bringing to NobleChildren.JPGBaltimore this year. At left, Portraits of the Children of Nobility (1838) is uncommon in its full burgundy leather binding and has what Kahn called “a wonderful collection of images, each with supporting prose and poetry” for $425. A fine press book guaranteed to turn heads at Kahn’s booth is Mokomaki: Thirteen Etchings of Shrunken & Tattooed Maori Heads, illustrated by Leonard Baskin and published in a numbered limited edition by the Eremite Press, 1985. Wrote Kahn about this interesting item seen below, which he is selling for $12,500: “This is one of four copies created within the ‘Deluxe’ first 10 copies. The ‘Super Deluxe’ copies were created in response to Baskin’s friend (and vellum dealer) asking him if he would consider printing some of the images onto vellum. The result is inexplicably wonderful.” Also at Kahn’s booth will be an 1806 pamphlet titled Horrid massacre!!! that is said to be the first example of engraving for a printed book in the state of Maine, very scarce at $2,500.

VellumMokoMaki.JPGFor those who are also interested in art and antiques, more than 550 international dealers will be exhibiting in Baltimore, in areas such as fine art, furniture, jewelry, porcelain, textiles, and folk art. Check out the website for hours, prices, and a list of vendors.

Ralph Sipper, of Ralph Sipper Books in Santa Barbara, CA, has just launched his first (yes, you read that right) website. Welcome! Being an “old school” antiquarian bookseller for 40 years, Sipper finally agreed to bring his shop online. He said of the decision: “Old-fashioned as I am, and motivated by the enthusiasm of my daughter and son-in-law, I am moving onto the Information Super Highway in as positive way as I can muster.”

His daughter, Cory, and her husband built the very attractive site. She said her father is “quite happy to have his website. Possibly, even excited. As long as it doesn’t take time from handwriting and snail-mailing his business letters.” Take a browse through the inventory, check out their Book of the Month, and read a fascinating interview Matthew Bruccoli did with Sipper for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, which is posted in PDF.

Ralph Sipper Books is an ABAA member that specializes in literary first editions and manuscripts.

Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life.... Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality....

A considerable scholar in his own right, Robert Darnton, source of the above quotation, probably would appreciate his own words being commonplaced.  There was a time, after all, when capturing and commenting upon particularly apt quotations was the very essence of a well-rounded education.

Known as early as the 14th century, commonplace books came into their own in the 1600s, and they continued as a popular pedagogical device well into the 20th century. Over the centuries, the focus of such books shifted from capturing and organizing “exemplary” thoughts and ideas to something more akin to a hodgepodge: a jumble of quotations, recipes, medical remedies, and whatever else struck one’s fancy as worthy of capture and commentary. 

Although a number of commonplace books have found their way into print (a typical example is depicted above), many more survive only as manuscripts in institutional collections.  We are fortunate that some of these institutional collections have been digitized, so we all can appreciate them.  Harvard’s Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History contains some particularly instructive examples of the commonplace book.  (For a good recent overview of the practice, see David Allan’s Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England.)

Several scholars have suggested that blogs are direct digital descendants of the printed commonplace book.  One could make the same argument for FaceBook, Twitter and like services.  In fact, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the LOC’s archive of every tweet ever made as the world’s largest commonplace book....

Thumbnail image for TobyHoltzman.jpgOne of the most extraordinary bibliophiles I have ever met, Irwin T. “Toby” Holtzman, passed away in Detroit this past week at 82, leaving behind his lovely wife Shirley, three children, three grandchildren, and a legacy of tenacious commitment to books and libraries that is unequaled in my experience. Truth be told, I never met anyone quite like Toby, and expect I will not again anytime soon. As a collector, his interests were generally centered on twentieth century and contemporary fiction. At the height of his activity, he collected the works of some 350 authors, and he did it with a remarkable degree of thoroughness. I first learned about Toby in the late 1980s when I was in the early stages of researching A Gentle Madness, and looking for suitable people to profile. When I told Peter Howard, the owner of Serendipity Books in Berkeley, Calif., the premise of my book--the title pretty much says it all--he suggested I spend some time in Detroit with Toby. “He has a native feeling for books that you really have to experience first hand to appreciate,” Howard said.

What Peter was saying in a delicate way is that Toby, for want of a more precise description, had a certain intensity about him when it came to books. “Toby can definitely wear you down,” he offered, and pretty much left it at that. When I asked Toby about this apparent single-mindedness of his, he offered no apologies, acknowledging that yes, he was an “in your face kind of guy” when it came to books, but that the cause was literature and reading, after all, and what could be more important than that. Indeed, when we first got together in August of 1991, he was already finding suitable homes for his books. Today, his various collections can be found in no fewer than fifteen major libraries around the world, his William Faulkner collection at the University of Michigan, his Russian writers collection at the Hoover Institution in California, his John Osborne collection at the British Library, his American Indian collection at the University of Illinois, his gift to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem of five thousand Israeli books, manuscripts, and inscribed copies, most notable among them.

As a collector of modern firsts, Toby always favored the living and the hopeful, and he took special pride in “discovering” new talent. To get a leg up on the competition, he regularly read the forecasts in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and he took great pride in being able to say that fully 40 percent of the collectible books he had acquired were bought at their jacket prices. And as much as he loved his books, he had no separation anxiety whatsoever about parting with them--so long as they went to the right places. “You reach a point in your life where you begin to collect by subtraction, not addition,” he said.

Following the publication of AGM fifteen years ago this month, Toby and I kept in touch. We ran into each other often, at the New York Book Fair, the California Book Fair, in the basement of the Strand Book Store, wherever book people gather. A few months ago, I gave a talk at the Clements Library in Ann Arbor, and we had dinner together with a group from the University of Michigan. It was great fun, and Toby gave me a photo of himself--the one pictured above--seated in a nifty “book chair” he had bought during a recent trip he had made to Italy with Shirley. Yes, that is my book he is holding. Pretty cool, I thought, and so typically Toby.

Totally in character, too, is the request Toby’s family made this week of friends and colleagues following private funeral services in Michigan: “Please honor the memory of Toby Holtzman and the values of his life by supporting a library, buying books at your local bookstores and reading to your children and grandchildren.”

What an epitaph. And what a bookman.

Patrick McEnroe 1 signing.jpgWASHINGTON -- I’ve got to hand it to new author Patrick McEnroe, a former Grand Slam doubles champion, Davis Cup coach, and engaging commentator on ESPN. He is a celebrity who understands that without ticket, book and gear-buying fans, he would have no career: The good life he enjoys is a direct result of what people buy and watch they watch on TV.

I like to see people who get that connection, who understand that that it would be audacious of them to treat those very same folks as a nuisance. 

In town this week for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic that concludes Sunday, he sat down for a signing session to promote his book, “Hardcourt Confidential -- Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches. He made it clear he’d be willing to stay as long as the now famous John Isner match at Wimbledon if that’s what it took to accommodate the crowd. 

I watched him shake hands and genuinely engage the people who came up to him. He actually asked them questions while also answering theirs. 

I didn’t tell him I still do a little journalism when I approached with my copy. I bought passes for the whole tournament so I could take it in as a fan rather than a reporter. I didn’t want any special treatment or false kindness even in a brief encounter.

McEnroe looked me in the eyes and asked me how I would like him to inscribe the book. I respectfully asked to keep it short and simple because of the line behind me. “Great forehand,” I said, smiling at the thought of showing the words to all my tennis friends. He asked me a few questions about my game while he wrote, handed the book back to me, and posed for a few photos my girlfriend shot.

I thanked him for the signature and what he does for the game. I’ve long respected McEnroe for his work to promote the sport I’ve spent a lifetime loving.

Then I looked down at what he wrote, which was longer than what I had asked him to consider.

“To Chris: Great forehand -- work on that backhand.”

I laughed, shook his hand and stepped aside. The book looks promising and I’ll crack it open like a new can of tennis balls the moment the tournament ends. 

[Photo courtesy of Won-ok Kim.]

Last month, the University of North Carolina press released A History of the Book in America, volume 2, which was actually the last in a series of 5 (published out of order). Volume 2, edited by Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley, covers the 1790-1840 era, and contains essays by James N. Green, E. Jennifer Monaghan, and Scott E. Caspar, among others. The topics include the rise of book publishing in the new republic, journeyman printers, membership libraries, school books, women and early print culture, periodicals and newspapers, novels, travel books, literacy, and literary colonization. What an amazing resource to have on hand, particularly if you’re lucky enough to have all five volumes on your shelf.

In association with the American Antiquarian Society’s program in the history of the book, this scholarly series was a project more than a decade in the making. Back in April, the AAS celebrated the completion of the series with a ceremony at the Library of Congress, which is now available online.

cover_money.jpgOh, those lovely Penguins! Penguin Books turns 75 this year. To celebrate, Penguin US has commissioned tattoo artists to create cover art for six classic titles (seen here is Berk Krak’s cover for Martin Amis’ Money), while Penguin UK has issued a new Penguin Decades series.

Take a look at this wonderful article in last week’s Guardian newspaper -- complete with photo of past FB&C contributor and Penguin collector Steve Hare. Hare owns 15,000 Penguins. Alison Flood writes, “Penguin titles are not only among the most recognisable in literature but also a magnet for collectors.” In fact, the Penguin Collectors Society encourages a younger generation to take up Penguins. Hare told the Guardian, “[We’re] not simply about collecting, but for anyone interested in graphic design, publishing history, illustration, and the joys and pleasures of the physical book.”

P.S. an excerpt of Penguin by Illustrators, edited by Hare, is available here.

At left and below: a selection of the Minsky Archive, including maquettes, molds for castings, correspondence, and holographic manuscripts. Top right: large cabinets displaying Minsky’s Bill of Rights.

Yale_case1-800.jpgRichard Minsky’s new exhibit, Material Meets Metaphor: A Half Century of Book Art opened yesterday at Yale University’s Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library in New Haven, Connecticut. Curated by Jae Jennifer Rossman, assistant director for special collections, the exhibit “showcases his editioned (non-commissioned, made in multiple copies) bookworks alongside selections from the Richard Minsky Archive, which documents the history of his career and his working process.”

Yale_4-600.jpgIf you’ve ever wanted to sit in an electric chair without the painful end result, this is your chance. Minsky’s provocative work, Freedom of Choice, seen here, is on display, and visitors are invited to strap on the head restraint, apply the electrodes, and listen to Minsky’s reading of three poems through the chair’s MP3 player.

Running now through November 29, the exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, read the original press release, and our recent Q&A with Minsky. More photos and description of the exhibit’s installation are available on Minsky’s site. All photos courtesy of Richard Minsky, who joins Fine Books as our new Book Art columnist in the fall issue.   

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na BATMAN!

The Christian Science Monitor recently took note of a comic book auction coming soon. Up on the blocks, being sold at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas? One of the rarest and most desirable comics around - Batman No. 1 (Spring, 1940). Batman first appeared in Detective Comics No. 27 (May, 1939), but this was his first stand-alone comic book that also introduced his soon-to-be arch nemesis, the Joker.

Owned by Mike Wheat, a comic book collector hailing from Alaska, it is one of only about 300 Batman No. 1 comics known to still exist. It is supposed to fetch around $40,000. Not a bad return for Wheat, who bought the comic with a couple others in 1974 for $300.

Also under the hammer at Heritage this week is the “Aloha copy” of Detective Comics No. 27. Bought in Honolulu in the 1970s, it is estimated to bring in $400,000.

UPDATE: The “Aloha Copy,” sold for $657,250 and the Batman No. 1 sold for $55,269, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
_48571321_44824056.jpgThe BBC reports today that Raymond Scott, who stole a first folio from Durham University in 1998, has been sentenced to eight years in prison. Said Judge Richard Lowden to Scott: “It would be regarded by many as priceless but to you it was definitely at a very big price and you went to very great lengths for that price. Your motivation was for financial gain. You wanted to fund an extremely ludicrous playboy lifestyle in order to impress a woman you met in Cuba.” Two years were tacked onto the six-year sentence for taking the stolen property out of Britain.

In this strange case, it’s not so much the theft that galls, book theft has been going on for centuries and is not likely to subside. It’s the fact that Scott mutilated the volume. The BBC reported the damage last month. Scott had removed the goat binding and cut the cords on the spine in an effort to disguise the book’s provenance. Some pages are also missing, including the frontispiece engraving of the Bard. 

(Oh my God!  Let me know. Thanks in advance!  See you later.)

On those not infrequent occasions when personal and professional communications leave me totally Twitterpated, I long for the solace of the sesquipedalian.

Polysyllabic words, especially long polysyllabic words, don’t get much respect nowadays.  They take too much time to read.  They take too much time to pronounce.  You can’t tweet ‘em.  And since few students are taught Latin or ancient Greek nowadays, most folks can’t use a word’s roots to unravel a word’s meaning. 

So why collect books about polysyllabic words?  It’s not like one encounters the sesquipedalian in everyday discourse.  (Well, that’s not entirely true. Professionals in a number of fields--e.g., medicine, law, science, linguistics--encounter polysyllabic words on a fairly routine basis.)

But it is perhaps the disappearance of polysyllabic words from “normal” day-to-day communications that makes some book collectors so enamored of titles devoted to the sesquipedelian.

Such titles have a long history.  In, for example, Thomas Speght’s The Workes of our Antient and Lerned English Poet, Geffrey Chavcer, newly Printed (1598), one section is devoted to Old and obscure words explaned.  A landmark title in English jurisprudence, Thomas Blount’s Nomo Lexicon (1670), offered to interpret ...Such Difficult and Obscure Words and Terms, as are Found Either in Our Common or Statute, Ancient or Modern, Laws. With References to the Several Statutes, Records, Registers, Law-Books, Charters, Ancient Deeds, and Manuscripts, Wherein the Words are Used: And Etymologies, Where They Properly Occur.

Books such as these are a goldmine for fans of the sesquipedalian.  As are dialect dictionaries such as Joseph Wright’s magisterial English Dialect Dictionary (1896-1905), regional lexicons such as Georgina Jackson’s Shropshire Word Book (1879), and popular (though oft times critically disparaged) works such as Charles Mackay’s Lost Beauties of the English Language (1874).

An altogether notable book collecting pursuit.  Assuming, of course, that one does not suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia....
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