September 2010 Archives

Just released: Howl, a new film centered on the 1957 obscenity trial in which Beat poet Allen Ginsburg and City Lights bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti fought to guarantee First Amendment rights for literary works. The movie stars James Franco, Mary Louise-Parker, David Strathairn, and Jeff Daniels. In limited theaters now and into next month, the film is also available through cable video on demand service. Take two minutes to watch the official trailer:

Or you could read the poem, here.
With the 2010 Census happening all around us here in the states, Bonhams & Butterfields’ has seemingly chosen a good time to auction the very first US census from 1790, bearing the signature of then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (his John Hancock, seen here at left). Estimated at $80,000-120,000, this book with manuscript notes and corrections (e.g., someone scratched out the “one” in seventeen ninety-one on the title page, even though the book was published in Philadelphia in 1791) was formally titled Return of the Whole Number of Persons within the Several Districts of the United States, According to “An Act Providing for the Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States.” This first edition was held by the family of Gideon Granger, Postmaster General under Jefferson, and is thought to be his copy.

The auction will be held in Los Angeles (and simulcast to New York) on October 4th. Another piece of Jefferson will be on the block for a much smaller sum. His signature, clipped from a larger document, is estimated at $800-1,200. 
The collection of Helen and Michael Selzer--founders of Bibliofind--is up for grabs at New England Book Auctions on Tuesday. Cool provenance aside, there are several pieces worth noting, such as a signed 1925 edition of Faust featuring illustrations by Harry Clarke (one seen here at left). The estimate is $400-600. There’s also an original Leonard Baskin watercolor portrait of Benjamin Disraeli, also estimated at $400-$600; a first edition of John Harris’ Lexicon Technicum: Or an Universal English Dictionary or Arts and Sciences for $600-900; a signed first edition of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead estimated at $3,000-5,000; and a group of Philip K. Dick novels for $300-500. We’re only seeing the highlights here, so it looks a bit miscellaneous, but an interesting sale nonetheless. 
Book collectors come in all shapes and sizes.  Some of us collect genre fiction (mysteries, for example).  Others collect topically (e.g., books about gardening). Yet others collect a favorite author or authors (Dickens, perhaps, or Herta Müller). Very few book collectors, though, seem to try to collect everything that is published by a particular publisher.

Of course, there always are exceptions.  Lots of folks try to collect everything published by The Folio Society.  Others make an effort to collect everything published by The Olympia Press.  But I’ve never encountered anyone trying to collect everything published by the likes of McGraw-Hill or HarperCollins.  The larger and less specialized a publisher is, the less likely it is that folks will have the interest, time or money to collect everything that the publisher has on offer.  (The Folio Society strives to publish finely printed, finely bound illustrated books at near-trade prices.  Olympia Press focused on publishing authors and topics that other publishing houses wouldn’t touch.)

I have discovered that I frequently am able (when wandering about some dusty labyrinth of a bookstore) to spot a specialty publisher simply by searching out odd and/or quirky titles.  If, for example, I spot a run of titles like

  • The British Milkman
  • Beach Huts and Bathing Machines
  • Peat and Peat Cutting
  • The Archaeology of Rabbit Warrens
chances are I’ve stumbled across a specialty publisher.

It was in just such fashion that I recently discovered, to my great delight, the specialty titles published by Shire Publications. Founded in 1962 by John Rotheroe, this British publisher has, over the past five decades, issued some 1000+ attractive paperbacks devoted to topics long ignored by most larger publishers: rural histories, mechanical and electrical bygones, household bygones ... what larger publishers often denigrate as “nostalgia” or “heritage” titles.  

As Steven McClarence noted in an appreciative 2008 article for The Times of London, up until fairly recently one was more likely to encounter a Shire title at collectors’ fairs, country shows, local history conventions, re-enactment weekends and vintage transport rallies than in a bookshop.  This has changed with the company’s recent sale to Osprey Publishing, a change seen most readily in the publisher’s attractive, easily navigated new website.

Despite a recent facelift for most of its bookcovers, Shire still rarely publishes more than a few thousand copies of each title.  The aim is to remain focused on “the interests of ordinary people, however unusual or obscure their passions might be.”  As McClarence observes, [t]he resulting books are pocket celebrations of enthusiasm, erudition and eccentricity, pitched somewhere between the academic expert and the weekend hobbyist.

(Folks interested in trying to collect all Shire titles, most of which--despite being long out-of-print--remain quite inexpensive in the aftermarket, might want to start with Rotheroe’s own 1992 title 30 Years of Shire Publications: A Bibliography for Collectors 1962-91, depicted above.  This was updated in 2007 with the online only publication of 45 Years of Shire Publications: A Bibliography for Collectors 1962-2007.)
What would you like to ask an author at Saturday’s National Book Festival? 

I’ll try to serve as a personal backstage pass for some Fine Books & Collections readers if you send me questions. 

Here’s how this will work: I’ll step into the media tent off and on throughout the day with notebook and i-phone in hand. You send me a question via Twitter @chrislancette. I’ll pick some of the most interesting questions and see if I can ask them to the author of your choice on your behalf. In your Tweet to me, simply start with the author’s last name and ask your question. Throw in the hashtag (#NBF) for the festival so everyone can follow the kinds of questions that you propose. Your Tweet would look like this once you Follow me:

@chrislancette: Remnick: What most surprised you about researching Obama biography? #NBF.

That’s all there is to it. I’ll do what I can to get some answers for you, sharing them in a blog post I’ll write after the event. If authors give me answers short enough for a Tweet, I’ll respond as soon as I get the answers and can use the Twitter app on my phone. If you’re not a Twitter user, visit Twitter today and check it out. It’s a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for a series of Tweets from the festival. To help you get started forming your questions, check out the National Book Festival blog post I wrote the other day.

Look for me in person if you’re at the event. I’ll be the guy wearing a gray t-shirt with the bearded face of Henry David Thoreau on it. I’ll see if I can hit our editor up for a little gift or two for the first few people who spot me and mention Fine Books & Collections magazine.

Tweet away, loyal readers.

Masterpuppet Theatre

You can now have Shakespeare at your fingertips. Literally!
Superheroes in Court! Lawyers, Law and Comic Books, a new exhibit at the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School, displays the more playful side to library exhibits (and collecting in general) that is a breath of fresh air. In a year during which comic collecting seems to have spun wildly into the mainstream, Yale’s exhibit has perfect timing, as well. It is guest curated by Mark S. Zaid, Esq., a Washington, D.C. attorney who specializes in national security law and is also a major comic book collector and dealer. Pictured here at right is a comic from his collection, Crime Detective Comics no. 8 (Jay-June 1949).

Worth reading (and not replicating) is the New York Times review that ran last week. National legal correspondent John Schwartz surveys the evidence, pronounces a good verdict, and interviews the witnesses. From the article: “Tons of lawyers are collectors,” he said. Like Mr. Zaid, they might have read and collected comics as children but let the hobby lapse as they made their way through college and started their working lives. “They come back to it once they settle into a career and a family and they have disposable cash,” he said -- though he added that many are “closet collectors” who ask, “Can I be a professional and still play with comic books?”

Good question -- but I won’t comment without my attorney present.

The exhibit runs through December 16.  
poster_thumb.jpgThe countdown clock on the official home page of the National Book Festival shows me (as I write) that I have to wait 3 days, 14 hours and 43 minutes for the launch of this year’s event on the National Mall. That’s too long: The Mall is the planet’s literary hot spot for only one day each year and it’s a day that just doesn’t come soon enough.

Even the Librarian of Congress is fired up.

“We are delighted to be celebrating this 10th anniversary of a beloved event for book lovers of all ages,” James H. Billington said. “We will have a lineup of authors to thrill festival-goers.”

The nation’s book-lover-in-chief is talking about thrilling people but he’s not exaggerating. There is something for everybody this Saturday. I’ve learned from past mistakes that the key to getting the most out of the event (it’s not too late for out-of-towners to find hotel rooms) is to make a good plan in advance. Check out my blog post “Confessions of a 2008 National Book Festival Rookie” so you don’t repeat my errors.

If you remember nothing else, absorb these tips: 

  1. Plan to spend the whole day there because you’ll be mad at yourself if you stroll in late. I suspect I’ll arrive a little before the official opening at 10 a.m. and organizers will have to throw me out at the 5:30 p.m. closing time.
  2. Study the official Web site from the Library of Congress in the first paragraph above so that you can decide which of the some 70 authors you most want to see. Buy the books of highly popular authors long before you need to get in their line for an autograph.
  3. Determine your purchase transportation strategy: I put saddle bags on my bike and can carry many pounds of books there, plus more on my back. If you’re taking Metro, bring a backpack and know how much weight you can carry.
  4. Bring your smart phone and follow my Tweets from the event. You can follow me on Twitter @chrislancette. If you’re not coming to D.C., live the event through me vicariously. I expect to send no shortage of Twitter missives about #NBF.
  5. Be kind and patient with the authors and volunteers. Organizing the National Book Festival is no easy trick. 
You want best-selling authors? The Mall is going to be flooded with them. How about the internationally acclaimed Isabel Allende, Jane Smiley and Scott Turow. Need a thriller to pump some adrenalin into your day? Brad Meltzer will be waiting for you. Prefer something for younger readers? Katherine Paterson will be there. Seeking great new insight on President Barack Obama? Biographer Remnick won’t let you down.

Love history? Don’t even get me started (and good luck edging me out for a spot in those autograph lines!).

Wait ... I know that Fine Books & Collections’ fans have the most sophisticated tastes of all the biblio-nuts. You want something a little more high-brow -- the top-shelf stuff. Satisfy that craving with Orhan Pumuk. The Turkish author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.

I’m too fired up to sleep tonight -- and I’ve still got 3 days, 13 hours and 57 minutes to go.

Guest Blog by Lillian Cole, Twelfth St. Booksellers

In less than a year, I’ve lost two of my favorite bookseller colleagues. Jean Marie Parmer of Parmer Books, San Diego, California, passed away November 27, 2009 at age 72, much too young at heart to leave us so soon.

She was a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), the San Diego Booksellers Association, and founding member of TomFolio, an international co-op of independent dealers. She was often seen at antiquarian book fairs, buying and selling, frequently triumphant with a mountain of rare first editions in hand, she wrote articles for various bibliophilic websites, and participated as panel member of the Antiquarian Book Seminar in Denver.

Jean started her own rare book business, Parmer Books, which husband Jerry and later, Robin Nosan, joined full time within a few years. Her interest in polar books was ignited by a visit to the Old Globe Theatre where she saw Ted Tally’s play, Terra Nova, the tragic story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Parmer Books specialized in polar, travel and exploration, nautical, and Americana.

Early on, Jean and Jerry embraced the rapidly developing technology, the computer and the Internet and created Book Stacks, an inventory software for the Macintosh. Because my mind was stubbornly closed to the encroaching powers of the Internet, they offered to help me find books and are responsible for opening me up to the great possibilities of finding the huge variety of gem and jewelry books that I have since accumulated for my own business. This selfless act of friendship is just a hint of the deeply generous spirit that I was so privileged to know.

Jean’s warm and gracious spirit nurtured her garden, her family, and her friends with her very big, loving heart. She was a bookseller’s bookseller, fair, knowledgeable, honest, and brought that same gift to her creation, Parmer Books.

Henry Polissack, antiquarian bookseller and antique jewelry seller and specialist, in Northampton, Massachusetts, died May 5, 2010, just short of his 71st birthday, too young, too soon.

He was a member of the Massachusetts & Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers and the British Society of Jewellery Historians. His passion for collecting beautiful things started with his early collection of antique pens, and within ten years, built one of the largest collections in the United States, which when completed was sold, en bloc. While searching for these beautiful pens, he became fascinated with antique jewelry, which he ultimately turned into a business where he was well known and loved as evidenced by the moving tribute by Diane Singer in the Newsletter of the American Society of Jewelry Historians. His passion for the jewels led him to build a library on the subject and his book business was a natural result of his soon overflowing collection of books on jewelry, gems and related topics. Henry pursued books with a passion, and found me listed in a book trade directory as a specialist in books on gems and jewelry, and was usually the first caller when my yearly catalog was mailed out.

He formed the La Prima Jewelry-Book Collectors’ Club specializing in books about jewelry, gems, history of jewelry, engraved gems, crown jewels, noted jewelers and goldsmiths, travel and adventures related to them, and created twelve catalogs between 1999-2007. During our many long telephone conversations about our books of our special interest, he confided his decision to build the finest, most comprehensive collection of books in the field in the United States and vigorously pursued them nationally and internationally, building a collection of over four thousand volumes. He loved building collections, and when satisfied that he had the best, the scarcest, the rarest, the most significant and important books in the field, he offered them at auction with Swann. They advised him that because of its size, there should be two auctions, and so there were, the first on March 20, 2003, and the second scheduled for May 27, 2004. The first took place the day after the United States bombed Iraq; nevertheless, though sparsely attended, there was much phone bidding activity and the auction was successful. The two catalogues of Books on Gems and Jewelry, The Henry Polissack Library are a great source of reference and are in my own reference library, together with all twelve catalogues issued between 1999-2007.

Another remembrance of Henry written by Mary Murphy Hammid in the Journal of the Geo-Literary Society tells of her visit with him at his home in Northampton, where she saw the enormous volume of books in his private collection as well as the inventory for his book business, evidence of the overflow of his obsession, his “splendid addiction,” his “gentle madness.” Henry was honest, knowledgeable, a lovely man, a wonderful friend and colleague who I admired and respected with deep affection.

--Thanks to Lillian Cole for this homage to two great bibliophiles. 

Climate control, computer chips, and closed-circuit cameras: The Vatican Apostolic Library reopened today after a three-year renovation. Before (pictured here the Sistine Hall, courtesy of Wikipedia), and After -- click to see a slideshow of some breathtaking photos of the library’s interiors and treasures, though the captions are terrible (“Old Books are displayed in the reading room,” yes but what is it?!). 
From 1953 to 1983, Beta Phi Mu, an international “honor society” for librarians founded in 1948, published a series of chapbooks that were intended to provide exemplary examples of graphic artistry, typography, and book binding. Although many of the titles in this series were published in an edition of several thousand copies, it can be surprisingly difficult to put together a complete 15-volume set in Fine condition.  (The plain glassine wrapper in which most of these titles were issued is usually either missing or pretty beat up.)

Among some of the better known titles in the series are the 7th title, Richard Harwell’s The Confederate Hundred (1964, reprinted in 1982), an annotated examination of some of the most important Confederate imprints (Harwell’s work was printed by the famed Anthoensen Press); the 13th title in the series, The History of A Hoax (1979), in which author Wayne Wiegand put to rest false speculations about the source of a supposedly medieval bibliophilic curse; and the 14th title in the series, David Kaser’s A Book for Sixpence (1980), a history of circulating libraries in 18th and 19th century America.

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A number of these titles won awards.  The 3rd book in the series, Desert Daisy (1957), a facsimile of an H. G. Wells story written when the author was a young boy, was acclaimed one of AIGA’s Fifty Best Books in its year of publication, an honor later shared by the 9th book in the series, Jack Herring’s Browning’s Old Schoolfellows (1972, an examination of the influence of the poet’s father on the poet’s work).  Several other titles won lesser awards.

Folks interested in banned books (Banned Books Week begins in just a few days) probably would be interested in the 15th title in the series, Arthur Young’s Books for Sammies (1981), the definitive study of ALA activities during World War I, which includes (among its two appendices) a list of books & pamphlets banned by the War Department during that conflict.

A complete list of the titles in this series can be found in A Service Profession, a Service Commitment: a Festschrift in Honor of Charles D. Patterson (1992).  See pages 129-132.... 
Today is the birthday of our great dictionary maker, Samuel Johnson, born 1709. In honor of this, I pass along this fun tidbit: At an August sale from Leslie Hindman, a first edition, first printing in full tree calf of Mr. Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755) went for $7,500. Another one of these beauties (in original boards) is coming up for auction later this fall -- details in the autumn issue of FB&C, in your mailboxes in less than two weeks!
Earlier this week the Newark Museum in New Jersey premiered an exhibition, Gustav Stickley and the American Arts & Crafts Movement.

Inspired by the likes of John Ruskin and William Morris, Stickley’s eminently recognizable furnishings are synonymous with Arts and Crafts, Craftsman, or Mission decor, i.e. plain, well-made, and anti-ornamental. They include tables, desks, and chairs, but also light fixtures, metalware, and textiles. Illustrated here: a linen chest designed by Stickley in 1902 that showcases his reverence for oak and iron (from the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art, which organized the show). While Stickley did not start the Arts & Crafts movement, he is one of its most famous proponents, due, in part, to his Craftsman magazine.

If you happen to be in the area now through January 2, it looks to be a beautiful exhibit. On November 20-21, a woodblock printmaking workshop that coincides with the exhibit might give you just the impetus you need! And if that’s the case, be sure to make a day trip of it -- drive west about 25 miles to see the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains, NJ. It is a stunning log house that Stickley used as a home and furniture-making commune. I can vouch for it, having visited about six or seven years ago. It is lovely, even more so during the holidays. 
I love book censuses. If I could design a dream job for myself, it might well involve traveling around the world to look at all extant copies of given books and write about them, their provenance, their stories, &c. (on my wish list to track, if someone out there wants to fund some research projects, are the Eliot Indian Bible, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, &c.). I also enjoy filling out the questionnaires that come around frequently about first editions of various works that other researchers are studying; they’re always great fun.

Some books, blessedly, have already been the subject of detailed censuses*, so I figured I’d put a couple of them to the test and see what more I could find out about the Lord Hesketh copies of the Shakespeare First Folio and Audubon’s Birds of America that are going to be on the auction block in December.

For the Shakespeare, I turned to Anthony James West’s The Shakespeare First Folio: The History of the Book. Volume II: A New Worldwide Census of First Folios (Oxford University Press, 2003). While Hesketh isn’t listed in the index, the copy was pretty easy to identify as West 44, which West notes as “Purchased sometime after 1945 by a collector who died in June 1955” (Hesketh died 10 June) and “in the same family since.” West viewed this copy in June 2000, and describes its contents, condition, and provenance marks in great detail. He particularly notes the panelled calf binding, rebacked, from c. 1690-1720, and remarks on the “cleanness and crispness of the text leaves” (while being careful to note that several prelims are in facsimile).

The Birds of America too has been the subject of a full census, in this case Waldemar H. Fries’The Double Elephant Folio: The Story of Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’ (ALA, 1973; a revised edition was published in 2005, but since the Hesketh copy hadn’t changed hands since then I used the one I had handy). Fries does list Hesketh as the owner of the Birds, reporting that it is the copy belonging to original subscriber Henry Witham, Esq. of Lartington, Durham. Fries quotes an Audubon journal entry from 3 December 1826, when the artist met and dined with Witham in Edinburgh (it was a successful evening; Witham subscribed for the Birds 15 days later).

This copy stayed in Witham’s family for many years, passing from its original owner to his son Rev. Thomas Edward Witham and then to Witham’s great-grandnephew Henry Thomas Silvertop. The Birds were sold at the auction of the estate of another Silvertop descendant, Charles A.J.O. Silvertop, on 3 July 1951 by Christie, Manson & Woods, London, when it made £7,000 (just for reference, its estimate in December will be £4-6 million). It was purchased by - you guessed it - Lord Hesketh.

One very interesting feature recorded by Fries is a note in Audubon’s ledger about this copy: “Bound with locks June 1831”. Fries found that when he examined the volumes, those original locks were still present on each volume, and that the first volume is inscribed “From Eliza Witham with sincere affection, June the 24th, 1831.” There’s even a picture showing the two locks on the front edge of the volume (making the Birds look a little bit like a gigantic diary).

So, if you were feeling as impatient as me about which copies these were, here’s what we know about them (and there’s more in West and Fries about each if you’re so inclined), and this just shows one way in which book censuses can be very useful (as we saw with the Durham Folio case and others, they can also be handy in identifying stolen works, or for many other reasons).

* Another useful project would be a bibliography of book censuses: many of them are hidden in obscure journals and a good list of them would be terrifically useful.
Pat Saine of Blue Plate Books in Winchester, Virginia, got more than he bargained for when a missionary with a box of old books walked into his shop. In the box was a 1881 edition of Jefferson Davis’ history of the confederacy and an 1832 life of George Washington by John Marshall. The books, however, were also stamped as property of the Department of Justice’s Library. After some back and forth with the librarian at the DOJ, it turned out that these books had been missing for so long they weren’t even in the new catalog system, but an older inventory showed that they had never been withdrawn. Where did they come from? The seller, Robert Cole, had been given them by a widow whose husband told her he found them in the trash sometime in the mid-sixties.

Amazing finds in the trash -- it’s a story that gets recycled every so often. I asked Pat to tell me more about his adventure with these books and how he helped reunite them with the DOJ Library. Here’s what he wrote:

In general, people come to my store store with their books to sell. Often people are moving, cleaning off their shelves to make room for more books, or finding a good home for books from a relative who passed away. Sometimes there is a story involved: with this batch of books the gentleman was selling them to raise money for a church mission trip to Romania.

In general, as a used book dealer I don’t deal in ex-library books. The reason I turn library books away, besides the poor condition, is that I don’t want to encourage people removing items from libraries as a moneymaking venture. In this particular instance, I recognized these books as from a rare book room, from the Department of Justice Library, and not withdrawn or deaccessioned. I researched the Department of Justice Library - who was not publicly accessible on the web. So I contacted the Library of Congress and briefly described the issue and they steered me to a contact in the Department of Justice Library. They did a significant amount of research, checking previous catalogs and asking me to describe specifically how the articles were stamped and marked so that they could determine when and how the books could have left the library. Many conversations and e-mails later, they determined that these particular books were indeed missing from the library.

Is it plausible that the books were found in the trash? I do believe the story of the person in possession of the books: he says that he obtained them from a widow, who in turn was left them by her husband. How did her husband get ahold of them? He’s passed away, so I’ll leave it to thriller writers to conjecture.

Good idea! To read more, see “Justice Served” from Saine’s local paper, the Winchester Star.  

Guest Blog by Joe Fay of Heritage Auction Galleries

From the Heritage Bookshelf: Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and an Old
 Spanish Civil War Buddy

Ernest Hemingway was the prototypical man’s man. He hunted big game. He punched other writers in bars. He loved a good bull fight. And he ran to wars when most people were running away from them. It was during one of these wars, specifically the Greek-Turkish War in 1922, where Hemingway met Col. Charles Sweeny, another rock-‘em-sock-‘em alpha male. Charles Sweeny was the perfect type of companion, idol, and perhaps father figure for Hemingway. Legend has it that Sweeny fought in seven wars for five different countries, and knew military history and tactics like no one else Hemingway had ever met before. Hemingway once wrote that Sweeny possessed “one of the most brilliant military brains I have ever known.”

The two became fast, close, and lasting friends, and would often see each other in war zones, at the bicycle races in Paris, on hunting expeditions & fishing trips, and later in life, they would sit and trade old war stories and compare their collections of battle scars. Hemingway even used Sweeny as the model for one of his characters in the novel Across the River and into the Trees. The two old war horses spent a lot of time together in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, where Hemingway drew the inspiration for his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which he wrote largely in Cuba in 1939, and was published by Scribner’s in 1940.

Hemingway. Sweeny. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Cuba. 1940. All of these bits of information are important to me as I sit at my desk, staring at a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, affectionately inscribed and signed by Hemingway to Sweeny, with Sweeny’s ownership signature dated “Habana, 1940” on the front pastedown. Additionally, Sweeny has inscribed it to a lady friend of his, mentioning Hemingway in the inscription.

It is a rare sight to see such an intimately inscribed Hemingway title with such a personal connection from the author to the receiver. Hemingway writes on the front free endpaper, “For Charley with / the same affection and the / same admiration as always / Ernest.” I doubt there were very many men for whom Hemingway would have had both affection and admiration, much less write down for posterity that fact, which makes this book an even more impressive rarity to me.

It’s also fascinating to try and connect the dots on an item like this when cataloging it. Just from the information on the book, we can assume that Hemingway gave the book to Sweeny in Cuba in the year of publication, where Sweeny wrote his name, the place, and date inside. Sweeny was probably in Cuba specifically to see Hemingway, presumably to motor out into the Gulf of Mexico and pull some Marlin out of the deep blue sea. Or perhaps Sweeny was on his way to another battlefield, and simply stopped off at Hemingway’s house for a shot of tequila.

I’ve had an absolute blast researching the connection between Hemingway and Sweeny, and have come to think of the book as mine in a certain way. That always happens with a few books in every auction. You spend so much time and effort discovering new information (at least new to you) about some of the books that you can’t help falling in love with some of them. Alas, every love story ends. The book will soon leave our hands here at Heritage. It is lot 36506 in our Rare Books Auction #6048 in Beverly Hills, October 14-16. It was a pleasure to live with for awhile, and I will miss it. Much like Sweeny missed Hemingway after the latter’s suicide in 1961, when the ole colonel was an honorary pallbearer at the great author’s (and better friend’s) funeral.

This article (and image) appears in Heritage’s September Historic News e-newsletter (vol. 6, no. 9). Reposted with permission of the author. Thank you, Joe!

I am delighted to report the publication of two books that I have been eager for some time to see appear between hard covers, having had the opportunity to know a bit about them beforehand, and to have had communication with each of the authors as they were works-in-progress. Happily, they are everything I expected they would be, gracefully written in both instances, wisely reasoned, and a genuine pleasure to read.

BlackBerry.JPGHamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers; Harper, 267 pages, $24.99.

A former staff writer and media critic for the Washington Post, William Powers
has written extensively on every manner of communications technology, developing the premise of this book--and coming up with the splendid title--while a Fellow at Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press in 2006. Powers is exceedingly savvy when it comes to navigating his way about the digital world, and while he is not about to abandon its wondrous applications in any way, shape, or form, he has chosen to step back a bit, take a deep breath, and pay attention to the wisdom of our cultural forebears. “The interior struggle” of “information overload,” he writes--the phrase was presciently coined in the 1970s by Alvin Toffler--“is having a dramatic impact in our personal and family relationships.” Constant connectivity with the entire world--text messages, cellphones, video streams--leads him to ask the fundamental question: “What is the point anyway?” This is neither a preachy polemic nor a boring diatribe, and while he calls on Plato, Shakespeare, Thoreau, and others for guidance, he does so with style, humility and elan. “Every space is what you make it,” he concludes. “But in the end, building a good life isn’t about where you are. It’s about how you decide to think and live. Place your index finger on your temple and tap twice. It’s all in there.” Links to various reviews and broadcast interviews are available on Powers’ website.

The Groaning Shelf and Other Instances of Book Love, by Pradeep Sebastian; Hachette India, 295 pages, 12.99 GBP ($20 US).

A well-known literary columnist in India whose many pieces for major publications are available on the Internet, Pradeep Sebastian has entered the books about books genre in impressive fashion, with a very nice collection of his erudite pieces on a striking variety of subjects, many of them previously published in different form, though a few--including a generous profile of yours truly he calls “The Collector of Collectors”--appearing here for the first time. How can a reader of the Fine Books blog not be simpatico with someone who makes this admission: “Holding a book but not actually reading it gave me time (and put me in the mood) to reflect on the act of reading and the physicality of the book; the book as material object.” Or someone whose favorite Sunday afternoon ritual is take volumes off his groaning shelves and rearrange them in a new order? “Should I abandon the by-author arrangement and categorize them by subject matter?” Very heavy concerns, indeed. The book has just been released by the India division of Hachette, parent company of Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt. It should be available in U.S. outlets shortly; for now it can be ordered through Amazon.UK.

Of the dozens of titles on my bookshelves that deal with great book collectors of the past, not one deals exclusively with great women book collectors. 

I find this puzzling.  Certainly there is no lack of great femmes bibliophiles about which an author could write.  Aside from the well-known aristocratic and royal women book collectors of centuries past (Margaret of FlandersJeanne de Laval, Catherine de’ Medici, Frances Egerton, etc.), there are any number of other women who also have been great book collectors.  Within our own day, Estelle Doheny and Mary Eccles come immediately to mind.  As does Carol Fitzgerald.

And Olive Percival.


Few modern book collectors are likely to be familiar with Olive Percival, even though her collection of children’s books is one of the foundation collections of UCLA’s own notable collection of such books.  In truth, it is only through a serendipitous encounter with Ingrid Johnson’s MA thesis about Percival that your correspondent became acquainted with this extraordinary woman.

Olive May Graves Percival was born in a log cabin in 1868 in Sheffield, Illinois.  In 1887, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles, where Olive later became prominent (as a “writer, photographer, gardener, artist, and bibliophile”) in the so-called Arroyo Culture, a southern California branch of the Arts & Crafts movement.  Although employed as a lowly insurance clerk for over three decades, her income--supplemented by the occasional published article or book--was sufficient for her to amass a private library in excess of 10,000 volumes.

Lawrence Clark Powell, no mean collector himself, commented that [i]n spite of an income limited to her clerk’s earnings and from the occasional sale of articles, this woman...collected beautiful things so assiduously that, after her death, it took an appraiser two weeks to inventory the contents of her cottage.... What a pity that she lacked the wealth and the leisure of a Huntington or a Morgan.

An even greater pity was the lack of respect accorded Percival’s collection after her death in 1945.  Her entire library was sold for an outrageously paltry sum.  Because the bookseller who bought the collection thought its children’s books (527 volumes) would make a nice benefaction for his son’s alma mater, UCLA wound up with a truly remarkable foundational collection.  (Some 20% of the titles--the publication dates range from 1707-1914--are chapbooks.)

Percival did not collect only books on her insurance clerk’s income.  She also collected “hats, dolls, daguerreotypes, silver, textiles, quilts, fans, bookplates, Lalique, and Oriental art.”  In many ways, she very much lived the credo of the Arts and Crafts movement, as she herself noted in a diary entry: [s]ometime we shall perceive the need of a fitting background for everyday life and be willing to devote as much time to the intelligent arrangement and management of the place we call home as is given without a protest to bridge or the last best-seller or embroidery or the planning of some self adornment....

I have been able to locate only two books that Percival published during her lifetime--Mexico City: An Idler’s Notebook (1901) and Leaf shadows and rose-drift: being little songs from a Los Angeles garden (1911).  (Two more books were published posthumously--Yellowing Ivy [1946] and Our Old-Fashioned Flowers [1947].  Most of Percival’s published works were articles for periodicals, although she also occasionally penned stories for books like From the Old Pueblo and Other Tales.)

In 2005, Percival’s manuscript The Children’s Garden Book (depicted above) was published as part of The Huntington Library Garden Series.  The Huntington Library holds “Percival’s diaries, more than 700 of her photographs, and three book manuscripts....”

Yesterday Sotheby’s London announced some of the high spots of its December sale of Lord Hesketh’s high spots. Audubon’s Birds of America, the first folio of Shakespeare, William Caxton’s Polychronicon, letters signed by Queen Elizabeth I, and original drawings from Redoute’s Les Roses. From the press release: “The majority of the works in the sale were acquired by Frederick, 2nd Baron Hesketh (1916-1955), who bought them in a golden age of book collecting, when, paradoxically, great rarities seemed almost commonplace.” There’s also a nice write-up in the Guardian (“World’s most expensive book comes up for sale”) in which it is estimated that the sale will bring in a total of 8 million-10 million pounds ($12-15 million).  
The question is: why are medieval books so big? The answer, courtesy of the Got Medieval blog: “medieval books were the size they were because medieval sheep were the size they were.” The essay includes an instructive set of photos depicting sheep to sheet, and then all the folds that are made to create book sizes -- folio, quarto, octavo, sixteenmo, and the mini thirty-twomo. Pictured here is a page from the medieval manuscript Book of Kells (folio).   
oed.jpgLast week, Oxford University Press announced that the upcoming third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will only go to press “if there is enough demand for the printed volume when it becomes ready,” reported the AP. Otherwise, it shall dwell somewhere in the Internet ether. Lest you think that I’m going to write its obit. here (there’s a lovely one on the New Yorker blog already), I’m merely positing a question: is the OED now a collectible? Dictionaries are quite desirable -- in our current summer quarterly, we interview author Ammon Shea about his lexicography collection (he found a 1933 OED set for $200 at a used bookstore), and several years back, Nick Basbanes wrote a profile of dictionary collector Breon Mitchell. 
Andrew_Haswell_Green.jpgThe Boston Globe ran a great preview of a big auction coming up this week in Worcester, Massachusetts. The four-day sale, beginning on Sept. 9, will disperse the collection of Andrew H. Green (pictured here), born in Worcester in 1820, but who became known as the “father of greater New York” for his achievements as a city planner and civic leader. Among the 2,000+ lots containing dolls, games, silver, paper money, stamps, coins, and paintings, are early presidential letters and a copy of Washington’s will printed by Isaiah Thomas in 1800. Auctioneer R.W. Oliver has all of the catalogues online for perusal. As the article in the Globe points out, “From Green’s death in 1903 until 2009, virtually none of the items had ever been uncrated and examined. Packing boxes sealed more than a century ago were opened only after the death last summer of Julia Green, his great-great-grandniece and distant heiress.” So these items are on the block for the first time in more than a century, if ever. It certainly fuels the fantasy that great books, documents, and collectibles are still hidden in attics, waiting for us to find them. 
Bywords, according to one definition, are proverbial sayings that express some important fact of experience that is taken as true by many people.  For example: had you lived in the 17th-18th centuries, and you had wanted to convey the idea that something was “absolutely correct” or “according to the rules,” you might well have ended your assertion with the phrase “according to Cocker.”

What “important fact of experience,” “taken as true by many people,” would have led you to end your assertion with this phrase?

Edward Cocker (1631-1675) was an English engraver, writing master and mathematician whose magnum opus, Cocker’s Arithmetick, was published posthumously in 1677.  Over the next 150 or so years, this title (which contains the earliest known use of the concept of lowest terms) educated generations of British schoolchildren.  (The volume depicted below is the 33rd Edition of 1715, from the collection of Augustus De Morgan held by the Senate House Library at the University of London:)

004.jpgMuch of this title’s popularity and influence is attributed to the fact that it excluded all demonstrations and reasoning, and confined itself to commercial questions only.  It is to the presumed accuracy of Cocker in resolving commercial mathematical questions (since disputed) that the phrase “according to Cocker” arose as a byword for “absolutely correct.”

Samuel Johnson carried a copy of Cocker’s Arithmetick on his travels about Scotland, and the book was widely used in colonial America, not least by folks like Benjamin Franklin.  It would be an interesting collecting challenge to try and obtain as many editions of this title as possible, although several editions (DNB suggests at least 112 editions may have been published altogether) do not appear to have survived in even a single copy.  As a grammar schoolbook subjected to generations of hard use, this is to be expected. Makes the challenge more
Let the debates begin!

Pictured above: Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon.
NJback.jpgEarlier this week, the exhibition Money on Paper opened at Princeton University. Looking at bank notes as an art form, curator of numismatics Alan Stahl puts on display several treasures, including the recently discovered bank note engraving of a grouse by John James Audubon. The 1763 New Jersey shilling seen here (printed by James Parker of Woodbridge, courtesy of Princeton University) is one of the fascinating examples of nature printing in the exhibit. According to the exhibition’s website, “the most inventive printer of paper money of the time was Benjamin Franklin, who devised a system of transferring the vein patterns of tree leaves to printing plates to foil counterfeiters. The Princeton exhibition includes a large selection of Franklin’s nature-print notes.” Reading this prompted me to reach for a new book I recently received from Mark Batty Publishers -- Impressions of Nature: A History of Nature Printing by Roderick Cave (mbp, $85).ImpressionsOfNature.jpg There are several pages devoted to nature printing techniques in colonial America with examples of bank notes. Cave writes, “Franklin adopted various devices such as the use of paper incorporating flecks of mica, or pieces of coloured thread -- methods still sometimes used by securities’ printers -- but in the adoption of nature printing he was unique.”

Impressions of Nature is a beautiful book, brimming with full-color illustrations. Cave impressively relays the early history of nature printing, its spread through Europe, the work of major printers, and its applications in photography and graphic design. There seems to be something for everyone in this splendid volume.
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