February 2011 Archives

Today George Washington University announced a gift of $5 million and a collection related to the history of Washington, D.C. Small’s collection includes seven hundred rare documents, maps, drawings, and ephemera; a 1790 George Washington letter that outlines the ten square-mile area that would become the capital is one of the many high points. The 85-year-old Small told the Washington Post that he has been building this collection for more than fifty years.

As the university’s press release points out, Small is no stranger to collecting or philanthropy:

Mr. Small’s donation to George Washington University builds on a long and distinguished personal history of preserving and sharing America’s heritage. In 2005, he donated the earliest known image of the White House--a watercolor done in 1801 by J. Benford--to the White House, where it now hangs. The University of Virginia was the recipient in 2004 of Mr. Small’s remarkable collection on the Declaration of Independence, where it is housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. 

More at the Washington Post.
Bring home a taste of New Orleans in dishes created by some of our culinary wizards. We’ll start with Poppy Tooker, a New Orleans culinary activist, along with her friends at the Crescent City Farmer’s Market. Donald Link will share his magic grown from his culinary roots in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Nationally acclaimed Chef John Besh revisits his childhood hunting and fishing the Southeast Louisiana bayous, while Chef David Guas finishes things off with tasty, tempting desserts reminiscent of old Style New Orleans. Gather family and friends for a supper club taking turns drawing one dish from each book.

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If past ceremonies are any guide, there are going to be a lot of unhappy people at the conclusion of this evening’s broadcast of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

After all, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the group that awarded the 1941 Academy Award for Best Picture to How Green was My Valley instead of Citizen Kane; that awarded the 1997 Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role to Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful instead of to Edward Norton for American History X; that took 82 years to honor a woman with The Academy Award for Achievement in Directing (and has in fact only nominated a woman for that honor four times in its entire history).

4003LB.jpgThe world’s first feature-length film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was produced in Australia in 1906.  (This distinction resulted in this film being added [in 2007] to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.)   It was quickly followed by feature-length films from France (1907), Russia (1911), Great Britain (1912), the United States (1912), Japan (1912), India (1913), Brazil (1913) and South Africa (1916).   It may be small consolation to those who do not walk away with a statuette this evening that criticism of virtually every aspect of cinema is almost as old as the history of cinema itself.

Perhaps the most important of the earliest works of film criticism, Béla BalázsDer Sichtbare Mensch Oder Die Kultur Des Films (The visible man or the culture of the film) dates to 1924 (image above left via Lame Duck Books).  The book attracted enormous attention upon publication, and was quickly translated into almost a dozen languages.

51-cwla685L.jpgUnfortunately, then as now film criticism generally has meant journalism.  Unless one wants to collect long runs of various newspapers and magazines, collecting the literature of film criticism usually means going after the various anthologies and “collected works” of such criticism that have been produced over the past century or so.  Some collectors even go so far as to focus their efforts only on the works of particular critics or criticism of particular types of film.

However you choose to focus your efforts, you’re going to need lots of bookshelves.  WorldCat records over 27,000 titles for this subject....
The Awl, a NYC-based online magazine, posted a great piece this week on “How to Spot a First Edition.” The opening anecdote, though, is sure to draw readers outside the usual bibliophilic circles (31 reader comments and counting):

One of the most touching things about Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids is the way the author slips into book-scouting lingo when she describes the knack she had for that enjoyable (and revenue-enhancing) pastime in the late ’60s and early ’70s:

Not long after, I found a twenty-six-volume set of the complete Henry James for next to nothing. It was in perfect condition. I knew a customer at Scribner’s who would want it. The tissue guards were intact, the gravures fresh-looking, and there was no foxing on the pages. I cleared over one hundred dollars. Slipping five twenty-dollar bills in a sock, I tied a ribbon around it and gave it to Robert.

Smith describes a number of such finds. The mere idea that you could run into a signed Faulkner just wandering around a used bookstore in New Jersey!

It’s worthwhile to know a little bit about rare books--because it’s fun and also because you shouldn’t be letting valuable things slip off into perdition, if you can help it. There are many characteristics that tend to make a book more valuable, but nearly all the valuable ones are first editions. So what is a first edition, exactly? [Read More -- Seriously, Read More!]

Screen-shot-2011-02-17-at-10.10.59-AM.jpgLast week, McSweeney’s (the quirky and inspiring publisher featured in our winter issue) announced that it is launching a kids’ newspaper comics page, to be distributed through Tribune Media Services. According to McSweeney’s, “The Goods is a gallimaufry of games, puzzles, comics, and other diversions, appearing in newspapers across the U.S. and Canada.” (A sample page is pictured here -- George Washington powder-wig maze?!) One more bid to save the world of print, thank you McSweeney’s!
LOF rgb 72 3D 012011.jpgIn just a few days, The Leaves of Fate, the third volume in an historical trilogy written by Massachusetts bookseller George Robert Minkoff will be published. He follows up The Weight of Smoke and The Dragons of the Storm with this final volume on Capt. John Smith and Sir Francis Drake.

Several years ago when the first book was published, I had the pleasure of interviewing Minkoff about his literary pursuits. He told me about researching a novel. Here’s a snippet from that article, in the May/June 2007 issue:

Although Minkoff acknowledged he is “not a historian,” he took his research very seriously. He utilized his bibliographic experience to study the history of tobacco - a significant part of the story - by examining sixteenth-century books and pamphlets that provided divergent views on long-held beliefs and myths. He also delved into the history of alchemy, geography, disease and piracy to recreate Smith’s world and that of Smith’s Elizabethan-age hero and father figure, Sir Francis Drake.

The details in the original sources, he said, lend flavor to the narrative, especially to its language, which was very important to him. “Language is a character. I didn’t want it to sound like it was written last Wednesday,” he quipped.

No less a writer than Paul Auster has praised Minkoff, saying, “George Minkoff is one of the bravest men alive. He has gambled that a three-part epic novel about 17th century Colonial America -- written in a language that mimics the speech of the time -- can hold the interest of 21st century readers and bring satisfactions and delights as a work of contemporary fiction. Remarkably enough, he has won his bet.”

All three volumes are available in trade editions and in signed limited editions. Read a sample chapter at McPherson & Co.’s website.
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While in Atlanta last week, I stopped by the wonderful A Cappella Books on Moreland Avenue. While admiring a signed first edition of Where the Sidewalk Ends, a strikingly tall man excused himself to get past me on his way to the back of the store. I thought he looked familiar but didn’t give him much thought until he reappeared a few moments later asking storeowner Frank Reiss to open a locked case. That’s when I realized I was standing a few feet away from Luke Wilson, star of films such as Old School, Legally Blonde, and The Royal Tenenbaums.  (You may also know him as the brother of actor Owen Wilson.)  

What to do? Part of me was dying to ask him for an autograph or for permission to take a photograph, but I chickened out. I’m consoling myself with the thought that it would have been decidedly un-cool to bother him in a bookstore. Somehow it just didn’t seem the right place. 

Even sans souvenir, I am cheered by the encounter. It’s somehow encouraging to know that a Hollywood hunk like Wilson--he’s even better looking in person than on the big screen--has a bookish side. (A google search revealed that he has also been known to visit Left Bank Books in New York.)  

Guest Blog by FB&C reader, Martin J. Murphy of Richmond, Virginia

I was prompted to write this little appeal by a photograph that I came upon of the interior of the Annmary Brown Memorial in Providence, Rhode Island, taken sometime in the early part of the twentieth century. The Memorial was built in 1905 by General Rush Hawkins in memory of his wife and to house his collection of incunabula. The photograph [see it here] shows enormous book and display cases containing hundreds of fifteenth-century books, all lying open to reveal their magnificent printed and illuminated pages. The visual effect is stunning and prompted Alfred Pollard of the British Museum to refer to the Memorial as one of the great bookrooms of the world.

Those rooms must have been a wonderful place for a bibliophile to visit. When the librarian/curator/scholar Margaret Bingham Stillwell wrote an essay about the library in 1940, she titled it The Annmary Brown Memorial - a Booklover’s Shrine. In that essay, she writes: “When you enter the Annmary Brown Memorial you step literally into a bookroom of the fifteenth century. Displayed open on slanting shelves are several hundred books issued soon after the invention of printing. You might expect them to be primitive in design and clumsily made. But in reality there is a sense of perfection in them, a certain finesse that seems hardly compatible with the fact that they were among the first printed books known to the Western world.”

The use of the word “bookroom” rather than “library” in this context is telling. The latter is a rationalized repository of printed material; the former is a romanticized chapel consecrated to the display and appreciation of beautiful and important books.

When the Memorial came under the jurisdiction of the Brown University library system in 1948, the books were promptly rearranged into modern library storage format. That was the case when I would visit there as an undergraduate in the early 1970s, when the great bookcases presented only rows of drab, featureless spines instead of the magnificent printed pages for which fifteenth century books are so justly renowned. It became even grimmer when the University moved all of the incunabula out of the Memorial and into the John Hay Library, where they disappeared into a room that few people would ever even guess to exist, much less find on their own.

The rationale offered for the Memorial’s transformation from a gallery of art to a collection of entries in a card catalog was predictably pragmatic, citing security and preservation while overlooking the fact that the books had already survived 500 years without that kind of over-protective mothering. This seems to me to be an all too familiar story of how beautiful books slowly, inexorably, migrate from open view into the forgotten netherworld of the book graveyard, catalogued and stored as if they were just another copy of Great Expectations.

At the risk of stepping on the toes of a few medievalists, I will say that the principal appeal of fifteenth century books to bibliophiles today is not their textual content (most of which is either completely forgettable medieval theology or commonly known classics) but the appearance of the print, illuminations, rubrication, and illustrations on the pages. This was an era of wonderfully varied and idiosyncratic type design, page layout, and other visual features, before standardization got its grip on the printing arts.  Even the paper and ink are striking. Nothing can communicate this more effectively than to see dozens of examples ranged side by side.  Again, in the words of Miss Stillwell: “Their first impression is of enduring strength, a strange virility of type-design, of paper, ink, and in many instances of contemporary leather stretched taut over covers of hand-hewn wood...” Simply put, books like these are beautiful to look at and should be treated as art, not as mere packages of information to be summoned from the stacks by the (very) occasional scholar. This is particularly true of collections such as that of Rush Hawkins, which was conceived from the outset as a history of printing and typography rather than as a scholarly library. Margaret Bingham Stillwell clearly understood the real purpose and value of the collection and the magnificent display over which she presided was a tribute to her appreciation.

I’ve visited a lot of libraries and special collections but have never seen a display even remotely like the Annmary Brown bookroom as it appeared in those early days. Why is that? What would it be like to walk into a gallery of old master paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and find all but one turned face to the wall, in the interests of security and preservation?  Why should a library keep all but a small handful of its most beautiful books hidden away in locked stacks? Is it really security and safety,or a lack of adequate display space, or is it a fundamentally different mindset of the librarian?

I was surprised to discover recently that the Library of Virginia - a state institution focused on the history of Virginia - owns copies of the Nuremburg Chronicle and the 1476 Jenson Pliny, safely stored away. Those are two of the typographical masterpieces of the fifteenth century.   Given the official charter of the Library of Virginia, one would never expect to find them there.   Consequently, I suspect I might be one of only a handful of people outside the staff of the Library to have looked at those books in the last several decades. What else might be in there?

Not all books are created equal. Most are perfectly well served by efficient and secure storage in the stacks of a library - catalogued, shelved, and then delivered up only when a reader summons them with a call slip. The special ones, though, should not be handled in the same way. They mustn’t be allowed to disappear into hidden vaults, perhaps never to be seen again. It is for these books that one wants a curator that thinks of his or her domain not as a library, but as a museum. So please, librarians and curators of special collections, show us your books.

Thanks to Martin for sharing this essay with us. Any other readers have a secret bookish essay they’d like to share? Send to rebecca@finebooksmagazine.com.

No better day than Presidents Day to pour over the Raab Collection’s newest catalogue, The Life and Times of George Washington, or to watch the short video Raab created on the same subject.

Raab acquired publisher George Palmer Putnam’s personal collection of engravings related to Washington, as well as two chapters from Washington Irving’s biography of George Washington (in Irving’s hand and signed, $24,000). Some engravings are stand-alone, selling in the $100-$200 range. Most of the amazing Washington letters found within come with one of Putnam’s original engravings to frame or otherwise present with the acquisition. Jefferson and Adams also turn up.

The Life and Times of George Washington, in Autographs from Nathan Raab on Vimeo.


A documentary about the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) and its members. The film is centered around the Thirty-Sixth ABAA California Bookfair in San Francisco. The film focuses on the business of book selling, collecting and the fascinating diversity of material ABAA members present.

Relive Tennessee Williams’ theatrical life in The Historic New Orleans Collection exhibit Drawn to Life. The exhibit showcases dozens of drawings by the iconic Al Hirschfeld chronicling six decades of Williams’ productions on and off Broadway. In a fascinating archive of the playwright’s career, Hirschfeld brings to life the creative genius of Williams. The exhibit also shares how Williams often drew from his own life to create some of the most dynamic characters in American theater history.

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The editors sure must have had some fun with this one! Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson’s A Dodo at Oxford (Oxgarth Press, 2010) is, purportedly, the first volume of a diary kept by an Oxford student in 1683 - but this isn’t just any Oxford student; our anonymous diarist is the owner of what may be the very last surviving dodo, inherited from a mysterious Dutchman who met a bad end. The diary covers only March to May (at the end of which the student and his dodo are, it would seem, dodo-homeward-bound), during the course of which the dodo’s vital statistics, eating habits, tool use, sleep patterns, and noises are carefully chronicled.

The diary is presented here in facsimile, with many editorial annotations in the margins to explain various things going on in the diary, as well as people mentioned and the collection of random detritus found within the book (receipts, bookmarks, postcards, a spider, &c.). These marginal notes, along with several appendices at the end of the book, go into some depth about seventeenth-century book production generally and at Oxford in particular.

Our diarist doesn’t just chronicle his dodo’s doings, but also those of certain friends, including the ailing Mr Tompkyns and Mr Flay, whose oft-recounted dreams might seem vaguely familiar to modern readers, if their meaning is teased out a bit.

Full of wit, whimsy, and a fair helping of book history. Who could ask for more?
Erik Bosse of the Aldredge Bookstore has a number of short videos posted on YouTube, all worth viewing for a brief overview of a particular area of book collecting -- collecting autographs or signed books, evaluating the condition of rare books, terms used to describe collectible books, etc. For beginning collectors, it’s a set of good introductions. Here’s one on researching the value of books, through price guides and bibliographies.

bostonlinotype.jpgCall it bittersweet, if you like, but the sale next week of the entire contents of the City of Boston’s Graphic Arts Printing Plant at 174 North St., is yet another passing of the torch, and proof positive that the times surely-are-a-changing. Some 175 lots will be hammered down, according to Stanley J. Paine, the auctioneer retained by the city to clear out every vestige of a printing operation that closed last year after 78 years of service, and everything, in his words, is not only old, but downright antediluvian. “We’re selling the room,” he told the Boston Globe. “It’s all antique. All of it. Everything has its own particulars and story.”

Letter Press.JPGAnyone want a Vandercook Letter Press? Or a Linotype Model 31 Typesetting Machine (there are two of them)? A Heidelberg Sheet-Fed Printing Press? A Miehle Vertical Letter Press? Saddle stitchers, folders, paper cutters, collators? Drawer after drawer filled with wonderful metal type? A Super Portland Paper Punching machine? Some splendid oak filing cabinets from the 1930s and ’40s? The sale will start at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24, on-site, and for those who can’t make it, bids can be submitted online via Bidspotter, where a complete list and description of the lots--with photos--is listed. (Bids, in fact, are already being accepted.) I am particularly charmed, I must say, by Lot 154, pictured here at right, identified only as Antique Letter Press S/N 28546. I don’t have room in my cellar--and I don’t imagine my wife would be much too pleased in any case--but I sure am tempted.

The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC), housed in a complex of historic buildings in the French Quarter, seeks to preserve the history of culture in New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast. Just blocks from St. Louis Cathedral, the Williams Research Center on Chartres Street, houses more than 30,000 library items including books, pamphlets, periodicals, broadsides, sheet music, and theater programs. Open to the public, students, researchers, authors, and historians have access to more than two miles of documents and manuscripts, a microfilm collection and 400,000 photographs, prints, drawings, and paintings.

And from this massive collection comes one of the most ambitious THNOC projects, Furnishing Louisiana: Creole and Acadian Furniture, 1735-1835.

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Guest Blog by Roger Layton, Communications Manager, The Harold B. Lee Library at BYU on the A. Dean Larsen Book Collecting Conference March 17-18, 2011.

Brad-Westwood.jpgImagine yourself in a small quiet room passing rare, even one of a kind, books around a table surrounded by book lovers. You can hold the books, turn their pages, feel their weight and smell the paper or velum. Thanks to the efforts of a rare book curator you can do that once a year at the A. Dean Larsen Book Collecting Conference. The curator who created the conference is Brad Westwood (pictured here at left), and he was certainly the right person in the right place to share his dream with other book collectors. Westwood grew up in Provo, Utah, as the son of a local businessman. One of his jobs was to help out at the Greyhound Bus Terminal located in a building his father owned. Westwood met all kinds of people at his job, and he never lost his interest in meeting new people and hearing their stories. In college he worked in the Special Collections Library at Brigham Young University before moving to Philadelphia for graduate school. Eventually he returned to BYU where he became the head of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library.

Once established at BYU, Westwood never failed to promote his philosophy that the materials in Special Collections were available to researchers. While he was an expert in preservation, he knew that the value of the collection was enhanced by careful use. He also made outreach a part of his job. He gave presentations on the collection to community groups and invited local scholars, historians, architects, and other professionals to present lectures in the library. Westwood had the vision to combine all these elements into an annual event to promote the library while encouraging book collecting in the surrounding communities.

In 2003 Westwood, with the support of the other curators in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections, organized a conference titled “The Gentle Madness of Book Collecting,” named in honor of Nicholas Basbanes’ book. The conference had six seminars on divergent subjects--Back in the Saddle: Collecting Western Fiction, It’s My Press and I’ll Print What I Want To: Collecting Modern Fine Printing, The Top 50 Most Influential Books Ever Printed, Mormon Incunabula: The Infancy of Mormon Publishing, Conservation and Preservation: The Art of Preventing Dilapidation, and Street Literature: Common Reading, Uncommon Times. This initial conference set the tone for all future conferences (and the tradition of putting colons in all titles). It was well attended with over 60 guests and well received by the local book collecting community. Attendees included both book collectors and book dealers. The presenters were drawn from the curators in Special Collections, scholars from the university, and experts from outside organizations, for example, James S. Winegar, President of the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.

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BYU librarians from October, 1971. From left to right: Chad Flake, curator of special collections; Donald K. Nelson, director of libraries; Donald T. Schmidt, assistant director of libraries; and A. Dean Larsen, assistant director for collection development. Image courtesy of the Perry Collections.

For the next three years the conference moved forward. In 2004 its name was changed to the A. Dean Larsen Book Collecting Conference. A. Dean Larsen was one of the driving forces behind the development of the BYU’s Special Collections Library. At a time when BYU was growing into its university status Larsen actively sought out rare books and built strong collections that put the library ahead of the curve. For example, today the library has a strong Victorian collection including the largest Louisa May Alcott collection outside Orchard House thanks to Larsen’s work with dealers such as Madeline Stern and Leona Rostenberg in New York. The collection’s western Americana materials are strong, including materials from Zane Grey and a newly expanded Yellowstone collection that includes over 1,800 items from Larsen’s own collection. He even acquired Johannes Hevelius’ only surviving manuscript for the library. The fine press books and incunabula he purchased in the 1960s and 1970s were obtained for prices that are unimaginable bargains compared to today’s market. Beyond Special Collections Larsen worked to build the university’s general research collection. During Larsen’s 40 years with the library he purchased over three million volumes. Larsen passed away in 2002, but his family generously supports the conference with an endowment that helps keeps the price low so that even students can attend.

Duvall.jpgThere was no 2006 conference because conference organizers realized that by changing from a fall to a spring event there would be fewer conflicts with other events at the university. So the conference history jumps from 2005 to 2007. By 2009 Westwood moved on to work as the Collections Development Manager for the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. His successor as head of Special Collections, Russell Taylor, and Scott Duvall (pictured at left), the library’s Associate University Librarian (a title equivalent to associate dean), made sure that the conference continued to grow. They had worked with Brad since the beginning so the conference remains on track for the foreseeable future. In 2010 the conference continued the tradition of offering two pre-conference workshops, one on early photographic techniques and another on book binding. Other years the pre-conference classes have featured workshops on book forensics and illuminating manuscripts. The list of seminars has grown over the years to include seven or eight sessions that are repeated throughout the day. Popular sessions are taught three times to allow more people to enjoy the small sessions.

One of the paradoxical reasons the conference works so well is that the Harold B. Lee Library is large enough to host a number of small sessions. While 70 plus people attend each year they are only all together for a few minutes during the welcoming session and during lunch when they listen to a keynote speaker. The rest of the time everyone disperses into the library’s conference and seminar rooms where they gather around tables in small groups and literally rub elbows with other collectors and dealers. Seminars are limited to 12 to 15 people depending on the size of the room. Presenters are close enough that microphones aren’t needed and books can be passed around the table for everyone to see in turn.

The conference benefits from the library’s ready-made pool of professional book lovers. Librarians and curators call on knowledgeable student staff members who serve as seconds to help manage the organization and delivery of materials to the seminar rooms. The library is also able to provide campus security for the rare materials which have been pulled from the vaults under the library. These items are never left unattended during the conference.

Each year the organizers of the conference review the feedback from attendees and each year they work to make improvements. There are always more people interested in western Americana and Mormon collecting than any other topics. In fact those are the sessions that consistently fill up the fastest. But there are also requests for more information on how to get into collecting and how to find areas that are still affordable to collectors. This raises a dilemma. The conference is a great system to give small groups and individuals access to some of the rare items in the library collections, but some of those items are not likely to be on the market or may be out of reach for many new collectors. The library has worked to balance the desires of people who wish to see rare items and yet grow their collections by hosting seminars that address both needs. Participants may sign up for a session in the morning and hold a copy of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogo and after lunch they might attend a session on leaf books or collecting correspondence.

One of the most valuable features of the conference are the breaks between sessions. While all the sessions are held in one building and lunch is served in a building nearby, the breaks are a generous fifteen minutes. This gives everyone more than enough time to move from room to room. It also allows time to ask presenters one last question, get one last look at a particular item, or best of all get to know other people in the session. It’s an open secret that when Brad Westwood imagined the Book Collecting Conference he wasn’t just thinking about books and ephemera. Westwood was thinking about the people in the book collecting community and how much they needed a place to meet in neutral territory and build relationships. With the book world moving more and more online the opportunities for book collectors to meet and for dealers and customers to see each other face to face are declining. At the same time, the library benefits from a healthy community of book collectors because they are likely to be friendly toward the library and supportive of the library’s mission of preserving materials while providing access for research.

Quick facts about the A. Dean Larsen Book Collecting Conference:

It’s typically scheduled in the middle of March each year.
The 2011 topics include movable books (pop-ups), writers who worked together, illuminated manuscripts, and Mormon publications.
Thanks to the Larsen family’s underwriting, the cost for the conference has been reduced to $35.00. This includes lunch and a conference program with notes and resources for each session.
The cost for each pre-conference workshop is also $35.00. Attendees are on their own for lunch on the day of the pre-conference workshops.
All conference sessions are held in the Harold B. Lee Library located in the center of the Brigham Young University campus. Free visitor parking is located on the edge of campus.
The conference schedule and list of topics are released in late January. Registration is first come, first served.
Information and registration is posted online at http://lib.byu.edu/sites/larsen/the-a-dean-larsen-book-collecting-conference/. This website is also a good resource for information on past conferences.
The A. Dean Larsen Book Collecting Conference is held on the campus of Brigham Young University, which is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That means there is not only no smoking or alcohol permitted on campus but coffee and tea are not served with meals.

In honor of the day, a very appropriate vintage (vinegar) valentine for most of us. Found it on a blog devoted to “vintage goodness,” along with a short article about collectible valentines. Enjoy!


On day two of the California Book Fair, I began the day by attending a lecture by Professor Adrian Johns, author of The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, among other titles. He spoke to a filled room on the topic, “The Promise and Peril of a Universal Library.” He detailed the quest--from ancient times to modern--to create a universal library. Of course, the Google Books Project was a focus. Professor Johns wondered, “how it affects how we read and circulate knowledge,” or, to put it more plainly, “what is it for?” Artificial intelligence was one (frightening) answer.

After that I set out onto the floor again to get reacquainted with some booksellers and see some fascinating books. For example, Priscilla Lowry-Gregor at Lowry-James Rare Prints & Books showed me a stunning mid nineteenth-century English herbarium. Scott DeWolfe of DeWolfe & Wood talked to me about a neat set of five pamphlets he is offering related to a notorious 1831 murder in Massachusetts. Ian Kahn at Lux Mentis has a beautiful 1928 Candide (Random House/Pynson Press) in a custom portfolio with specimen printed pages colored by hand. I happened to be visiting Lux Mentis at a good time, and Ian introduced me to fellow browser Ken Shure of the Gehenna Press, who told me about his and Liv Rockefeller’s new imprint, Two Ponds Press, and its forthcoming inaugural work, Interior Skies: Late Poems from Liguria by Anthony Hecht. The edition of seventy-five will publish later this spring.     

The fair was less busy today than Friday, but overall, most booksellers I spoke to felt that the fair has been a good one, especially in terms of dealer-to-dealer sales. The fair will go on without me tomorrow, as I head back to New York, where many of us will meet again in April. See you then.    
This was a day filled with books and bookish things. I started my day visiting three of San Francisco’s amazing book shops -- John Windle, Brick Row, and Argonaut. All beautiful shops, and all open, even though the fair set-up was in full swing. I saw a very neat book at John Windle -- Home Decoration and Color Guide by Rockwell Kent. A slim little guide with color palettes, sponsored by Sherwin-Williams. Not expensive, and certainly a minor piece in a shop like that, but an interesting little find nonetheless. I had the pleasure of meeting Argonaut owner Bob Gaines in his shop, where is he training the third generation of Argonaut booksellers.

The CA book fair opened at 3:00. A line had queued from about 2:15 onward, a good sign. The bold signage and helpful staff marked the event’s entry, and from there, collectors were off and running. I spent about four hours on the floor, stopping at several exhibitors, among them Antipodean Books, Between the Covers, Lux Mentis, Books Tell You Why, Tavistock, James Cummins, Kaaterskill Books, Justin Croft, Oak Knoll, Serendipity Books (a very busy place with Peter Howard there), Plaza Books, Royal Books, and David Brass Rare Books (where I finally met Stephen Gertz of Booktryst fame). I also met Scott Brown in person after all these years! Scott is the founding editor of FB&C, now owner of Eureka Books in Eureka, CA. 

So much to take in, so many great books. Being in California, I suppose it’s inevitable to see a lot of Californiana, Jack Kerouac, and Charles Bukowski. Also Mark Twain. A couple of items caught my attention. In Justin Croft’s case, I saw the striking watercolor portrait of Emily Faithful (1835-1895), a pioneer of the British women’s movement and founder of Victoria Printing Press. It’s a lovely portrait, and having just read Emma Donoghue’s historical novel about Miss Faithful, The Sealed Letter, it was exciting to see at the fair. Books Tell You Why is featuring a new book from Heavenly Monkey Editions called The WunderCabinet. Created by Claudia Cohen and Barbara Hodgson, the book is issued in a box that features compartments of varying sizes containing objects from the creators’ own collections. The result is a wonderful interpretation of early cabinets of curiosities.

I managed to browse about 2/3 of the fair today, which means I am headed back tomorrow for some more serious looking. Until then...

In 2007, I was fortunate to be tasked with interviewing collector-extraordinaire Jay Kislak about his massive donation of early Americana to the Library of Congress. (My profile of him appeared in the January 2008 issue of FB&C.) I also had the pleasure of speaking with his wife, Jean, a noted collector of artifacts relating to Lady Emma Hamilton, who among various exploits is most famous for having had an affair with Horatio Nelson. 

The New York Times announced this morning that Kislak’s extensive collection of Hamilton items will be on exhibit at the Grolier Club in Manhattan starting next week. The exhibit runs through April 30. 

poster.gifThis afternoon the 44th annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair opens in San Francisco. Music is the theme this year, but with approximately 200 A.B.A.A. exhibitors on hand, there will be plenty first editions, artists books, illuminated manuscripts, fine bindings, children’s books -- really anything you could wish for (plus, it’s a beautiful, sunny day here in SF!). For a preview of what some dealers are bringing, see my blog from last week.

San Francisco is one of America’s premier ‘book towns.’ Last year, bookseller Matthew Jones wrote a feature for us, “Go West, Book Lover,” on all the great literary stuff to do here. Today I’m taking some of his advice and poking around some shops in my hotel’s neighborhood before heading off to the fair this afternoon. With the help of Chris Lowenstein of Book Hunter’s Holiday, I experienced the legendary City Lights book shop last night. Plus, she drove me down the infamously curvy Lombard Sheet. (Thanks, Chris!).


Inside the graceful pages of Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard, Debra Shriver shares her love affair for New Orleans and her French Quarter home. The poetic journey captures the city’s lusty European flair with the whimsical memories of Mardi Gras, the deep-seated traditions of Southern ambitions, and the grand pursuits of dining and imbibing.

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Guest Blog by Richard Minsky, book artist and FB&C book art columnist

Field Report from CODEX Wednesday, Feb. 9, 8:40 p.m.

Saltzwedel.jpgCaroline Saltzwedel, proprietor of  Hirundo Press started her talk, titled “The Red Line to Eve,” with the comment that Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was Hitler’s favorite opera. She presented a straightforward explication of the relationship of the plot to her interpretive imagery in this work-in-progress (shown above).

karasik.jpgMarina and Mikhail Karasik then gave a creative multimedia presentation of their project (shown above) on The Palace of the Soviets, titled The Tower of Babel of the USSR. It started with an unreleased 1938 propaganda video about the building, and went on to show books about the building, which was never built, but was written about as though it existed. The quantity of architectural designs, models, industrial production and political philosophy surrounding the attempt to build what would have been the world’s tallest building, topped by a statue of Lenin much bigger than the Statue of Liberty, was mind-boggling. Marina, comparing it to Atlantis, then showed the artistic interpretation of this as a book and a collage-cartoon, some of which was hilarious.

After a short break, Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director of the Bodleian Libraries (Oxford)  spoke about “The Place of the Book Arts in the 21st Century Research Library.” He started with historical examples of book art works, (pictured above) from Mughal illustrated manuscripts to those influenced by William Morris, and proceeded to contemporary competitions and exhibitions of bookbinding design. This was followed by the importance of artists’ archives, such as their acquisition of Leonard Baskin’s Gehenna Press (including Baskin’s Albion handpress) and Tom Phillips’ Dante’s Inferno.

Photos credit & courtesy Richard Minsky, who did an excellent job reporting from Codex for us!

If you’re looking for a creative palette, the city of New Orleans never disappoints. A true southern belle, she woos visitors with sultry street-side musicians, cayenne soaked gumbos, and the oozing beauty of garden mansions and French Quarter cottages. But did you know she is home to a very elite clan of literary legends?

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800px-PowellsBookstore.jpgBad news today out of Portland. Powell’s Books has cut 31 jobs, citing the need to scale back in the face of slow sales. The Portland Mercury has posted the full text of the press release, along with the following: “DON’T DIE, POWELLS! DON’T DIE! (please).”

Just about two years ago, the store shelved its plans for expansion.
Guest Blog by Richard Minsky, book artist and FB&C book art columnist

Field Report from CODEX Wednesday, Feb. 9, 7:20 a.m.

The second day of the CODEX Symposium presentations began with Markus Fahrner talking about the Fahrner & Fahrner creative process. Barbara Fahrner could not be there, so she sent a stack of cards for him to read with her general thoughts on this. While he was talking a series of images flashed on the big screen (shown below).

fahrner.jpgIt didn’t work for me. The images commanded a lot of attention. When the books on screen raised questions in my mind, those were not always parallel to what he was saying at the moment. Perhaps my brain was on overload from all the input here, but that much multitasking did not enhance my comprehension. I liked what he had to say, but would have preferred either a straight talk about the creative process with fewer or no images, or some reference to the images and how they exemplified the aspects of creativity being discussed at the moment.

Perhaps this is a new presentation paradigm, as Juan Nicanor Pascoe used a similar format later in the morning when talking about his life as a fine printer in Mexico (two images, pictured above). Juan was a protégé of the great Harry Duncan. The talk was entertaining, starting with his family history and their migrations through several generations back and forth between Mexico and the USA. The images, which showed Mexican landscapes, printing presses, beer, and Juan playing the guitar, did not demand the sort of attention that would distract from his narrative, so in this case the suite of background images was a successful accompaniment.

Didier_Mutel1.jpgBetween the above two presentations, we were treated to Didier Mutel’s saga of the acquisition of his atelier, which included presses, ancient containers of pigments, and all sorts of cool stuff (shown above). Originally housed in a historical edifice, he has had to move several times, and showed pictures of the various facilities and artifacts, interspersed with examples of his projects and his young childrens’ work, all of which was enlightening. A perfect combination of skillful means, intelligence, technical experimentation, visual acuity, and humor.

Martha_Hellion.jpgThe day’s sessions finished with Martha Hellion talking about “Artist’s Books and Printing Beyond Borders.” There were pictures of works by many artists (one pictured above), but unfortunately it was hard to figure out who did what or why it was important because of difficulties hearing her. It would be better in the future to use wireless Lavalier microphones rather than podium goosenecks, so that speakers can move about freely.

ninja-persephones2.jpgIn the afternoon the exhibitors were back at their tables, and several told me that sales were up from the previous CODEX. One of my favorites is The Persephones (seen above) by Nathaniel Tarn, from Carolee Campbell’s Ninja Press. Each folio is hand painted by Carolee with sumi ink and salt, with a stunning effect.

Photos credit & courtesy: Richard Minsky.

This past weekend’s Pasadena International Antiquarian Book Fair, held in the attractive, spacious, and well-lit Pasadena Center, was a great fair to shop for and to sell books. Located in the beautiful (and warm and sunny) town of Pasadena in southern California, the Pasadena Center has ample parking, is surrounded by a variety of restaurants and shops, and is immediately next door to a very hospitable Sheraton hotel. In short, it’s a great location for a mid-winter book fair and book buyers and booksellers flocked to this destination venue to see what a weekend book hunt would yield. The ABAA will hold its annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair in this same location next year, and I think the membership will be pleased with the new location.

Booths 405/406, which were shared by yours truly (Book Hunter’s Holiday) and Tavistock Books.

Dealer-to-dealer sales among the 100 or so booksellers, some of whom came from as far away as England, were brisk during Friday set-up and helped the fair get off to a good start. When the fair opened to the public Saturday morning, the aisles and booths were crowded. I saw books of all kinds, ranging from around $10 to as high as the mid-five-figures, offered for sale.

Busy at the book fair

Each night, various small groups of booksellers and even a few librarians gathered for dinner or at the hotel bar to regale one another with antiquarian bookselling lore, book fair successes and failures, and tales of books bought and sold.

Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis and Brad and Jennifer Johnson of The Book Shop enjoying a sushi dinner.

Booksellers held their collective breaths on Sunday, wondering who might choose to go to an antiquarian book fair (even a good one like Pasadena) on Super Bowl Sunday. We needn’t have worried, as the exhibition hall was filled with a crowd for most of the day.

Still busy at the book fair

All in all, it was a fantastic fair, and one in which I look forward to participating again.

Ready to sell some books!

Fantasy fans everywhere have marked April 17 on their calendars as the premiere of HBO’s new television series, Game of Thrones.  Promoted as the Sopranos set in Middle-earth, it is not surprising that this is one of the most highly anticipated shows of 2011.  As such, it might benefit a person to keep an eye on the first editions of the fantasy series it is based on, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice And Fire. 


 The first book, entitled A Game of Thrones, was published by Bantam Spectra in 1996.  It went on to win the Locus Award in 1997, with nominations for the Nebula and the World Fantasy Awards, as well.  The first edition (with the silver foil jacket), currently commands an impressive $300 and upward from rare book dealers.  (This blogger remembers buying several copies in the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble in 1999 for $5 each -- if only she’d bought a few more). 


A Game of Thrones was followed by A Clash of Kings in 1999, A Storm of Swords in 2001, and A Feast for Crows in 2005.  A Feast for Crows was the first book in the series to debut on the New York Times bestseller list.  And on Jan. 2, 2011, the paperback edition of A Game of Thrones hit the bestseller list, as well, thanks in no small part to the upcoming HBO adaptation.


The first editions for the rest of the series currently sell at affordable prices.  Decent copies can be had for under $50 -- though this may change after the HBO show premieres, or when the long-delayed fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, is finally published. 


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Other editions of the series to look out for: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords have all been issued in special illustrated editions with limited print runs of 500 copies.  They command hefty prices on the market, in particular A Game of Thrones, where the only copy currently online is priced at $2500.  A Clash of Kings can be had for the comparatively modest price of $500, while A Storm of Swords is currently not for sale.  As always, advanced reader’s copies are in demand, particularly for A Game of Thrones, which goes for $200 and up.

On a final note, Martin’s earlier work in science fiction and horror can be found on the cheap.  Collectors have zeroed in on the Song of Ice and Fire series in particular and so far have largely ignored Martin’s extensive back catalogue.


Whether you delve into the world of Martin collecting or not, the HBO show looks to be downright brilliant:

Guest Blog by Richard Minsky, book artist and FB&C book art columnist

Field Report from CODEX Tuesday, Feb. 8, 7:20 a.m.

symposium-attendees.jpgYesterday the CODEX Symposium started with a presentation by Crispin & Jan Elsted, proprietors of Barbarian Press, of their new edition of Shakespeare’s relatively unread romance,The Play of of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, illustrated with wood engravings by Simon Brett. An extensive presentation including a video tour of the book is at: http://www.barbarianpress.com/catalog/pericles.html.

Jan_Elsted3.jpgWhat makes this book exceptional is that Crispin, who edited and conceptualized it, is an actor who has performed it and is also a director, a composer, and a poet. This made for a compelling presentation (shown above). The integration of type and calligraphy in the design begins with part of the text coming before the title page, as in contemporary movies where the action begins before the title and credits start to roll. This reinterpretation of a book’s sequencing continues as a theme throughout the text. Jan elaborated on the production process and the interactions of the collaborators, punctuated with poetic notes that Simon Brett had sent her on how to approach the printing of the images, which vary from small ornamental work to highly erotic, nearly pornographic vignettes, to powerful full page blocks. The continuous integration of text and image creates a book of great visual appeal.

peter_koch.jpgDebra_Magpie_Earling.jpgThis was followed by a presentation by Peter Koch (shown above) on the production of The Lost Journals of Sacajawea, which began with a moving reading by the author, Debra Magpie Earling (seen here at left). The book presents a spiritual and political view of the destruction of the native American landscape and culture in a poetic amalgamation of text with archive photos selected by Peter and printed in an unusual process by Don Farnsworth.

The Symposium ended its first day with a lecture by Paul van Capelleveen of the Museum Meermanno on the evolution of Dutch fine books. In the evening there was a reception at the Berkeley City Club for his new book, The Ideal Book. Private Presses in the Netherlands, 1910-2010.

In the afternoon the exhibitors were back at their tables. It is a valuable experience watching curators and special collections librarians look at a daunting number of books. The attention that is paid to each, along with the discussions of content and production values, was a lesson in connoisseurship, diligence, and love.

Photos credit & courtesy Richard Minsky.

I’m a New Orleans gal living 30 miles north of the city on six acres of piney woods and often retreat to my porch swing to pen my prose. Photography is another passion and being a visual writer I often use it to compose my work. I make frequent trips to the city reconnecting with the things that make New Orleans so special and hope you’ll join me as we uncover her elusive treasures.
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Guest Blog by Richard Minsky, book artist and FB&C book art columnist

Field Report from CODEX  Monday, Feb. 7, 7:20 a.m.

codexrm2.jpgThe CODEX book fair and symposium kicked off last night with a VIP reception at the UC Berkeley Student Center Ballroom. One hundred and thirty-eight exhibitors from around the world have tables filled with book art, fine press books, and livres d’art.

Peter Koch (seen here at left), the entrepreneur who created and directs the CODEX Foundation,
is himself an artist and publisher of fine editions. He is showing recent works, and I was particularly taken by The Lost Journals of Sacajawea by Debra Magpie Earling, illustrated by Peter with photographs. Debra is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation.

Marshall Weber of the Booklyn Artists Alliance had acandace-hicks-2.jpg plethora of books by artists they represent. When you stop at his table, ask to see the needlework Composition books of Candace Hicks (pictured here at right).

It’s always a treat to see artist, papermaker, printer, and publisher Robbin Ami Silverberg of Dobbin Books. Very few people can make a book from conception to growing the plants for special paper fibers, creating text and images, printing and binding, and Robbin’s work is exemplary.

Russell_Maret2.jpgIn addition to several recent books Russell Maret has on display, he has been designing his own type faces for his press and is showing sample pages from his forthcoming book, Specimens (two of which are seen above). He is currently president of the Fine Press Book Association. According to Russell, CODEX is the most important exhibition for book sales, and is an order of magnitude above the rest.

The Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts has copies of JAB, the Journal of Artists’ Books, and when you stop by there be sure to talk to the founder & editor-in-chief, Brad Freeman, who has been publishing it for sixteen years.

Central_Booking.jpgMaddy Rosenberg has a table (pictured above) with works by the artists who show at Central Booking, her gallery in Brooklyn that features contemporary book artists.

There are many more to talk about, but now I have to go because the CODEX
Symposium is about to begin...

Photos credit & courtesy: Richard Minsky.

To meet more of the artists exhibiting at CODEX, read last week’s preview of the fair.

lf.jpgHeritage will hold its Signature Illustration Art Auction in Beverly Hills on Friday, February 11-12 (two sessions). The lovely Garth Williams illustrations from Little House on the Prairie and Stuart Little may be the main event for some collectors, but on the other side of the spectrum, the pulp art work of Norman Saunders (such as the oil on canvas seen here, “Ten Detective Aces,” from a May 1941 pulp cover) is sure to draw some attention. The estimate is $8,000-$12,000. “Among his most notable creations are his many lurid painted covers for the pulp and men’s magazines, his dramatic painted comic book and paperback covers, and his infamous trading card scenes for Topps,” said Heritage illustration art specialist Todd Hignite, in the winter 2011 issue of Heritage magazine.

In FB&C’s summer issue, we noted a trend in children’s illustration, mainly among museums, which may be driving the increased auction interest. At the time, both curators and collectors told us that children’s book illustration is growing in prominence, fueled by popular appeal, nostalgia among Baby Boomers, and the “relatively recent recognition of illustration as valuable art.”

To wit, at Bonhams’ Fine Books & Manuscripts auction on Feb. 13, a rare signed Beatrix Potter illustration will be on the block for an estimated $12,000-$18,000. Also at that sale -- a signed, original mixed media on cardstock cover design by Dr. Seuss, for the book, You’re Only Old Once! (est. $20,000-$30,000). 
In less than one week’s time, the antiquarian book world will converge upon San Francisco for the 44th California International Antiquarian Book Fair. More than 200 members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers will be on hand with some amazing books, maps, posters, photographs, etc., some of which are previewed below. I’ll be there too! So stay tuned for more book fair coverage, once the fair opens on Feb. 11.

Kaaterskill Books of Easy Jewett, NY, issued a list of items it’s bringing to the fair, a wide variety that includes George Washington’s Farewell Address from 1796 in its original blue-gray wrapper ($1,750) to a second edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Pictures of the Gone World with holograph poem ($500), to several Mexican, Central American, and South American imprints.

book_334_Image1.jpgOne of the many intriguing books offered by Leo Cadogan Rare Books is a 1649 duodecimo from Cologne: Thaumaturgi physici prodromus, id set problematum physicorum liber singularis... (seen here at right). Author Gaspar Ens collected “problems” related to the physical world, such as how to apprehend people who pretend to have been possessed by the devil and how to cure sheep.

You can download a list of items Pickering & Chatto will be exhibiting. The one that caught my eye is a first edition of Eleanor Fenn’s The Female Guardian (1784) --Moral lessons for girls written by Mrs. Teachwell from her own experiences as a private school teacher. (£2,500). A selection of Suffragette material deserves notice, as does the scarce first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Thoughts on the Education of Daughters from 1787 (£5,500). I’m detecting a theme here.

Prominent on Bruce McKittrick’s comprehensive list are Art & Architecture titles, with titles such as Gautier’s L’Art de dessiner, Paris, 1697 ($2,200) and Le Muet’s Maniere de bien bastir, Paris, 1647 ($4,800); Incunabula, such as the only known copy of Aesopus moralisatus, c. 1482 ($85,000); and Bibliography, such as an uncut Fournier’s Dictionnaire portatif de bibliographie, Paris, 1805 ($750).

See you at the fair! 

From Pasadena, booksellers and buyers (particularly those interested in books arts, fine press, and artist’s books) will make their way north to Berkeley, on the University of CA campus, where the third biennial CODEX International Book Fair and Symposium opens on Feb. 6 (and runs through Feb. 9). Book artist and FB&C Book Art columnist Richard Minsky will post his impressions during and after the fair on this blog. Until then, here’s a preview of five amazing books to see there.

Nolli.jpgAlice Austin Artists Books of Philadelphia, PA, will be there with Nolli (seen above), an exploration of the textural layers of Rome, by Alice Austin and Jon Snyder, was inspired by the Giambattista Nolli map of Rome, 1748. Alice told me via email, “The book was folded from one sheet of paper which was printed offset lithography in six colors, which required six runs through the Heidelberg Kors press, at the Borowsky Center for Publication Arts, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA.”

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credit: Alicia Bailey

Alicia Bailey of Abecedarian Gallery in Denver, CO, has a beautiful book of love potions and spells, just in time for Valentine’s Day. As seen above, Theia Mania (madness of the gods, or the Greek term for ‘love at first sight’) is a collaborative work including 4 books and an audio CD housed in an aluminum box. Over 25 individuals participated in its production, which was executed by Alicia Bailey at Ravenpress. Another piece from Abecedarian is Fibre Libri, by Bridgit Elmer of Flatbed Splendor. Alicia tells us, “It is an artist’s book that tells the story of a group of people, learning about free software while learning to make paper.”

Pisano-Breathe.jpgBook artist Maria Pisano will introduce two new books from Memory Press, Viva Voce and Breathe. In an edition of 20, Viva Voce is a response to landays taken from Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women’s Poetry, collected by Sayd Bahadine Marjouh, who was subsequently assassinated. Pisano will also feature Breathe (seen above), a response to The Flower Soul, a poem by Imogen Brashear Oakley. A limited edition artist’s book, designed, printed--intaglio and relief--and bound by the artist, on Rives BFK and vellum. The text is handset and jointly printed on a Vandercook with Alan Runfeldt.

local-conditions_13_053.jpgAnagram Press will showcase Chandler O’Leary’s newest artist book, Local Conditions: One Hundred Views of Mt. Rainier (seen above). Local Conditions is an interactive artist book, capturing the changing faces of Mt. Rainier. The book contains 120 image flats and a viewing box; by combining and layering the flats, the reader can create literally millions of scenes. Illustrated and compiled from data collected by O’Leary, on location, over the course of two years. Letterpress printed, hand-watercolored, housed in a set of drawers with nested stab-bound book and Japanese-style outer wrapper. Edition of 26 books.

Sarah Horowitz1027.jpgSarah Horowitz of Wiesedruck Press will be featuring her recently completed work, Archeologies of Loss, a limited edition book of poems by Sarah Lantz and chine colle, botanical etchings by Sarah Horowitz, with a remembrance by Eleanor Wilner. She’ll also be showing a new broadside of William Blake’s poem “Ah! Sun-flower” with a small sunflower etching.

For a complete list of exhibitors, click here. Enjoy!

Pasadena is where it all begins this weekend, commencing a string of three major book fairs in California over the next ten days (next is Codex, and then the CA book fair in San Francisco). I’ll offer some preview highlights of them over the next few days, and our correspondents “on the ground” will chime in with post-fair recollections when they can.

The 12th annual Pasadena International Antiquarian Book, Print, Photo, and Paper Fair will be the first stop for many booksellers and buyers.

Book Hunter’s Holiday will be there, with some handmade history: an intriguing photo album filled with 150 images from the Soviet Union in 1932 composed by a far-right German nationalist ($3,500) and a 54-page scrapbook of the Battle of Manila Bay from 1898 created by the navigator of the flagship U.S.S. Olympia, with official, signed documents tipped in ($1,000).

Athena Rare Books has a generous selection of philosophy titles, priced from $65 to the mid-five figures. They are also offering a range of titles, both in Pasadena and next week in San Francisco, that include Mary Woolstonecraft’s The Vindication of the Rights of Women ($18,000) and Bill Wilson’s Alcoholics Anonymous, first edition, in first dj, inscribed by the author ($50,000).

Likely to please buyers at the Thorn Books booth are several sets of nineteenth-century Valentine’s Day Cards. They also have several first editions, such as a near fine first edition of Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms ($300) and some children’s titles, such as an early edition of Mother Goose illustrated by Kate Greenaway ($100), among the variety on offer.

The fair runs February 5-6, 2011 at the Pasadena Center 
Exhibit Hall A, 
300 E. Green Street, 
Pasadena, CA. Hours: Saturday 10am - 6pm
, Sunday 11am-4pm. For a full list of dealers, click here.

Elena Mauli Shapiro’s 13, rue Thérèse (Reagan Arthur, 2011) is a beautifully-designed meta-narrative about an American academic in Paris who “discovers” in his office file cabinet a box containing a small archive of family photos, letters, and personal artifacts from the early decades of the 20th century. As he works his way through the box he finds himself becoming more and more intertwined with the original owners of the items within, and also developing a strange connection with his secretary (whom, we learn very quickly, had in fact planted the box for him to find).

While the threads of the story itself didn’t happen to be all that interesting to me, I found Stratton’s process of delving into the box and discovering its various component pieces very intriguing, and the way Shapiro has integrated illustrations and typographical decorations into the text is nicely done indeed.

Worth a read just for the design, honestly.
unbound_263.jpgToday an interesting exhibit opens at the Ransom Center in Austin. Culture UnBound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century presents archives of writers or artists acquired in the past decade. So the focus is “modern archives,” for example those of Julian Barnes, Jayne Anne Phillips, Don DeLillo, Tim O’Brien, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and Norman Mailer. These twentieth-century letters, photographs, notebooks, and journals (such as those of David Mamet seen here) will be on exhibit through July 31.

David Foster Wallace is another highlight of the show. The Ransom Center acquired his archives in 2009 and just opened it to researchers this past fall. Which is good news for the many researchers who have been eager to study Wallace’s writings. As Molly Schwartzburg, curator of British and American literature at the Ransom Center, said back in September, “It is quickly becoming apparent that this is an opportunity for the Ransom Center to welcome a new generation of scholars into our reading room, just as the Wallace papers themselves mark a new generation of writers to be acquired by the Center.”

This trend was recently picked up by Jennifer Howard in The Chronicle of Higher Education. She wrote:

Those paying attention will notice that younger scholars, including graduate students and postdocs, loom unusually large in all this activity: organizing conferences, contributing papers, coediting collections. That trend has made itself evident at the David Foster Wallace archive at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, too.

As the archive’s curator, Molly Schwartzburg is on the front lines of scholarly interest in Wallace. She oversees an abundance of newly available material to tempt scholars: manuscript drafts, correspondence with editors, annotated books from Wallace’s library. After The Pale King is published this spring, the center will receive materials related to that novel as well.

Since the Wallace archive opened in September 2010, Schwartzburg and her colleagues have been flooded with queries from researchers. “There’s extremely high interest in the collection, especially from younger scholars,” she says. “Wallace was born 10 years later than any other writer whose archive we house. That really is notable, and it’s reflected in the demographic of researchers we’re hearing from.” Many are graduate students, the curator says. “Younger scholars early in their career are doing a lot of work on Wallace.”

app.jpgAdding to this chorus is Columbia University Press, which just released Wallace’s
Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will, a critique of Richard Taylor that Wallace wrote as an undergraduate at Amherst. His unfinished novel, The Pale King, will be published this spring by Little, Brown & Co., which will certainly feed the new scholarship. 

Auction Guide