March 2011 Archives
It’s enough to make the most productive person feel quite lazy!
Minsky’s newest book is a look at his most influential pieces (including those from private collections) together with a first-person narrative in which he discusses his influences, his methodology, and the principles that shape his work. It also features a foreword by book art scholar and curator Betty Bright.
From now through Thursday, March 31, a pre-publication discount will apply for the deluxe slipcase edition, which means it can be purchased for $100 instead of $175. The edition is limited to 150 signed and numbered copies.
A trade edition of this book will be be published in June by George Braziller, Inc., the same company that produced Minsky’s The Art of American Book Covers last year. (I raved about that one, so it’s an understatement to say that I’m looking forward to the new one.)
To read more about Richard’s work, click over to this interview I did with him last June just before Yale opened its exhibit, “Material Meets Metaphor: A Half Century of Book Art by Richard Minsky.”
Over at the ILAB website, an essay by Roy Davids on “Manuscripts and the Worthiness of Collecting” is well worth a read on this exciting occasion. Writes Davids, “Collectors pass on something for their successors to absorb, and to be absorbed by, and to build upon. And with their own reflections, research and books and catalogues, they can make important contributions to knowledge and civilised life.”
It wasn’t until 1834 that the-state-now-known-as-California could lay claim to the black art, thanks to the efforts of a former provisional governor, Agustin Vicente Zamorano. Even then, residents had to wait an additional year before they could lay claim to the future state’s first printed book (Manifiesto a la Republica Mejicana..., 1835).
From little acorns do mighty oaks grow. A search on OCLC using “California” as the subject generates a list of almost a half-million titles!
Even if one eliminates titles not actually printed in California, as well as duplicate entries, ebooks, large print books, etc., etc., that’s a staggering number of potentially collectible books. Little wonder, then, that some of the first titles that most serious collectors of Californiana add to their bookshelves are bibliographies.
Over the years, collectors of Californiana have been blessed with a great many excellent bibliographies. Some of these, due to their wide geographic coverage, are known to collectors outside the world of Californiana. Examples include Howe’s U.S.iana, Wagner & Camp’s The Plains and The Rockies, and Mintz’s The Trail.
Many more, though, are utilized mainly by specialist collectors, booksellers and librarians. Among these are such noteworthy titles as Wheat’s Books of the California Gold Rush, Rocq’s California Local History, Greenwood’s California Imprints 1833-1862, Cowan’s 4-volume A Bibliography of the History of California 1510-1930, and Weber’s California Bibliographies.
Not all great bibliographies of Californiana, though, are found in titles that were published specifically as bibliographies. I was reminded of this truism not long ago while perusing Zamorano Select, the recent update of that classic collector’s handbook of Californiana, The Zamorano 80. Item 92 in Zamorano Select is James Avery’s Pritchard’s The Overland Diary of James A. Pritchard from Kentucky to California in 1849. This is part of what the annotator, William G. Donohoo, had to say about the title:
The discovery of gold in California lured Americans of all stripes. In the spring of 1849 about 30,000 people--nearly six times as many as ever traveled the trail before--showed up at civilization’s edge on the western Missouri border to begin the trek on the Oregon-California Trail. Because none could leave the settlements before the spring grass was high enough to provide fodder, and because they had to complete the 120-day trip before the winter snows began in the Sierra, the entire emigration began its march within about a four-week period, creating a five hundred mile-long traffic jam....
Because the trail was a single line across the western half of the continent, and because so many emigrants were on the trail at the same time, there was constant interaction among the travelers. Wagon trains would form, then break apart under the strain of the journey, only to reform with new members. Families in different groups would get together around the campfire to swap stories or share trail gossip. Diarists recorded these interactions, creating what would be a rich mosaic of the emigration, but until the publication of this book there was no simple access to all the sources. In an invaluable appendix, [editor Dale Morgan] describes 132 diaries of the 1849 emigration--all that were known to exist at the time....
Similar “hidden” bibliographies have also received their due, several in that greatest of all gold rush bibliographies, Gary Kurutz’s The California Gold Rush A Descriptive Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets Covering the Years 1848-1853:
News Flash: With so many great bibliographies readily available to anyone who might be interested, Californiana is likely to remain a serious collectible for years to come....
Since 1976, Ars Libri of Boston has built up an incredible stock of rare and out-of-print art books, including topics related to art history, architecture, archaeology, photography, and the decorative arts. Its newest catalogue, #158: 33 books from a private collection is but one small, select sampling.
Two unrecorded advertising papillons (posters) for a German Dada exhibit are here ($9,500) -- excellent examples of the focus on modern art and the avant garde for which Ars Libri is known by collectors. There’s also a fine first edition of L’amour fou by Andre Breton with photographs by Brassai and Cartier-Bresson, published in Paris in 1937 ($950).
Several Max Ernst items are likely to draw attention. The catalogue calls the rare original limited edition of Les malheurs des immortals by Paul Eluard and Max Ernst, “one of Ernst’s greatest achievements in collage and book illustration” ($7,500). Cubist Fernand Leger is also represented with three editions for which he provided illustration.
A complete run of Wendingen, an art and architecture journal published from 1918-1931, housed in six fitted clamshell cases ($30,000) brings this slim and colorful catalogue to a powerful close.
Download a PDF of the catalogue here, or contact Ars Libri for a print version.
Now for the update. The filmmakers announced that Typeface will be broadcast on PBS stations across the country beginning April 4. (Check your local listings.) They have been holding successful screenings here and abroad for more than a year (Spain, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, & Tulsa next month).
They’ve also posted a short interview with the museum’s Moran brothers, who talk about the effect the film has had on the museum and the letterpress renaissance.
More than 130 years after it was started, his abandoned first novel has been recovered and will be completed and published soon.
From an article in Scotland’s The Herald:
Before the swashbuckling Kidnapped, before the sinister The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, there was The Hair Trunk. Begun in 1877 when Stevenson was only 27 years old, The Hair Trunk was supposed to be the definitive novel of the bohemian age, drawing on his time in artists’ colonies in France.
However, within two years he had abandoned it. His first official novel, Treasure Island, would only appear in 1883.
The Hair Trunk has lain incomplete since then, considered a mere juvenile curio by Stevenson scholars. Few were aware of it. Even fewer have read it. It existed only on 140 parched pages in an American library.That is, until now.
The premise of the book is, at first, hard to swallow. It’s England, 1964, and Esther Hammerhans, a young library clerk at the House of Commons, has advertised for a boarder. What shows up on her doorstep is a big black dog who calls himself Mr. Chartwell. He walks, he talks, he drinks gin; little by little, Esther lets him in.
Winston Churchill enthusiasts will understand the ‘black dog’ reference, as the great man once characterized his depression as such. Indeed the 89-year-old Churchill plays a prominent role in the novel, and it is in portraying the struggle and desperation of these two characters--Winston and Esther--that Hunt is at her best. She certainly takes risks with this novel, which she pulls off for the most part. Her agility with language is impressive, and Mr. Chartwell can be a very satisfying read for those willing to play along.
Published first in the UK, Mr. Chartwell was praised as “daring,” “quirky,” “original, tender, and funny,” by the national papers. Here, reviews seemed mixed. Publishers Weekly found it “very original” and “clever,” while Tadzio Koelb for the New York Times Book Review thought it “strained.”
Judge for yourself. To read an excerpt published by the New York Times earlier this month, go here.
RRB: Victor, I know from your work with Nicholas Basbanes that you have a literary profession. Tell us about yourself and how you came to be a collector.
VG: My background is in book publishing. After studying literature in college, I landed a position with a small, scholarly publisher, where I edited manuscripts and promoted books. As a promotion specialist, I went on, over the course of sixteen years, to head publicity departments at several trade and scholarly publishing houses. Later, I started my own company, Gulotta Communications, Inc., a full-service PR firm for authors and publishers. As a literary publicist, I continue to represent fiction and nonfiction authors.
While the authors I represent are very much alive, the ones I collect are decidedly dead. Looking back at the genesis of my collecting, I’d have to say that it was in grade school when I began a systematic effort to acquire books. I loved our local library in Brooklyn, but found returning books a bit frustrating: I wanted to keep the books I’d read, so I could refer back to them at my convenience. The solution was in the copies of Scholastic and Tab books I would order through my school. Each month, our teachers, most of whom were nuns, would announce to their respective classes that a shipment had arrived. Then they would bring in the boxes of books and dispense them to the beaming students who had placed orders. I always felt sorry for the kids who emerged empty-handed.
I chose books from different genres, including American and English lit (which included Dickens novels), history, biographies, science, and science fiction. Now I had books I could read, reread, and cherish. I began to assemble a nice collection of paperbacks, eventually supplementing or replacing them with hardcover editions. Much later on, I discovered the joy of first editions. Thus began my collecting.
RRB: Your focus has been Dickens, and that’s the collection up for auction in April by Heritage. Why Dickens, and how long did it take you to put this collection together?
VG: Dickens has long been my favorite English novelist. I suppose it’s his treatment of social injustice that I find most compelling. Then there are all the other reasons to love Dickens--too numerous to go into here. Suffice it to say that I never grow tired of his fiction, nor of accounts of his life.
I began collecting Dickens in earnest in 2001, shortly after selling my Longfellow collection, a fourteen-year project, to Harvard. The connection between Longfellow and Dickens, who were trans-Atlantic friends, was in the back of my mind when I shifted gears. I’ve saved a letter in which Longfellow reflects on his 1842 visit with Dickens in England.
It took me ten years to build my Dickens collection. It reflects my deep appreciation for the life, not just the works, of this great novelist.
RRB: What are your buying methods -- visiting shops, perusing catalogues, attending fairs, searching online? Has one dealer been especially helpful?
VG: When I collected Longfellow, there were several dealers--people like Jim Randall at Ahab Rare Books in Cambridge and David O’Neal in Boston--who always kept me in mind for special material. In the early stages of collecting Dickens, I relied in part on Heritage Book Shop in Los Angeles (not to be confused with Heritage Auctions in Dallas). They were legendary Dickens specialists, and I acquired a number of parts issues from them. As I advanced in my collecting, I drew from a multitude of sources.
I continue to buy from diverse sources, in particular because my interests are more varied these days (in addition to nineteenth-century literary material, I collect early printed volumes and medieval manuscripts). When I can, I visit shops, but I buy primarily from auctions and online listings, fairs when they’re in town, catalogues, and occasionally from individuals.
RRB: For many book collectors, the best part of collecting is the chase. Which of these items was the most fun to “find”?
VG: Undoubtedly, the most satisfying find was the Autographed Quotation Signed (AQS) of Little Nell’s death scene in The Old Curiosity Shop. Dickens penned this piece while in Boston during his first American tour, in 1842. Dickens AQsS rarely come on the market; I acquired this piece some years ago at a small local auction. It had not seen the light of day for decades before.
RRB: Why have you decided to sell the collection?
VG: Collections are fun-filled, intellectually stimulating projects. I collect a lot of historical--mostly literary--material. Collecting fuels my interest in, and knowledge of, a particular subject, whether it’s an author, a genre, or a period. When I reach the stage of accomplishing what I’ve set out to achieve--and that usually means a collection has been formed to my satisfaction--I move on. In the case of Longfellow, that meant finding an appropriate institution to house the collection. With Dickens, I’ve chosen to go the auction route, in part because he was more of a public figure--it seems appropriate that his letters, portraits, first editions, and other material should be made available to his many fans, especially on the eve of the bicentenary celebration of his birth (2012).
RRB: Do you have a favorite piece, one that’s most difficult to part with? (I just love the red wax seal with Dickens’ crest -- it seems so personal.)
VG: Besides the aforementioned Little Nell manuscript item, I’d have to say that I will most miss the photographs. Comprising several lots, there are two dozen cartes de visite, a couple of cabinet cards, and a large albumen photo, each a contemporary image of Dickens. Like the autograph material--and the wax seal you mention--these images provide a personal connection to Dickens. Yes, you can read a Penguin paperback copy--or better yet, a first edition--of David Copperfield, his most autobiographical novel; or treat yourself to the meticulously detailed 1952 biography of Dickens by Edgar Johnson, and you’ll make a deeply personal connection with the great novelist, but spend some time with these photos, taken from life, and you’ll add a new dimension to your appreciation for Dickens.
To read more about the Gulotta Collection, read this article written by HA’s rare books manager Joe Fay in the company’s January newsletter. Our thanks to Mr. Gulotta for spending some time with us.
One of FB&C’s contributors sent Peter Harrington’s most recent catalogue to me this week with a ringing endorsement. Many of you will recognize the name of this London rare books firm and bindery, which has been in business since 1969. Catalogue 75 runs 117 pages, showing 75 lots of manuscripts, incunabula, and first editions, in a glossy paperbound format. Indeed it is better looking than most publishers’ paperbound books.
A first edition of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy... (1621) is one of the first items in the catalogue that slows my flipping. The popular title is in handsome sprinkled calf with an ownership inscription of civic leader W. Whiteway from the year following publication (£32,500).
Just a few pages later my flipping hits a dead stop. This time caused by a manuscript record kept by Rev. H. S. Cotton of the convict executions at Newgate prison in 1812. An amazing piece of history, macabre and illicit, almost the basis for a good screenplay (£5,000). Take a look at some interior pages on Harrington’s website.
The spread showing a first edition of Gray’s Anatomy, twice presented to eminent doctors (£12,500), shows off the solid design of this catalogue. The images are attractive, and the well-written descriptions lengthy enough to give rich details.
There are so many high points here that a peruse feels luxurious. A Cromwell document with his autograph, the Doves Press Bible of 1903-1905 together with a specimen page from the press, a full set of the 1797 (third edition) Encyclopedia Britannica bound in diced russia, the first edition in English of Nostradamus’ True Prophecies, Mary Wollstonecraft’s major work uncut in original blue boards, and many others. The 1759 first edition of Candide offered near the end of the catalogue is bound in the most gorgeous mottled calf with gilt decoration on the spine (£60,000). See it here.
To download a PDF version or view the catalogue, click here.
My thanks to Peter K. Steinberg for bringing this to my attention.
From the piece...
The library/sunroom in Jim Noble’s 19th-century Minneapolis house is all about the books. Leather-bound volumes, many of them antiques that have been in his family for generations, fill floor-to-ceiling shelves that line an entire wall. “It’s nice to have books around. They add so much ambience,” said Noble, a principal with Noble Interior Design. “I hope we never live to see the day that books are eliminated from the home.”
Michael Jones also loves books. But his loft condo in Minneapolis doesn’t have space for a traditional library. He still buys books but downloads a lot of his lighter reading material on his Kindle. Recently he added a custom built-in bookshelf to his living room -- mainly to display his art collection. “I was running out of wall space,” he said.
The two homes illustrate the role books have traditionally played in the American home -- and the role they may play in the future, as e-readers continue to revolutionize our relationship with the printed word.
For an asking price of $445,000, almost everything is included (antique furnishings, linens, cookware, dishes, etc.), even a week of innkeeper training. A photo tour, a property map, and more details are available on a website specifically set up for real estate purposes.
Stair Auctioneers & Appraisers of Hudson, New York, has an interesting two-day auction this weekend, beginning with paintings, works on paper, and architectural drawings on March 19, and followed by furniture, Americana, silver, and carpets on March 20. So what’s so interesting to me? Slipped in on March 20 is the “partial library of the late Louis S. Auchincloss.” Auchincloss was a fine historian and novelist, who portrayed the upper classes with wit, biting at the heels of Henry James and Edith Wharton. He passed away in January of 2010. The short list contains some historic documents, leather bindings, books inscribed to him, and random literature, all worth a look. A video preview is here.
Lastly, from March 17-April 7, Christie’s International is holding a “Bid to Save the Earth” Green Auction. The categories are broad--entertainment, music, travel, sports, etc., but the art & collectibles category proves fun to browse. Limited edition prints and posters, private tours at galleries and museums, and “experiences,” such as a session with a professional photographer, are all up for bidding. To read more, go here.
But more than a museum SoFAB is a research center stocked with a 9,000 book library offering a timeline in Southern culinary culture and traditions.
Well here it my second week of weekly catalogue reviews and already I’m struggling to decide what constitutes a catalogue versus a “list,” and if it really matters in this forum. I’m leaning toward the idea that any grouping of titles presented to potential buyers that is outstanding--whether for its design or content--is fair game. What caught my eye this week was the six-page list circulated by David Szewczyk & Cynthia Davis Buffington, proprietors of PRB&M, titled Libraries -- Librarians -- Labors!
What a fantastic topic. The selection is encompassing and, dare I add, whimsical, making it all the more enjoyable. How about a report from 1826 written by the architect of the Capitol building Charles Bulfinch on fire-proofing the library room ($40). A limited edition of T. S. Eliot’s 1952 address to the London Library wherein he expressed his belief that “The great private libraries have had their day, and are gone” ($60). A printed edition of a speech on Northwest history given by the man who would become the first librarian of the Newberry Library ($70). The presentation copy of the printed “Dedicatory Exercises” of the Washburn Memorial Library in Livermore, Maine from 1885 sounds like a gem ($150).
Another thing to like about this list is the prices. They range from $12.50 for the Society for the History of Belgian Protestantism that includes a duplicate handwritten letter from the Society’s agent to the librarian of the NJ Historical Society, to $1,675 for librarian Charles Nice Davies’ own first edition of John Jewel’s A Defence of the Apologie of the Churche of Englande...(1567). The rest fall between the two, making these titles within the grasp of most collectors. It reminds me that PRB&M did an “under $500” case at last year’s New York Antiquarian Book Fair, primarily to entice younger and new collectors. It’s admirable, and lists like this make one optimistic for the future of book collecting.
The text, of course, can be had anywhere. What this edition offers is seventy-two gorgeous photographs, taken over the past twelve years. Flora, fauna, landscape -- the same panoramas that Muir himself viewed. What’s more, several pages from Muir’s “Sierra Journal” manuscript (the original of which is housed at the Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library) are reproduced herein; he had lovely handwriting, certainly neater than Thoreau’s scrawl. Several of Muir’s sketches are also seen here for the first time in print.
Miller, has been involved in three other photobooks of this nature (no pun intended): Walden: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of the American Classic, Cape Cod: Illustrated Edition of the American Classic, and First Light: Five Photographers Explore Yosemite’s Wilderness. He and his wife own and operate Sun to Moon Gallery, a fine arts gallery in Dallas, Texas. He will be doing several book-related presentations and signings, particularly in California and Texas, from now until the book’s formal centennial in June.
Visit the book’s website to read more, see some of the stunning photography (limited edition prints are also available for sale), and/or watch a book trailer.
Comic books are collectible. There’s no doubt about that. I wrote about the recent high-priced, and highly prized, comics of heroes like Superman and Batman for Fine Books & Collections Magazine recently.
What’s more, in regards to comic books, an old Archie comic book sold for the price of a house a few days ago.
Now, a Spider-Man comic book, the first ever appearance of the web slinger, sold for over $1 million. Art Daily has more, here.
The article reads, in part, “It’s not the highest price ever paid for a comic book, an honor that goes to “Action Comics” No. 1 with Superman on the cover, which went for $1.5 million. But Fishler says the price paid is the most for a book from the Silver Age, the mid-1950s to about 1970. “The fact that a 1962 comic has sold for $1.1 million is a bit of a record-shattering event,” he said. “That something that recent can sell for that much and be that valuable is awe-inspiring.”
The 355 literary lots included signed letters from the likes of Charles A. Dana, Henry Thoreau, Elizabeth Peabody, Margaret Fuller, Longfellow, Lawrence, Tennyson, Byron, Mary Shelley, Samuel Pepys, and many others. Some carte-de-visites, a small photo archive of Edna St. Vincent Millay, an archive of Amy Lowell papers, an archive of Katherine Anne Porter, same of Glenway Wescott, a handful of presidential letters, Hollywood autographs, and a selection of Mark Twain books. Aside from the Twain, it was not a deep collection, but broad and surprising.
Even more surprising were the estimates -- which were very low. $1000-$1,500 for a first edition of Johnson’s Dictionary? It went for $7,500, plus the ten percent premium. An Oscar Wilde manuscript poem estimated at $500-$1,000 went for $16,500. But the real kicker was the Walt Whitman manuscript poem from 1885, estimated at $400-$600. It sold for $55,500.
Dirk Soulis, the auctioneer, who does not specialize in books or manuscripts, told me that the low estimates are a “common strategy” for them. “It sometimes seems that the competition is heightened even further when those who were hoping this was their quiet find begin to sense intruders,” he wrote to me by email. He then added, “Of course, we never saw that coming with the Whitman manuscript. A few others did surprise us as well.” Depending on what estates come his way, Soulis usually has a good book auction about once a year.
While some of these big bids did come in by phone and online through Live Auctioneers, the floor was active as well, leading some to speculate that a couple of high-end dealers flew into Kansas City that week.
From a piece in Art Daily...
“Archie may have a ways to go to catch the likes of Superman and Batman, his Golden Age counterparts,” said Lon Allen, Managing Director of Comics at Heritage, “but you can bet that collectors sat up and took notice when this comic brought that price. This amount exceeds the priciest of Spidey and Hulk comic books we’ve sold, which brought in excess of $125,000 each.”
In fact, George Pantela of GPAnalysis (which tracks all sales of CGC-certified comics), has confirmed that this is the highest price ever paid for a non-superhero comic book. It sold to a West Coast collector who chose not to be identified by name.
“I’ve been collecting Archies for 40 years,” the collector said, “and over the years I’ve become much more selective as far as condition. I’ve been looking for a high-grade Archie #1 for some time, and this is the first I’ve come across that I’d feel good about owning. It’s not going to leave my possession until I die.”
The oversized format caught my attention right away--more newspaper than glossy magazine--and the opening spread of black text is very appealing to the eye. Beattie tells us that the twenty-five pieces in the catalogue “are united in the desire to create, be it to inform, to entertain, or to incite.” This includes the work of a Chechen jihadist and a Nantucket Quaker, among others.
The interior of the catalogue is striking (almost disarming at first), with colorful images and texts running at odd angles. It moves chronologically from 1785’s copy of Restif de la Bretonne’s utopian novel, Les Veillees du Marais (£1250), to 1974’s samizdat Russian translation of Nik Cohn’s history of pop music (£2750). Images are accompanied by brief listings, and one pages to the back to see the full descriptions and prices. Goethe’s Ossian (£3500) is one of the jewels of the list. It was privately printed by a 23-year-old Goethe. The first Russian edition of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper (£3500) is rather amazing as well; Beattie notes that only one other copy could be found outside Russia, and that at the Library of Congress.
Overall, it’s an exciting selection of material, presented in a novel way. Download it, or contact Beattie for a paper copy.
Take a look at our Catalogues Received for the month of March to see what else is out there in bookseller catalogues right now. If you are a dealer, and you are not already sending a catalogue to our attention, please see the directions on this page.
Back in October, CNBC.com also ran a news article that took up this question of whether or not to invest in rare books. It seems people are looking for alternative investment strategies these days!
The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers does not encourage collecting books for investment purposes. We can tell what the price of a book was in the past, how that price has developed, we can tell what it will cost now to own a copy, but we cannot predict what its future price will be. Our advice is always: buy what you like, what pleases you, what interests you, what fits within your areas of collecting or interest, buy the best copy available (and affordable to you) at the moment you want to buy the book. [Read more]
One bookseller already lamented the merger. Bruce Tober, of Books at Star Dot Star in the UK, wrote to a listserv this morning, “Choosebooks/ZVAB has just announced it’s been bought by ABE. Initially - according to their announcement - all looks well. No one will notice any changes almost at all. Choosebooks will close down but ZVAB.com will remain, etc. But we all know what problems and changes such takeovers really mean in the not so long run.”