October 2011 Archives

Two hundred years ago today, on 30 October 1811, the London publisher Thomas Egerton released to the public a three-decker which, its title page noted, had been authored “By a Lady.” The novel, originally titled Elinor and Marianne, had been penned while its author was but a lass. (Actually, the book’s author had penned an even earlier novel, but that novel would not see publication in its author’s lifetime.)

Our three-decker, which cost its anonymous author over a third of her annual income to publish, sold out its initial print run (750 copies) within 19 months, giving the author a modest return of about 30% on her original investment. (The author’s brother, who acted as her literary agent, had no small part in the success of our author’s debut novel, as well as in the success of her subsequent publications.)
Catalogue Review: Jo Ann Reisler, #87

From first sight of the cover, showing an original Margaret Tarrant watercolor of fairies ($10,000), it was impossible not to be bewitched by this delightful catalogue by Jo Ann Reisler. A fine mix of children’s books and illustrated books, from old favorites to surprising finds, that manifest the good eye and decades of experience from this bookseller.

When we hear children’s books, many of us tend to think first editions or signed editions of Seuss or Sendak, and while that kind of material is here, it’s interesting to see books like Afternoon Tea, published in Boston in 1891. It’s a book of eight black-and-white mounted photographs showing two children going through the afternoon tea ritual ($400).
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Joshua Mann and Sunday Steinkirchner, the young proprietors of B&B Rare Books in New York City:

NP: How did you both get started in rare books?

SS: It was quite accidental! Josh and I met in college and moved to NYC after we graduated. I was starting a graduate school program and Josh was looking for work, and we were searching for our way to pay our rent and make extra money. We found antiquarian books for sale at a street sale one day, and it just clicked. Josh’s father was a book collector, so he had a basic knowledge of the collectible market, and we quickly learned about the value of first editions. We started purchasing books at estate sales in Queens and Long Island, and worked to sell them and meet customers online.
NP: When did you open B&B?

SS: We started selling books in 2003, but officially incorporated our business in 2005.

NP: What does B&B specialize in?

SS: 19th and 20th century English and American literature.
As if you needed a good reason to travel to Toronto, its International Antiquarian Book Fair is coming up this weekend. From Friday Oct. 28 through Sunday Oct. 30, nearly fifty booksellers will fill the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with an amazing selection of collectible books, manuscripts, maps, and ephemera. Here are a few items to look out for.

Nansen.jpgThanks to one of our freelancers, Erica Olsen, who wrote about the 100th anniversary of Sydpolen in our current issue, I know that 2011 is “Nansen-Amundsen Year” in Norway, and, as she put it, “polarlitteratur is hot.” The Wayfarer’s Bookshop of North Vancouver has this original signed Nansen letter in English from 1899, together with a studio cabinet photograph of Fridtjof Nansen. Price: $2,750.
As Halloween fast approaches, it’s time to bundle up beside a fire and read a scary story late into the night. One of my favorite horror authors is H. P. Lovecraft, a writer who holds a special place in the heart of many bibliophiles for the wonderfully evocative (if entirely fictional) grimoires that populate his stories. I can’t think of a fake collection I’d rather own than a complete run of the arcane tomes mentioned in Lovecraft’s (and related authors’) stories.

Lovecraft wrote in a letter once, “As for seriously-written books on dark, occult, and supernatural themes--in all truth they don’t amount to much. That is why it’s more fun to invent mythical works like the Necronomicon and Book of Eibon.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Let’s take a look at a few fake collection highlights:
Cover2.jpgA fabulous new book is out this week, and I can’t stop talking about it. It’s innovative, fun, perfect for lovers of history, literature, and illustrated novels. Here’s the gist: author Caroline Preston has put together a “scrapbook novel” with text set against full-color pages of historical ephemera, both of which combine to tell the story of Frankie Pratt, a smart young woman who graduates high school in 1920 and goes on to college, Paris, and the writing life.

It’s such a fresh idea, and each page is vivid and welcoming. You dive right into Frankie’s story, told in typewritten snippets, and page through reading both the text and the images. The tone is smart and sassy. It’s like reading an entire book of Anne Taintor.
This past Friday I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest awards ceremony and reception at the Library of Congress. So with twenty-four hours on the clock, I visited two of the biggest and best libraries in the country--which happen to be right around the corner from each other.

042523W5.jpgFirst stop: The Folger Shakespeare Library. I sauntered through Manifold Greatness, the amazing King James Bible exhibit, part of which traveled from Oxford. My favorites from the exhibit were William Blake’s biblical illustrations, a “squirrel” binding, and Queen Elizabeth I’s red velvet-bound Bishops’ bible. I toured the reading room, which is so lovely because it retains an ‘old-fashioned’ library feel (all too often scrubbed out of our state-of-the-art libraries). Tapestries on the wall, stained-glass windows, heavy wooden tables, and a bust of the Bard scanning the room. My private tour included a trip to the special collections areas, where I marveled at a collection of porcelain collectibles, costumes, and yes--the 82 folios. I only wish I had had the forethought to book a ticket for Othello, playing in the cozy, Elizabethan-style Folger Shakespeare theatre.
Catalogue Review: The Veatchs Arts of the Book, #70

Easy as ABC? Not so! This catalogue, dedicated to ornamental alphabets, is the latest from the Veatchs Arts of the Book in Northhampton, Massachusetts. Bob and Lynne Veatch have been in business since 1975, specializing in book arts, illustrated books, fine printing, and graphic design.

Gehenna Press, Cheloniidae Press, and Parrot Press are well represented among the 87 items in the catalogue. You could easily be charmed by a set of nineteenth-century pen-and-ink drawings on Crane’s paper depicting a young woman supported by a letter of the alphabet in a natural landscape ($2,500) or Geoffrey Chaucer’s A.B.C. called La Priere de Nostre Dame from the Grabhorn-Hoyem Press, 1967 ($75).

Suzanne Moore’s A Christmas ABCXY&Z, a 32-page accordion-style book calligraphed in water colors and illuminated in silver and gold, would be a beautiful holiday gift ($700).

The Album Calligraphique, containing twelve original alphabets hand painted in colors, metallics, and gold sounds absolutely stunning ($18,000). I felt a small disappointment in not seeing an image of it on the page, but when I flipped to the back cover, was glad of the surprise of seeing a few examples printed there.

This catalogue is well laid out in black and white on smooth paper, with a few tantalizing color images printed on the inside covers. Contact them for a copy, or grab the PDF here.
We reported yesterday that Reykjavík was the most recent inductee into the UNESCO City of Literature network, joining Edinburgh, Melbourne, Dublin, and Iowa City.  Today, I thought we might take a look at Iceland from a rare books perspective.  And books don’t come much rarer, or much more important, than Iceland’s great contribution to world literature: its medieval epics, the Sagas of the Icelanders and the Poetic Edda.

The Sagas of the Icelanders are the histories of the Norse and Celtic settlers in Iceland in the 10th and 11th centuries.  They were written in the 13th and 14th centuries, likely transcribed from a long-standing oral tradition.  The Poetic Edda are a collection of Old Norse Poems, delving deeply into Norse mythology and Germanic legend.

Today, most of the original Saga manuscripts are held at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík.  The Institute is named after Árni Magnússon (1663 - 1730), a librarian, scholar, and prodigious collector of manuscripts, who built an enormously important collection of early Icelandic texts.  Magnusson traveled through Iceland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, purchasing every manuscript he could find and making copies of any he could not personally secure.  On his death, he left his collection, which included a number of the Sagas, to the Danish Royal Library, where it remained for two and half centuries.  (Denmark was, at the time, the sovereign ruler of Iceland).
It cannot escape notice that there’s a bounteous crop of literary-inspired films coming to theaters this fall. Get out your popcorn--here’s a preview.  

Anonymous is a film that proclaims that Shakespeare didn’t write anything, and Edward deVere is the true author of what we’ve come to know as the Shakespearean canon. This idea is, of course, not without controversy. In the New York Times earlier this week, James Shapiro, author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, wrote of the film: “The most troubling thing about “Anonymous” is not that it turns Shakespeare into an illiterate money-grubber. It’s not even that England’s virgin Queen Elizabeth is turned into a wantonly promiscuous woman who is revealed to be both the lover and mother of de Vere. Rather, it’s that in making the case for de Vere, the film turns great plays into propaganda.”

An exhibition on the history of veterinary medicine is currently on display in the NLM (National Library of Medicine) reading room, featuring manuscripts and early printed books from the past five centuries. The exhibition focuses in particular on the history of the care and treatment of horses.

Michael North, Head of Rare Books, and curator of the exhibition, said he “was inspired to put on the show to help recognize World Veterinary Year, which commemorates the 250th anniversary of the opening of the first veterinary school in the world in Lyon, France in 1761 by Claude Bourgelat.”

Bourgelat’s school marked the first concentrated effort to study the horse from a scientific perspective. This new “veterinary science” would eventually replace the farrier system, in place since at least the medieval era. Farriers were blacksmiths who also trained in basic horse medicine and surgery. Soon after Bourgelat founded his school, veterinary science became a licensed profession requiring an academic degree.
On Thursday of this week Sotheby’s NY will hold the second part of its incredible sale of the library of an English Bibliophile. Judging from the list, this English bibliophile was quite the collector of the high points of American literature. Several of the lots estimated in the six-figure range* are American first editions, including:

A first edition of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in its second state (still ultra rare) dust jacket (est. $150,000-$180,000).

A first edition/first issue of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales (est. $200,000-$250,000).
Catalogue Review: Schubertiade Music, Fall 2011

Music collecting made a splash earlier this year when the Lehman collection of musical manuscripts went up for sale (for more on this, see our coverage in our fall issue). There are several dealers that focus on this area, Schubertiade of Allston, Massachusetts, is one with an impressive stock of music, dance, and opera material.

In Schubertiade’s fall catalogue, you will find autograph musical quotations, albums, photographs, first editions, manuscripts, even portrait medals. From a striking mezzotint of Arcangelo Corelli ($600) to an ultra rare Jimi Hendrix-signed Bob Dylan album ($12,500), the names you will find within are as varied as the formats.

Some names appear a number of times. Josephine Baker, for example, is here in a beautiful piece of French sheet music from 1930 ($50), as well as a caricature drawing of her by Raoul Cabrol ($1200). Martha Graham is also well represented with several photographs, including a signed and dated print of the one perhaps best known to the world -- “Letter to the World” ($6,000).

Collectors should take note that there are a few non-musical items, so if music isn’t your thing, it’s still worth a peruse. There’s a solid section of film photography, as well as a literature section featuring Twain and Dickens first editions and an Updike letter.

Music to your ears? The entire catalogue is here: https://www.schubertiademusic.com/lots/index/catalog:21
Today marks the beginning of a new series at the Fine Books blog profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers. We begin with Teri Osborn of William Reese Company in New Haven:

NP: What is your role within William Reese Co.?

TO: I think technically my title is Americana Cataloguer, but I always tell people that I’m here to do whatever Bill tells me to do. So far that’s included--in addition to cataloguing--working book fairs, putting together lists of items for sale, packing up entire libraries, and trying to sell as many books as humanly possible.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

TO: I was a rare book librarian in a former life. I went to library school because it was very practical and I would be employable. A friend said to me, “Hey, you should take this course on rare books with me,” to which I replied, “That doesn’t sound very practical.” But I did take the course and have been smitten ever since. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a rare book professional since I graduated in 2005. I spent three years in libraries before serendipitously landing a job at the Reese Company and have never looked back.
The Veil, Julie Chen. Berkeley, California: Flying Fish Press, 2002. Athenaeum purchase, John Bromfield Fund, 2003.

Artists’ Books: Books by Artists opens today at the Boston Athenæum’s Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery.

Selected and organized by Stanley Ellis Cushing, curator of rare books and manuscripts, this is the first public display drawn entirely from the Boston Athenæum’s artists’ book collection. The work of Russell Maret, Laura Davidson, Donald Glaister, and Xu Bing are among those on display, as well as those pictured here and more.

No Quarter Given, Christopher Wilde. Brooklyn, New York: Artichoke Yink Press, 2003. Athenaeum purchase, John Bromfield Fund, 2004.
In a press release, Cushing was quoted: “It’s a fun show, a fun collection. If you like books, I think it’s going to be irresistible. I want it to appeal, I want to surprise people. They don’t know they like artists’ books yet.”

Browse more books here. The exhibit runs through March 3, 2012. If you’re in Boston for the book fairs next month, don’t miss it!
Thumbnail image for S&S Classic Catch-22.jpgThere seems to be a lot of media coverage of book anniversaries this past week. Perhaps closest to my heart is the fiftieth anniversary of Catch-22 this week. This novel is easily in my top ten. When I worked in the book publishing business in the late nineties, I supervised a “classic edition” of it, which afforded me the great honor of corresponding with Heller a few times. The reprint itself is nothing special--a hardcover with deckled edges, and the dust jacket features a serial design--but my personal copy is warmly inscribed to me from Heller. Can’t beat that.

The Phantom Tollbooth is also celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, as anyone who has read our fall feature, “Fe Fi Fo Feiffer,” will know. There’s a new 50th anniversary edition out, as well as an Annotated Phantom Tollbooth by Leonard S. Marcus, who wrote our feature. In this week’s New Yorker, Adam Gopnik spends some time with Jules Feiffer and Norton Juster to talk about their collaboration fifty years later.

Art Spiegelman’s Maus is about to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary (it was originally published in two parts, one in 1986, the other in 1991*), and his new book, MetaMaus, is making headlines. It’s an analysis of Maus, its format, and its history. Publishers Weekly has a great interview with Spiegelman about the intersection of books, art, and technology. In it Spiegelman says, “...while bookstores are all in a tizzy, one of the more lively and alive sections is the so-called “graphic novel” section, because those are harder to replace.” Dead on.

*A previous version of this article misidentified the date of the first publication of Maus as 1992. That was the year it won the Pulitzer Prize. --Ed.
The Guardian reported this week that readers of romance novels are leading a mass exodus away from printed copies to eBooks. The simple reason: romance covers attract judgement. eBooks provide romance readers a welcome anonymity from peering eyes on bus rides and at subway stops.

And who can blame them? Romance covers (and titles) are not known for their subtlety. Nor are they accredited much merit by non-readers. So I guess this trend toward eBooks will eventually take over the genre. Most romance, like the pulp fiction of yore, is produced to be consumed quickly then discarded. It’s a perfect opening for eBook publishing. Mills and Boon, the leading romance publisher in Britain, already produces over 100 eBooks a month.
Catalogue Review: Lorne Bair, #13

LorneBair.pngLorne Bair Rare Books of Winchester, VA, offers here 159 items relating to radical politics and American social movements from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Just reading that had me rubbing my hands together in excitement of what I was about to see: Anarchism, Crime, Revolution (Mexican & Russian), Radical Fiction, Socialism, Utopia, and so much more. The catalogue is beautiful too--eye-popping cover (pun intended), fine glossy pages, nice images, and descriptions that educate and entertain.

One bright poster caught my eye in the early pages. It’s a scarce offset litho designed by Milton Glaser to promote David Loeb Weiss’ 1968 documentary, No Vietnamese Ever Called Me N--er ($850). There are several books and ephemera in the African American subject. Another interesting offset litho broadside shows a gruesome graphic from the 1968 Detroit race riots and is titled Being a cop is more than just a gig ($150).

Image via Wikipedia

The Booksellers Association (BA) in Britain has requested aid from the UK government to keep bookshops in operation. Tim Godfray, head of BA, urged the government to act soon to protect more bookshops from closing.

The requests came after the BA discovered a decline in membership of 20% over the last six years, with an even steeper decline in independent bookshop members, which are down 26% over the same period.
Coming up this weekend is the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair! On Saturday and Sunday, 101 book, map, and ephemera dealers will set up at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall and offer some amazing items. Here’s a quick look at a few of them. 

screwjack.jpgEd Smith Books of Rolling Bay, WA, specializes in modern literature, photography, and screenplays. Smith is bringing some first edition westerns by Clarence Mulford, a first edition of No Country for Old Men, and a presentation copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Screwjack in bright red cloth with gilt decoration (seen above; $1,250).
A tip to any public libraries struggling with declining patronage: go digging around in your vault!  The public library in Windsor, Ontario discovered a Bible from 1585 languishing away in its vault earlier this year.  Librarians promptly put the book on display and saw a 40 percent increase in visitors last month. 

The Windsor Star quoted a local patron in its article about the find.  “It’s truly an amazing piece of art,” said library user John Hilt. “I look at it every time I’m in here. I can’t explain the feeling I get from just looking at it. The religious value is unmatched. But the historical value alone is unreal.”
It’s no secret that children’s picture book art and illustration is a growing trend both at auctions and in museums. The cover feature of our fall issue (making its way to your mailbox this week) is about cartoonist, artist, and playwright Jules Feiffer, who illustrated The Phantom Tollbooth fifty years ago and has been focused on children’s book illustrations for the last decade or so. It so happens that an exhibit of this part of his artistic life opens later this month at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The curator, Leonard S. Marcus, a children’s book historian who also wrote our cover story, is very interested in this cultural reappraisal of comics art and children’s illustration.

In fact, he just curated another exhibit, Storied City: New York in Picture Book Art, which opened yesterday at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, NY. Storied City showcases original art from more than thirty-five picture books and examines the city’s iconic landmarks, neighborhoods, parks, and modes of transportation. The featured illustrators include seven Caldecott Medal winners and several artists long associated with The New Yorker magazine.

Image: Watercolor by LeUyen Pham, Barnum’s elephants crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, from the book Twenty-One Elephants (text by Phil Bildner; Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2004). 9-1/2” x 20-7/8”. Courtesy of Phil Bildner and Kevin Lewis.
The current exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection showcases “The 18th Star: Treasures from 200 Years of Louisiana Statehood.” On display until January 29, 2012, the exhibit highlights keepsakes, mementos, valuable materials and some of the collection’s signature holdings. The selections are presented in chronological order featuring political and military history, arts and literature, as well as social change and cultural diversity.

Royal Street Williams THNOC merieult-house.jpg
Auction Guide