November 2011 Archives

Armstrong_Large.jpgComing up this Friday, Dec. 2, at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia is a symposium on decorated commercial bindings (such as the beauty seen here designed by Margaret Armstrong for Scribner’s in 1912). Our own Richard Minsky is one of three speakers at the symposium, along with Barbara Hebard of the North Bennet Street School of Bookbinding and Susan J. Isaacs of the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts.
Isaacs will also judge the accompanying exhibit of work by book artists who were invited “to explore and respond to book covers from the legacy collections of the Athenaeum” through “one-of-a-kind, artist books, book objects, altered books or zines.” The exhibit will remain up through March 9, 2012.
The Phantom Tollbooth Image via Wikipedia
Earlier this year, I wrote about collecting Obama’s summer reading list. Well, he’s at it again. The President visited Kramerbooks, an independent bookshop in Washington DC this past Saturday, along with his daughters Sasha and Malia. The Obama family was shopping in support of the second annual “Small Business Saturday”, a move by the retail industry to help small businesses in the aftermath of big-retailer-dominated Black Friday.

And thus, here it is, Obama and family’s winter reading list, with comments on the collectability of the titles:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, a children’s novel about George Melies and his collection of mechanical figures called automata. It serves as the inspiration for the new Martin Scorsese film, Hugo, currently in theaters. Signed copies of the first edition with dust jacket start at $70.
Tradition has it that eighty-six years ago today, on 28 November 1925, 78-year-old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson went into the 5th-floor radio studio of the National Life & Accident Insurance Company in Nashville, TN, to help launch a new radio program, the WSM Barn Dance. (The station’s call letters, WSM, were an acronym of the insurance company’s logo, “We Shield Millions.”)

Other acts followed in short order: George D. Wilkerson & His Fruit Jar Drinkers ... Dr. Humphrey Bate & His Possum Hunters ... the Binkley Brothers’ Dixie Clodhoppers. But it was not until a couple of years had passed that this radio show got the name by which it is known today.

On 27 December 1927, the WSM Barn Dance followed a radio program devoted to classical music. To contrast this program with what was to follow, WSM program director and announcer George D. “Judge” Hay told his listeners that [f]or the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on, we will present the ‘Grand Ole Opry.’

Thus was born one of America’s most iconic cultural institutions.
Every year FB&C publishes a holiday gift guide in its fall issue brimming with interesting book-related art, decor, and jewelry. There is always at least one book on the list, and this year, there were five! But that doesn’t cover the great selection of bookish gift books out there this season (which means there are either more being published, or we’re just paying closer attention). So here are eight more to entice you on, Cyber Monday and beyond.
Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates by Martin Hopkinson (Yale University Press, 112 pages, paperback, $15). An easy gift for any booklover on your list, this slim but well produced book features one hundred color illustrations of great bookplates. Aubrey Beardsley, Eric Gill, and many more among the artists. Hard to pick a favorite, but if pressed, I go with William Harcourt Hooper’s plate for Richard Stamper Philpott. It looks so William Morris, and with good reason--it features Philpott’s home, next door to Kelmscott House in Hammersmith.
Jack Kerouac collectors have a new volume to add to their shelves.  Kerouac’s first novel, The Sea is my Brother, was published by Penguin last week, 70 years after it was written.  Kerouac wrote the novel after his (very) brief tenure with the Merchant Marines in 1942. He was twenty years old.

Kerouac would later refer to the novel as a “crock of sh*t as literature.” He apparently never tried shopping the manuscript to publishers.

The Sea is my Brother was discovered by Kerouac’s brother in law in the Kerouac archive and published by Penguin “to offer a unique insight into the young Kerouac and the formation of his genius.” What little narrative exists in the novel centers around two young men in the Merchant Marines en route from Boston to Greenland. They spend much of the novel philosophizing and drinking.

Reviews of The Sea is my Brother have ranged from bemused acceptance to harsh dismissal. From the Guardian, “Sadly it would take another 15 years and colossal amounts of Benzedrine for the genius to emerge; there’s certainly none here. The writing should be entered in a bad prose competition.”

Nevertheless, Kerouac collectors and enthusiasts will undoubtedly want to pick up a copy for their collections. The book is available right now in the UK. It will be published on March 6, 2012 in the States.
In honor of the holiday upon us, here’s a fun look at Thanksgiving past. By the time Grover Cleveland took office, the nation had been celebrating the holiday “officially” for more than twenty years, since Lincoln signed a proclamation in 1863 stating, “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving.” Roosevelt fixed the date into law in 1941.
Shown here is Cleveland’s signed proclamation, declaring, “I, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate and set apart Thursday the 26th of November instant as a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer, and do invoke the observance of the same by all the people of the land.” Every president’s official proclamation is housed at the National Archives, but presidents often sign extra copies to be distributed to officials. This is one such copy, currently offered by the Raab Collection in Ardmore, PA, for $9,000.

Raab just sold another Thanksgiving treasure, the first-ever Thanksgiving proclamation by a man holding the title president of the United States, John Hanson, in 1782.

Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!
Harry Potter fans will have t duke it out with medieval manuscript collectors for two educational manuals coming up for auction tomorrow at Christie’s in London. The fourteenth century manuscripts are the only known survivors of the library at Lacock Abbey, aka Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. Classroom scenes from several entries in the movie franchise were filmed in Lacock Abbey’s side-rooms and cloisters. In a pleasing coincidence, the manuscripts are educational in their subject matter, seeking to enlighten aristocratic children of the 14th century in the finer points of French.

Lacock Abbey, founded as a nunnery in 1229, flourished through the later Middle Ages. After the Dissolution, Henry VIII sold Lacock to Sir William Sharington, who converted it into a private residence. The Abbey passed down through Sharington lines until purchased by the Talbot family in the 18th century. William Henry Fox Talbot, founder of modern photography, conducted his experiments at Lacock. Talbot produced the earliest known photographic negative, which shows a window in the Abbey’s south wall. The Abbey, and its surrounding village, were given to the National Trust in 1944.
There are times when booksellers’ catalogues are more like limited editions, and such is the case with Glenn Horowitz’s new catalogue, Virginia Woolf: The Flight of Time. And with good reason--this beautiful new catalogue chronicles the superb collection of William B. Beekman that is being offered en bloc for $4.5 million. An exhibition of the collection goes up tomorrow at the Forbes Galleries in New York City and will remain there open to the public until January 14.

The breadth of the collection is certain to appeal to Woolf enthusiasts. Beekman built this collection over forty years, and the highlights include an early, apparently unpublished photograph of thirteen-year-old Virginia, many of her letters, two unpublished poems by Vita Sackville-West written for Woolf (“Your darkened windowns numb my darkened heart” is intriguing...), plus inscribed editions of the books she wrote and published and books from her own library. Vanessa Bell’s preliminary sketch for the 1930 limited edition of Woolf’s On Being Ill, is particularly interesting to see, as is the dedication copy of The Village in the Jungle, from Leonard to Virginia.

The 134-page catalogue was printed in a limited trade edition of 500, featuring photography by David Levinthal. Twenty-five deluxe editions are specially slipcased with a signed print by David Levinthal. Levinthal’s prints are delightful historical tableaux. For example, a setting of doll furniture with the Complete Catalogue of the Hogarth Press or Woolf’s passport photograph against a black background with a old-fashioned camera in the distance.
Catalogue Review: Cohen & Taliaferro, #2

For this week’s review, a look at a catalogue of antique maps and atlases. Cohen & Taliaferro is a New York City-based dealer under Richard B. Arkway, Inc. This catalogue shows a fine selection of beautiful and interesting cartography, from Munster and Mercator, Blaeu to Benzoni.
Since I am far from an expert on maps, I was glad to see something familiar. Last year, our Fine Maps columnist Jeffrey Murray wrote about The Atlantic Neptune, a monumental marine atlas created by J. F. W. Des Barres, a forward-thinking surveyor. Featured in this catalogue is “A View of Boston Taken on the Road to Dorchester” [From the Atlantic Neptune] ($22,500), as well as another Des Barres creation, an untitled map of Long Island Sound from 1781 ($8,500).
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Matthew and Adrienne Raptis of Raptis Rare Books in Brattleboro, Vermont. They recently released their first catalogue, which we reviewed last week on the blog.

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

AR: Matthew started collecting books when he was a young child. He was very interested in history, particularly the American Civil War, and started with a small collection of antiquarian books. His collection grew over the years to encompass many other fields, from literature to photography. The business in rare books was a natural development from his passions.

I came into the business by virtue of being married to Matthew, so it was less of a direct journey. My degrees are in the sciences, but I have always loved books and read voraciously. A funny thing is that I used to pretend when I was a child that I was a bookseller. We actually came across a photo this past year after we returned from the San Francisco book fair that shows me with my books fanned out in a very similar way to how our books our displayed when we are at a fair. It must have been destiny because I love this business and being surrounded by such amazing pieces of history.

Tonight at my local Barnes & Noble, book artist, author, and FB&C columnist Richard Minsky did a talk/signing for his new book, The Book Art of Richard Minsky. As one of the five books we highlighted in our holiday gift guide this year, you may already be aware of this stunning new retrospective of Minsky’s book art, which is available in a trade edition from your local bookseller or a limited slipcase edition direct from Richard. But those were not the only books on display while Richard shared some stories of his bookmaking. There was also the Barnes & Noble 2012 Desk Diary (day planner, calendar, whatever you call it) featuring the American decorated bindings that Richard has been researching, collecting, cataloguing, selling, and celebrating for years. (He chronicled many of them in his 2010 book, The Art of American Book Covers: 1875-1930.) There is a hardcover version of the Desk Diary, which comes in its own box, and two faux leather softcover versions, all of which are beautiful for those of you who, like me, still keep a written calendar. And, at under $20, the price is perfect for gift giving.

Richard showed some images from each of his books, read a short entry on how he designed his first unique binding, and talked about what he looks for in great book art, or fine art to be more broad. “Material, image, and metaphor,” must all be in balance, he said. When asked about what he finds interesting in commercial publishing, he cited the ingenuity of pop-ups and moveable books and a revival of stamped covers, such as can be seen in B&N’s redesigned “classics.” Some new Penguin hardcover classics also have stamped cloth covers (designed by the awesome Coralie Bickford-Smith) as do recent bestselling children’s books like The Dangerous Book for Boys (U.S., 2007). If we are trending away from jackets and back to decorated cloth, we’ll have Richard Minsky to thank.
Well ... maybe. The Guardian reported yesterday about a recent investigation into the untimely death of Jane Austen.

The facts first: Jane Austen died in 1817, at only 41 years old. A variety of causes of death have been suggested over the years: cancer, Addison’s disease, tuberculosis, typhus. In summary we don’t know why she died. We do know, however, thanks to her letters, that her health took a steep decline in 1816, continuing downhill until her death the following year.

Fast-forward almost 200 years. Enter Lindsay Ashford, a British crime novelist, who moved to Chawton village, the former haunt of the Austen clan, in 2008. She began her new novel in the library of Chawton House, where Jane’s brother Edward lived. While taking breaks from writing in the Chawton House library, Ashford read through many of Jane’s letters. She came across this intriguing entry from a letter just months before her death: “I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.”
A Message from the Authors Guild...

Are any of the books in Amazon’s new e-book subscription/lending program properly there?

Earlier this month, Amazon launched its Kindle Online Lending Library as a perk for its best group of customers, the millions who’ve paid $79 per year to join Amazon Prime and get free delivery of their Amazon purchases. Under the Lending Library program, Amazon Prime members are allowed to download for free onto their Kindles any of more than 5,000 books. Customers are limited to one book per month and one book at a time--when a new book is downloaded, the old one disappears from the Kindle.

The program has caused quite a stir in the publishing industry, for good reason (as you’ll see).

First, let’s look at how books from some major U.S. trade publishers wound up on the Lending Library list.
The British Library’s new exhibit, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination, showcases the library’s incredible collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The 154 colorful and gilded books on exhibit were made for and owned by England’s kings and queens between the ninth and the sixteenth centuries.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh had a private viewing just before Friday’s opening. And what did QE2 fancy? According to the BBC:

The Queen was said to linger most over Henry VIII’s manuscripts.

Curator Andrea Clarke said: “She called Prince Philip, who was looking at something else, to come and have a look.”

Dr McKendrick said Henry VIII’s psalter, a volume containing the Book of Psalms, was rare because it contained annotations written by the king.
That Latin psalter--showing Henry VIII as King David--was created in London c. 1540  is pictured here. It survives in its worn red velvet binding. Other highlights of the exhibit include the stunning Shrewsbury Book (Rouen, 1445), presented to Margaret of Anjou on her marriage to Henry VI by John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and the Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings (c. 1300), created in a roll format measuring five meters long.

To see more, watch a four-minute BBC tour with curator Scot McKendrick here. The exhibit is open through March 13, 2012. 

Image credit: Henry VIII as David, Henry VIII’s Psalter, London c. 1540, Royal 2 A xvi © British Library Board.
Catalogue Review: Raptis Rare Books, #1

Raptis-Cover.pngMatthew Raptis is a congenial young bookseller in Brattleboro, Vermont. I had the pleasure of meeting him last year at a book fair. From his age and his casual personality, you might not guess that his stock is exceptional high points of modern literature. Some examples: a $550,000 Great Gatsby (inscribed, in the elusive jacket); a $45,000 signed first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; a $27,500 Catcher in the Rye, in an unrestored fine dust jacket; and a $25,000 signed first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird in a very good dust jacket.

With full color illustrations and clear descriptions, this first catalogue is delight to look at. There are 77 pages, brimming with books, so this review is just the tip of the iceberg. I enjoyed seeing some out-of-the-box titles like Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia ($1,500) and Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers ($1,250). A first edition of Gregory Maguire’s 1995 book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, is signed with a line from the novel and a drawing of a witch ($650). Very cool!

The signed first edition of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman ($950) is tempting (because I love that novel) even if the jacket on the signed first edition of The Magus is prettier ($2,000). A signed first edition of Stephen King’s The Shining would be a neat acquisition ($3,000).  

A complete set of Dick Francis--forty volumes, all signed--is impressive ($19,500), but for me not quite as enticing as the John Updike collection of first editions of each of the four Rabbit books ($2,750).

In the second half of the catalogue, there are sections on literature and children’s books--neat to see a signed first edition of The Outsiders there ($3,250)--as well as photography, and a non-fiction section with many modern economic and political titles. I couldn’t do it justice by naming a few here. Take a look for yourself -- there is so much to see! Download it here: 
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Zhenya Dzhavgova, proprietor of ZH Books in Fremont, California:

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

ZD: My entering the rare books business was a bit accidental. Where I am from people do not generally buy and collect antiquarian books--not because they do not love books, but because they do not have the means to enjoy books as objects of art. Seven years ago, when I came to the US, I was absolutely astonished to find out how easy it is to purchase literary items and build a collection. I have been fascinated with books from a very early age and I have always loved to read, so I had amassed quite a library, including many reference and foreign language books, when I  stumbled upon some very interesting and uncommon books and ephemera at an estate sale. I decided to try to sell them and ZH BOOKS was born.

NP: Where are you from originally and what brought you to the States?

ZD: I am originally from Bulgaria and I came to the US seven years ago. There were many reasons as to why I decided to emigrate. Incidentally, when I was on my way to the airport to get on a plane to San Francisco, I saw a graffiti scrawl on a building, which summed up my reasoning for leaving nicely: “I love my land, but I do not much like the country.” In other words, I loved the people and the beauty of Bulgaria and I missed my family and friends, but there were no opportunities for young people there and life was very hard. I have built a new life for me here in the US, but I will always go back to visit and I will always be Bulgarian at heart.
Coming up this weekend is the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. Whether you’re in the market for a first edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Flower Fables (at Second Life Books of Lanesborough, MA) or a unique Bonnie and Clyde crime collection (including bullets, at University Archives of Westport, CT), or you’d simply like to take in one of the fair’s activities--talks about collecting and expert appraisals--there will be something for every booklover in Beantown.

Sadly I won’t be walking the floor; if I were, Mac Donnell Rare Books would be my first stop. They’re bringing a leaflet that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow printed up to give away to children who visited him at Craigie-Longfellow House. It would also be very cool to see Athena Rare Books’ first edition of Alfred Dinsdale’s Television, the first book in English on that “vast wasteland.” They also have a signed second edition.
For the first time ever, the original manuscript of Lord of the Flies is on display to the public. The Bodleian Library in Oxford displaying the manuscript to commemorate the centenary of William Golding’s birth in 1911. The exhibition will also display several Golding first editions, Golding family photographs, and the Nobel Prize he won for Lord of the Flies in 1983.

Golding wrote Lord of the Flies while working as a teacher at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury, England. He imagined how the privileged children he taught everyday would act when left to their own devices on a remote island. He wasn’t exactly optimistic about the premise.
Tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., Doyle NY will auction the Fath collection of prints, books, and autographs. Creekmore Fath was a Texas lawyer and politician who served in the FDR administration and made an unsuccessful bid for Congress. His collection is particularly strong in the work of Thomas Hart Benton; it is the largest private collection outside the artist’s family and contains all but five known Benton prints. In an exhibition catalogue for a selection of his prints, Fath once wrote, “The desire to collect, and the pleasure derived from each acquisition, are as exciting and compelling as passionate love.”

Prints by other American regionalists, such as Grant Wood, George Bellows, and John Steuart Curry (and the Mexican social realists they were inspired by), as well as a rare book library of Americana, presidential biography, modern literature, and illustrated books round out the 268-lot sale. See the entire catalogue here. Below is a visual preview of some highlights.

Thomas Hart Benton’s The Race, a haunting lithograph, signed and numbered in pencil. Estimate $6,000-8000.

Benton’s expressive lithograph, Wreck of the OL’97, is also signed. Estimate $6,000-8,000.

John Steuart Curry captures the wildness of John Brown in this 1939 lithograph, signed. Estimate $3,000-4,000.

There is amazing energy in George Bellows’ Billy Sunday, lithograph signed and titled in pencil. Estimate $6,000-8,000.
Catalogue Review: Lowry-James, #7

When I think of Lowry-James, I think of flowers. That may sound odd, but it’s because when I visit them at book fairs, their both is filled with beautiful prints of flowers and fauna. And at one fair last year, Priscilla Lowry-Gregor showed me a manuscript herbarium that was so sweet, it made me wish I collected in that area (and perhaps I will one day!).

As you might imagine, Lowry-James of Whidbey Island, Washington, established in 1986, specializes in natural history books, but also cartography, literary women, and British culture. This fourteen-page catalogue is devoted to wood engravers and wood engravings.

A Lakeside Press prospectus featuring wood engravings by Rockwell Kent to announce the publication of “Four American Books:” Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, Two Years before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and Walden by Henry David Thoreau ($245). It would be an excellent acquisition of any number of collectors--publishing historians, Lakeside Press aficionados, completists for any of the authors, etc.

Three artists in particular loom large. There is quite a selection of Paul Landacre engravings, including the evocative Sapling Slim and Shadow Naked ($950) and many California landscapes, such as Hills and the Sea … Malibu Coast ($950) and Monterey Hills ($950). Winslow Homer is also well represented here with his Harper’s Weekly Civil War scenes. His drawings from the battlefield were engraved in boxwood for the magazine’s illustrations. William Nicholson’s ‘alphabets and sports’ round out the catalogue, with color-printed lithographs (originally rendered as woodcuts) such as W is for Waitress ($325) and November: Boxing ($350).

Check out all these beauties by clicking here.

p.s. Lowry-James also makes homemade candles during the holiday season. A great gift idea.
Our series profiling young antiquarian booksellers continues today with Kent Tschanz of Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City:

NP: What is your role within Ken Sanders Rare Books?

KT: I usually tell people I am the left hand. I buy books, price books, catalog books, produce catalogs, house-calls, institutional quotes, pack for fairs, and anything else that Ken would like.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

KT: I spent a good deal of time in bookstores in my late teens and early twenties, and one day I turned in an application at Sam Weller’s. I started by shelving the new arrivals and just stuck around for almost ten years, By the time I left I was doing some of the buying, helping with catalogs and manning the desk in the rare book room. I made a decision that I wanted to work for a smaller, more specialized shop. I knew Ken and I asked him for a job, and now six years later....
Earlier this month, the Library of Congress paired with Levenger to produce a new edition of Long Remembered: Lincoln and his Five Versions of the Gettysburg Address. It has long been held that Abraham Lincoln wrote at least five drafts of his famous address, differing in word choice, punctuation, and structure. Two of the five versions of the famous speech--the John G. Nicolay copy and the John Hay copy--are housed at the LOC (in a low-temperature vault). The other three are the Everett-Keyes copy at the Illinois State Historical Library, the Bancroft copy at the Cornell University Library, and the Bliss copy, which lives at the White House. Back in 1963, the LOC produced a black-and-white facsimile of the five versions of the address to commemorate the Gettysburg centennial. This new edition is a full-color, full-size facsimile with unbound facsimiles stored in a back pocket. 

As you may have heard by now, Ireland just elected a poet to the presidency. Michael D. Higgins, a former lecturer at the University College Galway, and a published poet, crept up from behind to win over a million votes and become the ninth President of Ireland.

The poet also has the political chops to justify the election--Higgins has been an MP for 25 years and was Ireland’s Arts and Culture Minister in the 1990s. Furthermore, he has a laudable background in human rights issues.
Auction Guide