January 2012 Archives

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing - that’s reassuring,” said Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, at the Hay festival in Caragena, Colombia this weekend.  Franzen continued, “Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

And so Franzen articulated a feeling shared by many of us bibliophiles.  That’s one of the reasons we collect books in the first place, right?  That sense of connection, permanence, and place.

Fueled by Franzen’s comments this weekend, the Guardian also published a fascinating, revealing article from Ewan Morrison on the current eBook publishing bubble.  With these two articles leading the charge under the “Most Viewed” section of the Guardian’s Books section, another recent eBook article shot to the top of its list: the profile from earlier this month of Amanda Hocking, the young author who has already made $2.5 million off her self-published eBook series on Minnesota vampires.  So the perennial debate over eBooks and the future of publishing has once again been refueled across the pond.

All of it makes for interesting reading.  But it’s Franzen’s comments that hit home with so many of us book collectors:

 “Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.  Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

I think we here at Fine Books can answer a resounding “yes” to Franzen’s questions about future bibliophiles.  For evidence, see our Bright Young Things series, where young bookseller after young bookseller has offered compelling insight into the promising future of books and the people who love them.

What I like about Freeman’s auction of books, manuscripts, ephemera happening on Thursday of this week is the incredible selection -- 500+ lots of letters, books, photographs, newspapers, posters, find binding sets, works on paper. It’s great fun to peruse because there surely will be items to interest one’s particular collection(s). The sale also features the Wendy and Alan C. Wasserman collection of N.C. Wyeth. I’ve chosen a few pieces to highlight below, to give you an idea of the breadth of the auction; the first piece is from the Wyeth collection.

829419.jpgWhat is hoped will be one of the bigger sales of this auction. Wyeth’s original charcoal drawing on paper of Abraham Lincoln, c. 1920s. The estimate is $8,000-12,000. 

826192.jpgLife in London; Or Day and Night Scenes, illustrated by I.R. & G. Cruikshank. The first edition in book form published in 1821. I like the pictorial boards, not a common sight. Moreover, this book contains an inserted 12mo sheet bearing George Cruikshank’s autograph annotation and his embossed Hampstead Road address. The estimate is $500-800.

826502.jpgAn autograph letter signed of Walt Whitman’s, May 24, 1879. References a play about Lincoln’s murder. The estimate is $3,000-5,000.

822142.jpgA signed and dated silver print of Queen Elizabeth II, showing her in her coronation dress, 1953. The estimate is $500-800.
I suspect that most of us have vices that we occasionally rue.  Mine is the so-called political novel.

Despite the fact that most such novels rarely rise to the level of brain candy, I can’t seem to get enough of them.  I blame this unfortunate defect of character on the American Legion.

In the summer of 1972, the American Legion post where I was living at the time decided to send me to Boys State, one of this nation’s best-known institutional attempts to instill in young men some modest sense of civic responsibility.

A month or so later, the Legion compounded its mistake by sending me to Boys Nation, a program which sought to instill that same sense of civic responsibility at a national, rather than a state and local, level.

The political process that myself and my fellow delegates were privileged to witness, especially at the national level, was fascinating.  But then, the American Legion had worked very hard back then (as it continues to do now) to make certain that delegates such as myself came away with precisely that impression.  

The inner workings of the Defense Department were outlined for us in a meeting with the Secretary of Defense (and former Congressman) Melvin Laird.  A former Attorney General, William P. Rogers, briefed us on the State Department, where he was then serving the nation as Secretary of State. Each delegate had lunch with his state’s two Senators in the Senate Dining Room.  The highlight of the program was a handshake and a few brief words with President Richard Nixon in the East Room of the White House.  (Unbeknowst to us teenagers, the seeds of this President’s eventual downfall had been sown only a few weeks earlier in a hotel just a mile or so from where we then stood.)

I was hooked.  On politics.  Shortly thereafter, I took a B.A. in Political Science with the idea of going into the Foreign Service.  And I started reading everything political that I could get my hands on: theories, histories, biographies ... political novels.

I think I should get at least partial credit for not starting out immediately with the dross. No sirree!  It was Stendahl’s The Red and The Black, Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, as well as American political classics like All the King’s Men, Advise and Consent and The Last Hurrah.

Unfortunately, there were enablers.  Lots of them!  I was doing a good bit of travel in those days.  Lots of airports.  Lots of airport bookshops.  Lots of enforced downtime (this was BLT: Before Laptops).  A copy of Irving Howe’s Politics and the Novel.

Pretty soon, my briefcase was stuffed with the likes of Time Will Run Back, Speak No Evil, even (much later) my current Senator’s A Time to Run....

At one point, I had hundreds of political novels, mostly paperback, scattered about my abode-of-the-moment. Alas, I eventually parted company with most of them due to demands on my time.

But my addiction to the political novel has never been entirely suppressed.  A couple of years ago I picked up a copy of Stuart Scheingold’s The Political Novel: Re-imagining the Twentieth Century.  

Catalogue Review: The Collective, Seven Booksellers of Uncommon Ability and Perception to be Found in San Francisco and Pasadena

Screen shot 2012-01-27 at 9.00.43 AM.pngFor this week’s catalogue review, something a little different as we lead into the California book fair(s). The slim but beautifully designed list provides a sampling of offerings from seven ABAA booksellers: Book Hunter’s Holiday, The Book Shop LLC, Lux Mentis Booksellers, Ken Sanders Rare Books, Anthology Rare Books, B&B Rare Books, and Tavistock Books. To give a fair representation of its contents, I’ve chosen one favorite (not at all easy) from each bookseller to highlight here.

Book Hunter’s Holiday has a rare engraved miniature broadside of the Emancipation Proclamation from 1864 with an early occurrence of Lincoln’s image ($5,000). According to the bookseller, Chris Lowenstein, this miniature is held only by the Library of Congress, and she found no record of any previous availability at auction.

From The Book Shop LLC, I was smitten by their excellent copy of On Sunset Highways: A Book of Motor Rambles in California by Thomas D. Murphy ($750). In its original blue cloth trade binding featuring Art Nouveau designs stamped in gilt, green, and orange -- not only a beauty of a publishers’ binding from the period, but with the dust jacket to boot. 

Lux Mentis, Booksellers, will have Russell Maret’s newest limited edition, Specimens of Diverse Characters, in which “sixteen complete alphabets are displayed; one of which, Iohann Titling, has been cut, fit , and case in foundry metal specially for the edition at the Dale Guild Type Foundry.

Having published an article about Lynd Ward in our current issue, I was excited to see an inscribed first edition of Mad Man’s Drum: A Novel in Woodcuts ($450) in Ken Sanders’ section of the catalogue. However, I couldn’t pull my attention from another of his selections: a collection of 21 “mechanical brides” carte de visites by Edward Bateman ($300). Just so cool.

Anthology Rare Books has John Muir’s copy of Richard Jefferies’ Red Deer ($1,500). A second edition bound in purple cloth with 17 relief half-tone illustrations, all VG, but it is Muir’s bold signature on the flyleaf that will draw visitors to their booth, particularly in San Francisco!

From B&B Rare Books, you could have fine editions of Austen, Scott, or Yeats. Me, I’m partial to the Wharton -- a first edition in its jacket, limited to 130 copies, of Twelve Poems from 1926 ($15,000). This one is a presentation copy to Wharton’s friend and fellow writer, Edward Marsh.

Last but not least, Tavistock Books will have Dickens on hand to be sure. But I quite enjoyed looking at the 1904 framed studio photography of Clara Barton that they have ($3,750). It is signed and inscribed by the famous American nurse.       

What a wonderful idea to pool the talent (and the stock) of these booksellers for a collective catalogue. See for yourself: Download it here from Book Hunter’s Holiday’s website, and check them all out in person in at the SF fair & the CA fair in Pasadena next month.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Brian Cassidy, proprietor of Brian Cassidy, Bookseller in Silver Spring, Maryland:

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 NP: How did you get started in rare books?

BC: Like a surprising number of rare book dealers, I started out as a poet. I earned an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in 1996. After graduating, I planned on teaching and writing. But as teaching positions were often part-time, I began supplementing my income by working in bookstores, the longest (almost five years) at Denver’s Tattered Cover. And it was while at the Tattered Cover that I began some amateur book scouting around Denver and Boulder in order to support my book buying habit. I became reasonably proficient at being able to trade books I could find cheaply for more expensive books I actually wanted. After my daughter was born, the idea of that scouting project writ large began to percolate in my mind.

NP: How did you transition from poetry to bookselling?

BC: I’ve had this conversation with other poet-booksellers, that poetry -- the serious writing and study of it -- is in many ways an excellent preparation for being a book dealer. In my case, I utilized my background in specializing to some extent in poetry and little magazines. But there is also something of the poetic mindset that I think is well-suited for bookselling. The creativity, the curiosity, the focus and attention I learned as a poet have all served me well as a dealer.

NP: When did you open Brian Cassidy, Bookseller?

BC: I established my business in May 2004, and worked out of my house while I stayed at home with my then three-year-old daughter. I sold mostly the books I accumulated while working in bookstores, along with a handful of better finds from my scouting days, and a few gems from my personal collection. It was largely a part-time venture until 2006 when I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Seminar and finally admitted to myself that this -- and not so much poetry or teaching -- was what I wanted to do with my life. Later that year, after a move to the west coast, I bought an existing bookshop in Monterey, CA and went full-time. I was accepted into the ABAA in 2008. In late 2009, my wife, a Naval officer, was transferred to a new job and I closed my shop and moved to the Washington D.C. area where I’ve worked since. I recently took office space in downtown Silver Spring, MD where I welcome visitors by chance and appointment.

NP: What do you specialize in?

BC: I like to say “the intrinsically interesting, unusual, and unique,” which is broad and vague enough to cover almost anything that strikes my fancy. I embrace the curatorial school of bookselling, meaning I see part of my job as sorting through the many books I could handle to find the ones I want to handle. Typically these are books or ephemera about which I feel I have something unique to say or some spin particular to me. Or they are merely items I think are wicked cool or that appeal or speak to me in some way. Which is not to say my own tastes don’t tend to coalesce around a few natural areas of focus - poetry, the mimeo revolution, the Beats, The New York School, the 20th century avant garde - or that I don’t buy and sell more ordinary books that find their way to me. However, I do attempt to maintain a healthy skepticism around the entire idea of “specialization.” I like to think that if I find something interesting, no matter what its particular genre or content, I can make it interesting to someone else as well.

For example, I am currently fascinated with what I term “folk, vernacular, and outsider books.” These are unique, typically handmade books - things like scrapbooks, albums, diaries, manuscripts and the like - that to my mind are the rough biblio-equivalent of folk and outsider art or vernacular photography. But these are often items that defy traditional categories of specialization. In large part that is what draws me to them.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you’ve handled?

I’ve been fortunate enough to handle some really fantastic Beat items. A few years ago I sold one of Jack Kerouac’s personal copies of Ann Charters’ bibliography of his work. It had Kerouac’s hand corrections throughout, as well as those of Ann and Sam Charters. It was something I scouted up (meaning it had little in the way of provenance) and took almost a year of research before I could authenticate it. It’s my favorite not only because of what it was intrinsically, but also because the entire process of researching and verifying its authenticity was both exhilarating and frustrating.

I also was very fond of a collection of original photographs and collages made by William S. Burroughs during the period he was writing NAKED LUNCH that Ken Lopez and I handled together. More recently, I sold two notebooks that belonged to Peter Orlovsky, one of which dated to the beginning of his relationship with Allen Ginsberg during the period Ginsberg was writing HOWL.

NP: What do you personally collect?

BC: I try to keep my own collecting minimal, practical, and as much as possible inexpensive. Otherwise the temptation to hold back material that flows through the business can be too great. To that end, like many booksellers, I collect books on books. Most of these are reference materials, bibliographies and the like. But I also like books on the history of bookselling, and have a special fondness for bookseller memoirs.

My largest personal collection by far, however, is books with compelling or revealing owner alterations. These can be anything from marginalia and inscriptions (non-authorial, non-association) to more outward changes. For example, I have a book that was in the Jonestown Flood. I look for books that physically tell a story about how they were used (or abused) by ordinary people.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

BC: That someone pushing 40 (I’m 39) could for the purposes of this interview be considered “young.”

But to take your question more seriously, I love that the business affords me the chance to constantly learn new things and how it allows me to follow and capitalize on my own interests and obsessions.

NP: Any thoughts to share on young collectors and the future of the book trade?

BC: When I hear older dealers lament the demise of the book, or how younger people don’t read etc., I honestly feel like we’re living in different worlds. People are interacting with the written word more now than at any time in human history - texts, email, blogs, the internet, ebooks, Kindles, etc. - and this can only bode well for the future of the book and collecting. Yes, the book and our concept of it is changing. And yes, collecting habits and interests will evolve with it. But the idea that people will stop collecting is nonsense. They’ll just collect different things. It will be up to new generations of dealers to recognize these emerging collecting areas as well as to take them up and promote them further - even to take the lead and make the argument for neglected corners of our cultural heritage.

Because at our core, book dealers have always been purveyors, not of books per se, but of culture. For a very long time, the book was the primary repository of that culture. As the infrastructure of our cultural ecosystem diversifies, however, so must what the book dealer handles. This will continue to mean everything from The King James Bible and the Kelmscott Chaucer to Hemingway and Stephen King. But it will also mean punk rock flyers and old computer manuals, zines and amateur photographs, home movies and video tapes, and maybe someday even Atari cartridges. Or Kindles. Or the archive of original HTML files to a seminal blog like Boing Boing. I think it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing “first editions” of landmark video games at bookfairs, for example.

NP: Tell us about your upcoming catalogue and how to obtain a copy:

BC: My sixth catalogue should be going to press shortly after you read this and be available by the second week of February. Some highlights include: a rare complete set of invitations to Andy Warhol’s first retrospective (from the estate of the exhibit’s curator), several good Beat associations, an original poster from Patti Smith’s first reading/performance, a complete set of original and striking silk-screens posters from the debut of John Cage’s HPSCHD, and a fascinating archive of notebooks and original art from a British trainspotter. Also poetry, the mimeo revolution, modern literature, the counterculture, and assorted other odds and ends. Readers interested in obtaining a copy and/or in being notified when it is available online can either email me at books@briancassidy.net or join the mailing list by filling out the online form on my website.

FBC2012winter-cover.jpgWhen I saw the news bit earlier this week that artist and novelist Audrey Niffenegger will be publishing a short story titled “The Wrong Faerie” in the upcoming anthology, Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane, I was beyond excited. The story is about Charles Altamont Doyle, “a Victorian artist who was institutionalised for alcoholism. He was also the father of Arthur Conan Doyle, and he believed in fairies.” In short, it sounds fabulous already. Maybe I’m biased. As FB&C readers know, I traveled to Chicago this past summer to meet Niffenegger and discuss books, art, fame, and collecting. She also signed a few books for me. The result of that interview is our winter issue’s cover story. But we talked a lot that day, and so there is more to share about our conversation.

I asked her how her creative life has changed since the incredible success of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Here is what she said:

Well, one of the things that changed a lot, I never used to have any money, so I never used to go anywhere...I got a lot done. With Time Traveler, I spent about three years running around doing festivals and promoting it, and with Symmetry, I spent about a year and a half, just solid running around, constantly away. And it’s almost impossible to do real artwork in hotel rooms, so that has been kind of slowing me down. What I’m hoping to do in the next couple of years is not move around as much, get more centered. I’ve got big projects that I’m working on that have to get done with real deadlines, so I basically have no choice but to turn things down and make sure I get my work done. Time management is really the big problem. The monetary impediments were removed, but at the same time the time constraints became overwhelming. A lot of people are like, ‘So that new novel, it must be done, right?’ I’m like, ‘no.’ It’s just difficult when you’re constantly talking about the work you’ve already done to get the new work happening.

Niffenegger collects taxidermy and books. I asked her to talk a bit more about those collections.

The taxidermy is, in a way, not really a serious collection because it’s just strange things that hang around the house, and you look at them and think, ‘hmmm, that’s really strange’... It’s not like I’m a biologist and have great insight into all these creatures. I mean, in my collection, the more damaged they are, the more interesting. There are missing eyes and paws, looking really pathetic. Occasionally I’ll buy a really glorious piece because it’s interesting, but for the most part I buy very strange, cheap, damaged taxidermy. The taxidermy collection is completely eclectic and based on pathos and strangeness. The book collection, on the other hand, there’s a very definite train of thought running through that collection. I am interested in books that use images and words together in interesting ways. So if something is typographically interesting, if it’s telling an interesting story in a way where everything supports the story interestingly, if the illustrations are really spectacular or if it’s going beyond illustration and into a wordless novel or something like that, I’m very interested in that. I’m less interested in sculptural books. I mean, I have a few. I’m very interested in fine print, so, for example, I’m very fond of Arion Press, and I’m always sort of looking out for their things. I’m always interested in what my students and former students are doing, so I veer toward them when I can. Always partial to aquatints because it’s what I myself do. I sometimes buy with an eye to showing my students things, so if I don’t have a good example of a such-and-such, I will sometimes try to acquire one so that when I’m talking about such-and-such, I can say, ‘and here is a such-and-such’ and give them a better chance of understanding what the heck I’m talking about. Books are really hard to show in slides ... it’s so much better if they can handle it, it just becomes a completely different experience.

P1020571-small.jpgAudrey Niffenegger shows me her prints at Printworks Gallery in Chicago this past summer. Photo credit: Brett Barry.

One question that many people ask is if, as an artist, she gets to design her own books and limited editions. Here is what she said:

For Time Traveler and for Symmetry, there were limited editions, and I got to design those. I did not get to design the commercial edition because everybody immediately agreed that I am not a very commercial artist, which is fine with me! The design for the cover of Time Traveler was done by Suzanne Dean who is the head designer at Random UK, and she did Symmetry in the UK. Scribner’s designer Rex Bonomelli, he came up with the shiny, metallic, twiggy cover, which I liked tremendously. Then when it became a paperback, everyone was saying, ‘there must be a person on the cover,’ and I said, ‘well, okay, but just don’t cut off her head.’ And so we went through lots of iterations of people with and without heads. I like what they came up with...The limited editions are fun because they don’t necessarily have to follow all the rules of conventional book design. Like the limited edition I did for Scribner for Symmetry, it doesn’t even have the title on the spine, it the initials of the title and my initials, and if you had it spine-in, that’s all you would be able to see. It’s not the most readable typeface, the book is entirely black, so it’s got lots of things going on that wouldn’t scream ‘buy me!’...A limited edition of a printed book made by commercial processes is a whole different deal than a real printing.

A 60 year tradition came to an end last week when the famous Poe Toaster failed to show for the third year in a row at Edgar Allan Poe’s grave in Baltimore.  Since at least the 1940s, the secretive visitor appeared annually on January 19th, Poe’s birthday, to leave three roses and a half full bottle of cognac beside the tombstone of the famous author.  The tradition continued through 2009, Poe’s 200th birthday, before ending as mysteriously as it began.  A vigil of faithful fans kept watch for the Poe Toaster all through the night this year but again returned home disappointed.

The tradition possibly began as early as the 1930s, according to several unverified eyewitness reports.  The Poe Toaster officially entered the historical record in 1950, when the annual visitation was documented for the first time by the Baltimore Sun.  The same pattern was followed each year: an anonymous man arrived at the grave dressed in black with a white scarf and a wide-brimmed hat.  He would pour himself a dram of the cognac, then leave the bottle and three roses on the grave before slipping back out of the cemetery.  According to a note left on the grave in 1999, the tradition passed on to someone else, “a son” of the original toaster.  The second Poe Toaster was more erratic, sometimes leaving cryptic and critical notes on the grave.  In the midst of some controversy, the new Poe Toaster kept the tradition alive for the next ten years, concluding abruptly, and without a final note, in 2009.

Several impostors have appeared each year since in an attempt to continue the tradition, however they have been largely dismissed by the faithful vigil who keep watch each year for the Poe Toaster.  They believe the tradition needs to be carried on by the original family, or should die out entirely.  Instead, a new tradition is in the works: Jeff Jerome, Curator of the Poe House in Baltimore, said fans will be reading tributes to Poe at his gravesite this coming Thursday night. 

So, if you’re in the Baltimore area, swing by the burial ground near Westminster Hall on Thursday eve to join a new Poe tradition.  And thank you to the Poe Toaster for making overexposed modern life just a bit more mysterious.  I think Poe would have approved.
(Image from Wikipedia)

shelf-lives.jpgLast week the Cambridge University Library in Cambridge, England, opened an exhibition dedicated to individual book collectors. Shelf Lives: Four Centuries of Collectors and their Books “allows us to observe the changing motives, fashions and tastes of book-collectors over the course of four hundred years.” Spanning the sixteenth to the twentieth century, the collector/donors include manuscript collector George Lewis, music collector Marion Margaret Scott, map collector Alfred Harker, and bindings collector Samuel Sandars, along with ten others. Seen here at left are volumes from the collection of Sir Geoffrey Keynes, in one of the bookcases in which he housed them. Keynes’ collection includes the work of Jane Austen, William Blake, and Siegfried Sassoon to name a few; these were the books he used to compile his bibliographies.

jenkinson.jpgFrancis Jenkinson, pictured at right in John Singer Sargent’s 1915 portrait, is featured in Shelf Lives. Jenkinson was the Cambridge University Librarian from 1889 until 1923 (H.G. Aldis was his secretary!). Jenkinson is an interesting collector because he compiled the War Reserve Collection containing some ten thousand unofficial, personal, and ephemeral works distributed during World War I, e.g. trench journals, battalion orders, and propaganda leaflets. It is a wonderful example of “front-line” collecting.

A list of the exhibition’s captions is available online, but should you have the opportunity to view it in person, Shelf Lives runs through June 16 of this year.
Catalogue Review: Justin Croft, French Books & Manuscripts

croft000.jpgIt’s always a pleasure to peruse booksellers’ catalogues, even more so when each page offers something unexpected, as happens in English bookseller Justin Croft’s newest selection. He offers here fine manuscripts, printed books, antiquarian music, even a collection of 3,800 French devotional cards (£1,500). Francophile or not, each of the 81 items listed in this nearly octavo-sized, color-printed catalogue is worth a long look.

In manuscripts, a collection of 125 patriotic post- Revolutionary songs made more interesting by the light green/brown wash applied to the text by a censor (£1,500). The wash has now faded so that none of the censored text is obscured. Or, if you’re in the market for something more romantic (Valentine’s Day is approaching), perhaps a book of engraved love songs and epigrams, compiled by a young woman circa 1784 and bound in tooled red morocco (£2,500). A reading diary of a “voracious female reader” in Restoration Versailles, circa 1820-1822, would surely be of great interest to institutions (or private collectors) with collections devoted to the history of the book (£1,100). It appears she loved Sir Walter Scott.

As for modern books, if you truly want to know what Fitzgerald & friends were drinking in Paris, Jean Lupoiu’s Cocktails, a classic guide from 1938, is a good bet (£400). This one is number 16 of 100, with a presentation inscription in Lupoiu’s hand. A first edition, inscribed, of Jean Lacassagne’s slang dictionary, L’Argot du “Milieu,” has a striking cover design shown in beautiful detail on page 61 (£400).

In earl(ier) printed books, “a famous bibliographical eccentricity:” Le Livre a La Mode, printed in green ink throughout, Paris, 1759 (£350). The author, Caraccioli, suggested that ink color ought to be chosen based on the book’s subject matter. Sounds like a great addition to a collection on graphic design.  

This, and so much more--eighteenth-century medical bills, a Nazi’s prison notebook, a major collection of French fairy tales -- so go and enjoy: http://www.justincroft.com/downloads;jsessionid=8A0D5A1C2680515D85D811A95EF33526
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If you’re like me, you had never heard of Elizabeth von Arnim until the recent episode of PBS’ smash hit Downton Abbey, when a valet gave a copy of Von Arnim’s Elizabeth and Her German Garden to his love interest.  Von Arnim, however, was a hugely popular author during the Edwardian era depicted on the show, and her first novel Elizabeth and Her German Garden, published in 1898, was a spectacular success that underwent repeated printings (twenty-one, in fact, in its first year in print alone).  Von Arnim published a further twenty novels in the early 20th century, most of them successful, before slowly slipping beneath the literary radar over the last fifty years.  Von Arnim’s star, however, is once again on the rise as interest in the author re-surges in the wake of Downton Abbey.  So who was this mysterious author?

Elizabeth von Arnim was born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Australia in 1866, but was raised in England, the daughter of a prominent merchant.  While undergoing a tour of Italy in 1891, she met a Prussian aristocrat, Count von Arnim, who she soon married.  The couple moved into the Von Arnim estate in Pomerania, where they had five children despite the gradual deterioration of their marriage.  Count von Arnim, referred to as the “Man of Wrath,” in Elizabeth’s semi-autobiographical novels, went deeply into debt and was soon sent to prison for fraud.  In an effort to raise funds, Countess von Armin adopted the pen-name “Elizabeth” and went to work on a brooding but satirical novel about her experiences in Pomerania.  The result, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, was published by Macmillan in 1898 and became a huge success for its wry observations on aristocratic provincial life.

The “Man of Wrath” died in 1910.  For the next few years Elizabeth was the mistress of H. G. Wells, before she married her second husband, John Russell, elder brother of Bertrand.  Their marriage, however, was also a failure. Elizabeth soon fled briefly to the United States where she permanently separated from her second husband, although they never divorced.  In 1920 she began a long-term affair with the British publisher Arthur Stuart Frere-Reeves, thirty years her junior.  Frere would later name his daughter Elizabeth in her honor (a move which undoubtedly thrilled his wife).  Elizabeth spent the next thirty years writing frequently and entertaining guests at her homes in London, France, and Switzerland before the outbreak of World War II forced her to relocate to the United States.  She settled in Charleston, South Carolina where she died in 1941.

Von Arnim’s literary output was much-lauded in her lifetime.  Her themes were frequently feminist and her style admired for its dry wit.  In addition to Elizabeth and Her German Garden, other standouts were “Vera” in 1921, often considered her masterpiece, The Enchanted April in 1922, and Mr. Skeffington in 1940.

Currently, her books are not particularly collectable and first editions are cheap and easy to come-by.  Will the recent resurgence of interest in Von Arnim be maintained?  If so, perhaps it’s time to build a Von Arnim collection.
Tomorrow at PBA Galleries, a fantastic collection of seventy clipper ship sailing cards goes on sale (pun intended). Pictured here is one highlight: a card for the clipper ship Sparkling Wave, in the Merchants’ Express Line, 1859, printed on porcelain coated stock, with color wood-engraved illustration. It is estimated at $2,000-3,000.

ClipperShip,jpg.jpgAccording to the American Antiquarian Society, “The publication of clipper ship sailing cards began in 1853 and continued through the Civil War, reflecting the enormous increase in commerce between the east and west coasts after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California.” The ephemeral cards were made for advertising ship departures--“Current Rates and No Deception”--and they often feature full-color illustrations and beautiful design. AAS also notes that those cards which carry an imprint reveal that just three printing offices issued most of them: Nesbitt & Company and Watson & Clark of New York and John H. Bufford of Boston. The one seen above is a Nesbitt production.

The PBA auction also includes more than two hundred lots of Americana, Californiana, and maps. Check out the full catalogue here: http://www.pbagalleries.com/live/sale_details.php?s=471&
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with our youngest entry yet: twenty-two year old Ashley Loga of Lorne Bair Rare Books in Winchester, Virginia:

NP: What is your role at Lorne Bair Rare Books?

AL: Basically Lorne is Obi-Wan Kenobi and I’m his padawan.  I do a little bit of everything, from cataloging books to processing orders.  Lorne is having fun teaching me everything he knows.  Considering I just entered into this business a few months ago, I still have much to learn but I’m loving every minute of it. 

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AL: All throughout high school, the only thing I ever wanted to do was own a bookstore.  After graduating from college this past spring, I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, hoping to learn something about running an open shop.  I went to the seminar knowing almost nothing about the antiquarian book trade nor what an antiquarian book truly was.  At the seminar, my world was flipped upside down.  Everything about the antiquarian book trade sounded amazing and exciting to me.  I like to imagine one of those comic strip moments with a little light bulb clicking on above my head.  My dreams of owning a used bookstore and café were quickly replaced by the antiquarian book trade.  After being wrapped up in a whirlwind of an auction for a dinner with the faculty of the seminar, an auction I wasn’t even planning on bidding in, Lorne offered me a job.  I jumped at the chance, moving from Jackson, Mississippi to Winchester, Virginia without a second thought.

NP: Favorite book you’ve handled?

AL: The most interesting book I have ever handled is a hand written journal from the early 1900’s. It was written by a young man traveling from Dayton, OH to San Francisco.  Not only is the writing enjoyable but he also included hand drawn maps, a sketch of a train’s side door sleeper and detailed budget and expense lists.  It is fascinating for me to be able to connect to someone through reading their own personal thoughts and experiences.  To me, the most interesting books are the ones with ownership history, ones which allow you to glean something about the previous owners.  Being able to share a connection with someone through a book is my favorite thing about this trade.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AL: I love the sense of community and partnership within the trade.  I find it charming and welcoming.  Being a veracious learner, I also love how I am always learning something new about each book and its contents through research and cataloging. 

NP: What do you personally collect?

AL: Personally, I have a slight fetish for antique trunks and boxes but in regards to my book collection there is no overall theme or genre linking them all.  I usually just pick up books that interest me or nice copies of my favorite books. 

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday? (And if so, what would you like to specialize in?)

AL: For now, I’m just learning everything I can about the trade. I haven’t given much thought to owning my own shop someday but I do know I will be in the book trade for life.  It is definitely the career for me.  As for specialization, I’m currently learning everything I can about prison and prostitution literature. 

NP: I believe you are the youngest bookseller we’ve interviewed to date.  Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade from your vantage point?

AL: Being only 22, I am perhaps one of the youngest ones currently in the trade.  Personally, I am tired of this defeatist attitude.  I frequently come across people bemoaning the death of the business on the list-serves.  This frustrates me greatly.   Having a defeatist attitude only hinders the business and does not help it grow at all.  Everyone says that people my age do not collect but this is untrue.  I know quite a few people under the age of 30 who collect books and take pride in their collections.  I think this view partially comes from a disconnect with the older age group and the younger age group.  And partially from the fact that people my age do not have the funds to buy books on the higher end of prices.  Book fair advertisements need to not only target the older crowd through newspaper advertisements but also find new ways to target people in their 20s and 30s.  The customers’ desires are merely shifting: the business is not dying.

In an e-newsletter received last week, the Boston Athenaeum announced a spectacular $2 million gift from “Anne and David Bromer to create the Anne C. and David J. Bromer Fund at the Boston Athenaeum.” The Bromers, who have owned and operated Bromer Booksellers in Boston for decades, are longtime supporters of the Athenaeum. In the e-newsletter, Athenaeum director and librarian Paula D. Matthews wrote, “Their love, nurtured since their student days, has included a wide-eyed appreciation of the joys of books as physical objects and a deep empathy for the sensuous beauty books possess at their finest.”

The Bromers’ donation will also support the Bromer Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Athenaeum. Stanley Ellis Cushing, the current curator who has been at the Athenaeum for 41 years, is appointed to fill this role.

Wrote Matthews, “Thus the gift and the appointment represent a true confluence of sympathies: for the book as a magical thing, with inks, textures, bindings, materials, and physical dimensions as well as words and pictures.”

Catalogue Review: The Lawbook Exchange

While not properly a catalogue (though they do impressive printed catalogues), this special list issued this past week by the Lawbook Exchange in anticipation of the upcoming New York Bibliography Week Booksellers Showcase prodded me to scan their offerings. Of course any collector with an interest in the law probably already knows the New Jersey-based antiquarian bookseller and publisher, and if they don’t, they should!

From a Magna Carta--printed in 1576 and containing extensive contemporary annotations ($6,500) to a rare British novella, A Railway Accident, published in 1855, that features a trial for negligence ($650), the Lawbook Exchange covers its ground well.

In this list, there is a sampling of legal commonplace books, manuscript notebooks, and printed books. You need not be a legal eagle to be wowed by a signed association copy of Clarence Darrow’s The Story of My Life, with candid tipped-in photographs ($1,500) or to appreciate British caricaturist George Cruikshank’s own copy of the rare Reflections on the Causes of Unhappy Marriages, and on Various Subjects Therewith Connected...printed in 1805 ($2,000).

Expected to fare well in NYC? Perhaps the 1859 Compilation of the Laws of the State of New York; Also, Of the Ordinances, Resolutions, And Orders Established by the Mayor, Aldermen, And Commonalty of the City of New York, In Common Council Convened, Relating to the Fire Department of the City of New York, From 1812 to 1860 in elaborately tooled morocco bearing the gilt arms of New York City ($750) or the printed trial proceedings of The American Print Works vs. Cornelius W. Lawrence from 1852, relating to a major fire in lower Manhattan on Dec. 16, 1835 ($650).

Don’t object! Proceed: http://www.find-a-book.com/member/catalogues.php3?catnr=3654&membernr=1661 
A very modern dilemma was posted to the ExLibris listserv earlier this week:  Are eBook collections eligible for book collecting prizes?

The issue was raised by Richard Ring, Curator of the Watkinson Library and manager of the Webster Book Prize, a book collecting prize awarded to students at Trinity College. Ring received a query from a Trinity college freshman asking if his eBook collection could be considered for the Webster Prize.  Ring then raised the issue with the ExLibris listserv, seeking the input of other book prize managers and the rare book community at large: “I am of two minds, and I would welcome serious responses.  Clearly he [the student] should be encouraged in his collecting, and yet, I’m sure his collection would be considered unacceptable for the national prize sponsored by the ABAA.  Have other collegiate contest managers addressed this issue yet?”

The question, predictably, sparked a debate on the listserv, as librarians, book dealers, and collectors all attempted to sort through the cloudy issue.

Sarah Baldwin, president of the ABBA, which co-sponsors the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, offered this response: “We declined a possible e-book collection entry last year; however, the cosponsors are open to considering the question more thoroughly.  I’d welcome reasons why e-book collections are appropriate.”

Several listserv participants suggested that eBook collections could be included if the criteria focused on judging the imaginative spark behind the collection: what inspired it, how it was assembled and arranged, and how it is now, and could in the future be, utilized. 

Several reasons were also offered against the inclusion of eBook collections.  Issues of aesthetics, ease of ownership, and even the murky waters of eBook licensing agreements were raised.

As the debate died down, however, the general consensus appeared to be this: eBook collections should be judged against other eBook collections, while codex collections should be judged against other codex collections.  The two mediums are different enough in character to warrant separate competitions.

Speaking for myself, and not for Fine Books as a whole, I side with this idea of judging the collections separately.  As a collector, I would wince if my copy of, for example, the WPA guide to North Carolina, complete with a fine dust jacket, was judged equally with a competitor’s digital copy of the guide which he acquired for free online.  Of course, as we move boldly into the future, more and more books will be published exclusively as eBooks and the eBook format will expand in wild new directions from the basic electronic assemblage of text and pictures it is today.  At that juncture, eBook collecting will likely come into its own right.  For the time being however, it would seem the most fair to split book collection judging into two categories: the eBook and the codex.

But I’m not sure how keen collectors, or prize managers, will be to split the prize money.

In the meantime, Sarah Baldwin wrote me to add the following: “The cosponsors of the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest will review the possibility of e-book entries, as components of a collection in whole or in part, for the 2013 Contest. (Time constraints will not allow the cosponsors to change the rules for the 2012 Contest).  I cannot predict what the decision will be, but we do not want arbitrarily to exclude a format.”

So the future is up for debate.  Anyone have anything else to add?

(Quotes from the original debate have been used by permission of the authors).

I’ve had fun reading year-end lists of the most popular online articles at The Millions, Latham’s, and Slate, and I thought it would be neat to see what’s been most appealing to our readers as well. Working our statistical magic, we came up with a list of our top 10 online articles of 2011.

1. “Plain But Good” by Karen Edwards. A look at R.R. Donnelley’s highly collectible Lakeside Classics series.

2. “A Classic Back in Print” by Nicholas Basbanes. Nick’s recent column on Allen and Patricia Ahearn of Quill & Brush and the fourth edition of their indispensible guide, Collected Books.

3. “The Americanist” by Nate Pedersen. Nate’s interview with longtime antiquarian bookseller Norman Kane.

4. “On the Road” by Tom Bentley. A profile of Peter and Donna Thomas, the ‘Wandering Book Artists.’

5. “Exceptional Ephemera” by Nicholas Basbanes. Nick visits the Grossman collection of ephemera at Winterthur.

6. “Comic Cartography” by Jeffrey S. Murray. The witty world of cartoon maps -- even the New Yorker liked it!

7. “Scholars in the Stacks” by Richard Goodman. Richard went to the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center to see what they were up to.

8. “Lovecraft’s Providence” by Nick Mamatas. Seeing the homes & haunts of H.P. Lovecraft.

9. “Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian” by Jonathan Shipley. A neat story about how this million-dollar set of photos actually plunged its creator into debt and obscurity.

10. “Temple of the Muses” by Nicholas Basbanes. The first in-depth report on the burgeoning American Writers Museum.

And on our blog, the top 5 of 2011 were...

1. “Oddities: Books Bound in Human Skin” by Rebecca Rego Barry. A video-clip from a Discovery Channel episode on these oddities.

2. “Foliomania” by Rebecca Rego Barry. A review of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s exhibition catalogue, Foliomania.

3. “John Gilkey Redux” by Brian Cassidy. A virtual APB for book thief John Gilkey.

4. “Game of Thrones, Collectable Fantasy Book, Hits HBO” by A. Genevieve Tucholke. Different editions of George R.R. Martin’s books, as the show premieres.

5. “Banned in Boston!” by L.D. Mitchell. Only one copy of 1690’s Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick survives -- because it was banned!

The New Year is here and with it the flurry of resolutions that usually include some form of de-cluttering.  Did anyone else weed their book collection over the holiday?  I sorted through mine, pulling out a few odds and ends to sell or give away and a few others to repair (with my very basic book repair skills).  I was interested, therefore, in this essay in the Independent.  Tom Sutcliffe, one of their columnists, weeded through his library over the holiday (“...a year of unrestrained growth and ill-disciplined browsing had steadily diminished its utility and pleasure...”) and the act led him to reflect upon the role of the personal library in the age of the eBook. 

Sutcliffe came to some thoughtful conclusions,”This time round though I found that most of those old rationales for whether a book went back on the shelf or into the charity box weren’t really functioning properly any more. The arrival of a Kindle and the internet had eaten into what had once been utterly routine judgements. Where once it would have been a no-brainer to keep one’s copies of Walter Scott, say, this time round I hesitated.”  Sutcliffe continued, “The canon, in short, now has less of a claim to physical shelf space than more obscure books.”

And this, I think, is Sutcliffe’s main point: much of the Western literary canon is so quickly and easily accessible via eBooks and the Internet, that physical copies aren’t justifying their shelf space like they used to. In their place, however, the obscure, the interesting, and the unique continue to thrive.

I find this to be very true with my own library.  For example, I used to have an extensive collection of modern reprints of the classics - from publishers like Modern Library and Everyman - which I assembled to be representative of the Western canon.  But I’ve given away almost all of them now, excepting my very favorite titles.  My reasoning is similar to Sutcliffe’s: most of these books are easily available online, should I need to reference them.  The shelf space, always a prime commodity, could therefore be put to better use. 

So what took their place?  More obscure books that aren’t available online and are at least somewhat difficult to track down: my WPA books, my Rivers of America books, my American Trails series.  Out of print titles from some of my favorite authors.  Books I regularly reference for article research.  And books that I delight in as physical objects.  In short, my actual book collections.  It’s interesting how the process of weeding the library brings these collections to light: the true character of your library is revealed by what you can do without.  And maybe that clarity is an advantage of the eBook age after all.

So, is anyone else going through the same process?

FB&C is saddened to learn of the accidental death of rare books and art dealer John McWhinnie, aged 43. McWhinnie managed Glenn Horowitz’s East Hampton bookstore for eight years before opening his own stores with Horowitz as a partner in 2005. The East Hampton Patch and The Gallerist have more details on this tragedy. A longer piece published before his death about his incredible and all-too-short career is here.
s-germany-gutenberg.jpgFor those of you enjoying the winter issue of FB&C, you’ll note an article on bibliophilately by Larry T. Nix, writer/publisher of the Library History Buff blog. Larry has set up a webpage with lots of supplemental resources, information, and images for anyone interested in learning more about this fusion of stamp and book collecting. The stamp seen here is from his collection, issued by Germany in 1954 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible.
Catalogue Review: L.W. Currey, List #14

Today I’m taking a journey to the center of a genre I know little about ... science fiction. But the twenty-page Occasional List #14 offered by L.W. Currey of Elizabethtown, NY, is a pleasure to read nevertheless. The descriptions are straightforward, the color photography is well done, and there are 197 interesting and oddball books to enjoy.

Of course there are first editions of the ABCs of science fiction and fantasy: Asimov, Bradbury & Clarke, in addition to Pynchon, Tolkien, and Wells. Huxley, another big name in this area, is represented with a first edition of Brave New World in a fine, bright jacket ($6,500). And the cult-collectible H.P. Lovecraft (see here and here) is represented by a first edition of The Outsider and Others ($7,500).

The “painted” publishers binding of the first British edition of Jules Verne’s The Master of the World ($4,500) is quite lovely, while the pictorial jacket featuring a smoking skeleton on Philip Wylie’s The Murderer Invisible from 1931 seems more indicative of the genre ($2,250).

Some other titles of interest--for their names alone!--Willard Rich’s Brain-Waves and Death from 1940, in which a scientist is killed in an experiment studying electroencephalography ($1,500); A. Merritt’s Burn Witch Burn!, a “weird little mystery novel of witchcraft and deadly little dolls” ($1,750); and Reginald Glossop’s The Orphan of Space: A Tale of Downfall, a 1926 novel that mixes science fiction with mysticism in a future war setting ($1,500).

Browse the entire list online and check around Currey’s website. While he is an expert in the SF/fantasy genre, he stocks a much broader array of popular fiction and literary firsts. 
What do Laurence Durrell, Robert Frost, Graham Greene, E.M. Forester, and J.R.R. Tolkien have in common?  They were all passed up by the 1961 Nobel Prize committee in favor of the eventual winner, Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andric.

The Nobel Prize Council’s debate over each year’s nominees remains a secret for fifty years after the award is given.  At that point, the archive is opened in the Nobel library in Sweden.  A Swedish journalist, Andreas Ekstrom, investigated the freshly opened archive from 1961 this week to reveal the Council’s damning opinion on J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose: “It has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.”  Ouch.  And this in reference to the man who almost single-handedly invented an entire genre.  Tolkien was nominated that year by his close friend C.S. Lewis.

The 1961 council, headed by Anders Osterling, was equally unimpressed with Robert Frost, citing his “advanced age,” as a reason to vote against him.  Poor E.M. Forester was written off as “a shadow of his former self, with long lost spiritual health.”  And Laurence Durrell was nixed on account of his “monomaniacal preoccupation with erotic complications.”  So Tolkien wasn’t alone in the loser’s circle.  But if popular appeal is any vindication for Nobel prize dismissal, all of the above authors have long surpassed Ivo Andric in popularity.

The runner up in 1961 was Graham Greene, who somehow never won a Nobel, while Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen, another very deserving writer, came in third.

You can read more about the findings in this fresh article from the Guardian.

And if all this talk about Tolkien has whetted your fantastical appetite, you can watch the trailer for the new Hobbit film, coming out in 2012:

January’s a fairly quiet auction month overall, but there’s certainly the potential for a really big sale price, at Christie’s New York on 20 January.

  • PBA Galleries sells Fine Books in All Fields on 5 January, in 460 lots. A first edition Leaves of Grass rates the top estimate, at $20,000-30,000.
  • Edinburgh’s Lyon & Turnbull will sell Rare Books, Maps, and Manuscripts on 11 January, in 456 lots.
  • Bloomsbury hosts a Bibliophile sale on 12 January, in 398 lots.
  • On 19 January, PBA Galleries sells Americana & Californiana, Cartography, and Clipper Ship Cards. No preview yet available.
  • Christie’s has just one book sale this month, on 20 January ... but it’s a doozy: the Duke of Portland’s copy of Audubon’s Birds of America (est. $7-10 million). See Rebecca’s preview of this sale from earlier this week.
  • There will be at least a few books and manuscripts in the 22 January Bonhams sale.
  • Swann Galleries holds a “Shelf Sale” on 26 January.
audubonbooks.pngComing up later this month at Christie’s, the Duke of Portland’s four-volume set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, the most expensive book ever sold at auction. Estimated at $7-10 million, bibliophiles will wait with bated breath to find out if the duke’s Birds will break the current world record of $11.5 million, set at Sotheby’s sale of Lord Hesketh’s rare books and manuscripts in December of 2010. The duke’s set is bound in full crimson wide gilt-panelled morocco (seen here at left) and is, according to Christie’s, “in very fine condition, with colors fresh and bright, and showing minimal handling evidence.”

Audubon was an itinerant artist who traversed the American wilderness of the early nineteenth century, drawing birds. His idea to create an oversized folio of more than four hundred hand-colored plates showing the birds in life-size was visionary; it was also prohibitively expensive. He relied on subscriptions to raise the necessary funds. His magnificently illustrated double-elephant folio was issued in parts in the years 1827-1838, initially printed by W.H. Lizars of Edinburgh, but soon transferred to Robert Havell & Son in London. 
Gimlet_cocktail.jpgNew Year’s Eve has passed, and with it, the opportunity to freely imbibe before the new resolutions set in. So instead, we can soberly contemplate the long history between American writers and drinking cocktails. The good folks at Flavorwire compiled a piece last year on ten classic authors and their favorite drinks. I’d like to expand on that list here at Fine Books with a few American authors who didn’t make their cut:

Raymond Carver and the Bloody Mary

Carver was for many years a hard drinker and the story goes that the Bloody Mary was his favorite cocktail because he was hungover so often.

Raymond Chandler and the Gimlet

Chandler picked up a taste for gimlets while in London and almost single-handedly popularized the cocktail in America. In a famous scene in The Long Goodbye, Terry Lennox describes the perfect gimlet recipe as “half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else.”
BeyondWords.JPGIt’s the new year, and perhaps, like Pepys, one of your resolutions is to begin a diary or a journal. I’m content to take a peek into the diaries of others, particularly when they are as beautiful as the ones in the new book, Beyond Words: 200 Years of Illustrated Diaries, published late last fall by Heyday Books in association with the University of California at Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.
Auction Guide