March 2012 Archives

Catalogue Review: Jason Dickson Antiquarian Books, Spring 2012

Screen shot 2012-03-30 at 9.29.55 AM.pngWith Canada on my mind this week, I turn to the spring catalogue of the young, Ontario-based bookseller, Jason Dickson. Turns out the timing couldn’t be better -- fishing season opens Sunday in New York, and Dickson offers here a selection of antiquarian books on fishing. William Scrope’s Days and Nights Salmon Fishing in The Tweed, published by John Murray in 1843, is highly regarded by anglers ($1,800). Jean Cussac’s Pisciceptologie, ou L’Art de la Peche, an illustrated book on fishing, is lovely in a bright red half-leather binding ($700). There’s also Fly-Fishing in Salt and Fresh Water, London, 1851, in its original green cloth ($950).  

Continuing the aquatic theme, Dickson has an 1897 London edition of The Buccaneers and Marooners of America by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin, edited by Howard Pyle ($30). The pictorial cover is classic.

Beautiful, sharp pictorial covers also can be found on the first American edition of G.A. Henty’s A Jacobite Exile ($75), a second edition of Peter Bisset’s The Book of Water Gardening ($50), and a first edition of Cy Warman’s Weiga of Temagami and Other Indian Tales ($25).

Written in a straightforward style and accompanied by color images, Dickson’s catalogue is a grab bag that is great fun to rummage through -- from John Dryden to John Irving; A 1660 first edition of A Discourse and Defense of Arms and Armory ($400) to The Cook and Housewife’s Manual from Edinburgh, 1833 ($100); to bee-keeping and millinery.

Visit his shop in Bracebridge, Ontario, or online at
Bibliographers are the unsung heroes of the antiquarian book world.  Today marks the start of a new, occasional series at the Fine Books blog where we profile some of these unsung heroes.  We begin with Carol Fitzgerald, who has published two excellent bibliographies with Oak Knoll Press. The first, Rivers of America, covers that landmark series on American rivers, while the second, Series Americana, covers the variety of Americana series that sprang up in the wake of the Federal Writers’ Project.  Nicholas Basbanes spoke with Carol about her Series Americana three years ago when it was first published.  Today, we check in with Carol to hear more about the careful art of bibliography:

NP: When and how did you become interested in writing bibliography?

CF: Until I started collecting books in the Rivers of America series in the mid-1980s, I never gave bibliography much of a thought. But over the years, as my Rivers collection grew, I occasionally found special, limited, signed, and variant editions of titles in the series, which sparked my curiosity about other series titles that might also have been so issued. About that same time, I began to research the authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers, gathering information about their roles in the series, hoping to augment my expanding list of Rivers of America titles.  The names of many of the men and women chosen to write the books in the series were unfamiliar to me, as they were popular writers long before I was born, and most had either died or were no longer actively writing.  I found a few living series authors to whom I wrote, asking how they came to write their book and for any other information they might have about the series. Those authors and illustrators provided valuable first-person information, and several became good friends for many years. My collection continued to grow, as did my files from months of research of old Publishers’ Weekly magazines on microfilm, correspondence with the few living authors and editors, and photo copies from the files of numerous libraries.

Still unable to find a comprehensive list of the books in the series, aside from the sometimes sketchy lists on the back of dust jackets, I compiled my own list, based on the books I already owned or knew existed. By the early 1990s I decided I had a story to tell: a bibliography augmented with first-person and other accounts of how the books were written, a story of the publishing history of the series, and perhaps a novel approach, the biographies of the authors, illustrators, and editors. It was a huge undertaking for someone who had never been trained in this type of work, but I felt strongly that the story should be told. As you may know, my work has been described as a history-biography-bibliography, and perhaps has broken new ground for presenting a comprehensive bibliography.
Having read Nigel Beale’s recent, disturbing account of Canada’s national library and archives--large, empty exhibition rooms, slashed acquisition budgets, possible de-accessioning of collections--I asked our Fine Maps columnist, Jeffrey Murray, what he knew about the situation. Murray retired from Library & Archives Canada a few years back. He said he met with some former colleagues recently and “was quite taken aback by how demoralized they were.” He also pointed me toward a Save Library & Archives Canada website, which I hope readers will take a moment to look at.

Here’s a video posted to that site, in which Liam McGahern, president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Canada, explains his organization’s opposition to changes underway at Library and Archives Canada.

What’s the Point of the Arts and Humanities? A report from the Oxford Literary Festival

Guest Blog by Catherine Batac Walder

On Monday, March 26, I attended the discussion on “What’s the Point of the Arts and Humanities?” an event at the Oxford Literary Festival. The panel included comedian and co-founder of the Arts Emergency Service Josie Long, writer Philip Pullman, and world-renowned graphic novelist and magician Alan Moore. Dr Simon Kövesi, the head of English and modern languages at Oxford Brookes University, chaired the event.

Walder3_OxfordLitFest2012.JPGMeeting Alan Moore at a book-signing after the panel discussion.

A good part of the talk dwelt on assessment, economics, and funding of higher education (HE) in the UK, that is, should the state fund the study of the Arts and Humanities? Having experienced HE in various settings - the Philippines, Scandinavia, Southern Europe and the UK - I find that criticisms about government funding are endless and that I, originally from a developing country, have the inherent habit of comparing Philippine higher education, where funding is a problem not only in HE but on all levels of education. That is also to say that funding, not necessarily the systems, in Norway and Finland left me with awe.
What interested me more was the main topic addressed by the panel. What’s the point of the arts? Can the arts and humanities develop without university study and scholarship? Talks of cinema vs. books, art vs. commerce/industry surfaced. Pullman pointed out that he wouldn’t wish anyone to think that by praising the arts and humanities he was downgrading the importance of science. This bigger picture, this (false) division between art and science is interesting to me as having worked with scientists at a university here in England, I got to know some who also have the same qualms about industry/commerce as artists do. I agreed when Moore said, “if we go back to the history of our culture, the high points are our creativity, that’s how we measure things, that’s what makes us human.” But you could also say the same about science and technology. Overall it was a pleasant afternoon and you couldn’t help but hang on every word: Pullman with his scholarly discourse; Long with her activism and idealism; and Moore with his astute opinion of humanities and being human that only a student of unstructured education and a man of life experiences could give.

Walder2_OxfordLitFest2012.JPGBook sale at the marquee in Christ Church (where Lewis Carroll spent time as a student and teacher).

The annual festival opened Saturday, March 24 and will run until Sunday, April 1. For details on ongoing and upcoming events, visit

Many thanks to Catherine Batac Walder, a writer living in the UK, for this report. She has previously written for us about Sherlock Holmes, ex-library books, and The Water Babies.

By now, most everyone has heard of the Slow Food Movement, which began in the 1980s with the aim to change the way we eat.  It argues that people are happier and healthier when preparing and eating sit-down meals, which require more time to arrange and consume than their fast food alternatives.

A new piece in the Atlantic by Maura Kelly applies this same argument to reading.  Kelly makes a call for a  “Slow Books Movement,” to counteract the effects of “fast entertainment,” such as watching television or reading blog posts (like this one).  Instead, she says we should pick up a book during our downtime, replacing some of the time we spend on the Internet or in front of the TV with quality reading. 

But it’s not enough to read, say, a thriller or a romance novel.  Kelly instead calls for reading literature, classics in particular, at the rate of about 30 minutes a day.

Kelly modifies a Michael Pollan slogan for the movement’s rallying words: “Read books.  As often as you can.  Mostly classics.”

Kelly cites a number of benefits: literature makes us smarter, improves our capacity for thought and empathy, helps us define our identities, and makes us feel good about ourselves.

Kelly’s movement is all-encompassing when it comes to technology.  Kindles are welcome here.  But it’s a movement whose virtues extend deep into the rare book community.  Participants in the Slow Books Movement should patronize antiquarian bookshops, where centuries of literature, both canonical and otherwise, await their perusal.  Thanks to antiquarian booksellers you can stumble across forgotten classics awaiting re-discovery.  For example, I would never have read Elizabeth Madox Roberts, one of the great Southern writers now vastly under-appreciated, if I had not bumped into The Great Meadow in an antiquarian bookshop in North Carolina.

So I cheer on the Slow Books Movement and hope it has the sense to discover Slow Books where they’re waiting to be found: on the shelves of antiquarian bookshops around the world.

Today in The Millions, author Cory MacLaughlin shares a wonderful tale of literary sleuthing. In the seven-year process of researching and writing about A Confederacy of Dunces and its author, John Kennedy Toole, MacLaughlin heard about an original manuscript -- a dream come true! Or, another dead? Here’s a snippet.

I had nearly given up on the question of the original manuscript until a year ago when I interviewed Lynda Martin, the sister of Toole’s best friend in high school. “The manuscript?” she said in a soft southern accent. “Yes, well I have it in my closet here at home.” I nearly dropped the phone as she explained Toole’s mother had given it as a gift to her brother after the novel was published. When her brother passed away in 2008, she acquired it. It had a few penned-in edits, she explained, but not drastic revisions. “I don’t know what to do with it, really” she said. “I considered selling it at auction.” Christie’s estimated its value up to $20,000, if deemed authentic. She hadn’t called Sotheby’s yet. “Please” I begged, “just hold on to it. I’m on my way down.” ...[Read more at The Millions.]

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Josh Niesse, proprietor of Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia. Underground Books will be celebrating its one year anniversary this weekend.

Josh Niesse UB Storefront.JPG
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JN: Funnily, I feel like I could almost answer that question “I’m still getting ready to start.”  My collection of rare, collectible, genuinely antiquarian books is paltry, certainly by most ABAA member standards.  I probably have less than 150 books in the $50-$500 range, and none above that.  Really I’m trying to build a bookstore right now that is a reflection of my own interests and that seems to fill a gap in my community, and the development of the rare book portion of that store will be ongoing.  Underground Books has, as I see it, three split identities: a general purpose used bookshop with broad appeal; a radical bookstore with an emphasis on outsider politics, bohemianism, art, psychology, philosophy, etc.; and a rare/out-of-print/antiquarian bookshop.  It’s a little schizophrenic from the perspective of bookstore-identity, but it’s what I enjoy and the response has been positive. 

Until I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, I’d been operating “in the wilderness”.  I had no idea there was a whole world of scouts using hand scanners, nor did I have a connection to the world of serious booksellers.  A couple months before I opened, a friend connected me to Ken Mallory an ABAA dealer in Atlanta. Ken told me about CABS, and I promptly applied for a scholarship. I was offered several of the scholarships I applied for and ended up taking the ABE Books scholarship and headed out to Colorado Springs to have my eyes peeled open to see how incredibly little I knew about what I had just decided to do with my life.  Now I’m about a year in to having the open shop and am continually learning what an incredible novice I still am.

NP: When did you open Underground Books?  What do you specialize in?

JN: I opened the store on March 20th, 2011, with a big grand opening celebration. So many people had helped contribute to getting the space ready; it really was a community effort.  As for a specialty, I’m still very much working this out.  The strongest sections of my store are the philosophy and psychology sections.  The University of West Georgia here has one of the oldest and largest humanistic psychology programs in the country, and it brings a delightful collection of weirdos and intellectuals to our small town rural area. Lots of these folks end up sticking around and making this area their permanent home, and it’s given the town a bohemian and hippie undercurrent that’s unique for a small town in rural west Georgia. So this makes philosophy and psychology a natural specialization because of access to both supply and demand for these kinds of books.  My varied personal interests drive dreams of all sorts of unusual specializations, but really I’ve been so preoccupied with the day-to-day of managing the open shop, I’ve barely scratched the surface of exploring specializations. I’m inspired by ABE Books’ “Weird Book Room” and hope to work a lot more with “weird” books.

NP: Did you start off selling online, then open the brick-and-mortar store later?  How do you like having an open shop?

JN: Yes, I started online, but I wouldn’t want to go back to just web-based again.  Even though the storefront is far from a cash cow, it really does fill a vital community niche, and is tremendously rewarding.  If I’m going to be fool enough to sell books, I might as well be able to share the space I’m in with others who appreciate them as much as I do!

NP: From my understanding, you are part of an intentional community. Could you tell us a bit about that and how it plays into your bookselling life?

JN: To avoid a long discussion of what an intentional community is for those that may not know, I’ll just direct people to the website  Our group basically has a huge 100 year old house a couple blocks from Carrollton’s downtown square where Underground Books and the Alley Cat are located.  It has the flavor of a student housing cooperative meeting an artist colony. We garden, have shared meals, perform private backyard “underground” theatre in our marble paved courtyard (including in-house adaptations of The Princess Bride and Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume), make many household related decisions cooperatively, etc. We also have a sister property that is a small permaculture, off-the-grid eco-farm. 

Part of intentional community is creating spaces where something different from the mainstream norm can take place safely. I see my bookstore as an extension of that.  It’s become a local cultural community center, with lectures, author events, documentary screenings, and so on. I also helped spearhead a local movement this past fall when our small town conservative mayor banned the Rocky Horror Show from being performed at the community theatre. This made national news in Time magazine and is up for a DC watchdog group’s best 10 censorship stories of 2011.  I think bookstores should be outspoken advocates for free thought and expression.  Being interested in building intentional community informs all of this.

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

JN: I’ve developed a soft spot for scarce occult books and secret society ephemera since opening the store, because they are both beautiful and mysterious.  I sold a gorgeous, huge, 2 volume set of The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus by Arthur Edward Waite.  It was a 1909 New York edition pirated from the 1890 London first. Just a couple weeks ago, I got a true first of Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls that I also consider a treasure in my store collection.

NP: What do you personally collect?

I’m starting to collect Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins, just because I’m a huge fan of their zany literary strand.  I also really like what I call “fascist kitsch” - old red scare pamphlets, early 1900’s women’s marriage guides, stuff that seems crazy to us now but was in the mainstream of political acceptability in its time.  I like these because they’re such reminders of how fragile our liberties are, how it’s really not that long ago that what seems now like extreme right wing domination and control over women, minorities, gays, etc. was the norm. 

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

JN: There’s so much.  Though I tend to find it annoying the way the bookseller old timers gripe about the industry dying off, I must also admit that I’m kind of attracted to the way that situates me in a kind of Don Quixote story.  Amazon and e-books are the windmills.  When I was first telling people that I was opening a bookstore, someone asked me, “Why don’t you just open a Blockbuster video?”  Nonetheless, there’s a certain romance and charm to the seeming futility of it all.

I also just love booksellers. I made some friends for life at CABS.  It’s not like booksellers aren’t looking to make a living - they are - but there’s also a genuine spirit of generosity that seems to permeate the field. And they’re crazy! Every last one of them I’ve met; you have to be, at least a little.  And they know how to party. As a bartender I didn’t expect a bunch of book nerds at CABS to be able to out-drink me, but man, book people can go all night. There’s such an aesthetic quality to books, their smell, their feel in your hands, it makes sense that book people would be such epicureans, drink too much, love rich foods, talk into the wee hours - they’re my people!

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

JN: There’s this great quote I’ve seen floating around Facebook from the master of trashy B-movies, John Waters: “We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t (sleep with) them.”  I love that sentiment.  I think we might be missing a great moment here as the old guard booksellers gripe about the death of collecting.  Honestly, being nerdy and smart is cooler and more hip than it’s ever been.  And those people love real, tangible books as much as ever, it’s just that tastes are changing. I think bookseller specializations just haven’t caught up with these seemingly fickle shifts. I want to see more exploration of the weirdo iconoclast edge of the book trade. There’s so much out there still to explore -we just have to get creative!

NP: What do you have in store for your one year anniversary?

JN: I have a live musical act from local phenoms and folk-country-hippie-punk-chicks The Opposite of Hee-Haw, snacks and refreshments from local watering hole and music venue the Alley Cat, kids art activities from my neighbor Blue Heron Art Studio, and a big sidewalk sale to try to move some inventory as well. We’ll hang out in the sweet little charming space, chat, eat food, drink coffee, talk about books and life, and enjoy some good music.  Then we’ll head to the Alley Cat for the grown-up late-night part of the celebration!
Tanselle.jpgThe book world is incredibly lucky to have G. Thomas Tanselle beating the drum, as it were, for book jackets. Since 1971, when “Book-Jackets, Blurbs, and Bibliographers,” the first of his major essays on dust jackets, appeared, Tanselle has been writing about the failure to preserve book jackets--by collectors, by dealers, and by institutions--and how that failure has affected the study of books and book history. The Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia (in association with Oak Knoll Press) recently re-published Tanselle’s essay in Book-Jackets: Their History, Form, and Use, an outstanding resource for the book world. His later essays, “Dust-Jackets, Dealers, and Documentation” (2006) and “Coda: News and the Nineties” (2010) are also included.

Most people believe the book jacket to be a modern creation. Even the great Matthew Bruccoli got it wrong when he declared Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage (1895), to be the first American novel in a jacket. Tanselle believes that printed jackets were common as far back as the 1870s, but they were routinely discarded. Over the past forty years, he has located 1,888 examples of book jackets, stretching as far back as the proto-jackets/coverings of the 1820s. A color insert shows off a few of them, and a list of pre-1901 printed book jackets is printed in the second half of the book.

Jacket restoration? Nay! Tanselle writes, “A few prominent dealers have forgotten that the product they are selling is historical evidence, and they have violated collectors’ trust by supporting the alteration of that evidence (even when they have disclosed it).” And, “To condone the alteration of artifacts for cosmetic reasons is to rob collecting of meaning as a serious intellectual pursuit.”

Tanselle’s collection of nineteenth-century book jackets--the basis for much of the research presented in this book--will soon be placed at Yale’s Beinecke Library, where Tanselle’s collection of American imprints also resides.

To view the table of contents, an excerpt, or a slideshow, or to order the book, click here
Kara McLaughlin, proprietor of Little Sages in Cooper City, Florida, and recent entry in our Bright Young Things series, exhibited at her first fair earlier this month at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Petersburg.  She sent in the following report:

photo 5.JPGI turned the key and felt her start up. Last of the boxes and bags tucked in, green light, action, we are doing this - yes, we are ready to roll. Miles of white highway lines to cover but they fly by and I pinch, pinch again that in a matter of hours the stage will be set and the audience set in motion. The first audience, to me at least, for my first show in bookworld.

There’s the space: blank and bare, save the gorgeous bones of wood, rafters and lights. Free them, I tell myself, release the spines, boards and covers and find the magic. I support and lean, angle and stack the relics, hop back to the aisle to catch the rough form and line, dash back in to rearrange. A loop of dialogue in my mind, “Will they see this from  there? Does color catch their eye?”  I hadn’t realized the artist I needed to be, the poet of form and content. The nook of my wares and lures tied, I call the evanescent shop open.

 photo 1.JPGWhat I anticipated and excepted did come, and more so - with waves that I simply could not know fully until diving in. Deep in the limitless, dynamic exchange between patron, reveler and medium, the humble  bookseller here to sometimes translate, occasionally guide  (yes I think it this vast and true).

Each shelf bursting with songs and story, inked to the bleeding edge with more  - each visitor thirsty and readied to sit at the table. This communion of bibliophiles, this celebration simply cannot be translated out of the flesh and blood. Shopkeepers know the beauty of face to face sales, but here it’s intensified and poured freely - and it is a delight.

photo 4(1).JPG The bundles I wrapped and tucked under my arm for travel - ah I know their stories well, but what I didn’t foresee were the stories that would be brought to me.  Some came with a few lines, a haiku  - some carried a long, deep tale. What led them to photograph the dreadlocked, wild horses on a small island in the Atlantic?  How many times have they built a Catspaw dingy by hand? How long did they work in the Carnegie Steel factory? When did their lover first read them Shakespeare? How did they feel when the truth of Emerson sunk in?  I’m convinced that a collecting mind is an engaged, even enlightened one.

photo 4.JPGWhen it comes down to it, folks who love books are lovers of life, and these knowing, appreciative friends need no convincing that beauty, history, science, poetry and all the forgotten details of the world are worth noting, saving and sharing. Like all good parties, no one really wants to pull out of the driveway but, here, we gather our keys and coat - and say goodbye for a time. Yeah, a good sleep called and I sure answered - but even as I folded the first bookcase flat and brought the shop back to a 2D world for a while, I asked myself - where to? I’m hooked, got the bug, gone round the bend.. this little traveling sage ready at the helm.  

Until then, dreamers, dream! The muse awaits.
Safford Image.jpgTake a jaunt to the Grolier Club for a peek into old-school Scribner, when the publishing company founded by Charles Scribner could boast its own bookstore and a rare book operation with a serious bookman at its helm, Ray Safford. Safford worked for Scribner’s from the 1880s until his retirement in 1928. Along the way he met and worked with various authors and artists including Joseph Conrad, Eugene Field, and Maxfield Parrish.

The current exhibit at the Grolier Club, Ray Safford: Rare Bookman, is a collection of Safford’s business correspondence and photographs, as well his personal collection of bookplates and English and American literature (Carroll, Twain, Stevenson). It is the collection of Grolier member Mark D. Tomasko of New York City. When asked how he became interested in Safford, Tomasko said, “I met Ray Safford’s daughter in the 1970s, and over a period of years purchased his papers and most of his remaining books. Ray Safford was my introduction to the rare book world.” Tomasko added, “In his collection, and in the exhibit, are various books inscribed (or with drawings) by Scribner authors and illustrators he knew, as well as letters, and some, such as Oliver Herford and A. B. Frost, were good friends.”

Emilie_Grigsby_b.jpgOne of the more intriguing bits of Safford’s story--relayed in the exhibit and the exhibit catalogue--was his sale of a perfect Shakespeare First Folio (now at the Huntington Library) to the beautiful Miss Emilie Grigsby for $12,500 in 1903. Grigsby, pictured here at left, was the mistress of transit tycoon and art collector Charles Tyson Yerkes. A friend of Belle da Costa Greene and a secret admirer of Grolier founder William Loring Andrews, Grigby was, according to the exhibit catalogue, “most capable of playing in the man’s world of rare books.” The lady even had a bookplate designed by Lalique!   

Ray Safford: Rare Bookman is a fascinating look at the world of publishing and bookselling in fin-de-siecle New York. It’s up through April 13 at the Grolier Club, 47 E. 60th Street, a mere twelve blocks and a couple cross-streets away from the current Scribner headquarters. 

Catalogue Review: William Reese, Bulletin 25

Screen shot 2012-03-15 at 10.15.39 PM.pngWilliam Reese of New Haven, CT, hardly needs an introduction to seasoned book collectors, but for those new to the hobby, his company offers the cream of the crop in Americana and Literature. Catalogues are generally thick, beautifully illustrated, and full of amazing books and documents. The bulletin under review (issued between larger catalogues) is his most recent, and it is devoted to broadsides.

Broadsides, generally speaking, are one-sided printed sheets. They offer a street-level view of history; these were the flyers and posters pinned and posted around town, advertising sales or announcing wars. There are 32 items offered here--from an extremely rare 1778 broadside, Address to The Congress..., printed in Hartford, CT ($50,000) to an unrecorded, possibly first printed New York City liquor license c. 1702-1714 ($850). There are playbill broadsides, advertisements, addresses, and official government messages.

A 11” x 8” broadside from 1809 lists “Rules to be attended to during the Vaccination” for those considering a small pox inoculation ($1,250). I like the N.B. at the bottom, “Save the scab for examination.” A slave sale broadside from 1859 lists twenty-four slaves by name and age up for sale in Alabama ($6,000). Three-year-old Sarah and seventy-four-year-old Wallis among the “land, negroes, and perishable property” to sell “to the highest bidder.”

There are broadsides here for collectors of African-Americana, Native Americana, theater history, Revolutionary War, the South, French and Indian War, Quakerism, abolition, political history, California...The list is long because this short bulletin has exquisite examples from several major collecting categories, and yet it also prompts us to think about the many varied paths in collecting--the mark of a great catalogue.

See for yourself, by downloading it here.  
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Ashley Wildes at Between the Covers Rare Books in Gloucester City, New Jersey.

ashley 1.jpg
NP: What is your role at Between the Covers?

AW: The fairest cog in the machine. My official title is cataloger, but I do a little of everything around here from blogging to packing books. It’s good to have a grasp on how the whole system operates, ya know, for future coups and diabolical plans.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AW: It’s a long tragic tale involving recession, auto parts delivery, and waitressing before answering a call from elder cataloger Matt Histand about an opening at Between the Covers. I honestly hadn’t a clue that people bought rare books on this scale before entering into the trade a little over a year ago. I went to school for creative writing and classical guitar which meant that for two years after college I was taking on any job I could find. Then one day I found myself interviewing at BTC. The past year has been nothing if not life changing.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book that you’ve handled?

AW: Recently we’ve acquired punk rock flyers from some really awesome shows, Social D playing with Black Flag and X; an early Bags gig. After being a novelist my dream job was being a rock journalist a la Cameron Crowe in Almost Famous. The punk flyers were my first big archive and I have been enamored with the process ever since. Holding those felt almost as awesome as seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity College.  

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AW: I love that I can dye my hair purple. I’ve never had another job where I feel like I’m constantly learning and in such a relaxed environment. For better or worse I can work while being completely myself, as unfortunate as that may be for the poor souls I work with. The community I’ve found myself surrounded by is also pretty rad. It’s the only business I’ve been involved with where people who are supposed to be competitors actually help and encourage one other. They genuinely want to see their colleagues succeed. I’ve been privileged to have made amazing friends in the trade outside of BTC including Jonathan Kearns of Adrian Harrington Rare Books and most recently, Teri Osborn of William Reese and Co.

NP: What do you personally collect?

AW: My last blog was actually about collecting and I mentioned the top three categories in my assortment of oddities: Princess Leia action figures, Clash vinyl first pressings, and Sylvia Plath first editions. So if any adoring fans want to send me gifts, those are safe bets.


I hear you play in a punk band called Dear Althea -- could you tell us about that?

AW: Sure. Ever since discovering Nirvana when I was 8 I’ve been infatuated with music and when guitarist Dean DiCampli and I hit it off after an open mic that I hosted we knew we had to form something. We’ve been a Lennon/McCartney punk rock song-writing team ever since. Tom even takes guitar lessons from me now, so overwhelmed was he after witnessing the awe that is Dear Althea in concert. We’ve even enlisted fellow bookseller Andrew Gaub’s wife Lisa to join as our bassist.


Do you want to open your own bookshop someday?

AW: No. I’m sure people expect some grandiose idea of a shop full of amazing finds and clientele, but I already work in my dream store. I can’t imagine it gets better than this. 


Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

AW: In the immortal words of The Doors, “The future’s unwritten and the end is always near.” I’m too new to all of this to speculate much about what might happen in the future. One observation is that maybe sellers need to start thinking a little beyond books and I’ve already seen that happening. Concept pieces, such as archives and ephemera, are fantastic. That’s not to say there isn’t something to be said for the traditional rare book, but other forms of paper shouldn’t be disregarded.

VesaliusPic.jpgIn 1543, Andreas Vesalius, the founder of modern human anatomy, published De Humani Corporis Fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body), what is now considered the most famous and beautifully illustrated of all early printed medical books. Later today, Professor Vivian Nutton of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, will present the discovery of an annotated copy of the later 1555 edition that includes hundreds of Vesalius’ manuscript notes and corrections to the printer plates. It seems the Flemish anatomist was working on a third edition of his magnum opus!

Needless to say, this is an amazing find, sure to interest scholars in many fields, particularly those in the history of science. And, as one collector put it, “The discovery of a copy annotated by Vesalius for another edition that was never published is about as good as it gets for rare medical book collectors!”

The book is now on deposit at the Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto. A full description of the discovery and research done by Canadian pathologist Gerard Vogrincic and Professor Nutton will appear in the journal, Medical History, in October. More information is available at My Science

If you’re like me, you find yourself glued to the television every Sunday night when Masterpiece Theater is on.  And this year, as befits the 200th anniversary of his birth, is the year of Dickens.  So Masterpiece just recently wrapped up encore presentations of Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop.  And later this spring will see new adaptations of Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which I’m particularly looking forward to).

So it’s the perfect year for this bit of news to come out of the BBC: the earliest film based on Dickens’s work was recently found in the archive at the British Film Institute.  The one-minute silent film from 1901, entitled “The Death of Poor Jo,” is an adaptation of the famous scene in Bleak House.  You can watch it here:

The film is being attributed to G. A. Smith, a pioneering British filmmaker, who also made the now second oldest adaptation of Dickens: “Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost,” from The Christmas Carol.  You can watch that comparatively epic three-minute film here:

The BFI tells us that before the invention of sound in film there were already about 100 adaptations of Dickens work from around the world.  If you’re not yet tired of scratchy film and theatrical gestures, you can watch a cool compendium of these Dickens films here:

If, on the other hand, you are now longing for glossy, modern adaptations, here is the trailer for the upcoming Great Expectations, which will air on Masterpiece on April 1:

Jack Kerouac was born ninety years ago today. Did he ever think this would be his legacy? Apparently, Kerouac wanted Marlon Brando to play Dean Moriarty...

As you might imagine, when I saw a publication notice for John Hruschka’s  How Books Came to America: The Rise of the American Book Trade (Penn State University Press, 2012), I was quite excited. A monograph on the early American book trade? Yes, please!

Unfortunately, that’s not really what this book is. As Hruschka notes in his preface, he began the project that became this book as a “professional biography of Frederick Leypoldt” (xiii), a noted 19th-century bookseller/publisher and the founder of key American publishing trade publications, including Publishers’ Weekly and Library Journal. And from about seventy pages in, that’s fundamentally how it ended up. And that’s a good thing. Leypoldt’s story is fascinating, and Hruschka tells it well, from its roots in the early 19th century German vision of transplanting their style of publishing and bookselling to America through to the present, as the descendants of Leypoldt’s companies struggle to make their way in the ever-more-rapidly-changing world.

Hruschka’s account of Leypoldt’s bookselling, publishing, and editing ventures, and his quest to bring some semblance of order to the chaotic American book trade, is entirely worth reading. While Leypoldt’s “successes” ended up relying on others (Henry Holt and R.R. Bowker among them) to bring them to eventual fruition, his efforts are certainly worthy of notice.

The first six chapters, in which Hruschka seems to attempt to make the title fit the book, I had a bit more trouble with. These are, largely, recapitulations of prior works which have considered the origins and growth of the book trade industries in America: the first HBA volume, Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt’s The Book in America, William Charvat’s Literary Publishing in America, 1790-1850, and Robert Cazden’s A Social History of the German Book Trade in America to the Civil War most particularly. While I see Hruschka’s point in including these early chapters (to provide background to the Leypoldt chapters by explaining the always-fragmented, even haphazard development of the book trades in America), they seem not to fit with the rest of the book ... which in turn doesn’t really fit with the title.

There are some minor errors which I hope can be corrected in later versions of the book: the author of “What is the History of Books?” is Robert Darnton, not Roger (xi), while the Mayflower passenger was Priscilla Mullins, not Rogers (77). It is an over-simplification to say that “A printed book is one of many identical copies” (5) - this is, of course, demonstrably not true for the hand-press period.

While I wish that Hruschka and his publisher had come up with a more accurate title for this book, I finished it very glad that I’d kept reading. The later chapters on Leypoldt and his ventures are very well done, and I certainly recommend them without reservation.
Book Scouting in Bulgaria

A guest blog by Zhenya Dzhavgova

Downtown Kazanlak

Scouting for books during my recent trip to Bulgaria was supposed to be secondary to seeing my family for the first time in 8 years. Besides, as I had previously said in my interview with Fine Books, I did not think the antiquarian book trade was particularly thriving in my country. On my second day in Kazanlak, my hometown, I had the bright idea of stopping by the old downtown library I had so loved as a child. It looked exactly the same as I remembered it, but something new caught my eye - a small, somewhat sorry-looking shelf of books by the door with a sign “These books are for sale” on it. Though common practice in the US, I had never before seen Bulgarian libraries selling donated books. I approached the two librarians and hesitated... I did not know how to introduce myself and what their reaction would be after I told them I lived in the US and I was an antiquarian book dealer. Half-expecting to be ignored or told to “go back where you chose to run to” I told the women who I was. Their faces lit up. They called the children’s librarian to the festivities, too. I was bombarded with questions about my specializing in Slavic literature and the institutions and libraries I worked with. Then, one of them told me to follow her behind the counter and I was shown a small space where the really good books for sale were. The librarian laconically told me that, in fact, people had started donating books in the last few years, but nobody bought them and the library really did not have a place to display them. I was in heaven. The sad part of my visit was the news I received that the only antiquarian bookshop in my hometown had closed its doors years ago.

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia

On the other hand, an online search revealed that there were several stores in Sofia I wanted to check out. Armed with directions and trying to remember my way around the capital city from my college days I waded through the dirty snow in search of the most promising one of the shops. To say I was surprised by the inventory would be an understatement. The beautiful shelves crammed with thousands of antiquarian books and the friendly owner promptly set me at ease and I happily began browsing. After a while, seeing that I would most probably spend the day there, I told the proprietor I would get lunch and come back later. “Hmmm, maybe I could give you my card...just in case,” he said and I realized with a jolt he thought I was trying to get out without buying anything. While assuring him I really truly was coming back I wondered how many people had used that same phrase and never shown up again. I was also having the same doubts about revealing what I did for a living I’d had at the library. The sad truth was that not many, but some, businessmen in Bulgaria tended to “adjust” their prices at the mentioning of people from abroad and the envisioning of US dollars. Returning to the bookshop and meeting the second co-owner made up my mind. Pulling out one of my business cards I asked them about specific subjects I was interested in. “My God, this is so cool, we have to do business together, I will give you a discount on everything, wait here, I am going to our storage...” babbled one of the guys and bolted out the door. The second one sat me down and began talking about the book trends in Bulgaria. As it turned out, the trade had been slowly picking up speed in the last few years with online sales taking up the majority of the business transactions. Most antiquarian shops were in Sofia and the biggest number of sales was conducted in Europe. I did buy some great Communist Era books but more importantly - I made friends and business partners for years to come.

My next stop was the giant outdoor book market on Slaveikov Plaza, which I remembered as a place to buy new bestsellers and textbooks, but was assured had sprouted a few antiquarian booths in the last several years. While digging through a box of interesting pamphlets, I was approached by the seller who informed me they had an open shop nearby where I could negotiate a bulk purchase price with his boss if interested. Upon entering the store I had a fleeting urge to turn around and run. The only problem was the turning around part -- it was that crowded and claustrophobic. The shelves were not of the overstuffed, but alluring and inviting kind but of the piled, thrown-together, neglected variety. As hard as I tried, I could not see the owner so I settled for talking to the disembodied voice coming from behind the avalanche-waiting-to-happen. I asked for books on a particular topic and was handed a few insignificant and grossly overpriced items. I politely handed them back while saying I would just look around some more. “Yea, no looking, I thought you were buying, I am busy and don’t have time to deal with people like you!” Normally not known to back down, I was momentarily stunned by such unprofessional rudeness. That “dealer” had just botched the sale of one, and possibly more, boxes of items. What a difference it was between the owners of the stores I had previously visited.

IMG_3917.JPGThe Shipka Memorial Monument, in the Balkan Mountains of Bulgaria, build in honor of the Bulgarian and Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78

And then there were the books that relatives and friends kept dragging out of forgotten libraries and collections. I was surprised to find some real gems among the offered materials. In the end, I could honestly say the trip was a success. I scouted, I bought, I laughed, I was horrified, and I am looking forward to the next time.

Many thanks to Zhenya Dzhavgova, proprietor of ZH Books in California who we recently profiled for the Bright Young Things series on the blog.

Catalogue Review: Eureka Books, #28

Eureka Books.pngThis is the first catalogue I’ve seen from Eureka Books, though not its first, and certainly not the first from bookseller P. Scott Brown, known to many of you as the former editor of FB&C and currently the co-proprietor of “one of the last classic antiquarian bookstores on the West Coast” (in Eureka, CA).

Having acquired a large private collection (fifty file boxes) of Isaac Asimov, Eureka Books has been listing his science fiction firsts (and more) since late January. There are numerous signed and inscribed books, as well as association copies.

In this beautifully illustrated color catalogue of highlights, it’s interesting (and instructive) to see several editions of one title, showing a range of rarity, condition, and value. Take, for example, Asimov’s The Robots of Dawn. Here listed is a first limited edition from Phantasia Press, lettered issue, one of 35 copies signed by Asimov and bound in full leather ($1,850). Or, you could choose that first limited edition, one of 650 signed and numbered copies, in a fine dust jacket ($250). Or, perhaps the 1983 Doubleday first edition, inscribed by the author and in a fine dust jacket ($300). Lastly, that same edition with a jacket showing slightly more wear and a different inscription ($175). We could do this same exercise with Robots and Empire, Pebble in the Sky, I, Robot, and Nightfall.

Other fun finds in this catalogue: Isaac Asimov’s How Is Paper Made? co-authored by Elizabeth Kaplan and published in 1993 ($25). Asimov’s Realm of Algebra, published in 1964, in which “the good doctor explains algebra to smart kids” ($125). And Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, a first edition in two volumes in NF dust jackets and slipcase ($200).

Enjoy a PDF or fully illustrated web version by clicking here:
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Kara McLaughlin, proprietor of Little Sages in Cooper City, Florida. Little Sages will be exhibiting at its first book fair this weekend at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Petersburg.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

KM: I’ve always had stacks of the darn things like little skylines... with a babe in arms, I found and sold an early Ian Fleming and something just lit.  I read everything about bookselling I could get my hands on, then after an inspiring trip to my first ABAA fair I high-tailed it to CABS. Cliche but true - they (the books) found me.

NP: When did you open Little Sages? And what is the significance of the name?

KM: Little Sages shipped it’s first title out in 2007. As to the name, I’d had it in mind before books materialized. The sage, as a Jungian or literary archetype, a kind and wise figure, waxing philosophical, sometimes magical, and often stepping aside (whether by choice or force) within a plot, allowing the hero to develop and actualize. The emphasis here on the diminutive adjective - not quite there yet - only ‘Little’ Sages are we, but I like the idea of revealing and guiding a seeker to the tools he may use in his journey.  

NP: What do you specialize in?

KM: Quite a generalist, but might I be a serial specialist as well? As of this moment: Esoterica. Bold, fearless women. Men who loved them. Revelations, books that will not be quiet. Illustrated books, book arts and pamphlets/ephemera or as I like to call it: weird, skinny crap.

NP: Any particular benefit or challenge to share about selling books in Florida?

KM: Confession time! Jealous: of attics and forgotten barns; secret nooks and an extra century or two that homesteaders and humidity would begrudge me. Geographically challenged unless I start deep sea diving for /really/ old crusty things. Bright side: there’s grass underfoot year round.

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

KM: Perhaps not as interesting to me as the book is the seeker of the book, or more optimistically the finder - my favorite tales all have the common theme of ‘book-in-arms-of-rightful-keeper’, like the young woman in a small town, awaiting the book signed by her Great Aunt, Princess Atalie. She’s likely never purchased a ‘collectible’ book before, and perhaps won’t again,  but this book belongs to her -  it’s a piece of her family legacy, soon to come home.

NP: What do you personally collect?

KM: Hmm... lots of  titles end up with a small, penciled ‘pl’ (for personal library) - but they are not collected, just set aside for reading and exploration. In total candor - not too long ago I was so excited to break century barriers, I would keep tucking away the early 1800’s,  just chomping at the bit to hit 1799 (which I did) and then in one fell swoop, straight back to 1544. I can’t get enough pre-1850 frontispieces, the evocative etchings as if done in oil.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

KM: I get to hunt, gather, research and play archivist/curator - then release it back into the wild. Books and their relatives totally activate and enamor me - but the icing on the cake is the trade itself - like a tribe of brilliant, curious, intellectuals - that’s who you want at your dinner party, I’m telling you.  They are some dynamic, wonderful humans.

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

KM: What will change I think are the trophies themselves, as well as the way they are sought. Seekers of the book will surely continue to need a little nudge in the right direction - I’m happy to oblige.  

NP: Do you have a catalogue / e-list in the works?

KM: I do! As soon as I notch this ‘first fair thing’ onto my belt I’ll be settling in at home and honing the ‘first catalog’ skills.

Community Supported Bookshops

Guest Blog by Todd Pratum of Owl & Company Bookshop, Oakland

After 31 years in the book business, five bookshops and three warehouse internet operations later, I’ve pulled myself out of the internet (almost entirely--tired of staring into a screen instead of a face or walls of fine books) and moved most of my 30,000 volumes into a beautiful new bookshop of my creation. 1,200 sq. ft. for $3,000 on a very busy street, one of the best shopping and clubbing streets in the Bay Area and the Bay Area’s greatest concentration of bookshops, six now, within five blocks. My website is primitive but there are photos on Yelp. So far so good, though there are a lot of people coming in saying things like “I love bookshops,” “I love the smell of old books,” “Thank you for joining our neighborhood,” “I LOVE books,” etc. then leave without buying anything, waving from the door and saying, “Good luck!”

For this reason I am starting something unique in the book business (I believe), what I am calling ‘Community Supported Bookshops.’ CSB, modeled on something well established here in the US, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where people, who now realize the value of the family farm ‘join’ the farm for certain (usually minor and at no extra cost to the farm) benefits, and the joy of supporting something local and real.

Soon we will be charging $40 per year for membership. Besides T-shirts and bumper stickers, all members really get is advance notice of our quarterly 35%-off sales, and they get to come in a week before the public. These sales are held anyway so this costs us nothing. This is my answer to all the people who ‘love’ bookshops but never buy anything. Or come in and find books then use their phone to find it cheaper. (NB about 30% of all purchases on Amazon are generated first by a discovery in a brick and mortar shop).

What I’ve built here is a ‘traditional looking’ bookshop: 13-foot custom wood shelving to the ceiling, with only incandescent lights, a community meeting / art gallery in back, and generous open hours to serve the browser. Most everybody that comes in says things like “This reminds me of London,” “4th Street NY,” “The Old Library where I grew up,” “What a bookshop should be,” Harry Potter, Charing Cross Road (or the movie), the Ninth Gate, etc. And for Generation Y, they intuitively know this is a good authentic thing even though they have never seen anything like it. They value at least the idea. 

If there are any dealers who would like to help me develop this idea into a movement, where other bookshops join the CSB Society and make it global then I would like to correspond. My manager is hot on the idea, and I can pay her for some extra time to work on this project.

A few details: We still pay our generous rate on books for cash and trade but mark everything much cheaper than the net. Turnover is the key (read The Mathematics of Bookselling). No longer do I price books compared to the net but much cheaper.

What do I love the most these days? The amazing books that find their way here. My shop has brought in wonderful libraries and collections. Many are GIVEN to me. But my best and most exciting experience is working with salvage people who find crazy and unique collections of books, documents, letters, ephemera, photos, etc. that have been left at the dump or thrown in dumpsters, or though real estate agents, probate attorneys, even the City Of Oakland (abandoned houses especially), and the like. Why? Because there are only a few bookshops in this entire area of 13 million that buy books, so people are just desperate to do something with them.

We are a totally general shop which is key I think, but I have still retained my old focus on esoterica, antiquarian scholarly books, and “uncommon fact & fiction.”

The SF Book & Fair Show last month in San Francisco was a great learning experience. I haven’t exhibited or even attended a fair for many years, and I sold very few books at this fair, one of the largest in the world, ugh... But I learned. My most memorable observation? Almost everybody was at least 40 years old, with many ancient people and no ‘20-something’ people. This I believe is partly due to the fact that the dealers there only sell the old standards, and don’t try to appeal to young people’s interest. Yet after five bookshops I have always found that when it comes to used books the bread and butter of a general shop is the young people who are most willing to pay for books, and eat later (Erasmus).

Soon we will have a computer terminal here so people can check the internet on any books and decide for themselves what is the better deal.

Thanks to Todd Pratum for sharing his essay. Tell us what you think of community supported bookshops!

Have you heard the fairy tale about the young girl who escapes the clutches of a witch by turning herself into a pond?  The witch drinks all the water, swallowing the girl, but the girl frees herself by cutting her way of the witch’s stomach with a knife.  If you’re not familiar with that one, you’re not alone.  The last time anyone recorded that fairy tale was in the 19th century, deep in Germany’s Black Forest. 

The story of the pond-girl and the witch, and about 500 other fairy tales, were recently re-discovered buried deep in an archive in Regensberg, Germany.  The Guardian reported yesterday about the find.  All the fairy tales were recorded by the German historian, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810 - 1886), who spent much of the 19th century roaming through Germany’s Black Forest, recording local customs and folklore, and paying close attention to fairy tales.  No less a fairy tale collector than Jacob Grimm said of Schönwerth, “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” 

Schönwerth differed from the Grimm brothers in that his outlook was primarily historical -- he didn’t embellish the stories he heard, he just set them down on paper as they were told.  His work, therefore, provides an unparalleled glimpse into Bavarian culture in the 19th century.

Erika Eichenseer, the cultural curator for Oberpflaz in Bavaria, has ignited a recent re-evaluation of Schönwerth’s work.  Schönwerth published a three volume collection of his studies in the 1850s, but the work went largely unnoticed, fading quickly from the public eye.  (Incidentally, the three volumes, entitled Aus der Oberpfalz - Sitten und Sagen, were printed in 1857, 1858, and 1859.  I couldn’t find any copies available online).  Eichenseer discovered Schönwerth’s fairy tales in an archive in Regensberg while shifting through his papers.  Last year, she published a German selection of tales from the collection.  An English translation is now in the works.  Eichenseer has also launched a Franz Xaver von Schönwerth Society to promote the study of the long forgotten historian.

While Schönwerth’s significant contribution to German history is being restored, I’m looking forward to the illustrated edition of the pond-girl and the witch story.

Coming up this week at Swann Galleries of New York, a large auction of prints, drawings, and lives d’artiste. A major selection of prints and illustrated books of Jean-Emile Laboureur will start the 786-lot sale, followed by all the names you would expect in an auction of prints and drawings: Chagall, Picasso, Manet, Whistler, Pissarro, Renoir, Lautrec, Tissot, Grant Wood, and more. John Steuart Curry’s infamous lithograph of John Brown is one to note, not so much for its price (est. $4,000-6,000) as for its beauty. And with so much attention on Edvard Munch these days, surely his Selbstbildnis mit Weinflasche, or, Self-portrait with Wine Glass, 1930 (est. $40,000-60,000) will command a high bid.

But a peruse through the catalogue reveals a handful of lovely literary-minded images worth sharing as well. The first of these is perfect for FB&C readers -- its title is Book Auction.

mabel.jpgMabel Dwight’s Book Auction. Lithograph, 1931. Signed and dated in pencil. Its estimate is $1,000-1,500.

sloan.jpgOn the same theme, this one is called Connoisseurs of Prints by John Sloan, depicting an exhibition of prints to be auctioned at Manhattan’s old American Art Gallery. Etching, 1905. Signed, titled and inscribed in pencil. Its estimate is $2,000-3,000.

sloan1.jpgAlso from John Sloan, this etching it titled Reading in the Subway, from 1926. Signed, titled and inscribed. Its estimate is $1,500-2,500.

Ilsted.jpgAnother female reader (more serious perhaps) can be seen here in Peter Ilsted’s color mezzotint, Woman Reading, from 1925. Signed and numbered in pencil. Its estimate is $2,000-3,000.

Benton.jpgYet another reader turns up in Thomas Hart Benton’s Old Man Reading, a lithograph published by Associated American Artists in 1939. Signed in pencil. Its estimate is $2,000-3,000.
Occupied Collecting

A guest blog by Brooke Palmie
ri (Bookseller and Collector of the Occupy Movement)

On 17 July 2011, a nonprofit called Adbusters, who consider themselves “creatives working to change the way information flows”, posted this image in a blog entry:


It was the first of many calls to occupy Wall Street, New York. The post contains everything you need to know about the movement: from its slick, arresting imagery, its ability to deliver information and intent in short and sharp bursts (“to separate money from politics”), and its use of social media to aid in the cause. The hashtag (#) refers to Twitter, a social networking website which uses that symbol before any word or phrase to instantly link it with others who have written the same. Hashtags are shorthand for a united front. As I’ve said elsewhere, when the visual and the political combine in such a provocative way, it’s time to start paying attention, and to start collecting.


Photo by Marion Siegel

But it can be hard to install bookshelves on the cutting edge. Maybe they’re not meant to be there. Canonical books like the Bible and Shakespeare set standards that cannot possibly be brought to bear upon makeshift cities of tents maintaining their own libraries, newspapers, zines, meeting minutes. Even Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project considered the collector as a hero of the distant past,  “constructing,” as he phrases it, “an alarm clock that rouses the kitsch of the previous century to ‘assembly’”. But if you’re collecting the art and writing of Occupy Wall Street, you don’t have a century’s head start. It’s equal parts speculation, political engagement, and flexibility: it’s the closest you can get as a collector to harnessing the tempest with the teapot, chasing tornadoes a la Bill Paxton in Twister. Which brings up a few crucial issues to consider when collecting Occupy, something like a “five W’s” to ask yourself when collecting on the fringes:

Who will be included? The movement has generated a large body of writing, by prominent thinkers like Naomi Klein and Slavoj Zizek, but also by unknown authors. I go for both: from the Vice magazine Occupy edition, to limited-run or print-on-demand works like Scott Shafer’s Occupy Wall Street Guide to Tax Reform and Economic Recovery. There is also the question of collecting the counter-movement. Will you buy Anti-Occupy propaganda? For all my sins, I don’t.

When does the archive begin? According to Adbusters the movement traces its roots back to the Arab Spring, as well as the Spanish indignados. Lots of writers have drawn parallels between the Occupy Movement and the French Situationists of the 1950s-60s. Technically, Zuccotti Park was occupied from 17 September 2011. And I begin with 17 July 2011 - the blog post I mentioned above - and for the Arab Spring I rely only on the good work of Tahrir Documents who are keeping an archive, and providing translation, in ways that I cannot.

Where will you focus? Only on events taking place in Zuccotti park? Or the rest of the US - Oakland, Portland, Philadelphia, etc? Will you go global, just as on the ‘Global Day of Protest’ (15 October) when protestors in 22 countries marched in solidarity with those in New York? Scope greatly impacts thoroughness, which is a weakness of mine, but I like having things from all over so I don’t care.

What will you limit your collecting to, if anything? Libraries acquire a lot of non-book material: I have known swords, scientific instruments, and duck-presses to accompany collections. There are lots of print-related Occupy material that aren’t books, like screen-printed t-shirts, buttons, and even “prayer flags.” There is Occupy money. And that’s not to mention the variety of jewelry including Guy Fawkes earrings and Julian Assange lockets. I don’t do jewelry. I’m tempted by the prayer flags, but at this point only have room for paper products.

Collecting Occupy also means familiarizing yourself with some of the newer forms of buying. - where you find a project, pledge any amount of money in support of it, and get something in return., the collective of artists partially responsible for defining the look of Occupy, has just opened a Kickstarter to fund the production of more artwork. In exchange for pledges they send editions of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, and posters. My means are limited, but I wanted their copy of the Occupy Wall Street Journal (Issue #4), so I went for it.

There is also writing from blogs, and .pdfs downloads to consider. Even if a .pdf is a total non-entity in the world of rare book collecting, we have no way of guessing as to its scarcity in the future. To leave out considerations of digital collections misses the point of Occupy: whether or not it’s hauled off by the NYPD, websites remain constant places to regroup. The “We Are The 99 Percent” tumblr is a textual artifact unlike any other, and the Occupy Archive pulls together documents across the globe - to name a few. This is where I began: it’s a good way to start because it’s like compiling a bibliography for yourself to get a sense of what’s out there. More importantly, this is a feature of the movement that most of all separates it from your typical collection: with one foot online and one foot planted firmly in many cities across the world, to complete the picture of the social movement is to consider both on equal terms.

Why does this matter? Major museums are collecting this stuff. Counterculture has been taking up more and more space in institutions as time goes on (even the Riot Grrrl has a home at NYU). If you ask me, the real writing on the wall comes from booksellers: when sellers dating back to the 1850s have a Counterculture Department, when you see sellers with Occupy artwork at the California Book Fair, it’s definitive. But that’s not even getting to the heart of things, which is evidence enough. Occupy has changed the terms of civic engagement, it’s a record of resistance, and grass-roots lobbyism. It’s altered the course of mainstream reporting in a huge way, and opened up other possibilities that were unheard of until now.

BullBeginningIsNear.pngAlexandra Clotfelter “The Beginning is Near,” one of the offerings at the Occuprint Kickstarter

Many thanks to Brooke Palmieri, a bookseller in London who we recently profiled in our Bright Young Things Series.  Brooke works for Sokol Books and maintains her own blog on bookish things.


Online book selling sites like AbeBooks feature periodic updates on their biggest and most impressive sales, likewise collectors can have a pretty good idea of what prices items at major auction houses achieve. Yet the largest online auction site, with billions of dollars in transactions annually remains much more opaque to the collecting world as records of successfully sold listings are removed from public view after 90 days

Book and manuscript collectors with experience on eBay know how alternatively frustrating and exciting the site can be. Poor bibliographic descriptions, blatant fraud, blurry photos, and seemingly arbitrary pricing can hide gems or make duds less evident. Despite all of this, some truly remarkable material is sold every day on the site and I thought it would be helpful to the readers of the Fine Books Blog to provide a summary of the top sales from eBay’s rare books category over the past two months as a running feature. Also, for those interested,  Collector’s Weekly does offer a running list of the top eBay sellers from the previous week. Note that the links to the items below will break 90 days after their sale date. 

The highest five sellers by price:

  1. $17,600 Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologicae (Basel: Michael Wenssler, 1485) [istc it00194000]. Parts I and II.i .In contemporary pigskin with ink illustrations including the charming drawing of a devil (above). Sold by Hofmann Kunstmarketing in Germany on January 29th after two bidders took the item up from its $12,500 starting price. This incunable is a duplicate from the Frankurt Stadtbibliothek. A similar volume sold for 13,750 GBP in 2010 at Sotheby’s.
  2. $12,644: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. First UK edition. Sold by Adrian Greenwood Books in Oxford on February 14th.
  3. $12,000: Herman Melville. Moby-Dick, or The Whale. Harper & Brothers, 1851. Green cloth. Sold by Ernestoic Books of Williamsville, New York on February 8th.
  4. $11,110: Volume four only (out of six) of the Complutensian Polygot Bible. Published after 1520. Quite soiled. Sold by the seller “Zalocs” out of Florham Park, New Jersey on New Year’s Day 2012. In nothing like the condition of the complete set sold from the Estelle Doheny collection at Christie’s in 2001 for $82,250. 
  5. $10,000: Salvador Dali. Biblia Sacra with 105 Lithographs. Rizzoli, 1967. Number 900 of 1499. Sold by Novecento Art of Campobasso, Italy on January 12th.
Also at $10,000: An illuminated manuscript dated 1431 containing the second book of the dialogues of St. Gregory. 48 leaves. Sold by Edition Deluxe Rare Books of Portland, Oregon on January 26th.

Many of the items in the top 20 sales had relatively few bidders so the two below stood out to me for featuring extraordinarily heavy bidding action. They demonstrate the continuing appeal of books in the long-popular collecting area of the birth of the United States and the history of science.

The most bidding action on any of the top items came in for a complete 18th century set of Galileo’s works, eventually selling for $6,300 on February 2 after 68 bids: Galileo Galilei. Opere Divise in Quattro Tomi (Stamperia del Seminario, Giovanni Manfrè, Padova, 1744). Twentieth-century quarter-vellum over patterned paper covered boards; gilt-lettered brown morocco labels to spines. All edges dyed teal. Numerous tables and illustrations. Sold by Pittsburgh bookseller Lux et Umbra. A copy in less fine condition sold for 1,600 GBP at Christie’s in 2008.

The big seller in early Americana was a copy of one of the most important texts on the origins of the Bill of Rights.Volumes II and III (bound together) of The Debates and other Proceedings of the Convention of Virginia (Petersburg: Hunter & Prentis, 1788-89) [ESTC W6821] sold for $6,322 just before the new year on December 27th after a total of 37 bids. Volume III of this text is extremely difficult to find in the trade and this particular copy had the fine provenance of a prominent Virginia family. Sold by the eBay dealer “addy113” from New York. 

For me the most interesting sale in the top twenty was of a presentation copy of a 1919 treatise written by the pioneering rocket scientist Robert Goddard: “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, volume 71, (Washington, 1919). “With the author’s complements” to Clarence N. Hickman, one of Goddard’s doctoral students at the time. Sold by JHmedals of Shannon, Ireland to the sole bidder for $7,250 on February 9th. JHmedals seems to have a large collection of Hickman’s papers which they are offering for sale. Goddard’s 1919 text is quite unexceptional as a material text - pedestrian brown paper wrappers and all the blandness of a scientific serial - but as the first real work of what we would call ‘rocket science’ is extremely desirable for collectors. For a facsimile (large PDF) see Clark University’s archives.

Catalogue Review: Jarndyce, The Library of a Dickensian
Written by Ian McKay*

197.jpgWe are going to see and hear a lot of Charles Dickens in this bicentenary year, and on February 7, London booksellers, Jarndyce issued what they describe as “The Dickens Catalogue of the Year.”
    Containing amongst its 136 items, inscribed and other first or significant editions, letters and manuscript material, prints that once hung on the staircase wall at Gad’s Hill, and assembled by one private collector, this, say Jarndyce, will be the finest collection to be offered in the year in this 200th anniversary year.
    Among those inscribed copies is the 1839 first of Nicholas Nickleby that he gave to the artist Sir David Wilkie, godfather to his close friend and fellow writer, Wilkie Collins.
    Containing a long letter in which Wilkie describes a party that Dickens gave to celebrate the book’s publication, this copy in a presentation binding of dark green morocco gilt bears the bookplates of two well known Dickens collectors, the Comte Alain de Suzannet and William E. Self, and was was part of the latter’s 2008-09, Christie’s New York sales.
    This inscribed Nicholas Nickleby is now priced at £120,000, while a copy of that great rarity, a true 1861, three vol. first of Great Expectations in the original purple cloth and gilt lettered spines, is priced at £50,000.
    An annotated copy of Mrs Gamp, a collection passages condensed from Martin Chuzzlewit that Dickens used on an American reading tour is priced at £85,000. Printed by Ticknor & Fields of Boston, it was presented to and inscribed for H. M.Ticknor on the very last night of the tour in April 1868. This too is an ex-Comte Alain de Suzannet/Self item.
    An 1850 first of David Copperfield inscribed by Dickens to his actor friend John Harley is priced at £120,000 in its period binding of half calf and marbled boards, while manuscript material includes a leaf bearing a section copied eight years later from the book and sent to Edmund Yates, possibly for sale in aid of charity. The latter, featuring an incident from David’s engagement to his child-bride, Dora, is priced at £28,000.
    Among the three original portraits of the writer in the sale is a pencil sketch of of the young Dickens seated in a chair, c.1838, by his friend and early collaborator, George Cruikshank, priced at £18,0000.
    If you wish to see this catalogue, it is available from the bookseller for £20, £30 overseas. You can also view a turn-page version online.

*First published in the UK weekly, Antiques Trade Gazette. Reprinted by permission and with our thanks. 
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Jesse Rossa, proprietor of Triolet Rare Books in Glendale, California:

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JR: My path through the book world has been circuitous. While in retrospect it seems inevitable that I’d wind up on my own as a dealer that was not always the plan. As a kid I was a reader but more importantly a book lover, fussing with the arrangement of the books on my shelf. In college I studied printmaking, and did a tutorial with Leonard Baskin, but he and I talked about crows and intaglio and anatomy, not books. It wasn’t until 1996, when I met the bookbinder David Bourbeau, that I became fully immersed in the rare books world. During my two-year apprenticeship with David I learned binding and preservation techniques, and absorbed everything I could about hand-made books, letterpress printing, book people and bookmaking. My experience at the bindery led me to pursue a career as a special collections librarian, and I went on to get an MLIS at UCLA. While in graduate school I worked at Heritage Book Shop, which gave me the chance to handle and sell some of the highest-end books on the market. After working in several libraries in Los Angeles, I landed a job in the Special Collections Department at the University of Delaware Library in 2004. In addition to acquisitions and reference, I curated exhibits, including one on Ezra Pound for which I wrote a catalogue. A long-distance relationship led me to return to Los Angeles in 2010, where I worked for a photo-book dealer for a year before going out on my own.

NP: When did you open Triolet?

JR: Triolet was set up in the summer of 2011. My focus is nineteenth and twentieth century literature, but I also deal in photography, film, fine press, and art books, and I am open to anything interesting that comes along.

NP: As someone who has worked on both sides of the rare book spectrum, (librarian and dealer), do you have any thoughts to share on the divide?

JR: In 2005 I was asked to be on a panel at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the American Library Association pre-conference called “Going Over to the Dark Side,” which brought together current dealers with librarians who had worked in the trade. The joke was that each side thought the other was the “dark side.” There has long been suspicion on both sides. I think the most important thing is that the dealer and the librarian, once established as colleagues (because that’s what they are), can mutually benefit from their association. Once collecting areas are defined the dealer can provide what you could call curatorial outsourcing--helping librarians build on existing collections or develop new ones. I am very interested in bridging the divide. I’m at the point in my career where I want to cultivate relationships. I’m thrilled to scout for certain things and work on building collections. It’s not just about making a sale. Budget cuts have arisen in the past several years, of course, and the days of the 1950s and 1960s when Larry Powell and others were building huge and magnificent collections in American institutions are over. With smaller budgets, and so much material being held already, collecting interests will expand and diversify in creative and unexpected ways. And as more and more information is available digitally, primary source material will be all the more special, and libraries will continue to serve as repositories and destinations for the rare and unique.

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

JR: I’m always most excited by whatever it is I just found, but a couple of recent acquisitions stand out. More and more I find myself gravitating towards what I would call literary ephemera. I have a copy of Vicente Huidobro’s “Moulin,” which was printed as a laid-in supplement to an invitation to an exhibition of his work in Paris in 1922. Huidobro was active in the Dada and Surrealist movements and the poem is a calligram, shaped like a windmill, with the text in normal lines on the verso. I love that something this fragile and ephemeral has survived. Along those lines I recently acquired a flier announcing the publication of City Lights magazine in 1952, which preceded the bookshop and publisher and even Ferlinghetti’s involvement. It’s a Beat incunable, as it were.

NP: What do you personally collect?

JR: I’ve been collecting twentieth-century poetry for a while, but as I’ve made a full transition to the trade I find that I don’t really feel the need to own anything forever anymore--it’s enough to enjoy it while I have it and move it along. As the artist/bookseller Ben Kinmont said, “sometimes a nicer sculpture is to be able to provide a living for your family.”

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

JR: I love the daily sense of possibility--what am I going to find today? Who might call with a question or request today? What’s in this dusty box of paper? I love the pursuit of knowledge and the fact that knowledge is cumulative in the trade--every new book or item I handle is now something I know about. I like the collegiality and friendship of dealers and librarians, the chance to handle amazing objects and share them with people who feel the same way, and to be able to do it all on my own terms, for the most part.

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

JR: I think there will be always be a market for unique and beautiful items. In the library world there is often talk of special collections departments having more in common with museums than with the rest of the library, and the book trade reflects a similar focus. Modern publishing is being drastically transformed, and newspapers and scientific journals will certainly almost fully transition to digital or online presentations. But who wants to look at a photo book, or poetry, on a device? And that’s not to mention the untold number of books that already exist in the world. Book collecting has always appealed to a narrow segment of the population and will continue to do so; younger people who grew up in the Internet age who have that certain inclination will still be enthralled by beautifully crafted books. But the nature of the trade has certainly changed, and I like Brian Cassidy’s thoughts on the curatorial role of the dealer. It’s something I’m trying to do as well. And as for younger dealers, this series of interviews is proof positive of the continuance of the trade.

Are you currently producing a catalogue or an e-list?

JR: I put together an e-list for the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair, at which I exhibited in early February 2012. It can be viewed on my website here. I don’t have a printed catalogue currently in the works but eventually I’d like to do the occasional one. Plenty of my books remain unlisted and I encourage people to contact me at info [at] trioletrarebooks [dot] com if they’re looking for specific things.

Auction Guide