“As far as I know this is the first museum based on a novel,” [Pamuk] said. “But it’s not that I wrote a novel that turned out to be successful and then I thought of a museum. No, I conceived the novel and the museum together.”Don’t miss the slideshow of images from the NYT.
April 2012 Archives
Steve Finer of Greenfield, Massachusetts, issues your traditional antiquarian booksellers’ catalogue: a solid selection of books described in clear and witty prose, preceded by a personable letter. He calls the topics here his “predictable line of attack” -- i.e., agriculture, beverages, culinary history, domestic economy, and women.
The section of beer books is strong. One unique, ephemeral item caught my attention -- a “Receipt for making Doct. Cronk’s Beer” circa 1850-60. Finer calls the handbill “evidently unknown & unrecorded” ($150). In addition to menus and antiquarian cookbooks, he also offers several manuscript recipe books from the mid-to-late nineteenth century, ranging in price from $100-$250. Mock pigeon, anyone?
In domestic economy, we have all manner of good housekeeping advice. Catherine E. Beecher (Harriet’s sister) gave us Letters to Persons Who Are Engaged in Domestic Service in 1842, and Finer has the first edition ($100).
In the field of women’s books, Sarah Josepha Hale (The Lecturess: Or Woman’s Sphere; $100), Catherine Maria Sedgwick (The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man, $35), and Lucy Larcom (Similitudes From the Ocean and the Prairie; $250) stand out.
And in the category of ‘subject headings I’ve never seen in booksellers’ catalogues: Barbed Wire. A truly interesting find here, Memorial of Philip Louis Moen, who was the head of Washburn & Moen, America’s chief manufacturer of barbed wire ($50).
Contact Steve Finer by email or phone, and stay tuned for his next catalogue, Books about Books and Printing History. Or see him in Boston next weekend at the Boston Book, Paper, & Photo Expo, sponsored by the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers.
NP: How did you get started in rare books?
AT: My first job after graduating from the University of Michigan was in a New York literary agency. Although I loved the idea of the job, I couldn’t get accustomed to sitting behind a desk all day. After a year, I returned to school to study for my masters in education. I taught elementary school and also received my post-masters degree in literacy so I could focus on teaching reading and writing. After my son was born, I “retired,” and focused on book collecting and studying the trade. I frequented estate sales and volunteered as a “pricer” for my local library’s book sales, which allowed me to handle a wide variety of books in varying conditions.
NP: When did you open Tomberg Rare Books and what do you specialize in?
AT: I established my business in August 2011 after attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar on scholarship. I had been selling a variety of books that I picked up at sales and was in need of a more formal education in the trade and some camaraderie among fellow booksellers. After a compact week full of knowledge, I returned home and established Tomberg Rare Books. I have a particular interest in the mimeo revolution, the Beats, The New York School, poetry and the 20th century avant-garde. I am also interested in the art and music scenes from the 70s, 80s, 90s, especially in New York. My goal is to become more curatorial in nature with the idea of putting together specific collections to offer for sale.
NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) that you’ve handled?
AT: I had the opportunity to buy a small archive of The Kitchen, an alternative artist space started in the early 1970’s. With an assortment of fliers, photos, announcements and press releases relating to different artists and various mediums, I have a great opportunity for research in an area and time period that I am interested in.
NP: How did you first big fair go?
AT: I had the opportunity to work for Bill Schaberg of Athena Books during this year’s New York ABAA fair. He is a true master of the trade. I watched Bill connect with customers and colleagues with a rare grace. His level of professionalism and expertise is something I hope to achieve one day. The book fair was a truly unbelievable experience. The range and variety of materials demonstrates how wonderfully diverse the book trade is - and that there is always room to find your niche.
NP: What do you personally collect?
AT: I have a small Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe collection but the majority of books in my personal library are books on books, bookseller memoirs and books on the history of bookselling. I also have many reference materials, bibliographies and enjoy collecting other booksellers’ catalogues.
NP: What do you love about the book trade?
AT: What I love about the book trade is that it allows me to follow my own interests and curiosities in a professional way. I continue to learn about the trade and best practices through my relationships with other dealers. There is such a luxury and freedom in being able to follow my own path. There are no dull moments. I have met so many generous and supportive dealers whom have selflessly offered advice, wisdom and knowledge.
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?
AT: The book trade has a very definite future. As our idea of the book evolves with today’s technology, collecting habits will change with it. New book dealers will have the opportunity to discover new areas of collecting and possibly different types of items that better represent the current culture. In studying the decades of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, it is obvious what an important role ephemera has taken - punk rock flyers, zines, and artist catalogues became the main sources for primary information.
NP: Tell us about the contents of your first catalogue and how to obtain a copy:
AT: My first catalog is now available to download as a PDF from my website. Readers interested in obtaining a printed copy can email me at email@example.com or call (203) 223-5412. Some highlights include: Ted Berrigan’s Living with Chris, William Burrough”s Valentine’s Day Reading, a complete set of Locus Solus, a Bob Dylan artists’ book, John Sinclair’s 1974 Michigan Marijuana Initiative, a few signed Ed Sanders, FY: A magazine of the arts, some small press ephemera, and the uncorrected page proof of the first edition of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. Also included are signed women’s poetry and artists’ magazines.
Coming off our spring cover story about McMurtry, we are as surprised as anyone. Inviting book buyers to “experience Texas in August,” McMurtry offers this eloquent rationale for the forthcoming divestiture:
The several hundred thousand books that we are putting in play constitute a kind of anthology of American bookshops past. In our forty-one years as booksellers we have bought twenty six bookshops and some two hundred personal libraries, some humble, some grand.
So why push them out?
Because we believe that in the book world migration is healthy: old pages await new eyes. Yesterday in Lubbock, Texas I found a copy of Sons and Lovers in the oil-cloth Modern Library with my bookplate in it. Twenty eight thousand volumes have my bookplate in them; they reside in my big house in Archer City, and yet this one strayed. How it got to Lubbock I’ll likely never know. It’s home again now; but three hundred and fifty thousand of it’s cousins will be flooding into the great river of books that delights and refreshes. Good reading and good luck!
It began, however, with this post on Saturday by Mike Widener, of Yale University Library. Widener has added over 500 descriptions from 40 book dealers to catalogue entries for rare book holdings at Yale. Widener wrote, “The description adds value to our catalog. It records a wealth of information about the book that would be impossible to include in the online catalog record.”
In example, Widener included this entry, from Leo Cadogan Rare Books, into the description of Iustinianae constitutiones civiles (Bologna, 1608):
”Attractive and rare set of decrees concerning the functioning of the judiciary in the papal city of Bologna. These city statutes were promulgated by the Pope’s legate, Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani (1554-1621). Despite the issuing authority, the constitutions (a word indicating legislation of the highest level) are entirely non-religious in content, relating to civil law justice in the city. They shed considerable light into how courts worked in Bologna. Included are instructions on cases involving poor people; rules for notaries; the keeping of registers; seizures of property; taking of suspects; payment of officers; expert witnesses; and the governing of appeals. Pages 192-198 comprise papal edicts on the salaries of Bolognese judges and notaries.” -- Leo Cadogan Rare Books (Dec. 2011)
Widener follows these guidelines when including book dealer descriptions:
- I must first obtain the dealer’s permission to use the descriptions for all books and manuscripts the dealer sells to me. The descriptions are the dealer’s intellectual property and dealers are sensitive (rightly so) about whether and how their descriptions are re-used. I assure the dealer that I will understand if he or she prefers to refuse permission.
- I enter a dealer’s descriptions only for the books and manuscripts I buy from that dealer.
- I copy the description verbatim, editing only for length, punctuation, and spelling.
- I enclose the description in quotations, and I attribute the description to the dealer, including the catalogue (or if not in a catalogue, by the date it was quoted to me).
- I never include the price.
And then the Twitter conversation ignited. So, go read the chime-ins from dealers and librarians on both sides of the Atlantic at the Storify archive.
The general consensus seems to be very positive -- dealers are happy to have their descriptions preserved and librarians are happy to include them. A win-win situation.
(On a related note, be sure to check out our occasional blogger Brooke Palmieri’s post from last fall about scholarship and the rare book trade. She focuses in particular on the famous catalogues issued by E. P. Goldschmidt).
For collectors, there is an incredible sub-narrative to savor in this book -- around the mid-point of his life, I.N. Phelps Stokes became a manic collector of prints and maps of New York City. Trying to preserve the bucolic past of his youth, he bought everything he could get his hands on and spent his entire fortune doing so. Zimmerman writes of Stokes’ goal: “Collect every map, every view, every fact, every detail about Old New York. Research the city’s beginnings. Bind it all together in a book of exquisite quality.”
Which is what he did. Titled The Iconography of Manhattan Island, the massive, six-volume set was his life’s passion. In it are reproductions of everything Stokes could get his hands on, plus histories, chronologies; it took a team of researchers and more than a dozen years to complete. The edition was 402 copies, and those, Zimmerman tells us, are scarce (and expensive) today. (Christie’s sold an inscribed one last year for $5,625, a steal! They tend to go for double that retail, and even the reprint editions aren’t cheap.) She adds, “None of the classic or contemporary histories of New York could have been written without the Iconography as a source.”
Love, Fiercely is an engaging and erudite biography of this incredible couple and their passions. I heartily recommend it.
- At the 11 April Heritage Auctions Historical Manuscript and Rare Books sales in New York, the Stone Declaration of Independence on parchment sold for $597,500, while the book from Washington’s library fetched $101,575. A copy of Alexander Gardner’s Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War sold for $194,500, and a presentation copy of Thomas Jefferson’s A Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1801) made $113,525.
- At Swann’s, Fine Books sale on 12 April, the top lot was a portion of a vellum leaf from a ~1000 CE Greek Bible, with text from Philippians 2. It had been estimated at $800-1,200, but sold for $33,600. Another leaf from the same Bible sold for $26,400.
- Bonhams Mapping and Discovery of America sale on 14 April saw the 1512 manuscript containing accounts of early voyages to America do even better than expected; it made $326,500. A copy of Jeffreys’ American Atlas (1776) fetched $86,500.
- The Fine Books and Manuscripts Featuring the Michael Lerner Collection at Bonhams, held 16 April, saw a presentation copy of Ginsberg’s Howl sell for $74,500, and a Jonathan Swift letter fetched $56,250.
- Swann’s 17 April Revolutionary Americana sale proved their best book/manuscript sale ever, making a total of $2,084,031 with 418 of 436 lots selling. A letter by Jonathan Trumbull as Washington’s aide-de-camp to Gen. George Weedon reporting that Cornwallis had requested to open negotiations at Yorktown was the top seller, at $90,000. A Jefferson letter to Weedon sold for $57,600, and the David Hume letter about the stamp act made $48,000.
- Bonhams Oxford sold Printed Books and Maps on 17 April. A presentation copy of James Hosburgh’s Directions for Sailing to and From the East Indies ... (1809-11) was the top lot, at £3,125.
- The Library of Jacques Levy sale at Sotheby’s yesterday was a big one indeed. The sale brought in a total of $6,415,964, with many lots leaving their presale estimates far behind. The collection of David Roberts’ drawings (est. $120,000-180,000) sold for $482,500, while a presentation copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1899) fetched $362,500 (over estimates of $80,000-120,000). An Eragny Press volume of Camille and Lucien Pissarro watercolors and wood-engravings sold for $314,500 (better than doubling its estimate), and Ferdinand Hayden’s The Yellowstone National Park (1876) sold for $254,500. Another eight lots broke $100,000.
‘Tis the season to review the newest catalogue from New York City-based bookseller, Jonathan A. Hill. His spring catalogue celebrates (Mostly) British Agriculture and Husbandry of the 18th Century, i.e. (mostly) farming books in beautiful leather bindings. The books offered here, the catalogue notes, were “patiently gathered by a New York City collector...over a twenty-year period...[who] was fastidious about condition...”
A peruse through the color-illustrated catalogue supports that statement. Take, for example, item #44, William Marshall’s Review of The Landscape, a Didactic Poem...from 1795, bound in contemporary cat’s paw calf with ornamental gilt on the spine and red morocco under the lettering -- a beauty of a book ($1,250). Samuel Copeland’s Agriculture Ancient and Modern..., published in 1866 and bound in the original publisher’s blind- and gilt-stamped green cloth bindings is a really handsome 8-volume set of books ($950). Another fine set, bound in half russia and marbled boards, contains most of agricultural reformer Arthur Young’s works in 19 volumes ($5,000). The catalogue has many editions of Young’s work, including a presentation copy of Political Arithmetic ($2,500), an uncut copy of the best edition of Travels during the Years 1787, 1788, and 1789 ($950), his most influential pamphlet, The Example of France, from 1793 ($1,250).
From this side of the pond, there are George Washington’s letters on agriculture, in a collected edition printed in Alexandria in 1803 ($950) and Charles Varlo’s A New System of Husbandry, a substantial text about American crops and farm animals, published in Philadelphia in 1785 ($1,500).
A perfect collection of books for an English country house -- or someone who pines for one. Some of these books can be viewed online at Jonathan A. Hill’s website, not yet the whole catalogue, but previous catalogues are listed there as well.
NP: What is your role at PRBM?
ZM: Cataloguer, but at shops like ours everyone does a bit of everything -- invoicing, inventory, shelving, answering phones and email, cleaning, arranging gourmet cheese platters, and setting up party tents for summer soirees at the Arsenal.
NP: How did you get started in rare books?
ZM: I grew up surrounded by enticing clutter: my mom’s textiles and books, my dad’s photographs and sheet music, antiques and tag sale stuff accumulated from weekend rummaging. When I was ten or eleven, I bought my first “old” book -- one I easily remember because it was in French, and I couldn’t read it -- at a small shop in rural Vermont. But the real start of my career was in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College. I had decided to double major in Art History and Italian, and enrolled in an advanced literature survey spring semester of my first year. One bright Monday morning, our class met in the library for a presentation by Martin Antonetti, Smith’s Curator of Rare Books, on early editions of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. After class I asked Martin if he hired students, and worked as his assistant until graduation. During my junior year abroad in Florence, Italy, Martin needed eyes at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid to investigate a manuscript for his research, and suddenly I was on a plane to Spain. More great opportunities followed, thanks again to Smith and Martin’s tutelage: a summer fellowship in Italy, an art history prize for research after college, and an internship in the Book Department at Christie’s London. I’m proud to say Smith College now has a Book Studies Concentration! When I came home from London, I worked part-time at Bloomsbury Auctions in New York, then landed a young cataloguer’s dream job with an antiquarian book dealer and moved from my rent-stabilized apartment on New York’s Lower East Side two hours south to Philadelphia.
NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you’ve handled?
ZM: Last summer when I was planning a visit to Ireland, David Szewczyk suggested I call on someone he knew, the Keeper of Early Printed Books at Trinity College, Dublin. We spent two hours touring Trinity’s special collections, then sat at Dr. Charles Benson’s desk overlooking the bustling exhibition hall and talked. As our visit drew to a close, Dr. Benson disappeared behind a large case nearby and emerged holding a small stack of books for me to see, including a copy of Arrighi’s Coryciana (1524), the book that had been the very focal point of my research for Martin at Smith. And this copy was in a Grolier binding, with De Thou’s ownership signature. I’ll never forget that book. More recently, I catalogued a Kallierges Pindar (1515), the “editio romana” of Pindar’s epinician odes, a.k.a., “a very sexy book for very many reasons”. It was the first book printed in Greek at Rome, by a Greek expatriate at the palace press of the Pope’s banker. Weeks later I was doing erotica (cataloguing), and stumbled onto Fanny Hill for the first time. That was a very sexy book for very different reasons.
NP: What do you personally collect?
ZM: Right now, everything affordable that appeals to me, including but not limited to booksellers’ catalogs, auction catalogs, exhibition catalogs, books on Italy and travels, books in Italian, old family photographs, romantic postcards, inscribed items, and other antiques that have some sign of a former life (vintage clothes, glassware...). Last summer I stopped by an outdoor flea market in Center City, Philadelphia, and spotted a Sotheby’s catalog with a familiar image on the cover: a poster on my apartment wall that my dad had picked up hitchhiking in France in 1970. An unremarkable volume in a dusty pile, that slim catalog suddenly meant everything to me and I bought it immediately. It was serendipity, like so much of the book business.
NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday? If so, what would you like to specialize in?
ZM: Yes! But I’m very happy where I am right now. David Szewczyk and Cynthy Buffington are incredibly supportive, encouraging me to seek out books, book people, and educational opportunities. Thanks to their generosity, I have been attending a paleography workshop at the University of Pennsylvania; Philobiblon Club meetings; academic lectures; and will have completed three Rare Book School courses by the end of this year. Then, too, there’s learning about books and bookseller lore from David every day in the cataloguing office. We specialize in “Early books of Europe & the Americas” and “Other Rarities as Chance May Supply,” but my favorites to catalog and read are those that remind me of places and literature I’ve studied. Someday I’d like to specialize in books and manuscripts from the 15th-18th centuries that shed light on contemporary regional life, like cookbooks, day books, local histories, manuals, and small town presses. For now, I’m more than satisfied with the variety I see at PRB&M, and grateful to be working for a company that cares so much about books and “finding good homes” for them.
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?
ZM: The ways in which we buy, sell, and read books are changing, but I’m not threatened by technology per se. Digital “books,” while useful and practical as data repositories, can’t compare with the sensual experience of reading as we’ve known it for centuries. It’s far less exciting to inherit a digital book, or see an image of an early ownership inscription, or cradle your Kindle fireside. And then there’s the matter of preservation. We have a responsibility to safeguard books like we do art. You wouldn’t just junk everything in the Louvre because you are able find images -- even very high quality images -- on the museum website, would you? As technology advances, I can only imagine and hope that books will become more valuable as vestiges of human experience, and pleasing tactile objects. That said, the future of the trade depends on collectors as much as booksellers, and our generation is already very much online. Our task now is to anticipate and prepare. Did I mention PRBM has a great website?
In the image seen here, a full-page border incorporates medallions with profile heads, landscape vignettes, and a coat of arms. The illumination is thought to be the work of Florentine artist Giovanni di Giuliano Boccardi, known as Boccardino il vecchio (1460-1529), or of his followers.
The chunky Hebrew manuscript is bound in a mid sixteenth-century gold-tooled goatskin binding (seen above), featuring a coat of arms, a unicorn, and a rabbit. The text--in black, red, blue, and gold--is comprised of prayers for everyday rituals, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkoth.
The Mahzor was purchased in Frankfurt before 1908 and subsequently owned by Edmond Bicart-See and his family in Paris. It has never been publicly exhibited. The manuscript goes to auction on May 11 in Paris and is expected to bring $540,000-800,000.
Photos © Christie’s Images Limited 2012
We have long suffered from a lack of smokable books. How often have you thought, “Man, it would be great to smoke right now, but all I have with me is this crummy book?”
Thankfully, Snoop Dogg, the rapper from California, has finally given us a book to address this problem: Rolling Words: A Smokable Songbook. The book contains some of Snoop’s (self-professed) greatest lyrics. Each page of Rolling Words is printed on rolling paper. Got the lyrics for “Gin and Juice” memorized? Great, now you can rip those pages out and smoke up. As an extra bonus, the spine has a built-in matchbook striking surface. Snoop’s got you covered in case you forgot your matchbook (but remembered your match).
Rolling Words, a promotional vehicle for Snoop’s new “Kingsize rolling papers” is bound, of course, in hemp. And it’s a collector’s item in the making. If you can stifle your urge to smoke it, that is.
But I could never do it justice, so I’ll let Snoop Dogg talk about this one himself:
The Index on Censorship has announced that in celebration of their 40th Anniversary, their complete back catalog will be free and available to download for the next 40 days - now with 20 days to go.
For 40 years the Index has provided a platform for those whose freedom of expression has been threatened. The publication combines the eloquence of prominent writers (Harold Pinter, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera) with active campaigning against free speech abuse.
The Index is also an amazing resource for collectors, chronicling banned books the world over: in the June 1972 issue there is news of 40 titles and 6 periodicals banned in Greece, such as Brecht’s “Life of Galileo”, printed alongside newspaper clippings in which the government denies such a ‘black list’; a year later an article lists hundreds of books banned in Czechoslovakia; in the 90s the lists shift focus to South America, and the Middle East, for instance in Mohammed Abd al-Jubar’s “Iraq: More Books Banned than Read” (April 1991). Sometimes the articles focus on censorship policy, sometimes they catalogue the specific books themselves, and sometimes they will focus on a single text, the strangest example coming from 1975, The White Book by Yugoslavian journalist Milivoje Pavlovic, consisting of 305 blank pages. “The author has announced that his ‘work’ is none other than an ‘open, innocent book, silent before the flood of devalued words.’” It was printed in small numbers, a “bibliophile edition” and, perhaps, the sassiest artist’s book to challenge the Yugoslavian government yet.
Listing endangered books is only one of the functions of the Index: sometimes it is the primary publisher of works. As a publisher of dissent, it holds a crucial place in completing the historical record. For instance, there is a poem by Saeed Soltampour published in 1982 that he had only recited in public: “On this shore of fear”, a memorial to the poet and playwright executed only the previous year, and reminder of why the work of the Index is so important:
In the 1984 issue - was such an iconic year for free speech activists met with hysteria? resignation? a grim “I told you so”? - there is the first publication of Samuel Beckett’s short play “Catastrophe”, performed two years earlier in solidarity with Vaclav Havel. Immediately after comes Havel’s response: “Mistake”, the first work he wrote after his release from prison in 1983, published for the first time.
Not only are literary relations spread out across cultures in the pages of the Index, but across time, showing something of a selected reception history of English classcis. In the same 1984 issue, Milan Simecka (an amazing, often overlooked writer of the Velvet Revolution) writes “A Czech Winston Smith” : an autobiographical comparison between his own experiences and those of the protagonist of Orwell’s 1984, where the writing on the wall for Simecka in the build up to his imprisonment matches Orwell nearly scene for scene: “The similarity with our everyday life comes as a physical shock, neither pleasant nor amusing.”
The “inconspicuous red Penguin paperback” where Simecka comes to this conclusion has further significance in textual history: it is the copy given to him by his wife, Eva, who would produce the first Czech translation of the work. All within the space of one issue, there is a cultural context for the books we read, re-read, and collect, books that have meant different things to different people, in different degrees of distress.
Some would argue that censorship almost guarantees the survival of a book at this point, so often has it proven the case for prohibited books over the past 500 years. Fear of loss has certainly contributed to what we find worthy of preservation: from Petrarch’s Sonnets and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, to James Joyce’s Ulysses, and on and on. The Index contributes much to that lineage: as a publisher of the unpublished, and as an index of books banned, burned, and begging to be saved, it’s one of the most haunting bibliographies of the late 20th century.
I enjoyed chatting there with two of our recent ‘Bright Young Things’: Dan Whitmore of Whitmore Rare Books and Jonathan Smalter of Yesterday’s Muse. My husband purchased a first edition John Muir from Jonathan’s boothmate, another young bookseller, Elizabeth Svendsen of Walkabout Books. So it was a successful morning.
At noon, I returned to the NYABF at the Armory. On Friday, I had perused for five hours in a daze, but on Saturday I got a closer look at a few items that really piqued my interest. Adrian Harrington had a lovely four-volume set of Middlemarch that I really wanted to take home. Pickering & Chatto was offering an incredible limited edition of Til Vietnam, a collection of Danish poems and illustrations published in 1967, signed by Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. And the Kelmscott Bookshop booth, full of beautiful things, had a whimsical and wonderful Caliban Press book, Lecon des Livres pour Calyban...
I also met up with an old friend and a few new ones -- exactly why the New York book fairs are so much fun. Can’t wait til next year.
- NY Book Fair(s), Day 1 (finebooksmagazine.com)
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Paul Cohen of Cohen & Taliaferro, whose booth is graced by Giuseppe Rosaccio’s Vniversale Descrittione di Tvtto it Mondo, the largest Italian world map published in the sixteenth century. Stop by, you can’t miss it, and you shouldn’t. I loved seeing the miniature books at Bromer Booksellers, the prison literature at Lorne Bair, and ‘Wall of Vellum’ at Philadelphia Rare Books & Mss. Co.
It’s also nice to see on the shelves some symmetry with our magazine content. I saw a good handful of Larry McMurtry firsts (which would go well with our current issue). Or, for those of you who enjoyed our feature on nature writer Henry Beston (summer 2011), a signed first edition in its scarce jacket (and very fresh to the market) is on offer at Peter L. Stern for $8,500; Between the Covers has a later edition with an autograph signed letter from Beston for $5,000. Browsing the booth of Rabelais--whose specialty is books on food & drink--reminded me of our feature (spring 2011) on cocktail book collector Greg Boehm.
NP: What is your role at Bruce McKittrick Rare Books?
AG: Like most small book businesses, I do a lot of everything: I catalog books, build the reference library, wrap packages, pay invoices, prepare for books fairs, visit clients, do research at local institutions, select beers to chill outside for a late night at the office... What I enjoy most is looking at books and buying books, and in that regard Bruce gives me considerable autonomy.
NP: How did you get started in rare books?
AG: After living in France for a year, I moved to Bloomington, Indiana in 2003 so my wife Lisa could begin her graduate work. I kept myself busy with a job at Borders, and there I met someone in the Master of Library Science program at Indiana University. He told me about his coursework and said that one of the M.L.S. tracks was rare books, which piqued my interest. I met with the director of the program Joel Silver, who told me that if I was serious about old books, I should study Latin and take all his courses; so I took all Joel’s courses and studied intensive Latin for four semesters. As I was closing in on my degree, I saw an Exlibris posting for a bookseller’s assistant in a firm outside of Philadelphia. I asked Joel if he knew anything the bookseller. He told me he knew Bruce McKittrick well and that if I wanted to continue to learn about old books, there was no one better to learn from in the trade. I applied in June, interviewed in July and began working with Bruce in August 2005.
NP: Favorite or most interesting book that you’ve handled?
AG: That’s tough, so might I mention a few? I am very interested in fifteenth-century books, and we have handled a few unrecorded incunables. It’s exciting to do the typographic work and date the book and assign it to a press. My first purchase at auction was a German folio of a Boccaccio tale printed in Metz in 1500 with 96 half-page woodcuts, in its original calf-backed wooden board binding. I will never forget that book. A few years ago I bought a short treatise on making paper with common milkweed. In it the author promises to send seeds to those who write him. Our copy had the original seeds that the author sent to an amateur scientist. Very cool. I suppose one of the books I am most pleased to have bought and sold was William Turner’s The names of herbes (1548): the first modern botanical dictionary in English, John Evelyn’s copy in seventeenth-century calf. A true rarity, and a hell of a book.
NP: What do you love about the book trade?
AG: Books are very intimate objects and are always telling us something. I find it amazing to see the number of ways the same book can be interpreted and reinterpreted by different dealers, curators, collectors, scholars. I am humbled to be a part of that chain that in many cases is centuries old.
NP: What do you collect personally?
AG: I love to buy books by and about booksellers, but I wouldn’t call it a collection. As an undergrad I studied James Joyce extensively, even spending a month in Dublin at James Joyce Summer School in 2001. My university’s library was quite good on Joyce, so I had nearly all the books about him charged to me. I began buying these titles so I didn’t have to renew them or return them when recalled, and I still haven’t stopped buying them. My Joyce collection continues to grow and now includes, besides all the criticism, early editions of his works, comic books, movie posters and LPs.
NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?
AG: I don’t think so. This is my seventh year with the firm, and I cannot imagine doing anything else. Bruce believes in books, and that is evident in the stock as well as in the reference library. It’s an inspiring work environment.
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?
AG: I’m a believer. One of the pleasures I have had in this business was lunch with great bookman Barney Rosenthal. He told me that when he started in the trade, all his seniors would lament about the good ol’ days (I think his father even told him that all the great books had already been sold). But then he said, “These are the good ol’ days”. I believe it. The enthusiasm and abilities of our young colleagues are inspiring. Great books are still available, if now more dear. Barney got it right: These are the good ol’ days.
Andrew will be at Booth D-8 during the 52nd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair. A catalog of the books he and Bruce will exhibit is available here.
From Lux Mentis, this (above) very recently published limited edition of Bartleby the Scrivener is incredibly cool. The artist, Wolfgang Buchta, describes his process: “In 2009 July, the graphic structure of the newspaper gave me the impulse to draw over it. Then I thought this background was the ideal way for Bartleby. After this decision, I wrote the text by hand. August-December 2009. Drawings on the newspaper, 70 pieces, used 57, January-May 2010. Mounted text and drawings together, June 2010. Gerie Reumiller did the scans and filtered the grey tone of the newspaper, 59 pieces, July 2010. Prepared for the computer to plate process, July 2010. Started printing the aluminum plates by hand on the lithopress, August-November 2010. Started preparing and printing the second color on stone, December-April 2011. Coloring the prints with watercolor, May-August 2011. Bound the first 10 copies in September 2011.” $10,000
As a lover of all things Thoreau, I will certainly visit the booth of James Cummins to glimpse the first printing of the first and only issue of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s journal Aesthetic Papers from 1849, featuring Thoreau’s Resistance to Civil Government, the first appearance in print of his (now famous) lecture on civil disobedience. $22,000
Gordon Hollis is offering a collection of fourteen autograph letters and cards and photographs from former First Lady Jackie Kennedy to ballerina Margot Fonteyn -- a wonderful opportunity for a collector of dance! One of the photographs seen above. $25,000
At least two books from Blackwell’s Rare Books made me covetous: this first edition (at left) of a novel I love, Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, an Austen family association copy, no less. $1,920. And the three-volume set of Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and Sherston’s Progress might find a buyer among all the new Downton Abbey fans (myself included). $3,120
Bookseller Kevin Kelly has a rare playbill broadside for one of Nicolo Paganini’s final performances in Birmingham, 1832. The catalogue entry intrigues: “Among Paganini’s notorious showmanship gimmicks was to break all but one string and play a piece, thus handicapped, with surprising dexterity. Such a performance is promised in the program here.” $2,500
Happy browsing and shopping, all! I’ll be walking the floor on Friday and much of Saturday--if you see me (with my lanyard/nametag), stop and say hello!
You can read more about the fascinating history of The North American Indian--and how it plunged its creator into debt and obscurity--in a feature we ran last year.
Lot 36120: The first book ever signed by Stephen King. An advance proof of Carrie, King’s first novel, with an endearing inscription to his friend and former college roommate “For Flip and Karen, two of the best there are - and I mean that - by the way, this is the first book I’ve signed in my life. It’s kind of fun - All the best, no matter what - Stephen King.” You can jump into this auction with a $5,000 minimum. Estimate: $10,000 and up.
Pages 40 - 47 of the catalog contain a fine selection of art books and periodicals. Brandon Kennedy, who wrote the feature on Larry McMurtry in our current issue, marveled over the unique offerings in the recent newsletter from Heritage. Kennedy draws our attention to forty issues of Derrière Le Miroir (Lot 36066) and fifty-eight issues of XXe Siècle (Lot 36066), noting “it might be awhile before such a large portion of art periodicals come around again.”
If medieval artwork is more your game, then turn to pages 48 - 52 which contain some gorgeous examples of medieval illuminated leaves.
Much of the auction centers around the collection of James and Deborah Boyd, which was particularly strong in economics and the art of warfare. Their collection contained such standouts as a first edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (Lot 36228 - Estimate: $80,000) and the extremely rare, 1926 privately printed edition of T. E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, estimated to go for over $40,000. (Lot 26256)
But one of my favorite books in the auction is Lot 35058: Gould’s Birds of Europe in imperial folio, complete with the 448 beautiful color plates. Gould’s striking bird illustrations are only rivaled by Audubon himself. The starting bid for this beauty is $50,000 with an estimate of $75,000 plus.
Remember that even if you aren’t in New York you can get in on the action through Heritage’s Live Auction feature on their website.
Some brief recaps of the early sales, and previews of what’s coming for April:
- Sotheby’s held a Photographs sale on 3 April, which brought in $3,783,252.
- Christie’s Paris sold materials from the collections of the Hugo Family on 4 April, for a total of €3,229,537. A charcoal/ink drawing by Victor-Marie Hugo was the top lot, fetching €409,000. Various other fascinating lots were included in the sale; the catalog is well worth a browse.
- Leslie Hindman held a Fine Books and Manuscripts sale on 4 April. Louis Dupre’s Voyage a Athenes et a Constantinople (1825) was the top lot, at $41,480.
- Also on 4 April, Bloomsbury sold Antiquarian Books: The Property of a Collector, Part I, in 575 lots. A presentation copy of Charles Babbage’s Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864) sold for £6,500.
- At Swann on 4 April, Property from the Estate of Filmmaker Gary Winick was sold, including 19th & 20th Century Photographs and Photobooks. You can find results here.
- Christie’s New York sold Photographs on 5 April, for a total of $6,880,450.
- There’s a key sale coming up on 10 April at Christie’s New York as material from the Private Library of Kenneth Nebenzahl goes under the hammer. Just 165 lots, but all of them something to see (with six having presale estimates of at least $100,000). A complete subscriber’s copy of Edward S. Curtis’ The North American Indian (1907-1930) takes the top estimate, at $1,000,000-1,500,000. A lovely ~1450 illuminated manuscript on vellum of Christoforo Buondelmonti’s Liber insularum Archipelagi could fetch $800,000-1,200,000; the same range is estimated for Battista Agnese’s portolan atlas, dating from ~1542-6. Among the other lots are copies of Thomas Morton’s New England Canaan and New Englands Memoriall, Sir Thomas Phillipps’ personal seal, and more.
- On 11 April, Heritage Auctions will hold Historical Manuscript and Rare Books sales in New York. Among the highlights: a copy of the Stone Declaration of Independence on parchment and a book from Washington’s library.
- On 12 April at Swann, Fine Books, in 100 lots. Quite a few interesting incunabula, among other things.
- Bonhams holds a Mapping and Discovery of America sale on 14 April, in 94 lots. A 1512 manuscript containing accounts of early voyages to America is estimated at $180,000-250,000. Also be to had: early examples of Mexican printing, and more.
- On 16 April at Bonhams, Fine Books and Manuscripts Featuring the Michael Lerner Collection, in ~400 lots. Much natural history and fine printing to be had.
- At Swann on 17 April, Revolutionary Americana from the Allyn K. Ford Collection, plus a selection of Autographs. The Ford papers are a really remarkable collection, being sold off by the Minnesota Historical Society as being out of scope. See my piece in the spring Fine Books & Collections for more on this sale, which includes a body of correspondence to Gen. George Weedon (being sold off piecemeal) along with an important David Hume letter.
- Bonhams Oxford holds a Printed Books and Maps sale on 17 April, in 507 lots.
- Bloomsbury will sell Children’s and Illustrated Books on 19 April, in 388 lots.
- The Library of Jacques Levy will be sold at Sotheby’s New York on 20 April, in 374 lots. Among the top-estimated lots are Ferdinand Hayden’s The Yellowstone National Park (1876), estimated at $150,000-200,000; a collection of David Roberts’ drawings ($120,000-180,000), &c.
- Doyle New York sells Rare Books, Autographs, and Maps on 23 April, including the Paige Rense Nolan autograph collection. A first octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America is estimated at $50,000-60,000.
- Christie’s London sells Travel, Science and Natural History on 25 April, in 308 lots. As usual there’s a good variety here, with some really fascinating things up for grabs. A 1794 W. & S. Jones orrery is one of my favorites this time around (est. £30,000-50,000); a ~1705/15 German pocket globe is also offered.
No preview yet available for the following:
- PBA Galleries 26 April sale of Fine Americana, Travel & Exploration, and Cartography.
- Bloomsbury’s 28 April Bibliophile Sale.
Part I of the sale includes printed books up to 1800. Among the highlights are a second edition of Andreas Vesalius’ Fabrica (1555), the first edition of Hippocrates’ Works (1525), and John of Gaddesden’s Rosa Anglica (1502), pictured above and below. It is the first printed medical book written by an Englishman and the oldest book in the collection.
Part II of the BMI sale will occur on July 26 and will contain the remaining printed books, bound pamphlets, and manuscripts dating from 1670-1920, as well as medical artifacts and surgical instruments.
You can view the catalogue for Part I here.
- Vesalius’ Personal, Annotated Copy of De Humani Corporis Fabrica Found (finebooksmagazine.com)
He recently told MU Libraries’ Connections newsletter about the new book, set to be published by Knopf next year:
The latest book, Common Bond, is what I am loosely describing as a cultural history of paper and papermaking. It is a story that covers two thousand years but, consistent with the way I do things, is pretty much an exercise in storytelling. I go where the good stories are. In this case, I traveled to China and spent three weeks along the Burma Road in Yunnan Province, because that’s where papermaking started. I went to Japan, because that’s the only place I could meet with a Living National Treasure papermaker. I went to the National Security Agency, a supersecret facility in Landover, Md., because that’s the only place I could see millions of high security documents pulped. That book took me six years to research and write. And like the earlier ones, I enjoyed it enormously.You can read the entire article by going here and clicking on Winter 2012 issue.
Malcolm’s Wine is a noir crime caper featuring “vintage wine, rare books, and sneaky people” from Philadelphia-based author-bookseller, Hugh Gilmore. I took this novel on vacation with me a few weeks ago and finished it in three days, leaving me bookless for the rest of the week. In the novel we meet Brian Berrew, a divorced bookseller living in Ann Arbor, and a bit of ladies man who is still grieving over the loss of his sixteen-year-old son. When his apartment is burgled on a night during which a local woman is murdered with a baseball bat, things get interesting. A host of quirky characters play a part in a zany drama involving a collection of stolen rare Americana. If you enjoy bibliomysteries, place your bet on Malcolm’s Wine.
Glaciers is slim debut novel by Portland, Oregon author Alexis M. Smith. It was the book’s cover that first sold me -- a dress made of cut-up text against a bright blue background -- and then I found that the main character works in a library doing book conservation and generally feeling a little out of place in her historical moment (Incidentally, this would have been a perfect description of yours truly about ten years ago). But there is so much more to story, layer upon layer that peels back like an onion, in language aptly described by Publishers Weekly as “lyrical and luminous.” Though Smith may choose less bookish characters or settings in her next novel, she’ll still be on my radar as one to read.
Girl Reading by English debut novelist Katie Ward is creative and clever -- the author bases each of the seven chapters on seven portraits of women reading, from a painting of an orphan reading a prayer book in medieval Siena to a modern woman photographed reading at a bar, her photo uploaded to Flickr. All are inventive stories, well-written, and surprising in their depth. One reviewer called Girl Reading “demanding,” and I would not disagree. With seven strong narratives to keep in mind--spanning the fourteenth century to the twenty-first--as well as their various subplots and tropes, a reader could feel overwhelmed. Then again, an abundance of intelligent literary fiction is nothing to complain about. (Read an excerpt here.)
NP: How did you get started in rare books?
SB: Although I had always wanted to do something with books, I became an antiquarian bookseller quite by accident. I read German and Russian at Exeter University, graduating in 1997, after which I decided to stay on for another year and study for an MA in Lexicography. As part of my course, I had a placement at Oxford University Press working on The Oxford Russian Dictionary, but come the summer of 1998, as there were no jobs going at OUP, I began to look for something else. I didn’t look far. There was a tiny advertisement in The Times: ‘leading antiquarian bookseller seeks good graduate to help catalogue books’. I didn’t know what cataloguing meant, but I called the otherwise anonymous phone number (e-mail was still in its infancy) and got the address for my résumé: Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 5-8 Lower John Street, Golden Square, London. I had an interview with Lord Parmoor, the then owner, and started work about a week later, all this being only about two weeks after leaving Exeter.
NP: When did you open Simon Beattie? And what do you specialize in?
SB: At the beginning of 2010, and so far, so good. I tell people European cultural history, which is a suitably broad category, but I suppose my real interest is cross-cultural material: translations of English and American literature, say, or things relating to musical performances abroad, anything which documents the spread of one culture into another. What I really like to find is an original foreign literary work with links to the Anglophone world, or musical responses to events. So I’ve had things like contemporary German poetry written following the execution of Charles I in 1649; a Russian song composed after the defeat of Napoleon in 1812; a German novel set among the Iroquois from 1799. I don’t like to be bound by date, and am equally interested in the twentieth century as the sixteenth. My goal is always to try to offer material which is interesting, perhaps curious, and hopefully something you’ve never seen before.
NP: Favorite or most interesting book you’ve handled?
SB: I suppose it’s got to be the most popular book from my first catalogue (I had seven orders): the cover told you it was a little pocket French-German dictionary, but open it up and you found it to be a saboteur’s manual, produced by the French Resistance c.1943. It was a fascinating document, and a great object. What was even more amazing was that I then found three more copies of the book, textually identical but all with different covers, which showed just how sophisticated the Resistance’s book production was in wartime France. You can read about the book on my blog.
NP: What do you love about the book trade?
SB: I’ve always enjoyed the process of matching books to people, helping to improve collections, both private and institutional, and I’d like to think that people are always pleased with the books they buy from me. The book trade itself is very international, which I like; traveling round Europe in search of books, visiting customers in America, it’s all very enjoyable.
NP: You are known for your innovative catalogue design. What are your thoughts on catalogues in general and what is your design process?
SB: Right from the start I wanted to do printed catalogues. I could have just sold books by e-mail, sending out PDF lists of what I have, but book collectors like a book, a physical object that they can carry around, read on the bus, write comments on, or mark by turning over the corner of a page. Because it is so easy now (and, of course, much cheaper) to create one’s own catalogues, in Word or whatever with a few scans dropped in, that is what many booksellers do, but the final product often looks homemade, with widows and orphans left dangling all over the place. As booksellers we really ought to know better, about what constitutes good book design. Producing a catalogue which jars the eye really doesn’t reflect well on what a bookseller knows about books.
For my catalogues, I wanted to do something different, a fresh approach. Booksellers’ catalogues haven’t really changed very much in the last 100 years. But book design has. Just look at some of the wonderful things produced for library exhibitions. It’s true, my catalogues take a little more time to produce, but I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to what I’m doing, from collectors, librarians and fellow booksellers (and six design awards to date, from both sides of the Atlantic). They’re commercially successful, too: each of my four catalogues so far has sold over 90%.
NP: On that note, your minimalist approach to book fair booth exhibition was praised at the California Book Fair. Any particular philosophy on booth design?
SB: Book fairs are a great leveler. Everyone is given the same things to work with (cases, book shelves etc.). How, in a fair of 200 booths, do you try and stand out? I have a small stock, so I only brought 35 books. Exhibiting fewer books leads, I think, to a cleaner stand; it lets you display the books properly, and gives them all a chance to be seen by potential buyers. I suppose I really saw the fair as a public relations exercise, somewhere to meet new customers, show them the kind of thing I get in, and catch up with existing ones. You can’t measure the success or otherwise of a fair by how many books you sell. A good fair is really about people, not books.
NP: What do you personally collect?
SB: Books about Exeter Cathedral, as I sang in the Cathedral Choir there. Fortunately, there are a finite number of books about it!
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?
SB: I think the trade looks pretty healthy. Every year sees new booksellers setting up on their own and, as this series has already pointed out, young booksellers starting out with established members of the trade. There will always be doom-mongers bemoaning the lack of buyers, but I think that, if you have the right material, you can sell it.
NP: Do you have a new catalogue in the works?
SB: The next printed catalogue, which I’m working on at the moment, will be out later in the year. If anyone would like to receive it, just let me know! My next fair will probably be California in February. You can follow what I’m up to before then on both Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to my blog.
A few months ago, in preparation for this exhibition, filmmaker Chiara Ambrosio created a series of five short animated films about Victoria’s life with her prince. The visuals are very cool -- animated clay figures, paper dolls, original drawings -- with a clear narration of the queen’s diary for each event in her life with Albert: the first meeting, time apart, courtship, proposal, and marriage. Each film runs 4-5 minutes. The first can be seen here:
Well, that day is almost here. And it’s coming quicker than anyone expected.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Britannica is experiencing a “sales boom” after the announcement that they would cease publication of their printed editions. Before the announcement, Britannica averaged sales of 60 sets per day. In the last three weeks that average has more than doubled, with approximately 150 sets heading out the door every afternoon. Britannica’s meager sales force has been so overwhelmed with calls that the chief marketing officer has stepped in to help answer the phones. Less than 1,000 sets remain to be sold.
Get ‘em while they’re hot, folks.
And sell ‘em while they’re hot too.
Every bookseller knows about the great inventory drag that is the Encyclopedia. 32 hefty volumes, weighing in at about 130 pounds of quickly outdated information. Excepting, of course, the classic 11th edition from 1910 - 11, which holds its value (both monetarily and scholarly) quite well. For more about the significance of this classic edition, you can read this excellent article from Forrest Proper at Joslin Hall.
In the meantime, I think I’ll go pour a glass of wine as a libation to the Britannica and spend an evening browsing through my personal copies of the 11th edition. They make for fine fireside reading.
Did anyone else know that calligrapher and type designer Hermann Zapf held a professorship at RIT from 1977 to 1987? Or that the Strong Museum holds “the largest and most comprehensive public collection of video and electronic games (35,000 and counting), and game-related historical materials in the United States”?
I was also excited to see/hear this interview with Curator Steven K. Galbraith and Assistant Curator Amelia Hugill-Fontanel of RIT’s Cary Collection of graphic arts. It just so happens that in our current issue of FB&C, we have a short piece on printers’ medals, and the Cary Collection houses one of the largest collections of them in the country.
It’s wonderful to see some overlooked bookish sites get their due. Where to next? According to a press release, Literary Tourist intends to undertake other Literary Tourist City Audits™ that can help local tourism officials attract “a new, unexplored consumer market:” book lovers.
According to Abe’s Richard Davies, a pilot project with 600 Misses (and Mssrs.) Lonelyhearts has been running for the past six months. “Ideal for lonesome librarians, avid readers who don’t get out much, and bibliophiles devoted to their book collections,” proclaims the website.
The results: Two couples already married! Yes, Mr. Defoe, a garbageman from Cleveland, hooked up with Ms. Spillane, a sausage factory accountant from Brooklyn. A Ms. Michener from Seattle found a book-loving partner in Mr. Blyton, a Los Angeles-based puppet designer.
If only Abe had thought to launch this program for Valentine’s Day! But no, April Fool’s Day seems much more appropriate...