May 2012 Archives

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with John O’Mara of Maggs Brothers in London. This entry concludes our brief sojourn across the Atlantic in celebration of the Olympia Book Fair last weekend.  Look for the series to return to British shores this fall in the weeks leading up to the Chelsea Book Fair.

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NP: What is your role at Maggs?

JO: Maggs has five departments - Travel, Early British, Modern British, Continental, and Autographs. I’m one of four members of the Early British Department. We handle books and manuscripts up to about 1800 that have some connection to the British Isles. More specifically we are interested in British culture and its dissemination which means that we are able to cast a wide net. Doing so means that we have the freedom and flexibility to discover some remarkable (and often very rare) non-English language items printed outside the British Isles that have some bearing on British history. Within our department each of us function with a fair degree of autonomy. I’m charged with buying books, writing descriptions of the items I buy, selling my purchases and, when required, applying for export licenses for my sales.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JO: My grandmother was an antique dealer in the Midwest and from an early age my mom dragged me to antique shows and auctions so an interest in ‘old things’ is probably to some degree genetic! As a child growing up in rural Massachusetts, I collected stamps, coins and baseball cards and I also liked to wheel and deal. My mom likes to tell the story of when, as a six year old, I wanted to buy a rock from a local antique shop. I brought my prospective purchase to the dealer and asked how much it was. The elderly proprietor thought I was the cutest thing until she quoted me a price for my prize and I replied: “Is that the best you can do?”. I discovered that I wanted to work with early printed books after an internship in the Collectibles department at Sotheby’s in New York. Books captured my historical imagination and also embodied many of the subjects I was pursuing academically at the time. Once I realized that I wanted to work with books and manuscripts, it was a small step into the trade. Dealing is also a good fit for my temperament - I enjoy taking risk given the prospect of the right return.  Dealing books and manuscripts provides me with the opportunity to buy a book or manuscript and to use my knowledge to add value and realize a profit.

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

JO: One of the privileges of working at Maggs is that we get to see so many incredible items so it’s hard to identify just one. That being said, the two Caxtons that our department handled were really special!

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

JO: Working for one of the old established London firms is like stepping back a century. We have a tea room and traditionally staff members have met at 11 and 4 for tea. I have always been very struck by this tradition and while fewer people meet for tea twice a day these days, the fact that this practice existed at all suggests to me that the firm is deeply grounded by humane values. I think this is generally true for the trade as well. Especially in the UK dealers are very collegial. I’ve developed great friendships with other dealers, travelled with them and stayed in their homes. The trade is also predicated on trust. In what other business could you borrow an item valued at tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds from another dealer to show to one of your clients without contracts or lawyers? You can do that as a book dealer provided that you are respectable..

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?

JO: Who knows what the future holds. However with the demise of H.P Kraus and with Heritage no longer functioning at the level it once did, I see an opportunity in the US for a larger firm that could handle a broad range of books and manuscripts focusing not only on private collectors but also on institutions.

NP: What do you personally collect?

JO: I love the Renaissance and particularly its manifestation in England. I’ve assembled a small collection of books and manuscripts related to Renaissance Humanism in England. I also am interested in the history of collecting, and the Grand Tour.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would it be?

JO: I’d probably choose the original manuscript of Samuel Pepys’s Diary ... oh the fun he had!

NP: As an American working in the British trade, what do you notice about the difference between British and American antiquarian bookselling?

JO: I’ve been in the trade for about a decade. I worked in the US for three years, first for a bookseller in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then for myself when I opened my own business. I’ve been in London for the last seven years working first for Quaritch for about six months and the remainder of the time at Maggs. I think that European dealers generally view bookselling as the means to have a life immersed in culture. The focus isn’t so much on how much money one earns but rather on experiences that the trade provides i.e. eating well, drinking good wine and sharing those things with others.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?

JO: It’s certainly a time of transition for the trade. Some of the old models that worked for decades (if not centuries) are no longer viable. The internet has something to do with this as does broad cultural change i.e. collecting books isn’t as fashionable as it was 50 to 75 years ago. We as booksellers are subject to these changes but we can influence them as well. We need to really believe in what we do and sell the broader public on the idea of collecting books. We need to be missionaries.

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is a cult classic, and its many devotees will be interested to know about a scarce letter and archive that goes under the hammer on June 15. Sotheby’s New York is offering a letter written on January 7, 1963 by Toole to close friends Pat (Patricia), Rick (Milton), and Gordon Rickels. Upon her death in 2009, Dr. Patricia Rickels willed the letter to a friend, who has now consigned it to auction. It is, said Sotheby’s, the first Toole letter at auction in thirty years.

SothebysTooleLetter.jpgThe letter’s current owner, a Louisiana resident and himself an avid collector of historical and political materials related to Louisiana who wishes to remain anonymous, said he believes that Dr. Rickels had absolutely no concept of the monetary value of the items, and that she would not have cared about that anyway, as the real value to her lay in the memories that the items represented. “I don’t even think that she knew that the letter still existed. It was tucked amongst a lifetime of other collected correspondence with items from the same era. By the time A Confederacy of Dunces was published I am sure that she had forgotten about the letter and that it had never even been removed from the drawer were it was placed in 1963.”

TooleBooks.jpgThe lot at Sotheby’s, estimated at $10,000-15,000, contains not only the autograph signed letter but a first edition of Confederacy in its dust jacket, Patricia Rickels’ copy of The New Orleans Review from 1978 containing the first published excerpt of the novel, and a “compliments slip” from Toole’s mother. There are also ten children’s books previously owned by Toole (seen above), including three with inscriptions. Said the current owner, “These were very important to Dr. Rickels because Toole gave these to her son Gordon in 1960. Gordon was killed in an auto accident in 1983, just as Confederacy was at its apex. So the books were both a blessing - a reminder of a special time - but also painful because of the tragically early deaths of her friend Toole and son Gordon.” He added, “I simply do not have the same sentimental attachment to the Toole items ... Ultimately it was a very difficult decision to sell the items, but one that is easier knowing that the items will be appreciated and valued.”

Since the novel won the Pulitzer in 1981, and given the scarcity of Toole material, that auction estimate may prove conservative. There is hope that Hollywood types, some of whom have been trying to make a film adaptation of Confederacy for years, might join the bidding. Just last week, actor Zach Galifianakis was reported as trying to jumpstart a Confederacy movie.

The current owner plans to follow the auction from Louisiana.

Letter image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Books image courtesy of a private collector. 

RubensImage.jpgWe’d like to turn your attention to this excellent essay on Peter Paul Rubens by Maureen Mulvihill, a scholar who has published several essays of interest to us in the past (e.g., on Jane Austen, or Virginia Woolf). In it, she reviews an exhibition on Rubens currently at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. The ILAB website provides this fine introduction (and a link directly to the essay in a PDF):

Specialists on 17th century books and book arts may enjoy viewing Maureen E. Mulvihill’s illustrated exhibition review of the Rubens show at the Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida (February 17th-June 3rd, 2012). The review (12 pp, with a Gallery of Images from the installation) is published in Seventeenth-Century News (Spring-Summer, 2012). The Ringling’s permanent collection includes five Rubens canvases (the Louvre, two). The show presents selections from Ringling’s Rubens collection and many fine prints of the master’s work (engravings, woodcuts) on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Art, Antwerp.

In addition to the show’s spectacular installation (4 large galleries) and its creative multimedia approach (visual art, printed books, electronic exhibit, original ‘didactic’ constructions), the show wisely brings attention to the painter’s successful collaboration with book publishers in seventeenth-century Holland, most especially the Plantin Press at Antwerp, for which Rubens produced frontispieces, ornate title-pages, printers’ devices, and other book arts. (Dr Mulvihill’s essay includes embedded links on these subjects.) Likewise, the show highlights Rubens’s (prescient) advocacy of intellectual property rights: he established a copyright for prints of his paintings which circulated in Holland, England, France, and Spain.
The Guardian reported yesterday that Saddam Hussein’s daughter, Raghad Saddam Hussein, is seeking a publisher for her father’s hand-written memoirs. Raghad apparently has the documents with her in exile in Jordan. Nothing has been mentioned, yet, about the contents of the work.

When published, Hussein’s memoirs will be book number five for the former dictator. He was also the purported author of four novels, although whether the books were ghostwritten or not remains controversial. His first, “Zabiba and the King,” was published in 2001. The second, “Walled Fortress,” was published the same year. The third, “Men and the City” came out in 2002, and the fourth, “Get Out, You Damned One,” in 2005. Hussein’s novels are thinly disguised pieces of pulp propaganda, mostly concerned with heroic Arabic heroes fending off foreign invaders.

zabiba.jpg(A French edition of “Zabiba and the King”)

“Zabiba and the King” is readily available in English and French editions.  The other three do not appear to have been translated into English and are quite difficult to source.

hussein novel.jpg(An Arabic edition of Hussein’s “Get Out, You Damned One.”)

The publication of Hussein’s memoirs will ignite some of the same controversy in the Arabic world that accompanied Raghad’s publication of her father’s final novel in 2005.  That book, “Get Out, You Damned One,” was quickly banned in Jordan, where Raghad enjoys the protection of the royal family.  The novel, however, found a lucrative new life underground, with numerous pirated copies selling on the black market.

Once published, Hussein’s memoirs will join the continually expanding shelf of dictator memoirs, along with works by Hiter, Stalin, Mussolini, Nkrumah, and Mao.

Many have become quite collectable.

In March, London Metropolitan University’s Board of Governors announced plans to find a new sponsor for The Women’s Library. In real terms this threatens the UNESCO-recognized collection, the largest to document women’s history in Europe, with all but closure. If new space isn’t found for the collection of over 60,000 printed works (not to mention hundreds of discrete archives, ephemera, posters, journals, and objects), opening hours will be reduced to one day a week by December 2012, making it difficult for locals to access the collections, and nearly impossible for anybody else. In historic terms this takes on a greater quality of horror: the library was founded in 1926 from a converted pub in Westminster, that is, we’re talking about closing the library women could go two years before Virginia Woolf ever thought to demand A Room of One’s Own. 

Funny enough, it was rejection from a library that provoked Woolf to write in the first place: “Never will I wake those echoes, never will I ask for that hospitality again, I vowed as I descended the steps in anger.” Imagine the angry look on her face, unforgiving and ultimately iconic, distilled into the pages of A Room of One’s Own. How do we relate to that anger today?

There are several ways: the petition in protest of such an upheaval to the Library has reached over 11,000 signatures already: you can sign it here. If you are a UK resident you can lobby your local MP to take action here. Finally, there is a campaign website that accepts testimonies about the library here . In other words the bad has brought out the good, and praise for the library has poured in from all sides, which has sparked a large-scale consideration of what it means to have a space uniquely dedicated to Women’s history: from UNISON to The Guardian, from historians historians to lesbians, and even Private Eye has covered the endangered library...twice. What is the measure of a library’s cultural impact? One non-theoretical answer lies in who it incites to action, and it is a credit to the Women’s Library that the public outcry has been so strong, the testimonies across Facebook so numerous. Indy Bhullar, Information Librarian at the Women’s Library, put it best when I asked the question many others have been answering: what does the library mean to you?

“The Library means a good deal of things to me and perhaps the best way of focusing a response would be within the 3 goals of the Save The Women’s Library campaign, thus: The collection which holds so much history and through which so many stories can be revealed, with narratives interweaving and adjoining constantly (many of which are still yet to be uncovered or re-read) but all of which reflect the lives of a plethora of women and organisations and which are still relevant to so many people.  I love that it is still a growing collection and continues to reflect new ideas and perspectives, so we’ve room on our shelves for boxes of zines as well as suffrage banners or a first edition of Adam Bede. The building which arose like an anti-phoenix (that is out of flood-water rather than fire...) and was purpose-built to house the materials which we have but also enabled the expansion of the Library, enabling us to attract and host other groups, organisations, events and exhibitions and which has given the Library more than just a room of its own; The staff who are all committed to seeing this unique institution flourish through the expertise and knowledge that they’ve amassed over the years and who have helped develop and operate a world class institution.  They are also to be commended for putting up with my woeful sense of humour.”

The cornerstone of the collection is the archives of the Fawcett Society, dating back to 1866. This is the group currently campaigning hardest for women, especially women affected by austerity measures in the UK; this is the group who has made claims based on the latest budget figures that the path to gender equality is moving in reverse. So the irony that closing the Women’s Library threatens access to Fawcett’s history as far back as the bluestockings can’t only be symbolic. 


Nor is the damage done distantly historic: this isn’t just Virginia Woolf who’s fuming all over again, because this decision disrupts the Library’s endeavours to archive the experience of women in the 21st century, including personal blogs, DIY publishing, and zines. The Women’s Library is so committed to the idea of the active, living archive, that it documents its new materials as they are catalogued and digitized and keeps up a robust rotation of exhibitions free to the public (the latest is “All Work and Low Pay: The Story of Women and Work”), as well as online exhibitions for events passed. It’s this level of energy that makes the thought of slowing the momentum the Library maintains five days a week down to one day a week all the more painful, and the need to act all the more vital.

Keep up with the Campaign to Save the Women’s Library through its blog (, or twitter account (!/SaveTWL).

Image sources courtesy of the Women’s Library Online Archive, “We Will Have It!” and “Protest and Survive!” Badge

Back at the beginning of March I posted a list of top eBay book sales from December 2011 to the end of February 2012. Since eBay only keeps listings around for so long I thought I’d repeat the list every two to three months to keep up to date:

The highest five sellers by price:

  1. $33,000: Galileo Galilei.  Dialogo di Galileo Galilei Linceo matematico. (Florence, 1632). Bound in “18th century stiff vellum with red morocco label and gilt-lettered title on spine.” Frontispiece lacking “ab origine” according to dealer, replaced with facsimile. Sold on March 13th by Bibliopathos booksellers of Milan. A first edition of one of Galileo’s seminal works, at least five copies have come up for auction in the past five years including the Frank Streeter copy (with frontispiece) which brought $85,000 at Christie’s in 2007.
  2. $10,733: The second top seller, generating much bidding attention, was a circa 1470 illuminated Italian book of hours. The 246 page manuscript featured  “...a lively full-page border of multicolored naturalistic flowers on a solid golden-bronze background, and a superbly executed inhabited initial ‘D’ with an exquisite ‘Madonna and Child’ miniature.” Sold by Lux & Umbra of Pittsburgh after 53 bids on May 7th.
  3. $10,100: Otto von Guericke. Experimenta nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de vacuo spatio (Amsterdam, 1672). Continuing the history of science trend, this early book on the science of creating a vacuum proved a hot item. In addition to a full complement of engravings, this particular volume had attractive provenance, being previously in the collections of scientists Frédéric-Louis Allamand  and Nobel prize winner Hendrik Antoon Lorentz. Sold by Konstantinopel Fine and Rare Books of Enschede in the Netherlands on May 12th after 4 bids.
  4. $10,000: H.D. Thoreau. Walden; Or, a Life in the Woods. (Boston, 1854). Original brown cloth boards.This first edition of Thoreau’s classic had a print run of 2,000 copies and is always desirable for collectors of American Literature (a copy sold last year at Sotheby’s for $11,000). Sold by Ernestoic Books of Williamsville, New York on May 7th.
  5. $9,800: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Maecenas Press, 1969) with 12 lithographs by Salvador Dali. This copy is number 2106 of the limited edition of 2500. Dali’s lithographed books continue to be popular on eBay - a copy of his 1967 lithographed bible was one of the top sellers in my last update. This copy of Alice was sold by Longfellow Books and Magazines of Portland, Oregon on April 23rd.
I’ve excluded entire collections from the above list otherwise one of the top sellers would have been this impressive collection of 35 books relating to the sinking of the Titanic which aptly named seller “perilonthesea” of New York sold for $29,999.90 to a lone bidder on April 1st.  I was personally fascinated by another sale in the top twenty which reaffirmed for me the increasing interest   in Asian art and art books. Better World Books (which has a large inventory of library discards) sold eight otherwise unidentified books of Chinese architectural and calligraphic design for $7,255 on May 4th after a series of 12 bidders (31 bids in total) took it up from an initial offering price of $19.99!

Finally, in the top twenty were a smattering of incunabula including some intense bidding on a 1498 Parisian book of hours [ISTC ih00395000] offered by Konstantinopel which fetched $6,707.07 after 22 bids on March 30th.  The magnificent Estelle Doheny copy of this title (formerly owned by Napoleon’s sister) sold for a whopping 160,000 GBP at Christie’s in 2010. Also of interest was Johannes Simoneta’s Commentarii rerum gestarum Francisci Sfortiae. (Milan: Antonius Zarotus, 23 Sept. 1486) [ISTC is00533000] from Lux & Umbra. This particular volume, formerly owned by Jacopo de Guazzoni of Cremona was sold at Leslie Hindman just last year. Offered this time by the Pittsburgh bookseller for $11,900, a buyer made a successful offer of $9,400.

Screen shot 2012-05-21 at 9.37.26 AM.pngThe Piccolo Spoleto Festival, a two-week celebration of literature, film, music, dance, theatre, and visual arts in lovely Charleston, South Carolina, opens this Memorial Day weekend. The festival, now in its 34th year, runs nearly 700 events at many locations around town. Of particular interest to you, dear readers, would be the literary lectures and book signings held at the Charleston Society Library. Our own Nick Basbanes will be there on Thursday, May 31, to tell stores of the “Gently Mad” and to sign copies of the new edition of A Gentle Madness, just published by Fine Books Press.

The festival opens on Friday, May 25 and runs through June 10. You can download a program guide or ticket information here.

“Contrappunto,” the official festival poster (seen here), was designed by Linda Elksnin.
Last late month we reported that Larry McMurtry had decided to auction 350,000 books from his Archer City bookshop. Today we have more details to share.

They auction, to be held on Aug. 10-11, will be run by Addison and Sarova Auctioneers. In addition to 1,400 shelf lots (each lot containing about 150 books, mostly hardcover), they’ll be selling off The McMurtry 100--one hundred titles personally selected by McMurtry to be auctioned individually. “Some were chosen as books that Mr. McMurtry, through 50 years of book-hunting, has scarcely seen (such as a book by Dostoyevsky’s daughter). Some are both rare and valuable,” say the auctioneers. The list is not yet available.  

The director, Michael Addison, offers an overview of the lots here, adding that “Larry McMurtry will be on-hand,” plus there’ll be music, BBQ, and cold beer. “Don’t be the dealer or collector who misses this!”

See the auction preview & sale schedule here.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues its trip across the pond today with Pom Harrington, the proprietor of Peter Harrington, in London.  Peter Harrington will be exhibiting at the Olympia Book Fair in London, which began today and continues through Saturday.

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NP: Considering you grew up in one of Britain’s most prominent antiquarian bookselling families, did you develop an interest in rare books early in life?  Or did you come to it later? (On a related note, did you always plan to work in the family business, or did you consider other options first?)

PH: I have been surrounded by books all my life, so I actually was quite blasé about rare books. I am not a strong reader so I had little reason to show much interest in them or the shop until I needed a summer job. I spent most of my teenage summers working in the shop for pocket money, but had no real plans to work in the family business. I had a quick fling with University and when that didn’t work out I started to look at the shop more seriously. I eventually asked my Dad for a job when I was 19. He actually said no! It took a bit of persuading for him to change his mind. He felt that I should do an apprenticeship elsewhere first. But to cut the long story short, at 19 I began to work full time for Harrington Brothers as it was then for my father and Uncle Adrian.

NP: When did you take over Peter Harrington and under what circumstances?

PH: Adrian and my Father went their separate ways after selling the business property. My father, I think might have retired at this point, but with me now 22 and chomping at the bit to do business, we set up Peter Harrington on the Fulham Road. Initially my father had control, but he was fairly good at letting me get on with it. We were already exhibiting at the American shows and I was starting to do these on my own with an assistant. In February 2001, my father was diagnosed with throat cancer which forced the situation and I took over the day to day running of the shop.

NP: What does Peter Harrington currently specialize in?

PH: Our strength is in English books. Particularly Literature and high spot collecting. We try and make sure we always have something special to show, be it a 1/100 signed Ulysses or a Shakespeare folio.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

PH: It is still for the most part an honourable business, your word, trust and reputation mean everything. I can walk into virtually any ILAB bookshop in the world, one I have never been to or done business with before and leave with a valuable book on invoice. This is done on trust and honour. I have also developed many great friendships over the years with booksellers all over the world.

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

PH: There have been a few. I have bought Mark Twain’s copy of Huck Finn, Shakespeare’s first folio, Presentation Galileo, Newton Principia Mathematica. All amazing and brilliant books.

NP: What do you personally collect?

PH: In 1994, I started collecting Roald Dahl. He’s about the only author I read as a child. He was inexpensive then and I always thought he would become more collectable. The collection has become more serious in recent times and I have all his books.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would it be?

PH: A Walter Scott novel. I’d be left alone and not disturbed.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

PH: It’s changing fast. The internet is continually having a strong effect on our business. Those who adapt best will thrive. On this basis, there are some young talented booksellers starting up and using this to make up for small stock and tight funds.

NP: Tell us about your exhibit at the Olympia Book Fair and any upcoming catalogues you have in the works:

PH: We have taken two stands this year. [71 and 83] One for books and the other is for our gallery. [Here is Peter Harrington’s catalogue for the fair]. I have been putting together a large amount of book related art and wanted a way of displaying them properly. So we have the usual Rackham and Shepard artwork, but also a recently acquired collection of watercolours of the Brock illustrated Pride and Prejudice and Emma. We are always working on catalogues. In the summer, we will produce two new ones. A specialist 75 Great Books and then a larger but more regular catalogue.

GrolierProspectus.pngThe Grolier Club of New York is planning one of its landmark “One Hundred” exhibitions, this time with its eye on children’s literature. Showcasing the best known and most admired children’s books of the past 400 years, it is sure to be a hit with collectors, book trade professionals, and the general public. A 300-page exhibition catalogue is also in production, featuring essays by American bookseller Justin Schiller, Canadian scholar Jill Shefrin, British scholar Brian Alderson, Eric Carle Museum Curator Nick Clark, and American scholar and Cotsen Children’s Library Curator Andrea Immel.

An exhibition of this breadth and depth is no slapdash affair. I asked the exhibition’s curator, Chris Loker, a few questions about this multi-year undertaking.

RRB: Tell me about your career in children’s books.

CL: As a long time rare book enthusiast, I began working in the antiquarian book world in 2002 in San Francisco, when I joined my husband, John Windle, in his business, John Windle Antiquarian Books. After a 25-year career in the corporate world in Human Resources, I was energized by the dramatic change of working full-time with rare books. In 2004 we decided to expand John’s business into a new area ~ children’s literature ~ and my bookshop, Children’s Book Gallery, was born in 2006.

Although I’m now on hiatus from my business to devote my full efforts to the Grolier Club’s inspirational children’s book exhibition project, my shop’s focus has been on antiquarian children’s books from 1750 to 1950 that represent the best of the marketplace, both in rarity and condition. I’ve focused primarily on books of charm, character and color for young children and adolescents. This has included alphabets, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, pop-up and movable books, grammar books, books of education and virtue, as well as traditional picture books and storybooks.

RRB: How and when did this project get started?

CL: We got started on this landmark project two years ago, in 2010. One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature is an exhibition of one hundred renowned children’s books published from 1600 to 2000. This exhibition will be mounted in New York City at the Grolier Club, America’s oldest bibliophile society, in late 2014. To give you a frame of reference, The Grolier Club has organized just four “Grolier 100” book exhibitions in its 130-year history. One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature is the fifth in this canon of exhibitions.

The Grolier Club had planned for some years to organize this children’s “Grolier 100” exhibition. In 2010 I proposed curating a children’s book exhibition at the Club, and was asked if I would take on this broader-scope event. Since that time I’ve worked with an international advisory committee of ten children’s book scholars and collectors to select the exhibition’s “one hundred famous books,” and to borrow those books (along with historically important ephemeral items and related objects) from twenty lending institutions and collectors. The tasks that remain before the show goes up in December, 2014 are to write and publish the 300-page exhibition catalogue, and to organize the display of the one hundred celebrated books and beautiful related objects that we hope will bring joy to all exhibition viewers and catalogue readers. I also will continue my fundraising activities to support this important exhibition event.

RRB: Are you still working on the exhibition catalogue, and how is that proceeding?
CL: Yes, the exhibition catalogue is being written “as I type.” This exciting and exacting process began in January of this year, and is proceeding very well. I expect to have a draft of the catalogue finished by December of this year. Then members of our advisory team and I will edit the draft, and send the catalogue manuscript to be designed and printed by the well-known New York book designer, Jerry Kelly, in 2013. The catalogue, which will have a full-page bibliographic entry and a full-page, color photograph of each of the one hundred books, will be printed in 2014 to be ready when the exhibition is unveiled on December 10th of that year.

RRB: As Joel Silver pointed out in one of our recent issues, The Grolier Club “One Hundred” exhibitions have become overnight checklists for any great collections in a particular area. How do you expect the list will affect the market?

CL: This is hard to comment on, Rebecca, since the marketplace is always so tough to anticipate. Certainly we hope that One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature will be well received by the collecting community. And I agree with Joel Silver that the previous four “Grolier 100” exhibitions have become classic checklists for collectors, as well as key bibliographic references in their fields. My belief is that a major exhibition of this kind usually has an energizing effect on the collecting marketplace. And in this case, I hope it becomes a stimulus for collectors to consider literature for children with the same excitement and commitment that we see in the collection of literature for adults. It would be wonderful, as well, if this exhibition inspires new collectors to enter the field to experience the joy of collecting fine works for children.

The exhibit is scheduled to open in December of 2014. We’ll be following along till then, checking back in with Chris every now and again to watch this major exhibition and catalogue take shape. 
Over the weekend I interviewed librarian and author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson about her new “documentary novel” No Crystal Stair.  The innovative novel follows the life and career of the bookseller and civil rights activist Lewis Michaux, who operated the African National Memorial Bookstore in Harlem from c.1932 - 1974.

no-crystal-stair.gifNP: When and how did you first become interested in writing about Lewis Michaux and the National Memorial?

VMN: I started collecting information about him and the store in the late 1980s while I was in library school at the University of Pittsburgh.  As more and more people asked if I was related to the Harlem bookseller Lewis Michaux, my curiosity grew.  At the time, I wasn’t thinking about writing a book.  I was compiling family history.  It wasn’t until the mid 1990s that the idea of a biography became real.  By then, I had learned enough about Lewis to realize that the bookstore was only part of the story, that the real story was in Lewis’s journey toward salvation.  Books saved him, and Lewis saved others by bringing them to books.

NP: Could you tell us a bit about the concept of a documentary novel? What about that format appeals to you?

VMN: No Crystal Stair began as straight biography, but evolved into a kind of historical work that my husband started calling ‘documentary fiction’.  When we were kicking around titles, my editor suggested we use “documentary novel” in the subtitle.  This worked for me.   Think of it as the book equivalent of a film documentary in which individuals with some connection to the subject share their thoughts and experiences amidst historical photos and footage -- all filtered through a writer’s imagination. 

After I shifted to the new format, I found real pleasure in the storytelling.  It gave me options and flexibility, and allowed me to explore Lewis in a deeper way.  I came to know the people around him more intimately.   One of the things I admire about Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life in Poems is that she informs readers about George Washington Carver’s brilliance and accomplishments, while capturing the essence of the man, the nature of his spirit.  This was my intent with No Crystal Stair. 

NP: What did you think of National Memorial when you visited the bookshop as a teenager?

VMN: I remember that the store was narrow and crowded with books and pamphlets and customers, and I remember the portraits of famous black people lining the walls.  Uncle Lonnie (as we knew him) gave me two books -- The Masquerade, a historical novel by Oscar Micheaux and a copy of the King James Bible.  It was 1968.  I know this because Lewis signed and dated the Bible.  The two books remain in my collection.

NP: One thing that struck me as I read the book and your notes on the research was the shifting concept of time.  Lewis provided differing birth years for himself, differing years for the start of his bookshop.  Government records were often missing or inaccurate.  It’s such a contrast to this day and age where it feels like every moment of our lives is documented for posterity.  I liked the sense of mystery about it.  How did you feel about this as a researcher and writer?  Why do you think Lewis was guarded about dates?

VMN: Lewis was quite a raconteur and sometimes embellished the facts in one venue and then forgot, or didn’t care, that he’d done so.  I think he suggested he was ten years older than I believe he was because he got a kick out of appearing more youthful than the age he claimed.  

These kinds of inconsistencies were frustrating when I was attempting to research and write straight biography.  I wanted to get the facts right.  But, once I shifted to documentary fiction and allowed myself the freedom to speculate and imagine, I began to feel like you.  The sense of mystery added intrigue and led me to wonder.  This wondering, I believe, brought me to truths that I might not have discovered otherwise.  However, as someone trying to uncover family history, I wish I had more answers.  My search isn’t over. 

NP: What do you think is the lasting legacy of National Memorial?

VMN: That who we become depends a great deal on our own desire to be educated, our efforts to know our history and gain knowledge of ourselves, as well as how we might contribute.  And, of course, that books help us succeed.  To quote Lewis, “Knowledge is power, you need it every hour.  Read a book!”

NP: What do you think bookshops of today could learn from National Memorial?  Are there any currently operating bookshops that remind you of National Memorial or are in some way carrying on the legacy?

VMN: Every bookshop has it’s own clientele and community to which it looks when tailoring it’s offerings.  But one thing to take from National Memorial is that the draw of a bookstore is not only the books; it’s the people who customers encounter there.  Bookstore employees need to be knowledgeable and passionate about what they sell.  Lewis knew and loved his stock.  But he also made it his business to connect with his community.  He gave as much time to people who came to look or talk as to those who came to buy.  And closing time wasn’t dictated by the clock.    

If you do a quick Internet search of black bookstores, you will find that they exist all over the country.  I can’t claim to know much about these stores as I haven’t had the opportunity to patronize them.  There are none near me.   I’d like to visit them one day but, right now, I can only hope each embodies something of Lewis’s spirit.

PROMO PHOTO by Drew Nelson.jpg
NP: Are you personally a book collector?  If so, what do you collect?

VMN: I love and collect books of many kinds, but I seem to gravitate to children’s books, classics, and black history.

NP: What is your next project?

VMN: A picture book for younger readers about Lewis and the bookstore.  Gregory Christie, the artist for No Crystal Stair, will create the art.  Gregory also illustrated my picture book biography, Bad News for Outlaws: the Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, another project which required quite a bit of historical digging.  I’m always working on something, but after dedicating 15 years to No Crystal Stair, I need a break from heavy research.  I’m taking a breath.

[Many thanks to Vaunda for this interview.  You can purchase her book from Amazon, or from a wide variety of independent booksellers.]

[Many thanks as well to the bookseller Marc Selvaggio for drawing my attention to this book].

[Photo of National Memorial from an unidentified photographer. Photo of Vaunda taken by her husband, Drew Nelson]

As promised, a closer look at a very neat sale coming up on at Bonhams London on Wednesday (23 May), when they’ll be selling the Stuart B. Schimmel Forgery Collection & Other Properties, in 253 lots.

The first 143 of those lots are Schimmel’s. Nicolas Barker provides an introduction, noting how Schimmel came to be interested in collecting literary fakes and forgeries and offering a brief overview of the collection’s main focal points. He notes “There has not been a comparable quantity of Wiseian material on the market since the Buxton Forman sale in 1920 or the Pariser sale in 1967,” and concludes with the following observation:

“There is a strange fascination about all this material. The motivation to forgery is always complex, whether done for gain or fame, to prove a point or in the belief that something should exist even if neglected by its purported author. It is often difficult to draw the line between pastiche and fake. There is no such difficulty with Stuart’s collection. All his are genuine forgeries. He has had a lot of pleasure out of collecting them, and the books about them. It is now the turn of others to enjoy the same pleasure in their dispersal.”

The catalog for this sale makes for a fascinating browse through the annals of fakery (I almost wish it had been organized chronologically rather than alphabetically, but no matter). The Wiseiana is all interesting, but a few of the particularly notable pieces include a copy of Wise’s infamous 1847 “Reading” edition of Elizabeth Barrett Brownings Sonnets (£2,000-4,000) as well as many Shelley, Swinburne, and Tennyson forgeries. There are letters from Wise following the publication of Carter and Pollard’s Enquiry (£1,000-1,500), and a collection of Wise’s correspondence with C.W. Hatfield, with whom Wise worked on an edition of the works of the Brontes.

Thomas Chatterton and James Macpherson are represented, the latter by several letters and the printer’s manuscript of Ewen Campbell’s verse rendition of Fingal (£4,000-6,000), published in 1776. A letter from Hugh Blair regading the Ossian controversy could sell for £1,000-1,500. There’s a 1706 letter by George Psalmanazar to Rev. Samuel Reynolds (father of Sir Joshua) of Balliol College, Oxford reporting on the activities of Daniel Defoe, as well as a first edition of Psalmanazar’s Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa (£500-700), with all the plates (it’s being sold along with copies of P’s later Memoirs and related works).

Another major focus are the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries: the lots include a large-paper copy of the first edition of Samuel Ireland’s Picturesque Views of the Upper, or Warwickshire, Avon (1795), which mentions the Shakespeare papers (£200-300); a W.H. Ireland letter to Mr. Beadnall offering him a collection of the forged documents (£400-600); and an album containing 25 leaves of Ireland’s forgeries arranged by Ireland himself (£15,000-30,000). Several books containing forged Shakespeare annotations and signatures will be offered, including Johannes Carion’s The Thre Bokes of Cronicles (£2,000-3,000); Lancelot Andrewes’ A Sermon Preached before the Kings Majestie (£500-700); and John Camilton’s A Discoverie of the Most Secret and Subtile Practices of the Jesuites (£800-1,200). An Ireland family bible is also up for grabs (£800-1,200). Various editions of the forgeries and copies of the related publications are included as well.

Schimmel’s collection also includes four illuminated manuscript leaves by the Spanish Forger (beginning with Lot 86).

Lots 144-158 are described as “The Property of a Lady, including books from the library of the late Graham Pollard, one of the original ‘enquirers’. They include Pollard’s copies of some of the key Wise-related documents. Lots 161-253 are “The Property of John Collins, co-editor of the second edition of An Enquiry and author of The Two Forgers.” Among the most notable lots: several auction catalogs from Wise’s own library and a wide range of Forman-related material.

I suppose I’m glad I won’t be in London on Wednesday since I’m much less tempted to bid from afar, but what a collection this is! I’ll be sure to post a recap after the sale.

Identifying First Editions with McBride’s Guide
Reviewed by Bill Butts

The greatest fear of novice collectors is not being able to correctly identify a book’s edition. This can lead to costly mistakes or can cause you to pass up an underpriced bargain. The vast majority of noncollectors are under the impression that a first edition is identified by those two words on the copyright page. Sometimes this is indeed the case, often not. Pitfalls abound. Not only are there many methods of indicating edition, many of them cryptic, but publishers often switch from one method to another, apply them inconsistently or otherwise complicate matters to confound collectors.

feg7-cover-1.jpgBill McBride’s A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions - the seventh, revised edition of a booklet first published in 1979 - is the remedy. This handy “cheat sheet” has been a mainstay of booksellers for three decades now. I’ve recommended the Pocket Guide to countless bibliophiles or wannabe bibliophiles. A hideous specimen held together with packing tape and good will has been within arm’s reach for more than twenty years, and I keep a copy in every car’s glove compartment.

McBride’s Pocket Guide is an A to Z listing of 5,835 English-language publishers current and former, from A & B Publishing through Zone Books. (According to McBride, that’s 2,193 more publishers listed than the 3,642 that appeared in the sixth edition - up 38% -- plus an additional 2,342 pieces of data.) A clever abbreviation system then shows each publisher’s method of noting edition. The abbreviation that follow every publisher’s name is explained in the key. Baylor University Press, for instance, uses “NAP,” meaning “no additional printings are indicated in the book.” Ross & Haines employ a straightforward “FE,” meaning “words FIRST EDITION must appear on back of title page with no additional printings indicated.” Rand, Avery & Co. favor “SD” - “same date must appear on title page and back of title page with no additional printings indicated.” A dozen other abbreviations are used, including the popular “N” (“a sequence of numbers... must appear on the back of the title page with the ‘1’ present”) and “L” (“a sequence of letters... must appear on the back of the title page with the ‘a’ present”) and the unfortunate “No designation” - yes, there are publishers for whom “no consistent way to determine one printing from another exists.” But despite these general rules, exceptions do abound, and the Pocket Guide spells out many of them. For instance, a new collector might know the number sequence system noted above, but not be aware that Random House employed it incorrectly. Their first editions always begin with the number “2,” which would usually indicate a second printing - so anyone not knowing this will misidentify a true Random House first edition as a second printing. Amateur Hour mistake. 

This listing is prefaced by an eight-page introduction that crams in lots of condensed bookseller gems. Neophyte collectors overlook this at their own peril. There are thumbnail discussions on the distinction between edition, printing and impression, another on the often-misunderstood distinction between issue, state and point, a must-read section on identifying book club editions, and other tidbits of wisdom to shorten the learning curve. Read, study, and repeat.

As Bill McBride notes in his introduction, “The most useful tool in determining a first edition is an acute mind. This guide can take you only so far.” Oh so true, but without books such as the Pocket Guide providing concrete data that acute mind can really be stymied. And dealers need it just as much as collectors - more so, since they need to access this information far more frequently. Sure, any good dealer can normally identify most first editions without it, but this is a massive number of publishers, many of them obscure mom-and-pop presses rarely encountered. No one can memorize this mountain of minutiae.

A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions is certain to be the smallest reference book on your reference shelf and probably the one you’ll use the most. Any reference work that helps make better collectors gets a big thumbs up in my book!

--Bill Butts runs Main Street Fine Books & Manuscripts in Galena, IL. 

McBride, Bill. A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions. Hartford: McBride/Publisher, 2012. 16mo. Softbound. 142pp. $18.95.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Ed Lake of Jarndyce Booksellers in London.  Ed’s father, Brian, is the proprietor of Jarndyce Booksellers, which was founded in 1969.  Our Bright Young Things series is migrating across the pond for a few weeks in celebration of the upcoming Olympia Antiquarian Book Fair, from May 24th - May 26th in London.

NP: What is your role at Jarndyce?

EL: The privilege of working at Jarndyce is that no one day is ever the same as the next.  I do everything from cataloguing to packing books, designing our website, and organizing our first forays into the world of American book fairs.  I have designed catalogues and calendars, overseen photography, created a greeting card business, cleaned drains, cooked lunches, and occasionally sold a few books .

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

EL: Jarndyce is a family business and, although there was no pressure to join, I started work in 2007 having previously been a chef for 4 years.

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

EL: Items stick in my memory for different reasons - mainly for beauty, scarcity or historical importance.   For sheer beauty I remember a stunning folio Baskerville Bible; a scarce regional Newspaper, Creswell’s Nottingham Journal, has stayed in my mind because of its elaborate masthead. We currently have Dickens’s own reading copy of Mrs Gamp, annotated by Dickens, signed and presented to his Boston publisher - the copy from which Dickens read on his final American reading tour.  To think of where that book was, what it was a part of, and whose hands it passed through is incredible.  

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

EL: Having studied history at University I love the academic aspect of bookselling, the challenge that you face when opening a book or looking at a manuscript, of making every item into a story, whatever it is worth.

Where my dad loves the thrill of buying - I am slowly gaining the confidence to follow my instincts in that department - I enjoy selling; building relationships with our customers, learning from them and developing a greater understanding of what it is they are searching for.  It sounds corny to say but seeing someone walk away delighted with the book they have just bought, whether it costs £10 or £10,000 is why we do what we do.  Or at least it should be.

NP: What do you personally collect?

EL: I am running out of wall space but I collect original posters - I’ve thought of just buying food related designs and original artwork but I’m failing miserably and just buy what my eyes like.  

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would it be?

EL: Rather than being inside the pages of any book I’d like to be the pages on which letters and documents were written; to see Thomas Clarkson pen his letters to Wilberforce or Dickens writing to his mistress Ellen Ternen or settling down at his desk to write another chapter of Great Expectations.

NP: Do you plan to take over the family business one day?

EL: Who knows what the future holds but at this point in time, yes, I see myself working here for a long time to come.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?

EL: There are a lot of talented booksellers doing things their own way and with a great deal of style in their presentation.  For those setting out on their own, a small stock of scarce and unusual books seems to be the way things are heading.  In general, manuscript material and one-off items are certainly where the interest is; universities and collectors who have everything are now searching for background material to supplement existing collections.  I recently attended an excellent seminar on bookselling and the internet.  Although it has altered the way in which we can sell books and to whom, the fundamental relationship between collector and bookseller remains the most important part of our business.

NP: I understand your father will be chairman of the Olympia Book Fair in May.  Could you tell us about the fair and what you will be exhibiting there?

EL: Brian and his Committee - and ABA Events Organizer, Marianne Harwood - have worked hard to attract a record number of exhibitors in this time of financial austerity.  We look set for an exciting fair with a lecture programme, live demonstrations and activities including bookbinding and calligraphy, guided tours of the fair (for new collectors) and an ABA Roadshow valuing the hidden treasures among visitors’ books.  In the year of Charles Dickens’s bicentenary, we will be exhibiting items from our catalogue, The Library of a Dickensian, including the reading copy mentioned above and numerous other presentation copies and manuscripts.  We try to bring a wide variety of items to reflect our 18th and 19th c. stock - anything from Penny Dreadfuls to fine three-decker novels, political pamphlets to satirical prints.

[Be sure to check out the website for the Olympia Book Fair for further details on the programmes and events mentioned by Ed].

The Albert H. Small Collection goes on the block this Friday at Christie’s New York. The collection of high spots from a man who has been collecting for sixty years is dazzling -- we have Audubon, Shakespeare (as in second, third, and fourth folios), a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, and a Kelmscott Chaucer, plus a large selection of presidential autographs, various Declaration of Independence editions, and a hand-colored engraving of Paul Revere’s Bloody Massacre.

2655_38a.jpg Humphry Repton’s autograph manuscript “Red Book” for Sunning Hill, Berkshire the Seat of James Sibbald, Esq. 1790. Estimate $30,000-$50,000.

The selection of Humphry Repton manuscript books (one seen above) and other material are among the most “personal” items in the sale. In a special feature we ran on Mr. Small last autumn, he told us about his infatuation with the eighteenth-century British landscape artist:

He came across Repton’s work at the antiquarian book fair in New York in the early days of his collecting. Tired from walking up and down the aisles, he asked a bookseller if he could rest a moment on a seat in her booth. “I was sitting there looking at landscape and gardening materials and was struck by this gorgeous book unlike anything I had ever seen before,” he said. Small had in his hands a reproduction of one of Repton’s famed “red books,” one-of-a-kind volumes the designer presented to clients with descriptions and renderings of his proposed designs. “It was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever see in my life,” Small said. He bought the book and now proudly claims ownership of the second largest collection of original Repton volumes in the United States. He admitted with a laugh that the leading collector only has four; Small has three.
 As of Friday, perhaps the leading collector will have seven.
Josh Niesse, (second from left), who we profiled recently for our Bright Young Things series, runs Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia.  His bookshop, where he also hosts events such as documentary screenings, is part of a larger building that went up for sale earlier this month.  Josh’s landlord offered him a deal: if he could raise $8,000 in a narrow window for a down payment, he could stay in his space.  Instead of pursuing a traditional loan, Josh turned to “crowdfunding,” a new and creative way to finance projects.  He launched a funding campaign with Indigogo and has so far received almost $3,500 for his bookshop.

Crowdfunding is accurately (and cumbersomely) described on Wikipedia as “the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.”  The most prominent sites to facilitate crowdfunding are Kickstarter and Indiegogo, where a host of creative projects await your cash.  (It’s difficult to browse either site without contributing to a project -- so have your credit card ready before clicking on those links).

While formerly the exclusive haunt of artists, crowdfunding sites have lately found themselves hosting a wide variety of projects, including citizen journalism drives, political campaigns, and small business launches.  And the sites have been increasingly used by bookshop proprietors to start their businesses, expand their activities, or to simply stay in operation.

Here are a few recent bookshop campaigns, both successful and not:

La Casa Azul, a bookshop in East Harlem.

Atlantis Books, on a Grecian island.

Boneshaker Books, a radical bookshop in Minneapolis.

The Bluebird Books Bus, a mobile bookshop in Florida.

And here’s the link to Josh’s campaign, in case you would like to help him purchase his bookshop space.

What do you think of crowdfunding and bookstores?  Is this the future of bookshop financing?

153520272.JPGI’m always glad to have my attention drawn to novels with bookish themes (and here). Recently, another from this genre landed on my desk, The Best-Read Man in France, written by Peter Briscoe, a former academic library administrator at the University of California, Riverside. The main character is Michael Ashe, a Los Angeles-based rare bookseller and a bit of a Casanova, who travels the world buying and selling books, mainly in the area of Mexican-American history. When business begins to dry up, he faces his misgivings about the trade and finds solace in the story of French librarian and scholar, Gabriel Naude.  

Briscoe’s fiction debut plays with the contemporary themes of the decline of reading, the death of the book, and increasing digitization in lieu of acquisition at research libraries. It is a breezy read for a summer afternoon, and for those of us in the trade -- librarians, booksellers, collectors -- you may well recognize yourself here, and smile. 
Catalogue Review: ZH Books, #2

ZH Cover.pngZhenya Dzhavgova, recently featured on our blog as a ‘Bright Young Thing,’ specializes in Eastern European literature and Slavic language material. She is based in California and released this second catalogue last month; it has been well received in the trade both for its content and its minimalist black-and-white design (appropriately evocative of the material).

ZH offers a fine selection of books on drama, linguistics, and literature, including the first Russian edition of Lolita ($2,800), as well as books of political interest. A 1949 history of the anti-Imperialism struggles of Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma, and the Philippines, published in Moscow, is a particularly interesting find ($80).

There is a first edition of Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov’s Muzhe ($3,000). Because Markov was banned and then assassinated in 1978, “first editions of his writings are virtually impossible to find.”

In children’s books, an edition of Hamlet translated by Boris Pasternak from 1956 and illustrated with in-line engravings ($90) is but one of several places where the Russian poet and novelist pops up in this catalogue. The “Reputed Feltrinelli First Russian Edition” of Doctor Zhivago from 1958 is here, too, with a description of its “exceedingly complicated” publishing history ($780).

If this area of collecting is of interest, request a catalogue directly from ZH via email:
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Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Amir Naghib, proprietor of Captain Ahab’s Rare Books in Miami.

amir naghib.jpg
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AN: I think the first time I realized that books were special and had value was in my grandfather’s study as a child.  There were floor-to-ceiling shelves, all of them filled with books on every imaginable subject, and my grandfather was very specific about how important those books were.  I made my first rare book purchase while in college (an early jacketed set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy), and I was more or less hooked after that.  Regardless of where I lived around the country, I’d haunt bookshops, library sales, and just about anywhere else I could scout for books.  I became a collector and a periodic seller of books, selling off books I scouted up in order to purchase volumes I really cared about.  Most of my education took place in large open shops, the types of places you could easily spend a day getting lost in.  Thankfully I was fortunate enough to establish good relationships with several dealers who offered sound advice regarding condition, scarcity and the like, and a number of these people had a hand in shaping the bookseller I am today.

NP: When did you open Captain Ahab’s and what do you specialize in?

AN: Between 2009 and 2010 I was working at a job I absolutely hated, and decided that working 60-70 hours a week and being miserable wasn’t for me.  I left my job, and a few months later I found myself at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, courtesy of a scholarship by Bibliopolis.  I figured setting up shop as “Amir Naghib Rare Books” would sound too self-involved, so in September of 2010 I started Captain Ahab’s Rare Books.  My first year was successful in many ways, and this year has exceeded my expectations thus far.  I focus on offering the things that interest me: literature, the Beats and counterculture material, crime fiction, important pulps, and science fiction.  I find myself buying more and more literature in Spanish and French.  Mostly, an item has to interest me for me to buy it, so I will often purchase material outside my focus area if I find it engaging or significant in some way.   

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

AN: Lately it’s been a lot more ‘etc.’ that I’ve been handling.  Over the last six months I’ve handled some wonderful pieces of illustration art related to important books.  The cover paintings for Charles Willeford’s Honey Gal and High Priest of California were both stunning, and it was a real treat to have those pass through my hands.  I recently purchased the original dustjacket artwork for the U.K. edition of Calvino’s The Path to the Nest of Spiders, and a recent consignment has brought us the painting for James Avati’s very first paperback cover (Worth Tuttle Hedden’s The Other Room).  In addition to being a stunning painting, it’s historically significant, as it’s also the first interracial cover painting in American publishing history.

NP: What do you personally collect?

AN: I stopped collecting when I decided to do this full-force.  There are certain books I keep for myself that were given to me as gifts, or that I have a strong emotional attachment to.  Since I largely purchase the sort of material I would want to collect anyway, I don’t really feel the need to hang on to things anymore.  I’ve also learned to be content with nice jacketed reprints of titles I want to keep; they’re a fraction of the price a First would cost me, and I’m able to justify keeping it.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AN: I love that on a daily basis I am able to handle some of the coolest stuff on earth.  I’m interested in nearly everything that passes through my hands, and the research that goes into cataloging is always intellectually stimulating.  There’s something gratifying about connecting with a customer who has overlapping interests, and being able to place something significant in proper and appreciative hands.  Mostly though, I’d say that my colleagues are the best part of the book trade.  Unlike nearly every other field I’ve worked in, I’ve found members of the trade to be a pleasant lot.  I’m constantly amazed at their willingness to lend a hand, whether it’s sharing knowledge or their experiences, or connecting you with a particular item or customer.  

NP: I see on your “About” page that you are also an avid reader.  What are some of your favorite texts?

AN: Since the first time I read it, I’ve always felt that The Count of Monte Cristo is more or less the most perfect novel ever written.  Some of my more contemporary favorites are Bukowski’s Post Office and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  I recently finished Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo, and am currently working through Mickey Spillane’s early novels.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the rare book trade?

AN: Generally optimistic.  Judging by the growing number of younger dealers, I’d say the trade is steadily solidifying it’s future.  I’ve also been surprised by the growing number of younger collectors, and by what they choose to collect.  I think developing relationships with customers of all ages and being able to engage them and connect them with material they care about is a large part of what will continue to help our trade thrive.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would you choose?

AN: Either The Hobbit by Tolkien or Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.  I’ve always love the epic sense of adventure in Tolkien’s books, and since I have a three year old wild thing at home, I’ve developed a new-found appreciation for the wild rumpus.

NP: Do you have a catalogue coming up soon?  How does one get on your mailing list?  (Will you be exhibiting at any upcoming book fairs?)

AN: The St. Petersburg Antiquarian Book Fair this past March was the first fair I exhibited at, and while we don’t have any other fair appearances planned for this year (wrapping up a Masters program and baby #2 on the way) we hope to exhibit more in the future.  I hope to have our first print catalogue out before the end of this year.  We do issue an E-List periodically, and anyone interested in receiving communication from us can contact us directly at  For anyone interested in specific subject areas, we have a Topic Notifier they can use through our website.

popdelusions20-800.jpgBook artist Richard Minsky has just announced his latest work, Pop Delusions, a house made out of his own credit cards, Chinese and American paper money, and gold leaf. Look inside and find two editions of Charles Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, bound in credit cards. Yes, credit cards, which sounds like quite an impossible task. Minsky used eighty of his own cards, collected over twenty-five years. “It’s certainly the least replaceable material I’ve ever used,” he told me. “It was the right material for the book, so I had to.”

He added, “All the materials for this work add to the layers of meaning...some of them nobody will see. The Chinese money that backs the credit cards isn’t visible when the house is assembled and the back door is shut. You can see the engravings of the U.S. Treasury on the $10 bills that border the base, but the flip side of them is pasted down, so nobody sees Alexander Hamilton’s portrait, the torch of Liberty, and ‘We the People’ in pink....In an earlier state the portrait side was face up, but in the end I decided it looked better with the greenbacks up, and the treasury building relating to the house of cards.”

PopMarch1.jpgMinsky began construction on March 1, when he posted this image of his materials on his Facebook page. There you can click on each of the photos and read along as the house takes shape and also peek ‘inside’ the back door, where, Minsky points out, you can see that the building on the back of the 100 Yuan note is similar to the treasury building on our bills.

Pop Delusions makes its institutional debut in an exhibit titled Beaten & Bound at the Lubeznick Center for the Arts in Michigan City, IN, on May 26. A reception will be held on June 1, and the exhibit will run through August 26.

Photos courtesy of Richard Minsky.

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A book of poetry written by Taliban fighters is about to released in Britain.  Entitled Poetry of the Taliban, the book is co-edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn and will be published by Hurst on May 17.  A U. S. edition from Colombia University Press will follow on September 25.

The book’s pending publication has ignited some controversy in Britain -- controversy likely to be re-ignited with fervor when the book reaches U. S. shores later this year.  (Published, no less, by a university press in New York City).  The former commander for the British armed forces in Helmand was quoted on Friday in the Guardian, “What we need to remember is that these are fascist, murdering thugs who suppress women and kill people without mercy if they do not agree with them, and of course are killing our soldiers.”  The commander continued, “It doesn’t do anything but give the oxygen of publicity to an extremist group which is the enemy of this country.”

Poetry of the Taliban features over 200 poems by Taliban fighters, mostly drawn from Pashtun backgrounds, a culture noted for its deep and vibrant poetic traditions.  While war and nationalism are the dominant themes, love and self-doubt are also present.

The website for the book strikes an odd balance between blatant promotion and elegant justification.  A gratuitous count-down clock, ticking away the days until the book’s publication, meets the reader on the first page, but the carefully worded “About the Book” page provides a more nuanced backdrop:

“The contrast between the severity of their professed ideology and the license of the Taliban’s aesthetic sensibilities - in which unrequited love, bloody vengeance and the thrill of battle, religion and nationalism, even a desire for non-violence, are expressed through images of wine, powerful women, song, legend and pastoral beauty - provide a fascinating insight into the minds and hearts of these deeply emotional people.”

Regardless of opinion on its publication, Poetry of the Taliban will likely fill an empty space in a variety of personal and public collections around the U. S. when it arrives here this fall.

Just in case we biblio-folk needed some perspective: last week’s sale of “The Scream” for $119.9 million was more than the totals realized over all the book auctions in 2011 for both Christie’s and Sotheby’s combined.

Before we get to May, some April sale notes:

- Doyle New York sold Rare Books, Autographs, and Maps on 23 April. The surprise top seller was a group of manuscript leaves, which fetched $86,500 over estimates of $2,000-3,000. was The first octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America sold for $56,250.

- At Christie’s Travel, Science and Natural History on 25 April, the total realized was £1,031,500. The 1794 W. & S. Jones orrery fetched £32,450, while the ~1705/15 German pocket globe sold for £18,750. The top lot was an Augustin Brunias oil painting, which made £87,650.

- The top lot at PBA Galleries’ 26 April sale of Fine Americana, Travel & Exploration, and Cartography was a copy of the very rare American Bond Detector (1869), which sold for $5,700.

- Results for Bloomsbury’s 27 April Bibliophile Sale are here.

And now, May:

- At Bloomsbury on 3 May, the Angling Collection of George Miskin sold, in 704 lots. The top lot was a copy of Frederic M. Halford’s Floating Flies and How to Dress Them (1886), which fetched £6,000.

- At Sotheby’s on 9 May, Travel, Atlases, Maps, & Natural History, in 212 lots. Top estimate goes to Linnaeus Tripe’s Views of Burma, 120 albumen prints (£150,000-200,000).

- On 10 May, PBA Galleries will sell the Library of Michael Killigrew desTombe, in 233 lots. The top-estimated lot is John Dee’s Monas hieroglyphica (1564), estimated at $50,000-80,000.

- Christie’s Paris on 11 May has Importants Livres Anciens, Livres d’artiste et Manuscrits, in 227 lots. The top estimate goes to a ~1490 Tuscan Mahzor (est. 400,000-600,000 EUR).

- Bloomsbury sells Important Books and Manuscripts on 15 May, in 372 lots.

- At Swann on 15 May, Early Printed, Scientific, Medical, and Travel Books, in 400 lots. Lots include a Hebrew Bible signed by Increase Mather.

- Also on 15 May, Livres et Manuscrits at Sotheby’s Paris, in 184 lots. A group of Guillaume Apollinaire letters rates the top estimate, at 150,000-250,000 EUR.

- At Christie’s New York on 18 May, Important Printed Books and Americana from the Albert H. Small Collection, in 151 lots. Highlights include copies of the SecondThird, and Fourth Folios, a first edition of Audubon’s Quadrupeds with great provenance, a first octavo of Audubon’s Birds in the original wrappers, and a Kelmscott Chaucer, among other fantastic lots.

- Another angling library: Bonhams sells the Angling Library of Alan Jarvis on 22 May, in 489 lots.

- A neat one at Bonhams on 23 May: the Stuart B. Schimmel Forgery Collection, in 253 lots. They’re all here: Chatterton, Ireland, Ossian, Forman, Wise ... I wish this one was in New York and not London, but I suppose it’s probably a good thing I can’t go! I’ll have a more detailed rundown of this one as we get closer to the date.

- No previews yet for the following: PBA Galleries Fine Literature & Books in All Fields on 24 May; Music and Continental Books & Manuscripts at Sotheby’s on 29 May.

Catalogue Review: Jeff Weber Rare Books, No. 168

California bookseller Jeff Weber is known to many as an expert on fore-edge painting, but his 12,000-book stock also covers bibliography, California, medicine, natural history, science & technology. His latest catalogue contains the library of Dr. Harry Friedman, a neurosurgeon and collector of military history. The offerings are extensive -- 281 items, ranging from $10 reprints to a 1555 second edition of De Humani Corporis for $95,000.

I like medical books as an area of collecting. Pick a malady, any area of medicine, or a particular doctor, and a collection can be created that spans centuries, languages, and formats. For Dr. Friedman, head injuries are of particular interest. For example, Dr. Harlow’s Case of Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar Through the Head...from 1850 ($750).

Bridging both his interest in neurology and the military, he also has several Army/Navy manuals pertaining to his subjects of interest, such as Manual of Neuro-Surgery from the U.S. Army, 1919 ($75). The rare first edition of the first American book on naval medicine is offered here: Edward Cutbush’s Observations on the Means of Preserving the Health of Soldiers and Sailors...from 1808 ($4,000).

The works of Dominique Jean Larrey and Harvey Cushing are well represented in the collection, and, as for a surprise, how about Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of Central Park) compiling a book titled Hospital Transports: A Memoir of the Embarkation of the Sick and Wounded from the Peninsula of Virginia in the Summer of 1862 ($395).

For printed catalogues, contact the bookseller at his website: Mail-order clients get priority of selection.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Erin Barry-Dutro of Royal Books in Baltimore.

erinbarrydutro.JPGNP: What is your role at Royal?

EBD: Kevin calls me his shortstop. I was hired to do cataloging and book fair administration, but, as Royal Books has a pretty small crew, I also fill in for all the other positions as needed: running the front desk, shipping packages, and on special occasions helping out in the bindery.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

EBD: My dad tells a mostly-apocryphal story about me growing up in which, while driving across country together in an RV, my parents had to continually tell me to stop reading and look around. I was one of those kids. I later received my BFA in Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University, where as a student I worked repairing books in their Library Preservation department. I moved to Baltimore and found similar work at Johns Hopkins, until a particularly lucky Craigslist ad brought me to Royal Books.

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

EBD: I was especially excited to have had the opportunity to handle Peter Harrington’s first edition copy of The Great Gatsby in an exceptional example of that iconic jacket, but there are lots of things from our own stock that I love as well. We had a copy of Rita Hayworth’s calling card from when she was married to Orson Welles, and we currently have a particularly gorgeous copy of the paperback true first of One Hundred Years Of SolitudeA Computer Perspective signed by Charles and Ray Eames, and a handful of really awesome concert posters.

NP: What do you personally collect?

EBD: My dirty little secret is that I like to collect crummy paperbacks, including books that I term very loosely “Magical Realist,” cheesy Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Young Adult fiction (which as a genre I think becomes increasingly exciting). I can’t help it, I think paperbacks look really good on a shelf together. I also collect vintage sewing patterns, earrings, blue and white china, feathers, and by default my own artwork.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

EBD: I like the freedom existent in the rare book world that encourages a bookseller to dig deeply, do research on things, and collect what you love. I like the moment when you sell something you’re excited about to somebody who’s at least as excited about it as you are. I like that it doesn’t often require dressing fancy. I like that it feels like a big global community.

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

EBD: Who knows? The appeal of my own bookshop is certainly a siren call, but I have yet a lot of things to do in this world, many of which (I know this is blasphemous) probably have nothing to do with books at all. Were I to do so, it would probably include artist’s books, limited editions, and modern fiction both for adults and otherwise.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

EBD: I think that in some respects it’s inevitable that the economy will shift and degrade further, however I don’t think that this should be considered wholly negative. I think that there will always be a place for books and other works on paper; human beings love to use their sense of touch. I also believe that multiples and works on paper are especially culturally relevant right now. What remains for booksellers (and honestly, everyone) to figure out is how to navigate this territory. How I feel we best do this is what rare bookselling seems to me to always have had as its essence: sharing enthusiasm and knowledge of beautiful things with others who feel similarly.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, what would it be?

EBD: The slightly absurdist nature of this question seriously appeals to me, but as a result it’s the one I’ve had to think hardest about. The fattest? You’d have lots of space to move around. One with lots and lots of pictures? Also a good choice. I think probably a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or Calvino’s Italian Folktales, would work nicely to keep things exciting, though.

Bookshelf.jpgYesterday was the official publication day for Alex Johnson’s new book, Bookshelf. Some of you may know Johnson’s long-running blog of the same name, which highlights interesting and unique bookcases around the world. This book is a beautifully illustrated version of that. Wooden, steel, or composite; single shelf or intricate unit; form or function -- this book lays out hundreds of options for those of us who are always running out of shelf space. The Puckman from Studio Ginepro, seen below, is a whimsical shelf that pays tribute to one of our favorite childhood activities. It’s available in white or black, but who wouldn’t opt for the yellow?

Puckman_2010_web.jpgThe Ready Made from Amsterdam-based Next Architects is so called because it features a facade (leather, with gold tooling, no less) of one hundred classic books that one can gently press in and replace with real books. A cool idea, but perhaps best left to the couture crowd.

Readymade.jpgI couldn’t quite get on board with the Library Bath from Malin Lundmark--it’s an idea that is both so wrong and so right--but I did like the Book Case from Makeshift. Essentially it’s a suitcase with three shelves inside. Heavier than your e-reader, but a much more civilized way to travel with your library.

bookcase3.jpgAs for me, I received a new bookshelf for my birthday this past weekend. I had been interested in something small that would fit next to my desk and hold all of the books I’m currently working on for several different projects. I imagined a library book truck with style. What I got was this Eiffel revolving bookstand, which is quite perfectly suited to the task and handsome, too.


A Novel Reader.jpg
The Guardian picked their top 10 first lines in fiction on Saturday and the list is still the most-read feature on the culture section of their website.  Who can resist a good list?

Two of my favorites are on there:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride and Prejudice)

There was no possibility of a walk that day.“  (Jane Eyre).

The rest of the Guardian’s list contains such luminaries as Joyce, Plath, Wodehouse, Twain and Stevenson.  But glaringly absent from the British newspaper’s list is that quintessential British author: Charles Dickens.  Is there any writer with more consistently memorable first lines?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” (A Tale of Two Cities)

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” (David Copperfield)

Marley was dead, to begin with.” (A Christmas Carol)

But my personal favorite first lines manage to condense, in a single sentence, the style, tone, and subject of the pages that follow:

The looming, Gothic drama of Rebecca:

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

The spiritual and stylistic sparseness of A Farewell to Arms:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”

Or the descent into vengeful madness of A Cask of Amontillado:

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”

So, what are some of your favorite first lines?

[Art: Van Gogh’s A Novel Reader]
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