September 2012 Archives

Instead of a Friday review, a Friday ‘view’ today -- a twelve-minute video describing the American Antiquarian Society: its collections, conservation processes, research projects. Watch for rare book dealer Bill Reese, historians David McCullough, Jill Lepore, and Nathaniel Philbrick, poet Honoree Jeffers, and lots of beautiful books and illustrations. And is that a cameo by our own Jeremy Dibbell?...

Our fall issue features an article on the AAS bicentennial and the current Grolier Club exhibit of AAS treasures, In Pursuit of a Vision.
huguette-clark_t479.jpgI’ve been thinking lately about Huguette Clark.  She died well over a year ago.  What’s happening to her extensive doll collection, supposedly worth millions?  What about her rare books?

Some catch-up: Huguette Clark was a reclusive New York heiress who inherited a vast fortune from her father, William Andrews Clark, one of the richest (and most disliked) of the Gilded Age industrialists.  Clark was a socialite in the 1920s, before disappearing from the public eye after a failed marriage that ended in divorce in 1930.  (That divorce, incidentally, also produced the last known photograph of her, seen above).  Clark retreated into a grand old apartment on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park.  While she eventually purchased the entire 8th floor of that building, along with mansions in Santa Barbara and Connecticut, Clark moved permanently into a hospital about twenty years ago where she took a pseudonym and lived under the care of a private nurse.  Clark died at age 104 in March of 2011, leaving behind an estate worth about $500 million.

Clark, who said once that “wealth is a menace to happiness,” used a slice of her fortune to amass an impressive doll collection.  She began collecting dolls when she was five, focusing in particular on historic French dolls.  Clark was born in Paris, spoke French fluently (apparently preferring it to English), and purchased most of her dolls from old French shops such as An Nain Bieu.  The dolls were housed in their own suite of rooms in one of her Fifth Avenue apartments.  The doll collection is supposedly worth millions today -- but nothing has been mentioned of it since the media blitz after Clark’s passing last year.  Apparently, the collection passed to her nurse, Hadassha Peri, along with a decent sized chunk of her estate.  But what Peri did with the dolls remains a mystery.  The New York apartments (which, by the way, were supposedly like walking into a time-warp - check out their amazing floor plans here), have already been sold, so the dolls must have moved into a new home.  However, I have seen no mention of them in any auctions over the last year.  (Clark’s jewelry collection, meanwhile, brought a cool $20 million at Christie’s earlier this year).  So what has Peri done with them?  Does she intend to sell them -- donate them?  It sounds like a collection worthy of a museum, so it’s a bit of a shame that they’re just sitting somewhere out of commission, not being added to, not being sold, not being viewed.

All of this serves as a good reminder to us book collectors: include a provision in your will for your books.  Arrange for them to pass to someone interested in them, or have them donated to a library or sold at auction on behalf of your heirs.  It’s so important to keep collections in the hands of appreciative audiences.

Clark, by the way, apparently owned a number of rare books in her time-warp apartments, although I can only find scant mention of them in the various newspaper articles about her death.  It appears that they will be moved to her Santa Barbara mansion, along with her very impressive art collection, as part of a soon-to-be-formed public museum under the direction of the newly created Bellosguardo Foundation.  What rare books she owned, however - along with so much else about the heiress - remains a mystery.

PH-Frankenstein.jpgEarlier today, an extraordinary copy of Frankenstein was unveiled at rare bookseller Peter Harrington’s London gallery, and a full-color catalogue was issued to celebrate its return to the land of the living. Just two weeks ago, the rare book firm had announced an astonishing find: an inscribed first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “from the author” to Lord Byron. This presentation copy of an important book from one famous author to another bears witness to one of the most intriguing literary friendships -- as the legend goes, it was Byron who dared the teenaged Shelley to write a “ghost story.” Peter Harrington’s proprietor Pom Harrington said, “We don’t always get the chance to celebrate the provenance or the history of the wonderful books we sell. So this is a wonderful opportunity to share this association copy and perhaps the most evocative presentation copy conceivable in all nineteenth-century literature with the world.” The book, bound in contemporary calf and looking its age, was discovered by the twenty-something grandson of a late British politician who probably shelved it fifty years ago without a fuss.

Volume one alone (volumes two and three are missing) of Frankenstein, published in 1818, with Shelley’s handwriting on a blank page preceding the half-title page, will remain on view at Harrington’s until October 3. In an unconventional move, the bookseller is taking bids for the book -- only those in excess of £350,000 (about $567,000) will be entertained. 

Only one other copy of a signed Frankenstein first edition seems to have survived the nearly two hundred years since publication---and that is Shelley’s own copy, which now resides at the Morgan Library in New York City.
Photo courtesy of Peter Harrington.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Laura Massey, an American working for Peter Harrington in London:

Laura4.jpgNP: What is your role at Peter Harrington?

LM: I started as the general cataloguer in 2009, and my job quickly expanded to include a variety of other responsibilities. I’m particularly interested in using the internet to make rare materials accessible and interesting to those who aren’t specialists, which is why I started our blog and Twitter feed. I also love science, and my main goal is to specialise in that direction. I’m in the process of compiling my first catalogue, a selection of important 20th-century science books with a strong focus on a favourite subject-nuclear physics. I’ve always been interested in the ways that science and medicine are presented to the public, and I think that there’s room in the book world for us to improve the ways that science books are catalogued.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

LM: It really began with my parents. Both of them love books, especially my mom, who started reading to me as soon as I was born. My dad trained as a ceramic artist and was inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement and the Japanese philosophy of making everyday objects both beautiful and functional. So I grew up with not only an appreciation for literature, but for the book as a material object. I always loved the idea of working with rare books but, growing up in a small town, that world seemed so distant that I never considered it a serious career choice. After finishing my undergraduate degree I was living in Atlanta and having trouble finding a fulfilling career. I spent a lot of lazy summer afternoons in my local used and rare book shop, A Cappella, and it dawned on me one day that this was something I could really do. So I made a long-term plan: I read everything I could about book history and rare books, began volunteering at the shop (thanks Frank!), and started a blog so that I could connect with other rare book people. A few years later I entered the book history MA programme at the Institute of English Studies in London. I knew that, in addition to the amazing faculty and all the libraries I would have access to, I would also be in one of the world centres of the book trade, and hoped I might get my foot in the door with an internship or part-time job. As my course wound down I sent out a few CVs and was lucky enough to approach Peter Harrington just as the firm was looking for a full-time cataloguer.

NP: What do you love about the working in the trade?

LM: Having access to so much wonderful material and getting to work on something different every day. I also love writing and doing research, which is a huge component of my job.

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

LM: At the moment I have two. The first is our Ars Moriendi block book leaf, which I’ve written about for the blog. I became fascinated by these during my master’s degree because they’re a sort of proto-printing technology, but they’re rare and I never thought I would run across one outside of a special collections setting. The second is my first major book fair find, a copy of Alexander Fleming’s Penicillin: Its Practical Application. It’s not a scarce book, and this copy didn’t look unusually inviting, but I picked it up because bacteriology is of particular interest to me. And it turned out to contain an uncommon presentation inscription to one of the contributors. A good lesson in rare book buying!

NP: So, this copy of Frankenstein is pretty awesome.  Tell us about your thoughts on it:

LM: It is! Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft have long been feminist heroes of mine, and the relationship between the Shelleys and Byron is fascinating. But the book’s sudden appearance is the most exciting part. I’ve worked with a lot of amazing objects since I joined the firm, but most of them already had an extensive provenance. It’s truly rare for an item of this significance to appear out of the blue, and I feel privileged to be present at its reappearance.

[Note: This question was in reference to the copy of Frankenstein inscribed by Mary Shelley to Lord Byron which was recently acquired by Peter Harrington.  The book will be on display and viewable to the general public at the shop, 100 Fulham Road in Chelsea, London, from September 26 to October 3].

NP: What do you personally collect?

LM: Unfortunately, I’m more of an accumulator than a collector. I tend to buy objects that interest me personally, but without feeling the urge for comprehensive acquisition in any one field. What catches my eye could be a book one day, then a natural history specimen, bicycle poster, or piece of jewellery the next. That being said, I do have a wonderful collection of antique jelly moulds, all of them gifts from a friend.

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

LM: Probably not. I’m really happy working in a large shop because of the opportunities it provides to learn from colleagues and to work on material that I would probably not see on my own. I’m also not keen on admin and bookkeeping, so consider it a reasonable trade-off not to be my own boss if I don’t have to deal with any of that.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?

LM: I feel very positive about it, and think that the e-book revolution will be beneficial to rare books in general. Instead of the massive, low-quality print runs of the last few decades we’ll see small runs made to higher standards-books that look better, last longer, and are more collectible. Digital may be more convenient, but people still want the human touch a physical object provides. This is already apparent with other formats such as vinyl and film photography, which are seeing a renewal of interest.  At the same time, overall access to literature will increase. There’s evidence that people with electronic readers consume more books because of the ease of access, and more book lovers means more collectors. Additionally, greater access to out-of-copyright works from Project Gutenberg and the like will encourage people to explore books they would not have been exposed to in the age of the chain store. It’s a very exciting change to live through!

Coming up in just a couple of weeks--make your plans now, if you haven’t--is the Oak Knoll Fest, a bi-annual celebration of book arts, fine press, and beautiful books held in and around Oak Knoll Books in New Castle, Delaware. This year’s weekend-long event boasts a Friday symposium titled, “The Fine Book in the 21st Century -- Yes, It Will Survive!”, that will explore the future of typography and fine printing. This event is currently full, but the rest of the weekend is booked with free lectures, exhibits, and sales.

On Saturday, Oct. 6, the Fest continues with a talk by book designer and calligrapher Jerry Kelly, followed by Daniel De Simone, curator of the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection of the Library of Congress, who will discuss color printing in early books. The afternoon offers a fine press exhibition and sale, with exhibitors that include the Fine Press Book Association, Ladies of Letterpress, Russell Maret, Midnight Paper Sales (Gaylord Schanilec), Lead Graffiti, and many more (full list is here). On Sunday, you can head back to the fine press exhibition after Carol Grossman gives a talk on George Macy and the Limited Editions Club.

What a line-up! And did we mention that all weekend Oak Knoll holds its own shop sale, offering 20% off everything in the store? The Oak Knoll Fest only comes around once every two years, so if you can make the trip, carpe diem!     
Surrealism under Pressure
Reviewed by Edith Vandervoort

Those of us who are familiar with the Art Institute of Chicago may also know of its outstanding collection of Surrealist works, thanks to its notable exhibitions on the subject. Surrealism under Pressure 1938-1953 (Yale UP, 2012) is the catalogue that accompanied an exhibition of Jindrich Heisler’s work at the AIC earlier this year.

Surrealism.jpgHeisler, who began his career as a poet, joined the Czechoslovak Surrealist Movement in 1938, a group comprised of former avant-gardists who influenced and helped him throughout his lifetime. With a fellow member, Toyen (Marie Cerminová) and other visual artists he produced several illustrated poetry books such as The Specters of the Desert (1939) and Only the Kestrels Piss Calmly on the Ten Commandments (1939), the latter originating during the suffocating existence of German occupation in Prague. The groundbreaking 1940 photobook, From the Strongholds of Sleep, innovative because it consists of photographs of text and images, is discussed in detail. Upon the publication of On the Needles of this Day (1941), Heisler, a Jew, goes into forced exile following a summons for deportation in the winter of 1941/42. Until the war’s end he lives with Toyen, relatives, and fellow Surrealists, rarely going outdoors. During his years in exile he produces much of the work reproduced in this catalog. It is believed that none of the works created in hiding were ever exhibited in his lifetime. Significantly, and perhaps emphasizing the uncertainty of his existence, they are not dated and the titles were added posthumously by Toyen. After the war, Heisler returned to Prague, but because of the threat of a Communist takeover, relocated with Toyen to Paris in March 1947, where he enjoyed close contact with other Surrealists in preparation for the exhibition Le surréalisme en 1947. There he also founded the Surrealist magazine Néon, considered by Heisler as “an important expression of a theory of friendship and love.” The difficulty of separating Surrealism from radical polemics soon became evident and the journal only lasted until March 1949. The artist died of a heart attack on January 3, 1953, a result of the long-term physical and psychological burden of the uncertain fate he had recently survived.

Surrealism under Pressure is comprised of several articles--writings, tributes, and academic articles on his poetry books--which are followed by photographs. Other sections categorize Heisler’s artwork according to their subjects or the techniques he used. Many of them are photographs of dioramas using everyday objects or images altered by organic substances, such as fish bladders, and then photographed. It is evident that he was working with limited resources while in hiding. The book also contains a chronology of his work, a selected bibliography, and an index. It is a valuable resource for any scholar or art enthusiast.

--Edith Vandervoort is a freelance writer based in California.

A semi-regular series profiling new archives.

jc_peckham_peace_wall_003_0.jpgThis past August marked the anniversary of the London riots, the anniversary of a terrible time that saw pockets of the city razed, pillaged and plundered for reasons that still have not been adequately identified.

In the South-East district of Peckham, the damage was devastating and iconic: images of a flaming double-decker bus on the local high street became emblems of the destruction the rest of the city had sustained. 

The worst in a few brought out the best in the rest of communities all over London: the streets were cleaned, the broken glass and skeletal remains of burned out cars were cleared away early in early the morning after the riots, a massive effort organized almost entirely over Twitter. In Peckham, the boarded-up windows of a looted Poundland (the UK equivalent of a Dollar Store), went a step beyond utility: they became a public archive. Members of the local theatre, the Peckham Shed, started to stick post-it notes on the boards, decorating what they called the ‘Why We Love Peckham Wall’:

There was so much fear, anger and distress in the area in the aftermath of the rioting that we wanted to do something to remind people that lots of people really care about Peckham; that there are incredibly talented young people here and a vibrant and proud community which wants to come together to try to address the problems here. (Source)
Neighbors and passersby joined in, and soon the covered wall was featured as a zoomable, interactive images on The BBC: “Peckham isHome”; “CHANGE!”; “I feel at home here”; “PECKHAM LIVES”, and “I love Peckham”.

Luckily, the Peckham Shed also had it in mind to preserve the testimonies of locals with more than images - and thus an archive of just about the most ephemeral materials you can think of, Post-It Notes, was born.

Last month in remembrance of the riots the boards containing the post-its were exhibited outside the library in an area known as the Peckham Space.  And now, the Peckham Peace Wall has been installed, according to the Creative Review, it is based on 4,000 originals that have been digitally hand-traced and added to tiles for permanent display, designed by the local creative collective Garudio Studiage.

jc_peckham_peace_wall_009_0.jpgArchives are awfully elastic things: it’s great that something like the Peckham Peace Wall, an archive from the ashes, serves all three purposes of serious commemoration, positive reinforcement, and the literal preservation of local color and local involvement. Let’s hope to see more like it. 

papyrus.jpgA papyrus fragment with a mysterious provenance surfaced in the news on Tuesday when a Harvard scholar said its Coptic writing indicated Jesus had a wife.

The papyrus, dated to the fourth century, and written entirely in Coptic, contains the line “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife...’‘  The discovery was made by Dr. Karen King of Harvard’s Divinity School, an expert on early Coptic literature.  King revealed the papyrus fragment at a conference on Coptic studies in Rome this week.

The implications of the passage, if the fragment’s authenticity is verified, are, of course, far reaching.

The provenance of the fragment, however, remains mysterious.  Dr. King received an e-mail from a private collector in 2010 who asked her to translate it.  The collector has declined to publicly reveal his name, nationality, or location.  Dr. King offered some limited details about the collector:  He collects Greek, Arabic, and Coptic papyri.  He purchased this particular fragment in a lot of papyri in 1997 from a German collector.  The papyri was accompanied by a letter in German referencing a now deceased German professor who claimed the papyrus fragment to be “the sole example” of a surviving text indicating Jesus had a wife.  The collector left the papyrus fragment with Dr. King in 2011 for translation and verification of authenticity. 

Thus far, the scholars who have seen the papyrus believe it is unlikely to be a forgery.  King, however, is eager for more scholars to weigh in.

The revelation of the papyrus resulted in a fury of news coverage, with major media outlets across the world reporting on it.  Old controversies about the historical Jesus and early Christianity shortly followed suit.

You can read more about the papyrus here, in an article from the New York Times.

One of the great challenges of book collecting is that it is often seen as an old boys’ club. We published a short feature on ‘young collectors’ back in 2010, finding mainly that book collecting isn’t dying, but young collectors are setting new paths in collecting. Still, it’s no secret that many of those who attend book fairs have graying hair. I always thought that had more to do with disposable income than interest -- I was never a ‘super reader’ as a kid and my parents are not collectors, but I was very interested in books (the physical nature of them and collecting them) since at least my early teens. How do we harness interest among young people and keep the tradition of great collections going?

For the past few years, the ABAA has carried the torch by holding a National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Competitors from more than thirty colleges and universities enter the contest, and an awards ceremony is held for the winners at the Library of Congress every October. This year’s winners were announced recently. First Prize: Jordan Haug, University of California San Diego, “Mormon Fundamentalism & Polygamy”; Second Prize: Jessica Anne Kahan, University of Michigan, “Romance Novels in DJ, 1925-1935″; Third Prize: Andrew Ferguson, University of Virginia, “Bibliography & Puzzle of R.A. Lafferty”; Essay Prize: Kevin Baggot Roberts, Johns Hopkins University, “Cheap Thrills: Sex in American Publishing, 1924-1970.″ Congrats to those young collectors!

Now, the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS) has announced a second venue for young collectors. The group is offering a $1,000 award for an original essay by a writer aged thirty or younger on any aspect of book or manuscript collecting by private collectors or institutions in the U.S. from 1940 to the present. Good news for collectors not currently in college, or enrolled in a college that does not have a formal book-collecting contest of its own.

In order to be considered for the FABS contest, each essay should run 3,000-4,000 words and be based on original source materials and documented by appropriate Chicago Style endnotes and citations. Submissions should be sent to the FABS newsletter editor, Scott Vile, at before the deadline of May 1, 2013. The winning essay will be published in the FABS newsletter.

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a press release issued last Thursday, 13 September, Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that the state archives would close due to budget cuts. “After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.” As of yesterday, 7 of the 10 staff members were given notice that they would lose their jobs at that time.

The Friends of Georgia’s Archives and History are the best resource for updates but also the central HQ for activism & elegance on the subject. Their ‘ACTION ALERT’  for advocating on behalf of archival access makes a clear case against Kemp’s decision. Conveniently, ironically, we can organize the three main points of the Action Alert under Georgia’s State Motto:

  1. WISDOM: Access to records now avoids even more expensive legal fees later.  It upsets the due process of law, since easy access to the documents held in the archive are a basic component of land claims, boundary disputes, utility right-of-way, claims against state agencies. On top of that the Secretary of State himself has noted that even limited access to the archives will still cost millions a year to rent.
  2. JUSTICE: According to State Law (Georgia Records Act, Title 50 Chapter 18 Article 4 section 70(b), whew) it is a legal right for individuals to have access to public records. Restricting hours to appointment only is completely “contrary to the practice of government transparency”.
  3. MODERATION: The Secretary was required to decrease his annual spending by 3%. That 3% is the entirety of the Archives budget rather than a combination of cuts. There are many gruesome ways of visualizing this kind of economics: lopping off limbs rather than trimming the fat is one of them.

There has been an outcry from archivists and librarians from blog to shining blog, and the American Libraries Association has issued a press release condemning the closure:

“The Georgia Archives is a treasure trove of unique documents and official records. As one of the original 13 colonies, Georgia has a rich and colorful history. Events of historic importance continue to occur. The State of Georgia established the Archives to preserve the history of Georgia, and access to that resource is vitally important to the future of Georgia and its citizens.”

There is a large spectrum of scholars who suffer from such a drastic action: historians of the South from Professor James C. Cobb of the University of Georgia, to local genealogy researches, historical re-enactment societies, and families interested in their own history. And lest we forget, 21 September is the Civil War Sesquicetennial.

Archives are an important component of civic life, counting forward from the records of Colonial American days which enrich our understanding of the past, to the present need for easy access to legal documents, court rulings, marriage certificates, mortgages and deeds. Between the two, this archive is in constant use.

The outer limits of the need for access to are no less vital. Rachel Maddow recently reported, for instance, on Jeff Thigpen’s use of local archives in Greensboro, North Carolina to challenge potentially fraudulent signatures filed by banks and mortgage companies and used to take away homes from families during the housing crisis. Thigpen: “Public recording offices are part of our democracy in rule of law and the laws that govern them need to be respected”. These are exactly the same documents that closing the Georgia archives would place under lock and key. Each document has a role to play in local culture and local administration, and in the extreme case of Greensboro and many other counties across the United States, in preserving local dignity.

Georgia would be the first state to close its archives, but seen in a more threatening light, it would be the first state to set the precedent that it is okay to close the archives, to deny citizens access to historical and legal documents. For this reason a petition at to the Governor of the state has collected over 13,000 signatures so far, and you can add yours here. You can also contact the Governor by e-mail.

UPDATE (20 September 2012):

The Clayton News Daily has reported that Governor Deal announced Wednesday evening that the archives would remain open for now, without providing further details as to how. The news was a surprise to protestors who had confronted the Governor with a print-out of the 13,000 strong petition against closure, as well as the Secretary of State himself:

Making a promise to keep the archives open is different from actually fulfilling that promise, however. Kemp said the funding issue still has to be addressed. He added the governor did not tell him about his pledge before it was made. Kemp’s office oversees the archives operations.

“If he funds it to keep it open, that’d be great,” said Kemp.

The secretary explained Deal would have to “tell me we weren’t going to have to come up with a $733,000 cut” in order to fulfill the promise to keep the archives’ doors open.

Nothing has been guaranteed. Watch this space for more information.

Le tableau des riches inventions

The summer is gone and it’s been three months since the last update on eBay rare book prices. No incunables this time around but some solid early printing as well as crowd favorites and historically significant ephemeral Americana. I’ve changed around the methodology of reporting on eBay sales for this and future updates. I’m increasingly skeptical of high-value sales reported in the eBay “buy it now” category (i.e. at a set price with no bidding). Some of these end up re-listed suggesting that they weren’t actually sold to begin with - so from now on I’ll only be reporting on items sold through competitive bidding. This is by no means to impugn all no-bid sales but simply a matter of reliability and convenience for me. For those interested there were a number of interesting and pricey books sold in this format including a 1568 Vesalius and signed firsts of the hot books of the day - the Hunger Games Trilogy.


1.$8,600: The top slot this time around goes to the ever-collectible 1851 first American edition of Melville’s Moby Dick. The American first can command over $30,000 but this copy features significant foxing and some other condition issues. Nonetheless a highly sought-after book and sold after 11 bids on July 3rd by Capstone Collectibles of Boxborough, MA.

2.$8,100: Pittsburgh bookseller Lux & Umbra remains one of the most consistent sellers of high-value books on eBay. This quarter they made the list with a beautiful 1503 Parisian Book of Hours printed on vellum [USTC 26042]. Full of illustrations and with historiated borders throughout, this item drew a lot of attention, selling after 38 bids on July 14.

3. $6,999: Third on the list is an edition of the ever-popular Hypnerotomachia Polyphili. The earliest editions of the lavishly illustrated work can sell in the six-figures. The edition here is  Béroalde de Verville’s interpretation and reworking of the classic entitled Le tableau des riches inventions printed at Paris in 1600 (illustrated above). Copies of this edition have popped up in the trade a few times in the last decade including on eBay. A copy in not quite as fine condition made $3,450 at auction in 2005 while another brought 15,000 euros in 2007. This copy, offered by the Ottawa dealers Colin Borgal and Peter Jones sold after 30 bids on July 11.

4. $6,500.23: Salvador Dali’s lithographed edition of Alice and Wonderland appears again this quarter (copy #2106 appeared at no. 5 last time around and #1653 was sold by the same dealer in the buy it now format in August). Beacon Estate Services of San Diego offered this 1969 Alice (copy #488) which sold after 4 bids on August 13 (it had originally sold for more than $8,000 on Aug. 1st before the buyer defaulted).  

5. $6,101: Bibliopathos booksellers of Milan grabbed the top spot in last quarter’s listings with a 17th c. edition of Galileo. This quarter they made the list with Vincenzo Coronelli’s Epitome cosmografica, o compendiosa introduttione all’astronomia, geografia, & idrografia, (Cologne [Venice], 1693). Full of prints, maps, and astronomical charts this is an attractive book and in fact this exact copy was sold in March at Christie’s for £6,875. It’s an interesting strategy to turn around an auction purchase this quickly using eBay but it didn’t pay off in this instance despite heavy bidding, selling for just over $6,000 after 20 bids on July 1.

Though not formally listed in the Antiquarian Books category on eBay, a remarkable printed form completed in manuscript would have won the top spot. In June 1774 the Boston Committee of Correspondence circulated a printed subscription form to towns throughout the surrounding area in which residents would publicly pledge to boycott all goods and trade from Great Britain in order to protest Parliamentary taxes levied on the colony. Copies of these subscription forms, either completed or blank survive at the American Antiquarian Society, Boston Public Library, and Library of Congress. In June Armory Antiques of Rhode Island  offered on eBay a copy of one of these subscription forms (the 49-line version ESTC W4187) signed by the residents of Attleborough, Mass. and dated 13 July 1774 (correcting in Ms. the printed word “June”). This remarkable piece of Americana sold for $11,600 after 21 bids on June 24th.  For more on the subscription form and the politics surrounding it see William Hunting Howell, “Entering the Lists: The Politics of Ephemera in Eastern Massachusetts, 1774,” Early American Studies 9.1 (2011), 187-217. 


About a year ago, we reported on the discovery of a lost novel by James M. Cain, a master crime writer of the mid 20th century, whose works include Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Today, that novel, The Cocktail Waitress, will be published for the first time by Hard Case Crime, a noir imprint founded by Charles Ardai.  Charles recently answered some questions for us about the hunt for the lost Cain novel, the challenges of editing posthumous work, and the book’s standing in Cain’s impressive oeuvre:

Ardai-Shadow-low.jpgNP: When and where did you hear about the lost Cain novel?

CA: Back when I was first working on getting Hard Case Crime off the ground - this was about a decade ago -- I was talking with Max Allan Collins, and he said, “Did you know there is an unpublished James M. Cain novel?  You should try to track that down.”  Well, I hadn’t known - and tracking it down turned out to be much harder than anyone expected.

NP: How did you track it down?  Tell us about the hunt...

CA: It began with calls and emails to everyone I knew who might have an idea where the manuscript could be.  The agents for the Cain estate didn’t have a copy, no collector I contacted did, no academics. So I widened the search.  Other agents. Other authors. Fans. But they were all dead ends.  Then I found myself talking about the search with my Hollywood agent, Joel Gotler, and he said that he’d inherited the files of an old-time agent named H.N. Swanson, who had been Cain’s agent back in the day.  I asked him to check Swanson’s files to see if there was any reference to THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS in them - and there not only was a reference, there was a copy of the manuscript! 

But that turned out not to be the end of the search. Cain’s papers are kept at the Library of Congress, and in among a batch of unrelated material I turned up several more drafts - some typed, some handwritten and almost indecipherable.  In the end, I had more COCKTAIL WAITRESS than I knew what to do with!  So the challenge became how to turn the multiple drafts into a single novel.

James_M._Cain.jpgNP: Tell us about that.  How did you decide which parts to include from the different manuscripts?

CA: Well, some of the choices were clear.  Cain wrote his first draft in the third person, but all subsequent drafts were in his customary first person, and he’d said in interviews that he preferred the first person for the book -- so clearly we had to go with first person.  But other choices were less obvious, ranging from what name to give each character (Cain sometimes went back and forth four or five times) to how the book should end (he wrote several endings and told his editor he was still working on it).  In the end, I approached it the same way I would with any living author.  My job as editor is to take what the author hands me and turn it into the best book it can be.  It’s easier when the author’s there to answer questions and make choices - but it’s not as though I’ve never worked on posthumous books before.  In fact, I seem to have made something of a specialty of it, having published posthumous work by Donald Westlake, Mickey Spillane, David Dodge, Roger Zelazny, and Lester Dent.  You do your best to be true to the book the author wrote, while giving readers the most satisfying possible read.

cocktail waitress.jpgNP: Who did the gorgeous cover art for your edition?

CA: Michael Koelsch, who previously painted our covers for SAY IT WITH BULLETS by Richard Powell, SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY by Donald Westlake, and BLOOD ON THE MINK by Robert Silverberg.  All terrific covers, and his painting for THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS is probably my favorite of the four.

NP: Where do you rank “The Cocktail Waitress” in the Cain oeuvre?  And what’s your personal opinion of it -- did you like it?  Love it?

CA: It’s great - as a long-time Cain fan, I still get goosebumps at hearing the master’s voice one last time.  There are lines in the book, and plot twists, that only Cain could have come up with.  Will it knock THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE off its pedestal as one of the very best noir novels ever written?  Of course not, just as other great Cain novels didn’t - not SERENADE, not JEALOUS WOMAN, not PAST ALL DISHONOR.  But I think THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS holds its own very well with those.  If you can only read one Cain book in your life, read POSTMAN - but why in the world should you only read one Cain book?  Read a batch - they’re short, and oh so good.
Many thanks to Charles for this interview.  Check out the Hard Case Crime website to learn more about the imprint and to explore its delightful catalogue of publications.

Screen shot 2012-09-16 at 9.49.11 PM.pngComing to auction this week is a small notebook kept by Thomas Edison, in which he penciled his lab notes regarding experiments he was conducting to find an alternative source for rubber. Edison had been asked by auto & tire tycoons, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, to figure out if rubber could be produced from anything other than a rubber tree, which did not grow in the U.S. and was becoming expensive to import. Edison duly tested thousands of plants, finding at least one possible substitute in Goldenrod weed. But the great scientist and inventor died in 1931 while still at work on the problem. This notebook, containing 117 pages in Edison’s hand, records his rubber experiments between Oct. 24, 1927 and Jan. 9, 1928. It is expected to bring $15,000-25,000 at an auction in Philadelphia on Thursday. Most of Edison’s lab notebooks are held by the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, New Jersey.

Catalogue Review: Extant Americana, #1

Screen shot 2012-09-13 at 2.13.24 PM.pngIf this is catalogue #1 from the New York City-based Extant Americana, our eyeglasses might be knocked off by forthcoming catalogues. There is so much visual punch on these pages, beginning with the cover illustration of a signed gelatin silver print of Fort Peck Dam by Margaret Bourke-White ($15,000).

How about a piece of watercolor folk-art depicting a black Union soldier holding some playing cards ($1,250). From the same period, a set of “extremely rare” hand-colored prints by Currier and Ives bound into a salesman’s sample book, c. 1863 ($10,000). The prints are Civil War scenes, such as the bombardment of Fort Sumter and combat between the Monitor and the Merrimac. They show some foxing, but the colors are amazing.

The red-tinted tintype of a fireman and his dog is a fascinating piece ($2,250), as is (for all the wrong reasons) a real-photo postcard of the public lynching of John Heath in 1885 ($2,250). The rare German Army recruiting poster titled “Und Du?” by Ludwig Hohlwein is another striking image ($6,000).

Bright Buffalo Bill posters and circus posters, advertising broadsides, Civil War medical photos, and election ephemera are also offered throughout, not to mention important letters, presidential autographs, and cool things like an 1872 Skull & Bones Society gold lapel pin (in a group with a yearbook and additional cartes de visit; $2,750).

Nearing the end of this jam-packed catalogue, you’ll find an original ink drawing by New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg that has never before been offered ($30,000) as well as a “women’s rights” toy figurine depicting a crude caricature version of Sojourner Truth that is quite incredible to see ($10,000).

But’s there more, so much more! You can download the full catalogue here:

Our occasional series profiling bibliomystery authors continues today with Marianne MacDonald, author of the Dido Hoare series.  MacDonald’s books feature Dido Hoare, an antiquarian bookseller and amateur sleuth operating in London.  The first entry in the series, Death’s Autograph, was published in 1996.  The most recent entry, Faking It, was published in 2006.

mariannesmall.jpgNP: Could you tell us a bit about the Dido Hoare series?  (For example, what inspired it? What’s the next entry in the series?)

MM: My then husband ran an antiquarian book business in which I was a partner. It seemed to me that there was a lot of promise in that; I wanted to write an amateur series, and the book business allowed me (or Dido, to be precise) to make use of the fact that antiquarian books are a useful area for investigation. Some  can be very obscure and very valuable, and of course with strangers wandering into a shop almost anything could happen.  I had published quite a few children’s books before this, but I’d always enjoyed reading mysteries, so I thought I would go there next. And when I finished the first one, I found I’d enjoyed the writing; and my agent sold it quickly to Hodder, who wanted some more.

NP: What sort of research do you conduct for the Dido Hoare series?

MM: Well, obviously I need to research the books. That’s not difficult. I have been known to turn up in bookshops to look around and ask the proprietors a lot of odd questions about the trade. For some reason, I often had the feeling that I made them a bit nervous....  But my husband, and various friends who were also in the business, could always provide information and suggestions. And I like Dido and her father. I’ve really enjoyed writing the series.

deaths.jpgNP: What do you think makes bibliomysteries so appealing to readers?

MM: That’s easy: they are readers and so to some extent are interested in the books anyway, and prepared for the problems that come up.

NP: What do you enjoy about writing them?

MM: I simply love writing. I wrote my first published children’s book, heavily influenced by Arthur Ransome, when I was still at high school in Montreal, and at university (McGill) there were two English lecturers, the poet Louis Dudek, and Edith M. Scott, who believed in what I was doing and encouraged me to try new things.

NP: Are you personally a book collector? (And if so, what do you collect?)

MM: Er...  Well, if you could see the inside of my flat, you wouldn’t need to ask. Most of my walls are covered with bookshelves stretching from floor to ceiling and many of them have more than a single row of books. I like to tell myself that they are excellent insulation. I do try not to buy too many new books, if only because I’ve reached the point where the top of the clavichord is covered with piles of books a foot or two high. I do own a few books which could be described as collectibles, but frankly I buy books to re-read because I love them.  A first edition of The Lord of the Rings would be the most valuable thing of all, except that I read it seventeen times when it came out, and that valuable first edition of Volume 3 is barely holding together.

You can find out more about Marianne on her website.  Her books can be found in the usual spots.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that readers love lists. Collectors do, too. The Library of Congress made a splash this summer with its Books That Shaped America list and exhibit. The exhibit, which is on through the end of the month, is designed to kick off a discussion about books leading up to the LC’s annual National Book Festival on Sept. 22-23. As some of you know, the Grolier Club is also busy compiling One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature, due to premiere in December, 2014. Is there any overlap between the LC & the Grolier exhibits? Last spring we spoke to curator Chris Loker about the Grolier Club list. We’re following up on that conversation with some questions about both exhibitions.

RRB: Since we last talked in May of this year how has the Grolier Club exhibition progressed?

CL: The Grolier exhibition One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature has been making great strides in the past few months. When you and I talked last, I mentioned that we had completed the selection earlier this year of the “one hundred famous children’s books” that will be displayed in the exhibition in 2014. I’m happy to report that this month we have completed the next step in our project, which is the complex job of arranging to borrow these one hundred famous children’s books from nearly twenty institutions and private collectors in the US. We’re pleased that this has been accomplished successfully.

In the course of completing this borrowing process, my advisory committee and I learned of the outstanding exhibition of books that currently is on show at the Library of Congress. Titled Books that Shaped America, this exhibition presents 88 books written by Americans from 1751 to 2002 that have had a strong influence on our lives in this country. Of the 88 books in the LC exhibition, 11 are children’s books. And I’m delighted to say that all 11 of the children’s books selected by the LC for their exhibition also have been selected independently by our committee for the “Grolier 100” children’s exhibition. I take great encouragement from this strongly shared vision.

RRB: What do you think is the greatest similarity between the two exhibitions?

CL: Both the LC and the Grolier exhibitions have in common the goal of presenting viewers with books that cover a large span of time ~ the LC exhibition covers approximately 250 years of history; the Grolier exhibition covers roughly 350 years. Both exhibitions take the brave step of displaying books from centuries gone by that, while not well known today, were exceptionally well known in their time, and have left remarkable contrails as they have entered and influenced literary culture.

Curious-small.jpgFor example, the earliest children’s book in the LC exhibition is a wonderful book titled A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible ~ and yes, that “k” at the end of “Hieroglyphick” is correct. This innovative book (shown at left), shown in the American edition of 1788 published by Isaiah Thomas, represented an effective and entertaining way to teach children biblical passages. It accomplished this by utilizing the “hieroglphick” tradition of replacing some words in each sentence with simple pictures. The result was an enjoyable way for children to receive and retain important information. This tradition continues today in the form of the “rebus” book for children.

While I don’t generally talk about the books we’ve selected for the Grolier children’s exhibition, I’ll bend my own rule here just a bit to provide your readers with a taste of what they can expect from this landmark show. The earliest book in the Grolier exhibition is called Orbis Sensualium Pictus (often referred to simply as Orbis Pictus), which translates roughly as Visible World in Pictures. Written by Johann Comenius in 1658, this innovative work was an one of the earliest illustrated textbooks for young students, and functioned much like a bilingual (Latin and German) encyclopedia to instruct students in Latin, as well as to inform them of basic scientific and social components of the physical world.

Both of these fascinating books were exceptionally influential in their time, and remained in print for several hundred years.

RRB: What is the biggest difference in the two shows?
CL: The LC exhibition bases the selection of its 88 books on the concept of “influence,” which is another term that might be used for books that “shape” a culture. In contrast, the Grolier exhibition bases the selection of its 100 books on the concept of “fame.” Each of these words requires a detailed description that might best be illustrated by looking at specific books.

Huck-small.jpgThe LC exhibition has focused on books whose exceptional “influence” has “shaped Americans’ views of their world and the world’s views of America.” Perhaps one of the best examples of this is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain in 1884 (shown at left). This iconic tale of Huck and Jim’s trip down the Mississippi River is a work of the highest caliber in American literature, and so has left its mark as an exceptionally influential work. It also is a book that depicts encounters with racism, violence, and other evils of American society, and at times utilizes profanity and racial slurs. And this is another way in which the book has had an important cultural influence ~ it has engendered controversy which has set it firmly in the minds of the American public since its publication. In either regard, this book has had exceptional impact on American literature, and has shaped the work of important writers such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and many others over multiple generations.

In contrast, the Grolier exhibition will focus on books of great “fame.” We have defined this term to refer to books of both great popularity and of literary merit. One of the best examples of this, and not a surprise to anyone interested to guess at books on the list, is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll [C. L. Dodgson] and illustrated by John Tenniel. Alice is one of the most famous books in the history of children’s literature, and perhaps in literature in general. It was an immediate publishing sensation whose popularity has not waned in the nearly 150 years since its publication, during which time the book has never been out of print. It has sold millions of copies in hundreds of editions in over one hundred languages to adoring children and adults alike. But beyond its popularity, Alice has strong literary merit. It offers exceptional intellectual play with logic and mathematics, and is considered one of the finest examples of both the literary nonsense genre and the fantasy genre. Few books have ever achieved this level of fame in the world of children’s literature.

RRB: What can you share about the list of books that the Grolier Club exhibition will display?

CL: Oh Rebecca, you’ve already gotten me to mention several books that will be part of the Grolier children’s exhibition. I’m working hard to insure that when this exhibition opens it will offer viewers great intellectual interest, much joy of heart, and SURPRISE. If I say any more about books on the list, that sense of surprise will be diminished. What I will say is that, like the LC exhibition, the Grolier Club’s One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature is likely to engender great discussion, and possibly controversy, about which books “made the list” as well as which books did not. And rather than looking at this as cause for concern, I welcome it as a great opportunity for compelling conversation, and for lauding the great depth and breath of literature for children.

The Grolier Club exhibition 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.
Can a bookshop exist without books?

A new “bookshop” in Japan attempts just that.  “Ika Bunko” specializes in bookish events, information, and products.  It recently took part in a book fair.  It has a store manager and two employees.  All it’s missing are the books themselves.

Confused yet?

The store’s “manager”, Yuki Kasukawa, explained in an interview with The Ashia Shimbun, that Ika Bunko is like an “air bookshop.” It exists without being seen.

Kasukawa and two friends decided they wanted to open a bookshop, but they did not have the money to actually, you know, open a bookshop.  Over drinks one night they came up with a better idea: why not open a virtual bookshop instead?  The start-up cost: zero.

And so Ika Bunko, which translates to “Squid Books,” began operation.  They distribute a free weekly bookish newsletter and sell shirts and tote bags with the store’s logo printed on them.  The even set up a promotional display recently at Books Ruhe, an real, live, breathing bookshop in Tokyo.

Perhaps one day Ika Bunko will graduate to actually selling books.  But in the meantime, they are content with their ephemeral existence.  Daisuke Nakajima, one of the store’s part-time “employees,” said in the same interview, “We would be happier if we can keep on going, wandering aimlessly, like squids floating in the water.”

Is this afterlife the future of books?  Can a bookshop exist on a purely spiritual plane?

If so, there are a few historical bookshops I’d like to see re-opened.

Later this month the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers will meet in Zurich, Switzerland, for the 24th ILAB Book Fair.

The 33-page press release issued by ILAB presents a selection of highlights in books, manuscripts, autographs, prints, posters, and photographs from 64 dealers from all over the world. Seen here are but a few fine examples.

Nuremberg.jpgDaniel Crouch Rare Books will show this full color first edition Nuremberg Chronicle (Koberger, June 1493) formerly owned by Christoph Sigmund von Kirschberg, Baron of Lower Austria. The exquisite book is bound in seventeenth-century blind-tooled pigskin over bevelled oak boards. (475.000 CHF $500,000 USD)

simsreed.jpgSims Reed Rare Books will offer this stunning Georges Crette binding of Balzac’s Le Chef-d’Oeuvre Inconnu illustrated with thirteen etched plates by Picasso. It is one of 65 copies. (87.750 CHF $92,000 USD)

Antiquariaat Junk.jpgDutch Natural history specialists Antiquariaat Junk has this very fine copy of Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte, “one of the scarcest colour-plate books on American ornithology.” Formerly in the library of Frederick Ducane Godman. (144.000 CHF $152,000 USD)

During the fair, the Zurich Central Library will exhibit Treasures from five centuries of printing in Zurich, and the Gutenberg Guild will demonstrate early printing techniques. The fair runs from Sept. 27-30, following the ILAB Congress on Sept. 22-26. For more information, or to download a book fair catalogue, go to:
CompleteEngraver_cover.1.jpgOut this week is a wonderful surprise of a book called The Complete Engraver: Monograms, Crests, Ciphers, Seals, and The Etiquette of Social Stationery, written by Nancy Sharon Collins (Princeton Architectural Press; $29.95). At first glance, it might strike some as something nostalgic or sugary--for the type who keeps a faux quill on her desk. Not so. The Canadian designer Marian Bantjes, comes close to the book’s intended readership when she blurbed, “For those who love everything fine.” People who enjoy fine paper, fine design, fine printing -- the craft and the result -- can take away something from this book.

What I particularly liked is that is a terrific introduction to the terminology and processes that can seem complicated to those who were raised in a primarily digital design environment. Know the difference between a personal monogram and a cipher? Or, what the size of a calling card signifies? Or, how to tell the difference between wood engraving and steel engraving? You will. Collins’ book is abundantly illustrated and her timeline of engraving, from Gutenberg (who dabbled in copperplate engraving) to today’s specialty engravers is clear and useful.

The Complete Engraver is both a history and a how-to. This is one for the home library reference shelf.

To read an interview with the author over on the Crane & Co. blog, go here.

Fables-Aesop-Detmold.jpgEvery year Canada hosts an annual book collecting contest for anyone under 30.  Last year, the winner was Justin Hanisch, whose fish collection we profiled in a blog post.  This year’s winner was Samuel Jang, an avid collector of Aesop’s Fables.

To enter into the contest, participants are asked to submit a 1,500 to 2,000 word essay on their collection.  Jang’s intelligent and well-written essay is posted in its entirety on Abebooks, who sponsors the contest.  If you have a few minutes, take the time to read his essay - it’s well worth it and will encourage any optimism you have about the future of the book trade.

Jang began collecting Aesop’s Fables at the age of eight, after a fortuitous Christmas gift from his parents of Russell Ash and Bernard Higton’s illustrated edition.  A book collector was born that day: “The book’s physical aspects enamoured me: The profuse illustration of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse outlined in a blue border on the bright dust jacket, the smoothness of the thick pages as my tiny fingers opened the book and the spine made a cracking sound for the first time, and the irresistible “new book smell” of paper, ink and glue.”

Jang, now in his late 20s, initially collected any children’s book in English with Aesop in the title before graduating to older editions.  Jang also expanded his scope to include writers who popularized fables, such as La Fontaine and John Gay.  “Although I am a more knowledgeable collector today than I was at the age of eight, I still retain many of the same characteristics. I love Aesop’s Fables just as much, if not more, because they are great stories that continue to stimulate my imagination and make me more aware of myself.”  Jang continued, “My collection has value beyond its monetary worth; to me, it represents 18 years of personal growth as a collector, and the evolution of my long-held assumptions about what makes a “good book.”

Fables-Aesop-Heighway.jpgJang also discussed his role as a book collector, “I see my role as that of a preservationist. I refuse to collect e-books and none of my books are ever for sale. In an age wherein digital technology is transforming our lives through social media, the internet and e-readers, the digitization of the book world has rendered books an evanescence of electron flows, limitless and searchable in seconds. Yet, an e-book can never capture the physical embodiment of a book, its smell, look, feel, and flaws - its beauty.”

Read the entirety of Jang’s essay here, accompanied by photos of selected books form his collection.

In addition to Abebooks, the Canadian book collecting contest is sponsored by the CBC and the National Post, and administered by the W. A. Deacon Literary Foundation, the Bibliographic Society of Canada, and the Alcuin Society.

If you’re even an occasional birder, you’ve no doubt owned one of Roger Tory Peterson’s field guides. Coming to auction this weekend is a huge selection of Peterson’s original artwork from those groundbreaking guides, directly from the estate of Roger Tory Peterson and Virginia Marie Peterson. The sale offers a major opportunity for collectors of bird books/art, wildlife photography, field guides, flora, fauna, and nature writing. Here is a sample of the auction’s exciting lots:

49-small.jpgLot 49: Gouache, watercolor, pencil and ink on board with overlay, plate 18, Field Guide to Mexican Birds and Adjacent Central America, 1973. 15” x 11.”

155e-small.jpgLot 155e: 1934 Field Guide Prototype. A Field Guide to Eastern Birds, A Bird Book on a New Plan, Roger Tory Peterson. This is an important mock-up prototype for Peterson’s Field Guides. Including are two typed introductory pages of text indicating that this was to be published in the Spring of 1934. Full color mock-up cover. Approx. ten pages are printed, the remainder blank.

178-small.jpgLot 178: Galapagos Hawk. Latin: Buteo galapagoensis, Location: Galapagos Is. This is one of two hundred of Roger Tory Peterson’s stunning photographic prints, each being printed for the very first time, Estate stamped and numbered 1/1.

In addition to Peterson’s paintings and photography, the auction features Audubon prints, quite apropos to the subject matter. No bid estimates were published in the auction catalogue. Guernsey’s will hold the auction this Saturday, Sept. 8, at The Arader Galleries in New York City.

13 September seems to be the big day for sales this month:

- Christie’s New York sells Asian Art Reference Books, from the library of C.T. Loo and others, in 129 lots.

- PBA Galleries offers Rare Books & Manuscripts: The Property of Jane Hohfield Galante and others, in 138 lots. The highlight is expected to be a copy of the Second Folio, estimated at $200,000-300,000. William Bradford’s The Arctic Regions (1873), containing 141 albumen photographs by John Dunmore and George Critcherson, could fetch $140,000-180.000. An untrimmed copy of the first edition of Smith’s Wealth of Nations rates estimates of $100,000-150,000, as does a German copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Most interesting for me, though, is Darwin’s copy of Bewick’s British Birds, which is estimated at $60,000-90,000.

- There will be a Bibliophile Sale at Bloomsbury, in 422 lots.

Here’s what’s up for the rest of the month:

- There’s a huge sale of Children’s, Conjuring, Private Press and Modern First Editions at Bloomsbury on 20 September, in 801 lots.

Dominic Winter Auctions will sell Printed Books and Historical Documents, Important British Atlases & Maps on 19 September, and “A Gentleman’s Library” on 20 September.

- Bonhams Oxford sells Printed Books and Maps on 25 September, in 688 lots.

- No preview yet for the 27 September PBA sale of Americana, African-American History, Travel & Exploration, Cartography from the library from Jane Galante.

We recently ran a story on a new imaging technology that allows researchers to see beneath a writer’s blacked-out sections on a manuscript.  The technology, invented by Ian Christie-Miller, was put to use by the Victoria and Albert Museum to uncover textual changes in Dickens manuscripts.  After our story ran, Christie-Miller got in touch to let us know more about the technology and its potential.  What follows are excerpts from our e-mail conversation:

dickens manuscript-thumb-500x300-4128.jpgNP: When did you invent the imaging system and how does it work?

ICM: The first imaging system was needed about 15 years ago when I had to date a French Kabbalistic manuscript. There are three versions of this manuscript by the French Franciscan Jean Thenaud - the Paris one is on vellum and is dated 1521; the Geneva one is on paper and is dated 1536; the Nantes one is undated.

So I made a device at home, based on use of a 1 mm thick electroluminescent light sheet. My home-made device allowed images of watermarks to be captured safely. Later research, guided by John Simmons of Oxford, allowed me to date the Nantes copy to the first quarter of the seventeenth century. This proved that the Nantes one is the youngest. Success!

Later the UK government Department of Trade and Industry granted me a £10,000 SMART award to have my Advanced Paper Imaging System (APIS) made and marketed. In the UK, for instance, it has been used by Leeds University to image a copy of the Koran. In Spain it has been used with a manuscript of the Apocalypse.
Since then the system has been greatly simplified and developed. One development is the use of infrared.

The most simple is the earlyVIEWER which allows watermarks to be found and to be imaged safely with the use of a digital camera or even with a cell phone.

NP: What potential do you see in this technology?

ICM: There are two avenues of potential.

The first is use of the full system as the means of revealing hidden texts. The first success that I enjoyed with this was at the Sir John Soane’s Museum of London. They hold many drawings by the famous architect Robert Adam. Some of the drawings had been stuck into albums by the great man himself. This meant that pictures on the lower side could not be seen. Happily use of my backlighting system, when combined with front lit images, duly processed on a computer, soon revealed the previously hidden drawings

And the addition of infrared opens up further possibilities. IR, for instance, passes through some inks. This can be exploited. It means, for example, that when handwriting obscures printed ink the use of IR (with a suitable camera) just does not ‘see’ the handwriting.
The second is to empower individuals. earlyVIEWER is designed to take advanced imaging from behind the scenes and to make it available to any owner of a cell phone.

NP: Are you partnered with the Victoria and Albert museum in an official capacity?

ICM: The V&A have bought a number of my specialist imaging devices and they have also called me in on occasions for imaging work.

NP: Could you tell us a bit more about the Dickens project and how you got involved with it:

ICM: The V&A Conservation Department knew from our previous contacts that my imaging system might be able to reveal hidden texts in their holding of Dickens autograph manuscripts. Their hunch proved correct. Success has been reported in the press as far away as India, as can be seen here.

NP: Could you tell us a bit about your SMART grant and what that means for the future of your imaging system?

ICM: In itself the SMART award was a great encouragement. It was also essential for allowing a professionally made version of my concept to be marketed.

Since then digital cameras have become widely available and the latest developments take advantage of this. The current earlybook imaging system and the earlyVIEWER are simpler to use than the APIS. And cheaper.

NP: Any other interesting things to share about the system or the project’s future?

ICM: The future is bright but not without frustrations.

Backlighting, especially when combined with front lighting, opens up a totally new dimension for research and discovery. Archivists, librarians and researchers are increasingly aware of this.

Here is a small example. Without doubt the most influential printed book in English is the 1611 Authorized (King James) version of the Bible. Most of it, including such phrases as ‘the powers that be’, go back to William Tyndale’s New Testament. There is some doubt about the place of printing of that 1526 version. (There are only three known copies of it extant). Here is a (very much reduced in size for ease of transmission) image of a watermark from Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, no less.

tntCROSSE3cm.jpgThis Basle crozier supports the likelihood that the book was printed in Worms.

[Image taken by me, with earlyVIEWER, courtesy of Wuerttembergische Landesbibliothek].

Fuller information here

The frustration is that archivists and librarian do not have the imaging facilities to offer. Researchers do not ask for the images / facilities because they know that they are not available.

Thank you so much for giving me this chance to air the situation. It will help make sure that what is on offer becomes available ever more widely.

For further information about the imaging system, contact Ian Christie-Miller at


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