October 2012 Archives

MyBookstore.jpgIf you’re reading this blog, chances are you love bookstores. And whether or not your local is featured in the forthcoming book, My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop (Black Dog & Leventhal, November, $23.95), you’ll spend many pleasant hours reading about eighty of the best bookshops in the country. Dave Eggers on Green Apple Books in San Francisco; Timothy Egan on Elliott Bay in Seattle; Chuck Palahniuk on Powell’s Books in Portland, OR; Barry Moser on Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS; Howard Frank Mosher on Galaxy Bookshop in VT; and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on my personal favorite, Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, are but some of the highlights. (A full list of contributors and featured shops is here.)

Peter Geye’s charming essay about Micawber’s in St. Paul, Minnesota, pinpoints the beginning of his bibliomania to the purchase of a couple of Signet Classics in high school. “In the years between then and now, I’ve become a proper bibliophile ... There are many reasons I love books: for the worlds they show me, for the things they teach me, for the way they feel in my hand or in my satchel...” Francine Prose and Pete Hamill take turns reveling in the Strand’s 18 miles of books; Prose offers the intriguing tidbit that she often sells her used books and review copies to them.

With an introduction by Richard Russo and whimsical line illustrations by Leif Parsons, My Bookstore offers some perspective on contemporary bookselling, and it is as much about writing as it is about bookselling. A common theme in the essays is the support a young writer finds in a community bookstore -- these are the stores that zealously promote author events, hand-sell first novels, even slip manuscripts to publishing insiders. Without these stores, where do readers go? And also, where do writers go?  

This endearing collection of essays provides a literary roadmap of the last great bricks-and-mortar bookstores in America -- now go!
Our occasional series of Q&As with bibliomystery authors continues today with Lorna Barrett, author of the Booktown series from Berkley Prime Crime.  The series began in 2008 with Murder is Binding.  The most recent entry, from earlier this year, is Murder on the Half Shelf.  The seventh book is scheduled for release next year.

lorna.jpg NP: Could you tell us a bit about the Booktown series?
LB: The idea of a mystery bookstore in a town full of bookstores was the catalyst.  An American take-off on the village of Hay-On-Wye in Wales.  Of course, the independent booksellers I’ve spoken to want to know how my protagonist, Tricia Miles, gets her hands on so many first edition vintage mysteries.  They say they can’t do it.  (That’s why we call this fiction!)  I’m currently working on the seventh book in the series.  The sixth book, Murder On The Half Shelf, was published on July 3rd.

murderisbinding.jpgNP: What sort of research do you conduct for the Booktown series?

LB: Google and Wikipedia are my best friends.  I also have a data base of old mystery titles and their publication dates that I use when talking about the vintage mysteries Tricia reads and sells.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt to read a few of them myself now and then.

NP: What do you think makes bibliomysteries so appealing to readers?

LB: Readers seem to be fascinated with the inner workings of the industry -- be it bookselling, book repair, or libraries.  I grew up loving libraries and bookstores, where one could go and see loads of books for lending or sale on any subject you could imagine.  When you brought the books home, you could get lost in other worlds and lives. That appeal has never tarnished for me, either.

NP: Are you personally a book collector?

LB: I wouldn’t say I’m a collector; more a packrat when it comes to books.  I can’t bear to see a book mistreated, and it’s extremely difficult for me to part with a book once I’ve got it. Because I write three different mystery series, a lot of my recreational reading is devoted to nonfiction.  I have enough coffee table books to start my own library.  I love non-fiction, and am addicted to reading lifestyle, cookery, and decorating books.  Right now I’m reading a history of the Biltmore estate, and am amazed at how I might apply what I’ve learned to a story that’s percolating in the back of my mind.  Everything’s grist for the writing mill.

[Many thanks to Lorna for answering our questions.  Photo from the author’s profile on Goodreads.  The other entries thus far in this series are Marianne MacDonald and Carolyn Hart].

Later this week (after the flood waters recede), the International Fine Print Dealers Association Print Fair comes to New York City’s Park Avenue Armory. It is known as the largest international art fair that deals exclusively with printmaking, where prints in any medium, from the sixteenth century to the present, are on offer from ninety exhibitors. The IFPDA expects about 6,000 collectors and curators to attend, beginning on Wednesday with an opening night preview and running through Saturday. From Durer to Shephard Fairey, five hundred years of printmaking will be on view. Here are a few examples of what to look for:

MIXOGRAFIA_Valdez_WomanProfile.jpgManolo Valdés, Perfil I, 2003. Mixografía® print on handmade paper. Edition of 25, 44” x 31”, 111.76 X 78.74 cm. Courtesy of Mixografia®, Los Angeles, CA.

FRENCH_Bellows_Sawdust.jpgGeorge Wesley Bellows (1882-1925), The Sawdust Trail, First State. Lithograph, 1917. Edition: 65 (first and second states combined), 27 x 20 3/8” (68.70 x 51.70 cm). Image: 25-7/16 x 20-1/8.” Provenance: Dr. William A. Ellenberg. Signed by the artist’s daughter, Jean Bellows Booth (JBB). Annotated in pencil lower left: “No. 6.” Courtesy of Thomas French Fine Art, Fairlawn, OH.

PAULSONBOTT_GreenfieldSanders_WaderPink.jpgIsca Greenfield-Sanders, Wading II (Pink), 2012. Direct to plate photogravure and aquatint. Edition of 40, 31 1/2” x 30 1/2.” Courtesy of Paulson Bott Press, Berkeley, CA.

In addition to fine art galleries and fine presses, antiquarian booksellers Ars Libri, Sims Reed, and Ursus Books & Prints are also exhibiting.

Yesterday at Bloomsbury Auctions in London, a remarkable collection of modern firsts was sold. It was the collection of biographer and critic Clive Hirschhorn, who had been collecting for more than thirty years. The collection encompassed most of the landmark titles of twentieth-century American and English literature. It prompted Rupert Powell, Bloomsbury’s Deputy Chairman, to call it “one of the most important private collections of Modern First Editions to come onto the market in London in the last ten years.”

The Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh titles did well, but many other authors were snubbed, going unsold. Here are some highlights.

446675128.jpgOnly one of the Dashiell Hammett firsts found a new home: Red Harvest, first edition, in NF dust jacket. It sold for £18,000 ($29,000) exclusive of premium.

446675210-1.jpgA very scarce first edition in jacket of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts. In our spring issue, Larry McMurtry likened this to a holy grail! And it sold for £5,500 ($8,800) exclusive of premium.

446675194a.jpgNo jacket on this one, but this Dracula first does boast Graham Greene’s ink ownership inscription. It sold for £6,000 ($9,600) exclusive of premium.

44667572.jpgAnd the Great Gatsby in the rare dust jacket also sold at the low estimate of £50,000 ($80,500) exclusive of premium.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Jonathan Kearns of Adrian Harrington in London. Jonathan also runs the Bibliodeviancy blog.

me1.jpg NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JK: I ended up in London as a vagrant after a stint in Eastern Europe as The Worst English Teacher on The Planet™ and got an emergency job in a bar frequented by drunken book-dealers in London’s Chinatown. They decided I was overworked and underpaid as a barman and invited me to experience the same conditions in the book trade. I started out at Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road back when collectors used to queue round the block to get their hands on our latest stock and I was eagerly hanging on the coat-tails of some of the best, brightest and strangest in the British book trade. I knew nothing.

It was just before the internet really made an impact on books, much faster and more reckless than it is now, loads of deals done in pubs, half of what you bought might be sold before you got back to the shop in the van and people used to run down the aisles at book fairs as soon as they opened in search of treasure.
It was more Fear and Loathing road trip than Antiques Road Show. I fell in love with all of it and knew pretty quickly that it was something I could do, and probably the only thing I was ever going to do at all well.

I loved the adventure of crawling around in someone’s basement rooting through tea-chests and at the end of it being able to stand in front of them and say “Now this, this is exceptionally rare and wonderful. This is a beautiful thing.” To me it felt very much like I’d come home to a place I belonged. That sounds very cheesy I know, but I love the rare book trade and many of the people in it to distraction. It has given me opportunities I would never otherwise have had, and it has done so just because it could. It’s a generous business.

After Any Amount of Books I went on to work for other firms including the late, much lamented Nigel Williams who was a wonderful man to be employed by, and eventually turned up on the doorstep of Adrian Harrington Rare Books. In a fit of probably misguided optimism they employed me.

NP: What is your role at Adrian Harrington?

JK: I buy, sell and catalogue as many books as I can get my hands on, I assemble and create our print catalogues, deal with customers, answer telephones and email queries and try and keep the website content up to date. In addition I run the Bibliodeviancy blog and other social networking, attend domestic and international book-fairs and I occasionally impress people by knowing something useful; very occasionally.

That probably sounds like a lot, but like many small firms we’re more like a family than anything else, we all overlap and we all have our individual qualities and we all pick up the slack for each other. I have a personal specialty in weird and supernatural fiction, my colleague Jon Gilbert is probably the world’s leading authority on Ian Fleming and Blair Cowl is happiest when immersed in alchemical treatises, Aleister Crowley and assorted grimoires. Pierre Lombardini is our shop manager and front of house with a personal predilection for travel books and antiquarian decorative colour plate volumes. We all do a lot. 

NP: What is your favorite rare book (or etc) that you’ve handled?

JK: So many favourites. Working for Adrian means I get to handle a lot of stuff I’m personally enthusiastic about, as well as things that are drop dead gorgeous or historically significant. There have been rare Galileo items and hand coloured treatises on comets and literary milestones in perfect dust-wrappers and those things are all awe-inspiring and wonderful. I read William Hope Hodgson’s own annotated first edition of “The Boats of The Glen Carrig” on my lunch hour once; there was a previously unknown inscribed copy of Oscar Wilde’s “Duchess of Padua” I got to work on; I bought the first ever appearance of John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre.” and recently ended up with Vanessa Bell’s copy of Virginia Woolf’s “Two Stories”; the first Hogarth Press publication. I won’t forget any of those in a hurry.

In the first few months of being a book dealer I was sent to a tiny auction house in the middle of nowhere and, after I’d bid on the things I was instructed to, on a whim I put forty quid on a box of books I hadn’t even looked through. Hidden at the bottom it contained a signed and annotated volume of poetry that had somehow made its way from T.S. Eliot’s bookshelves to me. That’s one of my favourites because it was more magic and luck than anything else, it’s like the book chose me to go home with.

One day I’ll get my hands on my own Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, oh yes I will.

NP: What do you personally collect?

JK: I accumulate books on gypsies, pirates and highwaymen and everything written by Mervyn Peake. In addition I’ll grab anything on 15th century printers, early Gothic or John William Polidori. I also really like Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, histories of the Indian Mutiny, Angela Carter and various copies of Katherine Dunn’s “Geek Love”. So clearly I am to considered and intellectual book collecting what hyaenas are to picky eating.

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

JK: I’ll be in the book trade for the rest of my life in one way or another. As I’ve said before Adrian Harrington is a very family based business. When I get told not to darken its door again, or not to come home until I’ve learned some manners then we’ll see what happens.

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

JK: Shameless, brazen, lustful optimism. As a trade the rare book field had to change. The change hasn’t come as an accident of passing time, it has arrived because for the last decade or so certain levels of this business had turned into that joke about 3 antique dealers on a desert island with one chair and they’re all doing very well thank-you. Some of the best booksellers I’ve ever encountered are just starting out and already making their presence felt; B&B Rare Books, Simon Beattie, Brooke Palmieri of Sokol. (Interviewer’s note: Brooke is a regular contributor to this blog. All the names mentioned in this section have been profiled for this same series). They all have knowledge and commitment and boundless enthusiasm for their stock and customers. Ashley Wildes of BTC for example is actually made of pure enthusiasm...and possibly glitter.

As an example I just received Honey and Wax Books catalogue no.1 in the mail and it’s lovely. Really beautifully presented and full of commitment to both books and customers. It’s rare that it’s actually exciting to receive a book catalogue; but you have a business that has been up and running for just over a year and is managed from someone’s living room and it can produce something as nice as this? I think new dealers like these are the backbone of the modern rare book trade, they’re the people who will be attracting new collectors and enthusiasts and putting rare books back on the mainstream cultural map.

NP: Any upcoming fairs / catalogues for Adrian Harrington?

JK: Loads; the more the merrier. We’ve got Chelsea Antiquarian Book Fair on the 3rd-4th November, that’s a really old school, wood panelling and tweed kind of fair, one of our favourites. Then I’ll be in Boston later in the same month working hard. West Coast US fairs in February, followed by the always fabulous New York antiquarian fair in April. With any luck I’ll get to go to Seattle later in the year, it’s one of my favourite US fairs. I’m aiming for four catalogues next year, I usually end up with three because I have the organisational skills of a goldfish.

By definition, picture books offer superb examples of how image and text come together in an artistic way. Some picture book artists, like Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, and Garth Williams, transcend even that definition. A new exhibit and book show that Maud and Miska Petersham, a husband-and-wife team that wrote and illustrated more than one hundred books, belong with that select few.

Endpapers from Miki and Mary: Their Search for Treasures, written and illustrated by Maud and Miska Petersham (Viking, 1934).

Inspired by the North Light: Maud & Miska Petersham is now on exhibit at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum in Woodstock, NY, the town where the Petershams lived and worked from 1920 into the 1960s. Featuring numerous editions of their books, vintage photographs, and original art, the exhibit chronicles their contributions to children’s literature. In addition to winning a Caldecott Honor and a Caldecott Medal, the Petershams were recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Under-the-North-Light-300x300.jpgAn accompanying book, Under the North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham (Woodstock Arts, $39.50), by Lawrence Webster, offers colorful, whimsical images alongside painstaking research and even some personal reminiscences. Webster’s family was friendly with the Petershams, and she remains friends with the Petershams’ granddaughter. (Full disclosure: Lawrence Webster is a friend of mine too; we’ve worked on local library board issues together.)

Incidentally, the Petershams’ books are collectible but not distressingly expensive, ranging from $85 for The Story Book of Corn to $600 for The Rooster Crows, winner of the 1946 Caldecott Medal, at Aleph-Bet Books.

Catalogue Review: Honey & Wax No. 1

honeyandwax.jpgIn his 84th “Moral Letter”, the philosopher Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius one of the earliest, most in-depth descriptions of why we should use books as bees use flowers:

We should imitate the bees, as they say, which wander and pluck suitable flowers to make honey, then carry whatever, they arrange and distribute through the honeycomb...[W]e should imitate these bees and also separate whatever we have collected from different readings (for things that are separated are preserved better), then to combine with the care and ability of our mind having been applied these various offerings into one flavor, so that even now if it is apparent from where it was acquired, yet it is apparent that it is something other than from where it came.

For Seneca it was all a question of putting good reading to good use, literally extracting nourishing ideas from books that he read and copying them into a notebook. He recognized that we are a sum of parts, and attempted to read books in a way that would formally recognize the influential hodge-podge, the “many plots in one.” He wanted to read viscerally, he wanted to feel like he was taking something of the book with him, digesting it. Invoking the labors of the bee was one simple, elegant shorthand for invoking the complex art of remembering.

Nearly 2,000 years later, it’s wonderful to see Heather O’Donnell continuing the tradition and invoking the bee in bold from cover to cover of Honey & Wax Bookseller’s Catalogue Number 1. The selection of 80 “books with a social life and a secret past” are books that have already been used by bees. Highlights include a copy of Marianne Moore’s Tell Me, Tell Me with an off-the-cuff poem inscribed by the author to a friend and Frank O’Hara’s copy of Locus Solus I. Social life can span decades as with Graham Greene’s marked up copy of the letters of George Elliot. Speaking of nourishing the mind: there are guaranteed recipes for sweet honey across the centuries: Shakespeare, Milton, Johnson. Finally, a personal favorite showcases famous bibliophiles: Katherine Burton and Louise S.G. Perry’s Bibliolatrous Series of 8 short biographies on book lovers from de Bury to Folger.

Catalogue Honey & Wax No. 1 is a wonderful contribution to the latter-day history of bee-like reading for two reasons: the scholarship behind the books for sale, and the self-awareness of the whole thing. O’Donnell writes that nowadays, books offer us a choice, the choice “to give each other something lasting, rather than simply clicking ‘share’.” The catalogue descriptions tell us how to use books, as gifts, as notepads, as relics. We may not know what a social history of Twitter will look like, but for those who make the choice to commit to “books with no downloadable equivalent” there is a more certain future. We know what these books look and feel like. The future’s a beautiful thing.
From his outpost in Michigan, Garrett Scott continues a unique tradition of Midwestern bookselling which is characterized by a sympathy for the marginal players in American social history, a well-honed sense of “intresting-ness” in books, and an ability to write fascinating catalogue copy.  The particular tradition to which Scott is heir began with Ernie Wessen and his Midland Rare Book Company, continued with Bob Hayman, and lives on in the present era with Scott. We recently exchanged e-mails with Scott in a wide-ranging conversation about bookselling and collecting, his place within the Midwestern bookselling tradition, and the attraction of these forgotten corners of Americana. What follows is a full, unedited transcript of our e-mail Q&A:

Garrett Scott Bookseller.jpgNP: How did you get started in rare books?

GS: Taking the long view, the basic itch to accumulate interesting things began pretty early on when I was growing up in Normal, Illinois (a downstate college town of moderate size) in the mid-to-late 1970s. I always had an active collection of baseball cards or football cards going and what I remember best about those collections were the playground trading sessions where we’d try to hammer out whether an All-Star card really merited three non-All Stars, etc. I remember one particularly rowdy sleepover party where I wanted to go to bed but I had one friend who just wouldn’t settle down and I finally told him I would give him the Harvey Martin card he had coveted earlier in the evening if he would just shut up and let me go to sleep. So I guess I had a pretty early interest in these sorts of markets and their various frustrations and satisfactions (even if I had a pretty dim grip on the basic purpose of sleepovers, which it turns out weren’t really about sleeping).
But I was never the kind of kid who put together a complete set of cards for any given year. I preferred the short-term pleasures of the wheeling and dealing. I also preferred the pleasures of taking my cards home and putting them to some sort of use. Often I would gather together enough cards to run the football players through scrimmages based on the figures and charts I found in our old World Book Encyclopedia; I was probably one of the few fourth graders running the single wing formation at that point. But besides the pleasures of putting my football cards through their paces, I just enjoyed arranging them and rearranging them on my bedroom floor in arbitrary but what I thought were interesting ways. One iteration I remember offhand was my all-hair football team--viz. Thom Darden ca. 1975 was a starting linebacker, Otis Sistrunk (despite his claims to have matriculated on Mars) permanently relegated to the bench--and looking back on it now I guess this suggests the ways a bookseller tries to create unexpected groupings and yokings in his inventory to create or to find otherwise hidden veins of interest.

I also put together a collection of beer cans as a kid and I was proud of that collection because neither of my parents drank beer. They would on occasion let me prowl the off-campus housing areas near the local college on Sunday mornings after house parties in search of rarities. They also very gamely would pester their few beer-drinking friends and extended family members to come up with examples for my collection. One weekend we somehow managed to secure a coveted Iron City Beer can commemorating a Steelers Super Bowl victory and we persuaded my Uncle Bill drink it. I seem to recall he said it tasted like piss. (This was shock to my young sensibilities, Uncle Bill being usually a paragon.) But perhaps my greatest coup was a batch of Swedish beer cans I persuaded some family friends to bring back from a trip and which apparently caused them some problems at customs coming through O’Hare but really were the visual cornerstone of my collection. I sold the whole lot for a few hundred bucks once I lost interest in it after junior high school.

Some latent bookish bug was lurking there all along of course. I read everything I could get my hands on--stories of crime-solving kids, or World Almanacs, or books about sports--and one of my first book scouting coups came when I was about eight or nine, when I landed an old copy of a Hardy Boys book in yellow cloth that had somehow survived from the antediluvian days of the 1930s. I understand now of course that the volume didn’t have much resale value but it put me onto the idea that old books might survive and somehow provide an extra-textual thrill.
The last formative experience I can readily point to was some Sunday night in junior high school when I had a report due the next day on the Black Hawk War and I had characteristically left it to the last minute. The family World Book didn’t have much for me and we were supposed to have used more than one source in any event, this being a scholarly paper, and the local public library had long since closed for the night. My dad took pity on me and drove me over to Milner Library on the campus of Illinois State University. He took me in and we went to the card catalog and I found there was something like an entire shelf full of stuff on the Black Hawk War! After Dad instructed me the basics of the Library of Congress call number system we set out into the wild of the stacks and I came out of there with something like 20 or 30 sheets of photocopied pages of prime Black Hawk info. The particular intersection of my joy at finding this plenitude of information easily available to the curious with the emotional satisfactions of doing something so grown-up as research in a college library with my dad no doubt added another link to the chain of associations that sent me down a bibliophilic path.

But my career in rare books proper started with a fortunate work-study job in the summer of 1990 just prior to my senior year at Stanford University. I was trying to piece together enough work to afford to stay out in California for the summer and was sitting in the modular trailer office where they had the binders of library jobs and there was a posting for a position in something called “Special Collections.” I had only the dimmest idea what the Special Collections was about but they offered good hours so I applied and got hired.

They immediately put me to work paging material from the stacks and processing archival collections and otherwise doing all the small things that are needed to keep a special collections department humming along. One day I would be plowing through the correspondence of some Nobel Prize winner like Felix Bloch and the next I might come up from the stacks with some book from Coleridge’s library and get a chance to read his marginalia. The folks in Special Collection figured out pretty quick that I was taken with this sort of stuff--the books especially--and provided me with bibliographic education (collation signatures! half calf!) and with encouragement. (They encouraged me up to a point, anyway, as they essentially had to start kicking me out because there were limits to the hours they could let students work.)

Eventually I was in charge of unpacking the boxes of new arrivals and checking them off against the dealer catalogs, which obviously exposed me to a lot of material I wouldn’t have otherwise handled at such a tender age. I seem to recall that the day Stanford’s order came in from Ximenes Fielding catalog was a treat and I spent a good chunk of time even without unpacking the order just going through Steve Weissman’s entries and delighting in examples of bibliographical research. It was one of the first examples I had of how much deeper you could go with an author or a period than an undergraduate usually saw in our literature survey courses; this catalogue hinted that there was a lot I didn’t know out there that would be fun to dig into.

One final and strangely enjoyable aspect of this job that I particularly recall was the cloak-and-dagger aspect of orchestrating how to make the new arrivals appear as if by magic in the office of Michael T. Ryan, then head of Stanford’s Special Collections. Apparently the sight of a student employee was unduly distracting--at this point I might be sporting a neatly trimmed sideways mohawk (my “hawkmo”) or some other variety of self-inflicted haircut and I tended to dress in stuff picked up at thrift shop bag sales, so perhaps I was unduly distracting--so I was charged with putting together a book truck full of new arrivals and then awaiting a phone call from upstairs to alert me that Michael T. Ryan had left his office and the coast was clear. At that point I would dart out of my back room with this book truck full of post-incunabula or Fluxus pamphlets or 18th century novels or some other nifty material and zip through various back hallways and elevators until I had arrived at a trot at his office and could lay out the new stock on his approval shelf and spirit away the material he had seen. I doubt at this point over twenty years later that he would be able to pick me out of a line-up--which presumably hasn’t done my sales to him any favors over the years--but such I suppose is the price of being a conscientious employee.

I had never been a particularly zealous student and this library job didn’t help my attendance at classes any. By the time the end of senior year rolled around I was a few credits short of graduation but was about to get kicked out of the work-study program. I decided that I needed to get a job working with rare books. So quite reasonably I went to the Yellow Pages made some notes and ended up sending my resume to all the booksellers in the San Francisco Bay Area Yellow Pages to ask them for work. This was pretty naive of course and I got turned down with varying degrees of kindness by nearly everyone in the field but, happily for me, John Crichton of the Brick Row Book Shop in San Francisco was about to need somebody to replace his longtime shop manager Matt Lowman and decided I was worth a shot. I spent the first year leaving the duplex I shared with a couple of college buddies in Sunnyvale, California at 5:30 AM and taking the train into the City and learning the basics from John and Matt. (Eventually I moved up to the City and had an easier time of it.) I remember after I had been there a couple of years I told John that I was starting to get the hang of it all but still couldn’t figure out how you priced a book. I think John may have said there were some days he couldn’t figure it out either.

In all I spent seven years working for John as a cataloguer and packer and all-purpose employee. He taught me anything I know worth knowing about how to run an antiquarian book business. (All my bad habits--e.g. my near-phobic relationship with the phone--are my own.) One example he gave me in starting out was a willingness to buy and sell not only high spots but also the lesser-known works of famous authors as well as the peripheral works of a period. To work for a man who could get excited over (say) the first book appearance of George Pope Morris’s “The Oak” (“Woodman, spare that tree!”-- The Deserted Bride; and Other Poems, 1838) was a pattern to my future enthusiasms.

In 1998 my fiancée (now wife) was hired to work at the University of Michigan and I threw up the steady gig with the Brick Row and moved to Ann Arbor. I sent out the germ of my stock and after some fits and starts was soon operating out of the basement of our rented duplex as Garrett Scott, Bookseller. I issued my first catalogue in early 1999. I was pretty psyched when The Book Collector gave it a notice in their Catalogue Review section and mentioned (charitably enough in all conscience) something to the effect that it was perhaps the most extensive run of 18th century Henry Hills verse piracies they had even seen gathered between the covers of a single catalogue.

NP: How would you describe your stock?  How would you respond to the idea that you sell “weird books”?

GS: I bristle a bit at the characterization of weird. I prefer to think I’m trying to offer interesting material. I think I do fairly well trying to find odd corners of 19th century and early 20th century American life that are worth closer examination. American popular entertainments, popular medicine, social reform movements, mail order and canvassing schemes, literature of various stripes, and fringe religious movements are all grist for my mill. (Whether you consider examples of this last topic weird or not depends in part on your attitudes towards religious experience--certainly pamphlet accounts of the spirit-world visions of cave dwelling snake ranchers like James Ernest Child’s ca. 1917 Visits in the Unseen World have a certain piquant charm--but you can’t deny that the central role of religious experience in American life.)

Part of the reason I’m drawn to out of the way topics--besides intrinsic interest--is likely because even way back when I first started on my own in 1998 and the Internet wasn’t much more than tin cans and string, you could still see that online listing was going to drive prices down. I decided that if I tried to buy material that nobody else could be bothered to catalog then maybe I could price it however I wanted. This meant I ended up often going after books with regional imprints, or after material that was unique but undervalued in some way, or after 19th century pamphlets that were ephemeral at best. As a consequence, this strategy often led me to handle books and pamphlets by people against whom the usual doors of conventional publishing were stubbornly barred.

So I will admit that I harbor an affection for authors who hew fast to seemingly strange ideas--John Merrill of East Canaan, N.H. and his hollow earth cosmogony, or David Wardlaw Scott and the other Zetetic astronomers, or various zealous reformers like Mrs. Elizabeth Osgood Goodrich Willard (who famously claimed in 1867 that “A sexual orgasm is much more debilitating to the system than a whole day’s work”) all of whom certainly strike our current sensibilities as a maybe a little weird. But strangeness is a species of pleasing newness. I think strangeness is a quality we perhaps too often forget or condescend to when we think about 19th century life and literature.

NP: Have you come across any thinkers, poets, or writers in your exploration of these forgotten corners of Americana that you think deserve to be remembered on par with their contemporaries who were better treated by history? How about any that you just have a strong personal enthusiasm for, regardless of their broader historical merit?

GS: I guess I’ve come to believe after all these years of handling forgotten material that being remembered by history seems to result from a combination of talent, hard work, and just dumb luck. Industry is necessary but of course not sufficient--in fact, I just recently catalogued a ca. 1880 promotional pamphlet for the Compound Oxygen home medical treatment that includes a testimonial letter dated January 1, 1878 from the indefatigable T. S. Arthur (author of the immortal Ten Nights in a Bar-Room) whose writing career stretched over some 30 years. Arthur notes of his home oxygen treatment, “I had laid down all earnest literary work and never expected to take it up again. . . . But within six months my pen was resumed, and before the year closed I had completed one of my largest and most earnestly-written books; closing the last page without any of the old sense of exhaustion.”

Given that in 1877--the year he turned 68--Arthur had apparently managed to produce The Bar-Rooms at Brantley (437 pages), The Latimer Family (182 pages), The Wife’s Engagement Ring (278 pages) and Strong Drink: The Curse and the Cure (676 pages), all the while keeping up with the operation of Arthur’s Home Magazine, seems no small recommendation to the efficacy of Compound Oxygen. But one also wonders (and here I come to my point) whether anyone has lately picked up The Bar-Rooms at Brantley out of a sense of either duty or pleasure. (I think one tends to look on Arthurs work’s and mightily despair.)
Admittedly that’s an oblique answer and I don’t hold him up as a neglected figure since I’m not sure T. S. Arthur deserves anything besides a paragraph or two in a literary survey, and in that respect he has gotten his due. But I’m trying (perhaps clumsily) to suggest that neglect or attention both waxes and wanes, and that a bookseller has a pecuniary interest--this interest perhaps best supplemented with an emotional or intellectual or idiosyncratic interest, but at its base a financial interest, which makes an effective goad--in arguing to have a writer or a work dragged back into our attention.

But those who have followed my catalogues would notice certain recurrent figures who deserve (in my opinion) closer study and whose works pop up with some frequency, like the eccentric itinerant minister Theophilus Gates (1787-1846), known as the Battle-Axe; Gates eventually embraced Perfectionism and in 1837 published without permission the a letter from John Humphrey Noyes outlining his views on the “nullity of wives,” which in turn led to the foundation of Gates’s small colony of fellow Battle-Axes near Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where the group became notorious for its ready embrace of free love and ceremonial nudity. (I found a fellow Gates enthusiast of course in colleague Norman Kane, a less controversial former Pottstown resident.)

I’ve also advocated at length for the nutty early 20th century proto-dada poet Richard Griffin, whose visage graces the shop’s website banner, and who has a coterie of enthusiasts that range from bookseller Eric Korn (whose essay on Griffin in the TLS first turned me on to this mad New York poet) to the cartoonist Glen Baxter. Griffin was also perhaps a distant echo of McDonald Clarke, “the mad poet of Broadway,” an eccentric peripheral figure in Knickerbocker New York who died in an asylum cell in 1842 when somebody left the tap running and he drowned.

There’s also the naive poet and utopian thinker Lyman Stowe--an astrologer and Civil War veteran in Detroit whose magnum opus Poetical Drifts of Thought (Detroit, 1884) is an earnestly clumsy but charming examination of social institutions, free thought, cosmology, theological questions of suffering and evil, Darwinism, cosmology, paleontology, and such future scientific advances as air warfare, the revival of the dead, the production of seamless garments from water and electricity (“Possibly this was the manner in which Christ’s coat was manufactured”), and the replacement of food with nutritive gasses inhaled through tubes. Plus it has a three-foot long foldout view of Detroit. I first saw an example of Stowe’s work at Robert Fraker’s Savoy Books some years ago and was hooked. I have since found fellow enthusiasts of various stripes, and (I hope) created a few enthusiasts as well.

Finally, it would be a stretch to call these figures forgotten, but I’ve developed a fondness for radical American reformers like Thomas Low Nichols and Mary Gove Nichols, Lois Waisbrooker, Josiah Warren, Marie Howland, Charles Knowlton, Edward Bliss Foote, Ida C. Craddock, or the Tilton sisters. I’m not anything like an expert or a specialist in these fields, but I like to do what little I can to keep their works in circulation.

But in the end most of these figures are at best footnotes and curiosities. Perhaps advocating for the forgotten authors helps me come to terms with the fact that the details of most lives--rich as they are in the daily living--end up largely forgotten. It’s some consolation and perhaps not surprising that I’m something of a footnote enthusiast and that most of the best parts of what I read seem squirreled away in the notes and apparatus. (And what are imprint bibliographies, those doorstops so beloved of the bookseller, but the end matter to an entire chunk of printed culture?)

NP: I’m very curious to know what you personally collect in these present days, owing to your deliberate and varied collecting during your formative years.  So, what do you personally collect today?

GS: I’ve got a small clutch of first editions by the poet Richard Hugo. I’ve also accumulated over the past nine or ten years a collection of American letters written in 1856, almost all of them by everyday people. (A few college letters from the future St. Louis educator and philosopher William Torrey Harris mark the zenith of fame in this archive.) I’ve got somewhere between 100 and 125 letters at this point and someday I’ll get around to cataloguing them for sale. I’ve become something like the Ancient Mariner on this subject and am apt to buttonhole unfortunates who wander into reach to argue the critical role of 1856 as a pivot between the Gold Rush era of westward expansion and the nation’s depressing collapse into the Civil War. (Though in truth 1856 was really just an arbitrary year I decided on to allow me the pleasures of accumulating interesting manuscript material on the cheap.)

But about the only personal collection I have anymore--one I actively collect for its own sake without any real eye toward resale--is my accumulation of early photographs of people who have baseball equipment but are in their street clothes rather than uniforms. I’ve got shots of boys playing catch, sandlot team portraits, kids just sitting around with their equipment scattered around them, dads and sons standing around with their mitts after dinner on a Sunday, etc. I’ve been lucky that our ten-year-old daughter loves baseball too, so I’m always on the lookout for examples of girls playing ball; one of my favorite photos is of an early 20th century sandlot team of boys that has included on their team a single girl and her catcher’s mitt. I have approached this collection in much the same way as my childhood collections, with a sort of haphazard accumulation of pleasing examples rather than any kind of avid pursuit.

Baseball RPPC.jpg

NP: What are your thoughts on your Midwestern predecessors -- particularly Wessen and Hayman?

GS: I never knew either one of them, though I’ve heard stories about them both--Hayman especially--from colleagues like Marc Selvaggio and Ed Hoffman. I feel like I know them a bit through their catalogues. (Some bookseller catalogues seem like extensions of the personalities of the booksellers behind them. These are the catalogues I most esteem.) I still browse through their old catalogues--again, Hayman’s in particular--looking for titles or topics I might not otherwise have thought to look for.

But I have to admit that when I read Wessen’s catalogues I feel like I missed out on a Golden Age. But when you read Hayman’s catalogues you feel like you still might come up with a few of his rarities. (Whether you want to or not is, I supposed, a matter of taste and inclination.) Off the top of my head I can think of Hayman championing J. P. Johnston’s Twenty Years of Hus’ling, first published in Chicago in 1888--a picaresque tale of traveling sales in Gilded Age America--and that I wouldn’t have been primed to pick up a copy had I not previously been browsing through Hayman’s catalogues and unconsciously salting away his own tastes and advocacies.

NP: Do you see yourself as a continuation of the particular Midwestern bookselling tradition associated with them?

GS: For as little as I really know about either one of them, I do feel an anxiety of influence. When I did a catalogue a few years back that leaned heavily on itinerant preachers and missionaries, the topic was certainly a nod to Hayman. I feel a certain obligation to dig up material that helps folks understand that there were important or interesting aspects of American culture bubbling up both west of the New England parlors and before you got out into the wooly Wild West.

NP: What makes a good Midwestern bookseller?  Is it any different from what makes a good bookseller anywhere else in the world?

GS: I will hazard a generalization and say that the Midwestern sensibility skews perhaps toward nice. And when I come east I manage to feel a little lost and naive. This pleasant and nearly perpetual sense of disorientation perhaps helps me in some ways because in my case anyway I also have the tendency to have a bit of a provincial chip on my shoulder. I think this chip goads me to try to produce interesting catalogues and drum up interesting stock. (Though in true Midwestern fashion I seem to shun vexatious excess and stop short of trying to land actual high spots.) I doubt the booksellers of Manhattan are quailing at the prospect of another Garrett Scott catalogue hitting their desks, but I do hope that in some small way to draw the attention to the fact that you can find alternative or overlooked narratives to American culture in the material roots of the Midwest.

(When I make pronouncements like this I am reminded of John Gregory of Woburn, Mass. and his 1837 book The Bramble, where he wrote of a particularly contumacious critic: “‘Our most humble self;’ ha, ha--this reminds us of the fly that lit upon the hub of a coach wheel, and flapping its wings, exclaimed, ‘See what a dust we kick up!’ So much for the editor of the Ladies Repository.” Perhaps it is characteristically Midwestern to worry about seeming to make too big a deal about what I do. So much for the proprietor of Garrett Scott, Bookseller!)

NP: You seem to have an excellent intuitive barometer for “interestingness” in books - is this something you’ve honed over time?

GS: I think any bookseller is always trying to find new or interesting stock. Broadly speaking, if you don’t end up selling your schismatic Hicksite pamphlets then perhaps you grab the next batch of sexual quackery pamphlets to come to hand. (Or perhaps you end up saddled with them both.) But usually there’s something about a given item--its curious regional imprint, its similarities to other interesting material I’ve handled in the past, or the fact that it’s like nothing I’ve ever seem before--that prompts me to give it a second look. I knew nothing about the history of missionary printing in the New Hebrides when I bought an Aneityum primer last Spring, but it was one of those things that I just wanted to have. (On closer examination it turned out to be pretty cool; cf. http://blog.bibliophagist.com/?p=101).

I think interest is also something created in the cataloguing of the book. I had one dictum from the legendary cataloguer and book scout Karl Zamboni handed down to me (at second-hand) at an early point in my career: when handed a book to catalogue, ignore any other bookseller descriptions that might have come with it and don’t go straight to the bibliographies. Focus instead on the book itself and with luck it might open up to you in an unexpected way. (Then of course you should find an appropriate bibliography to cite. The bookseller and the customer both feel cheated when the bookseller doesn’t cite a bibliography.)
Anyway, I guess it goes back to having been such a lousy college student--I am too easily distracted and too easily led astray to become anything like a scholar. So instead I became a bookseller.

NP: Do you sell primarily to private customers or to institutions?

GS: Mostly to institutions and somewhat less the trade. I have a few private customers.

NP: What are your thoughts on the future of the book trade?

GS: I have never been particularly analytical about the trade. I tend to think ahead in 30-day to 60-day increments, depending on who owes me money and how much money I owe. That probably sounds flip, but I’m too close to the books and the pamphlets and the cataloguing and the selling to have any kind of perspective on the great motive forces behind the trade.

NP: Any book fairs coming up?

GS: I’ll definitely be at the Ann Arbor show in May. I’m skipping the Boston ABAA book fair this November for some reason that made sense in June but that seems pretty stupid now; you will likely find me returning to Boston in 2013. Otherwise I huddle in my office--a converted garage in the back of a rather rambling building that houses a liquor store and cheese shop, a cupcake bakery and a music shop--plunking away at cataloguing and otherwise dealing with business. I welcome visitors to the shop in Ann Arbor (though it’s best to phone first).

NP: How does one sign up for your catalogues?  Also, could you tell us about your most recent catalogue and any that you might have in the works?

GS: Though I’ve done a couple of broad subject catalogues, I tend to issue catalogues when I’ve finally got enough new stock to do something with. The last catalogue (no. 38) included 82 miscellaneous items in my usual fields of odd literature, obscure reform, American popular medicine, utopian and religious thought, etc. With any luck there will be a Catalogue 39 before the end of the year. (Interviewer’s note: Catalogue 39 is being issued today.  Check out Scott’s website).  I’ve yet to adapt to the visual age that so many of my colleagues have, with color printing and illustrations and the like. Instead you will find closely written and semi-legible little essays trying to persuade you of the merits of otherwise unsalable stock. If that appeals to you (and how could it not?) feel free to shoot me a note at garrett@bibliophagist.com or send a note to me at my post office box address:

Garrett Scott, Bookseller
PO Box 4561
Ann Arbor MI 48106

Coming up at Swann Galleries tomorrow is the most extensive selection of works from the press of Aldus Manutius to appear at auction since the mid-nineties. They come from the library of collector Kenneth Rapoport. Anyone with even a passing interest in books and printing must be impressed by the Aldine imprint--surely many are taken with Aldus’ dolphin and anchor device, having been recycled by publishers for five hundred years and tattooed on the arms of many a booklover (or so I hear). Here are a few examples of what’s on offer:

Musaei Interior.jpgMusaeus and Orpheus, Musaei opusculum de Herone & Leandro, in Greek with Latin translation, Venice, 1517. Seen above is the first title page showing the Aldine device as well as the signature of scholar-printer, Johann Herwagen. Bound with Oppian’s Oppiani de piscibus libri V. Eiusdem de venatione libri IIII in German blind-tooled pigskin. Estimate $8,000-12,000.

Idyllia Full.jpgThe first Aldine and first complete edition of Idyllia of Theocritus with contemporary hand-coloring, Venice, 1495/96. This beauty is illuminated in colors and gold in a contemporary hand and bound in early eighteenth-century mottled calf. Also contains extensive marginalia in Greek and Latin. Estimate $40,000-60,000.

Castiglione Binding.jpgBaldassare Castiglione’s Il Libro del Cortegiano is a first edition of the prototypical courtesy book, Venice, 1528. It is bound in twentieth-century brown morocco, with gilt tooling to the panel. Estimate $10,000-15,000.

In all, according to Swann, there are three incunables, nine Greek editiones principes, and 47 first Aldine editions of works by classical and later authors, many in contemporary fine bindings, at this sale. Oh, and did I mention the first Aldine and first small-format edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1502 ($5,000-7,000)?

Images courtesy of Swann Galleries. 
For your Friday viewing pleasure, head on over to The Guardian for a lovely gallery of the development of the city as seen through historical maps. Beginning with the Nuremberg Chronicle and ending with a Hagstrom Atlas of New York City from 1950, the sixteen images chronicle the rise of the city in the western world and how it has been depicted on maps.  Many of the images are from rare books. The gallery was curated by C. J. Schüler who has a book coming out soon on the same subject entitled Mapping the City. View the gallery here.


HandwrittenRecipes.jpgWhat are the fine pairings of food and book? Is Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano a perfect complement to matzo balls? Are baked chicken legs best served with Catch-22? This is one of the delicious distractions to consider while paging through Michael Popek’s new book, Handwritten Recipes: A Bookseller’s Collection of Curious and Wonderful Recipes Forgotten Between the Pages (Perigree, $20).

Apparently a closeted vegetarian was reading 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger (Doubleday, 1960) because she left a recipe for zucchini bread inside. Was a Betty Draper-type housewife reading Frank Edwards’ Strange People whilst she whipped up macaroni loaf and apricot bavarian cream? Sour cream coffee cake with Less Than Zero is an odd combination, but two different kinds of pickle in The Spy Who Loved Me (NAL reprint, 1963) seems understandable.

Because some of the recipes are untested--let’s call them vernacular--Popek goes the extra step and brings in experts for some of the more interesting dishes. Blogger Shannon Weber of A Periodic Table, for example, provides professional measurements and advice for a pineapple chiffon cake recipe that seems thoroughly worth trying out.

Many of these “found recipes” turned up in cookbooks, for obvious reasons. So for cookbook lovers, there’s the added bonus of finding interesting new titles. Slenderella Cook Book by Myra Waldo (Putnam’s, 1957) contained a recipe for Boston Prune Cake and Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Dainties by Janet M. Hill (Little, Brown, 1914) offered okra gumbo.

Popek, who runs Popek’s Used and Rare Books in Oneonta, New York, seems to have a found a recipe for success in scrapbooking the paper ephemera he finds between the pages and among the stacks in his daily business. His first book, Forgotten Bookmarks (reviewed here last year), focused on letters, postcards, photographs, and other bookmarks he has uncovered. The handwritten recipes here were culled from the nearly 5,000 he has found in the past few years and are now published in color alongside the book (with a basic bibliographical entry) that each was in found in. For daring home cooks, food historians, lovers of paper and ephemera, this book is altogether satisfying. Bring one to your Thanksgiving host.
mrdepp.jpgBack in July, I wrote about the efforts of actor Johnny Depp and author Douglas Brinkley to bring to light Woody Guthrie’s long forgotten novel: “House of Earth.”  At the time, Depp and Brinkley said the novel would be published by a “major New York publisher.”  That major New York publisher, as it turns out, will be Johnny Depp himself.

Yes, Johnny Depp is starting his own imprint: Infinitum Nihil, which will be part of the Harper Collins family. Guthrie’s “House of Earth,” which appears poised to be the first publication from Depp’s imprint, will be released in January, 2013.

Also on the slate: “The Unraveled Tales of Bob Dylan,” based on a series of interviews between Brinkley and Dylan.  That book, however, won’t be out until 2015.

And in between, Depp pledged that Infinitum Nihil “will do our best to deliver publications worthy of people’s time, of people’s concern, publications that might ordinarily never have breached the parapet.”

The imprint is actively seeking “authentic, outspoken and visionary ideas and voices.”

So any imprint collectors out there, there’s a new kid on the block.  Infinitum Nihil’s publications will be well worth watching.

(Photo of Mr. Depp from Wikipedia)

Making My Way Through the 2012 Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair

Guest blog by Jonathan Shipley

It started with me holding a first edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It’s like magic, that feeling of holding the physical embodiment of philosophical thought. Nearby, at another booth, I held a volume of Edward Curtis’ seminal work, The North American Indian. The photographs are breathtaking. A few steps away, I smiled. There, at my fingertips, a first edition of Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Over there - the earliest printing of the Book of Mormon. And there - a signed Gone With the Wind. And The Hound of the Baskervilles. A book nerd heaven I was in last Saturday at the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair.


Featuring 91 exhibitors from seventeen states and Canada, the fair offered thousands of old, rare, used, out-of-print, and collectible books, maps, prints, manuscripts, photographs, posters, paper ephemera, art, letterpress books, and broadsides. I, a book nerd prince (I’m too young still to be a king), wandered in looking for something to bring home. What? I did not know. I just knew that it was out there somewhere. Out there - like Ahab’s white whale (Oh, look, an edition of Moby-Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent!).

There’s just so much to browse through. At the Nudelman’s Rare Books display, there was a collection of Kerouac books. The Dharma Bums ($750) called my name. (Too rich for my blood, sadly.) There’s a rare set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America for $32,000. At the Cookbook Lady’s booth, up from El Sobrante, California, Beard on Bread sat on a shelf alongside an early edition of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

Louis Collins’ booth (he is one of the fair’s main organizers) had quite a lot of books on bats. Yes, bats. Not really sure why I wanted to buy a copy of Bats of Suriname ($45), but I did. I had thoughts of buying all sorts of books that suddenly struck my fancy - A Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak, Scarabs, The Living Buddha, Applegreen’s Bar Book, Camping and Character, a signed copy of Nicholas Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness ($75), a first edition copy of the Fred Marcellino’s illustrated edition of Puss in Boots ($125).

IMG_9967.JPGThe subject matter ran the gamut at the fair. It ran the gamut from booth to booth. Antiquariat Botanicum specialized in botany, medicine, and natural history. The Book Bin showcased rare fantasy titles. Fairlook Antiques offered postcards. John Howell for Books specialized in Californiana while Robert Gavora Fine Books had tracks of railroad books.

At the Chanticleer Books’ booth I discussed the great, and oftentimes schlocky, Jack London. The proprietor lives a few miles from London’s old ranch in Northern California. He showed me some of his rarer works, autographed works, and some promotional stills of a movie based on one of London’s obscure short stories about a white man falling in love with an Indian squaw. The “Indians” look laughable.

I thumbed through book upon book - Edward Gorey’s The Loathsome Couple, Howard Carter’s The Tomb of Tutankhamum, Joan Didion tomes, Stephen King titles, books like Practical Basketry, Letters of the Slave Trade, The Complete Angler, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Europeans, a pamphlet entitled “Do You Lose Your Temper?” - but nothing sang to me. Sure, they’re all a chorus of wonders, but I hadn’t found THE book.

And then I was browsing through some random stacks at Jim Kay’s Bookbomb. From Sacramento, he has run the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair in the past, and he carries general travel and Americana books. Browsing, browsing, browsing. WHAT’S THIS?! A first edition of The Lincoln Highway, published in 1935 by Dodd, Mead & Company. WOW! I’m traveling the Lincoln Highway with my kid next year! Neato! “I’m getting this book for sure,” I said to myself. And then I look at another nondescript, unattractive book nearby. WHAT’S THIS?! The Complete Official Road Guide to the Lincoln Highway. Holy moly! And it has still got its map inside! Of all the stacks I browsed through, of all the books I could have passed over, I found not one, but two antiquarian books on the Lincoln Highway. Gadzooks!

“I wouldn’t have thought in a million years I’d sell these books to someone as young as you,” Kay said as he rang me up. “No one knows about the Lincoln Highway, not even someone my age.” He smiled. “I expected to sell ‘em to some old white-haired man saying, ‘I remember driving that stretch of highway years ago!’”

No, sir, I’m going on the Lincoln Highway myself. And, thanks to the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair, I’m taking these books with me.

Photo and essay by longtime FB&C freelancer and Seattelite Jonathan Shipley.

Screen shot 2012-10-15 at 10.02.12 AM.pngBeginning on Thursday of this week, the Museum of American Finance at 48 Wall Street in New York City will be the setting for the Wall Street Collectors Bourse II. The Bourse had its successful debut last year. What is a “bourse”? If you are unfamiliar with the term, you are likely not a collector of coins or stamps; it is a convention where numismatic or philatelic items are offered for sale. Book collectors might see it as akin to a book fair. At the Bourse, financial collectibles--coins, bank notes, stock and bond certificates, etc.--are the primary commodities. Thirty dealers will attend, and Archives International Auctions will host an auction on Saturday.

The full schedule of events is here: http://wallstreetbourse.com/schedule-of-events/. The photo shown here is from last year’s event; more pictures can be seen here: http://wallstreetbourse.com/photo-gallery/.
Catalogue Review: Kaaterskill Books, No. 15

Kaaterskill Pic.pngKaaterskill Books of East Jewett, NY, has the distinction of being my local rare book dealer--I mean local in the rural sense; it’s probably about twenty miles from my home, still I’m pleased to know that rare books are out here in the wild. The ABAA bookshop, run by Joan and Charles Kutcher, offers a wide range of books, but the focus of its fifteenth catalogue is one of its specialties, Americana.

Here’s an interesting title to consider: Facts Regarding the Disinfecting Powers of Chlorine ... printed in Schenectady in 1832, as the Asiatic Cholera was spreading in New York ($150). Another: The Action, Therapeutic Value and Use of the Carlsbad Sprudel Salt (Powder Form) and its Relation to the Carlsbad Thermal Water from 1891 ($150).

In the interesting-to-look at category: I’d love to frame the United States Historical and Statistical Index broadside on offer, “Exhibiting a Comprehensive Arrangement of Prominent Statistical Facts, as Appertaining to each Particular State: Also of the General Government of the United States, from the Administration of Washington, inclusive, to the present date, June, 1839” ($1,500). Or peruse the souvenir album showing twenty-five albertypes of Brooklyn at the turn of the century ($175). There’s also a handsome hand-colored steel engraving, American Seaman’s Friend Society Membership Certificate, c. 1844-1848 ($1,000).

Fast forward out of the nineteenth century and find a typed advance copy of Harold L. Ickes’ 1939 speech, “Columnists and Calumnists,” ($150) or a first edition of Allen Ginsburg’s groovy broadside from 1967, “Who Be Kind To,” illustrated by Wes Wilson ($275).  

Mexico, the Panama Canal, slavery, and the Mississippi River feature prominently as subjects in this 154-item catalogue. Read deeply, there is so much to take in! Download the PDF here.
“A good way to make a small fortune in the book business is to start with a large one.”

Despite that common piece of advice, issued with gusto to beginning booksellers, a teenager in Tennessee recently opened his own bookshop in a brave attempt to fund his college education.  Seventeen year old Trent Crowthers of Nolensville, Tennessee was anxious to attend college and realized he needed to make more money to pay for tuition.  So he borrowed $600 from his parents to purchase books on eBay, then started selling them at his own little space inside Nolensville’s antique barn.  He bought thousands of books with his $600 and is now busily selling them off at $3.00 for paperbacks / $4.00 for hardcovers.

Crowthers has no long term desire to be a bookseller; he instead hopes to become a doctor.  In fact, he’s already planning for his retirement from the book business.  He aims to pass on the business to his younger brother when he leaves for college. Crowthers hopes his younger brother can fund his own college education with the same operation.

It’s like the usual life of a bookseller, but on extreme fast forward:

1) Meander into bookselling from some disparate background

2) Borrow money from relatives to fund ill-conceived idea

3) Actually manage to turn said idea into an interesting, profit-generating business

4) Find a worthy heir and slip into retirement.

Three cheers for Crowthers for packing all of these steps into just two of his teenage years.

You can read more about this story from the local news affiliate.
I recently found out about Smith&Press, a fairly new independent publisher that is producing incredibly useful translations and handsome facsimile editions of early printed books. They caught my eye with their recently completed four-volume translation of The Nuremberg Chronicle. So I asked the founder, Selim Nahas, about his mission and his goals for the company by email earlier this week.

RRB: Tell me how you got started.

SN: I have been an antiquarian book collector for 15 years now and have come to appreciate how rare and expensive collecting may be. For the general public that may have an interest regarding early printed materials and social issues of the Renaissance, there seemed to be three fundamental problems. Accessing the materials (the books) has become too prohibitive in price. Access to special collections is rare for those that are not affiliated with an institution. The material can be difficult to read even for those versed in Latin or other languages and finally, many wonderful works have not received the attention they deserve simply because they are not part of a curriculum or they are simply very rare. The reality is that large projects, such as this one, generally can’t happen in the absence of a business approach that finances the talent and drives a schedule.

Chronicle-Vol. 1.jpg
Volume one of Smith&Press’ Nuremberg Chronicle translation.

: Is your mission to produce beautiful books or to provide translation and access to early books? Or a little bit of both?

SN: I consider the experience of reading books from this period in history a portal into the thought process of the day, both socially and technologically. To truly enjoy the experience of early books, one must have the means to touch and read them. Much too often, the public will center on the prints and illustrations, the rubrication or illumination of these books. While I too gravitate to the tactile experience of books, I believe they have much more to offer. My objective, therefore, became to solve the following three problems:
1) Provide access to institutions and the general public to these works by offering a cost- effective, high-quality Reference Facsimile as well as a full-size, high-end Facsimile.
2) Provide translations with clear notes explaining elements of the text that may not be evident to the reader and cite the sources from which these works were derived or compiled (keep in mind that works at this time in history were subject to use by anyone with the means, since copyright law did not exist).

3) Respect the art of the book by offering the work in a format that always roots the reader in the original work. We achieve this by juxtaposing the original page with the translated one to allow the reader to follow along without the need to turn pages. We also provide a full-size facsimile with a conservation-grade binding. Unlike most facsimiles, the full-size facsimile is made from super high-resolution scans (1200 DPI). These scans provided us the resolution we needed to extract the text and image to print on a page as the press would have originally. We did not want to transfer stains and other imperfections by providing a high quality image of the page. We wanted the book to look the way it did when originally printed in Nuremberg on the Koberger presses. We also did not add color in the process because the original was printed in black and white. Any color would have been added by hand after the printing process was complete. The paper we selected matches in thickness and weight of the original paper and is a nice representation of what the Chronicle would have looked like had you purchased it in the fifteenth century. The binding is also made in the same manner as an original. We have seen original examples in both pigskin and calf on a variety of different boards. We selected the final design based on real examples of the Chronicle as well as details referenced by J.A. Szirmai (The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding). The tooling is appropriate for the period and region as well as the type of end bands and boards. The final touch is added using bronze-cast clasps and bosses that are fully functional to complete the binding. The result is a book that I have as much pleasure handling as my original copy. (Yes, I’m not exaggerating.) The facsimile feels and behaves the same way the original does. The journey to complete this level of quality required no fewer than three excellent binders and conservators to work on this project. I encourage you to take a look on the website to view the images of the full-size facsimile if you have not done so already.  

RRB: Smith&Press has just completed a full translation edition (in four volumes) and reference facsimile edition (one volume) of the Liber Chronicarum (a.k.a. Nuremberg Chronicle). This seems like a huge undertaking for a new and independent company. Why such a big project?

SN: I selected the Nuremberg Chronicle for a few reasons. This work holds a very misunderstood place in history. It has often found its demise at the hands of dealers who sell individual pages in anticipation that individual leaves will bring more than the book as a whole. The Chronicle is the most ambitious integration of text and illustration of the fifteenth century. Having worked with it digitally and owning an original copy of my own, I have come to appreciate the challenges to edit and produce such a work.
     I also selected the Chronicle because many share my enthusiasm for this book. I felt that institutions would benefit from the broad spectrum of material that it covers. I am aware of the translation that Walter Schmauch produced of the German edition. I was also convinced that the German edition differed from the Latin edition for a number of reasons. This is the only English translation of the Latin Edition of the Chronicle in the world. I believe that the scale of the project was also one that did not lend itself to translation as a hobby type of project. I funded the translation and took the risk of producing the books irrespective of whether they would sell or not. I began by offering the first volume which covered the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th ages. I used it to gauge whether the market would support my ambitions. To my pleasant surprise, the response turned out to be quite favorable. I also felt that if I could produce a quality project of this scale and provide it with the proper credibility, then I could potentially pursue this into a small company with the charter of providing more materials like this.

RRB: According to Morse Library at Beloit College, the only known English translation of the Chronicle was done by Walter Schmauch, whose unpublished manuscript, now resides in the Free Library of Philadelphia. Does that make your translation the only one?

SN: Yes, this is the only English translation of the Latin edition of the Chronicle. Unlike the translation from Walter, this one has been internally edited for accuracy and provides extensive notes clarifying people and places of interest. Also added in the notes are the sources from which Schedel (the original author in 1493) compiled this work. It turns out that a large percentage of it actually comes from other sources.
    To be clear, I think Walter must have been an amazing person for doing this as a project, for he did this on his own. I, on the other hand, worked with a team of two scholars and used modern technology to my advantage.

RRB: What has been the response so far, in terms of reviews and/or sales?

SN: Our reviews: I took the first two volumes to the ALA 2011 Conference in New Orleans where I had the pleasure of meeting Carolyn Wilcox, Reference & Humanities Editor for ALA Choice Reviews for Academic Libraries. The volumes were favorably reviewed in the February issue of the magazine. It is our intention to have all our works independently reviewed.
    Concerning  sales: We produced 220 large-format, hand-bound sets of this book. By the time the final two volumes became available (this occurred this week), we had already pre-sold 112 sets (more than half our inventory when you consider the copies for internal and personal use). The books have been very well received and our customers have been generous with kind words. We have confirmation that a few are currently teaching with them.

RRB: I see you are also in the process of publishing a facsimile and translation of De Quatuor Signis, a seventeenth-century astrological work that is a less well-known title. The price is $215. Is the intended buyer a student? a collector? institutions?

SN: The author, Philippo Finella, is well known for other books that he has produced, and there is an inexpensive facsimile of one of his other works from Kessinger publishers. The book that we are offering is actually very rare. WorldCat only shows three copies and sales records only surfaced one prior sale. The intended audience is a range from universities to the private collector. This book will be a color limited numbered series edition. We only intend to make a small numbered production run of 220 copies of this work. Once they are gone, we will not reprint it. Access to it will only be available in our digital library project (I must explain this, for it is an ambitious project as well that we are currently working on). The digital library is also the future of Smith&Press in conjunction with the limited series translations.

RRB: How do you choose what to publish?

SN: I previously mentioned that I am a collector myself. I focus on subjects that are culturally interesting for one reason or another. The advent of the printed book had a profound impact on the education of the masses. I myself have an engineering and fine arts education. I have always gravitated to works that have somehow played a role in the evolution of society. Works like the Finella represent a wonderful view into the world of astrology and the role that it played in subjects such as business and personal relations. Other astrology works that we are currently working on provide a portal into the world of medical astrology.

RRB: Who are your translators, and how are they selected?

SN: The primary translator of the Chronicle is Michael Zellman-Rohrer who finished his undergrad at Harvard and is currently doing his PhD at Berkeley. Constantine Hadavas, PhD, who is currently the chairman of the department of classics at Beloit College, also contributed to the translation but focused primarily on the editorial and notes. Michael is one of the best translators I have ever seen. This opinion is shared by Dr. Hadavas as is evident by his commentary and the accuracy of the translation. Dr. Hadavas is intimately familiar with this work as he is the one that augmented the Walter Schmauch translation with commentary. He and I both share a passion for the Chronicle, so I am glad I was able to rope him into this project.

RRB: What else is in the future for Smith&Press?

SN: Earlier, I hinted that Smith&Press is working on a digital library. If you recall one of the original goals of the company is to reach the masses and provide a platform upon which anyone could enjoy early works such as the Chronicle. All Smith&Press translations will eventually be placed into a subscription- based library that will allow universities & institutions to use the material on their intranet for students and faculty. This will be provided based on an annual subscription license. Private individuals will also have the ability to subscribe for a very small fee (our goal is less than $100 per year). I want this to be available to students as well as enthusiasts that don’t have the means to purchase a $200 book. Granted, the experience is strictly technology based, but the quality of our images and text are second to none on the web. This digital library will not allow the user to download the work or take it for resale. The most a user can do is a screen capture, which will not provide the person the ability to reproduce the quality which we offer. We are currently looking into technologies from Google and others to provide good search features and security of the library.
    We will always make small printed production runs of our books. We do not believe in making large runs. We expect to add at least 4 more translators to the team in 2013. We also plan to produce at least 5 books in 2013.

To learn more about Smith&Press, visit their website at www.smithandpress.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @SmithandPress. Thanks to Mr. Nahas for this in-depth look at his brainchild.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Cassandra Hatton, proprietor of the soon-to-launch Cassandra Hatton Rare Books in California.

CassandraHattonSMall.jpgNP: How did you get started in rare books?

CH: It was really by accident, as is often the case. I got my start a little over eight years ago, when I had moved back to Los Angeles from France. I was broke, and honestly took the first job I could find, which was as a cataloguer and assistant for Rootenberg Books. I had no real experience handling rare books, but they needed someone with a background in history and knowledge of several languages, so they hired me. Serendipity! I had always been interested in the history of science and old books, (I actually started collecting books when I was about seven years old) but really had no idea what I was getting myself into. On the first day they handed me a copy of Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica (1533), and a stack of illustrated 17th century medical books to collate and research. It was the best first day on the job ever - a few weeks later, I had Einstein’s manuscripts on Unified Field Theory on my desk, next to a copy of Euclid’s Elementa (1533) and Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1543). I can’t think of a more exciting job (other than being an astronaut), and still can’t believe that I was lucky enough to fall into it.

NP: You’ve just recently decided to branch out on your own, after managing Dragon Books for several years. What inspired the move?

CH: Ever since my days at Rootenberg, I knew that I eventually wanted to go out on my own - while I loved doing the research and cataloguing, I was also very interested in the business side of things. I was lucky enough to be in a position at Dragon Books where I was trusted to do everything, from the general cataloguing, buying and selling to making financial decisions, handling the books, signing all the checks, doing the payroll and the like. It was really a crash course in running my own business, and after five years there, I realized I was quite good at it. When Dragon moved from Bel-Air to Venice, I decided it was time - the new location was going to be much larger, and have a lot more foot traffic which meant more and more of my time would be spent running a retail shop, and less would spent doing what I loved about the rare book business - going to book-fairs & auctions, scouting, and handling books. Running an open shop can be a lot of fun, and you meet some really fascinating people, but ultimately, you are forced to be more of a generalist in an open shop situation. I knew that working for myself would give me not only the opportunity to really narrow the focus of the books that I deal in, but also the freedom to get back to what I really love about the business.

NP: What will you specialize in?

CH: Anything that interests me really - that is often early science, especially astronomy, natural history, physics, medicine, etc., but I am also interested in original photography, erotica, scientific instruments, manuscripts, history, counter-culture... I have so many interests that it is hard to narrow down - I guess the common theme is rarity. I really like things that are one of a kind, be that a scientific manuscript, an album of original silver prints, or a really spectacular association copy. Certain things just make my heart beat a little faster- so I guess really my specialty is books that raise your pulse!

NP: Will you be exhibiting at any upcoming book fairs?

CH: I will be at the Santa Monica Book, Print, Photo and Paper Fair in February 2013.

NP: Any catalogues coming up?

CH: For now, I am really putting most of my energies into developing my website, which I am hoping to launch by December, so my first catalogue probably won’t be issued until Fall of 2013.

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

CH: That’s a tough one to answer. I have handled so many great things, from firsts of Newton’s Principia to Feynman manuscripts, to a super rare LP recording of James Joyce reading from Ulysses, which was signed by Joyce. That being said, I would have to say that handling Einstein’s manuscripts on Unified Field Theory definitely made my pulse race - I get really excited about a lot of things, but that actually made me feel light headed.

NP: What do you personally collect?

CH: When I was first starting out, a colleague told me “You never smoke your own dope. You are either a collector, or a dealer, you can’t be both.” I think to a certain extent they were right; if I were not a dealer, and money were no object, then I would collect early science. I am however a dealer, and money is an object. Dealing is very much a way for me to be able to handle more books than I could if I collected. I get to own them for a while, and then place them in someone else’s hands before buying some more. That being said, I do have a few collections that are in areas I would not deal in. I have what is probably the largest collection of children’s books in Latin. I have been collecting them since I was a kid and have some really fun titles, Magis Mirabilis, Alicia in Terra Mirabili, and Maria Poppina Ab A ad Z, are just a few. I am also obsessed with Galileo and one of his rivals, the jesuit astronomer Christoph Scheiner, both of whom I am actually writing my thesis on, so I have a collection of books about both of them, and on the history of science in general. I also have a collection of books on secret codes, or books that have been written in code - things like the Codex Seraphinianus, the Voynich Manuscript and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (in facsimile of course!)

NP: Any thoughts to share on the book trade in general or where it’s heading?

I think that the trade is heading in some really interesting directions. The market for rare books has become much more global and far more transparent thanks to the internet, and we can now see that a lot of the books that people thought were rare before are not really all that rare. It has really colored our perception of what rare is - I think this has led to a shift in the types of materials that dealers are handling.  I am seeing a lot more dealers offering archival material, manuscripts and the like - the kinds of items that are one of a kind. As we move forward I think that we are going to see more movement in the direction of unique copies, and one of a kind material. As people become more and more adept at finding books themselves on the internet, I think that dealers are going to be the people that collectors turn to for those items that just can’t be bought online.

English: Thomas Bodley, the founder of Bodleia...

English: Thomas Bodley, the founder of Bodleian Library of Oxford. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week a first edition (1605) of the Bodleian Library Catalogue sold for a whopping £19,000 (£23,750 including premium) at an auction of Early Printing and English Books to 1640 held at Bonhams, London. Auctions exclusively offering books printed before the English Civil War not only show the vitality of interest in early books, but their relative immunity to the E-Book Blues threatening younger books today. The dusty little Bodleian catalogue, bound in contemporary limp vellum, unwashed and looking just as it ought to for its age, was among the high earners in a sale that made over £1 million.

What is this book about, this volume which made more money than Boccaccio, Lucian, Cicero? Unlike other highlights from the auction, several of them illuminated manuscripts, it’s reference work, an early book on books, the earliest in print to describe the holdings of an institutional library in Europe. 

It includes nearly 7,000 books purchased for and donated to the Library, which Bodley had first undertaken to furnish in 1598 but which had not officially opened until 1602. The books first are divided into four typical fields: “Divinity”, “Medicine”, “Jurisprudence”, and the catch-all “Arts”. Some sense of their spatial arrangement is preserved by listing the size, shelf, and row number of each. Shelves are organized alphabetically. The combination of subject and numbers comprise the call number, and 17th century acquisitions have by and large the same call numbers then as now.

Technically the Bodeian Catalogus librorum bibliothecae publicae should not be as rare as it is. It was printed in large runs because visitors to the Duke Humfrey library had to buy a copy of their own to consult. For instance, Library records from 1620-22 show that 558 copies were sold at a price of 2 shillings eight pence to private persons, 2 shillings sixpence to booksellers. Today, requests are made online (and sometimes they can go horribly wrong). 

In addition to being one of the most expensive book lists going, the first edition catalogue is also inaccurate. Its publication was a fiasco from the very beginning for the Bodleian’s first librarian, Thomas James. Bodley had the idea to print and circulate a catalogue as early as 1603 to aid visiting patrons, but also to advertise the library’s great success to critics and potential donors alike. The basis for the printed catalogue would be the manuscript records James kept, but Bodley was unhappy these even before the library was open to the public, according to his correspondence with James: 

“Sir, as touching your Catalogue, which you writ for me in London, I should have little reason to think to find it in perfection, considering then your troubles. But my desire is only now, than in making anew, you would take the pains to do it by the books themselves, and that very exactly and deliberately. For I do find every day many errors in the former, of sundry sorts.” (Feb 5 1602)

Not only that, but he had trouble with James’ handwriting: “For it chanceth many times, that your writing is both ill to be read, and understood” (Sept 1 1602). The project was stalled until 1604 by the trouble of fixing so many earlier mistakes, and by the constant and overwhelming influx of new books Bodley acquired through donation and the assistance of the printer and bookseller John Bill, who went on a book buying trip through Europe.

By the time the catalogue was in its proof stages, new problems had arisen. As one of the great Hebrew scholars of the day Bodley avidly collected Judaica for his library but bemoaned his librarian’s difficulty with the language: “You have almost failed in every one of your Hebrew books which were printed with Hebrew letters,” he wrote to an overworked James (Aug 8 1604). Moreover he found fault with the catalogue’s printer: “It doth somewhat move me, to see a work of this expectation, and charge unto me, to be so much disgraced through the Printer’s carelessness considering what warning I gave him...” (Aug 24 1604). 

Bodley worried that so many mistakes would diminish the catalogue’s credibility, and hurt sale of future editions and appendices James might compile, not to mention that it would harm the international reputation he had worked to acquire:

“The very first impression, that men shall have had upon the sight of your Catalogue, will be it that shall give credit or discredit to the Library: because the Appendix perhaps will either not be bought, or not perused after. The general conceit as well of other nations, as of our own at home, of the Library store, is so great, that they imagine in a manner, there is nothing wanting in it: wherein when they find their expectation greatly frustrated, I doubt the credit of the place will be hardly recovered, with many after Appendixes. And hereof I pray you consider very thoroughly. I am further to tell you from Mr. Norton [King’s printer and bookseller], that there are many books forgotten to be put in the Catalogue, which are in the Library, of which I willed him to send me some for example, which I have here enclosed, and know most assuredly they are in the Library.” (Oct 26 1604)

While an appendix of some 200 books was then added to the end of the Catalogue before its final publication in the New Year, Bodley’s letters of dissatisfaction continued across the years. The difficulty in accurate record keeping exponentially increased for James when the library became the first for the legal deposit of all books printed by the Stationer’s Company in 1610. 

What is it that makes this catalogue, inaccurate and bearing little evidence of the intellectual labor that produced it, worth so much? The book was popular in the auction room, provoking a four-way bidding war among those in attendance, and ultimately acquired by a telephone bidder. If the Bonhams sale was proof positive for interest in early printed books in general, the sale of the Bodleian library catalogue was a about the sustained interest in the history of libraries in particular. Even geekier, and more exciting, its commanding figure shows a strong interest in the history of information science. As the earliest catalogue of its kind, the decisions Bodley and James made about what books to acquire, how they were to be arranged, and even the errors in their arrangement, were decisions that impacted literally generations of scholars and students. The book is as important in its flaws as it is a record of cultural accumulation. James’ struggle to keep up with the incoming titles and authors isn’t an individual story of information overload, but one that shaped the experience of anyone that walked into the library. As James wrote in an earlier manuscript catalogue he compiled, taking from St. Paul: Non quaero quod mihi utile est, sed quod multis, “I seek not what is good for myself, but for many” (1 Cor. 10.24). 

If catalogues are about recovering works for use by many, market confidence in the value of old catalogues and what they have to tell us about our intellectual heritage can only be good news.

Further Reading:
The catalogue has been printed in facsimile with a useful introduction:

The letters of Thomas Bodley to Thomas James have been collected and edited by G.W. Wheeler.


FallingbofM.jpgBook artist Jill Timm sent me this photo of her ‘Book of the Month,’ Falling Leaves, and it seemed so appropriate to share on this perfect autumn day. It’s a tunnel book--a 3-D book that you can look into--which holds leaf images and poetry. The images were real leaves, scanned into a computer for arrangement and then printed out on archival transparency film. Falling Leaves was made in an edition of one hundred. More images can be seen here.

Timm runs Mystical Places Press, “a publisher of limited edition, hand-crafted books that celebrate the spirit of and aesthetics of the natural environment” in Wenatchee, Washington. What a fine combination -- nature and books.

3magic.jpgAnother of her books is titled Earth Magic and it is literally covered in sliced, polished rock. It’s a miniature book in an edition of fifty, and the insides are filled with postage stamps about gems and minerals. As a former rock collector and current book collector, I find this one very cool.
manchester library.jpgA controversial effort by the UK’s largest municipal library to pulp hundreds of thousands of books was halted earlier this week by a writers’ campaign.  Manchester Public Library, in the midst of a three year, £170m overhaul, was thought to have begun destroying books due to a miscalculation in the amount of shelf space available in their newly revamped library. The information and motivations behind the decision - which was handed down from Manchester City Council - were not made clear.

The council claims the books being pulped are duplicates, outdated, or obsolete. A spokesman for the council was quoted in The Guardian, saying “All rare, valuable, historic and local history items are being kept.” Those qualities, however, which are already subjective, become particularly troublesome when trying to guess what future generations might find “valuable,” “rare,” or “historic.”

After news of the pulping broke in the press, a large public outcry ensued.  Carol Ann Duffy, the current poet laureate in Britain, wrote an open protest letter to the head of libraries in Machester which attracted the signatures of a variety of literary names including Jeanette Winterson, Michael Symmonds Roberts, and Jackie Kay. The letter, and the surrounding press coverage, seem to have at least temporarily halted the pulping process.  According to the library’s friends group, the books marked for pulping are now being moved into temporary storage. 

A long term solution, however, may still be a long time in coming.

A couple October sales are already behind us:

- On 2 October Bonhams sold Early Printing and English Books to 1640, in 285 lots. The top price of £49,250 went (auction title notwithstanding) to a volume containing two fourteenth-century Franciscan texts. The Aldine Herodotus of 1502 sold for £33,650.

- Also on 2 October, Swann Galleries sold Printed and Manuscript Americana, in 528 lots. A large collection of the Civil War correspondence of Capt. Isaac Plumb of Sherburne, NY, along with three Civil War swords, sold for $55,200. A copy of McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America fetched $38,400.

- A Charles Leander Weed photograph from Yosemite made $374,500 today at Sotheby’s photographs sale.

- At Bloomsbury on 4 October, a sale entitled Red China, 1921-1976, in 287 lots.

- Bloomsbury holds a Bibliophile Sale on 5 October, in 268 lots.

- Christie’s London sells Travel, Science, and Natural History on 9 October, in 341 lots. A thermometer signed by Fahreinheit himself rates the top estimate, £70,000-100,000. Lots of neat Antarctica-related things up for grabs in this one.

- Bonhams San Francisco sells Fine Books and Manuscripts on 10 October, in 423 lots. Among the expected highlights: a typescript of an unpublished Timothy Leary work, estimated at $30,000-50,000.

- Swann Galleries will sell Art, Press and Illustrated Books on 11 October, in 367 lots.

- At PBA Galleries on 11 October, Fine Literature, Americana Bibliography, and Fine Books in All Fields, for a total of 368 lots.

- On 18 October at Bloomsbury, Literature, Manuscripts, Travel and Natural History Books will be up for grabs, in 624 lots.

- At Swann Galleries on 23 October, Aldine Imprints & Early Printed Books from the Library of Kenneth Rapoport, in 119 lots. As you’d expect, there are some real goodies here, but the lot with the top estimate is a copy of the Aldine Theocritus with contemporary hand coloring. It’s estimated at $40,000-60,000.

- Bloomsbury will sell Modern First Editions: The Collection of Clive Hirschhorn on 25 October, in 416 lots.

- No preview yet for the 25 October PBA Galleries sale of California & Its Ranchos: The John C. Broome Library.

- Christie’s Paris sells Emilie du Chatelet manuscripts and books on 29 October, in 58 lots. A partial manuscript of her translation of Newton’s Principia rates the top estimate, at €400,000-600,000. They’ll also sell Importants Livres Anciens, Livres D’Artistes et Manuscrits on the same day, in 114 lots. A copy of Redouté’s Les Roses is estimated at €450,000-650,000.

- On 30 October at Christie’s London, The Le Vivier Library of Sporting Books and Modern First Editions, in 333 lots. Wynken de Worde’s 1518 The boke of hawkyinge and Huntynge and fysshynge could fetch £80,000-120,000.

- At Christie’s Paris on 30 October, Collection d’un Amateur Bibliophile, in 195 lots.

The October roundup’s coming soon, but before that, a look back at September.

- The Asian Art Reference Books sale at Christie’s New York on 13 September realized $1,290,825. Two lots shared the top price of $74,500: Mizuno and Nagahiro’s Yun Kang the Buddhist Cave-Temples of the Fifth Century A.D. in Northern China (1951-1956) and Great Paintings of the Sung Dynasty (1975).

- Sale prices for the PBA Galleries 13 September Rare Books & Manuscripts: The Property of Jane Hohfield Galante sale are here. The untrimmed copy of the first edition of Smith’s Wealth of Nations was the top lot, at $90,000. Darwin’s copy of Bewick’s British Birds didn’t do as well as anticipated, fetching $54,000. The other expected top lots failed to sell.

- Results of the 13 September Bibliophile Sale at Bloomsbury are here.

- The top lot at the 20 September Children’s, Conjuring, Private Press and Modern First Editions at Bloomsbury on 20 September was an original Arthur Rackham illustration, which made £10,000.

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

- At the Bonhams Oxford sale of Printed Books and Maps on 25 September, the top lot was a fine binding copy of a 1904 edition of Malory’s Mort d’Arthur, done by Chivers of Bath. It sold for £6,875.

- On 27 September PBA Galleries sold Americana, African-American History, Travel & Exploration, Cartography from the library from Jane Galante. Results are here. The top price went to a Carl Bodmer aquatint, which sold for $18,000.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Heather O’Donnell, proprietor of Honey and Wax Booksellers in Brooklyn:


NP: How did you get started in rare books?


HO: Growing up, I had a strong feeling for books, and poked around secondhand shops and used book sales whenever I could. One of the books on the Honey & Wax website dates from those days: I bought it when I was fifteen. (You’ll have to guess which one.) As an English major at Columbia, I held lots of bookish jobs, including a formative summer at the Strand. In grad school, I worked as a curatorial assistant at the Beinecke Library. There I had my formal introduction to rare books and manuscripts: what they are, how they trade, how to handle and describe them properly. After Yale, I taught for several years at Princeton, but found that the academy and I were drifting quietly apart. In 2004, David Bauman offered me a position with Bauman Rare Books in New York. It was a great opportunity, and I took it.

NP: When did you open Honey & Wax and what do you specialize in?

HO: I started Honey & Wax in the fall of 2011, and launched the website, the following February. The first print catalogue mails this fall. I specialize in rare and unique copies of literary classics, with occasional forays into the arts. My favorite books are association copies: books presented by one writer to another, books from the libraries of interesting readers, books with a secret past.

NP: What is the origin of the name?

HO: A few years ago, at a book fair, I was leafing through a nineteenth-century English grammar, and came across the phrase “use books as bees use flowers.” I was so taken with the line and all it suggested that I wrote it down. Later, when I was thinking of starting my own company, I came back to the idea of the social life of the printed book: the way that books bring writers and readers together, of course, but also the way that a special copy can forge a bond between giver and recipient, or connect generations of readers over time. How do bees use flowers? Together, they make honey and wax.


On a more prosaic note, the apostrophe in my name screws everything up online, so O’Donnell Rare Books was out.

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

HO: It’s hard to choose just one. Two of my favorite books, recently sold, were an 1809 anthology of dramatic verse inscribed by the Shakespearean actress Sarah Siddons, who defined many of those speeches for English audiences, and a copy of Nightwood annotated and revised after publication by Djuna Barnes. In the fall catalog, I’m particularly fond of Walker Evans’s copy of The Waste Land and George Gershwin’s copy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

NP: What do you personally collect?

HO: At this point, the only rare books I own are those that have been given to me as gifts, or inscribed to me personally: I try to channel my acquisitive impulses into my customers’ collections. That said, some books I’ll always buy. I love quirky editions of Henry James. Last year in Prague, I picked up a Communist-era Czech translation of Washington Square full of sexy expressionistic woodcuts: so wrong, and yet irresistible. I have two shelves of paperbacks designed by Edward Gorey when he was art editor at Anchor in the 1950s, and a small collection of vintage books on charm (theory and practice).

NP: You’ve worked in a variety of bookish and academic professions.  What do you love about working as a rare book dealer and how does it compare to the other fields you’ve worked in?


HO: For me, the revelation of working in the rare book trade has been how many people, in all walks of life, at every level of collecting, are pursuing a passionate reading life. In the academy, the unspoken assumption (and sometimes, the spoken one) is that the really serious reader writes about literature for a living. The book trade has given me a much broader and truer sense of what the well-read life can be.

NP: Any other thoughts to share on the book trade and its future?


HO: This is an exciting time for the trade, because the explosion of digital text has made everyone newly aware of the unique qualities of the printed book. Some people don’t miss those qualities, but others do, and seek out printed books by choice. They don’t necessarily call themselves collectors, but that’s what they are, and they ask more from their books than just the presence of the text. Sometimes they want a classic first printing, or a copy inscribed by the author, but they might also be drawn to a striking vintage edition, or a copy with curious early marginalia, or an innovative artist’s book. The truth is, when readers buy any printed books today - new or old, commonplace or rare - they’re making a choice to collect in a way that was not true even five years ago. I think there’s a real opportunity for dealers to meet those new collectors where they are and show them books they haven’t seen.


NP: Tell us about the production of your first catalogue and how to obtain a copy.


HO: Because Honey & Wax is devoted to the social life of the book, I wanted to feature the books in the context of a real home, not floating in space. We shot the catalogue on a sweltering August day in Brooklyn, borrowing my friends’ house and much of their stuff. My one regret is that I had intended to get a Kindle or Nook into one of the shots, to show the printed book and the e-reader coexisting in peace. I’d love to do that in future Honey & Wax catalogues, so that when readers page back through them, they can date each catalogue by the comparative obsolescence of the gadgetry. Books age better.


Eventually, the catalogue will be posted on the website, and available as a PDF. Readers who prefer a hard copy can write info@honeyandwaxbooks.com.

folsom-ha.jpgWhen a big, eclectic auction comes up, like Heritage Auctions’ Rare Books & Historical Manuscripts sale later this week in Beverly Hills, it feels impossible to handpick a few of the best or most interesting books and documents. So I peruse the catalogue, awed at everything, but waiting for the moment when I am star-struck. That happened on page 25 of the HA Rare Books catalogue when I spied a Folsom State Prison Mugshot Book,1915-1923. Johnny Cash fan or not (“I Got Stripes...”), this is a mesmerizing book, with 1,300 pictures and basic stats about each convict. The auction estimate is $5,000. It is followed by a similar mugshot book from San Quentin from 1928-1929, which holds the same estimate.

kent-ha.jpgThe Rockwell Kent personal photo archive of his homes in New York and Maine and his excursions to Denmark, Greenland, Alaska, etc. is one of the big-ticket items, estimated at $50,000. The 1,400 black-and-white photographs, taken from 1931-1953, were developed and printed by Kent, and most bear his ownership stamp. The majority are housed in albums, with spine labels in Kent’s hand.

kennedy-ha.jpgFor me, another “wow” moment happened on page 72 of the Historical Manuscripts catalogue, where there is a 1963 Christmas card signed by President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. The president and first lady signed this card (and about thirty others) just days before making their fateful trip to Dallas. But, of course, the cards were never sent. The estimate is $10,000-15,000.

Then, at the very end of the same catalogue, I found a neat collection of wax seals, including a large gilt bronze wax seal stamp in the shape of a crow (estimate $750-900), some agate-handled, some brass, some decorative seals, and even a massive locket seal ring (estimate $200-250).

You can preview some more of the rare books auction’s highlights in the three-minute HA video:

By Jeremy Howell



In this election season, remembering Charles Dickens as a champion of the displaced and downtrodden is particularly timely.  Fine Books & Collections recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. William Moeck, curator of “Charles Dickens: The Key to Character” on exhibition at the New York Public Library.  This 200th birthday celebration with a five-monthlong exhibit was four years in the making, and explores events in Dickens’s life that inspired his unforgettable characters and their interpretation by other artists. The show boasts artifacts as varied as a Great Expectations-inspired designer gown and illustrations done by Hablot Knight Browne, the artist know as “Phiz.” In addition to curating this exhibit, Dr. Moeck is a State University of New York Nassau Community College professor of English literature.

Top Left:  J. R. Brown. “Dickens Surrounded by His Characters.” Engraving from Charles Dickens by Pen and Pencil, by Frederic G. Kitton (London: F. T. Sabin, 1890). General Research Division, NYPL.


Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do we find Dickens so compelling today?

Dr. Moeck:  The easy answer is that he continues to make us laugh and continues to make us cry, often on the same page.  Although that melodrama may not be to everyone’s taste, the philosopher George Santayana nailed it when he said that although Dickens’s taste is sometimes wanting, no one can deny his genius.


I think, really, the reason why Dickens has continued to be powerful is because of the visualizable quality of his way of drawing characters, and that has made him a natural for cinematography.  Early screenwriters said they were influenced by Dickens because they found in his novels such pre-cinematic techniques as panning, close-ups, montage, and parallel plotting. Since we live in a visually oriented culture, I think that’s probably his power.  He speaks to our mind’s eye.


JH: I’d like to ask about “Phiz”--the artist Hablot Knight Browne.  Both men were young when they began working with one another--Browne only 20 and Dickens just 24.  Can you tell me a little about what’s on display from “Phiz,” and why you think the pair of them made such good collaborators?


Dr. Moeck:  I think Hablot was able to pick up on Dickens’s strengths and to accentuate them.  It’s been observed by detractors of Dickens that the people in his novels are more like caricatures--two-sided rather than fully developed people--and Browne was able to bring that out.  He was able to clearly render them as kind of exaggerated.  He worked well with Dickens because he was relatively unknown compared to [earlier Dickens illustrator George] Cruikshank and therefore malleable and susceptible to Dickens’s stage directions.  We have an exhibition of an unpublished draft of Edith Granger, a woman from Dombey and Son. Dickens gave Hablot directions to portray her as not being a day over thirty, elegant with the spark of the devil in her--but how do you do that?  Dickens was satisfied with the results.



I think even better examples [of art direction setting mood] are from the mature novels, such as Bleak House, and Browne’s development of the dark plates.  He had fine line rulings that created a greater contrast of light and darkness, producing almost a mezzotint. That really worked well with the mature novels because in them, atmosphere has a much greater effect than the earlier novels. Landscapes and urban environments almost take on a character of their own, something Browne captured really well.


JH:  Why do you believe the two had their falling out later in life?


Dr. Moeck:  So that’s an interesting question: It’s been argued that Dickens thought his work was changing and that his characters were no longer as exaggerated as they were originally portrayed.  The answer is probably more complicated-- it might have been personal reasons, but also the sensibilities of the age had changed.  If you look at the illustrators who replaced Browne, they went after a much more naturalistic rendering--people like F.O.C. Darley.  They really tried to downplay the physical features that Dickens exaggerated in the novels and made the characters look like someone you might actually meet on the street rather than in a cartoon book.  I think that reflects a change in sensibilities of an era.


JH:  Dickens professed to know a little about music, but that wasn’t entirely true. His novels are filled with musical references, which make me curious about the sheet music on display.  Can you tell me a bit about that?


Dr. Moeck:  We have three pieces of original sheet music on display that I chose in part because of their coloration.  In the 1840s, when Dickens came to New York, there was a big party thrown for him on Valentine’s Day, and two thousand people crammed into a theatre to celebrate the world’s most famous novelist writing in English.  They mounted a tableau event, people acting out key scenes from the early novels, and composers wrote dance music honoring different characters.  We have on display the “Barrow Boz Quadrilles,” that were composed in his honor.  The other sheet music on display is “Little Nell Waltz,” which was composed in the 1860s. It’s based on one of the most pathetic Dickens characters of all, this little girl who wanders the countryside with her grandfather, who is addicted to gambling.


JH:  The exhibit also includes the codebook Dickens used to communicate with his mistress.  How does this fit in with the theme of characters?


English: Ellen Ternan, the young actress who b...

English: Ellen Ternan, the young actress who became Charles Dickens’s mistress Français : Ellen Ternan, la jeune actrice qui devint la maîtresse de Charles Dickens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr. Moeck:  It forms a part of the section of exhibitions called “Fatal Attractions.” That is about Dickens’s last three books and about the upheaval in his personal life, which kind of underpins them.  He met an eighteen-year-old actress when he was 45 and separated from his wife of twenty years on account of Ellen Ternan. Dickens was a champion of domesticity in the heart and home.  He was quoted as having said that his great ambition is to live in the hearts and homes of home-loving people, and that was his public persona.  It would basically have been a catastrophe if the public found out that he was involved with someone who was not his wife and half his age, and, of course, you couldn’t divorce someone back then and marry someone new--that was not possible. He broke things off with his wife and more or less carried on this secret affair, and during 1867, on his second visit to the U.S., he brought with him a diary that recorded all of his engagements and also the wording he was going to use to telegram Ellen Ternan back in England as to whether she should come visit him.  The diary says “All Well” meant Ternan should come, and “Safe and Well” meant “Don’t come.”  That’s what he ended up telegramming to Ternan via his agent.  He felt he did not have enough privacy to see her safely without attracting the press.  Dickens was very scrupulous to burn all his correspondence with Ternan, and vice versa, and this diary was lost or stolen until it turned up out of the blue at auction in New York in the 1920s.  Albert A. Berg and his brother Henry snatched it up because they were big fans of Dickensiana, and it was their behest to the library in 1938 that really forms the central core of the New York Public Library’s holdings.  The Berg Collection not only has the diary that contains the code, it also has the memoranda book that, for thirteen years of his career, Dickens kept filled with lists of names of characters, some of which he used and some he didn’t.  He always felt he had to have a character’s name before he could write about a person.  As he used the names, he checked them off.

JH:  What is one of your favorite pieces on display?


Dr. Moeck: I like the Joseph Clayton Clark, otherwise known as “Kyd.”  It’s a picture of Dickens as a wizard dressed in a gown full of stars and moons and holding a wand. He’s conjuring up the Ghost of Christmas Present, the famous image that was drawn by John Leech. I like that one because I think, for many people, Dickens is just inextricably attached to Christmas itself.  I teach Dickens, and A Christmas Carol is so easy to teach because everyone knows the story, and students can just focus on the language. Scrooge is so much a part of our cultural baggage that we travel with.  “Kyd” builds on this in this drawing of Dickens as a wizard and so capitalizes on this notion of Dickens having invented our modern celebration of Christmas, which is not true.  But somehow, in popular esteem, Dickens has eclipsed everyone else as the author most intimately attached to Christmas celebration.


JH: Dickens was, of course, a champion of the downtrodden and very much about social justice.  It’s ironic that in this election year, those are themes that we are still talking about.  Is Dickens timeless?


Dr. Moeck:  There was an article addressing just this topic by Michael Feingold in the Village Voice of September 5th, and it was saying exactly how Dickens, being the champion of the downtrodden, is timeless.  I’m not so sure as to whether Dickens is timeless so much as economic inequality and oppression are--I think they are the ones that are timeless, and Dickens just tapped into it.


JH:  How else is the library celebrating Dickens’s 200th birthday and what has this exhibit meant to you?


Dr. Moeck:  If you go to the library web site and find the page for the Dickens exhibition, you can access that information.  The exhibit is really a tribute to the New York Public Library, as the holdings of this institution are just phenomenal.  This exhibition was four years in research, and I could have filled a much larger space.  The reach of Dickens in every form of artistic interpretation is astounding. 


Additional Photo Credit, mid-page, right:  “Mrs. Gamp proposes a Toast.”  In this original watercolor drawing by Phiz illustrating a celebrated scene in chapter 49 of Martin Chuzzlewit.  The New York Public Library, Berg Collection of English and American Literature.

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