November 2012 Archives

ShakespearesTremor.jpgSo Shakespeare was obsessed with syphilis, does that mean he had it? How was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Yankee diet related to his mysterious death? Did Jack London overdose, or commit suicide? John Ross, M.D., takes up these questions and other medical matters related to famous writers in his recent Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99).

In this immensely readable and enjoyable book, Dr. Ross culls each author’s symptoms from contemporary source material and attempts to diagnose his or her likely ailment. This book grew out of an article on syphilis he originally published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Because Ross is a real M.D.--a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School--the urge to scoff at his multiple diagnoses of Asperger Syndrome is (mostly) quelled.

There are chapters on Milton, Melville, and Swift, all of which will cause readers to gasp and chuckle in turn, as Dr. Ross provides a light history of the medicines and treatments they endured. I guarantee that the opening paragraphs of the chapter on James Joyce and his “irrigation” treatments for gonorrhea will make readers squirm in their seat.

Tuberculosis picked off the five Bronte children one by one, a sad story with many dimensions deftly explained by Dr. Ross. Unfortunately the Bronte sisters are the only women under examination here -- what does Dr. Ross make of Jane Austen’s death? Last year, a British crime novelist claimed that Austen was poisoned, although she is commonly thought to have had Addison’s disease. Ross does discuss arsenic in a chapter on William Butler Yeats, saying that arsenic therapy was long used for many disorders, but that the “effective dose is very close to the amount needed to cause harm.” Arsenic treatments were also used on Jack London for his many maladies, but that wasn’t what killed him in the end.

Intrigued? Read an excerpt.
480px-Ann_Patchett_2012_Shankbone.JPGSome readers may recall that bestselling author Ann Patchett (State of Wonder, Bel Canto) opened up a bookshop last year in her hometown, Nashville, Tennessee.  At the time she worried she was “opening an ice shop in the age of Fridgidaire,” but felt compelled to replace the hole in her community from the 2010 closing of a local bookshop chain.  Her store, Parnassus Books, is now approaching its one year anniversary and is “thriving” according to a recent profile of Patchett and her bookshop in The Courier-Journal.

Instead of attempting to compete with the “superstores” of Barnes and Noble, which average 26,000 square feet, Patchett opened a smaller, community-focused bookshop in a strip mall a few miles from downtown.  Parnassus books only occupies 3,150 feet but put down a healthy 2 million in sales last year.

Patchett has a business partner to manage the daily operation of the store but stops by and plays “literary matchmaker” every other day in between writing sessions.

Of course, it helps Parnassus that Patchett is a renowned author able to draw national press coverage, but she is really only a representative of a wider trend in independent bookselling. The head of the American Bookselling Association said that in the past three years more independent bookshops have opened than closed.

Let’s hope that encouraging trend continues.

[Images of Patchett from Wikipedia]

On December 4, an incredible collection of rare dictionaries, valued at close to $1 million, goes on the block at Bonhams in New York City. The two hundred lots of lexicography comprised the collection of Thomas Malin Rodgers, Jr., who passed away earlier this year. From sixteenth-century B.C. cuneiform tablet (estimated at $1,500-2,500) to James Caulfield’s Blackguardiana: or, A Dictionary of Rogues, Bawds, Pimps, Whores, Pickpockets, Shoplifters..., circa 1793 (est. at  $3,000-5,000), this collection is extensive and impressive. The great printers of history--Aldus Manutius, Anton Koberger, Robert Estienne--are all represented. Here are some more highlights:

Papias 1006.jpgPerhaps one of the most striking items in the sale is this late thirteenth-century Italian manuscript of Papias the Grammarian’s dictionary, the only Papias manuscript on the market since 1903 (est. $25,000-$35,000). Papias is credited with creating the first modern dictionary, seven hundred years before Samuel Johnson.

Roget 1150.jpgAnother incredible (fascinating, unbelievable, or extraordinary...) lot is an autograph manuscript titled “Arrangement of Knowledge” by Peter Mark Roget of Thesaurus fame (est. $6,000-8,000). Dating from 1799-1803, Bonhams states that the 48-page manuscript “appears to be unpublished.”

Webster 1172.jpgOf course, what would an auction of dictionaries be without Webster? On offer is an autograph manuscript in Webster’s hand for the first edition of his American Dictionary, published in 1828 (est. $8,000-10,000). The page features definitions for twelve B words. A printed first edition is also available in the auction, estimated at $7,000-10,000.

And, if you are as perturbed by the recent Oxford English Dictionary scandal as many in the literary world, give a thought to the first edition issued in 132 parts from 1884 to 1933 (estimate $2,500-3,500).

Images courtesy of Bonhams. 
Earlier this month, an antiquarian bookshop in Toronto unveiled “The Biblio-Mat,” a gorgeous vending machine containing antiquarian books.  The Biblio-Mat rests in a corner of the bookshop where it awaits customers to try their luck by inserting $2.00 into the machine.  It then dispenses a random antiquarian book.  Watch it in action here:

The machine was conceived by builder Craig Small for The Monkey’s Paw as an alternative to the usual sidewalk discount bin.  The books offered up by the Biblio-mat vary widely in content and format.  The machine inspires repeat visits by encouraging you to “collect all 112 million titles.”

While it’s nice to see a book vending machine in action again, some readers may recall that book vending machines have been around since the 1940s. Here is an excellent photograph from Life magazine in 1949 depicting the “Book-o-Mat.”

bookomat.jpgAround the same time the “Penguincubator” was installed on Charing Cross Road in London.  This machine only dispensed books published by Penguin:

But the winner, in terms of vintage, is this photograph from a 1947 copy of Popular Science.  This machine held 150 books available at 25 cents a pop.

47oldbookmachine.jpgCheck out this great Pinterest board by Suzi Holler for more images of book vending machines, including some in use today by libraries.

Anyone know of any other vintage book vending machines? 

DSCF2911.3081042_std.JPGHow do we get American children interested in books? The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress has a winning idea -- Letters About Literature, a program that asks young readers to read a book and then write a letter to its author describing how the book changed their lives. It encourages “reflective writing,” and students across the country have responded with entries on racism, bullying, and war. Last year’s winners wrote letters to George Orwell, Mark Doty, and Tim O’Brien.

This annual program for children in grades 4-10 focuses on literacy, the primary mission of the Center for the Book. Over five hundred entries have already been received, and the deadline for this year’s contest is January 11, 2013.

At the first International Summit for the Book at the Library of Congress next month, the renowned collector of historic documents, David M. Rubenstein, will talk about the literacy awards project and its part in the conference. It goes without saying that we (readers, book lovers, book collectors) are all in this together, and forwarding the mission of literacy is a worthy cause.

Image above: One of the many pieces of “envelope art” received at the Library of Congress during the LAL contest. 

Massacre_of_the_Vaudois_of_Merindol.jpgThe Toronto Star reported Thursday that a history professor at the University of Alberta uncovered an exceedingly rare 15th treatise on the evils of witchcraft in the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library.  The professor, Dr. Andrew Gow, first found Invectives Against the Sect of Waldensians in 2005 while scouring the library for new teaching material. Last month, a rare book expert from the Netherlands arrived at the University to conduct a thorough investigation of the book.  The expert’s conclusion: Alberta’s copy may be the original Invectives, upon which the three other known copies were based. 

Invectives Against the Sect of Waldensians was likely written in 1465 by a French monk in Burgundy. The book’s title is a reference to the Waldensian heresy, which was active in medieval France, until it was viciously and repeatedly suppressed by Catholic authorities. In addition to its Waldensian claims, Invectives instructs witch-hunters on how to identify the many signs and varieties of witchcraft. To that end, Invectives was successful - terribly successful - as it contributed to the atrocities of the witchcraft purges over the following 200 years.  Invectives also laid some of the foundation for the modern conception of witchcraft by describing bubbling cauldrons, flying on broomsticks, cursing crops, and so on.

The path traveled by the book from 15th century France to 21st century Alberta remains mysterious.  Dr. Gow suspects the book was housed in an English monastery until the Reformation when it was transferred to private hands.  But the facts are sparse: two members of the British Parliament inscribed their ownership signatures to the front endpapers in the 18th century. The book was donated to the University of Alberta in 1988 by the book collector John Lunn. 

But what happened in between remains an open question.

[Image of a Waldensian massacre from Wikipedia]

Abraham Lincoln never seems to go out of fashion as a collectible. And now, with the big Lincoln film enthralling audiences everywhere, I wondered about its effect on Lincoln-related rare books, documents, and autographs.

M. Sylvia Castle at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, told me interest has picked up. “We have seen an uptick in Lincoln biographies and signatures sales especially. The photographs we produce are selling very well, and we have new visitors to the shop almost daily.”  

Seth Kaller of Seth Kaller, Inc., who deals in historic documents from White Plains, New York, said that while he hasn’t seen an additional activity yet, he expects increased public attention. “To be prepared, we’ve put together a special online-only catalog, Collecting Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address,” which launched on Monday. Items in the catalogue include books, letters, broadsides, and newspapers, and range in price from $250 to $250,000.

Lincoln-Kaller.jpgAn engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie commemorates the moment Lincoln first presented the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. From Seth Kaller’s Lincoln catalogue, $4,500

Read more about Lincoln’s story in documents and rare newspapers on Seth Kaller’s blog.

Lincoln lovers may also be interested to know that a Swann Galleries sale of autographs on Nov. 29 includes two pieces related to the sixteenth president: an autograph endorsement signed A. Lincoln on the back page of an 1861 letter to Attorney General Edward Bates (est. $4,000-6,000) and another autograph endorsement signed A. Lincoln, from 1863 (est. $4,000-6,000). The sale includes quite a bit of presidential material.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Stefania Pandakovic, a junior specialist in the books and manuscripts department at Christie’s in London.

Stefaniac Pandakovic.jpgNP: What is your role at Christie’s?

SP: I am a Junior Specialist in the Books and Manuscripts department; my speciality is printed books, with a particular eye on Italian pieces, as well as Italian clients. I often organize Valuation Days in Milan and Rome where collectors bring their books to be valued. One of the things I enjoy the most about my job is the chance to combine the study of the books with the opportunity to meet interesting collectors from different backgrounds and visit amazing places and libraries.
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

SP: As I always tell people it was the books that called me, not the other way around. I had just started my MA in Venice on Italian XVI century paintings when I received a call from Sotheby’s Milan asking me to do an internship in their Books, Drawings and Prints department. I will always remember my first day of work: everyone was called into a meeting and I was left in the office with a pile of what I remember calling dusty books to collate. At that time I was even unaware of the meaning of the word collating, but I was keen to make a first move into the business. I got home that evening and decided I never wanted to work with books again. A few years later I was working full time in the London Books and Manuscript department of Christie’s.... something must have changed my mind!
NP: What is your favourite rare book that you’ve handled?

SP: Difficult to say; I love XVI century Italian books, especially the ones with engravings of architecture, science and technology. I also enjoy the books that had a huge impact in the history of the world: Dante, Galileo, Darwin, Kafka, Freud - just to mention a few coming up for sale in the next few days.
I did fall in love with a collection of fantastic books from the Pillone Library in Belluno last year. Seeing the fore-edges painted by Cesare Vecellio, cousin of my favourite artist Tiziano, was special: it created a bridge between my passion for Italian paintings and my knowledge of books.
NP: What do you personally collect?

SP: I personally collect contemporary art, mainly prints: it all started with a Chinese sculpture I bought in Shanghai some years ago. I am now a very proud owner of a Michelangelo Pistoletto and a [very] small Gerhard Richter. I have some first editions too and I recently bought three lovely XVIII century maps of Venice and Corfu. As you may well know apartments in London are very small and I will soon have to find another hobby, or a larger place.
NP: What do you love about working for an auction house?

SP: The main thing I love about Christie’s is that you get to see the best art objects in the world. In my case, I feel proud to handle and study so many nice books every day. I also love the thrill of the auction and the various different tasks I get to work on during the year: business getting, researching, cataloguing, selling etc.
NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of rare books and auction houses?

SP: Things change very rapidly in current times and the main auction houses have to move quickly to follow the trends. During the last 4 years, since I joined Christie’s, the strategies have changed, the market is different and the clients are looking for new things. It is very important to keep up with the fashions and the new technologies, I believe Christie’s is doing it very well by offering a number of new tools such as the online auctions and the Ipad applications. If we manage to balance well between being innovative and maintaining the traditions (client service and competence) I think there will be successful times ahead besides the general crisis the world’s facing right now.

The same could be said for the rare books market: collectors are probably some of the most conservative in the art market, but the ability to involve new potential buyers is what will eventually determine those who will succeed and those who won’t. One of our personal most innovative achievements here in the Books Department was selling an Apple 1 in 2010! There is a lot of space for new ideas, we just have to find them and be the first to do so.
NP: Any upcoming auctions you’re particularly excited about?

SP: Of course, there are two in particular: an amazing auction at Christie’s King Street on November 21 where you can find some fantastic illuminated manuscripts and leaves, an amazing group of autograph letters and documents including a musical manuscript by Beethoven and an original typescript by Kafka. Among the printed books I catalogued there is a first edition of the Hypnerotomachia Polipjhili by Francesco Colonna (lot 101), a beautiful Dante from 1502 in a contemporary Venetian binding (lot 104), a great book on perspective that was only ever offered twice at auction (lot 112) and a Cellarius/Doppelmayer with fantastic contemporary hand-colouring (lot 139).

If you want an advice I would also suggest keeping an eye on our South Kensington auction. On offer there are some amazing London maps (lots 201-205), various Kirchers (lots 153-155, 197-199 and 238) and a collection of European avant-garde together with Catalan and South American literature (lots 308-384). And as I always say at the end of my emails: don’t hesitate to contact me for any further assistance!

Marlene Dietrich did not have the eyes of a reader; she had the eyes of a seductress. Which served her well in her long Hollywood career. But, as it turns out, she liked books. Through November 24, Henry Sotheran’s Fine Books and Prints in London is holding a selling exhibition of thirty of the actress’ books.

Screen shot 2012-11-19 at 9.57.43 AM.pngThe list has some of the glamour one would expect: first editions of Cecil Beaton’s photography books, an exhibition catalogue from a 1986 Christian Dior show in Paris, and a selection of photography/art books in which Dietrich herself is featured. An inscribed copy of Persona Grata, a collection of photographs and text by Beaton and Kenneth Tynan, stands out. Dietrich has underlined a sentence from the description under her name, “She has sex, but no particular gender.” She knew had to add value to a book! In addition to the marginalia, a collection of personal correspondence and ephemera is tucked in. The price is £2,750 (about $4,375).  

And then there is Goethe. Apparently Dietrich was a fan, writing once, “My passion for Goethe, along with the rest of my education, enclosed me in a complete circle full of solid moral values that I have preserved throughout my life.” Her “well-read” 1948 Dial Press edition of The Permanent Goethe with numerous pencil markings can be had for £998 (about $1,500). It seems she also enjoyed Voltaire -- her Modern Library edition is here for £298 (about $475).

But the highlight of this exhibition must be Dietrich’s paperback copy of Mein Kampf, given to her by her lover, Erich Maria Remarque, in 1939. Says the bookseller, “The couple’s essential Germanic background and both of their fierce anti-Nazi feelings makes this copy of Mein Kampf an important association copy.” Its price is £6,000 (about $9,500).
According to the bookseller, this collection came by direct family descent from Marlene to her daughter Maria Riva, thence to her grandson Peter Riva. Each book has a letter of provenence signed by Peter Riva as well as a newly designed bookplate (seen above). Andrew McGeachin, managing director at Sotheran’s, also adds, “Books from Dietrich’s library are difficult to find on the commercial market as the vast majority of her possessions are held at the Filmmuseum in Berlin.”

There are at least two exhibits on view in Boston that bibliophiles should not miss if they have the opportunity to poke around town before, after, and between book fairs. One is at Harvard’s Houghton Library: From Austen to Zola: Amy Lowell as a Collector. “Lowell was one of the few women competing in the male-dominated world of collecting,” according to the exhibit’s curators. But she did win big -- scoring thousands of rare books and manuscripts, including love letters from John Keats to Fanny Brawne, manuscripts by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and a sketch by Michelangelo on the back of a work order from 1523.

Lowell reading.jpg.
Amy Lowell seated, holding a book.
Photo credit line: Amy Lowell. Marceau, Boston, photographer. Undated. MS Lowell 62 (3). Houghton Library, Harvard University

If your interests turn more toward eye-popping visuals, get over to the Boston Athenaeum, where Chromo-Mania! Chromolithography in Boston, 1840-1910 is still on. Showing off a selection of more than sixty works, the exhibit explores the beauty of the chromolithography that appeared in everyday life: periodicals, sheet music, advertisements, and art reproductions.

Rapid Transit-Chromo.jpg
Dominick I. Drummond (ca. 1830-1899) and C. Frank King (Printing attributed to Charles H. Crosby & Company), “Rapid Transit. Save Time & Distance. Take the Hoosac Tunnel Route, 1877.” Chromolithographic advertisement. 29 ¾ x 23 ¾ inches (sheet). Boston Athenæum.
If you came of age in the 90s, you probably played the video game Myst.  Myst’s immersive first-person gameplay was a seminal achievement in the history of video games. The New York Times hailed Myst as evidence that video games could be elevated into art.

In the game, you play a mysterious stranger who opens a book and is teleported to the eerie, deserted island of Myst.  As you explore the island you uncover other books, called “linking books,” which in turn transport you to other worlds.

A superfan of the series in Australia, Mike Ando, decided to build a real-life linking book.  Over the course of six years, he transformed an antiquarian book into a functioning computer which lets you play Myst on an embedded touch screen.  It’s an amazing achievement:

mystbook_open.jpgAndo first had to source a copy of the book used by Cyan (the software company behind Myst) as a “texture reference” when developing the game.  Ando found out that particular book was a bound copy of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume LIV, Issue 312, December 1876 - May 1877.

So Ando found a copy of the same Harper’s, bound in a similar fashion.  (In his research, Ando uncovered at least 14 variant bindings for this book, which makes sense, of course, as many of the Harper runs would have been custom-bound by period collectors).  Ando had the book repaired and custom embossed with the word MYST on both the front cover and spine in 24 carat gold.

mystbook_front.jpgHe then completely destroyed its interior, replacing it with a custom-built desktop computer and a 5-inch touch-screen.  He loaded the computer with Myst and its various sequels.

mystbook_insides.jpgAnd voila!  A real-life linking book was created:

Ando has this truly rare book for sale on his website for $15,625.  I applaud his enormous effort, even if it resulted in the death (or transformation) of an antiquarian book.  In particular, I’m thrilled by Ando’s perfectionist attention to detail.  The end product is truly awesome:


Boston-small.jpgBooksellers (and book collectors) are getting ready for this weekend’s book fairs in Beantown. The ABAA’s International Antiquarian Book Fair will be held Nov. 16-18 at the Hynes Auditorium.

Priscilla-Laura D.jpgI have enjoyed the work of book artist Laura Davidson at a few past fairs and am glad to see her work among the highlights that Priscilla Juvelis has packed for Boston. Every Nib, an artist’s book made in a limited edition of 18, is a new work from Davidson (seen above). “The five pages each of five pen nibs are woodblock prints, each on a different colored ground, all in shades of buff, each nib with the catalogue information about the nib written in ink. On each of the five pages there is a silverpoint drawing with ink wash of a different pen.” $1,850

AntiquariaatForum.jpgOutline history of an expedition to California, a satirical comic book on the California Gold Rush of 1848/9, is one of the items that Laurens Hesselink of Antiquariaat FORUM BV promises to bring to the fair. This one looks very cool -- anonymously written by someone calling himself XOX, it features swindlers, Indians, pirates, and others on their way to the gold fields. “In its graphic form this curious work is clearly a very early predecessor of the modern comic book.” (€6,500; $8,250).

Jeff Hirsch Books will offer a selection of signed first editions, including Gwendolyn Brooks’ In The Mecca ($150), Don Delillo’s Underworld ($100), and Arthur Miller’s After the Fall ($250). Quill & Brush will have the first edition of the first American textbook of gynecology, William Dewees’ 1826 Treatise on the Disease of Females ($1,250). And speaking of females, Brian Cassidy says he’ll bring “binders full of women,” -- you can’t miss that!

If you go, don’t forget that the Boston, Book, Print & Ephemera Show (a.k.a the ‘shadow show’) will be open on Saturday at the nearby Back Bay Events Center. More than seventy dealers will be there -- including B&B Rare Books, Peter Masi, and James Arsenault & Company.

Images courtesy of (top) Commonwealth Promotion, Inc.; (middle) Priscilla Juvelis; (bottom) Antiquariaat Forum BV.

benburbpostcard.jpgIn proof that hidden libraries and forgotten cellars are not merely fodder for Gothic novels, the abbot at the Benburb Priory in Northern Ireland discovered a treasure trove of rare books stashed away deep inside his priory’s cellars earlier this year. Father Chris O’Brien, of the Servite Priory, has since applied for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a significant funding source for British cultural projects, to conduct preservation on the library and re-house it in a modern building.  The library was originally culled from a variety of monastic Servite libraries throughout Europe in the middle 19th century on the heels of a wave of anti-clerical sentiment.  The Benburb Priory, following a rich Irish tradition, (see: How the Irish Saved Civilization) retrieved the books from its brother monasteries around Europe in order to safely house them during a time of political upheaval.  The library was then forgotten about sometime in the next century, gathering dust for years in a dark cellar behind a locked door.
The library, which is currently closed to public access, contains a variety of medieval treatises and is particularly rich on Christian writing from the early Renaissance era.  It also contains a strong Irish literature collection and some odds and ends such as original Dickens novels bound in parts. It total in contains approximately 20,000 books and manuscripts.
The Heritage Lottery Fund announced last week that the library had gained its initial support in its request for almost £773,000 for restoration work and to build and develop a new library at the priory to house the collection, which would be open to public access.  If the funding is finally allocated toward the Priory library, a significant new archive of rare books will be open to the public in Northern Ireland.
Let this serve as a reminder for everyone to go ahead and break through that locked door in your cellar.  You never know what you might find inside.

(Images from Wikimedia)

Screen shot 2012-11-11 at 9.16.58 PM.pngIn honor of Veterans Day, I want to share with you an excellent essay about Vietnam War memorist and novelist Tim O’Brien, written by Sarah Funke Butler of Glenn Horowitz Books. It’s a look inside O’Brien’s archive, now at the Ransom Center in Texas, that pulls at the strands of his beginnings as a writer, from a stint at an Army newsletter to his stunning novels Going After Cacciato (which won the National Book Award) and The Things They Carried, which was a World Book Night pick last year. Read it in the Paris Review

- Bloomsbury held a Bibliophile Sale on 1 November, in 415 lots.

- Doyle New York sold Books, Photographs & Prints on 5 November. A letter from George Washington to James McHenry sold for a whopping $362,500. An 18th-century tract volume from the library of Joseph Sewall sold for $28,125. Elizabethan titles went for pretty hefty prices as well.

- Leslie Hindman sold Books and Manuscripts on 7 November. A first edition in book form of the Gettysburg Address sold for $20,000.

- On 8 November at Bloomsbury, Sporting Books, in 488 lots. The top lot was a copy of the second issue of Blacker’s Art of Angling, and Complete System of Fly Making (1842), which made £15,000.

- PBA Galleries sold Fine & Rare Books on 8 November. Results are here.

- Bonhams sells Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Photographs on 13 November.

- Bloomsbury sells Maps & Atlases, Watercolours and Prints on 14-15 November, in 583 lots.

- On 15 November, PBA Galleries sells Important Manuscripts and Archives, in 174 lots.

- Sotheby’s sells Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History on 15 November, in 342 lots. An amazing collection of 18th-century ornithological watercolors is estimated at £300,000-500,000.

- Skinner, Inc. sells Books & Manuscripts on 18 November, in 698 lots. Watch the next FB&C for my take on this sale. Some really good bookseller and auction catalogs up for grabs here.

- At Sotheby’s Paris on 19 November, Livres et Manuscrits, in 192 lots. A copy of Catesby rates the top estimate, at 280,000-320,000 EUR.

- On 21 November at Christie’s, Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books, in 162 lots. A ~1530 Paris Book of Hours rates the top estimate, at £250,000-350,000. A first edition Hypnerotomachia could fetch £80,000-120,000.

- At Bloomsbury on 27-28 November, Important Books & Manuscripts, in 413 lots. Some big-ticket items of early printing here, including a few copies that came through the Doheny sale. Also quite a selection of Nabokov works and some manuscripts.

- Bonhams sells Printed Books and Maps on 27 November, in 693 lots.

- On 27 November at Christie’s, Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts, in 395 lots. 

- Sotheby’s sells Music, Continental and Russian Books and Manuscripts on 28 November, in 159 lots. Many interesting music manuscripts, and a first edition of Vesalius, which could fetch £120,000-180,000.

- Also at Sotheby’s on 28 November, a collection of manuscripts, letters, and memorabilia from the family of Alberto Toscanini, in 87 lots.

- At Christie’s on 29 November, An Important Collection of Russian Books & Manuscripts, in 149 lots. Quite an impressive selection of items here.

- PBA Galleries will sell Fine Americana on 29 November.

Catalogue Review: Raptis Rare Books, #3

Screen shot 2012-11-08 at 5.09.10 PM.pngAlmost exactly one year ago I reviewed Raptis Rare Books’ catalogue #1. It has been my pleasure over this past week to page through their newest release, #3. What I liked then, I still like; i.e., Raptis offers a range of amazing books, but I most enjoy the focus given to the fine books not often seen.

The inscribed first edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine fits into that category ($6,000). What an amazing original jacket, too! Or a signed first American edition of Jose Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis ($1,500). Or a signed first edition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Angels in America by Tony Kushner ($3,750). Or a signed first edition of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine ($400).

Then there are the heavy hitters, like an inscribed first edition of The Catcher in the Rye ($200,000). As the catalogue notes, it is “one of the true rarities of twentieth-century American literature.” A near fine first edition of The Hobbit in a near fine dust jacket is further enhanced by its “brilliant custom full morocco box, with the front panel mimicking the frontispiece” ($50,000). A first edition of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, signed by the author, in the rare dust jacket ($38,500) comes just before its prettier sister, Helena--also a signed first edition and inscribed to fellow novelist J.F. Powers ($2,500).  

There are great galleys to be had in this catalogue, too, including an uncorrected proof of The World According to Garp, signed by the author ($2,250); a signed uncorrected British proof of Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist ($1,250); and a collection of eleven signed, uncorrected proofs of Steven Millhauser’s books ($3,500).

James Bond collectors should take note of an entire Fleming section. Plus, sets of fine bindings, some sci-fi, economics, and poetry. One last pick: how about an association copy of Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Discoverers, signed to Caspar Weinberger and bearing his bookplate ($450) -- that’s the Librarian of Congress to the Secretary of Defense. Pretty neat.

The catalogue can be downloaded here.

See also Raptis Rare Books in our Bright Young Things series.
Description_de_l'Egypte,_1823(1).pngLast year, the library at the Institute of Egypt in Cairo caught fire in the midst of revolutionary fighting.  Several thousand rare books and manuscripts were burnt beyond repair.  In an effort to amend the loss, the Emir of Sharjah Emirate, part of the United Arab Emirates, will be donating 4,000 rare books from his personal collection to the Cairo library.

Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Emir of Sharjah and a historian himself, announced his decision on Wednesday at the opening of the 31st annual Sharjah International Book Fair.  He made his donation in honor of the major role played by the Institute of Egypt, since its founding by Napoleon, in the dissemination of scientific knowledge across northern Africa and the Middle East.

Among the donations are a copy of Description de l’Egypt, written during the French expedition to Egypt between 1798 and 1801, and published between 1809 and 1829. The massive, multi-volume work was an all-encompassing scientific description of modern and ancient Egypt, complete with generous illustrations. Description de l’Egypt was written collaboratively by about 160 scientists who accompanied Napoleon on his Egyptian expedition.  Approximately 2000 artists were also involved in its production.

desegypt.jpgThe Institute’s original manuscript copy of Description de l’Egypt was one of the casualties of the 2011 fire. 

A variety of other rare maps, journals, and books - many from before 1860 - will also be included in the Emir’s donation.

(Images from Wikipedia and OpenLibrary)
Penumbra,jpgA typographical thriller? Who would have thought. And from the hands of a 32-year-old “media inventor” and former Twitter manager who by all rights shouldn’t care a whit for paper and ink. But he does! Robin Sloan’s new novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (FSG, $25), is a buoyant tale of black-robed bibliophiles and Google code-breakers.

The novel’s main character, Clay Jannon, takes a job at a San Francisco bookshop where, he discovers, the real business is a lending library of leather-bound books for a crew of odd readers. Once he begins snooping around a bit and applying his techie skills--hacking, data visualization--to the mystery, he discovers that his boss, Mr. Penumbra, is a disenchanted leader in a “bibliophile cult” called the Unbroken Spine.

Following Penumbra to New York City, Jannon finds the object of the Unbroken Spine’s desire: a codex vitae printed by Aldus Manutius (founder of the cult) in a typeface called Gerritszoon at the end of the fifteenth century. The problem is, the book is in code; Jannon and his Silicon Valley friends aim to break it open and free the text, as it were.
At 288 pages, it is difficult to escape the feeling--especially when the flap copy compares it to “young Umberto Eco”--that the novel lacks depth, and the main plot feels formulaic at times. After all, we do find ourselves in a subterranean library vault pouring over an antiquarian book said to contain the key to immortality. But Sloan is very bright, and that shines through -- even to his glow-in-the-dark dust jacket. Plus, if he entices even a handful of younger readers to the coolness of rare books, well then, all is forgiven.

Incidentally, Sloan was pictured in the New York Times last month hiding away in the Grolier Club stacks, where he poured over Aldines, printed by the real Aldus Manutius.

Read an excerpt here.
Edward Gorey died in 2000, but twelve years later publishers are still working to release some of his unpublished work.  Gorey illustrated books for 50 years and his distinctive style - both whimsical and Gothic - has spawned an entire sub-genre of collecting: “Goreyana.”  Three new (or re-printed) Gorey stories have arrived in bookshops this fall, just time to fill the Christmas stockings of Gorey collectors.

thoughtfulalphabets_gorey.jpeg From Pomegranate Press comes “Thoughtful Alphabets: The Just Dessert & the Deadly Blotter” (64 pp., $14.95).  “Thoughtful Alphabets” collects two previous Gorey publications which were only available if you managed to track down one of the out-of-print limited editions.  “The Just Dessert” was published by Fantod Press in a limited edition of 750 copies in 1997.  Today, copies of “The Just Dessert” command $200 and up.  The other story collected in “Thoughtful Alphabets” was also originally published by Fantod Press in 1997, again in an edition of 750 copies.  “The Deadly Blotter” retails for $200 and up from online booksellers.  Both stories are typical Gorey-esque plays on children’s alphabet books.

osbick.jpgPomegranate Pres also released “The Osbick Bird” (32 pp., $12.95), originally published in 1970 by Fantod Press as part of a small collection of books housed in a pink envelope entitled “Three Books from the Fantod Press: The Chinese Obelisks, The Osbick Bird, Donald has a Difficulty.”  “The Osbick Bird” was also included in the omnibus collection “Amphigorey Too.”

melissamottled.jpgThe other new Gorey publication comes from Bloomsbury.  “Saint Melissa the Mottled” (48 pp., $12), is a previously unpublished story that Gorey penned but never illustrated.  The publishers are supplementing the text - in a welcome creative move or a cynical money-making ploy, depending on your point of view - with images from the Gorey archive.  Some of the illustrations have also never been published before.

And so the shelves of Goreyana around the world must expand to include a few more volumes. 

(Author’s note: My personal Gorey collection focuses on his wonderful covers for the John Bellairs books, some of my favorite reads from childhood).

SHAY FLORENCE - LH.jpgFlorence Shay managed to maintain a thriving, open rare bookshop in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park for forty years. When she passed away last August at the age of 90, Titles Inc. lost its center. The much beloved bookshop is now facing its inevitable demise, too--being auctioned off book by book.

Einstein-LH.jpgOn Wednesday of this week, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers will offer 178 lots from Titles Inc., in Shay’s favored subjects: nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, Americana, art, children’s, and fine press. Most hold estimates in the low-to-mid hundreds, but there are a few stand-outs, such as a presentation copy of Selig Hecht’s book, Explaining the Atom, gifted to John Nuveen from Albert Einstein, containing Einstein letter’s (seen here at left) to Nuveen written from Princeton on April 29, 1947 praising the book. The estimate is $4,000-6,000.

The remaining inventory of Titles Inc. will be sold on-site at 1821 Saint Johns Ave. in Highland Park on December 6-9. Books there will be offered at 40-50% off listed prices.

As the auction proceeds--there are 650 lots in total--buyers can lookout for a first edition Encyclopaedia Britannica (1771). This set was owned by the publisher and advertising executive William Benton, who was president and chairman of Encyclopedia Britannica from 1943-1973. His business card is tipped into each volume. The estimate is $10,000-15,000. An autographed manuscript of Emily Dickinson’s poem “If what we could/were what we would;/Criterion be small - It is the Ultimate of talk/the impotence to tell”, written circa 1863, and later given as a wedding present to Mr. and Mrs. Franklin H. Mills from Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Nice gift! This week it is estimated to reach $15,000-20,000. 

A significant archive from Howard Hughes’ around-the-world flight will also come in for a landing, followed by some intriguing aviation prints by Frank Lemon.

Images courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. 

Here’s how the October auctions shaped up:

- Results for the 4 October Bloomsbury Red China, 1921-1976 sale are here.

- The top seller at Bloomsbury’s Bibliophile Sale on 5 October was something of a surprise. Two copies of Siebe, Gorman & Co.’s Illustrated Catalogue of Diving Apparatus, Diving Bells, ...  (from ~1898 and ~1908) sold for £2,300; they’d been estimated at £150-200. Full results here.

- Christie’s London sold Travel, Science, and Natural History on 9 October, in 341 lots. The thermometer signed by Fahreinheit was, as expected, the top lot, at £67,250. But it shared the podium with a collection of letters from a member of the British Antarctic Expedition to his mother. An Enigma machine fetched £58,850. The total for the sale was £1,269,412.

- At Bonhams San Francisco Fine Books and Manuscripts sale on 10 October, a copy of the eight-volume Watson and Kaye photographic collection The People of India (1868-1875) sold for $80,500. The typescript of an unpublished Timothy Leary work did not sell.

- Andy Warhol carried the day at Swann Galleries’ 11 October Art, Press and Illustrated Books sale. A copy of his 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy sold for $52,800.

- Results for PBA Galleries 11 October sale of Fine Literature, Americana Bibliography, and Fine Books in All Fields are here. Two lots sold for $3,300: a mixed set of the Encyclopedie and a signed copy of Bukowski’s At Terror Street and Agony Way.

- Bloomsbury sold Literature, Manuscripts, Travel and Natural History Books on 18 October. The top lot was a 1733 John Pine engraving of the Magna Carta, which sold for £19,000. Full results here.

- It was quite a day at Swann Galleries on 23 October for their sale of Aldine Imprints & Early Printed Books from the Library of Kenneth Rapoport, in 119 lots. Almost all of the lots sold, with three fetching more than $40,000: a copy of the 1525 Galen ($48,000); the 1513 Plato ($45,600); and the 1517 Musaeus and Orpheus ($43,200).

- Sotheby’s sold items from the estate of Robert S. McNamara on 23 October, for a total of $1,008,571.

- Also some hefty prices at Bloomsbury’s Modern First Editions: The Collection of Clive Hirschhorn sale on 25 October. A first edition of The Great Gatsby was the top lot, at £50,000.

- On 25 October PBA Galleries sold California & Its Ranchos: The John C. Broome Library. Results are here.

- Christie’s Paris sold Emilie du Chatelet manuscripts and books on 29 October, for a total of €3,289,875. The partial manuscript of her translation of Newton’s Principia did even better than anticipated, selling for €961,000.

- Also at Christie’s Paris on 29 October, Importants Livres Anciens, Livres D’Artistes et Manuscrits, which brought €1,314,225. The top lot sold for €481,000. Redouté’s Les Roses failed to sell.

- On 30 October at Christie’s London The Le Vivier Library of Sporting Books and Modern First Editions brought in £734,087. Wynken de Worde’s 1518 The boke of hawkyinge and Huntynge and fysshynge bettered presale estimates and fetched £193,250.

- At Christie’s Paris on 30 October, Collection d’un Amateur Bibliophile sold for a total of €1,914,550. A first edition of Proust’s Á l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1920) sold for €145,000. A copy of John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1749) fetched €115,000

In the age of eReaders people are buying fewer physical books. Fewer physical books in a home also means fewer bookshelves. The remaining bookshelves are therefore freed from their utilitarian shackles.

So innovative bookshelf design is on the rise. 

Consumers increasingly desire interesting bookshelves to house their smaller, but more important, book collections. Rows of basic, square bookcases are in decline, replaced by sleek, modernist affairs that serve as talking pieces on their own.

Head on over to the TechnoBlog to see five cutting edge example of new bookshelf design.  The blog published a post recently entitled “Top 5 Coolest Bookshelves for Geeks.” The profiled bookshelves are indeed very cool, with textual elements and optical illusions included.

Furniture designer Jena Hall explained the trend in a recent interview with Mark Garrison at “The traditional rectangle bookcase, as one might visualize it, has really evolved into a more decorative piece. Some of them are asymmetrical. They have unusual configuration of shelves. They’re not limited to just straight horizontal planks of wood.”

One of my personal favorites reuses another everyday object and turns it into a surprising wall piece: The Ladder Bookshelf (made by naturallycre8tive and sold on etsy):

For more examples of innovative book designs, check out the gallery at Inspiration Feed’s “50 Unique and Unconventional Bookcase Designs.”
Auction Guide