December 2012 Archives

E-P.jpgOn Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, formally ending slavery in the United States. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of this important national document, the National Archives is holding traditional “watch nights” at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. The official document, signed by Lincoln and bearing the U.S. seal, is briefly on exhibit, culminating tonight with late hours (closes at 1 a.m.) and tomorrow with a dramatic reading. What a way to ring in the New Year!

On January 3, the Library of Congress will put on display a draft of the document as part of its “The Civil War in America” exhibit.

Image courtesy of the National Archives.
malton.jpgMalton is a sleepy market town of about 4,000 people in north Yorkshire.  The closest special collection is at the University of York, about 20 miles to the southeast.  And yet the town banded together recently to purchase a signed copy of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  The purchase price: $35,000.

Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843.jpgWhat makes this signed copy of The Christmas Carol particularly unique -- and particularly attractive to Malton’s inhabitants -- is that Dickens signed the book to the wife of his old friend, Charles Smithson, a solicitor and famous resident of the town.  Dickens and Smithson were great friends and Dickens visited Malton regularly in north Yorkshire.  Local legend states has it that Dickens based Scrooge’s office on Smithson’s office on Chancery Lane in Malton.  Other characters from the classic story were inspired by local residents.

Smithson unexpectedly died before The Christmas Carol was published, which is why the book is inscribed to his wife.

Selina Scott, a local writer and media presenter, heard about the book coming up for auction in New York City and initiated a publicity campaign in Malton to purchase it.  After raising $32,000, Scott and the town residents nervously watched the live auction.  The book failed to make its reserve price of $40,000.  Selina then began a series of negotiations with the seller -- conducted via Doyle’s -- trying to persuade the seller to let the book for less than the reserve.  The seller agreed on a purchase price of $35,000, saying the book deserved to be in Malton.  Selina raised the additional funds and the town purchased its unique copy of The Christmas Carol.

The book is currently on display at the Talbot Hotel in Malton.  After New Year’s Day, the book will move into the care of York University’s Special Collections Library, but will continue to make regular visits to Malton.

[Images from Wikimedia]

Ah, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day--for much of the publishing world, it means a full week off. Which means a week of leisurely reading and browsing new books. If you read my last post, you’ll know some of the books now on my nightstand. (I finished Eat the Document; now I’m fifty pages into A Light That Never Goes Out, a biography of the British band, The Smiths.) The other book that I’ve been perusing is The Art of the Map: An Illustrated History of Map Elements and Embellishments (Sterling, $40) by Dennis Reinhartz.

ArtoftheMap.jpgA handsomely illustrated book for map lovers, this book is not a history of cartography per se, but a look at the graphic elements and beautiful imagery of maps from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century. As John Noble Wilford notes in the foreword, “When it came to orienting the  map, the inner artist felt free to embellish the necessary with symbolic blossoms--compass roses--spreading in the cardinal directions. In other flights of whimsy, cherubs with chubby cheeks blow in the directions of the prevailing winds. These features drive up old-map prices at auction.”

In this volume, one sees the evolution of the compass rose and watches how images of humans were used by mapmakers through the centuries. Flora and fauna are common ornamental elements too. One of my favorites is Islandia, a map of Iceland, from the 1587 edition of Theatrum. It shows all manner of fantastic beasts off the coast, including man-eating monster fish.

Animal-shaped maps form their own section, and I was glad to see the “Peaceful Lion,” of Leo Belgicus, coincidentally featured in our soon-to-be-mailed winter issue. The Pegasus-shaped map of Asia, 1581, is also pretty neat.

For anyone who studies or collects maps, The Art of the Map will be a welcome addition to your library.

CLS_1914_medium.jpgThe South’s oldest library, the Charleston Library Society, has created an in-house book bindery to begin repairs on its extensive collection and to bind by hand new editions of classic works.

The Charleston Library Society was founded in 1748, making it the third oldest circulating library in the country.  (It was preceded by the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Redwood Library and Athenaeum of Newport, Rhode Island).  Nineteen residents of 18th century Charleston pooled their resources and began the library by purchasing books and journals from England.  Over time, approximately 100,000 books were accumulated.  The library is currently in the process of tallying its collection to find a more specific figure.  The Charleston Library Society continues today under the same subscription model, one of only a handful remaining subscription libraries in the country.

To support the new bindery, the library recently published a limited edition of The Carolinian Florist by John Drayton, originally published in 1798. Only sixteen copies were produced, each hand-bound at the library’s bindery.  The book contains several watercolors by Drayton.

The bindery is currently in the process of producing a limited edition of The Fundamental Constitution for Carolina by John Locke from 1669.

In addition to creating limited editions of classic work, the bindery has its hands full with the “infinite” number of its own books in need of restoration.  The oldest book in the collection is a Bible from 1492.

But the best part of the news is that the library’s bookbinder, Brien Biedler, is a scant 22 years old -- and already has four years of binding experience under his belt.  It’s always encouraging to see young people entering into the old book trades.

I read all year long--books, newspapers, magazines, online articles. The books are sometimes work-related--those I’m reviewing for FB&C--but, more often than not, I read books for pleasure, and I average one per week. (Right now I’m reading Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document. It’s fantastic.) I’m lucky in that publishers often send me copies of books to review that are books I might have purchased anyway. But that’s not always the case, and so I keep a running list every year of new books that catch my eye but for which I didn’t have the time or the expendable cash.
Then, a few years back, my mother-in-law began this wonderful tradition: I cull my list down to ten or twelve and hand it over. It makes holiday shopping easy on her, and it’s a dream come true for me: a bag full of reading to last a few months. This year, five of those titles strike me as titles you might like as well, all with bookish/historical tones.

New York Diaries 1609-2009 -- this one was published in December 2011, so it just missed last year’s list. It uses a diary format to travel through Manhattan’s past, using all kinds of historical documents and collections.

stockholmoctavo-u162.pngThe Stockholm Octavo -- this novel isn’t as bookish as its name implies (the octavo is a fortune-telling card) but I was drawn to its vivid jacket and decided that a quirky novel about eighteenth-century Stockholm could be excellent.

Astray -- more fiction, but I’ve been a fan of Emma Donoghue for at least a decade, and I’ll read anything she writes. The fact that these stories are based on historical circumstances--like her Slammerkin or The Sealed Letter--makes it all the better.

Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life -- the life of the wife of Henry Adams. Clover was also a photographer who later committed suicide.

Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture by Dan Mendelsohn -- pulled from The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and The New York Times Book Review, these critical essays on literature and pop culture won’t disappoint.    
Birds_Book_Drawing-0x300.jpgTime may be getting short to see Billy Sullivan’s Bird Drawings exhibit at Glenn Horowitz’s East Hampton Gallery, but for bird-loving bibliophiles, Glenn Horowitz has issued an elegant limited edition book featuring Sullivan’s ink-on-paper drawings accompanied by an essay by Margaret Atwood. Her thoughts on birds and conservation nicely complement Sullivan’s sharp sketches of his backyard birds. The edition consists of 450 copies, 350 in wrappers, and 100 deluxe cloth-bound copies signed by both the writer and artist. The exhibition is on through January 1.
Grimm's_Kinder-_und_Hausmärchen,_Erster_Theil_(1812).cover.jpgToday marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Die Kinder und Hausmärchen, better known to the world as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The original book, whose English title translates to “Children’s and Household Tales,” was first published by in 1812.  The future bestseller sold poorly at first, with readers confused by the shifting narratives and abundance of violent and sexual content.

The 86 stories in the first edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales included such classics as Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, and Rapunzel.  A second volume of 70 storieswas published two years later in 1814. Both were illustrated by Philipp Grot Johann, one of the premier illustrators in 19th century Germany.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were both librarians at the Ducal Library in Kassell for much of their adult lives.  Fascinated by the folklore and language of their native country, and fueled by a passion to reclaim German heritage in an era when Germany was occupied by the French, the brothers set off into the Black Forest seeking pure German folk tales.  Beginning in 1806, the brothers recorded numerous stories from the rich oral tradition in rural Hassia and Westphalia. By 1812, the Grimm brothers had collected enough tales to create their first publication.

The first edition is only rarely offered at auction.  Sotheby’s sold a second issue of the first edition last year, which was the first time the book had come up for auction since 1982.  The fairy tale collection blew through its $20,000 - $30,000 estimate, climbing all the way up to a final hammer price of $206,500.

A celebratory conference kicks off this week in Kassel, where academics from around the world are gathering to discuss the myriad of subjects and themes which intersect in the study of the fairy tales.  The stories have been heralded and maligned throughout the years, especially in Germany where they are sometimes blamed for contributing to the rise of German nationalism.

Be sure to check out the interactive Doodle on Google today, which commemorates the publication anniversary.

KC Book Tree 2012.jpgAlden Kamaunu and Larry Smith from the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries take a break after building the 2012 holiday book tree in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. Photo by Nick Crowl.

The librarians at the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, have constructed what they believe is the biggest ‘book tree’ ever built. The 14-foot tree is made entirely of old, green reference books -- specifically, the National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints. This is the second year they have erected the tree, but this year’s tree is twice the size of last year’s.

Alden Kamaunu, manager of the center’s building operations, was in favor of doubling the size of the tree and said there was “a lot of trial and error” involved in the construction. “Last year, we used 347 books. This year, we used 600,” he said. “When it was determined that we were going to make this an annual event, we felt a need to top ourselves while maintaining the original style of making it look like a real tree. We realized that we created an art piece last year and we needed to maintain that sense of class and holiday feel for our students during this busy time on campus.”

The tree is popular with students and has turned out to be the photo-op on campus. It will remain up in the Knowledge Center atrium through early January. A time-lapse video of the tree’s construction is on Flickr.
800px-Indian_President_House.jpgThe library at the presidential palace of India, “Rashtrapati Bhavan,” is undergoing a major facelift. India’s president, Pranab Mukherjee, a confirmed bibliophile, wants the library restored to its mid-20th century glory.

The library had fallen into disuse.  The primary source of a natural light for the room, a large sunlight in the ceiling, was hidden behind a cloth.  Temporary bookshelves, crammed with books, were filling up most of the available space.

Mukherjee wants the library to restored to its original condition, when it first opened in the 1950s.  There will be a huge wooden desk in the center of the room with classical paintings adorning the walls. The marble floors will shine once again.  Only historically relevant books will kept and they will be properly catalogued and shelved.

A number of books from the early 19th century are present, including books owned by former Viceroys of India.  Highlights include Beaston’s A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultan (1800); Viceroy Lord Curzon’s copy of Forster’s British Gallery of Engravings: from pictures of the Italian, Flemish, Dutch, and English schools (1807), and a significant run of Punch.

After the restoration, the library will again feature in tours of Rashtrapati Bhavan.  Researchers will also be able to apply for a special permit to study there.  The library is also exploring the possibility of digitizing the collection.

[Image from Wikipedia]

This is ‘volume three’ in a series of posts following the progress of the upcoming Grolier Club exhibition on children’s literature. In previous posts, we have discussed how the project got started and how the Club’s list compared to the Library of Congress’ Books That Shaped America list. Today, I’m posting a Q&A between the curator, Chris Loker, and I, in which we focus on the genre of picture books and how they fit into the overall exhibition. She also shares some neat news about a never-before-seen manuscript from the author of the classic Goodnight Moon that will be printed next year by Ken Shure of Two Ponds Press.
RRB: I suspect that when most people hear the phrase “children’s books,” they think of the picture book. Tell us about how your exhibition will deal with the picture book genre.
CL: The picture book genre is one of the most exciting and colorful parts of One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature, the Grolier Club’s 2014 children’s book exhibition. Of the 100 famous books in the show, nearly 20 are considered picture books. The traditional children’s picture book generally has an emphasis on illustration over text, and typically is presented in the “few words, more pictures” format of 24 to 32 pages.

As you know, Rebecca, I’m trying to keep the list of books in the Grolier exhibition close to the vest. But I’ll select one wonderful picture book from the list to talk about with you today ~ the famous Goodnight Moon, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd.
Goodnightmoon.jpgRRB: I’m so glad to hear that Goodnight Moon made the list! If I were to pick one  “peerless” book for younger children, that would be it. Why is it important historically?
CL: Historically, the seeds of the picture book were sown in England in the late 19th century by exceptional illustrators such as Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott (after whom the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book is named.) But the picture book as we know it today began to flourish in the United States in the 1920’s ~ some say with the publication of Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag in 1928. The following 30 years are often considered “the Golden Age of the American picture book,” and Goodnight Moon, published in 1947, is firmly of this era.

Wanda_Gag_Millions_of_Cats-book_cover.jpgGoodnight Moon is important because, at the time of its publication, it offered something new ~ a child-centered “here and now” story based on the realistic world of a child, rather than a fairy tale about a make-believe world of fantasy characters. Specifically, Goodnight Moon provided toddlers and young children with an every-day ritual for a pivotal, and sometimes challenging, part of childhood ~ going to sleep. The bunny in the story simply says goodnight to many of the physical objects in his bedroom, and in so doing he (as well as the child) slowly becomes ready and willing to go to sleep.

Well known literary critic (and FB&C contributor) Leonard Marcus, who is also the biographer of Margaret Wise Brown (Awakened by the Moon), writes in his entertaining 2010 article, “Over the Moon ~ An Imaginary Interview with Margaret Wise Brown,” that when working with very young children, Brown believed in the importance of “drawing them into the story by....rhythms and repetitions.” We know today that rhythm and repetition, coupled with enjoyment, are key elements for young children when starting to learn and retain information.

Goodnight Moon’s illustrations are filled with quiet but complex details for the observant (and not yet sleepy!) child, while its text offers gentle “rhythms and repetitions” that move the child toward calmness, and finally drowsiness. As the light in the bunny’s bedroom slowly grows dimmer from page to page, the child’s energy wanes, bringing him slowly to the edge of slumber. Besides being continuously in print since its publication, and published in six different languages in both traditional oblong folio and board book formats, Goodnight Moon is a landmark commercial and cultural success, having sold over eight million copies and inspired many film, television, musical and theatrical adaptations. It also has inspired a number of parodies, including the humorous Goodnight iPad, published in 2011 by Ann Droyd (the entertaining pseudonym of writer and illustrator David Milgrim.)
RRB: Tell me about Margaret Wise Brown’s other work.
CL: Margaret Wise Brown was a prolific author who wrote dozens of children’s books besides Goodnight Moon, including the famous The Runaway Bunny, published in 1942 (and slyly pictured on several pages of the later published Goodnight Moon). As well as a successful author, Brown also was a children’s book editor, a progressive proponent of children’s education as part of the Bank Street School of Education, and a social denizen of upper East Side New York and Vinalhaven, Maine. Often called “Brownie” by children and friends, she had a creative drive that brought so many books and poems into the world that she used a variety of literary aliases to publish her work; aliases like Golden MacDonald, Juniper Sage, Kaintuck Brown, and Timothy Hay. In addition to writing under her own and adopted names, Brown wrote a number of uncredited stories that were published in the then-emerging Little Golden Books series, at that time loosely connected with the Bank Street School of Education and now a publishing legend in American children’s literature.

Happily, Brown’s long list of published titles will be expanded in 2013, when a never-before-seen manuscript will be published as a fine artist’s book. The story, called The Little River, will be printed by Ken Shure, founder of Two Ponds Press, located in Camden, Maine, and dedicated to fine art press printing. Artist Michael Kuch has illustrated this unseen Brown manuscript in 22 soft ground color etchings that incorporate botanical and found materials. The book has the same simple yet lyrical wording as Goodnight Moon, and tells the story of how a small spring of fresh water, flowing up from the ground in the mountains, ultimately becomes a powerful river that surges its way to the sea.
RRB: What other genres will the Grolier exhibition cover?
CL: One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature will present many other wonderful literary genres. Besides the iconic children’s picture book genre that we’ve been talking about, the exhibition will showcase books that are categorized thematically as fairy tales, nursery rhymes, poetry, books of education and piety, fantasy books, adventure books, illustrated books, controversial books, and books of legendary cultural influence, to name just a few. It’s such an exciting line up of books ~ we believe the genres presented will have visual and scholarly appeal for just about every viewer. We are exceptionally enthusiastic about how the exhibition is shaping up.

Rebecca, you and I started our conversation today focusing on the picture book. One of the things that excites me most about the Grolier Club’s children’s book exhibition is the number of iconic picture books that it will present. As you may know, there was an article in the New York Times in 2010 called “Picture Books No Longer A Staple for Children,” which more or less suggested the death of the picture book. I’m happy to say that this exhibition will remind viewers about the enduring magic of the picture book, and will show that children still respond in heartfelt measure to picture books of great literary and artistic merit.
The exhibit is scheduled to open in December of 2014. We’ll be following along till then, checking back in with Chris every now and again to watch this major exhibition and catalogue take shape.
Catalogue Review: Bauman Rare Books, Holiday 2012

The thing about a Bauman Rare Books catalogue is that it makes you want to settle into a comfy chair with a hot toddy, fireside, before turning the cover. It is an experience to be savored. The catalogue is thick, shiny, colorful, and has gilded lettering; in other words, it evokes luxury, much like Bauman’s brick-and-mortar galleries in New York City, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia.

The holiday catalogue under review here has high spots--a hand-colored Nuremberg Chronicle, anyone?--in every category. And all of the books are so very pristine, as if they were published yesterday.

I was particularly smitten by a set of two Walt Whitman books, an author’s edition of Leaves of Grass and a first edition, second printing of Two Rivulets ($20,000). What’s interesting about these otherwise mundane (but collectible) nineteenth-century books is that they are accompanied by two autograph letters signed by Whitman from 1881 to the owner of these books, discussing their purchase direct from the poet. Whitman sent the books even though he had not yet received the money order!

Another fabulous find is a first edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in original cloth, with a 1848 Port of Salem customs inspection receipt signed by the author tipped in ($18,000). Hawthorne was surveyor of the Salem Custom House for a time, and the novel’s introductory essay, “The Custom-House,” is based on that experience, which makes this copy very special indeed.

A second, thinner Bauman catalogue titled 130 Great Gifts offers lighter fare for the giving season. I’d love for someone to give me, for example, the first edition of Miracle on 34th Street in the sweet, pictorial cloth and jacket ($1,100). Another bit of Christmas synergy: the 1965 first edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas, adapted from the classic TV special ($850).

I come away feeling that Bauman has everything. And if they don’t, they can get it. You can read more about David and Natalie Bauman, the husband-and-wife team that has run the business for nearly 40 years, in this recently posted (and well illustrated) article.
Dickens-museum.jpg48 Doughty Street.  That’s where “Oliver Twist” and “Nicholas Nickleby” were written by a young Charles Dickens, only in his mid-20s.  Between 1837 and 1839 Dickens and his family lived in the Doughty Street residence, which is the only of his various London homes to survive into the present era.

Now home to the Dickens Museum, the house was closed for the past eight months while the museum underwent a £3m renovation.  The goal of the refurbishment was to strip the residence of its modern features and return it to a late Victorian state. The museum hoped that visitors would feel like Dickens “just stepped outside.”

The refurbishment was financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and completed this year as part of the ongoing bicentennial celebration of Dickens’ birth.

Dickens’ study is a highlight of the dimly-lit tours hosted by customed tour guides. There visitors can see Dickens’ writing desk surrounded by his beloved books. Dickens completed “The Pickwick Papers” at that desk, then wrote “Oliver Twist” and “Nicholas Nickleby” in turn.

The Dickens Museum averages 30,000 visitors per year but expects an increase after the renovation to a number closer to 45,000.

[Image from Wikipedia]
It’s no secret that Edgar Allan Poe had a murky romantic life. Anyone who has taken American Lit 101 knows that he married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. But she wasn’t his first love or his last. Elmira Royster Sheldon holds both honors, and it was to this lady that the engagement ring engraved “Edgar” belonged. Elmira and Edgar were childhood sweethearts, but when he left for the University of Virginia, her parents married her off to someone wealthier. Meeting again after the deaths of her husband and his wife, the two rekindled their romance, and Poe presented her with this ring. Alas, he died under mysterious circumstances before the wedding day. Next week, the simple gold band, with attending correspondence, photographic portraits, and a lock of Poe’s hair, will be for sale.

PoeLots.jpgThe Poe lot is one of 299 lots of historical and literary manuscripts from the ‘Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector’ being auctioned by Profiles in History, the California auction house run by Syfy star Joe Maddalena. The breadth and quality of the material is sure to draw serious collectors to what will be the grande finale of rare book and document auctions for 2012. There are incredible letters from John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Thomas Paine; an archive in the hand of the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz;’ a rare four-page Van Gogh letter; and at least one good example from what seems like every canonical American author from Alcott to Whitman. Some of the documents haven’t been on the market since the seventies and eighties and were previously in the pedigree collections of Estelle Doheny and Philip D. Sang.

One wonders how the Poe ring, estimated at $30,000-50,000, will compare to Jane Austen’s ring, which sold earlier this year in London for $236,557? Like that treasured piece, the Poe ring has remained in the family all these years. This is its first appearance at auction.

The auction will take place on December 18 in Calabasas Hills, CA*. A second auction--Part II of the Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector--is schedule for May of next year.
*An earlier post was incorrect about the location of this auction. It is in California, not New York City, as first reported.
mtlibrary.jpgThe Guardian reported yesterday that the United Kingdom lost 200 libraries in 2012. That translates to 17 libraries a month.  Or at least one library every other day.  The number was higher than the previous year when Britain lost 146 libraries.

4,612 libraries remain open in the country.

In keeping with the decline, the UK also lost 8% of its librarians in 2012.  Volunteers in the library, however, increased by 9% in an effort to fill the staffing gap.  The impact on quality of service does not appear to have been studied in the primarily statistical analysis conducted by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting.

Library visits also decreased by 2.4% in 2012 to 306.6m, although the study does not appear to include online library visits. As libraries transition to offering more and more services online, the idea of what constitutes a “library visit” must also change.

The rate of loss, however, shows no signs of letting up. For example, Newcastle is currently engaged in a lengthy, public fight for its libraries. The council has proposed closing 10 of the city’s 18 libraries.  The proposal has met with stiff opposition from citizens and literati around the country.

On a positive note, the larger, busier libraries around the country - especially those that are centrally located in major towns and cities - continue to perform well.

Oscar.pngCan’t win an Oscar? Buy one. On Thursday of this week, Sotheby’s New York will sell Lewis R. Foster’s Academy Award for Best Original Story, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This was the only Oscar awarded to the much acclaimed film in the very competitive year of 1939--year of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. This one comes with Foster’s bound personal copies of his original novel, The Gentleman from Montana, and the adapted screenplay it became, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The auction estimate is a conservative $100,000-150,000. Early Oscars are rare on the market and can be blockbusters at auction; in 2011, Orson Welles’ Oscar for Citizen Kane made $861,000, and more than a decade before that David O. Selznick’s Oscar for Gone With the Wind took a record-breaking (and holding) $1.5 million.

Another fantastic film collectible coming to auction this week, also at Sotheby’s, is James Bond’s Walther gun, the one used by Sean Connery in publicity shots for four Bond films: From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. It too is estimated to hit $100,000.  

Sotheby’s will hold three major book & manuscript auctions this week--two in London, one in New York--boasting nearly twenty lots, including those above, that are estimated to reach the six-figure mark. The range of high spots is as exciting as the prices: Mick Jagger’s love letters, a Jane Austen presentation first edition, six Charlotte Bronte letters tipped into Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography, Julia Margaret Cameron’s photo album, the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence, an E.H. Shepard’s ‘Pooh’ drawing, and the best of the best color-plate books. What a week this should be! 
img76_5.jpgOak Knoll Books of New Castle, Delaware, has just issued its 300th catalogue, a feat that certainly deserves some attention. As readers of this blog will know, Oak Knoll is both an antiquarian bookseller and a press devoted to the books about books genre. It was started by Bob Fleck in 1976 and has been continuously publishing catalogues of books old & new since then.

This catalogue offers a wealth of options -- the table of contents alone tempts any collector: bookbinding, book collecting, bookselling, publishing history, book illustration, cartography, book and graphic design, private and fine press, papermaking, printing history, reference and bibliography, type specimens, and writing and calligraphy. And the very first item in the catalogue, a beautifully illustrated broadside calendar by the bookbinding and stationery company Middleton & Dawson of Quebec, 1873, is a fine example of the treasures within ($750).

An interest in the good doctor Rosenbach? There’s a privately printed Christmas book, The All-Embracing Doctor Franklin, from 1932 that looks lovely ($700), as well as FB&C columnist Joel Silver’s recently published book, Dr. Rosenbach and Mr. Lilly: Book Collecting in a Golden Age ($49.95).

When I was a graduate student there was nothing I would have liked more than my very own copy of the four-volume History of Book Publishing in the United States by John Tebbel. Oak Knoll has a presentation copy for $550. Now I think David Pearson’s Books As History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts ($29.95) should be required reading.

I am fascinated by the limited edition of Rudolph Ruzicka’s wood-engravings done for the Carteret Book Club of Newark, New Jersey, 1917 ($1,750). I’d love to have a close look at that one. There’s also a commendable section on Dard Hunter, with limited editions from his Mountain House Press.

Nearly 300 items in this 300th catalogue, so take a look. You can download the PDF here.

See also our review of Oak Knoll’s catalogue #296 and our Bright Young Things interview with Bob’s son, Rob Fleck.
Steven Martin is the author of the fascinating new memoir Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction. Martin, a Westerner living in southeast Asia, built one of the world’s greatest collections of opium paraphernalia (antique pipes, opium lamps, etc) -- but in the process became addicted to opium himself.  We recently interviewed Martin about his thoughts on collecting, opium history, and the rare books he relied upon to build his collection.

opiumfiend.jpg “Great collectors have great focus.  They not only collect, they learn.” You mention in the book that when you first began collecting opium paraphernalia, there was not a single reference book in the field.  You had to learn everything from scratch.  Could you talk about your self-education process?

A recurring point throughout Opium Fiend is just how completely opium smoking in the traditional Chinese manner has been eradicated, and the lack of information in modern publications that I describe was a direct result of that. I’m not surprised nobody thought there was any value in preserving anything for posterity. After all, society wanted to destroy opium smoking, not preserve it. So the only recent information I found were a couple of articles in 1990s back issues of an Asian art magazine -- one of which turned out to be full of misinformation -- and the catalog from an exhibition of opium pipes and lamps at Stanford University Museum in 1979. That was it. There was next to nothing, but the upside to the situation was that as soon as I realized there were no real experts in the field, I took it as a challenge to become the expert.

StevenMartin copy.jpgEventually, you found several books and articles that shed some light on opium smoking in the old days -- books like Kane’s and articles like Emily Hahn’s.  Could you tell us how you found out about opium books/articles and other ephemera and how you hunted them down? 

Well, as you can imagine, the Internet was a major source of information. The thing to remember though is just how much new information has been uploaded to the Internet over the last decade and how much better organized it is now compared to back then. There was a bit more wading involved when I began combing the Internet in 2001. But I eventually came up with a list of books and articles, and then I began gathering them up. H.H. Kane’s 1882 book, Opium-Smoking in America and China, is a good example of how I went about collecting books and articles. An early mention I found of Kane online was a series of two articles published in the 1880s in Harper’s Weekly that were more or less excerpts from his book. Then, by chance, I saw the actual book offered on eBay by a seller in Canada in 2002 or so, but I was outbid and then spent the next decade kicking myself over the loss. It took that long to find and buy another. Until then I had to content myself with a borrowed copy that I came across while doing research at the archives of Mahidol University’s School of Tropical Medicine in Bangkok.

What was the most useful book on opium smoking?

Kane’s book was by far the most useful. The doctor knew what he was talking about because he’d spent years doing research in the opium dens of Manhattan. He even smoked the drug to see if his own observations matched the claims of his interviewees. Most important, Kane was intent on education. He was sure that once people knew the truth about opium smoking, they would no longer risk trying it. Kane didn’t stoop to Reefer Madness-style hysterics in order to demonize the drug, and thought doing so was counterproductive. So when compared to some of the other authors of the day, especially the Christian missionaries, Kane comes across as level headed and believable. Once I began experimenting with opium smoking, I wasn’t too surprised to note that Kane’s findings very much mirrored my own.

Emily Hahn’s article for a 1969 issue of the The New Yorker is also excellent, but it’s only a few thousand words. Too bad she didn’t do a memoir specifically about her experiences with opium in 1930s Shanghai, because if she’d done a book-length version of her New Yorker piece, it would have been fantastic. By the way, Emily Hahn did write a memoir about her travels in Asia and other places. I urge anyone who has never heard of her to seek out a copy. Why this remarkable American adventuress is not more widely remembered is beyond me.

Emily_Hahn.jpg Were books and ephemera on opium also victims of the purges and burnings of other opium paraphernalia?

In China, yes, probably. Can you imagine how unloved a book about opium smoking would have been during the Cultural Revolution? I’ve heard rumors that in China there was once published an all-encompassing catalog-like publication that had illustrations of opium paraphernalia and explained the function of each piece, but if such a book ever existed, I’ve not been able to find it. Most everything published in the U. S. and Canada was very much against the vice, so authorities of course felt no need to destroy it. In the West, French writers were unique in that many of them seemed to want nothing more than to romanticize opium smoking. But I’ve never come across any reported instances of opium paraphernalia being publically destroyed in France as happened in Asia and America, and the idea that the French would bother to destroy books that showed opium smoking in a positive light seems pretty far fetched.

781px-Opium_den_chinatown.jpg There are several parts in the book where you reference “collector’s paranoia,” that is the fear that collectors encounter when they anticipate someone else finding something first, or gaining some insight into the market, or even just strongly coveting a piece from someone else’s collection.  Could you talk a bit more about collectors paranoia?  Do you think all collectors feel that?  Do you think the feeling is heightened by collecting in an illicit arena?

Well, obviously Opium Fiend is a memoir, not a scientific study, so I can only speak for myself and a rather small circle of collectors who I got to know. But I think for most serious collectors there is an element of competition to collecting, no matter what one collects, and any time you have people competing with one another there’s potential for outrageous behavior. Some of this behavior surely falls into the “paranoia” category.
How bad can it get? It’s probably apocryphal, but whenever some major and well-known work of art is stolen and then fails to turn up for decades, the theory is put forth that some mad collector has installed the piece in his basement where nobody but he can see and enjoy it. You imagine him standing there, admiring it while doing that hand-lathering gesture and laughing maniacally: “It’s mine! All mine!” But like I said, it’s probably apocryphal. I mean, if you couldn’t show off your prize piece and inspire envy in your collecting friends, what would be the point?

I often feel that the best collections are united by an immersion, on the part of the collector, into the world of the collected material.  In your case that world, of course, was smoking opium.  Do you think smoking opium was necessary for building a good collection?  Did it lead to an understanding of the material which you would not have otherwise had?

Smoking opium in itself wasn’t as important to understanding the paraphernalia as was my having learned to prepare my own pipes. It’s something like driving a car: You can be a passenger all your life but you won’t really understand your vehicle until you learn to drive and get a feel for how things work. There are probably no more than a handful of people left in the world who can fluently prepare an opium pipe in the traditional Chinese manner, with all the requisite flourishes, and as a result of my “hands on” research, I can safely say that there are obscure pieces of opium-smoking paraphernalia that I alone know how to use properly. Dubious distinction perhaps, but there it is.

BOWL-112 copy.jpg “Real collectors -- as opposed to mere gatherers -- become so obsessed with their collectible that they can think of nothing else.”  Your obsession with opium paraphernalia led you down a dangerous path of opium smoking and addiction -- yet through your obsession you built one of the greatest collections of opium paraphernalia of modern times.  And in the process you’ve been educating the public about an area of cultural history almost completely erased and forgotten about.  Some would reckon the price that you paid for this -- not the monetary price, but the emotional, physical, and mental toll of opium addiction -- to be too high.  Looking back now, do you think it was worth it?  Would you do it again?

Would I do it again? If somebody invents a time machine and asks for volunteers to test it out, I’ll be the first in line. I can honestly say that, despite the hardship, I’d not change a thing. That is, except for the untimely death of a dear friend.

Finally, now that you’ve donated your collection to the University of Idaho, have you moved on to a new arena of collecting?  Or are those days past for you now?

I’ve had quite a few people ask that, if the donation of my collection to the University has signaled an end to my collecting opium antiques. It’s true that I’m not acquiring as much as I was, but I’m still collecting when the opportunity arises. I just recently acquired a jade and enamel opium pipe that’s one of the most ornate I’ve ever seen. I don’t foresee a new collection taking the place of this one anytime in the near future. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time as far as opium antiques are concerned, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever be as lucky as that again with some new collectible.

[Photograph of Steven Martin and of the opium pipe with the Buddhist deity are courtesy of Mr. Martin.  Photograph of Emily Hahn and of the opium den are from Wikipedia].

In our 2011 holiday gift guide for book lovers, we were proud to feature the Ideal Bookshelf poster. This year, we’re happy to see that that project became its very own book of the same name, edited by Thessaly La Force with art by Jane Mount (Little, Brown and Co.; $24.99).

myidealbookshelf1_grande.pngCasting a wide net out to novelists, artists, designers, chefs, filmmakers, and journalists, the duo asked contributors to create a shelf of books that they could not live without, that had changed their lives as readers. Jane Mount then illustrated the list of books in her charming, colorful way.

I am often tempted to flip through coffeetable books without quite reading them, which would have been a shame in this case. Stopping not only to read the brief essays by people like Chuck Klosterman, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Tony Hawk, but to ‘shelf-read,’ their collections offers flares of insight into modern reading and book owning. Did anyone else know that Johnny Cash loved old books? Rosanne Cash remembers one treasure: “My dad would get so anxious if anybody held it, if anybody touched it. He loved books more than anything.” Her shelf was heavy on literature. I loved finding Steinberg’s Five Hundred Years of Printing on the shelf of Penguin Books cover designer Coralie Bickford-Smith. Look closely and you’ll spy Graham Greene, Tobias Wolff, Nabokov on many a shelf; Edith Wharton, too. I was surprised to see her so often.

Needless to say, it is a perfect gift for the book lover in your life. The very last page of the book is a blank ideal bookshelf, beckoning readers to fill it in for themselves. I, for one, could not resist, and so here it is: H.D. Thoreau’s Walden; J.M. Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind; Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried; John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors; Mark Helprin’s A Winter’s Tale; Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold; The Portable Dorothy Parker; A.S. Byatt’s Possession; John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman; David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green.
Do you remember the Edinburgh book sculptor?  We reported on this mysterious artist last year, when she began leaving intricate book sculptures in literary spots around Edinburgh.  Over a year later, we still know virtually nothing about the artist, except that she is a “she” and that she loves books. After hiding ten sculptures around Scotland’s capitol city, the artist disappeared again, protecting her anonymous status.

The artist struck again last week during “Book Week Scotland,” when the whole country celebrated its strong literary heritage. The Book Sculptor also expanded her scope beyond Edinburgh by secretly depositing sculptures in literary hotspots around the country.

Last Monday, a piece inspired by Alasdair Gray’s Lanark was discovered in the Glasgow School of Art.

reading-sculpture-gray.jpg On Tuesday, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum uncovered a sculpture based on the poem Tam O’Shanter.

reading-sculpture-burns.jpgWednesday brought the discovery of a sculpture in a pub on the remote island of Eriskay.  The piece was inspired by Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore.

reading-sculpture-whisky.jpgA piece based on Peter Pan was found on Thursday at J M Barrie’s birthplace, Kirriemuir.

reading-sculpture-pan.jpgFriday brought the final piece of the celebrations: a scuplture inspired by Stevenson’s Treasure Island unveiled at the Scottish Seabird Center in North Berwick, a coastal town near Edinburgh.

reading-sculpture-treasure-.jpgAnd so five more of this mysterious artist’s sculptures have been shared with the world, bringing the grand total to fifteen.  They are all lovely pieces, backed by some brilliant guerilla art tactics. Here’s hoping we can look forward to another round next year. 

[Photographs by Chris Scott at the Scottish Book Trust]
On Friday of this week, Christie’s NY will hold an auction filled with countless rarities--it is impossible to pull a few highlights and do it any justice. For that, you can read the press release. Instead, my attention was drawn to two lots of manuscript diaries that surprised me with their insightful comments and whimsical drawings.

Lot31.pngLot 31 is a California Gold Rush diary written by Daniel A. Jenks, who chronicles his eight-month journey from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to San Francisco, CA and then another year and a half in the rough-and-tumble mining camps. The first two journals--fair copies made as a gift for his sister--were written between 1849 and 1852, the third written from 1857-1859. Upon arriving in San Francisco, Jenks finds, “Murders, robberies and thefts are every day affairs. Dead men are picked up in the streets nearly every morning. Bowie knives, revolvers and pistols of all kinds are part of a man’s daily apparel. Men die in their tents unknown and uncared for, friendless and alone ...This is truly a perfect Sodom.” The estimate for this lot is $60,000-80,000, the final proceeds benefitting the Elizabeth J. Johnson Pawtucket History Research Center.

Lot32.pngThe second lot, 32, contains another set of Jenks diaries, written between 1859-1863. These are also fair copies made for his sister Maria. One is entitled “Trip from Yreka to Idaho, Overland 1863.” On this trip Jenks encountered Indians, Mormons, and “Pikes Peakers.” The color illustrations drawn by Jenks are quite lovely, folk-artsy landscapes. The estimate here is $20,000-30,000.

The members of Boston’s Old South Church have voted 271-34 to sell one of the two copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book belonging to the church (on deposit at the Boston Public Library since 1866). The congregation also voted 252-69 to sell the church’s collection of colonial silver (currently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

This will be the first time since 1947 that a 1640 Bay Psalm book is sold, and the first time since 1966 that a copy changes hands.

For more on the known copies of the Bay Psalm Book, see my post from Friday.

Auction Guide