February 2013 Archives

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Alex Obercian of James Cummins Bookseller in New York City.  

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NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AO: To pay the rent, I took a job in the rare book department at the Strand in New York. I had been an electrician and had some plan to study architecture. I quickly changed course. The Strand was a wonderful place to learn about the trade - every day I was faced with an onslaught of books to catalogue and price. About this time, I had a friend who worked for a big shot bookman, and it was through this dealer’s catalogues that I first learned something of what was possible at the upper end of the trade. It was time to move on, so I petitioned Jim Cummins (also a big shot) for a job, and he found some room for me.  

NP: What is your role at James Cummins?

AO: I share the basic bookselling duties of buying, cataloging, pricing, and selling with the other fellows in the shop - Tim Johns, Henry Wessells, and Jim himself. We all pitch in and pack books and mind the shop, as well. I also work with Jim’s son, James, on website design and other projects peripheral to the books themselves. As for the books, I tend to handle the fine bindings, photography, and gastronomy, but I’m in no way limited to those areas. Much of my time is taken up with the production of print catalogues. We put out about 6 full-color, fully-illustrated catalogues a year, and I do all the photography and layout and design. The catalogues look sharp and they sell books - I think of them as my particular contribution to James Cummins Bookseller.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AO: Well the easy answer is, I love the books, and I love, or at least like, the people who sell them. I imagine every community bound by a trade learns to muster a bit of congratulatory self-love for its members. But I doubt that people who sell tractor parts feel the same way about what they’re pushing.    

NP: Favorite rare book that you’ve handled?

AO: This is a fairly well-known book that we were fortunate to own for a time -- a copy of a 17th century ferrier manual, The Complete Horse-Man, owned by Nathaniel Hawthorne since a child and later presented to Herman Melville as a birthday present. Hawthorne met Melville on the road in Massachusetts one summer day in 1851 (the year Melville was writing Moby-Dick) and the two went back to Hawthorne’s farm to spend the night smoking cigars and talking. They exchanged books that evening -- Hawthorne must have thought a book on the care of horses would be useful to Melville on his farm. The dedication leaf contains both authors’ signatures, probably the only extant piece of paper so distinguished. 

NP: What do you personally collect?

AO: Cocktail manuals, books and photographs on butchery and meat, wanted posters and rap sheets with real photographs, Agnes Repplier first editions, Alvin Lustig dust-jackets. This list sounds willfully eclectic, but everything on it is rooted in some personal interest. 

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

AO: I’m optimistic that there will be enough new collectors in the coming decades to sustain the trade. So what if everyone is reading Dan Brown on a Kindle? Rare books have never had mass appeal. A lot of the gripes I hear are variations on the “good-old-days” argument --- that there was a lost golden age of extraordinary books and easy money. I see plenty of younger people interested in rare books, printing, typography, binding, book arts, and so on. It only takes a relatively small number of intelligent, modestly wealthy individuals who would rather develop a taste for rare books than waste their time speculating on contemporary art for the trade to continue to thrive. That said, there has been a definite shift in the trade towards the high-end and the unique object. Internet listing sites have created transparency in the market and the designation of rarity, and have made it harder for the dealer of general used stock to survive. Something Bill Reese said in a talk at the Grolier Club a few years ago has stuck with me -- when he puts a book online, he wants it to be “the best copy, the only copy, or the cheapest copy.” When a collector is faced with 20 mediocre copies of the same book online, what’s the rush in buying one today? But a copy of a book given by Hawthorne to Melville? Go find me another one. 

NP: Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

AO: In April we’ll be at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which is the highlight of the bookselling season. I’m currently working on a catalogue of new arrivals and a catalogue of sporting books for the the spring. They’ll be available to all on our website.
Jefferson on Books.jpg“Books as well as other things have limits to their value beyond which we would not go,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to his bookseller in a letter from Monticello dated April 11, 1819. In this letter, the former president references a booksellers’ catalogue he has just received and asks to purchase Scapula’s Lexicon (1616). I somehow missed this letter, sold for $13,750 at Bonhams San Francisco last week, but our eagle-eyed auction columnist Ian McKay pointed it out. A true bibliophile’s delight.

The American scholar Thomas Pinney has discovered 50 lost and unpublished Kipling poems.  Pinney found the poems in a variety of locations including Kipling family papers, a Manhattan townhouse, and the archive of a former shipping magnate.  All of the poems will be published for the first time next month in the three-volume Cambridge Edition of The Poems of Rudyard Kipling.  The book, which will be released March 31st, also marks the first ever complete edition of Kipling’s poetry.

The new poetry covers a variety of themes, including World War I, gambling, and the intersection of media and fame.  Some comic verse is also included from a sailing between Adelaide, Australia and Ceylon.  An amusing section relates Kipling’s frustration with the length and boredom of the voyage:

The children played on the rotten deck / A monthly growing band / Of sea-bred sin born innocents / That never knew the land.

Kipling has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popular and scholarly inquiry, as evidenced by the upcoming publication of the complete edition of Kipling’s verse.  Pinney, an emeritus professor of English with the University of California, believes there is still a “treasure trove” of undiscovered Kipling poetry out there.

For more selections of the new Kipling poetry, including the full-text of a poem entitled “The Press” check out an article about the discovery at the Guardian.
Among Booksellers.jpgSome booksellers’ memoirs are more enjoyable to read than others -- London bookseller David Batterham offers his as a series of amusing letters written between 1970 and 2006, posted from Barcelona, Brussels, Istanbul, Lisbon, Venice, New York, and various towns and cities in France. Among Booksellers (Stone Trough Books, $17.50) is a splendid read, offering a glimpse into the itinerant bookseller’s world of the late twentieth century. The book itself is pleasing, too: a slim and elegant paperback, with good paper and beautiful cover art by British painter and printer, Howard Hodgkin, the man to whom these letters are addressed.

Batterham, who learned the trade in Hay-on-Wye from Richard Booth in the mid-sixties, became the type of bookseller who travels widely, buying primarily from other booksellers. As he wrote from the South of France in 1984, he was “building up a dossier of obscure bookshops against some future visit.” Obscure and disappearing, as he would note only six years later from Paris, the only city left where “there still seem to be hundreds of bookshops and the supply of books is volcanic.”

His primary interest was illustrated journals, trade catalogues, and vintage fashion magazines. His letters discuss fruitful house calls and accommodating book dealers, as well as pleasant hotels and unpleasant meals (and vice versa). Batterham worries about buying too much or too little, about the German bookseller who preceded him in Copenhagen, about whether the Duke of Edinburgh would be interested in a Russian book about horses purchased in Helsinki. These are stories like the ones a friend in the trade might tell another over a pint -- funny, eccentric, sometimes barbed, but always interesting.
The Grolier Club in New York City opened its new exhibit, American Little Magazines of the 1890s: A Revolution in Print. A product of the ‘Gay Nineties,’ little magazines, with names like Yellow Book, Chap-Book, the Philistine, and the Echo, are associated with the avant-garde and the emerging modern art movement. Sometimes referred to as “ephemerals” or “fadazines,” these publications were committed to maintaining aesthetic standards in popular print, and they were important vehicles for artists and designers like Aubrey Beardsley, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, John Sloan, and Will Bradley, as well as authors Stephen Crane, Kate Chopin, and Booth Tarkington, who contributed literary works. 

Grolier.jpg John Davidson. “The Ballad of an Artist’s Wife,” Chap-Book, volume 3, number 11, 15 October 1895. Decoration and illustration by Frank Hazenplug. Lent by: Kirsten MacLeod. Courtesy of the Grolier Club.

Curator Dr. Kirsten MacLeod has chosen to highlight more than 160 items--“the crème-de-la-crème of little magazines” and associated books, posters, manuscript material, and decorative objects from the libraries at Columbia University, Princeton University, the University of Delaware, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Delaware Art Museum, the Grolier Club, and various private collections. With a punch of visual appeal, the exhibit explores the artistic, social, and cultural currents of the fin-de-siecle and places these little magazines in context.

The Yellow Book: An Illustrated Quarterly, volume 1, April 1894. Courtesy of the Grolier Club.

American Little Magazines will be up through April 27, which means that those who are planning a trip to Manhattan for the book fairs in April will have the opportunity to see it. For those already in town, two related events are happening in March. On March 13, 6-7:30 pm, Philip R. Bishop, bookseller, rare books specialist, author, and expert on the Mosher Press, will talk about Thomas Mosher’s importance in the little magazine movement. This will be followed by a Collectors’ Forum featuring Philip R. Bishop, Mark Samuels Lasner, David W. Lowden, and Jean-François Vilain, lenders to the exhibition, who will discuss their collections and the place of little magazines of the 1890s within them. On March 28, 5-7 pm, there will be a symposium on American Little Magazines of the 1890s featuring talks by Johanna Drucker (UCLA), Brad Evans (Rutgers University), David Weir (Cooper Union), and Kirsten MacLeod (Newcastle University). 
This one is for the philatelists amongst the bibliophiles.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, the Royal Mail in Britain yesterday issued six commemorative Jane Austen stamps.  Each of her novels is represented by a separate stamp.  The artwork was produced by Angela Barrett.

austenstamps.jpgYou can order the stamps (even from America), as well as other commemoration material, via the Royal Mail website.

Active stamp collectors might remember this isn’t the first time the Royal Mail issued Jane Austen stamps.  Four Austen stamps were also released in 1975, when rates were a bit cheaper.


In another celebratory gesture, the Royal Mail is using a special postmark this week only for any letters mailed from Chawton or Steventon (i.e. Jane Austen Country), which will include an oft-quoted line from Pride and Prejudice, “Do anything rather than marry without affection.”

So, which stamp is your favorite?
cover.pngAn enhanced ebook on early American erotica? Yes, it’s difficult not to grin, and yet, one quickly realizes the seriousness with which its author has researched, written, and designed Such Were My Temptations: Bawdy Americans, 1760-1830 (iTunes, Amazon, $2.99).

The project began when Dorothee E. Kocks, PhD and former tenure-track professor, took time off from the scholarly world to pursue fiction. In researching her novel, The Glass Harmonica, at the American Antiquarian Society, Winterthur, the Lilly Library, and the Kinsey Institute, she discovered a concurrent non-fiction topic worth pursuing. The result, as she describes it, is “a picture book about America’s first sexual revolution.”

The interactive nature of the ebook--with streaming video, audio clips, and pop-up questions to answer via social media--is inviting. Let’s be clear, though, the historic images can be shocking even to modern eyes, which is why Kocks recently adapted the ebook with modesty shields. I asked her a few questions about why she chose the subject and the possibility of controversy.

RRB: Has anyone called this a scholarly Fifty Shades of Grey? (I am half-joking, but the erotica genre, particularly in ebooks, is booming.)

DEK: I think we always discover interesting things about ourselves when we touch the edge of something illicit or naughty. Fifty Shades made it safe for any one and everyone to peek at another world. I would be thrilled if that new permission extends to Such Were My Temptations. Even though it’s scholarly, the images are truly racy. I was scared to go there myself. The privacy afforded by a museum-in-your-palm - the “rich-media” ebook - gives us the perfect vehicle to go exploring, it seems to me.

RRB: You created this enhanced ebook as a companion to a novel you wrote. Tell me about the decision to write fiction after a PhD and tenure-track position in history at the University of Utah.

DK: A novel pushes me to empathize more widely than I did as a scholar alone. I have to feel what the first American sexual revolution was like, not just describe it. I have to get inside it. I love that challenge. The “Johnny Appleseed of porn” character in my novel required a lot of research - research that was way too fun to leave on the cutting-room floor. I gathered it all up in Such Were My Temptations.

As for the decision to leave a tenure-track position, it was a foolish midlife gamble - and I’ve never regretted it. I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it all. Learning to write fiction took ten years of quiet apprenticeship. The impetus came from wanting more spiritual growth than I was developing as an academic.

RRB: Last week you released a version of the ebook with “modesty shields.” What’s the reason for that? Was there a backlash to the nature of some of the historic images?

DK: I’m anticipating backlash, but it hasn’t happened yet. We’re just getting the word out. We meant to release Such Were My Temptations in the fall, but Amazon’s app store rejected it. The Amazon bookstore, a separate division, accepted the book recently. It’s the exact same book with a hidden technical difference. The videos, such as reciting a bawdy poem of the time, would have played a little more smoothly with app vs ebook technology. Why did Amazon reject it at first? I don’t know. I’m mystified. Maybe it was backlash. They said it was content, but the content guidelines (which prohibit porn) are identical in the app store and the bookstore. Now readers get to tell us what they think.

The modesty-shield edition is a humble .pdf that readers can request through the contact form on my website, BewareTheTimidLife.com. I wanted everyone to have an option to dip their toe into these waters.

RRB: This ebook seems like a wonderful learning tool for mature (18+) students to understand the history of erotica in book publishing, art, and the culture at large. Is that the market for it? If not, who?
DK: Yes I really hope students find it, and also life-long learners of any age. The founding generations of this country faced the same, really tough questions that we do - about love and sex and marriage. My novel, The Glass Harmonica, A Sensualist’s Tale, asks: what if pleasure leads to virtue instead of to vice? When we open up to the world and experience it fully and without fear, do we become better people? The border between noble restraint and freedom is such a tricky one, and the characters in my fiction and the real people in the museum-ebook ply that boundary bravely ... and stupidly, and in all the very human ways.
Last week we profiled an unpublished poem by A. E. Housman coming up for auction at Bonham’s this spring in the Roy Davids sale.  We’re going to take a 180 degree turn from that tender poem to head in another direction entirely.  

William McGonagall, often considered the worst poet in the history of the English language, also has an unpublished poem heading to the block in the same sale.  The strikingly awful poem was written on June 6, 1893 in commemoration of the union between George Albert, the soon-to-be King George V, and Princess Victoria Mary.

Despite (or rather because of) McGonagall’s terrible reputation, the poem is expected fetch £3,000 at auction.

McGonagall was a 19th Scottish weaver and actor who published approximately 200 poems in his lifetime.  His contemporaries considered his poetry to be as awful as history would remember it.  As such, McGonagall was regularly invited to give readings throughout Scotland which were considered highly amusing entertainment by the attendees.

His primary claim to fame is the poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” written about the tragic collapse of a railway bridge over the River Tay, “which will be remember’d for a very long time.”

McGonagall’s unpublished poem coming up for auction is entitled “In Praise of the Royal Marriage:” It’s about on par with McGonagall’s usual poetic inclinations:

God bless, the lovely, and sweet Princess May, Also, the Duke of York, so handsome and gay.
Long life, and happiness to them, in married life.
May they always, be prosperous and free from strife.
May their hearts, always be full of glee. And, be kind, to each other, and ne’er disagree.
And, may the demon, discontent, never mar their happiness.
And, my God, be their comforter, in time of distress...
And, if they have children, may they grow grace.
And, be an honour, to the royal race. Of the empress of India, and Great Britain’s Queen. Who is faithful to her subjects, and ever has been.

- PBA Galleries sold Angling/Sports & Pastimes/Natural History books on 7 February. Results are here. The top lot was an archive of letters to and from Randolph Huntington, the man who introduced Arabian horse breeding to the United States. The 1,000+ letters fetched $18,000.

- Bloomsbury held a Bibliophile Sale on 14 February; results are here.

- Skinner, Inc. had a Discovery Sale: Books and Manuscripts on 14 February. Results are here. An extensive collection of New England ephemera did unexpectedly well, fetching $11,000 on a $300-500 estimate (somebody found something delicious in there!).

- Bonhams sells Fine Books & Manuscripts on 17 February, in 300 lots. A copy of Bien’s Audubon, missing two of the plates, is estimated at $80,000-120,000.

- PBA Galleries will sell Rare Books & Manuscripts on 18 February, in 225 lots. A collection of all sixteen printings of the first edition of the Alcoholic Anonymous Big Book rates a $200,000-300,000 estimate, while a first issue King James Bible is estimated at $100,000-150,000.

- At Bonhams on 18 February, Printed Books and Maps, in 436 lots.

- Bloomsbury will sell the Beatrix Potter Collection of Mark Ottignon on 27 February, in 307 lots.

- Also at Bloomsbury, on 28 February, Literature, Manuscripts & Modern First Editions, in 386 lots. Includes a collection of Hester Thrale Piozzi letters, among other items of interest.

- On 28 February at PBA Galleries, Rare Golf Books, Clubs & Memorabilia from the collection of Georgia Dyer Burnett, in 391 lots.

Surely there is a comparison to be made between vinyl records and fine books -- not just that they are collectible and highly coveted by a select group, but that after a certain amount of bantering about the death of the medium (record or book), the medium experiences a resurgence.

New-WE-BUY-WHITE-ALBUMS-web1.jpgBut here’s another similarity: vinyl as art and vinyl on exhibition. Rutherford Chang is a NYC-based artist who collects first pressings of The Beatles’ White Album. In We Buy White Albums, an exhibit running through March 9 at Recess Art in Soho, Chang’s collection is set up like a record shop, showing off 693 first pressings of the iconic record. But the twist is, he’s not selling them; in fact, he’s buying them if anyone has an original pressing to offer. According to the press release, “[Chang] considers the serialized first-press, an edition running in excess of 3 million, to be the ultimate collector’s item, and aims to amass as many copies as possible.”

The album covers in the exhibit have become works of art--bearing the ownership marks of their previous owners. In an extensive Q&A at Dust & Grooves, an online magazine for vinyl collectors, Chang said he finds the “poorer condition albums more interesting ... The white canvases have been personalized with everything from scribbled names to elaborate paintings.” His exhibit allows people to walk in and browse his collection of beat-up Beatles and to consider a place where music, art, and collecting converge.

At three o’clock on Friday, the California International Antiquarian Book Fair opened its doors to the public for the 46th time. This was to be my first visit to the fair that I had heard called, “the biggest and best book fair in America.”  

When I arrived at five o’clock the fair was in full swing. Hundreds of expectant dealers and eager buyers had gathered inside the massive Concourse Exhibition Center for the first of the three day festivities. After making my rounds and chatting with a few dealers, it became clear that most were anticipating a great show.


Something that made this book fair unique was an interesting exhibition presented by the C.V. Starr East Asian Library at the University of California at Berkeley.  Founded in 1947, the library now boasts over nine hundred thousand Japanese, Korean, Chinese works as well as others East Asian volumes.

The exhibition at the California Book Fair features works that spanned hundreds of years.  One of particular interest was tucked away on the bottom shelf in the display’s last case.  The book was striking in that it was opened to a page with beautifully pressed Chinese characters on one side and an illustration of a man in a strange contortion on the other.  The book, named Works on the Cultivation of Longevity, was a 16th century work on healthy living.


This work is interesting because it is an example of late Ming Dynasty commercial printing (the dynasty spanned from 1368 to 1644). Much of the commercial printing during this period supported and enhanced the lives of citizens. This was a work published to sell and be read by the masses.  It was during this period in China that books became not just works of scholarship but tools for the common man.  This printed work, tucked in a corner of the fair, is possibly one of the more important works in the fair and was among the books that made the journey to California so worthwhile.

Alcatraz at dawn on San Francisco Bay

Alcatraz at dawn on San Francisco Bay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of San Francisco’s biggest tourist attractions doesn’t attract much attention at the California Antiquarian Book Fair.  Hardly a book can be found about Alcatraz.


Populated by 1853, a prison by 1859, Alcatraz Island has had a colorful history as a military fort and a prison for everyone from Native Americans to soldiers in the Civil War, to the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.  It was also home to others who were not prisoners.


Looking out over San Francisco Bay, it is impossible not to notice Alcatraz.  It is like the birthmark from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, the single imperfection on an otherwise perfect face.  Visitors have looked to, through, past, and around Alcatraz to see the scenic beauty of the bay all around.  Indeed, the prisoners themselves recount seeing that same beauty around them, of watching New Year’s Eve fireworks, and of watching from afar the lives of others go by.


There is no doubt that Alcatraz fascinates, but as one dealer at the fair told me, “Rare, collectable?  Not so much.”    There are, however, plenty of books that have been written.  Some even fetch a few hundred bucks.  But this rock in the bay remains the birthmark - a curiosity and an imperfection - but mostly something on the landscape of California that has long been accepted and ignored.

220px-Alfred_Edward_Housman.jpegIn the wake of Valentine’s Day, a very personal - and unpublished - A. E. Housman poem about unrequited love will be included in the extensive poetry sale coming up at Bonham’s this spring.  The tender poem was written by Housman in 1917 about his life-long love for Moses Jackson.  Housman and Jackson attended Oxford together as undergraduates.  After University, Housman followed Jackson to London where they jointly took up work in the Patents Office.  Jackson soon married and left for India with his bride, spending the rest of his career abroad. 

Housman never recovered from the blow.

The poem - faintly written in pencil with clear attempts to erase it - passed into the keeping of Housman’s brother after his death in 1936.  Housman’s brother debated destroying the poem, but was advised to keep it by Alfred Pollard, a friend of Housman’s from his Oxford days.

The poem is estimated by Bonham’s to reach £25,000 at auction.

“Oh were he and I together”

Oh were he and I together

  Shipmates on the fleeted main,

Sailing through the summer weather

  To the spoil of France or Spain.


Oh were he and I together,

  Locking hands and taking leave,

Low upon the trampled heather

   In the battle lost at eve.


Now are he and I asunder

  And asunder to remain;

Kingdoms are for others’ plunder,

  And content for other slain.

A guest post by Webb Howell, FB&C’s publisher, who is in California this week for the book fair.

With apologies to Dale Chihuly, of whom Eric Sinizer, the owner of Light Opera Gallery on Post Street in San Francisco, is no fan, the craft glass movement may have seen better days. Chihuly, says Sinizer, is bested by numerous other artists in glass who are better designers and glass blowers. They are not, says Sinizer, better marketers, which may be why the art market in craft glass still suffers from recessions in 2001 and 2008.

Blown Glass Jellyfish by Rick Satava.jpgBrown Glass Jellyfish by Rick Satava

The craft movement in glass blowing began in the late 1960s when artists took up what had been a commercial trade and brought a different perspective to it.  Sinizer became the first gallery in the early 1970s to recognize the trend and capitalize on it. Now in his 43rd year of business, the 69-year-old Sinizer is ready to perhaps give up the retail part of his business in deference to his online site at LightOperaGallery.com, one of the premier craft glass sites on the Internet.

A Frederick Carder piece from the 1930s created for Steuben Glass.jpg
A Frederick Carder piece from the 1930s, created for Steuben Glass

Sinizer’s success is driven by his own passion for the art and artists of craft glass. A collector himself, Sinizer says, “I buy for myself and reorder for customers.” A particular fan of what is known as the paperweight technique, where sculptural images are encased in other glass, Sinizer is also a collector of Frederick Carder, founder of Steuben Glass - pronounced by few correctly with the accent on the “ben.”

Sinizer has also assembled a significant collection of books about the craft glass movement, an area of collecting easy to enter since the movement is fairly new.  Books, he says, have played a significant role in his success as a craft glass collector.

Vases using paperweight technique by Mayauel Ward.jpgVases using paperweight technique by Mayauel Ward

After a few minutes in Sinizer’s gallery, it is easy to see the significance of the “collection” that he has gathered - all of which is for sale. There hundreds of items by dozens of artists, all beautiful and creative. It’s a who’s who of craft glass artists, but apparently not a who’s who of marketers. Not a single piece is represented by Dale Chihuly.
A guest post by Webb Howell, FB&C’s publisher, who is in California this week for Codex and the CA book fair.

What do a dentist, a poet, an artist, and a printer have in common? If you answered an extraordinary passion for book arts, then you are correct.
That passion manifests itself at the CODEX International Book Fair and Symposium wrapping up today in Richmond, California, just outside San Francisco. The Mexican contingency was spearheaded by Fernando Ondarza, one of the driving forces behind Codex Mexico, whose goal is to promote the enormous heritage of Mexican and Latin American printing arts and book design, all the while showcasing the literary heritage of the region. Were this not enough, many of the works produced by fine presses there focus on subjects that bring attention to cultural, archeological, historical, and ecological issues.
photo5.JPGA driving force behind CODEX Mexico is Dr. Isaac Masri, a dentist by profession but the patron behind Intaglio, one of Mexico’s creative fine presses. On display at the fair were Esclavo, created by artist Francisco Toledo with narrative by poet Antonio Garcia De Leon. Printing was executed by Artura Guerrera. The work (seen above), which features a meticulous cut out of slaves on board ship, celebrates both the centennial of Mexican independence and abolition of slavery in Mexico in 1810.
photo2.JPGOther works on display include Festin en el Mictlan (above), design by Faymundo Sesma and text by Jose Miguel Ullan. This “feast in heaven” is a cookbook of sorts with recipes depicted in very poetic terms, complete with spear head through the cover.
One common goal of CODEX Mexico is the development of young people into book artists, and for this, they have created a school. Here, young artists get to experiment under the watchful expertise of the more practiced, with the long-range goal of ensuring that book arts remains alive and vibrant throughout the 21st century. This expression of Mexican heritage is in no better hands than with CODEX Mexico.

At every big book fair--and this weekend’s California fair is often cited as the biggest--there are generally a couple of auctions that coincide with the event, capitalizing on all those fresh collectors in town. Here are some of the lots that caught my eye from the Bonhams sale coming up on Sunday, the 17th.

6245 Steinbeck box.jpgFor sheer oddity, how about John Steinbeck’s “ebonized table casket.” Better to call it a manuscript chest. According to an accompanying letter from Steinbeck’s son, Thomas, the chest was a gift from Steinbeck’s friend, editor, and publisher, Pat Covici. Thomas further states that his father used it to “store manuscripts of works in progress, and came to be known as ‘Merlin’s Chest’ or the ‘Magic Chest.’” The estimate is $3,000-5,000.  

6158 Sangorski mss.jpgFor sheer beauty, it would be hard to surpass this Sangorski & Sutcliffe illuminated manuscript of Francis Bacon’s Of Gardens: an Essay, c. 1905. The word that comes to mind is lush -- this illuminated manuscript on vellum features naturalistic rose and vine borders, colored and gold inks, and oval vignettes. The estimate is $4,000-6,000.

6014 Calligraphy.jpgAnother charmer in this sale is the calligraphy by Johann Busenitz, in German, dated to August 1713 and after. Seen here is one of ninety pages with calligraphic exercises in green, red, yellow, and black ink, each with elaborate decorative initial. According to the catalogue, Busenitz may have been part of a Mennonite community in Marlenburg. The estimate is $800-1,200.

6087 Blaeu map.jpgBecause of our Fine Maps columnist, Jeffrey S. Murray, this next lot was familiar; Murray’s column in our forthcoming spring issue is all about the house of Blaeu. Theatrum orbis terrarum sive Atlas novas (Amsterdam, 1645-50), from the Blaeu family of mapmakers, was a published edition of hand-colored maps, reprinted several times and expanded by the younger Blaeu. This lot is a collection of 52 engraved double-page maps (disbound) from Theatrum orbis, covering modern-day Europe. The estimate is $10,000-15,000.
Anyone that’s ever worked with rare books holds on to the hope that someday they’ll dust off an old tome and out will spill some previously undiscovered - but amazingly relevant - piece of ephemera.

Something akin to that happened to bookseller John Howell of Los Angeles. Howell recently received a copy of the book Farewell Thou Busy World by John Hodgson Bradley.  Published by The Primavera Press in 1935, Farewell Thou Busy World was graced by woodcuts from the great Paul Landacre, one of the prominent illustrators of the mid 20th century.

SOGGNI-1_image1.jpgAs Howell was browsing through the book, he noticed an extra woodcut print clipped to one of the pages.  When Howell examined the print more closely, he saw it was clearly in Landacre’s trademark style and even bore his small signature in pencil - but the print was not one of the six used to illustrate the book.  So Howell sent a scan of his find to the Landacre scholar Jake Milgram Wien for more information.  After digging around in Landacre archives, Wien declared the print as previously unknown.  Wien surmised the print may have been created for another book but then discarded for unidentified reasons.  Wien also did not know of any surviving wood block that might have been used to create the print.

SOGGNI-1_image2.jpgSo Howell had stumbled across a true rarity - a previously unknown Landacre woodcut - such an infrequent occurrence that Landacre scholars could not remember the last time it happened.  What the print was intended for - and how it ended up in this copy of Farewell Thou Busy World - remains a mystery.

If you’re curious to see the print in person, Howell will be exhibiting it this weekend in San Francisco at the California Antiquarian Book Fair.  Look for him in booth 314.

(Photos submitted by John Howell).

Booksellers and book collectors are either in or flocking to California this week. And what treasures await? Last week, in Part I of this post, we featured some books from Simon Beattie, John Howell, Schubertiade Books & Music, and Eureka Books. Today we’re taking a look at a few more CA International Antiquarian Book Fair offerings.

Sokol-Nuremberg.jpgHow’s this for a highlight? London’s Sokol Books will show a Nuremberg Chronicle. Yes, you read that right. Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum, 1493, in its original Koberger pigskin, richly blind stamped over boards. Not only that, but this copy has been extensively annotated by Sebastian von Seyboldsdorff, a Bavarian knight who accompanied Breydenbach on his great pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The price is £87,500 ($138,000).

Reisler.jpgBookseller Jo Ann Reisler of Vienna, Virgina, is bringing this affable Dr. Seuss drawing. The 5” x 9” pen, ink, and watercolor has a personal connection, too. Seuss gave it to his longtime cook and housekeeper, Alberta Fouts. Color paintings from Seuss are scarce, and this one is so sweet. The price is $25,000.

Croft1.jpgIn his booth in San Francisco, UK bookseller Justin Croft will have many unique items. One is an extraordinary manuscript book of ink and watercolor drawings (seen here) done by one James Landon of England, 1790-91. The images depict comic figures--Dancing Dolly, Simon Swig Bottle--as well as flowers, natural curiosities, and a British Man-o’-War. The drawings are contained within a contemporary wallet-style leather binding. The price is $7,400. Croft’s full fair list is here: http://www.justincroft.com/catalogues/Justin_Croft_Cali2013AWweb.pdf
Well, it’s that time of year in the antiquarian book world -- California is hopping with book fairs. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights you can expect to see.

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 9.14.35 AM.pngThe award-winning catalogues of UK bookseller Simon Beattie are always filled with intriguing and eclectic books--what he calls “The books you never knew you wanted.” Such is the case with this miniature Qur’an, published in Glasgow c. 1900. Yes, it is the size of a nickel, but it comes in its original metal locket with a magnifying glass set into the lid. The price is $1,800. Simon will be showing this tiny treasure (and a booth full of other incredible books, full list: http://www.simonbeattie.co.uk/catalogues/simon_beattie_california_book_fair_2013.pdf) at the 46th CA International Antiquarian Book Fair in San Francisco, Feb. 15-17.

John Howell-origleaf.jpgJohn Howell’s first stop is the Santa Monica fair this weekend and then he travels north to the fair in San Francisco. What he’s proud to be carrying with him is this limited edition fine press book, Specimen Pages of Korean Moveable Types, by Melvin P. McGovern, 1966. This is the first study of Korean movable types, and it contains 22 specimens of movable type dated from 1420 to 1858. Shown here is an original leaf. The price is $3,250. John’s full Santa Monica fair list is here: http://www.johnhowellforbooks.com/home/santa%20monica%20fair.pdf

Schubertiade-Dylan Hendrix Album 1.jpgSchubertiade Music & Arts is bringing this ultra-rare signed Bob Dylan album, “Bringing It All Back Home,” signed on the cover “I dig it too. Jimi Hendrix.” The album is together with a published account from the original owner for whom this was signed in 1967, musician and author CP Lee. The price is $8,500. Will Schubertiade find a crossover vinyl/book collector in San Francisco? Collectors with music on their minds can view the bookseller’s full fair list here: http://www.schubertiademusic.com/sanfran

eureka-book-sf.jpgScott Brown of Eureka Books (the former editor of this magazine) will also be exhibiting in San Francisco. One of his favorite offerings is this photo album that includes 116 photographs of pioneering dog breeder and sled dog racer Scotty Allan and his famous dogs, c. 1918. Allan won several All-Alaska Sweepstakes (the precursor to the Iditarod). The album is neatly captioned in white ink by Margueritte Helen Adams, Allan’s niece. The price is $6,000.

More CA book fair previews here on Monday. Stay tuned!
How is your Mandarin?

Fennigen de Shouling Ye, translates to Finnegans Wake, the title of the classic novel from 1939 by James Joyce.

The classic novel from 1939... and current bestseller in China.

The Guardian reported Tuesday that Joyce’s famous (and famously difficult) novel is currently enjoying an entirely unexpected popularity in China.  Dai Congrung, a professor of literature at Fudan University in Shanghai, produced the Mandarin translation of the first third of Finnegans Wake as “a labor of love.” She had no idea that she was sitting on a bestseller.  While it took eight years to translate the first third, Dai plans to continue translating the next two parts of Finnegans Wake over the coming years.

Supported by a massive billboard campaign from the Chinese publisher, sales of Fennigen de Shouling Ye took off shortly after its publication in January.  Dai believes the book may be resonating with Chinese readers because of its strong and startling prose and its cyclical view of history.

Dai has attempted to remain faithful to the grammatical creativity of the original.  She said to The Guardian, “For example, there was a phrase in Finnegans Wake that said ‘sputtering hand’, which might mean shaky. If I translated it as ‘shaky hand’, that would be OK - in Chinese it’s a good sentence. However, I just translated it as ‘sputtering hand’. Sputtering and hand cannot be put together in Chinese grammar, but I put the two together anyway.”

So, all of you Joyce collectors out there have another volume to add to your shelves: Fennigen de Shouling Ye, Part the First.

Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 6.05.18 PM.pngTheodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, wore many hats in his time -- as advertising copywriter, Army filmmaker, book editor, children’s author and illustrator -- none so colorful as this straw number, one of several hundred in his private collection of chapeaux. According to the New York Times, he kept them hidden in a bookcase in his California home. Twenty-six of the hats are now seeing the light of day in a national touring exhibition, Hats Off to Dr. Seuss.

The exhibit is timed to coincide with the seventy-fifth anniversary (and the new anniversary edition) of Seuss’ The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. It opened on Monday at the New York Public Library’s Children Center on 42nd Street and will move on to the Animazing Gallery in New York City, from February 13-17. From there, the exhibit travels to fifteen other locations around the country.

The striking thing about the hats is that some are recognizable from his illustrations and paintings. The red Robin Hood cap, for example, appears atop Bartholomew Cubbins’ head. And, of course, there’s the Cat in the Hat’s red-striped stovepipe--Seuss owned one of those, too.

Photo courtesy of drseussart.com
As you may have heard by now, Faber has published a new edition of The Bell Jar to commemorate the semi-autobiographical novel’s 50th anniversary.  The cover has ignited a lot of controversy:

belljarnewcover.jpgCriticism over the new cover centers on the perception that it is marketing The Bell Jar as “chick-lit,” and not treating it as serious literature.  The London Review of Books summed up the controversy:

It should be possible to see ‘The Bell Jar’ as a deadpan younger cousin of Walker Percy’s ‘The Moviegoer,’ or even William Burroughs’s ‘Naked Lunch.’ But that’s not the way Faber are marketing it. The anniversary edition fits into the depressing trend for treating fiction by women as a genre, which no man could be expected to read and which women will only know is meant for them if they can see a woman on the cover.

It’s a far cry from the original first edition cover, seen here: (Victoria Lucas, by the way, was Sylvia Plath’s pen name).

But it’s not such a far cry from some of the other covers issued by Faber over the years, such as this one:

belljarpaperbackcover.jpgThe amusing bit about this controversy is that it has sparked a whole slew of parody covers.  Some of my favorites are below:

(this cover by johnhornor)

belljarparodyceathanleahy.jpg(this cover by Cethan Leahy)

belljarparodysteamedhams.jpg(this cover by steamed hams)

So, what do you think of the new cover for The Bell Jar?  Is it worthy of the controversy it has sparked? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

BooksAreWeapons.jpgAn auction of vintage posters at Swann Galleries tomorrow will include this well known and much appreciated poster, “Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas.” This vivid depiction of Nazis burning books was printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office in 1942. The estimate is $400-600; could be a great buy for collectors of the books made and distributed for propaganda purposes during World War II, as discussed in John B. Hench’s superb book on the subject, Books As Weapons.
LCBA.pngThis weekend heralds the grand opening of the London Centre for Book Arts, the UK’s first dedicated open-access educational book arts center. Akin to New York’s Center for Book Arts, which was founded in 1974 by Richard Minsky (also our Book Arts columnist), the LCBA is offering classes and workshops in papermaking, letterpress printing, and bookbinding.

The decision to open the LCBA occurred to recent London College of Communication graduate Simon Goode during a three-month trip to the U.S. He was inspired by visiting several book arts institutions in the states and then struck by the fact that no such place existed in London. “I soon found out there was nowhere for me to use all these bits of specialised equipment that I’d learned. I spent three years learning all these bookbinding and printmaking techniques, it was amazing and I had a brilliant time and I wanted to carry on, but there was simply no access,” he told The Guardian last month.

Goode has equipped the new space in Fish Island, Hackney, with a Victorian guillotine once owned by poet Ted Hughes and an 1897 wooden press. A schedule of classes is up on the LCBA’s Facebook page.

Image via LCBA.
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