May 2013 Archives

9780199922666.jpgIf you subscribe to our printed quarterly, then you have had the pleasure of reading an excerpt from Travis McDade’s Thieves of Book Row: New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It (Oxford University Press, June, $27.95). I received a copy of the finished book last week and am just past the midway point, so this is not a review--I imagine my decision to print an excerpt in our spring issue speaks for the book’s merits. McDade offers clear descriptions of behind-the-scenes book stealing (and selling) along New York’s Book Row and shows how it touched the “uptown” dealers, librarians, and collectors. The book is smart and suspenseful.

McDade is the curator of rare books at the University of Illinois College of Law. If you missed them, you should read his two recent blog posts on “The professionalization of library theft” and “Barry Landau’s coat pockets,” too.  
The British government launched the Cultural Gifts Scheme in March, which offers tax incentives to individuals who make contributions of “pre-eminent” items to cultural institutions while they are still alive. Individuals making such donations are eligible for a reduction in their income or capital gains tax by 30% of the object’s value. Thus, a gift of a rare book valued at £500,000 to a special collections library would result in a tax reduction of £150,000.

The first contribution under the new scheme was made to the British Library earlier this month when Hunter Davies, the Beatles’ biographer, donated a group of manuscripts of Beatles lyrics including “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “In My Life” handwritten by John Lennon. The British Library maintains a Beatles collection in its popular Treasure Gallery.

Davies was quoted in The Independent about his donation: “I want my Beatles collection to be kept together, in one place, and on public display, and the British Library is the perfect home for it... Working on a new book about The Beatles lyrics made me determined that the British Library should have the world’s best public collection of Beatles manuscripts. I’m really pleased the Cultural Gifts Scheme has helped me make this a reality.”

The Cultural Gifts Scheme is administered by Arts Council England. It is intended as a complement to the successful Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, which allows individuals to donate heritage items while paying the Inheritance Tax . Both schemes are parts of recent initiatives to encourage philanthropic giving.

Corporations are also eligible to receive a tax reduction if they donate qualifying materials under the Cultural Gifts Scheme, however they receive a reduction in their tax of 20%, rather than a 30%, of the object’s value.

The more I learn about old books, the harder it is to enjoy the type of biblio-fiction that should appeal to me. I have always enjoyed novels that feature books, particularly antique books and manuscripts, as an essential element, e.g. Byatt’s Possession, Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, and Martha Cooley’s The Archivist, all of which I’m afraid to re-read now that I’ve spent the last few years focused on the rare book trade as editor of this magazine. I quibble over bibliographical points and still demand a hardy plot, which makes me a more persnickety reader than most. 

9780670026470H.jpgCharlie Lovett’s debut novel, The Bookman’s Tale (Viking, June, $27.95), entices the general reader in me. It opens in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye where antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly finds what he believes to be a watercolor portrait of his recently deceased wife, Amanda, tucked into a copy of An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers by Edmond Malone. Oddly, the portrait appears Victorian, so it sends Peter’s mind reeling. An intriguing premise, but here we are on page 4, and already I’m doubting Lovett, a book collector and former antiquarian bookseller, because Peter removes the watercolor from the book and slips it into a cheaper book before checking out. What?! A find like that and he doesn’t pause to consider whether the book contained more evidence, or the sagacity (not to mention ethics) of separating the book from its extra-illustration? Bad bookseller. And yet, as the story continues, we are meant to think of him as a something of a hapless genius.

Peter’s pursuit to find the artist of this little watercolor turns into quite the quest--spanning numerous sets of characters and several centuries. William Shakespeare is one such character; Lovett imagines him annotating a copy of Robert Greene’s Pandosto and then handing it off to a bookseller. That becomes the holy grail at the heart of the novel, surrounded by forgery, murder, and sex (the latter recounted from Peter’s memories of his college days would have been better left unsaid). And while there were too many set changes for a novel under five hundred pages, what I liked about this story is how Lovett invents such a book’s origin and follows it through the centuries from writer to bookseller to collector (Robert Cotton) so on and so forth. I would have preferred more in those chapters and less on Peter’s personal history.

As my colleague Jeremy Dibbell pointed out last week, this may be the only novel to feature a Hinman Collator, which is pretty neat. Peter uses it to compare two copies of Pandosto while trying to prove that one is a genuine first edition. The final quarter focuses on forgery, through which Lovett develops narrative tension and delivers an interesting ending.

The Bookman’s Tale is a breeze to read, and if you are not yet as jaded a reader as I am vis-a-vis biblio-fiction, it makes fine poolside reading.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Gabe Konrad, proprietor of Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books in Sand Lake, Michigan.


How did you get started in rare books? 

I don’t think my story is unique among booksellers.  I started collecting when I was a boy - buying used from a shop a couple of blocks from my childhood home. Over the years collecting evolved into scouting, and then selling.  I used to publish a ‘zine, Æoleus Butterefly (named after a brand of bike pedal from the turn of the last century), that focused on vintage bicycles, touring and racing. The ‘zine evolved into a magazine of similar content, On The Wheel, and a couple of books.  All the while I was selling scarce bicycle books to my subscribers.  It was my first attempt at a specialty.  The thought of opening a used bookshop, however, was always in the back of my mind.  I was in the Army during the Gulf War and I kept a notebook with my plans for opening a shop.  It was very detailed, right down to the design of the store’s sign.  Unfortunately, that notebook was lost to the sands of Saudi Arabia or Iraq, but my passion for fine books never faded. 

When did you open Bay Leaf Books? 

My wife, Melanie, and I opened our shop in early 2007.  The jump from thinking about a shop and actually opening one was actually pretty quick.  I had seen an old friend of mine at a library book sale, John Rau of Mecosta Book Gallery in Mecosta, Michigan, who has been one of my mentors in the trade.  Talking about the old days really brought those old feelings rushing back, and Melanie and I sat down to plan the opening of a shop in a year or two.  But books just began appearing, boxes of them filling every spare inch of our house.  Then an affordable storefront became available and five months later we were open.  It was a real crash course in retail sales.  Kind of like diving in head first - head first into a brick wall.  It really was all John’s fault - I mean inspiration... 

What do you specialize in? 

Specialize is a strong word - I would say that I have a special interest in several areas.  One of the things I love about this business is that it allows me to follow my whims - to a certain extent.  If bookplates are piquing my interest, I’ll pursue it.  African art and ritual, punk rock, art, poetry, martial arts, radical politics.  I have a special interest in all of these. The day will come when I settle down with one or two of these and truly carve out a niche for myself, but at the moment I’m having too much fun with the variety. 

I understand that you maintain an open brick-and-mortar shop in a small Michigan town of about 500 people. What’s your secret? 

The secret is I’m an idiot.  So, you can scratch the “bright” off the “Bright Young Things.”  In fact, you should get rid of “young” as well.  Just call this installment “Thing.”  Yes, we’re in a tiny village with a minuscule year-round population.  There are several little lakes around here, so the summer crowd is decent.  Unfortunately, Michigan summers only last about two-and-a-half months.  I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone.  At the end of each winter I seriously consider moving to a more populated location, yet we’re still here.  Idiot. 

We really are running two separate businesses here.  One is the open shop with general stock.  We’re heavy on the non-fiction side, but stock a lot of popular fiction, classics, and a massive section for kids and young adults.  And then there is the “antiquarian” side of the business which we traffic via catalogues, shows and the internet.  We have some pricier, oddball material in display cases, but this is really for the museum effect that so many people are after when they visit a used book store.  They ooh and ahh, but rarely buy that material.  It’s all part of the experience. 

Both facets of the business take a tremendous amount of time and it’s a constant push and pull between the two. 

What do you love about the book trade? 

The holy trinity - books, buyers, and the trade itself!  Buying and handling books, the hunt for books, is the most exciting part of the experience.  It’s why most booksellers do what they do - the thrill of the conquest, teasing out a book’s importance, and passing it on.  I love my customers... for the most part.  Bookshops, like bars, tend to draw in the nuts, and I do tire of hearing about how little green men are living at the center of the earth or how this or that politician is, literally, a demon sent from hell, but most customers are great.  I love talking with artists and architects, professors, train engineers, gardeners - everyone has a great story to tell and we all have a love of books in common.  And then there’s the trade itself.  Booksellers are remarkably generous with their knowledge and it never ceases to amaze me that a relatively low-level dealer like me can pick up the phone and have the ear of some of the best booksellers in the country.  It’s true that we give each other little discounts, send books on spec, etc., but the collegiality, the advice, and the understanding that we’re all in this together is priceless. 

Last year I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar in Colorado Springs.  This is a seminar where some truly talented and successful booksellers gather to teach up-and-coming dealers every aspect of buying, researching and selling antiquarian books.  Trade secrets were shared, every question was thoroughly answered, and lifelong friends were made.  While I had been in business for years prior to going to CABS, the week I spent in Colorado was transformative, and I was able to do this because I received a scholarship from the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA), a trade organization to which I belong and, now, serve on the board.  How great is that!  Who wouldn’t love a trade where everyone wants everyone else to succeed? 

Favorite rare book that you’ve handled? 

Yeah, my favorite books are the ones I’ve been able to sell!  I have a lot of interesting titles, but once they’ve sat on the shelves for a while they begin to lose their luster.  But the books that clients are excited about, that move quickly, those are a lot of fun! 

I do like books that have been altered in some way - Grangerized, accessorized, whatever.  I recently sold a copy of Fluxus Codex by Jon Hendricks.  Not a particularly scarce or expensive book - you can still get a fine copy for a few hundred dollars - but this copy had an original (unsigned), Fluxus-style collage on the rear pastedown with spray-painted stencil letters, Shakespeare postage stamps, a bus pass, etc.  I laid in an archival tissue guard, and “poof” it was gone.  Wonderful stuff. 


What do you personally collect? 

When we opened Bay Leaf Books, pretty much everything I owned went into the shop, but that rectified itself pretty quickly.  I collect books published by The Legacy Press in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who specialize in titles related to the history of bookbinding and papermaking, and books on Goju-Ryu karate.  I have an interest in provenance and tracking books through private and professional hands, so I collect bookplates from a select group of American designers and bookseller labels from around the world - and I created a poorly maintained website.  I’m also gathering books that include any history of bookseller labels and binders’ tickets. 

Thoughts on the present state and future of the rare book trade? 

The changes in the book world speak directly to the two-pronged approach of our business.  On the one hand, the advent of megalisters, penny sellers, e-books, big box stores, and online retailers have devalued the printed book dramatically and made it incredibly difficult for used bookshops to keep their doors open.  At the same time, publishers are printing fewer paper books and there is a lot of competition for popular titles on the second-hand market.  As far as popular fiction and non-scholarly non-fiction, I only see this getting worse and I can envision a clash between the lack of inexpensive books and a demand for them.  Supply and demand will, I think, eventually raise prices, and when e-books have cornered the market, those prices will increase as well.  Not everyone can afford, or wants, an e-reader, and when people can no longer afford to read books, we’ve truly got problems. 

The rare book trade, on the other hand, seems to be in pretty good shape.  While the number of open shops is diminishing, there’s an increased interest in fine books and ephemera and a new wave of booksellers coming along to keep the traditions alive.  I can point again to CABS, which is helping develop some exceptional young booksellers, as well as the IOBA striving to improve the online selling experience for buyers and sellers alike, and the ABAA, America’s bastion of fine bookselling.  All of these facets are coming together to create a wonderful pool of sellers and dedicated collectors. 

Any upcoming catalogues or fairs? 

I’ve found that I like experimenting with catalogue formats - and our next catalogue will be no exception.  I like to keep the content and format pretty close to the vest, so I’ll just say it will cover modern art and be out sometime in July.  Our upcoming eLists will include poetry, bookplates and radical literature.  Folks can email us at to be added to our mailing list. 

I just returned from the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair, which is a fantastic event.  People complain about the decline of regional shows, but Ann Arbor is thriving with great attendance, community support, and a top-notch lineup of booksellers - including many ABAA and IOBA dealers.  This fall we’ll be sticking with mainly regional shows including Chicago, the Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show in Lansing, and back to Ann Arbor for the Kerrytown Book Festival.  A schedule will be available on our website

Printing and Book Studies in Paradise

Tempus fugit. I attended my ten-year college reunion last weekend at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. One activity advertised the opportunity to print a broadside keepsake on an 1834 Otis Tufts iron hand press.

I happily waited on line for an hour to feed a sheet of paper into the machine. Finally, I had my turn at the toggle lever and pressed an image of the college onto ivory paper.  Luckily, a local professional printer was there to assist eager compositors; without a guiding hand I would have used far less force than was required to create the impression. In fact, there are some places on my keepsake where the ink is lighter than others.   


The front of my broadside keepsake, after I folded it. The chapel spire is lighter than other sections. 

Martin Antonetti, curator of rare books at Smith, spoke with me about how he had rescued the machine, and how it ended up on the third floor of the library.  “I found the press in pieces in the basement of Hillyer Hall when it was being cleared out for the renovation project about 10 years ago. Some of the parts were actually missing, but we had them fabricated by the machinist Greg Young on campus, using a diagram we found in a 19th-century printing handbook.”  Now, alongside cases of antique type, the machine welcomes visitors at the entrance to the Mortimer Rare Book Room. 


diagram of a hand press 

While waiting for my turn at the press, I also spoke with Barbara Blumenthal, the rare book specialist in the Mortimer Rare Book Room as well as an administrative assistant for the Book Studies Concentration Program at Smith. She explained the new concentration program to me. 

Since the program’s inception in 2011, students have been able to choose from ten areas of interest. There’s a concentration in poetry, the aforementioned Book Studies and even an exploration of Buddhism. Students may pursue a concentration in addition to declaring a major. 

The goal of such a course of study is to combine practical and intellectual experiences around one subject.  Each concentration culminates with a ‘capstone’ experience - an independent senior research project presented at the end of the spring semester. 

The Book Studies Concentration is an exciting addition to the Smith curriculum and an excellent way to explore the vibrant book arts community in the Pioneer Valley. 

A 1997 first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, complete with personal annotations and twenty-two original illustrations by J. K. Rowling, grabbed a record-breaking £150,000 ($225,000) at a Sotheby’s auction in London on May 21st.  A bidding war between two auction attendees rocketed the price skyward in increments of £25,000 until the hammer fell, to applause, at £150,000, setting a new record for Rowling.

The Sotheby’s auction, entitled “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” was a charity effort to raise funds for PEN, an English non-profit that fights censorship and advocates for freedom of expression.  Fifty British and Commonwealth writers annotated - and sometimes illustrated - copies of first editions of their work. The auction was curated by the rare book dealer Rick Gekoski and raised an impressive £439,000.

Other highlights included a first edition of Matilda by Roald Dahl with new illustrations by Quentin Blake, which brought in £30,000. Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day raised £18,000, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall went for £16,000, and Ralph Steadman’s illustrated edition of Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas took home £14,500.

The first edition of Harry Potter was, however, the talk of the night.  Dr. Philip Errington, Sotheby’s director of printed books and manuscripts, referred to it as “the definitive copy of any Harry Potter book.”  Rowling annotated the book with reflections on writing it in “snatched hours in clattering cafes or in the dead of night,” and added twenty-two illustrations.

Anticipating a significant hammer price, Rowling dictated that 67% of the sale of the annotated Harry Potter would go toward PEN, with the remaining balance directed toward Rowling’s own charity, the Lumos Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of European children living in institutions and helps them transition into family care situations.

Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 1.57.59 PM.pngEarlier this spring Bonhams revealed the news that this unique portrait had turned up in its London office. The oval miniature is catalogued as ‘Circle of Charles Hayter,’ perhaps obscuring the fact that the image is generally accepted as one of the Romantic poet John Keats. Housed within a gold frame, the reverse reveals strands of dark blonde hair decorated with split seed pearls and gilt-wire. It has been consigned by an American, a descendant of Earle Vonard Weller (1890-1994), an author and avid collector of English Romantic poets. He is known to have purchased this miniature in 1931 from an antiques dealer in Knightsbridge. Though there is some debate over its identification as Keats, Bonhams’ catalogue copy does a fine job in describing its history. 

The miniature will be auctioned on May 30th within its red leather traveling case, together with Autobiography of John Keats: Compiled from His Letters and Essays by none other than Earle Vonard Weller (Stanford University Press, 1933), in which an image of the very same miniature is color illustrated on the frontispiece. It is expected to reach £10,000-15,000 (US$ 15,000-23,000).

Image via
Almost a year ago, scholars at Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent became alarmed when the possibility arose that a major collection of early printed books and manuscripts might be broken up and sold to the highest bidder. The Mendham collection--named for its founder, Anglican vicar Joseph Mendham--was donated to The Law Society of England and Wales in the 1860s. Since 1984, the collection has been on deposit at Canterbury Cathedral Library under a loan agreement between the Cathedral, the University of Kent, and the Society. (That agreement is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2013.)

Lot15.jpgBut in July of last year, the Law Society plucked three hundred of the most valuable books from the collection and consigned them to Sotheby’s. An uproar ensued, and a petition was circulated to save the historic library from an uncertain fate. Negotiations began, and there was hope that the scholars and the solicitors might reach an agreement. According to Dr. Clive Field, president of the Religious Archives Group, the Law Society invited bids to purchase the entire collection from a number of UK universities. With no deal in sight, “Highlights of the Mendham Collection”--142 lots of bibles, prayer books, and other rare theological works--is now officially on the Sotheby’s calendar for June 5. The six-volume polyglot bible pictured here at left is estimated to be one of the top lots at £70,000-100,000 ($105,000-150,000).

In anticipation of the auction, a letter of support for keeping the collection intact was sent to the Times of London on May 11. Dr. Clive Field; Diarmaid Maccullouch, professor of the history of the church, Oxford; and Roly Keating, chief executive, British Library, wrote as a group describing their concern. “Many items will doubtless be lost to the nation as a result,” they wrote. They urged the Law Society to explore “alternative options to the Sotheby’s auction, with the attendant damage to scholarship and national heritage.”

Some solicitors have also shown support for the effort to save the collection from dissemination. In a May 14 letter to the Times of London, Ian Stevens, director of policy for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, 2007-2010, wrote, “As a history graduate, solicitor and former employee of the Law Society of England and Wales, I am dismayed by the society’s proposal to break up and dispose of the Mendham Collection ... The donor’s intention was to find a secure home for the collection, not to provide the profession with a disposable asset.” Two other UK solicitors followed up with a letter in the Times on May 15 urging other solicitors to “contact the Law Society, as we have done, to ask that the sale be delayed. Short-term financial considerations cannot be a justification for the break-up of a historical collection.”

Dr. Alixe Bovey, director of the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, would very much like to see the collection preserved. In an email last week she wrote, “We’re still making efforts to stop the break up of the collection but time is running out.”

The Law Society, for its part, has refused to comment. A May 16 email from Fine Books went unanswered by the Society’s press office.

Image via Sotheby’

I is for Imagination in Appalachia

Today, Northwestern University will be repatriating about 250 documents to France including a letter written by Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Joseph about the future Emperor’s patriotism during the French Revolution.

How the documents ended up at Northwestern is an interesting story in itself: Jack McBride, an entertainer in a USO troupe was stationed in Corsica during WWII.  According to family tradition, McBride stumbled across a group of soldiers burning documents while he was wandering around the island.  McBride saved what he could, a parcel of about 250 documents, including the Bonaparte letter.  McBride shipped them home to his family, thinking they might prove to be valuable.  In the 1980s, McBride’s descendants deposited the documents at Northwestern for further study.

Some twenty years later, in 2009, Northwestern finally got around to processing the documents. (Like many archival institutions, Northwestern has an extensive backlog of unprocessed documents).  They discovered the Bonaparte letter, which was written in 1792 to an unidentified colonel during the height of the French Revolution.  In the letter, Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, insists that Napoleon is a patriot to the revolutionary cause.  The bundle of McBride papers included a variety of other documents over a 450 year time frame.

Northwestern consulted the French government about their find, who were interested in receiving the documents back.  Today, Northwestern will present the bundle to the French consulate in Chicago in a special ceremony at the University.

Northwestern’s move raises again the question of repatriation of historical documents. Many special collections libraries (and private libraries) own documents that could arguably be repatriated to their country of origin. Whether they should or not remains a question of much debate.

[Image of Joseph Bonaparte from Wikipedia]
Daniel Rolnik and Ryan McIntosh of Intellectual Property Prints in Los Angeles are launching a run of 100% handmade fine-art screenprints. Timed to support the annual Venice Art Walk auction on May 19th, IPP will debut ten new prints by artists from all genres of contemporary art, including: Gary Baseman (subversive art), Jason Shawn Alexander (fine art), Bob Dob (pop surrealism), David Flores (vinyl toys), Daniel Edwards (sculpture), Christine Wu (fine art Illustration), Gregory Siff (street art), Eric Joyner (lowbrow), and Michael Sieben (skateboard illustration).

To see teasers of prints being produced, visit:

Or check out this video of Bob Dob, whose new 3-color screenprint, “Blood Orange,” made in an edition of fifty, is one of the featured IPP prints.

Following in the footsteps of medieval scribes centuries before him, Phillip Patterson of upstate New York completed an enormous task: he copied the entirety of the Bible by hand.  Patterson, 63, began the project in 2007 and spent up to 14 hours per day writing passages.

The retired interior designer completed the final words of his manuscript last weekend in front of a crowd at his local church, St. Peter’s Presbyterian in Spencertown, New York.  After finishing, he said “Amen.”  He plans to spend the next year binding his 2,400 page manuscript before he will donate it to the same church.

Patterson said that he commenced work on the project to learn more about the Bible, rather than as a spiritual exercise, but that the act of copying the Bible taught him to be more loving, confident, and patient.  He began the project while living at a retirement home in 2007 where he felt most of the other residents just spent their days watching television.  Curious about the Bible, and seeking a meaningful diversion he could maintain in the face of deteriorating health, Patterson started copying out the King James Bible by hand.

The multi-year project was slowed by Patterson’s health, which has been compromised by AIDS since 1985. Patterson was still able, however, to log lengthy days copying passages.  He often spent more than 10 hours per day with a Pigma Micron pen in hand, slowly filling blank pages with the text of one of the foundational books of Western civilization.

[Illustration of scribe from Wikipedia]
Recent and upcoming auction doings:

- 10 April was a pretty amazing day for Christie’s New York. The sale of the first part of the Collection of Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow on 10 April can only be described as spectacular. The sale realized a grand total of $15,842,145, with Goya’s Tauromaquia leading the way at $1,915,750. Another Goya lot, Los Caprichos, sold for $843,750. And in their single-item sale on the same day, Christie’s sold Dr. Francis Crick’s “secret of life” letter to his son for an eye-popping $6,059,750.

- Bloomsbury sold Books on Horology, Science, and Medicine on 11 April; results here.

- At Swann on 11 April, Fine Books Including Incunabula and Writing Manuals, in 148 lots. The Noble Fragment Gutenberg leaf sold for $55,200, and the first edition of Audubon’s Quadrupeds made $288,000. The (only?) presentation copy of Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield fetched $16,800, and early printing did especially well.

- Swann sold Printed & Manuscript Americana on 16 April. A collection of Civil War diaries and letters by two friends in a California regiment sold for $31,200, while an archive of material by natural historian William Cooper and his son James Graham Cooper made $40,800 (over estimates of just $1,500-2,500). An extreme Theodore Roosevelt rarity, a memorial volume to his wife and mother, sold for $38,400.

- Bloomsbury held a Bibliophile Sale on 18 April, in 655 lots. Results here.

- Christie’s London sold Travel, Science, and Natural History items on 24 London, realizing £1,658,075. The manuscript speech by Wilbur Wright sold for £61,875, while the egg of an extinct elephant bird fetched £66,675.

- PBA Galleries sold Travel & Exploration, Cartography & Americana from the Library of Glen McLaughlin (with additions) on 25 April. Their website was having issues when I wrote this, so I don’t have results information at present.

- Christie’s Paris’ sale of Importants Lives Anciens, Livres d’artistes et Manuscrits on 29 April brought in 2,407,762 Euros, with Hugo, Balzac and Proust manuscript lots taking top honors.

- At Sotheby’s Paris on 29-30 April, the first part of the Bibliothèque des ducs de Luynes, Château de Dampierre was sold, for a total of 2,354,715 Euros. The grand folio volume with Blondel watercolors produced to mark the wedding of the dauphin in 1745 sold for 301,500 Euros, but it was a manuscript map noting action involving Lafayette during the American Revolution which took the top price, fetching 373,500 Euros (over estimates of just 60,000-80,000 Euros).

- Bloomsbury sold The Library of a Continental Gentleman: Natural History Books on 9 May, in 288 lots. Results here. A copy of Ventenat’s Description des Plantes Nouvelles et peu Connues (1800-1802) sold for £13,000.

- Swann sold Art, Press & Illustrated Books, including inventory from the stock of Irving Oaklander on 9 May. See the summer Fine Books & Collection for an overview of this sale.

- Sotheby’s London sells Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History on 14 May, in 219 lots. An early 18th-century illustrated manuscript of Piri Reis’ Kitab-i Bahriye once in the Phillipps collection could fetch £100,000-150,000.

- At Bloomsbury on 16 May, a Bibliophile Sale, in 406 lots.

- Sotheby’s London holds a sale of First Editions, Second Thoughts on 21 May. This sale includes 50 contemporary first editions, annotated by their authors, to benefit the charity English PEN. Browse the available lots here.

- On 29 May at Sotheby’s Paris, Livres et Manuscrits, in 149 lots. An archive of Rousseau letters is estimated at 250,000-350,000 Euros.

- PBA Galleries sells South Sea: The Library of Richard Topel, Part II on 30 May, in 349 lots.

- Also on 30 May, Bloomsbury holds a 30th Anniversary Sale of Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper, in 424 lots.

1922 - Gatsby, Newbery and Melcher

The release of a new film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s classic novel has reignited a mania for all things Gatsby. And why not? The story illustrates a prosperous, glamorous, yet sometimes garish, period in American society. On Monday Rebecca wrote about a new edition of Fitzgerald’s first eight short stories.   Today, we look at the creation of the first award for children’s literature, which was the same year in which Fitzgerald set The Great Gatbsy. 

While Fitzgerald described the cosmopolitan world of flapper culture set to decadent jazz music, American publisher and renowned admirer of children’s books Frederic Melcher commissioned the first Newbery Medal. Melcher named the award after the eighteenth-century British bookseller and printer Jon Newbery because he is regarded as the first dedicated printer and publisher of children’s literature.  

Newbery felt that making beautiful and accessible books for children was essential to their development. When he published Pretty Poems for Children Three Feet High he added the following inscription: “To all those who are good this book is dedicated by their best friend.”[1]

The first Newbery medal winner went to a non-fiction history book called The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (Liveright). In the 1920’s this book was considered the authoritative children’s resource on 5,000 years of history.  


Like The Great Gatsby, the Newbery Award is a uniquely American institution, since only authors contributing to American children’s literature and published in the United States by an American publisher are considered for the prize.

Source: Hazard, Paul. Books, Children & Men. (M. Mitchell, Trans.).Boston: The Horn Book Co., 1944. 

A standard reference work found on the shelves of special collections libraries and rare book dealers across the country is the massive, 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary, or the OED for short.  The OED has been the gold standard of English dictionaries since the first of its volumes was published in 1888.  The extraordinary scholarship of its writes and editors has produced an unparalleled reference into the history of the English language.

The longtime editor of the OED, John Simpson, announced his retirement this week, effective in October of this year.  He has served as editor of the dictionary since the mid 1980s, overseeing its transition to an online publication.  The first electronic version of the OED appeared in 1988 and the first online edition in 2000.  Work is currently underway on the third edition of the dictionary, which thus far has been solely published online, where it is made available to paying subscribers   The head of Oxford University Press said the OED is unlikely to ever appear in print.  The online edition generated upwards of 2m hits per month.

Simpson gave a fascinating interview to The Independent in London about his time with the OED and his impending departure.
Here Simpson offers an interesting perspective on the historical nature of change in the English language: 

“Big changes aren’t happening so fast as they were in the old days. If you lived in 1000, and then looked ahead to 1500 you wouldn’t understand the words and the accents that were being used then, especially with the influx of French. I don’t see such cataclysmic change happening in the future.  From 1750 or so, from Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, things really haven’t changed so much. Whereas 250 years before Johnson it was dogged by non-standardisation. In the middle ages it was a series of dialects. I’m probably slower to accept that there is a massive change on the way, because I’m aware that there has been a lot of stability over the last few centuries. I don’t think a completely new form of language is going to come out of the technological changes we’re seeing now. I’d be very surprised if it did.”

For artist and bestselling novelist Audrey Niffenegger--and her legion of fans and collectors (myself included)--this spring and summer is quite an exciting time. With two new books, a ballet, and a museum exhibit coming up, it might be her second wave. 

Raven Girl.jpgThe first book is a visual novella, more akin to her recent The Night Bookmobile than The Time Traveler’s Wife. Raven Girl (Abrams ComicArts, May 7, $19.95) is a dreamy, dark fairy tale, obviously meant for adults. In it, an English postman falls in love with a fledgling raven from East Underwhelm, Otherworld. The strange pair conceive a child--a ravel trapped in a girl’s body, who becomes so distraught that she engages the services of a plastic surgeon to give her wings. 

The book itself is a pleasure to behold. The bright red binding peeks out under the gray jacket that features ornate silver lettering imposed on one of Niffenegger’s eerie etchings. The endpapers show ravens in varying postures of flight, and the edges are stained with metallic black. 

Raven Girl has been turned into a ballet of the same name, to be performed by the Royal Ballet in London from May 24 to June 8 (Niffenegger wrote about it for the Guardian last week). Take a leap, Odile. 

Awake-PowerHouse.kpg.jpgThe second book, Awake in the Dream World (powerHouse Books, May 14, $29.95), is, essentially, an illustrated catalogue for a mid-career retrospective that opens on June 21 at Washington, D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). Printworks Gallery in Chicago, which has represented Niffenegger for thirty years, has done several group and solo shows of her work, but the NMWA exhibition is the first major museum exhibition devoted to Niffenegger. There will be 239 of her paintings, drawings, prints, and book art on display. 

Like the forthcoming exhibit, the 120-page book is organized around three central themes: Adventures in Bookland for her artist’s books and visual novels; States of Mind for twenty-two self-portraits; In Dreamland for her darker, fantastical artworks. An unjacketed hardcover with a striking cover (one of Niffenegger’s self-portraits, Moths of the New World, 2005), the book also contains essays by Niffenegger, NMWA curator of book arts Krystyna Wasserman, and Art Institute of Chicago curator Mark Pascale. It’s a stunning collection of Niffenegger’s art, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in visual art and contemporary book art. 

Niffenegger fans might be interested to read part of an interview I did with her in 2011 when we met in Chicago.

Images: Raven Girl, courtesy of Abrams ComicArts. Awake in the Dream World by Audrey Niffenegger, published by powerHouse Books, courtesy of powerHouse Books. 

Harper Lee, the notoriously reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, made headlines this week when she filed for suit in a Manhattan court alleging that Samuel Pinkus, the son-in-law of Lee’s longtime agent Eugene Winick, duped Lee into signing over the copyright to her famous novel.  Lee claims that while she was living in an assisted living facility in the aftermath of a 2007 stroke, Pinkus convinced her to sign over the copyright for To Kill a Mockingbird.  Lee has no memory of the event and her lawyer states that Pinkus knowingly took advantage of Lee’s condition as an elderly woman with failing eyesight.

After Winick fell ill several years earlier, Pinkus began to absorb some of Winick’s clients into his own agency, including Lee.  Lee alleges that Pinkus arranged for the copyright transfer in order to ensure himself a longterm interest in the continual income generated from sales of To Kill a Mockingbird.  While the transfer took place in 2007, the copyright has recently been restored to Lee. Although Lee has since fired Pinkus as her agent, he is apparently still receiving payment from the sales of Lee’s novel.

Pinkus has thus far declined to comment on the suit.

Lee’s classic novel was published in 1960 and has sold over 30 million copies around the world.  She still lives in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama, where she has resided with her sister for most of her life.  Lee is currently 87 years old. 

First edition, first printings of To Kill a Mockingbird start in the five figure range.

[Image of Harper Lee receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Wikipedia]

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first eight short stories, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, are out in a new edition (print or digital), complete with the original illustrations, cover art, reproductions of the Post pages, and an introduction by the Post’s historian, Jeff Nilsson. 

On sale May 7, Gatsby Girls is a collection of Fitzgerald’s ‘flapper stories,’ e.g., “Myrna Meets His Family,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” and “Popular Girl I.” All were published between 1920 and 1922, before his Great Gatsby appeared in 1925.  

“By the time he published The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald was already one of the best known authors in America thanks to The Saturday Evening Post,” said  Nilsson. “Through a span of 17 years the magazine published 68 of his short stories, and with 2.5 million subscribers, the Post brought Fitzgerald into the living rooms of Americans who might never have encountered his novels.”  

The new edition of Fitzgerald’s early stories is a collaboration between The Saturday Evening Post, SD Entertainment, and BroadLit. With the much-anticipated film of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, about to smash the box office, what better time to turn your gimlet eye on the stories and the art that not only preceded it but offers literary and cultural context for the novel that is considered Fitzgerald’s most famous. 

A Feline Fantasy Returns to Print

“The Abandoned,” by Paul Gallico; The New York Review of Books, $15.95, 312 pages, ages 8-12. 





            While trying to save a stray cat from certain death, eight-year old Peter is struck by a coal truck and thrown to the side of the road.  During the resulting coma he is magically turned into a fluffy white cat. Unrecognized by Nanny, (the boy’s parents are apathetic and generally uninvolved in his upbringing) he is chased from home.  A fellow stray named Jennie helps Peter navigate the rough and violent London streets in this classic adventure/fantasy novel originally published in 1950.

           This book is catnip to those who adore cats. Yet for those who may not be of the feline persuasion, it’s a worthy read nonetheless.  It’s easy to see why J.K. Rowling is a fan of Gallico’s skill at intertwining magic with reality, and some sections of the book recall scenes from the various Harry Potter books. 

            The undercurrent of disappointment and unhappiness makes this a captivating story for adolescent readers as well as older readers looking for a whimsical tale filled with exploits and bravery.  The Abandoned also chronicles the daily struggle of a city stray, from participating in catfights to finding cozy spots to spend the night.  

            Last published in the United States in 1991, The Abandoned is now being republished by the New York Review of Books. According to, this work has been one of the most sought-after out of print titles in the United States for the past three years.  This edition is bound in striking red cloth and the cover is graced with a beautiful Palmer Brown watercolor of two cats sitting in a shipyard.  

             In addition to writing children’s books, Gallico (1897-1976) was a sport’s columnist for the New York Daily News and short story writer.  Some of his works were adapted to film, most notably The Poseidon Adventure in 1972.   


photo credit Carl van Vechten

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One of the defining voices of the “second wave” of feminism was the radical magazine Spare Rib.  The British publication was an offshoot of the feminist movement of the late 1960s.  It began publication in 1972, under the leadership of Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe, becoming a defining voice of radical feminism for the next ten years before it began to gradually fade from relevance.  It ceased publication in 1993.

News surfaced earlier this week that Spare Rib is being resurrected by the noted British journalist Charlotte Raven.  Initially, Raven intends the new Spare Rib to be an online-only publication, but she has hopes of returning it to print in the future.

During its heyday, Spare Rib invited controversy with its radical content which sought to “investigate and present alternative gender roles for women for virgin, wife, or mother.”  The British paper agent chain, WH Smith, refused to stock copies.  The magazine still managed to sell approximately 20,000 copies per month, an impressive number for a collectively run magazine with an underground ethic.

Today, original issues of Spare Rib are sought by collectors for their bold covers in addition to their content.  The magazine purposefully subverted the glossy covers of women’s magazines of the day, favoring a look that resembled the vibrant underground press scene of the 1960s.  It will be interesting to see if the re-vamped Spare Rib will follow a similar aesthetic.

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Nick Basbanes recently took a trip to Cleveland, Ohio, for which he wrote a column in our current issue. He visited two of the city’s premiere booksellers, Paul L. Csank, owner of Peter Keisogloff Rare Books, Inc., and John T. Zubal, founder in 1961 of Zubal Books, while in town. Here’s what he saw. 

DSCN3456.jpgJohn T. Zubal, founder of Zubal Books, a sprawling operation on the west side of the city that specializes in used and antiquarian titles and occupies close to 200,000 square feet of space in several industrial buildings.

DSCN3437.jpgSome of the 14,000 wooden pear boxes used for shelving in Zubal Books.

DSCN3424.jpgNick writes, “While their business has moved decidedly to the Internet ... there remain some charming throwbacks to the good old days, most notably the vintage wooden fruit boxes that John Zubal bought by the hundreds to use as stacked shelving.”

DSCN3451.jpgA 100,000-square-foot building formerly used by Hostess bakeries to make Twinkies is now filled with secondhand books.

DSCN3463.jpgPaul Csank, owner of Peter Keisogloff Inc., with a recent arrival.

DSCN3460.jpgThis had just arrived at Peter Keisogloff Inc. during Nick’s visit: a fifteenth-century liturgical manuscript on vellum from Italy known as an antiphonary, a large folio bound spectacularly in contemporary brown morocco, with large brass bosses and hinges on the cover and spine.

 DSCN3473.jpgA very pretty binding -- from the stock at Peter Keisogloff, Inc.  “I am especially partial to the book beautiful,” Paul told Nick.

All photos © Nicholas A. Basbanes. Not be used without permission.

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