February 2014 Archives

Under the Sea with Ringo Starr

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“Octopus’s Garden,” by Ringo Starr, illustrations by Ben Cort; Aladdin Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 1-6.

Beatles fans have had much to celebrate recently -- February marked the fiftieth anniversary of the group’s stateside arrival at Idlewild (JFK) Airport, heralding a massive sea change in pop music. A large piece of Ed Sullivan’s stage where the Fab Four signed their names is heading to a New York City auction, where experts estimate it could fetch anywhere between $800,000 and $1,000,000. 

And Ringo Starr is as busy as ever. In addition to planning a tour this summer and recording new music, he recently authored a children’s book. The drummer’s 1969 hit “Octopus’s Garden” is perfect for young audiences, and it’s surprising that in the song’s forty-six years of existence, this is the first time it has been adapted into book form.

The original lyrics swim along to Ben Cort’s playful and cheery illustrations. A smiling, bright orange cephalopod welcomes a group of adventurous children into his fanciful submarinal plot filled with dancing starfish, sticky sea cucumbers and other playful ocean creatures. Children will adore the story, and parents of all ages will find themselves unconsciously humming the happy tune.

Perhaps the highlight of this publication is the accompanying audio disk, which features Ringo on four separate tracks. He introduces himself to a new generation of readers, sings a fresh recording of the song (which sounds a lot like the original), reads the book aloud, and even offers an instrumental version of “Octopus’s Garden” for children to sing along, karaoke-style. What a wonderful way to spend a day. 

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Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.

How did you get started in rare books?

After earning my MLS from the University of Buffalo, I began my career as a reference librarian at the University of Maine at Orono. There I studied with Linne Mooney, who is now Professor of Medieval English Palaeography at the University of York. She introduced me to palaeography and codicology. At the same time, I was studying Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene with an amazing mentor named Burton Hatlen. These two experiences were fundamental. Five years later I was finishing my dissertation on Edmund Spenser and the History of the Book and beginning a career in rare book librarianship that has taken me to The Ohio State University Libraries, The Folger Shakespeare Library, and now to RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection.

What is your role at your institution?

As Curator of the Cary Collection, I manage a special collections library documenting graphic communication history. This includes acquiring new material, working with donors, curating exhibitions, and hosting events. Overall, I try to be an effective ambassador for our library. One of the great joys of my job is teaching a course each year called “Tablet to Tablet: A History of the Book.” We start the semester with cuneiform clay tablets and end with whatever technology the students have in their pockets. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is a very difficult question. I’ve been lucky to handle a number of extraordinary artifacts. The Folger Shakespeare Library has two legal documents that once belonged to William Shakespeare. Holding manuscripts that Shakespeare once held in his hands is pretty incredible. On perhaps the other end of the spectrum, the only book I’ve ever photographed myself holding is a Bible that belonged to Elvis. 

My new favorite acquisition at the Cary Collection is twenty fonts of Hebrew wood type that were used in Yiddish newspapers at the turn of the last century. Not only are these fonts simply beautiful, they are an important piece of American history.

What do you personally collect?

I have never really caught the collecting bug, so I have a very modest library consisting mainly of books of poetry. Most of the books in my house belong to my two young daughters. 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The constant discovery.  Librarianship offers a life of learning. Every day when I open the Cary Collection I am greeted by a room full of historical treasures waiting to share their stories. Working at RIT is particularly exciting. Rare book libraries aren’t typically found at institutes of technology. Here I get to see firsthand fields such as game design and imagining science interacting with special collections. My colleagues and I collaborate with scholars and students in fields that are playing increasingly important roles in our field. They see our collection in unconventional and inspirational ways.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

Special collections are an essential part of the future of libraries. More than ever, the rare and unique materials preserved in academic and public libraries define the personalities of those libraries and will continue to attract readers both in person and online. Manuscripts and realia will especially grow in importance. There is an enormous amount of information waiting be uncovered in these sometimes underused media. Special collection libraries are also at the forefront of the digital humanities.

Librarians need to have the skills and vocabulary required to interact with their technology partners. Also, libraries need to be embedded with programmers and scientists. 

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

The collection that our readers seem to find the most exciting is our collection of historical printing presses. We currently have sixteen presses, all of which are still in use. This collection is complemented by over 1500 fonts of metal and wood type. With the support of a generous donor, we recently acquired the 1891 Albion printing press used by William Morris to print the Kelmscott Chaucer, and later used by Frederic Goudy and our namesake Melbert B. Cary, Jr. We are currently in the process of restoring and reassembling it. If all goes well, we’ll have a welcome party for the press in April. I can’t wait to pull my first impression on it.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Our spring exhibition, The Printed Poem, The Poem as Print, is curated by my colleague Amelia Fontanel and features a collection of American poetry broadsides printed between 1983 and 1985 at the Press of Colorado College. Exhibition programming will include poetry readings and some printing of our own. For more information, please visit: http://library.rit.edu/cary/exhibitions.    
2187L14313_6G82P.jpgApropos to our winter issue’s cover story on Hollywood script collecting, a working script of Citizen Kane goes to auction next week at Sotheby’s March 5-6 sale of the collection of Stanley J. Seeger. The film won the Oscar in 1940 for best original screenplay. The mimeographed typescript runs 224 pages with numerous additions and deletions and is twice inscribed on the cover sheet: “Mr Welles’ working copy.” Last sold at auction in 1991, this time Sotheby’s London expects it to reach $25,000-33,000.

In chronicling Welles’ creative collaboration with writer Herman Mankiewicz on the Sotheby’s blog, David Macdonald writes, “This particular script, then, is not only Welles’s own copy at a critical moment in the development of Citizen Kane, but is a fascinating insight into the collaborative development of this glittering story of megalomania, obsession and loss.”

Image via Sotheby’s.

683836.jpgOn Thursday this week, Swann Galleries will be offering for auction 250 books from the renowned photobook collection of photographer Bill Diodato. Beginning in 1990, Diodato built an impressive library of photobooks to educate himself about photography aesthetics. Diodato complemented his collection with fine art photographs from master photographers, some of which will be included in the February 27th sale.  

“Bill is a talented photographer and student of the art,” said Andrew Cahan, an ABAA bookseller who specializes in photobooks. Diodato was one of Cahan’s long term customers. “He assembled a fine library of the master photographers of the 20th century, which I am sure gave him sustenance and pleasure.”

Speaking of his own collection, Didodato said, “The many artists who helped build the photobook genre will not be forgotten so long as photographic literature survives.  I see myself as a custodian of these treasures and now have the wonderful opportunity to share this material for the next generation of collectors to enjoy.”

Auction highlights include:

·         Bernd & Hilla Becher, Anonyme Skulpturen, Eine Typologie technischer Bauten [A Typology of Technical Constructions], first edition, Düsseldorf, 1970. (Estimate $1,200 to $1,800)

·         Brassaï, Paris de Nuit, first edition, Paris, 1933. (Estimate $3,000 to $4,500)

·         Alexey Brodovitch, Ballet, New York, 1945. (Estimate $7,000 to $10,000)

·         Claude Cahun, Aveux non Avenus, Paris, 1930. (Estimate $6,000 to $9,000)

·         Robert Capa, Death in the Making, first edition, New York, 1938. (Estimate $1,200 to $1,800)

·         Lewis W. Hine, Men at Work: Photographic Studies of Modern Men and Machines, first edition, New York, 1932. (Estimate $3,000 to $4,500)

·         Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol’s Index (Book), first hardcover edition, in original sealed wrapper, New York, 1967. (Estimate $2,500 to $3,500), 

·         Superbly-produced monographs devoted to Japanese photographers Eikoh Hosoe, Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki;

·         A gathering of 12 conceptual photobooks by Ed Ruscha, all are first editions and 2 are signed by the artist (Estimate $18,000 TO $22,000).

·         Bernd and HIlla Becher, “Industrial Facades” (1978), a suite of 12 photographs.  (Estimate $100,000 to $150,000)

·         Sally Mann, Vinland, 1992. (Estimate $14,000 to $18,000), Jesse Bites (1985), (Estimate $12,000 to $18,000), and Deep South #7” (1988; printed 1999), (Estimate $14,000 to $18,000)

·         Irving Penn, Fish, New York, platinum palladium print, 1939, printed 1983. (Estimate $20,000 to $30,000)

·         Irving Penn, Soot Paper, platinum palladium print, 1975. (Estimate $5,000 to $7,500).

·         Aaron Siskind, Chicago 22 (1960), (Estimate $10,000 to $15,000);

·         and photographs by O. Winston Link, Charles Hoff, Arno Minkken, among others.

Printing out Wikipedia is entirely antithetical, but that’s beside the point, right? Less than two weeks ago, PediaPress announced Printing Wikipedia A to Z: The 1000 Books of Wikipedia, a campaign to publish in hard copy the four million articles that comprise the complete English Wikipedia. To do this, the company launched an Indiegogo funding page with a goal of $50,000. As of today, it has just surpassed the $10,000 mark with 47 days left to go.

The idea is not to re-imagine the faux leatherbound set of Encyclopedia Britannica that you had as a kid. Rather, PediaPress would like to show us Wikipedia’s size and scope “by transforming it into the physical medium of books.” It will require about 1,000 volumes, each containing 1,200 pages. The work would go on exhibit and be presented at the Wikimania Conference in London this August.

The company, based in Mainz, Germany, realizes the plan’s demerits. According to the campaign’s page: “Obviously a printed Wikipedia will be outdated within seconds. We plan to visualize the update frequency of Wikipedia by printing live updates on continuous paper during the exhibition.”

All of which sounds to me like an art installation based on books, and, moreover, one based on where we find ourselves -- at the divide between digital and print, always feeling like a decision must be made. After the initial exhibitions, PediaPress says it plans to donate the books to a large public library. “To later generations this might be a period piece from the beginning of the digital revolution.”


The University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was abuzz Thursday evening.  There were standing room only crowds and press milling about.  But none of this had to do with the Duke-Carolina basketball game about to be played on national television less than half a mile away at the Dean Smith Center.  The real buzz was happening at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collection Library, where “Rooms of Wonder:  From Wunderkammer to Museum 1565-1865” was about to take center court.

“Rooms of Wonder” is built around the magnificent collection--and magnificently generous collector--of Florence Fearrington, a New York resident and former investment manager, who continues to hold dear her deep roots in North Carolina.  This amazing collection, which first debuted at The Grolier Club in 2012, is now on view at UNC, along with an engaging series of lectures.

Rooms of Wonder--Wunderkammers, or rooms of wondrous things--stir at the heart of knowledge.  In the 16th century, long before museums as we know them were established, it was the wealthy and the curious who began to assemble objects of interest.  Some collections were manmade:  art, coins, antiquities.  Others appeared from the natural world:  animal, vegetable, mineral.  All were the subject of assembly, study, and, importantly, cataloguing.

English: Louis Round Wilson Library at the Uni...

English: Louis Round Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is these catalogues--Wunderkammer books--that form the basis of Ms. Fearrington’s collection and especially offer us insight into the first assembling of like things, the origins of scholarship.  The catalogues offer not only a glimpse of what’s there, but also what isn’t, since some catalogues reflect not only what been collected, but what is hoped to be collected.

The evening was keynoted by Arthur MacGregor, former Curator of Antiquities at Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum, someone Ms. Fearrington refers to as “the man” when it comes to the study of Wunderkammers.  A future lecture (April 5) by Dr. Pamela Smith, professor of history at Columbia, will deal with the “making of knowledge in early literary culture.” 

The Wilson Special Collections Library houses an outstanding collection among the seven million volumes held in the library of the University.  Curator of Rare Books Claudia Funke’s knack and passion for bringing the seemingly closed world of special collections into public view is commendable.  Last evening, she enjoyed a packed house, very much like Tarheel basketball in the “Dean Dome.”

Photo top left: Shell chalice. Johann Samuel Schroter, Musei Gottwaldiani (Nuremberg, 1782). Courtesy Florence Fearrington.   

Is it me, or did this short week bring more neat book- and paper-related stories in the media than usual? Here’s a roundup, in case you missed them.

The Boston Globe ran a feature about paper conservators at the Boston Athenaeum. “We have a lot of our past in these books,” said Dawn Walus, chief conservator at the 207-year-old Athenaeum, a private institution whose members have included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.

In the New York Times, blogger Olivia Judson writes lovingly about her deceased father’s 54 full filing cabinet drawers full of notes, transcripts, clippings, menus. She writes, “I found a life, in paper.” The NYT also offered a piece about NYC’s De Vinne Press Building and its correlation to a current exhibit at the Grolier Club.

Slate Vault takes a deeper look at a nineteenth-century register of childhood diseases and vaccinations in one family, which is being offered for sale by Ian Brabner of Rare Americana.

In Buzzfeed, Nicole Pasulka writes about loving and losing her favorite childhood booksBuzzfeed also surprised us with “8 Book Historians, Curators, Specialists, And Librarians Who Are Killing It Online.” 
Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Alex Johnston, the Senior Assistant Librarian in the Special Collections Library at the University of Delaware.

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How did you get started in rare books?

When I was about half-way through my last year of undergrad at the University at Buffalo I was offered a student assistant position at the Poetry Collection, the University’s special collections department. I had used the collection a few times to do research, so I had a general familiarity with them and their collections, but up until then it wouldn’t really have crossed my mind that you could do that for a living. At the time I was working as a student assistant shelving books in the main library, so it seemed like an obvious choice to transfer there, if only because it would be the more interesting position. But I had no expectation at all that this would lead to a career move - I just thought it was going to be something interesting to do for a few months before I graduated. They initially hired me to work on their James Joyce collection, which was being recataloged by a scholar located in Ireland; I was basically to serve as the proxy between him and the originals. A lot of the initial work consisted of checking and correcting his descriptive catalog drafts against the originals; later they had me doing more involved things like original cataloging for some of the unprocessed materials. I quickly found that the material itself was so fascinating that even otherwise tedious things like basic proofreading were kind of elevated by the nature of what I was getting to work with. They have the world’s biggest collection of Joyce materials, and I spent the better part of my time there working with their Ulysses material (manuscript notebooks, corrected page proofs, boxes and boxes of typescript drafts). I really enjoyed working with the materials and as I began to realize that this was something that you could actually do for a living, I opted to stick around to get a Masters degree. Having behind-the-scenes access to the whole of their collection made a big difference in terms of pushing me in that direction, too - that really helped open my eyes to this whole world. Their specialty is twentieth century poetry and they have been collecting in that area since the department was founded in 1937, so they have almost anything you could think of in that area. And the initial donation that had started their department was a collection, assembled in the earlier twentieth century, of all the highlights of English and American literature - Shakespeare folios, every Kelmscott Press book on paper and on vellum, etc. Added to all of that, the staff there were all incredibly enthusiastic about their work and the collection, so, being in that kind of atmosphere, that made a huge difference. After just a few weeks there it was pretty much clear that this is what I should be doing.

Where did you earn your MLS?

The MLS was at the University at Buffalo, the same place I did my undergraduate degree. I was able to keep working at the Poetry Collection while doing my Masters degree, which made for a really great practical education. In addition to the Joyce work, I kept picking up other responsibilities - a lot of cataloging projects with everything from sixteenth-century books to modern poetry, some exhibition work - so that by the time I graduated I had already about a year and a half of practical experience. Working there also allowed me to tailor my course work and assignments more towards a special collections track, and I tried to incorporate their collections into my assignments as much as possible.

What is your role at your institution?

I’m one of the rare books librarians in the Special Collections department. I do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into managing the rare book collection and making it available to researchers - selecting items for conservation, identifying things that need protective housing, sending things to and from the cataloging department, etc - and I work with the department head on the acquisitions and collection development process. One of the great things about our department is that, between budgets, friends groups, and donors, we’re able to keep making significant additions to the collection, so there’s always interesting new materials coming in. I’m also on a rotating exhibition schedule, where I’m responsible for curating the exhibition in our gallery, either on my own or with other co-curators. And I do a lot of user education sessions where classes will come in to see and work with special collections materials related to their coursework. Given the variety of collection materials, I can be teaching about anything from early printed books to science fiction pulp magazines to the history of science.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

It’s hard to pick just one item, especially since our holdings cover so many different time periods and subjects. We have so many neat things in the collection that it’s easy to lose track of them. It’s always fun to see early editions or association copies of writers that I’m especially fond of, and I’ve long been especially partial to early printed books in general - I like the fact that, even though they’re more or less mass-produced objects, each one is still unique, with its own story to tell. I’m especially fond of books that have some kind of history or human connection behind them. One that’s always stood out was a 1535 Erasmus Bible that I worked with when I was a graduate student at the University at Buffalo. The book was interesting to me less for the text than for its marginalia and provenance. It had passed through ten different owners between 1550 and 1910, all of whom had signed and dated their names on the title page, usually with details of where they acquired the book, who they got it from, etc, so that you could trace the book’s movements for nearly five hundred years. Every single page of the book was full of marginalia, in several different hands, such that the book probably contained more handwritten ink than printed ink. It was neat to be able to see the book not just as an artifact or a museum piece, but as something that people now long gone had been actively reading and studying and marking up. Another favorite, at Delaware, is a copy of Boswell’s Life of Johnson that was owned by a contemporary of Johnson’s, Dr. Cadogan. Cadogan knew all the people described in the book, and apparently he loathed them all, as he took the trouble to annotate his copy with lots and lots of vitriolic rants about everyone described in the book. And then, more comically, there was the copy of A Farewell to Arms at Buffalo that Ernest Hemingway had inscribed to James Joyce. Hemingway wanted Joyce to be able to read the unedited text, so he went through the book and handwrote in all of the expletives that the censors had deleted from the printed edition.

What do you personally collect?

I actually don’t collect much anymore - I find that working in a library has kind of cured me of the habit. There’s so much at hand here, between special collections and the circulating collection, that I don’t really feel the need to. And at this point I find it much more rewarding to collect for an institution. The antiquarian books that I’m interested in have a much better home here than they would in my collection.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Every day I get to work with and learn from historic artifacts; I think that pretty much sums it up. There’s an enormous amount of human history here, and there’s always something new to see and learn about, and it’s really rewarding to share that with others, whether through classes or exhibitions or working individually with researchers.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I think we’ve been seeing a continuing trend of encouraging use of special collection materials, which is a good thing. Particularly at UD we’ve been doing a lot to encourage use of the collection by undergraduates. (Although there’s still an ongoing need to counter the long-running belief that special collections is a place full of expensive, fragile old books that no one is allowed to use.) Digitization is opening up a lot of opportunities to expand access to materials - what with fully digitized collections available online, as well as with services like our Digitization on Demand - for users who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel to the library to use materials on site. And at the same time I think we’re seeing an increased interest in the rare book as physical artifact - all these things that we can learn from these materials as physical materials, things that you can’t necessarily compress into a computer. There’s certainly plenty of interest in our collections. I think we benefit from the fact that, for many people, our materials can be inherently of interest as physical artifacts, and that we’re a place in the library where you’re guaranteed to find things that you can’t see anywhere else in the world. I think we’re in an especially good position to stand out as what’s unique about our institutions. So I think the profession is in an interesting position.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

We’ve got all kinds of great stuff here. The collecting areas are pretty broad here, so there’s a great variety of things available. At the moment I’m working on selecting items for a natural history exhibition, so that’s currently where my mind is. The early modern books from that collection are especially interesting, since you have accurate science mixed in with folklore, mythology, and hearsay. It’s interesting to see how relatively accurate many of the volumes in that collection are, while still missing the mark now and again. And I just finished curating an exhibition on the Bird & Bull Press, and that’s one definitely worth mentioning. For those not familiar, Bird & Bull Press was a fine press run by Henry Morris from 1958 to 2013. Most of his books were about different aspects of bookmaking and book arts, and for the most part these were either original texts or reprints of books that had been out of print for years. We have the entire archive of Bird & Bull Press, which is very extensive (something in the vicinity of 100 boxes of materials) and has manuscripts and artifacts documenting almost every book Henry Morris ever printed, so that the collection provides a really great, in-depth way to look at the operations of a fine press over a pretty long period of time. One of the latest installments for that archive consisted of the materials for the books that Henry Morris identified as his personal favorite productions - which is an interesting research source, and also made for a good thing to highlight in the exhibition.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

The current exhibition is on William S. Burroughs (for the centenary of his birth), and that was installed just a few weeks ago. I didn’t work on that one, myself, but its been interesting to see it going in. We have a pretty comprehensive collection of his works on display, and there’s also a lot of stuff by his contemporaries there, too. After that, in the fall, we’re doing an exhibition of materials from the natural history collection, and I’m currently working on selecting books for that one, as I mentioned earlier. There’s a lot of great things in that area of the collection, spanning the sixteenth century to the present, so that’s going to be a very interesting one to work on, especially since that collection has a lot of great visual items.

FBC-Rare-Book-Week.pngToday Fine Books & Collections announces a coordinated effort to designate April 1-8 Rare Book Week in New York City. With the launch of a new website, rarebookweek.org, Fine Books pulls together information about the book fairs, auctions, exhibits, and more that is available to bibliophiles during this one exceptional week. Headlined by the ABAA’s 54th annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Rare Book Week offers 4 book fairs, 8 auctions, at least a dozen bookish exhibits, as well as interesting places to browse for books, prints, and paper.

The spring issue of Fine Books, mailing in early March, will also feature a separate printed section devoted to Rare Book Week, containing a guide to help readers navigate all of the special events and showcasing a selection of booksellers’ highlights.  

For any book collector, this is a week not to be missed! We hope you’ll join us.  

Read the full press release here.


Combining the twin powers of self-publishing and computer technologies, literature enthusiasts today are able to elevate fandom to an entirely new level. 

A German college student, Gregor Weichbrodt, has created an eBook detailing chapter by chapter directions for the route traveled by Sal Paradise (alter ego of author Jack Kerouac) in On the Road. Using “exact and approximate” destinations mentioned in the narrative, Weichbrodt plugged the locations into Google Maps and generated a 66 page document, “On the Road in 17527 Miles,” available for free online or for purchase as a self-published Lulu book. The directions take the reader from New York City to San Francisco, on to Los Angeles, then back again to New York City. Weichbrodt split the directions into chapters mimicking the chapters in On the Road.  

According to Google, the road trip should take you 272 hours as you travel 17,527 miles. These directions rely upon Interstate travel, however, a luxury unavailable to Kerouac in the 1940s. If you wish to fully recapture the Beatnick spirit, you will need to stick to the old highways and byways, which will significantly increase your time (and significantly heighten your experience).  

Weichbrodt’s Google Maps version of On the Road is only the latest in a recent trend to use technology to expand the reach of literature. In 2011, a software developer programmed an algorithm to generate a pub-free walk through Dublin (a dream made famous by Leopold Bloom in Ulysses).  And in 2009 a fan of Stephen King released an eBook of the novel being written by Jack Torrance in The Shining.  The eBook repeats the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over the course of 80 pages in a variety of types and sizes.

[Image of Kerouac’s hand-drawn map of his travels from OpenCulture]

Lot 30 Lewis Carroll letter first page.jpgPoor Lewis Carroll detested the fame that his “Alice” books brought him. In a letter written to a friend, Mrs. Symonds, in 1891, he explains how he hates signing autographs or having his letters put into autograph books. “All that sort of publicity leads to strangers hearing of my real name in connection with the books, and to my being pointed out to, and stared at by, strangers, and treated as a ‘lion.’ And I hate all that so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all.” That vituperative letter from a man best known as a children’s author will be sold at Bonhams London on March 19. The auction estimate is £3,000-4,000 ($5,000-6,700).

According to Bonhams, the shy Carroll (real name: Charles Dodgson) added insult to injury by printing something called The Stranger Circular, which he sent to would-be collectors with the message that Mr. Dodgson bluntly refused to have anything to do with books published under another name, i.e. Carroll.

Image Courtesy of Bonhams. 



 “Brimsby’s Hats,” by Andrew Prahin; Simon & Schuster, $15.99 40 pages, ages 4-8.

Another Nor’easter is snarling travel and closing schools along much of the East Coast this week, so how better to take the snow in stride than by looking at a lovely new picture book that examines love, loss and  friendship, no matter what the weather brings. 

In this snowy story, we meet a hatter whose daily routine consists of drinking tea and creating fabulous toppers alongside his best friend, and this is how he happily leads his life for many years.  One day, his pal announces that he is leaving town to realize his dream of sailing the high seas.  The hatter continues making hats and drinking tea, but it’s not the same.

After many days of quiet and solitude, the lonely hat maker sets out to find new friends, and comes upon a large tree filled with birds busily shoveling snow out of their nests.  What follows is a quirky examination of how friendships are built and maintained. 

Debut author-illustrator Andrew Prahin weaves a timeless tale with modern imagery -- all the art was created in Adobe Photoshop. 

Enjoy this book with little loved ones, snuggled up by the fire or under a wintry windowpane, and dream of spring. 


Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Earle Havens, the William Kurrelmeyer Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts at Johns Hopkins University.


How did you get started in rare books?

My undergraduate mentor, an inveterate bibliomane, Professor Kate Frost, brought me to the Harry Ransom Center when I was a Sophomore.  She arranged for me to see the Cardigan Chaucer, a mid 15th-century Middle English manuscript.  She asked me what I saw.  I said: “I didn’t know any of this stuff had ever survived.  How?”  Her answer: “That’s what libraries do.”  I wrote several of my undergraduate essays from rare books at the HRC.  When it came time to graduate, I asked her where I should go to be a perpetual student of books.  She told me: “Go get a PhD at the university with the best rare book library.”  I wanted to study the Renaissance.  I went to Yale, got a job in my first year as a curatorial assistant to Dr. Stephen Parks, Curator of the Osborn Collection at the Beinecke Library, and discovered my dissertation on the shelves (I had stack access to the Beinecke Library all through graduate school...I highly recommend it!), and the rest is history.  All of it has been an absolute privilege.  Now that I have students of my own at Johns Hopkins University, I do all that I can to give them the same opportunity that I had, lo those many years ago.

Where did you earn your MLS or other advanced degree?

I am not a “librarian” in the sense of the MLS, which is actually a degree that is changing to IS (“information school”) with library as a bit of a sidelight.  I did a PhD at Yale University in History and Renaissance Studies, a joint-degree program like Classics, where you take all sorts of courses on a specific period of time: history of art, Romance languages, theology, historiography, etc.  I focused on the history of the book in those periods.  Many of my papers were written on Renaissance manuscripts that the Beinecke had just acquired!  If you don’t want to keep trying to cook up clever things to say about Shakespeare, just transcribe and edit Renaissance verse that no one has ever seen before! Heady days.  

What is your role at your institution?

I am responsible for all rare books and manuscripts that pre-date the modern era, so ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablets and Ptolemaic Egyptian papyri to medieval illuminated manuscripts, incunabula, onwards to the late 18th c and the last gasp of the Ancien Regime.  We have three rare books libraries: (1) the George Peabody Library, a magnificent 19th c. “cathedral of books” in downtown Baltimore; (2) the John Work Garrett Library at Evergreen, a 19th-century Gilded Age Renaissance Revival mansion in north Baltimore; and (3) the Brody Learning commons, our newly built rare book facility on the main campus.  I also teach 2 full courses each year, one to undergraduates, the other a graduate-student seminar, which I conduct largely from rare books and manuscripts in a special classroom.  Teaching young people about old books is the most meaningful thing I have ever done.  We teach each other, in truth, through a magical confection of questions, hypotheses, discoveries, and pure giddiness at the immediate presence of the distant past.  I have to pinch myself sometimes.  Young people breath life into books, books into them.  It’s like trees turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.  New knowledge from old books.  School was always meant to be that way, wasn’t it?

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I hate this question.  Curators’ favorites are not like favorite sons.  We are fickle, and dazzled by the infinite variety of libraries rich in “olde books.”  You mention ephemera...recently we nabbed an apparently unique 1560 broadside with a woodblock portrait of the great Reformation theologian and Latinist, Philip Melanchthon.  It is a neo-Latin poem composed by his student and successor, Johannes Maior, at the University of Wittenberg to be circulated within the university community.  It survived only because someone had the presence of mind to fold it up and tip it into a book.  I taught a graduate seminar on Renaissance humanism, and we tackled it in the classroom.  Turns out the poem played off of the initial three letters of his name, “Mel” (Latin, honey).  It was a sweet moment for us all, the seminar a bunch of bees swarming around something new, indeed unique.  Only books (and ephemera) can make that happen!  

What do you personally collect?

I got interested in historical medals, esp. 17th- to 18th-century medals struck to commemorate major events.  That got focused on medals about literature and printing.  Then to books on the subject, prints, etc.  Even when you try not to collect books, you end up doing it.  The whole thing is the most exquisite pathology, an Appian Way we cannot help but walk.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

That the codex was/is a technology that can transform our lives today, and transform young people in their relationship to the distant past.  Most of my students live on smart phones and iPads.  In a course I taught a year ago, I had a freshman.  I put a 15th c. illuminated manuscript into her hands and asked her what she saw.  She started crying (happily, not on the manuscript!).  I didn’t do that with the Cardigan Chaucer, but maybe she will become a book person too.  We can change the world through the treasure that has been entrusted to us.  We just have to put it out there into the world.  The rest is easy.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

The digital humanities are no longer the future, they are the present driver of what we can do with rare books and manuscripts.  I find that the people in this field that I respect most see that and are trying to do it.  That said, it’s still the Wild West.  I have taken the plunge on a large-scale project with colleagues at Princeton and University College London to create a kind of digital “laboratory for the humanities” dealing with Renaissance imprints bearing dense manuscript annotations by Renaissance readers.  We want to “raise the dead” through the remnants of their reading, nearly all of it never before studied.  We want to use digital technology to do this because these objects are already “big data.”  We are convinced that we have found a new form of scholarly activity that could never have been done before digitization.  How cool is that???

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

We recently acquired the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of rare books and manuscripts on the history of forgery.  It was built by a scholar-bookseller and his wife over a period of nearly 50 years, some 1700 items, and counting.  Everything from phony Byzantine manuscripts to 20th-century literary hoaxes.  We have a book coming out on it in 2015.  It is endlessly fascinating.  My preoccupation has been with the fact that literary scholarship seems never to have treated forgery as a distinct genre of imaginative literary production on the same level as verse or drama.  In many cases it is both.  We have all been lying to each other since we invented handwriting (and well before).  We just have the evidence from across the long shadows of antiquity to the modern era.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Forgery opens in October 2014 at the George Peabody Library in downtown Baltimore. Come one, come all...just don’t believe everything that you see there!

image-1.jpgAt Bonhams Los Angeles earlier this week, Michael Joseph and Tsuguharu Foujita’s A Book of Cats reached $77,500, beating a previous Bonhams auction record. The 1930 book features the prose poetry of Joseph as a complement to the illustrations of Foujita, considered one of the most important and eccentric Japanese artists working in the West during the early twentieth century. The book contains twenty full-page etched plates, plus an additional suite of twenty loose etched plates on Japanese vellum.

Though a scarce edition--only five hundred copies of this signed/limited edition were printed--the book often appears at auction. Last year, it just made the top 500 (by price) rare books list when it sold in December at Bonhams for $68,750. Before that, Bonhams sold one in June of 2011 for $61,000 and in June of 2012 for $74,500.

Image via Bonhams.

The undecipherable text and curious illustrations of the Voynich Manuscript (c.15th-16th centuries) have baffled and intrigued researchers for decades. In a paper published with the American Botanical Council, two scientists have proposed a new theory: perhaps the Voynich Manuscript originated in Mexico.  

The Voynich Manuscript made a brief appearance in recorded history in the late 16th century when Emperor Rudolph II paid 600 gold ducats for it.  The manuscript then disappeared for several centuries before re-appearing at the Villa Mondragone near Rome in 1912 where antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid Voynich purchased it. 

Although the manuscript has long thought to be of European origin, two botanists - Arthur Tucker and Rexford Talbert - studied the plant illustrations in the manuscript and noticed something odd. They were struck by the similarity between the “soap plant” of the 1552 Codex Cruz-Badianus (commonly known as the “Aztec Herbal”) and a plant depicted in the Voynich Manuscript.  Using the soap plant as a starting point, the botanists examined the remaining 302 plants depicted in the Voynich Mss., concluding that 37 of the plans were possibly of central American origin.  

Tucker and Talbert then moved on to examine the text.  Their conclusion? The text that has long confused and baffled scholars may actually be an extinct dialect of Nahuatl from central Mexico, possibly Morelos or Puebla.

Tucker and Talbert synthesized their findings in their article “A Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Mineralogy of the Voynich Manuscript,”proposing a possible Mexican origin for the mysterious manuscript. They emphasized in their paper that their conclusions were not definitive and that “much, much more work needs to be done, and hypotheses will be advanced for years.” 

[Image from Wikipedia]

The Folio Prize announced this morning the shortlist for its inaugural fiction prize, sponsored by The Folio Society, publishers of beautiful limited editions. They are:

Red Doc> by Anne Carson
Schroder by Amity Gaige
Last Friends by Jane Gardam
Benediction by Kent Haruf
The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
Tenth of December by George Saunders

Said Lavinia Greenlaw, chair of the judges, “Our experience of reading 80 books over five months was full of surprises, challenges, frustrations, provocations, regrets and delights. The shortlist we’ve arrived at is one of which we’re proud. Our deliberations were long and intense. We forgot about the authors and focused on the books. Only when we surfaced with our chosen eight in hand did we reflect on what they collectively represent: the art of fiction at full stretch and in all its forms, and the igneous and dazzling results of form under exquisite pressure.”  

The Folio Prize aims to celebrate the best English-language fiction in any form published in the UK during a given year. It is open to writers from all over the world. These eight shortlisted authors are vying for a £40,000 prize, to be awarded at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London on March 10.

It was also announced that the Folio Society will sponsor a new event, The Folio Prize Fiction Festival, in partnership with the British Library, during the weekend of March 8-9.
The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress has a new Wikipedia page, courtesy of occasional Fine Books blogger Jeremy Howell. Although a basic entry existed before consisting of only a couple of sentences, Jeremy managed to fill out the page with information he had gathered over the past few months.

The Center for the Book serves as a public face for the Library of Congress, managing such programs as the National Book Festival, office of the Poet Laureate, and the Literary Awards. It also hosts the Young Reader’s Center and the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest.

Jeremy noted that the Center had to take a “hands off” approach in creating the citation, but says they are pleased now with what’s there. “The Center for the Book is really a significant institution doing important work,” says Jeremy. “They deserve all the recognition they can get.”

Jeremy says his next task will be to update numerous other Wikipedia pages with reference to the Center, ultimately creating more links to their page. “I think this will do them some good, and it will be exciting to see it grow,” says Jeremy.

As a complement to the ABAA California Book Fair this weekend in Pasadena, PBA Auctions will be hosting a special sale on Sunday morning. The last part of the sale will be exclusively comprised of books donated by ABAA members to benefit the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Benevolent Fund. The fund benefits all booksellers - whether or not they are members of the ABAA - in times of need.

“Having seen some of the donations I can say with confidence that this will be a truly exciting sale, with items for all tastes and budgets,” said Lorne Bair, an ABAA bookseller in Virginia and member of ABAA’s Benevolent Fundraising Committee. “All proceeds will go to the Benevolent Fund, a charity established by the ABAA in 1952 to benefit all booksellers (not just ABAA members) in times of personal distress.”

The sale, number 526 for PBA, begins at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, February 9. It will be held in the Cordova Room of the Pasadena Sheraton, next door to the Pasadena Convention Center, site of the ABAA Book Fair. The final section of the sale - lots 150-222 - will consist of books donated by ABAA members to benefit the Benevolent Fund.

Bair added that “the ABAA and the Trustees of the Benevolent Fund are extremely grateful for PBA’s generous offer to host the auction, as should be the wider bookselling community for whose benefit the Benevolent Fund was originally established.”

Previews for this sale will be held at the Pasadena Sheraton, February 7-8, 2014.  The catalogue for the entire sale - not just the Benevolent Fund Benefit - can be viewed online here.

Posting this warning on behalf of the ABAA Security Committee:

Christian Essian, who also used the name Christian Nettle, and had books sent to a Bloomsbury address in London has been arrested in connection with fraud.

ANY colleague who has not already been in contact with the ABA or with the ABAA security chair and who thinks they have SOLD a book to him or BOUGHT a book from him please contact:

Pom Harrington, pom@peterharrington.co.uk or DC Ray Swan at the Art and Antique Squad in London, Ray.Swan@met.pnn.police.uk

Those of us on the East Coast are wishing we were on our way to California right now, and not just because of the dreadful weather here. The California International Antiquarian Book Fair opens on Friday, promising a lovely bookish weekend for those in the Los Angeles area. In addition to more than 200 exhibitors from 33 countries bringing some of their very best rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera, our own Nick Basbanes will be signing his latest book, On Paper, on Saturday at 11:00. There are also tours, panels, and an exhibit related to Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, a focus for this year’s fair.

But let’s see some highlights, shall we?

secondfolio2.jpgFollowing the Shakespearen theme, Peter Harrington of London will show this second folio of the Bard’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Price: $625,000.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 12.08.11 PM.pngThe UK-based Simon Beattie will also have Shakespeariana on hand, as well as some fine dance/performing arts material, but in perusing his book fair list, I was taken by this collection of books in sheets (never bound), ranging in date from 1674 to 1878. Price $42,000. Surely some institution ought to snap it up for teaching ... Rare Book School?

IMG_2079.jpgIf your interests are more contemporary, Nudelman Rare Books in Seattle will offer this fine binding of Samuel Rogers’ Italy, A Poem and Poems. Lavishly bound by The Hampstead Bindery, circa 1900 (signed in gilt on front doublure) in full green goatskin with wavy stems heavily ornated with leaves. Price: $6,500.

Dylan-Little1.jpgThough the Beatles manuscript that California’s Bibliooctopus will have on hand will certainly garner interest, I’m partial to the Bob Dylan manuscript. These are early handwritten lyrics from the music legend, signed Bobby Zimmerman at the end. Price: $25,000.

What else? How about a manuscript bibliographical catalogue, in French c. 1778, showing some 800 book titles, from the UK-based bookseller Justin Croft. The first book to be printed and bound in Los Angeles? The Book Shop of Covina, CA, has it: Reminiscences of a Ranger by Horace Bell. Bromer Booksellers of Boston will please Arion Press lovers with its copy of The Apocalypse: the Revelation of Saint John the Divine...signed by artist Jim Dine and printer Andrew Hoyem. Mark Helprin collectors, take note: Blackwell’s Rare Books of Oxford, England, will have one of 300 numbered copies of A Kingdom Far and Clear. The Complete Swan Lake Trilogy from Calla Editions, signed by Helprin and the illustrator, Chris Van Allsburg. Looking for historic documents? Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company of Philadelphia, PA, will offer Commodore John D. Sloat’s, Historic Proclamation, addressed “To the Inhabitants of California” claiming the California for the U.S. and promising U.S. citizenship. Ian Kahn of Maine’s Lux Mentis promises the debut of a collection of 450 pop-up books. LA’s John Howell will have an early typescript of Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Study Butte. And, it is Hollywood, after all, so B & L Rootenberg Rare Books & Manuscripts of Sherman Oaks, CA, will show a selection of original signed sketches of Academy Award-winning MGM Studios costumes.
Our current print issue includes a profile of novelist Ransom Riggs, which is also now available online. Today, we are posting the full interview with Riggs, which had been condensed into a digest piece for the print issue. Riggs is the author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its recently released sequel Hollow City.  Additional photographs that Riggs sent us have also been included:

Tell us a bit about your found photography collection. For example, what criteria do you use to purchase photographs?  Where do you do your hunting - online / at shops? How many photographs do you own? 

I own a few thousand snapshots, which is small by the standards of most collectors I know. I generally only buy photos I think I may actually be able to use in a book one day.  I need that focus when buying, because without it I’d just buy everything and my house would be overrun with bucket loads of snapshots; there are just too many beautiful images in the world, and I’d need to own them all. I look for photos that have interesting captions written on the fronts or backs (as were featured in my book Talking Pictures), photos of inexplicable and strange things (for my Peculiar Children novels), landscape photos and action shots that have a certain cinematic quality about them, and photos of very, very interesting people. Many of the characters in my books also show up in the photographs, and to make the cut they have to be evocative -- I like it when there’s something in their eyes or their manner that lifts the photo beyond the average snapshot and connects you to the person; when the photograph tells you something about the character that I can’t describe in words. 

I started collecting in earnest a few years ago, scouring the big flea markets and swap meets of Los Angeles (we have many), as there are always a couple of vintage photo dealers at each. Through those dealers, I started meeting photo collectors -- people with very nice, well-curated collections, several of whom very kindly let me comb through their photos for things I might use in my books. I’ve also spent time online on the photo-sharing site Flickr, where there are a number of collectors who put scans of their finds up for all to see, and now and then I buy photos through eBay and Etsy. 

When did you start your collection?  Was there an “a-ha” moment where you just knew that’s what you wanted to collect? Or did it evolve more gradually?

It started about four years ago, when I found myself at the Rose Bowl Swap Meet up in Pasadena (just north of downtown Los Angeles), and I happened upon a booth where a gentleman named Leonard Lightfoot was selling vintage snapshots. I’d seen other vintage snaps for sale in the backs of antique stores and second hand shops, but always lumped together in big, disorganized piles, most of which was undistinguished junk. Leonard’s photos were different. Rather than bins of thousands, he only had a few hundred photos for sale, each one displayed in a hard plastic case. It was clear he’d gone through thousands and thousands of photos to whittle out these few hundred, and as I flipped through them, I came across so many arresting images. That was my a-ha moment: when I realized that the world was full of beautiful-but-orphaned images like these, and that there were people out there like Leonard who took it upon themselves to go through the great masses of uninteresting photos to find the few that really sang -- and I started to get excited. I wanted to find them, too, and own them, and save them from the oblivion of dumpsters and landfills. To be my own curator of lost photographic folk art. 

What are a couple of your favorite photographs in your collection? Please include a scan of them if possible.

I have lots of favorite “peculiar” photographs, but as I have to save them for future books, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite non-peculiar photos. The first three are photos I thought were simply beautiful, or in the case of “Viva Kennedy” reminded me of some of my favorite street photographers -- not photos I thought I’d be able to use in my books, but which I couldn’t resist adding to my collection anyway.


Tell us a bit about the genesis of Miss Peregrine. How did the idea germinate to build a novel around these found photographs?

It came about right after I started collecting photographs. Though still in its infancy, my collection seemed to fall clearly into two categories: slightly creepy photos that reminded me of Edward Gorey illustrations, and photos with interesting captions written on the front or backs. These split into two separate book ideas: a coffee-table book that used the caption photos, and a narrative fiction book that incorporated the Gorey-esque snapshots. I brought the “peculiar” photos to my editor at Quirk Books -- I’d done one other book with them, a nonfiction book about Sherlock Holmes -- and I asked him what he thought. I wasn’t sure if it should be a book of short stories, or maybe some Gorey-esque poems ... not in my wildest dreams had I thought about writing a novel. I’d never attempted one before, and Quirk didn’t publish much fiction. But after looking through the photos I’d collected, my editor suggested I write a novel using the photos. I leapt on the idea. My collection was small then, and I knew I’d need many, many more photos to choose from while writing, so I started contacting and meeting with other collectors. Robert E. Jackson became a good friend and helped me immensely; half the photos in Miss Peregrine belonged to him. Also Peter J. Cohen and Roselyn Leibowitz in New York, John Van Noate in North Carolina, David Bass in Wisconsin, and many others. I started out knowing nothing about the world of snapshot collecting, and collectors came out of the woodwork to share their knowledge and their photographs with me. I’m grateful to them.

Tell us a bit about Hollow City, its sequel.  What can we expect from it?

The story picks up right where the first novel ends, with the children rowing their little boats into the unknown. They travel far and wide on a mission to save their headmistress, meeting peculiars, exploring time-loops, and battling monsters along the way. And there are fifty more vintage snapshots sprinkled throughout the text. 

Tell us a bit about Talking Pictures. It’s the dream of many collectors to have their collection profiled in such a great showcase. How did that book come about?  Do you plan on a sequel?

The concept came about at the same time as Miss Peregrine, but it took longer to find a publisher, and longer still to complete and print the book. It was a labor of love. I must’ve looked through a million photos -- no exaggeration -- before settling on the two hundred or so that are in Talking Pictures. It was really hard to make that final selection, and there are many more I wish I could’ve included. As for a sequel, while I do have more good caption photos, I don’t have enough for a second book yet, and it takes so long to find good ones ... I need to concentrate on Miss Peregrine for awhile, but maybe one day! 

Hollow City will be your second novel illustrated by found photographs. For your second time out, did you collect photographs purposefully for use in the novel?  Or did you build the story around photos you’d already collected?

This time the story definitely drove which photos I collected. With the first novel, I could let my imagination go and take the story anywhere I wanted to -- and thus let the photos drive the story in many ways -- but this time the story already had an arc of its own, and I only had so much wiggle room. Despite that, I did find many wonderful photos that sparked characters and scenes that I never would’ve imagined otherwise, so there was still quite a bit of the images influencing the story, if not as much as there was the first time around.

Have you noticed an increase in interest in found photography collections since the popularity of Miss Peregrine? Are good pieces harder to find / more expensive as a result?

It’s hard to tell! I don’t think Miss Peregrine changed the snapshot market at all, although I do frequently get emails from fans who tell me they’re going to start collections of their own. I also hear from people who say they’ve been collecting for years. I’ve learned there are many more collectors out there than I ever realized. But no, I wouldn’t say things are getting more expensive or that the good stuff’s been getting harder to find. I’ve never really been interested in the vintage photos people pay lots of money for -- civil war tintypes or old daguerrotypes of famous people. Nor do I have any interest in the really gross, dark stuff that some people pay top-dollar, like post-mortem photos of babies (yuck) or press photos of old murder scenes or whatever. I collect in these little niches most other people don’t care about -- dark-and-weird-but-fun -- and photos that have been written on, which a lot of sellers think hurts their value. All of which is good news for me! 

5. Goudey Gum Company, Sport Kings-Jim Thorpe-72dpi.jpgIf last night’s Super Bowl disappointed, take heart. A better football display is just over the river at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gridiron Greats: Vintage Football Cards in the Collection of Jefferson R. Burdick features 150 vintage cards, printed between 1894 and 1959. Highlights include early collegiate cards and Hall of Famers like Knute Rockne, Red Grange, and Jim Thorpe (seen here at left.) The entire Burdick collection of printed ephemera is enormous, including 30,000 baseball cards alone.

The exhibit remains on view through February 10. A shortened “itinerary” from the exhibit’s curator, Freyda Spira, is online, showing some great old football images, from an early jersey to the rare collegiate card of Harvard’s John Dunlop.

Goudey Gum Company, Sport Kings, 1933
Jim Thorpe
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson
R. Burdick (Burdick 326, R338)
Digital Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
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