March 2014 Archives

Sotheby's GG.jpgWith the crack of the gavel at three major auctions tomorrow, Rare Book Week gets underway. Within the span of a few hours, we’ll see two of the antiquarian book world’s highest high points on the block: Audubon’s Birds of America (estimate: $3-5 million) and this dust-jacketed first edition of The Great Gatsby (estimate: $250,000-350,000).   

Rare Book Week, a designation for the week-long stretch of exceptional book events in New York City from April 1-8, was launched by FB&C earlier this year. Headlined by the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which opens for a preview night on Thursday followed by full days on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the week offers a second antiquarian book fair, a fine press book fair, and a fair devoted exclusively to autographs and historical documents, plus nine book and manuscript auctions, and more than a dozen incredible exhibits and events around town.

And one more event to add today: author Nicholas Basbanes will be signing copies of his new book, On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History at the NYABF on Saturday from 1-3 p.m. Nick has been a longtime columnist for FB&C, and we look forward to celebrating with him.

From modern chapbooks to medieval French manuscripts, children’s books to Revolutionary War broadsides, vernacular photography to rare maps -- this week has it all. Featured recently in Robb Report, the inaugural Rare Book Week is “bound” to be a hit. Will you be there?   

Image via Sotheby’s.
A guest post by Webb Howell, FB&C’s publisher

Pete Rose, for all his faults, recognized that “Baseball is a universal language.” The first of April assures us that the language is being spoken again and the first pitches of teams everywhere begin to roll over home plate.
670081.jpgSwann Auction Galleries’ April 8th sale of “Printed & Manuscript Americana” offers several items of baseball interest, including artwork (above) for a cigar box label depicting Hans Wagner. Better known as “Honus” Wagner, the famed shortstop became one of the first five members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Wagner may be best known for being the face of one of the rarest baseball cards around. A mere 57 cards are known to exist, with sale of the most recent ones toping one, then two, million dollars.

The artwork is watercolor and the pose he strikes is identical to the baseball card. The estimate is $1,500/2,500. Other baseball-related items in the auction also include an 1884 lithograph of vignettes of 12 active players and a group of 30 Hall of Fame player signatures, among them 4 Negro League greats.

LCM small.jpgLCM, the Library of Congress Magazine, also notes the start of baseball season with a feature on “America at Play.” While not specifically about baseball, the article wows the reader with the Library’s tremendous collection of sports holdings, of which they make the undoubtedly truthful claim as being “the most extensive in the country.”

Of particular note is the recent acquisition of recorded sports interviews, among them the Bob Wolff Collection, that dates to the start of his career in 1939. Wolff began as a broadcaster on the Durham, NC, CBS-affiliated station WDNC, while a student at Duke University. Included in this collection are interviews with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, and play-by-play coverage of Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game. More of the LOC’s baseball collection can be found at:

Images: Courtesy of Swann Galleries; Library of Congress.
Our dormant Bright Young Things series returns to life this week with an interview with Amy Candiotti of Pistil Books in Seattle.

How did you get started in rare books?

I graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Comparative Literature and one of my first jobs was in a used bookstore.

When did you open Pistil and what does the shop specialize in?

My partner, Sean Carlson, and I opened Pistil Books & News, a retail store in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle in 1993. As a brick and mortar store, we carried used and new books, periodicals, and zines. We also hosted readings and art shows. We were a general used and new bookstore with books in all subjects, but with specialties in alternative culture, such as politics, gay & lesbian, sex, and drugs/consciousness.

In 2001 we lost our lease and became an online-only store, Pistil Books Online, selling on our own website as well as many other bookselling sites. We still carry used books in all categories, with an emphasis on scholarly non-fiction and books on how to do things: homesteading, crafts, building, do-it-yourself.

What is your role at Pistil?

I am co-owner of Pistil Books, and do everything from buying, cataloguing, supervising our two part-time employees, to the fun stuff like bookkeeping and taxes. I’ve also been making recycled blank books from discarded library books for years, and am recently delving into other formats of handmade books, and printmaking. My books and cards are for sale on our website.

What do you love about the book trade?

I love being surrounded by books and being constantly exposed to the different ideas and subjects they contain. I love being self-employed and having the freedom of a flexible schedule, and since we’ve been online only, of working at home, which means I can do things like cook lunch while I’m working, or take a break and go for a walk. My work life and home life are integrated in a pleasing way. And I never run out of things to read.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

A couple of years ago I attended Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and my class visited the Rare Book Division at the Library of Congress where I got to see and handle an Alice in Wonderland with original pencil drawings by John Tenniel.

As for ephemera, a favorite zine from the nineties is called Crap Hound, created by Sean Tejaratchi. It’s entirely made up of black and white images very skillfully compiled (cut and pasted by hand, no computers) from vintage advertisements and the like, based on juxtapozed themes, such as “Clowns, Devils, Bait”, “Hearts, Hands, Eyes” or “Death, Telephone, Scissors.” Some of the issues were reprinted in the last few years, but the originals are collectible and hard-to-find.

What do you personally collect?

I collect authors I like - Paul Bowles, Alan Watts, Alice Munro. But I also have a lot of books that I keep just because I like the book as an object - for instance, a beautiful accordion book from the sixties, with removable colored cards, printed in Japan, that is a “Test for Colour Blindness” - I recently had an eye exam, and the doctor used the same book! I’m also very fond of The Golden Book Encyclopedia and Golden Books in general for their wonderful illustrations and depiction of a specific world view of knowledge and science. I have a collection of children’s text books from the turn of the century to the sixties for the same reason.

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

The business has changed so much during the time that I’ve been involved, it’s hard to predict what will happen. But I am confident that there will always be people who love physical books and who will want to read, handle, and collect them.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Nothing scheduled, but we will have our annual outdoor book sale this summer. It’s a chance to see old customers from our brick and mortar store, neighbors, and have a party.

With Jonathan Safran Foer as one of the night’s honorees and an after-hours dance party, the Center for Book Arts in New York City reaches out to younger book/art lovers at its annual benefit and silent auction on April 4.

The Center for Book Arts, located at 28 W. 27th St., is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting book arts through classes, exhibits, events, and publications. (If you want to learn letterpress printing, paper marbling, or bookbinding, this is your place.) Every spring it holds a benefit event that recognizes the achievements of individuals in the book arts. In addition to Safran Foer, whose 2010 book, Tree of Codes, was hailed as a book arts crossover, this year’s guests of honor are Steve Clay, publisher of Granary Books in New York City, and Joan Lyons, artist and founder of the Visual Studies Workshop Press in Rochester, NY.

Silverberg-CBA Auction.jpgThe silent auction offers attendees the opportunity to browse and bid on some amazing contemporary book art. This piece by Robbin Ami Silverberg (profiled in our winter 2013 issue) is particularly appropriate for the occasion -- her Safer Code (2014) it is an altered copy of Safran Foer’s altered book, Tree of Codes. The minimum bid is $500.

The benefit begins at 6 p.m., and tickets cost $100. For $30, the DJ-ed after party goes from 9 p.m.-11 p.m. Sounds perfect for those in town for Rare Book Week!  

Image Courtesy of The Center for Book Arts.

grand budapest hotel.jpg
The new film directed by Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is now playing in select theatres around the country. The unique aesthetic and sensibility of the film, set in a 1930s fictional European country, was heavily influenced by the work of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. 

At one time among the most popular writers in the world, Zweig was also an inveterate manuscript collector, an attribute that we profiled previously in the magazine. Many of Zweig’s novels such as Beware of Pity, Letter from an Unknown Woman, and his memoir, The World of Yesterday, were international bestsellers and widely acclaimed by critics. Zweig’s popularity, however, has been in steady decline since his suicide in 1942.

But all that might change soon. 

Wes Anderson, who inspires a rabid following amongst his fans, has loudly proclaimed his love for Zweig’s novels and declared in a fascinating interview with The Telegraph that he “stole from Zweig” while making his latest film:

I had never heard of Zweig -- or, if I had, only in the vaguest ways -- until maybe six or seven years ago, something like that, when I just more or less by chance bought a copy of Beware of Pity. I loved this first book, and immediately there were dozens more in front of me that hadn’t been there before. They were all suddenly back in print. I also read the The Post Office Girl, which had been only published for the first time recently. The Grand Budapest Hotel has elements that were sort of stolen from both these books.”

Anderson fans will now likely be in pursuit of Zweig’s almost forgotten novels. While some of Zweig’s titles have enjoyed recent reprints, let’s check in with Zweig on the collecting front:

An American first edition of Amok, one of Zweig’s popular novellas, (New York: Viking, 1931) only costs $12.00.

An American first edition of Beware of Pity, Zweig’s longest work, (New York: Viking, 1939) costs a little more - about $30 without the dust jacket; $100 with it.

An American first edition of The Royal Game (also known as Chess Story) published in 1944 shortly after Zweig’s death runs about $60.

And an American first edition of The World of Yesterday (New York: Viking, 1943), Zweig’s popular memoir of the literary life in Europe - particularly Vienna - before World War II, will set you back about $100.

Or you can enjoy the sensibility of Zweig channeled through the keen directorial eye of Wes Anderson by catching The Grand Budapest Hotel at your local independent cinema:

Images Via Wikipedia.

Richard Minsky has launched a new exhibit and catalogue of publishers’ bindings, titled Trade Bindings with Native American Themes, 1875-1933. The book artist (and FB&C Book Art columnist) turned up 116 different decorative and pictorial covers and more than 20 variants by Margaret Armstrong, Frank Hazenplug, The Decorative Designers, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, Blanche Helen McLane, Rome K. Richardson, George W. Hood, Thomas Watson Ball, Angel de Cora, Amy Rand, George W. Hood, and many others. They are currently on display in his Hudson, New York, studio.

indians-book-1923-700.jpgMinsky is an expert in American decorated publishers’ bindings. His first three exhibition catalogues documented more than 1,000 covers, and each exhibition was acquired by a different institutional library. In 2012, he mounted and catalogued a single-artist exhibition devoted to Thomas Watson Ball, which went en bloc to Penn State. Last year, George Braziller published a paperback edition of Minsky’s book, The Art of American Book Covers, 1875-1930.

I asked him if he sought out Native American-themed books for this new project, or if the theme presented itself while he was researching the larger topic of American decorated publishers’ bindings. “I have some books with this theme and it’s one that was not highlighted in any of the previous exhibitions. Searching for more covers with this subject matter turned up some amazing designs--enough for an exhibition,” he told me. “Only five of the designs are among the nearly 1,200 in the previous catalogues.” In a newsletter to collectors and friends, Minsky also clarified the exhibit’s theme: “This exhibition is titled Trade Bindings with Native American Themes rather than American Indian themes because of its geographic and temporal scope. The books are about indigenous peoples from the Aleuts and Inuit of the arctic to South Americans, and fictional prehistoric inhabitants that may predate those believed to have migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge and the Paleoamericans who may have migrated by boat.”

Through March 31, Minsky is offering a pre-publication discount on the limited edition or the deluxe edition of the catalogue.  

Image: The Indians’ Book
Recorded and edited by Natalie Curtis
Unsigned cover design likely by Angel de Cora ((Hinook Mahiwi Kilinaka, Winnebago)
Harper and Brothers, ©1923
Courtesy of Richard Minsky. 
With a few exceptions, every great writer gets his start in newspapers, magazines, and smaller publications. Before his big break, Mark Twain published news stories in a handful of western newspapers. “Firsts” of Hemingway’s short stories can be found in Esquire, and Dorothy Parker’s first published poem appears in a 1914 issue of Vanity Fair. For completist collectors, these early pieces are an integral part of a collection, and usually not too expensive.

Updike.jpgThe prolific John Updike--pity the completist--is no different. We can trace his journalism all the way back to his high school newspaper, Chatterbox. Updike attended Shillington High School in Pennsylvania, and he held many positions over the years at the school’s paper, including editor. On April 2, a collection of original mimeographed Chatterbox issues from 1949-1950, showing more than eighty Updike contributions, goes to auction in New York City. Among Updike’s adolescent jottings, there are reviews, such as “Hamlet Reviewed (an orgy of superlatives)” from Feb. 25, 1949, and many poems, for example, “Ode to the Seniors” from April 14, 1949 and “Valentine to the Hydrogen Bomb” from Feb. 10, 1950.

This run of newspapers was originally collected and owned by Updike’s classmate, Barry Nelson, who worked as the paper’s sports editor.

The auction estimate is $4,000, with bids being taken online by Heritage Auctions until April 1.

Image via Heritage Auctions.


Marcus Books, a landmark Black bookshop in San Francisco, may close its doors if it is unable to raise $1 million in funding to purchase their building. The bookshop has launched a GoFundMe campaign in the hopes of raising the necessary capital.

Marcus Books was the brainchild of Julian and Raye Richardson, who founded the shop under the name Success Book Store in 1960.  Ten years later, after an inspired reading of Marcus Garvey’s Philosophy and Opinions, the Richardsons renamed their shop “Marcus Books.” The store moved to its present location on Fillmore St, between Sutter and Post, in 1981. 

Continuously in operation for 53 years, the bookshop has claimed the distinction of being the oldest Black bookshop in America. The shop has also become a cornerstone of African American literary culture, hosting readings from everyone from Malcolm X to Oprah.

The current owners of Marcus Books - Gregory and Karen Johnson - reached an agreement with the building owners: if the store can raise $2.6m, the San Francisco Community Land Trust will purchase the building, letting Marcus Books stay as its tenant in perpetuity.

Marcus Books raised over half of the amount before turning to crowdsourcing for the final $1m.

[Image from GoFundMe campaign]

Next week at Sotheby’s London, the library of Franklin Brooke-Hitching, a collection encompassing 1,500 books, 350+ years, and 7 continents, begins its turn at auction. It is, writes Anthony Payne in the catalogue’s introduction, “the finest private collection of English global exploration and discovery to have been formed in the last century.”

Captain Cook’s untitled chart of “The Great Pacific Ocean” and “South Pacific Ocean” (London: Joseph Banks, 1772) is the first printed map of Australia. Only three are extant, and this is the only one in private hands. The auction estimate is $130,000-195,000.

Captain Cook, Walter Raleigh, David Livingstone, Ernest Shackleton, Charles Darwin -- these are just some of the explorers in this collection that spans 1576-1939. The March 27 sale is the first of four, with the next scheduled to be held in September, and two following in the spring of 2015. Two of the highlights of this first sale include the earliest printed map of Australia (above) and the first book printed in Alaska.

Brooke-Hitching, 72, has been collecting for more than 40 years, and as a banker-turned-bookseller, only bought the best. From all accounts, he is a meticulous and persistent collector -- his fine bindings are in the best condition, and many of the books are unique or rare presentation copies. This auction is one for the ages!

Image via Sotheby’s. 

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Allison Jai O’Dell, Special Collections Cataloging and Metadata Librarian at the University of Miami.


How did you get started in rare books?

By following sage advice.  My undergraduate degrees were in ancient history and classical languages.  This educational path doesn’t often translate into a ready (let alone lucrative) career, so I went to work as a database administrator.  I quickly became enamored of information management and enrolled in library school at The Catholic University of America.  During the first months of my MLS program, everyone kept saying, “You know Latin and Greek?  Have you thought about rare books?”  So, I heeded their collective recommendation and registered for courses on book history and rare books librarianship.  Being trained in archaeological methodology, exploring book history felt natural to me.  Something clicked: this was the perfect way to combine my academic background and professional experience.


I hear you also have a background in book arts. Tell us more:

Once I immersed myself in rare book cataloging, it became clear that to do the work justice, I was going to have to learn to reverse engineer a book artifact.  That is, I was going to have to learn to make books.  I enrolled in the Corcoran College of Art and Design’s M.A. program in “Art and the Book.”  Studio practice in printmaking, typography, layout design, binding, and papermaking offered a foundation for assessing the products of these activities that has proved invaluable in describing and arranging them.  I draw upon my knowledge of the book arts constantly in my work, and always refer new professionals to Kathleen Walkup’s essay, “Why Book Arts Matter.” 

What is your role at your institution?

I serve as the Special Collections Cataloging and Metadata Librarian for the University of Miami Libraries.  Practically speaking, I am involved in all things that relate to facilitating intellectual access to print and manuscript materials in our special collections.  My duties include “traditional” rare book cataloging, metadata management, policy development, and collaborative work with the systems and web development teams to build better user experiences. 

I am fortunate to work with future-focused colleagues who are creatively reconsidering the habits of twenty-first-century information consumers.  Lately, I have been facilitating usability studies to improve and invent front-end interfaces, coordinating library-wide discussions to address implementation of linked data features and open metadata strategies, and investigating possibilities available in new systems and schemas. 

And naturally, I take pictures and blog.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I adore Melissa Jay Craig’s work.  She engages with book aesthetics and book form through the corporeal nature of handmade paper, and she creates conversations about the experience of reading in the absence of textual content.  Finding “Working Philosophy” at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts was definitely my favorite book-object experience.

What do you personally collect?

My apartment is full of prints, books, and textiles made by friends and colleagues.  I keep them for their sentimental value - because I know the stories behind their creation, I respect the labor involved in making, and I’m fond of their makers.  But I don’t endeavor to be a collector.  I live with two house rabbits who frequently make snacks out of works on paper.  My home isn’t the most appropriate space for stewarding artifacts into future use.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I love being employed in the study of material culture.  Everyday objects, such as books and ephemera, are a record of who we are, what we do, and what we want.  I’m fascinated by the anthropological aspects of my career.

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

I see an increasingly exhibition-heavy role for special collections and rare book libraries.  A few days ago, I was explaining my job to a new friend.  I said that I work to help users access the information in our catalogs and databases.  Her response was, “So, you make infographics?”  I laughed, but it was a very telling moment.  The public assumes that information professionals will curate information for them, and services that distill content into a meaningful and digestible product appear attractive.  Besides, audiences expect museum-like programming when we promote the artifactual value of our material.  Graphic displays and narrative formats have the power to extract and present knowledge, and we can harness this capacity through exhibits, blogs, data visualizations - and yes, infographics.

 I also envision research analyst positions growing among the special collections workforce.  We train as researchers in book and human history; we become intimately familiar with our collections and their descriptive metadata; we cultivate strengths in investigative methodologies and data mining techniques - and yet, we typically stop short of performing research services ourselves.  In an age of information obesity, and given the potential for collaboration available in the digital humanities, I think that might change. 

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

The Jackie Gleason Collection focuses on parapsychology, including both scholarly and popular works in areas such as occultism, reincarnation, hypnotism, UFOs, ghosts, spiritual healing, demonology, magic, telepathy, astral projection, clairvoyance... really, really cool stuff.

 Our Artists’ Books Collection is what drew me to the University of Miami.  It’s a top-notch representation of the genre and highly regarded among contemporary artists. 

 I was surprised to discover that our zine collections are both quite substantial and fully described.  They provide amazing primary source material for researching political, social, sexual, and musical subcultures of the latter 20th century.  The Firefly Zine Collection was donated by former residents of the Firefly, a local Miami collective house and important part of Miami’s punk rock and activist scene.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Golly, lots!  “?#@*$%! the Mainstream: The Art of DIY Self Expression,” which ran at the University of Miami Lowe Art Museum this past winter, will be seeing a reprise at the Otto G. Richter Library in the coming year.  Our Special Collections Division is working on an exhibit showcasing local culinary culture.  (Being a cultural melting pot with indigenous tropical fruits, Miami is a great place for chow!)  The Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) is a partner in bringing the Guantanamo Public Memory Project to the University of Miami in October.  And the CHC’s fall 2014 exhibition will be on Manuel Ochoa, founder of the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

The HMS Bounty was just a small merchant vessel on its way to Tahiti to collect breadfruit. Under the command of the now infamous Captain Bligh, the ship left dock in December of 1787 for its arduous ten-month journey at sea, during which time Bligh demoted his sailing master and replaced him with Fletcher Christian, a move he would surely come to regret. Still, they made it to Tahiti, where the crew stayed for five months. In April of 1789, they left the island and headed for disaster.

It took only a few weeks for the mutiny to foment. Christian and his band of mutineers took the ship (eventually to Pitcairn Island, where they eluded the Royal Navy), and set Bligh and his loyalists adrift in a small boat. Amazingly, Bligh returned his crew to England.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 9.21.31 AM.pngIt is, of course, a story that was sensational from the beginning, providing the basis for many books and films. One of the first publications was the printed minutes of the 1792 court-martial of the Bounty mutineers--those the Navy had caught, anyway. Ten men went to trial, of which three were hanged. For a collector of Bounty books and relics, this is undoubtedly a high spot. Bonhams sold one last year for slightly more than $50,000.

Edward R. Leahy is one such Bounty collector. His interest lies in the historical efforts to demonize Bligh, who was often portrayed as tyrannical. “From Bligh’s Narrative to the mutineer’s court martial transcripts to the spurious Fletcher Christian letters and the authentic and extremely rare Peter Heywood letters, Mr. Leahy has assembled the historical evidence,” according to the University of Scranton special collections librarian Michael Knies. “But he has also collected the start of the Mutiny saga in the arts with works like Lord Byron’s The Island.”

Mutiny Small Boat 2.jpgThe image seen here of the small boat that Bligh and his crew survived in after the mutiny, from Leahy’s 1818 first edition of An Account of the Dangerous Voyage, Performed by Captain Bligh, With a part of the crew of His Majesty’s Ship Bounty, in an open boat, over twelve hundred leagues of the Ocean, with an Appendix, In which is contained an Account of the Island of Otaheite (London, Juvenile Library edition). With other selections from Leahy’s library, it is currently on display through April 17 at the University of Scranton’s Weinberg Library in an exhibit called The Mutiny on the Bounty: A 225-Year Voyage from Fiction to Fact. On April 9, Leahy will present a lecture on the facts and the myths of the Bounty.

Images: Top, courtesy of Bonhams; Bottom, courtesy of the University of Scranton, Weinberg Library.

Flights of Fancy


AVIARY WONDERS INC. ©2014 Kate Samworth. Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers.

Hunting, habitat loss and climate change are driving bird species to extinction at a record clip. But what if carrier pigeons could once more take flight, simply by assembling various interchangeable parts?  Debut author-illustrator Kate Samworth explores this imaginative possibility in a book that is by turns funny and unsettling.  Samworth says the inspiration to sketch a bird catalog came after listening to New Orleans residents talk about the eerie lack of birdsounds post-Katrina.   


AVIARY WONDERS INC. ©2014 Kate Samworth. Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers.

Modeled after an old-fashioned mail-order catalog, this fantasy avian sales prospectus is the brainchild of logging company magnate Alfred Wallis, who established Aviary Wonders Inc. after noticing that birds vanished shortly after loggers chopped down their homes. The catalog offers an assortment of feathers, bodies, beaks and legs for bird lovers to create a feathered friend to call their very own.  The second half of the catalog is amusingly devoted to assembly, troubleshooting tips, and even includes an order form.  


AVIARY WONDERS INC. ©2014 Kate Samworth. Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers.

The ‘catalog’ is peppered with cheeky advertising banter alongside some very real facts about endangered and extinct species. Samworth’s stunning oil paintings are as bright and cheerful as the underlying message of habitat destruction is serious. 

Aviary Wonders Inc. flies solo as one of the most unique books for bird-lovers of all ages, and despite its zany premise, will spur lively environmental and scientific discussions.

“Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual: Renewing the World’s Bird Supply since 2031,” by Kate Samworth, Clarion Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 9-12.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Katharine Chandler, Reference Librarian in the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

How did you get started in rare books?

I majored in medieval studies at Smith College and had some familiarity with medieval manuscripts, but was not involved with special collections until I studied with D. W. Krummel at the University of Illinois in preparation for my library degree.  I attended U of I in order to become a music librarian, and my first course in library school was his famous bibliography class. I continued to take all courses offered at U of I related to special collections (this was before they offered a special collections certificate). I also acted as Professor Krummel’s assistant for his Rare Book School (RBS) course, “The Music of America on Paper,” and absolutely fell in love with RBS.

I made my way to Philadelphia to become a music librarian, and eventually transferred to the Rare Book Department (RBD) within the Free Library of Philadelphia. Once in the RBD, I dedicated myself to rare book librarianship and haven’t looked back.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned my MLS at the University of Illinois, and my MA in medieval history at Villanova University. 

What is your role at your institution?

I am a curator, reference librarian, page, you name it.  It’s a small department and we only have two seats in the study!  I interpret collections, teach classes, curate full-scale exhibitions, conduct research, help researchers and scholars find what they need, catalog, create metadata--the list goes on. I also regularly tweet pictures of items in the collections and have a personal blog

Most of the special collections librarians that we’ve interviewed so far work for academic institutions. Any particular challenges or benefits to working for special collections in a public library setting?

One major benefit to working in a public library is that I work in a full curatorial capacity. We also offer tours to the general public on a daily basis, and I have the opportunity to educate people from all over the world, from all walks of life--I show real objects: a cuneiform tablet, a leaf from a Gutenberg Bible, an Egyptian Book of the Dead from around 800 BC, a Book of Hours, a disappearing fore-edge painting, a horn book, early children’s books, and vanity bindings.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

The most exciting book I ever came across was a noted Beneventan missal at the Walters (W 6). Beneventan musical notation is quite rare, especially so in an entire codex (11th century). 

What do you personally collect?

I presently have an Indiana Jones complex, but that might change over time.  Right now I only look to collect for the institution.  As my nieces get older, I might start thinking about collecting for them.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The materials, of course.  A job working with these kinds of objects never grows tiresome.  I love teaching classes and working with scholars.  I enjoy imparting the information I have and learning more about the materials from experts.  I believe I have a special role, caring for collections that are part of society’s heritage.

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

As an historian, I feel that the use of material texts is becoming increasingly relevant. The trend in the humanities (especially so in the study of history) in the middle part of the 20th century was to use secondary sources.  This has begun to change over the last twenty or thirty years.  More recently, students of the humanities, and in other fields, are turning not just to published primary texts, but to artifacts themselves.  I think special collections professionals will become vitally more important as a result of this trend. 

Additionally, I think we all know how incredibly important it is to become more tech-savvy as a field and as individual professionals. I work for a public library, and we don’t have the same kind of funding as a major university might.  However, in our small way, we’ve been able to get some parts of collections digitized and available to the world. The numbers of visitors to the collections that have been digitized directly correlate--for instance, the more medieval manuscripts we have examples of online, the more visitors we’ve had in the department to use them from all over the world. The more children’s books we have in our online catalog, the more folks we have making appointments to come in and see them in person. There are arguments that once there are digital surrogates of materials online, people won’t need to see the original artifacts, and I find that is not the case at all.  In fact, I believe it increases a library’s usership.

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

I’m always afraid special collections professionals, scholars, and students are unaware of the amazing treasures we have. 
Founded in 1891, the Free Library was part of a growth of circulating libraries wherein people could borrow books without paying an annual fee. The first librarian and his assistant received their first rare collection of incunabula in 1899. The Rare Book Department, permanently installed by 1949, comprises wonderful collections of Poe, Dickens, Beatrix Potter, medieval manuscripts, “Oriental” manuscripts, Americana, cuneiform tablets, Rackham, children’s books, and illustrators.
One collection in particular that is so far not in the OPAC nor digitized is the Horace collection. Given to the Free Library by Moncure Biddle, the Horace collection is a treasure of great printers and fine bindings from the incunabula period to the present.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
I would like to mention that right now, we have a newly opened space, the William B. Dietrich Gallery.  On display for the 450th birthday of Shakespeare is our First Folio, considered to be one of the two rarest in the world. That exhibition is “Shakespeare For All Time,” and we’re very excited about it.  I’m working with a colleague on the next exhibition, which will open this summer. The focus will be on calendars, the zodiac, and astrology from all over the world: drawing on our medieval manuscripts, non-Western manuscripts, prints, and Americana.

first+caldecott.pngComing up this weekend is the 33rd annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, to be held in St. Petersburg’s historic coliseum. More than 115 dealers in rare books, manuscripts, maps, prints and ephemera will descend upon the Sunshine State. Some of the highlights include a first edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1820), a first edition of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat (1957), and an inscribed first trade edition of Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon (1987). This year’s fair focuses on children’s literature, so expect a great selection of Caldecott winners, such as the one shown here from Books Tell You Why. Helen Dean Fish’s Animals of the Bible (1937) was the first winner of the award.

For those lucky enough to extend their stay in Florida, the weekend following the book fair offers another bookish event. Patricia Pistner, a member of the Florida Bibliophile Society and the Grolier Club, will give an illustrated talk and exhibit of her miniature books collection. Hosted by the Florida Bibliophile Society and introduced by Maureen E. Mulvihill on Sunday, March 23, at the Seminole Community College Library in St. Petersburg.
Tenth of December Jacket Image.jpg
George Saunders has won the inaugural Folio Prize for his collection of short stories entitled Tenth of December. The Folio Prize, sponsored by The Folio Society, is open to writers in English from around the world. Its stated mission is to “celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.”

Saunders - no stranger to awards - has received wide acclaim for Tenth of December, his most recent collection of short stories, that “illuminates human experience and explores figures lost in a labyrinth of troubling preoccupations.” Saunders even made The New York Times Best Sellers List with Tenth of December, an astonishing achievement for a literary collection of short stories. Lavinia Greenlaw, chair of the judges for the award, said of Saunders, “Unflinching, delightful, adventurous, compassionate, he is a true original whose work is absolutely of the moment.”

Andrew Kidd, founder of The Folio Prize, said of the choice, “...they have recognized one of the great writers of our age, and one of the undisputed masters of his form.”

Toby Hartwell, Managing Director of The Folio Society, awarded the winner’s trophy to Saunders along with its accompanying £40,000 purse.

In addition to Tenth of December, the shortlist for this year’s Folio Prize included:

  • Red Doc> by Anne Carson (Random House/Jonathan Cape) 
  • Schroder by Amity Gaige (Faber & Faber) 
  • Last Friends by Jane Gardam (Little, Brown) 
  • Benediction by Kent Haruf (Picador) 
  • The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner (Random House/Harvill Secker) 
  • A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Galley Beggar Press) 
  • A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava (Maclehose Editions)

What kind of book is dangerous enough to be considered burnable? In medieval London, where the decapitated heads of traitors welcomed visitors to the city, a manuscript prophesizing the king’s assassination kindles everyone’s interest. Even the esteemed poet Geoffrey Chaucer wants to lay hands on the volume, and he employs his street-smart fellow poet, John Gower, to find it.

Burnable Book.jpgSuch is the premise of A Burnable Book (William Morrow, $25.99), the stellar debut novel by Bruce Holsinger, a medieval scholar at the University of Virginia. Things really heat up when a beautiful and unknown young woman is murdered in the Moorfields outside of the city walls, the only witness a prostitute hiding in the bushes with a book in her hands given to her by the recently deceased. It is a compelling beginning, and Holsinger proves himself adept at creating colorful main characters and capturing the largely unpleasant sights and smells of London in 1385.

The manuscript, Liber de Mortibus Regum Anglorum, eludes Gower as the maudlyn and her conspirators try to determine its value and its meaning. Bibliophiles will take special note of Gower’s book-hunting trip to Oxford, where he spends a week sorting through Richard de Bury’s library. “The first thing I noticed about the dark space was the smell: rich, deep, gorgeous. Cardamon, I thought, and cloves and cinnamon--and old parchment, and leather, and boards, and dust.” The keeper, Peter de Quincey, tells him the spice is “an excellent preservative of old books.”

As the murders mount and Chaucer turns testy, Gower is unsure whom to trust. His estranged son’s return to London further upends his life. But as he plumbs the sleazy world of paid mercenaries, rivalrous courtiers, and bishops’ bawds, the secrets of the treasonous text reveal deadly ambitions.

The courtly relationships and foreign entanglements of minor characters weigh on the novel’s plot at times, but readers need not fret that they’ll miss key elements if they can’t master each and every one, which is always a concern when a novel has a substantial cast of characters -- and this one features a transvestite who goes by two different names and royals who answer to either their name or their title. Though set in a different country and century, the pitch-perfect historic detail and engrossing mystery of Holsinger’s book are reminiscent of Karen Engelmann’s 2012 novel, The Stockholm Octavo. (Both feature playing cards too.)

Whether you label it biblio-fiction or historical fiction, The Burnable Book thoroughly exceeds expectations. May this novel be the first of many from Holsinger.

The author is on tour now; check out his website, and you might catch a reading. 

In 1820, John James Audubon proclaimed his intent to paint every species of birds in North America. When the project was completed in 1838, Audubon had documented 506 species.

Cover of "The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Na...


There is, of course, a scientific answer as to how many species of birds there are in North America. If one actually intends to seek them out individually - much less paint them - expect to find far fewer. 


The 2008 publication of The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik lent a good bit of credence to the difficulty in actually spotting substantial numbers of bird species. Wikipedia defines a “Big Year” as “an informal competition among birders to see who can see or hear the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year and within a specific geographical area.” The American Birding Association defines that area, which can be loosely described as Audubon’s “North America.”


If Audubon brought the “birds of America” to the few, Roger Peterson’s publication of his first field guide for birds in 1934 brought the “birds of America” to the many, or perhaps better said, “the birds of the eastern United States.”


Nearly 100 years after publication of Birds of America, in 1939, Big Year participant Guy Emerson spotted 497 birds, a few shy of Audubon, albeit in a much shorter time with fewer species left on the planet. But Big Year numbers have continued to climb, to 598 in 1956 to 747 species in 2013, all of which is shy the 914 species recognized by the American Birding Association. No one has come close.


All in all, Audubon did pretty well. He documented well over half the species in North America in travel conditions that were challenging at best. More importantly, he spent time enough with them to paint them in their habitat.



The New-York Historical Society (170 Central Park West, NY) is offering a rare glimpse of Audubon, March 21- May 26, with Audubon’s Aviary: Parts Unknown, part two of the highly successful tripartite series, Audubon’s Aviary: The Complete Flock. The exhibit “follows Audubon into uncharted territories--geographic, artistic, and scientific--as he encountered and mapped new species and grappled with the disappearing illusion of America’s infinite wilderness.”

Also, on April 1, Sotheby’s NY will auction two Audubon masterworks. The “double-elephant folio” first edition of the Birds of America is one of them, and its consignor, The Indiana Historical Society, hopes it will realize at least $3 million.


1838 was - and 2014 continues to be - a Big Year for John James Audubon. His enduring passion for the birds of America keeps this important natural history alive -- and makes us all hopeful for having our own Big Year.

Audubon’s Great Blue Heron, on display at the New-York Historical Society, March 21-May 26.


Find Books on on Audubon.

Find Books on on Bird Field Guides.


Image reproduced with permission from Sterling Publishers.  ©2014 Linda Beck.

“Goodnight Songs,” by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by various illustrators, Sterling Children’s books, $17.95, 28 pages, ages 2-5.

For over sixty years, children have drifted to dreamland after reading the quintessential bedtime story Goodnight Moon. Now comes a previously unpublished collection of Margaret Wise Brown’s charming lullabies for a new generation of readers.

Amy Gary, the editor of Brown’s Estate, introduces the collection by describing her discovery of a treasure trove of manuscripts. Tucked away for decades in a trunk in an attic barn on the author’s family farm in Vermont, all but three have never been printed until now.

Also among the hidden treasures were musical scores Brown was composing for a children’s record company. An accompanying disk includes songs based on the poems. Emily Gary and Tom Proutt set the poems to music, and managed to capture the effortless imagery of Brown’s work. 

A different contributor illustrated each poem and the list reads like a who’s-who of award winning artists. Caldecott Honor medalist Melissa Sweet, Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner Sean Qualls, and New York Times Best Illustrated Book winner Carin Berger were among the dozen asked to collaborate on the project.  Brown’s innate understanding of what entertains and comforts children will delight everyone who comes across this gem, now and for years to come.   

Our series profiling the next generation of special collection librarians and curators continues today with Ryan Greenwood, the 2013-2014 Yale Law Library Rare Book Fellow, in New Haven, Connecticut. 

Ryan Greenwood- Fellow 2013-2014 (2).jpg
How did you get started in rare books?

I was in graduate school, and doing research in archives and with early printed books.  While I was looking for specific topics, I noticed more and more about the books themselves.  Some bindings were in such poor condition that they gave a kind of surgical view of the books, which was fascinating.  Then there was the marginalia - one of the first times I saw a manicule, it pointed me to the section of text I was looking for.  In other cases, annotations gave great references to other texts.  The historical and artifactual value of these rare books immediately became real for me.  A little later, I took Mike Widener’s course at Rare Book School in Virginia, on collecting historical law books.  The experience was terrific, and got me hooked.  At that time, I was also working as an intern at Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and had a chance to work up close with illuminated manuscripts and identify manuscript fragments, really for the first time, under Consuelo Dutschke.  It was all pretty extraordinary.         
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I have an MLIS from Rutgers and a PhD in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto. 

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Rare Book Fellow this year in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.  My role is to learn the elements of rare book librarianship - and especially rare law librarianship - under the guidance of Mike Widener, the Rare Book Librarian, and in the midst of the outstanding Rare Book Collection at the Goldman Law Library.  The training includes extensive work with collection development, cataloging, reference, outreach, exhibit curation and digital projects.

The fellowship is well-structured but varied, which makes for a very stimulating experience. From daily reviews of catalogs to building relationships with booksellers, from improving catalog records to curating exhibits and developing digital projects, it has been busy and exciting.  Two interesting projects have been the arrival of the Kuttner Collection of (largely) medieval canon law, which required quite a bit of coordination between an institute in Munich, where the library was hosted previously, and the Goldman Library; and a major digitization project for a commercial vendor, which I have been able to help consult on.  As with most librarians, I love the diversity of the roles.  But I have to say that one of the most gratifying has been outreach, particularly in the form of tours and presentations.  The feedback is always positive and it is easy to get students, alumni and visitors excited about the Library’s Rare Book Collection.  In all, it has been a terrific year so far, and has provided an excellent foundation for further work.    
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

That’s a tough one.  Some of the Library’s new acquisitions are favorites.  Recently the Library acquired a once-in-a-generation trove from Anthony Taussig, who put together the world’s finest private collection of historical books on English law.  One of these is the first printed book of English law, an abridgement of statutes, printed by Lettou and de Machlinia in 1481 or 1482. Another is the first printed justice of the peace manual, produced in 1506 by Wynkyn de Worde. Both have been great to work with and to present to tour groups and visitors.

I could mention quite a few, but in the collection there is also a tiny and wonderful manuscript of Magna Carta, with red and blue penwork decoration and even some (very small) annotations.  It is really appealing, and a real working copy of the text.  And there are some manuscript case reports for the King’s Bench and Common Pleas which are fascinating, partly because there is not very much known about them.        

What do you personally collect?

I have a growing collection of bookseller catalogs.  The meta-collecting feels a little like a real book collection, and certainly helps to build real collections!  

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

It’s the physical connection with the past - the amount of digitized material is already enormous, but seeing rare books online versus having the physical thing is kind of like seeing pictures of Paris and going to Paris.  It’s a very different experience.  The object has a direct connection with the past that is very real.  As one example, another justice of the peace manual in the collection has burnt edges and still smells like (what I think is) gunpowder.  That is a really tangible addition to the experience, and allows you to understand something--even feel something--that you would not have otherwise.  But I don’t think many people believe that rare books are disposable or should be buried somewhere.  And I think the digital age is bringing new possibilities and new interest to rare books, and that is very exciting.
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I think it’s bright.  I think one key is the synergy between digital projects and special collections and rare book librarianship.  The huge number of digital projects are varied, useful and appealing for librarians, various other educators and audiences, and they will continue to point back to the physical collections which underlie them.  At the same time the easy access and appeal of digital collections challenges rare book and special collections departments to expand outreach and teaching opportunities in new ways, and to promote new digital projects.  It’s a complimentary process which pushes libraries outward, and encourages increased collaboration with academic departments and other institutions.  Coordinating this is a challenge, but an exciting one, and the value in doing it is very high.  
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

The Taussig collection is really outstanding and bears mention again.  We’ve just received the second round of Taussig acquisitions, so that the collection now runs to over 350 volumes, some of which are extremely rare or unique in North America and Europe.  It is hoped that it will encourage the study of English legal history here, particularly between the 16th -18th centuries. There are a number of others, but I’ll just mention the Italian statute collection briefly.  The library has over 800 printed volumes and 55 manuscripts, the best collection of statutes anywhere outside of Italy, and which offers good insight into the administrative histories of a wide range of Italian towns and cities.  A new brochure highlights some other collection strengths - or come visit and we can tell you about them!
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

There will be an exhibition of the Taussig acquisitions to open in late August, and a full day of talks and tours for it on October 3, 2014.  The Law Library, together with the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, has invited Sir John Baker, the great historian of English common law, as the keynote speaker.  We are also mounting a new exhibit in the next week to coincide with the annual “Rebellious Lawyering Conference” at Yale Law School.  It deals with law and lawyers who work for social justice, and we have some great books to showcase the conference. We will also put the exhibit up on Mike Widener’s Rare Books Blog.  Please visit, it’s a great place for news and events relating to the Library’s collection. Please also visit the Flickr site for the collection, where there is a wonderful array of images from law books.

Founded in 1997, The Legacy Press has quickly become a bastion of scholarly work on the history of the book, and their titles have become collectible in their own right. In today’s guest post, bookseller Gabe Konrád interviews Cathleen A. Baker, the founder and driving force behind The Legacy Press.

GK: What was the impetus to start your own publishing house?

CB.jpgCB: While finalizing the manuscript for my first book, By His Own Labor: The Biography of Dard Hunter (Red Hydra Press, 2000), I decided to get an MFA in Book Arts at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, primarily to learn more about letterpress printing, so that I could assist Steve Miller, owner of the Red Hydra Press, in printing the limited edition of that book. And so in 1997 as an MFA student, I established The Legacy Press. At that time, I did an Internet search for the words “Legacy Press” to make sure that there were no other presses by that name out there. While that search was negative, there is now evidence that at least one other concern was using that name then and many more now exist, but mine is the only one that officially includes “The.” The first projects issued under this imprint were printed by hand and fulfilled the MFA degree requirements. The out-of-print titles for many of these fledging works are viewable on my website, My dream to help print the Dard Hunter book was realized when I served as the “printer’s devil” on the project from 1998 to 2000. Aside from the years of researching and writing the book, assisting in the physical endeavor of paging out monotype-set galleys, cutting down and dampening the Twinrocker handmade paper, proofing and checking the pages as they came off the Vandercook No. 4, drying the sheets, and collating and folding the sections was an incredible learning experience.

Having the Dard Hunter book under my belt, I was eager to tackle another ambitious project, this time on my own. My thesis project was Endgrain Designs & Repetitions: The Pattern Papers of John DePol (2000), which I co-authored with John DePol (1913-2004), the celebrated American wood engraver. The friendship that arose from that project was cherished by us both for years afterward, and I continue to keep John’s remarkable work available to book-arts practitioners and collectors.

I printed Endgrain Designs on my own Vandercook No. 4 in the summer of 2000 from photopolymer plates that I made. The paper I chose--100# Mohawk Superfine Smooth Ultra-White--had the characteristics I wanted for this book of “wood-engravings”: dense and slick surface to accept the ink without much hint of impression, bright white color to contrast well with the black ink, opaque and heavyweight enough to limit the amount of show-through. As I took the printed pages off the cylinder to inspect them, I began to notice that what I wanted from this presswork was what I could have obtained if it had been offset-printed on a matte coated paper. That doesn’t mean that I regret having letterpress-printed Endgrain Designs because the experience I gained from this project was critical to the conclusion that I reached about printing: that one should decide which materials and techniques are the most appropriate for the text and/or images to be printed. I regard Endgrain Designs as the best-designed and hand-printed book I have been involved in. But during its production, I had the idea that offset-printing could give me the effect that I might seek for a particular kind of book project; I also wondered what it would be like to publish books that did not take so much time at the press and that could be offered at much more affordable prices (Endgrain Designs was priced at $295.00). As a consequence of my MFA experiences, I decided that The Legacy Press would specialize in new, scholarly texts focusing on the printing, paper, and bookbinding arts, that would be well-designed, offset-printed books. Those plans were postponed, however, so that I could finish my PhD in 2004. In spring 2005, I moved back to my home state and to Ann Arbor, where I was fortunate to have a job created for me as Paper Conservator in the University of Michigan Library; I am now Conservation Librarian and Exhibit Conservator.

GK: So what was the first Ann Arbor-based production?

CB: The first offset-printed book that The Legacy Press published was Dorothy Field’s wonderfully illustrated essay, Paper and Threshold: The Paradox of Spiritual Connection in Asian Cultures (2007). It was printed in full color in China in order to keep the retail price manageable. I was very pleased with the results, and the book won a national award. A few years ago, while discussing a potential book project with my friend and fellow Ann Arborite, book conservator and bookbinding historian, Julia Miller, she expressed a desire to have her book printed in Michigan in order to support local businesses. To my surprise when investigating the potential of hiring a local printer, I discovered that Ann Arbor has a long history as a “printing” town, and there are a number of respected book manufacturers within a few miles of my home office. Since Elaine Koretsky’s Killing Green: An Account of Hand Papermaking in China (2009), all of The Legacy Press books have been printed and bound locally. While this increases the cost/price of books somewhat, it was the right decision, and the added bonus is that I can talk to printing professionals face-to-face.

machine.jpgThe year 2010 was a landmark one. Julia Miller’s Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings was issued a few months after my book was published, From the Hand to the Machine. Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation. Since their publication, both of these books have secured national awards. Beginning with another award-winning title, Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking (2012) by Aimee Lee and the first volume in the series, Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding (2013), edited by Julia Miller, The Legacy Press has published books in full color that are printed locally, and although this decision slightly adds to the cost of books, color is a feature that greatly enhances the topics covered.

GK: Color is a major benefit, as are the DVDs that accompany Books Will Speak Plain and Suave Mechanicals. I love the high-resolution images that you can magnify 400% and really see the most minute details. How did the decision to include DVDs come about?

CB: Julia Miller persuaded me to include a DVD of the over 1,400 images of bindings that she had accumulated over the years, most of which could not be included in the print version of her first book. Because most of the images in that book are in black and white, there were several reasons to include a DVD: (a) to reproduce at relatively low cost all of the bindings in color, (b) to produce a very large number of images, and (c) to be able to zoom in on the bindings. The last advantage has been noted by a few reviewers as a distinct advantage in being able to see details. It is not the same as having the book in your hands, but it must be the next best thing.

While “zoomability” is good, this feature is meaningless, however, unless a really good digital image has been taken in the first place. When photographing books, the following are a few suggestions that I give prospective authors: (1) use a white or neutral gray paper or fine cloth/felt, rather than a black, background because the edges of the binding will be more easily read, especially dark-colored bindings; (2) set your camera at the highest, finest image setting in order to capture all of the fine details; (3) because what you want to see in a binding is rarely in two dimensions, you might be better photographing a book using the manual setting (rather than using auto focus) with the f-stop at the highest number, e.g., f-22, to increase the depth of field, bringing more levels into focus; because this will increase the amount of time needed for the light to enter the smaller aperture, you would be advised to use a tripod or copystand rather than hand-holding the camera; (4) rather than lighting the book just with light coming from directly above it, consider adding another light source placed to the left or the top of the book to provide some raking light; this assumes the book is orientated in the way you intend for the viewer to see it, e.g., right side up (if you need to turn the book upside down to photograph it more easily, place the raking light at the right or bottom); (5) if photographing a detail, take that image separately, filling the viewfinder with it; never crop the detail from a much larger image because the resolution will be too low to reproduce except at 100% (the size of the original); (6) you can often set the camera to save images as TIFFs and this format should be kept as your archive copy, but because TIFFs are so large--take up a lot of memory--I convert them to JPEGs so that the design file, either for print or for the DVD, can “hold” more images without slowing the software program down or crashing it.

GK: For those wishing to collect titles from The Legacy Press, the first four titles - One Curve of Sugar, The Story of Blue Betsey, Carmen 1, and Endgrain Designs - are stunning and quite rare on the market, but your “production” books are an excellent place to start for anyone interested in the history of the book. Suave Mechanicals promises to be an amazing series. Do you have a roadmap of how many volumes will follow and a date for the next installment?

sauve.jpgCB: Thank you for your nice words about my early efforts at hand-produced books. By the end of October 2013, editor Julia Miller will have read the essays that are intended for volume 2 of Suave Mechanicals, and the book should be published by late summer 2014. Authors of essays for volume 3 have already begun to be identified, and so this series should be ongoing for a few years, at least. In addition to providing important information on often esoteric subjects having to do with the history of bookbinding, Suave Mechanicals also gives first-time researchers the opportunity to publish their work, working with people--Julia and I--who are eager to guide them through the often-intimidating process. My goal is perhaps a bit more self serving: by making publishing more comfortable, I hope to more easily convince prospective The Legacy Press authors to submit book-length manuscripts. There are a significant number of people who are doing incredible research in bookbinding (as well as other areas in the printing, paper, and manuscript arts), but most are reluctant to proceed into the overwhelming world of publishing. The Legacy Press exists, in part, to help those people get their knowledge into print.

GK: This is exciting because, as stated by Deborah Howe in a review of Suave Mechanicals, volume one, on The Bonefolder, it “establishes a new level of scholarly research and invites each one of us to become more astute and insightful when conserving and or observing these rough jewels.” This, of course, is entirely true, including chapters on historical repair, votive offerings on Armenian bindings, Colonial blankbooks, American scaleboard bindings, papier-mâché bindings, etc. It seems like the history of the book has been covered already, but this series clearly shows how much more there is to delve into! With Hanji Unfurled, Killing Green, and Paper and Threshold, The Legacy Press has become a specialist in Asian papermaking and use. How did that occur?

CB: I cannot say that that was planned, and the credit has to go to Dorothy Field’s wonderful essay about the importance of paper in global cultures, Paper and Threshold. Hers was the first book that The Legacy Press issued as a “trade” edition. Since 2007, the year her book was published, authors from the intimate world of Asian papermaking have recognized that The Legacy Press is sympathetic to the idea of covering subjects that are quite specific, especially works that must be supplemented by a large number of images. With the next TLP book, A Song of Praise for Shifu by Susan Byrd, I have gone a bit outside my layout “rules” to accommodate her unique, poetic vision. This strong relationship between publisher and author is, I think, rare, especially for “trade” books.

GK: If I recall correctly, isn’t shifu a type of material woven from thread made of paper?

CB: Yes, that’s right. Until reading Susan’s book, I had no idea that this craft has been around for centuries, and there are extant examples of clothing that are hundreds of years old. Even though I know that under all but the most adverse conditions such as fire and mold, paper is a remarkably stable and resilient, it is still amazing to me that work clothing worn everyday for many years survives. The most appropriate paper to convert into thread has properties that vary somewhat from paper destined for other more common purposes, and there still exist papermakers who specialize in shifu paper.

GK: Going back to your early work, two of the volumes you produced were booklets and the third, Carmen 1, was a French-fold with two papyrus pop-up elements. This item, which quotes Gaius Catullus, is striking in its simplicity, yet the pop-up mechanisms seem terribly difficult to master?

CB: In many respects, I consider this simple project one of my most successful in terms of design and printing. It was a class assignment and we all had to include a pop-up or moveable element in the French-fold format. I looked at a lot of past student works and other examples of pop-ups in the MFA program’s collection and the University of Alabama’s Special Collections. The mechanism is quite simple and working with papyrus was fun, and the writing on it is the poem-- Carmen--by Catullus in Latin. It is interesting to me to contrast this 4-page project to the 350+ page biography of Dard Hunter that I was involved in. Page for page, the former was much more difficult to get right, and this difference reinforced the idea that a short work, such as a French-fold or a broadside, needs to be “perfect,” and that there is no room for “okay” as there seems to be for a longer work, where mistakes are spread out over more paper and are therefore less noticeable and perhaps more forgivable, though one should always strive for perfection. When the reader can take in a short work in a few seconds, what the creator wants to say must be quickly discernible; there should be no fault in word, design, or printing that catches the eye and diminishes its impact.

GK: How were the papyrus fragments produced, given that aged feel?

CB: I bought two sheets of newly made papyrus from a paper distributor, wrote on it, and cut it into pieces. Any patina that it has acquired in the past decade or so is accidental. Since working at the University of Michigan Library, which has the largest collection of ancient papyri in the Western Hemisphere, I now know what truly aged papyrus looks and feels like. The old has often been buried in the desert for centuries, and it is soft, friable, and a decidedly brown color rather than the honey tone of new papyrus.

Bibliography of The Legacy Press, 1997 through October 2013

The Story of Blue Betsey
Cathleen A. Baker (Tuscaloosa, 1997, edition of 30)

One Curve of Sugar
Jennifer Futernick (Tuscaloosa, 1998, edition of 100)

Carmen 1
Gaius Catullus (Tuscaloosa, 1998, edition of 50)

Endgrain Designs & Repetitions: The Pattern Papers of John DePol
Cathleen A. Baker, John DePol (Tuscaloosa, 2000, edition of 130)

“Dashes for a Typographical Stage” John DePol Keepsake
(Tuscaloosa, 2004, edition of 300)
Offset-printed leaflet featuring a number of wood-engraved dashes cut by DePol (1913-2004), most of which were made for The Typophiles’s Benjamin Franklin Keepsakes. The original layout was designed by DePol, who signed 80 copies.

Paper and Threshold: The Paradox of Spiritual Connection in Asian Cultures
Dorothy Field (Ann Arbor, 2007)

John DePol Pattern Papers
(Ann Arbor, 2008)
Ten different DePol-designed pattern endpapers that are available by sheet for fine-press binding work. These designs include “branches,” “brush,” “bulbous,” “curls,” “pisces,” “shells,” “stream,” “tooth,” “triangle,” and “whirl.” Having exclusive license to publish DePol pattern papers, The Legacy Press also has an additional thirty-four designs available for special order for edition binding.

Killing Green: An Account of Hand Papermaking in China
Elaine Koretsky (Ann Arbor, 2009)

From the Hand to the Machine. Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation
Cathleen A. Baker (Ann Arbor, 2010)

Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings
Julia Miller (Ann Arbor, 2010)

Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking
Aimee Lee (Ann Arbor, 2012)

Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume I
Julia Miller, ed. (Ann Arbor, 2013)

A Song of Praise for Shifu
Susan J. Byrd (Ann Arbor, October 2013)

Our thanks to Cathy Baker for taking time to answer our questions. Gabe Konrád is the owner of Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books in Newaygo, Michigan. He is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and the Independent Online Booksellers Association.

Images Courtesy of Gabe Konrád.

An exhibition opens later this week at the Eleven Spitalfields Gallery in London showcasing the work of a mysterious early 20th-century street photographer known only as CA Mathews. Mathews photographed a variety of street scenes, almost at random, in the East London neighborhood of Spitalfields one April morning in 1912. Mathews’s purpose in taking the photos - as with almost all the details of his life - remains mysterious.  

All that is definitively known about Mathews is the address of photography studio in Spitalfields, where he operated from 1911 until his death in 1916.  His wife also died the same year, leading to speculation that they might have been early victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic, which swept through London.

Mathews’s photographs depict the predominately Jewish neighborhood in all its confused early 20th-century glory, with children bustling around teams of horses, vying with lorries and street sellers peddling their goods.  The area was a notorious slum during the Victorian era, as famous for its burglars and prostitutes as for the long-standing (and long in decline) textile industry that dominated the neighborhood. Curiously, considering its reputation, the neighborhood residents appear relatively well-dressed and well-fed.

The photographs were forgotten for about 60 years, while they languished in a cardboard box in the archives of Bishopsgate Institute.The photographs were uncovered a few years ago, but no record has yet been found indicating how they arrived at Bishopsgate in the first place.

The exhibition will run from March 7 - April 27.

Find Books on on Street Photography.
Find Books on on London with Peter Ackroyd.
When special collections libraries and historical societies deaccession books, they often hope to keep a low profile, since the very act of removing long-held rarities from a collection can rankle donors, scholars, fellow librarians, even the bibliophilic public. Last year, the dismantling of the Mendham collection and the subsequent sale of its ‘highlights’ at Sotheby’s in June of 2013 brought about much criticism and debate--it also realized £1,180,875 (nearly $2 million) for its owner, the Law Society of England and Wales. Yet another chunk of that historic collection will find its way to the auction block later this month, this time at London’s Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions. Books from the Ecclesiastical Collection of Joseph Mendham includes another 339 lots formerly on deposit at Canterbury Cathedral Library.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 9.25.02 PM.pngAnother group of deaccessioned books goes on the block this week at Bonhams London, sans rancor. Law Books from the LA Law Library, Part I, on March 5 features rare accounts of witchcraft trials, the first English book on women’s rights, The Lawes Resolutions of Women’s Rights: or the Lawes, Provision for Women (1632), and the 1494 incunable, Liber sextus Decretalium by Pope Boniface VIII (seen here at left). The LA Law Library is the second largest public law library in the U.S. According to a press release, “The sale, the first major auction of antiquarian law books in the 21st Century, will enable [The LA Law Library] to concentrate resources on its core purposes of providing public access to practical legal knowledge for the people of Southern California and beyond and to free up space to conserve rare books and documents on American law.” Part Two of this auction is slated for May.

The Indiana Historical Society throws its hat into the ring too, offering two major treasures at Sotheby’s on April 1: its double-elephant folio of Audubon’s Birds of America, as well as its Viviparous Quadrupeds of America. The IHS hopes to reap at least $3.3 million from the sale, which will be used to fund “acquisition of more Indiana-specific collections, and to build out enough archival storage space ... to meet the organization’s needs for active collecting over the next 30 years.” Said Indiana Historical Society President and CEO John Herbst, “While these sets are rare and valuable, they were acquired when the Indiana Historical Society’s mission was broader, more eclectic and not as focused on Indiana-related history as it is today.”

Image via Bonhams.

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