December 2014 Archives

It’s the end of the year and that means magazines are busy putting together their top ten lists of 2014. Since this is a magazine about collecting books, however, I thought we’d hold down that rewind button a bit longer and take a look at the top ten bestsellers from 1914, as reported by Publishers Weekly. Let’s see if any of these bestsellers have withstood the test of time:

In descending order:

10) The Prince of Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon (the fourth novel in a series about court intrigue in the fictional eastern European country of Graustark. McCutcheon was an Indiana author and playwright).

9) The Devil’s Garden by William Babington Maxwell (this passionate novel about obsession and adultery was banned by circulating libraries, a move which of course launched it onto the bestseller lists. W.B. Maxwell, mostly forgotten today, was praised by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the greatest of British novelists).

8) Diane of the Green Van by Leona Dalrymple (an historical romance novel that won its author a $10,000 prize in 1914. Besides that rather random bit of trivia, I haven’t found much online about Ms. Dalrymple).

7) Penrod by Booth Tarkington (the first entry in a popular series of comic sketches about Penrod Schofield, a young boy growing up in the Midwest. Also turned into a popular series of films. Tarkington was a perennial bestseller in addition to being a critical darling in the early 20th century. He won the Pulitzer Prize three times).

6) T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett (a 1913 bestseller as well, T. Tembarom is a romantic novel about an American street waif suddenly transported into a role as a lord of the manor in rural England. Burnett was the popular author of the children’s classic, The Secret Garden, seen here in one of her adult offerings).

5) The Fortunate Youth by William J. Locke (a rags-to-riches story about the rise of a young American through the strata of society with the aid of natural beauty and good luck. One of five novels by this British novelist to make it on to the bestseller lists).

4) The Salamander by Owen Johnson (a psychological study of a liberated woman in the post-Victorian age and an influential text for Zelda Fitzgerald and other flappers of the 1920s. Johnson was primarily known for his Dick Stover stories and would become a war correspondent for the New York Times during WWI).

3) The Inside of the Cup by Winston Churchill (this theological novel about the role of Christianity in modern life was the number one bestseller of 1913. This particular Winston Churchill was an American novelist and not the future Prime Minister of England. Churchill already had a few bestsellers under his belt and would soon withdraw from public life).

2) Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter (the first in popular children’s series, now considered classics, about a young orphan sent to live with her rich but cold aunt in Vermont. Porter, a popular novelist, was in the second year of a five-year run on the bestseller lists).

1) The Eyes of the World by Harold Bell Wright (the number one bestseller of the year was a morality play about several artists and art patrons in Southern California. Wright was a household name in the era and may have been the first novelist to make $1 million from his writing and the first to have sold over 1 million copies of his novels. Wright is today almost entirely forgotten except in the odd bit of trivia about bestselling novelists).

So, one hundred years later, what has survived? Pollyanna is the only book on the list still actively read by citizens of the 21st century. Burnett is also still frequently read, although she is mostly remembered now as a children’s, rather than an adult, novelist. And Tarkington, while a bit more obscure, still has his fans. The other seven authors on the list, however, have largely been forgotten. 

But are there any enthusiasts out there? Do these authors have any collectors today? If so, please tell us about your collection in the comment section below.

We are readying for the new year with a toast to the top ten blog posts of 2014. A few are no-brainers. When two booksellers announced that they had found Shakespeare’s own dictionary this past April, it was bound to catch our attention (and yours). Sylvia Plath is a favorite, so her place on this list is also unsurprising, and the Voynich manuscript is a modern mystery that has perennial appeal. But what else was popular among our readers over the past year? Take a look:

220px-Holmes_by_Paget.jpg#1 Supreme Court Refuses Appeal, 50 Sherlock Holmes Works Officially in the Public Domain. Great news for Sherlock fans this year: The U.S. Supreme Court left intact a ruling that 50 Sherlock Holmes stories published before 1923 are no longer protected by copyright.

#2 Sylvia Plath’s Unabridged Journals & Enduring Influence. More than 50 years after her death, Plath’s influence continues to reverberate throughout the literary community.

#3 Shakespeare’s Dictionary Found?! Two NY rare booksellers believe that they have purchased--on Ebay, no less--an annotated dictionary that belonged to the William Shakespeare. The evidence is compelling.

#4 Nick Basbanes’ Library of Inscribed First Editions for Sale. What would you give to own a copy of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose inscribed to the man who brought book collecting into the mainstream? Author of A Gentle Madness (and our featured columnist) Nick Basbanes amassed a collection of 600 inscribed first editions.

#5 Literary Anniversaries 2014. Publication dates, writers’ births & deaths: Who doesn’t like to ponder a list of all the important anniversaries in a given year?

#6 Guest Post: My Week at Bookseller Hogwarts. Bookseller Megan Bell of Underground Books tells us about her experience at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar.

#7 Biblio-Mysteries: The Forgers & First Impressions. The rare book trade is a dark underworld, peopled with deceptive booksellers, maniacal collectors, and greedy forgers--or so two new novels would have us believe.

#8 Possible Mexican Origin for the Voynich Manuscript. In a paper published with the American Botanical Council, two scientists have proposed a new theory: perhaps the Voynich Manuscript originated in Mexico.

#9 Guest Post: Collecting the Legacy Press. Bookseller Gabe Konrád of Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books interviews Cathleen A. Baker, the founder and driving force behind The Legacy Press.

#10 Rothschild Prayerbook Set to Break Record. A preview of the prayerbook that went on to earn $13.6 million at auction on January 29, 2014.  

For more of our top stories from the recent past, check out 2013’s top ten & 2012’s top ten.

A Home and the World


The Home and the World: A View of Calcutta, photographs by Laura McPhee; Yale University Press, $50.00, 160 pages, 92 color illustrations. (Published November 2014) 

‘Tis the season to be surrounded by family, so it seems fitting to share a particularly stunning photography book of Calcutta living spaces and their residents. Large-scale photographer (and Mass College of Art and Design professor) Laura McPhee set her lens on the vibrant, cosmopolitan capital city of West Bengal now known as Kolkata. For the better part of a decade McPhee has been traveling to the region, documenting the richly textured culture and history that seeps through the walls, courtyards, libraries and dining rooms of this megacity.  

Dancing girls etched in the windows of the library, Pal House, North Kolkata, 2001. Reproduced with permission from Yale University Press. 

Once the capital of the India, “The City of Palaces” is a also city of contrasts - from the small, wealthy heart of the city nicknamed “White Town,” to the sprawling slums that give Calcutta another, less glamorous title, “The City of Dreadful Night.” Novelist Amitav Ghosh’s insightful forward examines the dichotomy that has historically identified the city.  Art historian Romita Ray further discusses the vibrant Calcutta neighborhoods as well as how McPhee’s unique photographing technique explores the diverse neighborhoods of a city both steeped in history yet racing towards the future.  It’s worth nothing that McPhee’s camera is not equipped with modern bells and whistles; rather, a mahogany 1950s collapsible Deardorff, complete with hood and tripod, captured the images reproduced in this book.  McPhee’s photographs are fascinating portraits of a former colonial city as well as the 4.5 million people who call this place home. 

A nanny with her two charges, Jodhpur Park, South Kolkata, 1998. Reproduced with permission from Yale University Press
Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Eric Johnson, Curator of Early Printed Books at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio:


How did you get started in rare books?

I suppose my first start was as a graduate student at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York (UK) when, in a codicology class session, the instructor dropped a mid-fifteenth century Book of Hours on the table in front of me and told me to “have at it.” While pursuing my Ph.D. research I spent quite a bit of time reading fifteenth- and sixteenth-century printings of medieval theological and pastoral works, as well as the odd manuscript, at the British Library, York Minster Library and various other places. My real professional start in the rare books world, however, came about four months after defending my dissertation when I landed a job as a curatorial assistant at the Cotsen Children’s Library, a division of the Rare Books and Special Collections Department at Princeton University. This is where the rare book world really opened up for me. The Cotsen Library exposed me to materials from all over the planet produced throughout history, from ancient Babylon to late-twentieth century picture books and everything in between. My boss there, Andrea Immel, was incredibly helpful and encouraging, and before I knew it, I was fully immersed in rare book and manuscript librarianship.
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. at the University of York’s (UK) Centre for Medieval Studies, and I earned my MLIS from Rutgers University.
What is your role at your institution?

I’m an Associate Professor and the Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at The Ohio State University. In addition to fulfilling traditional curatorial duties such as collection development and management, donor relations, public and K-12 outreach, and reference work, I also teach widely across the University’s curriculum, including medieval manuscript studies and book history courses, and sessional instruction in courses across the disciplines, from math history to the Bible in English, Gothic Paris, and the history of witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (to name only a few).
Favorite rare book that you’ve handled?

This is a tough question... Probably my single favorite piece at Ohio State is a late-fourteenth century manuscript copy of William of Pagula’s Oculus sacerdotis, a pastoral handbook for priests and confessors. Not only is it an amazing text, but its physical qualities--from its highly imperfect, scarred parchment to the earlier manuscript fragments recycled as flyleaves at the front and rear of the codex--speak eloquently to the importance of a book’s unique physical characteristics to a full understanding of the wider historical, intellectual, and socio-cultural contexts in which the text operated. Outside of Ohio State, I’d have to say my current favorite piece is a fantastic artist’s proof edition of L’Alsace heureuse by Jean-Jacques Waltz (better known as Oncle Hansi) at the Cotsen Library. It offers a compelling look into the mind of a vitriolic pro-French Alsatian propagandist and the way that military, cultural, and political propaganda were packaged for children during World War I.
What do you personally collect?

I’ve collected things off and on most of my life, from comic books to small-press science fiction titles. I don’t think I really collect anything systematically anymore, though I suppose my ever-growing collection of secondary source material on medieval manuscript culture, book history, and bibliography counts as an active collection.
What do you like to do outside of work?

Reading is a big leisure activity for me (and probably a clichéd answer, too!). Outside of the broader world of books, however, I like to be physically active. Hiking is a big favorite of mine, though a long walk around town works in a pinch. Much of my time outside of work is spent figuring out how not to spend that time thinking about work. Exercise helps me with this (although it has the added benefit of inspiring the odd Eureka moment for ongoing research projects).
What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Opportunities. The opportunity to learn ceaselessly and continuously. The opportunity to share the unique pedagogical value of rare books and manuscripts with students of all types, whether third-graders, undergraduates, Ph.D. candidates, or Elder Hostel groups. The opportunity to build upon the collecting efforts of previous curators to create meaningful collections that will continue to speak intelligently and compellingly for generations to come. The opportunity to handle and examine books and manuscripts that I otherwise could only dream of working with. And finally, I suppose, the opportunity to help researchers make sense of the past, uncover new texts and readings, and discover new ways that the authors, book producers, and readers of the past can continue to speak to us in the present.
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I believe the future of special collections librarianship depends on how we go about growing our user-base. It’s not enough simply to care for books and make them available to students and researchers who might happen to walk into your office or reading room. Those of us in the profession need to be active ambassadors for our collections--and not just to the university students and faculty with whom we normally work. I’m a big advocate of cultivating new users while they’re young, and you’ll often find me teaching K-12 groups, as well as undergraduates and graduate students, either at our library or in their own classrooms with rare materials from our collections. Getting children, teenagers, university students, and their teachers and professors thinking about the ways that a book’s physical instantiations directly influence our understanding of how it was produced, marketed, distributed, and read is essential to our profession’s future. Think, for instance, of the different meanings imparted by a single Dickens novel in serial, single-volume, pirated, illustrated, folio, quarto, octavo, or cheap or deluxe-bound editions or formats. Each tells its own unique story about the possible ways it was valued, used, interpreted, and received by the culture that produced and consumed it. Attention to details like this compellingly demonstrate to students that books are more than just the printed or written letter forms and texts they contain and that physical form and written text work hand-in-hand to impart meaning. One of my favorite quotes about pedagogy sums things up nicely, I think: “Teaching therefore presupposes that the hearer is sought out where he is to be found” (Josef Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991, p. 32). We (curators and the materials in our care) need to be everywhere we can possibly be so we can reach as many minds as possible. Whether cultivated through carefully crafted hands-on instructional sessions, in-depth research advising and mentoring, diverse suites of educational public outreach, or well-designed interactive digital tools, by affording students an opportunity to have deep, consequential interactions with rare books and manuscripts (rather than just supplying them with the odd “jewels of the collection” class session), our profession can go a long way toward securing its future.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

Like any large rare books collection, we’re blessed with many different assortments of materials that are particularly interesting or unusual. One of my favorite sub-collections is the Dr. Ivan Gilbert Trade Catalogue and Ephemera Collection, an assembly of approximately 10,000 items that provide a fascinating look into the birth and growth of American consumer culture from the 1830s to the 1970s. We also have an interesting collection of scales, including medieval examples of weights and measures and even a large scale used to weigh jockeys before their horse races. I’m also a big fan of our growing collection of artifacts that help provide valuable context to our medieval manuscript collection, including a pair of fourteenth-century parchment-making tools carved out of bone, a late-medieval friar’s leather Bible bag, a thirteenth-century stylus used for writing on wax tablets, a fourteenth-century English seal matrix, and nineteenth-century examples of blades and scrapers used to prepare animal skins for writing. There is, of course, so much more I could describe...

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have a couple of interesting exhibitions that cover an array of topics coming up in the next couple years. In 2015 we’ll be mounting a major show featuring the manuscripts, photography, and archival materials of noted American author, William T. Vollmann (whose literary archive we hold), and in 2016 we’ll be curating exhibitions celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our William Charvat Collection of American Fiction and focusing on our substantial Highlights for Children archive. Further afield is our upcoming fall 2017 exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 3.43.54 PM.pngLast week the California-based auction house Profiles in History sold this yellow walnut desk along with significant documentation relating its provenance as “Abe Lincoln’s Old Desk.” Fetching $144,000 (premium included), this desk was used by the sixteenth president during his last four years as a member of the House of Representatives for the State of Illinois, where he served four successive terms between 1834-1842. The auctioneer stated in the catalogue description: “To the best of our knowledge, this is the only known Abraham Lincoln desk in private hands.” Whether that still remains true, i.e. who was the highest bidder, is not yet known. But this does appear to be the very same desk offered by Nate D. Sanders, another California auction house, back in 2013.

Image via Profiles in History.

Requiem for the Bibliophile

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“Lament” reproduced with permission from Nancy Gifford

If Jorge Luis Borges thought paradise would be a library, then he might find the gates of hell in an exhibit mourning the death of libraries and printed materials. Requiem for the Bibliophile opened in September at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara, where seven artists explore how the historical role of libraries is evolving to meet the needs of 21st century patrons. Each of the installations examine the power of the printed word and the emptiness that prevails when physical books are reduced to pixels. 

Artist Emily Jacir’s installation of photographic prints documents the 30,000 books that were looted from Palestinian homes by Israeli forces in 1948, and asks what happens when a community is denied access to their literary history. There’s also an installation called “Empty Bookshelf VII” by Jorge Méndez Blake, which looks like a newly assembled project from Ikea - functional, but without books, purposeless. 

By far, the standout piece is a ten foot high, thirty-two-foot-long collage called “Lament.” Artist Nancy Gifford has been incorporating ‘altered’ books into her work for the past decade, scouring used book stores throughout the country and abroad for raw material. She gathered over 2,000 antique books for this installation - most in poor condition. “Book covers were once a form of artwork on their own, and “Lament” was an opportunity to breathe new life into a forgotten art, and to take these books off the shelf and expose them to a new audience,” explained Gifford to me recently. 

She then adjusted the books and covers further, ripping innards from their hardcovers, painting out spines and leaving only words Gifford felt were charged with meaning. “When I was invited to participate in this project, I wanted to explore what books represent,” she said. Layering books one on top of another, they morph into a literary crypt. 

“Lament” was constructed over the course of one year - a time-lapse video Gifford created (seen here) shows the painstaking work and effort this piece required. The books are affixed with screws to eight archival birch panels. Each panel is 10 feet high and 4 feet wide, with seams were designed to camouflage that the work is modular. “The center of the piece exposes the covers’ insides, representing the heart of the piece, and the black exterior is the “requiem,” or death shroud,” Gifford explained. 

Books have always been a positive part of Gifford’s life. She remembers fondly the monthly bookmobile visits to her Midwestern hometown. “I cherished those humble experiences, and they planted the seed of fascination for holding a stamped leather binding. As I watch books lose their place in the world, my work with books has changed to reflect that, becoming less deferential and more destructive.” In their battered, water-damaged, defaced states, Gifford’s books still have valuable stories to tell. 

While Gifford mourns books that have gone from repositories of knowledge to ornamentation for interior decorators, it’s not all gloom and doom. The artist created a fifteen-minute film entitled “Hope,” which sees our increasing desire for reading material as a positive outcome, even if we’re doing more of our reading on screens.  

Requiem for the Bibliophile runs through January 14, 2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara. 

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“Lament” reproduced with permission from Nancy Gifford
Hoping to capture some of the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, that book’s UK publisher, William Heinemann, has purchased a cache of erotic French love letters from the 1920s. The passionate love letters, written by a wealthy French woman to her younger, married lover were discovered by French ambassador Jean-Yves Berthault while helping a friend clean out an old apartment. The letters were hidden in a leather pouch beneath several jars.

Penned by one “Mademoiselle Simone” to an unidentified man named “Charles,” the letters depict increasing erotic obsession in explicit detail.

“We have no way of knowing who Simone or Charles were, or what became of them, only that their affair ended in heartbreak,” said Selina Walker of William Heinemann in an interview with The Guardian

“This is a time capsule of a book, a truly extraordinary testament to a period of time and a relationship that was as physical as it was passionate. And the fact that it was such a deeply buried secret for all these years makes it particularly special.”

Foreign rights to the manuscript have been sold in several countries already and the book will be published in the US by Spiegel & Grau, a Random House imprint.
Brown Brothers, the first stock photo agency, was founded in New York City in 1904 by Arthur and Charles Brown. Utilized by major newspapers and presidents, Brown Brothers photographers snapped everything from Titanic survivors to Lyndon Baines Johnson. Now an archive of one million Brown Brothers photographs and negatives are for sale, with offers starting at $5 million. Historic documents collector and dealer Eric Caren, whose “How History Unfolds on Paper” collection was profiled in our Fall 2011 issue, is brokering the sale.

img093--BB--01903--72J--Houdini in chains--W.jpgHoudini in Chains, photographed by Brown Brothers. Courtesy of The Caren Archive.

The archive comprises 7,000 boxes, and the images it contains can be haunting: Ellis Island immigrants, charred bodies from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the Hindenburg disaster, and flag-draped caskets from World War II. There are also the more glamorous shots depicting the likes of Mark Twain, Harry Houdini, and Babe Ruth. It is estimated that 30 percent of the archive focuses on New York City. In fact, one of Caren’s favorites is “one circa 1910 showing a bunch of eccentric NY Baseball Giants fans perched in a tree watching the game at The Polo Grounds in NYC.”  

Caren, who previously handled the sale of the San Francisco Examiner press photos years ago, found this archive so exciting because they aren’t wire photos, of which multiples can be found in the marketplace. He said, “This is likely ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ for massive and unique photography archives.” Or, as the Brown Brothers company history put it, “We have photographs no one else has because we had photographers no one else had...No one--absolutely no one else in the world--has these photographs.”

Someone will, soon enough. Prospective buyers can view the archive by appointment, and Caren reports “strong” interest from major institutions, picture agencies, collectors, and dealers. The Associated Press revealed that those institutions included “Columbia and Yale universities, California’s Huntington Library, and the New York Public Library.” The bidding will end on January 14, 2015.

The Caren Archive is also separately offering, for an undisclosed sum, an en bloc collection of 200,000+ printed, manuscript, and photographic originals dating back to the 1500s.
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Sophie Ridley of Shropshire, collector of books on crafts and school education.

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Where are you from / where do you live? 

I’m a country girl through and through having been brought up in rural north Shropshire, close to the Welsh border.

What do you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Oxford University. Having graduated over the summer I am now aiming at a career in museums. To this end, I am building up as much voluntary curatorial experience as possible at local museums.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

My collection covers the topic of crafts and their introduction to school education from the 1870s to the 1930s. It traces the transitional period from the highly restrictive education system of ‘the three Rs’ to one which recognised that a more varied education with practical elements was highly beneficial to children’s learning. As such, I have books that were produced as educational treatises, those that aim to inspire and inform teachers, and others that were to be used by children themselves. I am also beginning to include recent books which trace the increasing resurgence of such themes in today’s schools. These form their own contextualising section in the broad collection.

How many books are in your collection?

At present my collection stands at 32, but of course there are a number I am ever on the lookout for.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

I hardly know, as I never set out to collect. Rather, the early development of my collection came about during my A-levels where in free periods I would head into town to my local British Red Cross charity shop. They have an interesting selection of older books that are restocked on a rolling basis. I would buy books on any topic that caught my fancy and from this the theme of crafts emerged. It was the chance find of a copy of the first three volumes in Holman’s series of 6 volumes ‘The Book of School Handwork’ that introduced the educational element and really added direction to the crafts theme which came to dominate and ultimately form my collection.

How about the most recent book?

I have just got round to treating myself with my winnings from the Colin Franklin Book Collecting Prize. The book is a first edition of William Morris’ ‘The Decorative Arts, Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress: An Address Delivered before the Trades’ Guild of Learning’. Morris was such an influential figure, both in promoting the value of craftsmanship and also with his socialist views that work should be satisfying. As such this book is highly pertinent to my collection. There is a further significance in that I spent three months this summer doing research work at Kelmscott Manor, his summer home. I am very glad to finally be able to nestle Morris’ influential text amongst my other books.

And your favorite book in your collection?

As is perhaps common, I have no single favourite. Indeed, the book I would like to highlight here is far less directly relevant to the theme of my collection than many of the others. Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Golden Age’ captures a broad change in public attitude towards children, embracing their imaginative creativity. My copy, a first edition published in 1895, came at the cusp of the changes in education that my collection traces. The elevated value of crafts and social reform that Morris and his contemporaries set in motion at last began to seep into school education. Teachers began to recognise the benefit of practical ‘handwork’ even in subjects like history, geography and mathematics.

Best bargain you’ve found?

I like to think that all of my books have been relative bargains. The topic area is not one that is commonly collected and most of my finds have been from the fringe stalls at antiques fairs, from charity shops and on occasion even a car-boot sale.

How about The One that Got Away?

To my shame, this missed opportunity was entirely my own doing. At a local antiques fair I came across a lovely copy of Tom Stephenson’s ‘The Countryside Companion’ which has a good section on rural crafts. Despite the very reasonable price of £2 I walked away, convinced it was one in a bundle that I was awaiting delivery of. Unfortunately I was mistaken and I haven’t come across it since, but will certainly snap it up when I do.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

This would have to be a copy of Edward Combes’ ‘On the Value of Technical Training, and the Teaching of Drawing and Handwork in Public Schools’. Published in 1889 as a paper in the September edition of the Journal of the Franklin Institute, it is not something that I have found to be readily available, even on the internet. This early work is heavily referenced in a number of texts already in my collection and I would dearly love to see what Combes says for himself, never mind find a copy for myself.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

As mentioned above, my collection was never set out to be such, and the topic area is quite an overlooked one. Therefore, I have no particular go-to bookshop or seller. Rather, I will still return to the Oswestry British Red Cross shop to browse and for the most part allow my collection to grow slowly through chance finds in unexpected places. It certainly makes each addition more exciting than if I have trawled for it on the internet, although on occasion this has proved necessary.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

If I didn’t collect books I would collect items made from bone. Whilst on an archaeological excavation I had the chance to make some replica artefacts out of bone. I developed a love for the material. This led me to choose Anglo-Saxon bone combs as the subject for my dissertation. These days, unfortunately, there is a rather negative view of bone objects - a feeling that it is a little macabre as a material. I think that this is a great shame as bone has been used by mankind from the earliest times as a key resource, only overtaken with the rise of plastics. A collection of bone objects would be a reminder of the great history of use, but also would be an array of items pleasing both through the craftsmanship displayed and the inherent material properties.  

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 2.46.21 PM.pngWe at FB&C are excited to announce the publication of longtime writer, columnist, and blogger Nate Pedersen’s new book: The Starry Wisdom Library: A Catalogue of the Greatest Occult Book Auction of All Time (PS Publishing, jacketed hardcover, £20, $31). Instead of stories, this anthology presents a fanciful “facsimile” of an 1877 rare book auction catalogue, listing 44 volumes “to be sold” by Messrs. Pent & Serenade from the collection of the Church of Starry Wisdom in Providence, Rhode Island. Among the offerings: the possibly 16th-century manuscript called “The Daemonolorum,” Hieron Algypton, a seven-foot papyrus scroll dating to 200 B.C., and The Black Book of the Skull, printed by none other than Aldus Manutius in 1511.

The book features essays on the history of major occult tomes from the Lovecraft Mythos, written by contemporary horror authors--one of which, Nick Mamatas, we are proud to say is another FB&C contributor. Each essay takes the form of an auction catalogue entry, formatted to the usual cataloging standards by rare book dealer Jonathan Kearns of Adrian Harrington Rare Books in London, followed by a longer narrative on the volume’s creation and provenance. The book’s graphic design and six large illustrations perfectly evoke the funereal undercurrent of high Victorianism.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 3.15.24 PM.pngIn addition to editing all of the essays, Pedersen penned an entry on a volume containing Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New English Canaan, later re-bound with: The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. Providence: Bazalgette and Dagg. 1801, enhanced with an obsessed student’s marginalia. It is also fun to note that the idea for The Starry Wisdom Library evolved from a 2012 story Pedersen wrote for the FB&C blog about collecting Lovecraft’s grimoires--the “fake” books he mentions throughout his fiction.  

Congratulations, Nate!

Images: Cover and interior page, courtesy of Nate Pedersen. 
If anyone really needs an excuse to go to Paris, here’s one for you bibliophiles: through January 31, The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is hosting an exhibition showcasing one hundred of its treasures. The world’s oldest national library is also one of the largest, with fourteen million items in its repository.  Designating the most exceptional would be Sisyphean. Instead, curator Jean-Marc Chatelain limited his scope to the 11,000 materials that entered the Rare Book Reserve between 1994 to 2014. (In 1995, the BnF opened its massive Mitterrand location in the 13th arrondissement with 248 miles of storage space, giving the acquisitions department room to feather the nest.) 

Catalog cover for Éloge de la rareté: Cent trésors de la Réserve des livres 

The displays, thirteen sections categorized by theme, are an attempt to help redefine what it means for a book to be considered ‘rare’ or ‘exceptional,’  and so the examples run the gamut, from incunables, children’s books, and contemporary artists’ books. An 1805 edition of Voltaire’s epic poem La Henriade, with engravings by draftsman Jean-Michel Moreau (Le Jeune) shares space with a pamphlet from the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition celebrating the opening of the #8 metro line. It’s not all French either; there’s a 1992 publication of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with etchings by artist Sean Scully

The Éloge de la rareté is also a bid to educate the general public on the existence of the Reserve, which has, for over two hundred years, maintained and preserved France’s rich national patrimony. Vive la bibliothèque.    

Éloge de la rareté: Cent trésors de la Réserve des livres rares runs from November 25, 2014 to January 31 2015 at the François-Mitterrand location. Galerie 2.


Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Gloucestershire will auction off a delightful, previously unknown C.S. Lewis letter about his interpretation of joy. The letter, discovered tucked into a used book, reveals the author’s view of the emotion: “...real joy... jumps under one’s ribs and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’nights.”

The letter, addressed to an unidentified “Mrs Willis,” was written in August of 1945. The auctioneers have not been able to find out any further information about Mrs Willis, even though the letter’s content reveals a deep, personal friendship between the two, wherein Lewis waxes poetically on philosophical thoughts. The letter was found in a copy of Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain,” purchased by its owner in a secondhand bookshop. The owner didn’t discover the letter until several years later.

Lewis writes in the letter that “the physical sensations of joy and misery are in my case identical.” Lewis added a postscript as well, “Don’t you know the disappointment when you’d expected joy from a piece of music and get only pleasure: Like finding Leah when you thought you’d married Rachel!”

Lewis expanded on his conception of joy in his memoir, Surprised by Joy, published three years after the letter in 1948.

Lewis letters are uncommon and tend to attract significant interest from bidders when they come up for auction. Dominic Winter has set the estimate for the letter at £1,200-1,500 ($1,800-2,350). It will be included in the Children’s and Illustrated Books, Antique Fans, Toys, and Ceramics, and Modern First Editions auction on December 18.

[Image from Dominic Winter]

If you’re looking for a trip down Memory Lane--or Clinton Avenue or E. 32nd Street--here it is. Paging through the sale catalogue for tomorrow’s auction of vernacular imagery, photo books & fine photographs at Swann Galleries brought to mind Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, a “bitterly nostalgic” blog that charts the city’s ever-changing urban landscape. About a dozen lots recall New Yorkers and their city in incredibly evocative historic images.

696269.jpgThe first one that caught my eye is this image of Brooklyn apartment from an album of 7 architectural photographs depicting the home of W.H. Nichols at 353 Clinton Avenue circa 1876. I love the heavy Victorian nature of the image. And a quick search turns up the fact that Nichols was interesting too. Born in 1852, he was a chemist and businessman whose chemical supply company has lived on through various mergers, eventually becoming part of the present-day Honeywell corporation. Nichols was also one of the original founders of the American Chemical Society. The estimate is $500-750.

692676.jpgNext is one of a group of 60 images documenting the businesses along 6th Avenue in midtown in 1937, each with caption information detailing the location of the barber shops, hardware stores, and shoe shines available at the time. The estimate is $1,400-1,800.

698316.jpgThen there’s a group of 10 images of Ellis Island immigrants, taken by Augustus Sherman circa 1905. Sherman, an amateur photographer, was chief registry clerk at Ellis Island, and it is assumed that his elaborately costumed subjects were detainees awaiting processing. His pictures were published in magazines and given to visitors as keepsakes. They were finally published in book form in 2005. The estimate is $5,000-7,000.

697780.jpgBernice Abbott’s photography pops up a few times in this sale, and my favorite is this silver print, “Newsstand, East 32nd Street and Third Avenue, Manhattan” shot in 1935. It reminds me of the old “Book Row” imagery. The estimate is $2,500-3,500.

In addition, there is a first edition of Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (illustrated) on offer, a photo archive of 145 images of downtown bohemian life taken by Lawrence Shustak in the 1970s, and two Lou Stoumen prints, both of Times Square in 1940.

Images via Swann Galleries. 
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Andrew Ferguson in Virginia who collects science fiction author R. A. Lafferty.

andrew ferguson photo.jpg

Where are you from / where do you live?

From the Triangle area of NC; live in Charlottesville, VA.

What do you study at University?

I’m getting my PhD in English at the University of Virginia; I’ve previously studied Liberal Arts at St. John’s College (Annapolis); English at the University of Tulsa; and Science Fiction at the University of Liverpool.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

I collect the works of the science fiction author R.A. Lafferty. While he was quite popular in the 1960s and ’70s, he slid into obscurity in the decades that followed, and many of his works exist only in very small print runs from very small presses. In addition to works that are solely his, I try to collect every appearance of his work in anthologies and the like, in all their different instances, including the works in translation--he has a particularly large and active fanbase in Japan, and translators there have been kind enough to send me several volumes.

How many books are in your collection?

At present, about 230 separate items. I have a long, long way to go.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

A print-on-demand edition of his best short-story collection, Nine Hundred Grandmothers. Oddly, in recent years even that POD edition has become sought-after, because Lafferty’s estate pulled all publication agreements prior to selling his literary rights to the Locus Foundation. The only book currently in print is his remarkable novel Okla Hannali, available from the University of Oklahoma Press.

How about the most recent book?

I just picked up the first appearance of his horror story “Berryhill,” which was in the semipro magazine Whispers, edited by Stuart David Schiff. As a special bonus, I was able to purchase it from Mr. Schiff himself, at the recent World Fantasy Convention where he was a Guest of Honor.

And your favorite book in your collection?

My favorite book is a two-volume set of Samuel Pepys’ diary from Lafferty’s personal library, processed in his own idiosyncratic way: he would tape contact paper along the spine and rewrite the title and author in large block letters. After his death, his library was dismantled and sold piecemeal; anybody with information about any of these books is encouraged to pass it on to the good folks at

lafferty pepys.png

Best bargain you’ve found?

At present prices, likely my copy of Lafferty’s novel Archipelago, which was written in the late Fifties then recast a number of times over the decades until finally getting published in 1979 by Rick Norwood’s Manuscript Press, which was founded to get unpublished works by major authors into print. I picked up my copy for maybe $35 a decade back; it’s difficult to find one much under $200 today.

How about The One that Got Away?

No single one more than any other, though many of the small-press Lafferty publications that I have as signed, numbered copies were also issued as lettered, leather-bound presentation copies; I’ve had the opportunity to acquire several of these, but never quite yet the resources. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The Holy Grail would be a manuscript for one of his many unpublished works--at last count 13 novels and 40 short stories. I’ve read the copies of all of these that are held in his University of Tulsa archive, but the actual typed drafts for most of them are still extent, though not likely to change hands any time soon.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I’m a sucker for any bookstore with yard after yard of groaning shelves, but a particular favorite is Reed Books and Museum of Fond Memories in downtown Birmingham, AL. It’s packed to the rafters with books, of course, but also with a dizzying accretion of memorabilia, so that every surface offers a potential plunge into nostalgic reverie.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

I already have tens of thousands of hours of live concert recordings, but that’s a pretty inexpensive collection, requiring only the cost of hard drive space. So if it weren’t for books, I’d probably throw my resources into collecting videogames, especially on cartridge.

2. Book of Jeremiah-72dpi.jpgBeginning tomorrow, December 9, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will exhibit the Winchester Bible, an illuminated medieval manuscript commissioned by the Bishop of Winchester around 1200. Consisting of four large volumes, the Winchester Bible was written over three decades by a single scribe with at least six different illuminators applying gold and other pigments to the parchment. It is Winchester Cathedral’s greatest treasure. Due to renovations there, two of the Bible’s four volumes have been allowed to travel to the U.S. for the first time. Joined by an elaborately illustrated double-sided frontispiece--long separated from the Bible and owned by the Morgan Library & Museum--as well as works of medieval sculpture, stained glass, and other examples of manuscript illumination from the Met’s own collections, the Bible will remain on view for three months. The museum will also host related gallery talks and tours, as well as a December 14 studio workshop called “From Pigment to Page: Modern Manuscripts with Medieval Techniques.” A new book, The Winchester Bible: The First 850 Years, written by Canon Chancellor Roland Reim and published by the Winchester Cathedral Trust, will be available for purchase.

Opening for the Book of Jeremiah (detail) 
Winchester Bible, fol. 148r
Tempera and gold on parchment
Winchester Cathedral Priory of St. Swithun, ca. 1150-80 Lent by the Chapter of Winchester Cathedral © The Chapter of Winchester Cathedral

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

The stories of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter Rabbit are beloved worldwide, and their creator mined her own childhood experiences with wildlife as inspiration. Beatrix Potter lived in a typical upper-class family in London, where governesses attended to her schooling and she interacted little with her parents, both of whom were preoccupied with their own artistic talents and social groups. Her governesses recognized her talent early, and nurtured it. Soon the young girl was drawing her own illustrations for cherished fairytales like “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.” 
Cover of the first edition, The Tale of Peter ...

Cover of the first edition, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the time she was eight, Potter, a budding naturalist, was filling sketchbooks with drawings of plants and animals. She and her younger brother Bertram would observe creatures in their natural habitat and smuggle hedgehogs, frogs and rabbits into their house for further examination. These later became household pets, a habit that would continue into adulthood. As a mostly self-taught student when she was enrolled in courses at the National Art Training School, she found rendering images of plants and vases too stiff and restricting. Potter returned to her roots and dedicated herself to studying and drawing plant and animal specimens at London’s Natural History Museum.  

While exploring the scientific world of the animal kingdom, Potter began corresponding with the children of Anne Moore, her former governess.  Peter Rabbit first appeared in these charming illustrated letters. She used these early sketches to draft her stories of the cunning creature. (Since she did not keep copies for herself, Potter asked Moore’s son if she could borrow the letters she had sent him in order to copy them.) 

Earlier this week, Sotheby’s auctioned an array of fine books, manuscripts, and illustrations that included many works by notable British children’s book authors such as A.A. Milne and J.K Rowling. Among the items up for bid were seven lots of Potter papers, letters and books. Lot 252 included thirty first editions in their original pictorial boards and included stories like The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and The Tale of Tom Kitten. The auction house had valued it between $10,000 and $15,000. The hammer price was $43,750, an impressive rabbit to pull out of any hat. 

2015 will mark the bicentennial of the publication of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. To celebrate that anniversary, Goucher College in Baltimore - home to the largest Austen collection in North America - hopes to digitize its copy of the extremely rare 1816 Philadelphia edition of Emma.  That edition was the first - and only - American publication of Austen’s work during her lifetime. Only six copies are known to have survived.

Goucher College wants to digitize its copy and make it freely available as an open-access edition online. Scholars, students - and Austen enthusiasts - from across the world will be able to view the rare book in its entirety.  Goucher also has plans to add contextual materials and create an interactive experience for readers.

The college library needs $70,000 to digitize the novel with the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. Of that $70k, $30,000 has already been raised.  Goucher hopes to source the rest through a crowdfunding campaign launched on Razoo. Visit the campaign’s website to learn more or contribute.

[Image from the Razoo campaign]

JoshuaReynoldsParty.jpgIn 1764, two prominent Englishmen, artist Joshua Reynolds and essayist/dictionary creator Samuel Johnson, founded a famously literary dining club. Featuring decent food and better conversation, the Club, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, originally consisted of the two founding members plus seven of their friends: Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, John Hawkins, Topham Beauclerk, Anthony Chamier, Bennet Langton, and Christopher Nugent (Samuel Dyer joined them soon after). Meeting once a week at the Turk’s Head tavern, the group was limited to a dozen elected “good fellows”--literary men, politicians, earls & barons--at any given time. Although its motto was “Esto perpetua”--Latin for “Let it be perpetual”--the Club ceased to exist in the twentieth century. A history of the club was first published in 1914.

2084038.jpgNow, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the dining club, the London rare books firm Henry Sotheran’s is offering for sale a book called New Annals of The Club, with essays by David Cannadine, Peter Hennessy, and Charles Saumarez Smith. The new publication, an octavo bound in cloth and containing 142 pages, with 41 color illustrations, can be purchased at Sotheran’s for £100 (approximately $155).

Images, Top: A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds’ published by Owen Bailey on October 1, 1851, via Wikimedia; Left: Courtesy of Sotheran’s. 
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Aarom Renolt Von Hemmersbach, a tattoo artist in Canada who collects Aldines:


Where do you live?

I live in Winnipeg, Canada.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I studied History in University and am planning on returning to get my masters in the classics. I have been tattooing for 14 years and have had my own shop for the past 8 years now, which has given me the freedom to travel and seek out new additions to my collection.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  In what areas do you collect? 

I collect mostly early printed works, incunabula and 16th century books. However, my main focus is on editions from the Aldine Press.

And do you have a tattoo related to your book collection?

As a matter of fact.. I do!

aldine tattoo.jpg

How many books do you have in your collection?

I have about 250 books that are pre 17th century, and another 400 or so that are from before the 19th century, mostly in the categories of history, the occult, early science and classics. The jewels of my collection are the 34 Aldines, which I enjoy collecting the most.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought was a 1683 copy of Muret’s Funeral Rites. I remember being so fascinated that one could just simply purchase something so old and beautiful...something that I assumed should be in a special archive or museum. I knew in that moment I wanted to protect these treasures, and be their temporary custodian. The funny thing is, I had planned on buying the book for a friend for his birthday, and I ended up keeping it for myself! I think I ended up buying him a coffee mug instead. Selfish, I know!

How about the most recent book?

The most recent book I bought was a 1516 Aldine copy of Lodovico printed a year after the death of Aldus Manutius. It has beautiful rubricated initials throughout the volume, I was excited beyond belief when it came to me!

And your favorite book in your collection?

I’d be truly hard pressed to choose which book in my collection is my favorite..but if I had to choose, I’d say my Aldine copy of Macrobius. I love the world map inside as well as the incredible perspectives the book contains of such an ancient era. It also has sentimental value to me as it lead me to a fantastic friendship abroad.

Best bargain you’ve found?

The best bargain I found was a copy of George Burchett’s Memoirs of a Tattooist. He was as old school as one could get, and a forefather in my industry. I found the book at a flea market, perfect condition with dust jacket, underneath an old fedora hat. I was more than happy to pay the two dollars the seller was asking for it.

How about The One that Got Away?

A while back I had the chance to bid on an Aldine Odyssey from 1517, but i was travelling at the time and the hotel Wifi was unreliable to say the least. That one got away due to a technical malfunction, incredibly frustrating!

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

I would love to get, (and I seem like a broken record) an Aldine Dante’s Inferno, 1515, I’d also love to have a work from Sweinheim and Pannartz one day..but the holy grail for me would be a copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili 1499, although I might have a heart attack on the spot if that ever happened!

What are your favorite bookstores / booksellers?

So many to name, but I really like Forum Antiquariaat in Netherlands, Aimee at Bison Books in Canada, MacLeod’s Books in Vancouver, Schilb Antiquarian Rare Books, Powell’s in Portland USA, Pirages Fine Books is great out that way as many to mention!

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

I’d probably collect suits of armor or ancient greek pottery or something..something ancient that would make my friends yawn with boredom like they do now!

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 10.04.19 AM.pngBarnes & Noble has added something new to its line of exclusive collectible and classic reprints: make-your-own-book-art editions. Under the name “ArtFolds,” B&N offers a hardcover edition of a classic text that, when one is finished reading it, can be transformed into a book sculpture that displays a word (e.g. Joy, Love, Read) simply by folding its pages. It’s not origami--and, according to the marketing copy, if you follow the “exclusive, patent-pending instructions” ... “the process is fun and easy and takes surprisingly little time.” Several ArtFolds editions are now available. Anne of Green Gables, once folded, displays “Joy;” Sense & Sensibility shows “Love”; and Jane Eyre commands us to “Read” (seen here). These books are meant to be read and then physically manipulated into a piece of art (or home decor). It’s an interesting concept for mass production.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 10.04.41 AM.pngA second ArtFolds series designed by Luciana Frigerio, a Vermont-based folded paper artist who sells her wares through Etsy, are pre-folded. At double the price ($33.95) of the “unfolded” classics, they do seem manufactured for the holiday gift market, or if the less crafty among us fail at the “patent-pending instructions” referenced above, a pre-fab is at the ready.

Images via B&

Auction Guide