January 2015 Archives

Minnesota’s Literary Moment

Minnesota is having a cultural moment. Proponents are pushing to have the state redesignated as part of  “the North,” a region separate from the Midwest, whose hardy and industrious inhabitants are molded and inspired by its extremely cold weather. Rugged Red Wing Shoes, Duluth packs and Faribault woolens are suddenly chic, now selling in trendy Manhattan boutiques. (The Wall Street Journal recently examined Minnesota’s new, hip image.) 

Alongside the surge in popularity of Minnesota-made cold-weather commodities, the state has long supported a strong literary scene, due to a winning combination of a well-read populace and strong public funding for arts programs.  At least ten independent bookstores call the Twin Cities home: Minneapolis has the progressive, left-leaning May Day Bookstore and Boneshaker Books, a volunteer-run bookstore that also houses the Women’s Prison Book Project, an organization providing free reading material to women incarcerated throughout the country. Subtext Books in Saint Paul is a welcoming literary oasis that specializes in promoting local authors and hosts regular poetry readings. Over a dozen literary magazines and journals call Minnesota home too, and in something of a literary trifecta, independent publisher Milkweed Editions shares space in Minneapolis’s Open Book Building with the Loft Literary Center and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.  (The Winter 2015 issue of FB&C explores the MCBA book arts program for children in depth.) 

A writing activity at the Literary Loft in Minnesota. Image courtesy of Chris Jones at the Literary Loft.

From April 8th through the 15th, the state will host the the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It’s the first time the conference has ever been held in Minnesota, and as the largest literary convention in North America, it is expected to draw 12,000 attendees. 

The Literary Loft will be hosting a series of events in conjunction with the conference, such as a presentation hosted by Margaret Cho and coordinated in collaboration with Bust Magazine, and tours of the Open Book Building. 

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Open Book Center’s Second Story Banned Books Reading Series. Image courtesy of Chris Jones at the Literary Loft.  

In May, the Loft hosts its annual Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conference, featuring Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Molly Beth Griffin, Loretta Ellsworth, and many other writers. 

Minnesota-born writers, especially children’s book authors, are plentiful. The Minnesota Authors and Illustrators project lists over 150 contemporary, traditionally published children’s book authors and illustrators, from Nancy Carson to Kelly Barnhill. Barnhill mentioned during a phone conversation in November that for a state of only 5.4 million inhabitants, Minnesota’s literary scene packs a serious punch. “We have such a vibrant writer’s community, it’s extraordinary. Minnesota’s not a very populous state, but writing and literacy are important to people here.”  

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Jay Gaidmore, Marian and Alan McLeod Director of the Special Collections Research Center at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia:

How did you get started in rare books?

I started out in my career as an archivist and manuscripts curator, but my interest in rare books was kindled while working as the University Archivist in the John Hay Library at Brown University, with its amazing collection of incunabula, a near perfect set of Audubon’s Birds of America, and many other significant rare books. One of the reasons I was so interested and excited to come to Swem Library was to be more involved with rare books and the full spectrum of special collections. 

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned my library science degree from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a master’s degree in history at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.  

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Director of Special Collections, which includes three major collections, Rare Books, Manuscripts, and the University Archives. My primary responsibilities are collection development, outreach, fundraising and stewardship, and administration.  

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?  

I have two favorites. Swem Library has a first edition of the Book of Mormon, which is regularly visited by missionaries in the area, and a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia, which is annotated in Latin by an as yet unidentified person. 

What do you personally collect?  

I collect through my work. It is much cheaper personally that way. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with my family, hiking, reading, and binge watching television shows on Netflix.  

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Preserving rare and unique materials, and sharing them with others, either through research, bibliographic instruction sessions, tours, or open houses. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing others getting enjoyment from the treasures we are acquiring, preserving, and making accessible.  

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

The future of special collection is brighter than ever. Not only do special collections preserve and make accessible the primary sources for research, but with every library, with the right resources of course, having the ability to get access the same e-books, e-journals, and databases, it is the rare and unique materials that differentiate one library from the next. Administrators are realizing this and are devoting much needed resources to these areas of the library. 

Also, with more and more information being available digitally, special collections librarians have an important role to play in promoting the book as an artifact and that books are so much more than the information they contain.  

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

We have the second largest collection of books on dogs in the country, including scholarly works in several languages dating back to 1537, as well as children’s literature, breed guides, and novels. We also have 700 fore-edge painting books that were donated to Swem Library by collector Ralph H. Wark. 

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

In February, we are having an exhibit of materials from our Hip-Hop Collection, established in 2013 to document the rich history of Virginia’s hip hop community and including artifacts, posters, ephemera, LP’s, bootleg tapes, and oral histories. The exhibit will include a listening station containing sound bites from the oral histories, and a DJ will be spinning records at the exhibit opening. 

Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester made its first stop in a yearlong traveling exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona last week, loaned by Bill Gates who paid $30 million for the 500-year-old manuscript at Christie’s in 1994. Composed of 18 double-sided sheets of paper, each folded in half for a total of 72 pages, and written in da Vinci’s characteristic “mirror writing,” the notebook contains the inquisitive artist’s scientific writings--on water, astronomy, light, fossils, and mechanics. Sketches and drawings accompany the text throughout.

Codex_Leicester(1).jpgThe Phoenix Art Museum plans to surround the Codex with artists who share three of da Vinci’s creative traits: curiosity, direct observation, and thinking on paper. According to the museum, “This exhibition of Leonardo’s Codex Leicester will be groundbreaking in its approach of bringing Leonardo into a broad artistic context that explores his continuing influence on artists into our own time.”

Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester and the Power of Observation will be on view in Phoenix through April 12, after which it will travel to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (June 21-August 30) and then to the North Carolina Museum of Art (Oct. 31-January 17, 2016).

Image: Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Leicester (Sheet 1A, folio 1r), 1507-10, ink on paper, 11 2⁄3 x 8 1⁄2 in., Courtesy of Bill Gates, © 1994 bgC3.

One of literature’s great burial mysteries may have been solved this past weekend when archaeologists searching for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes - the author of Don Quixote - uncovered a casket with the author’s initials.

The casket was discovered inside an alcove in the crypt at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid.

“Remains of caskets were found, wood, rocks, some bone fragments, and indeed one of the fragments of a board of one of the caskets had the letters ‘M.C.’ formed in tacks,” said forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria at a news conference on Monday.

Researchers will now examine the bones in the coffin, hoping to identify Cervantes’s remains by the war wounds he endured. It appears that the remains of several individuals reside in the casket. Cervantes was shot twice in the chest and once in his left hand during the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, injuries that would have recorded their impact for all time on the author’s bones.

Cervantes - who died in April, 1616 - was known to be buried in the convent, but the exact location of his grave was lost after the church was renovated in 1673. Researchers began their search nine months ago, using advanced technology to identify 33 alcoves in the convent’s crypts beneath the convent’s floor where the bones could be stored.

The discovery this weekend was a major breakthrough, but Etxeberria cautioned that while an interesting find, “from an anthropological point of view” they have not made any concrete advances yet on identifying the remains.

[Image from Wikipedia]

The United States Postal Service unveiled its “Forever Hearts” stamp last week at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Setting it apart for special notice from bibliophiles is the fact that it was designed by Jessica Hische, whose work we most recently profiled in an article about the Penguin Drop Caps series of decoratively bound hardcover reprints of classic works of literature. Hische is a young illustrator and letterer who regularly creates illustrations for magazines, books, and advertising.     

588504-L0.jpgThe latest in the “Love” series, which dates back to 1973, “Forever Hearts” features a filigree-like heart in which the word “Forever” is ornately spelled. Hische designed the drawing by hand and finished it digitally. She had previously worked on the 2012 and 2013 “Love” stamps with designer Louise Fili.

Dare we say it’s the perfect complement for the love letter you plan to send to your bookish valentine?

Image via USPS.

The Devil’s Bible

Devil medium

Devil medium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes the devil is in the details, but he’s not hiding from anyone at the National Library of Sweden. Visitors can catch a full view of Satan by examining the 13th-century Codex Gigas--“Giant Codex”--the largest extant medieval manuscript in the world, clocking in at over three feet long and weighing 165 pounds. (It takes two people to lift the thing.) Along with a complete Latin translation of the Bible, the Codex Gigas includes five shorter texts discussing exorcisms, magic potions, a list of saints, and a history of Bohemia. 

Most astonishing, the same scribe wrote the entire manuscript - probably a monk at a Benedictine monastery in Bohemia (Czech Republic). Some researchers point to a mysterious monk named “Herman the Recluse” as the author, but since no other work by Herman exists, the theory is impossible to verify. Written on ruled guide-lines, the pages filled with two columns of 106 lines each, the script maintains a remarkable uniformity from start to finish. Researchers estimate that it would take one person five years of around the clock work to complete the Codex Gigas, meaning it’s more likely that this one scribe spent between ten to twenty-five years (or three hours a day) writing and illustrating the manuscript. 

After the book’s completion, rumors circulated suggesting that such a task was too large for one person to actually complete without supernatural help, and that the devil assisted in its creation. A full-page portrait of the Prince of Darkness in all his fire-breathing, loin-cloth wearing, green-faced glory appears inside the manuscript, earning the Codex Gigas its nickname “The Devil’s Bible.”

The Codex Gigas passed through many hands before ending up in Sweden. The Benedictines pawned it off to another monastery to settle financial debts, and in 1594 it ended up in the possession of King Rudolf II of Hungary. It was plundered by the Swedes in 1649 during the Thirty Years War, who brought it to the National Library in Stockholm, where it has been ever since.  The entire manuscript is now digitized and available for examination at the library’s website. Commentaries and historical analysis assist in understanding this massive and bedeviling book. 

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Vanessa Brown and Jason Dickson, proprietors of Brown & Dickson in London, Ontario:

How did you both get started in rare books?

Vanessa: I started working at an ILAB shop during my undergrad and that’s where I was introduced to bookselling, conservation and rare books in a professional capacity, but the itch really got under my skin when I started collecting L. M. Montgomery as a teenager. I remember being dumbfounded by a signed copy of Pat of Silver Bush, around the same time I met Jason actually. We met each other through working on a regional poetry anthology, and so words and books have always been a part of our relationship. I collected his zine, Paradigm. I guess that was why he helped me get a job at that ILAB shop--or maybe he just thought I was cute. I hope it’s because he thought I was cute.

Jason: A good friend opened a shop when I was still in high school. I got to help open it and loved the experience completely. I was eighteen and, mainly growing up in a small town, to come to London, Ontario--a big city--and work in a cool downtown bookshop was a dream come true. Then I worked with Vanessa for an association dealer for nearly 10 years, and we both cut our teeth there. I grew up in that shop. We loved working. We loved the culture. It all just came into place, and I’ve never left the business.

When did you open Brown & Dickson and what do you specialize in?

Vanessa: Our official launch was January 1, 2015 but we’ve been kind of open since the beginning of November. People seem a little confused by what we call a “semi-retail” environment, but we really like having a half-shop/half-office hybrid. We specialize in Canada and her culture. While we still love traditional Canadiana, we are focusing more on 20th century iconography, pop culture and the development of our national identity.

Jason: I love 20th century Canada. It is something that most folks our age up here adore but don’t take seriously because it isn’t a serious focus for collectors really and, well, we’re Canadian. We don’t take anything we do seriously. But Canada is one of those countries that, because of its relative similarity to the US, and its proximity to the big USofA, it’s culture has crept into much of mainstream 20th Century identity. Ivan Reitman. You Can’t Do that on Television. The Guess Who. We are everywhere, hidden in plain sight. So to come into this and have all of the material new and unprocessed, unappraised mostly, well...Vanessa and I are very excited to be a part of that, bringing 20th Century Canada into the trade, selling it into existence.

What are your roles?  How do you divide your labor?

Vanessa: We’ve worked together for so many years, and have been friends since high school. Now we’re married. It’s hard to describe. We finish each other’s sentences and cover for each other, pick up each other’s slack. It’s automatic. I suppose Jason is better at administration, numbers. He’s more technical with cataloguing. I’m captivated by social media and customer relationships. But we are both equally obsessed with local history and regionalism.

Jason: Vanessa and I are both writers. She writes in one awesome draft that she then chips away, works, coerces, and refines it to form a final manuscript. I collect bits and pieces and break them and stitch them and Frankenstein it into a final monsterpiece. This is how we are at work too. Vanessa is mainly a big picture person. I’m mainly a “how are we going to this, actually” person. But we are both entrepreneurs and finicky managers. Technically, however, we differ greatly. So when we dream together -- dream about what we plan to do and where we plan to go -- it is sparing no expense, but how we actually create it together is very complicated and nuanced. There’s a lovely balance. We’ve honed this over years of working together, and it is magic.

What do you both love about the book trade?

Vanessa: For me, the first thing is the relationships. I find that I get along with book people. I love the eccentricities of collectors and sellers. Just as important, in fact, more important to me, is the hunt. The treasure hunt, the finds, the discoveries. Your network is what makes those happen, so the two things work together. Finding a one-of-a-kind significant item can energize me for months.

Jason: I have clarity of purpose bookselling. I get it, I can do it well, and the struggle means something to me. I don’t find that in other work, honestly. The struggle of other jobs is deeply irritating and soul-crushing. So to come into the shop each day and see the challenge in front of me...that is galvanizing and inspiring. I can live with that, and grow.

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

Vanessa: I should say the Nuremberg Chronicle, but no. It has to be the 13 page manuscript of the lost, unpublished Mammoth Cave article by L. M. Montgomery. She referred to it in her journals, but no one had ever found it. The owner, who didn’t quite know what she had, inquired with an academic colleague of mine about selling it. He sent her to me. That was a landmark moment for me as a seller. The manuscript is at the University of Prince Edward Island L. M. Montgomery Institute now, where it should be. I also had the privilege to assist in appraising the Montgomery suicide note at the University of Guelph, and that appraisal led to another important finding about her death.

Jason: A complete run of Artscanada. I took a very long time with that. It excited me. Also large chunks from James Reaney [Canadian writer] and Greg Curnoe’s [Canadian artist] libraries. Basically any large collection of arts ephemera from early to mid-century Canada that I’ve had the opportunity to catalogue or even see has made my pulse race. Also I’ve handled some rare photographs of London, Ontario that I really dorked out on seeing things like, “Oh THAT’S what that building was back then.” This sort of thing excites me. Weird self published books of poetry and self-produced records excite me too and I’ve had the pleasure of handling many of those.

What do you both personally collect?

Vanessa: Now that I’m selling, I’m not collecting anymore. It’s the same principal as being a drug dealer. You can’t smoke what you sell. Jason’s a bit more footloose and fancy free than I am. He likes to dance with the devil.

Jason: British and American ghost stories. I also have a collection of wholly inconsequential scraps relating to my life.

Vanessa, I understand you are also something of an L. M. Montgomery expert.  Could you elaborate on that?

Vanessa: I think I have done that already, but since you ask...I think there is a moment where you can turn a hobby into something you take seriously. It’s a conscious decision, and one that I also made as a writer. It’s all well and good to dabble in something you enjoy, but there’s a level of work that’s involved in actual research that exhausts you unless you are truly committed. You hear about that in the trade all the time, people who like books and enjoy reading and tell themselves it would be pretty neat to run a bookstore someday. You can’t run a business that way, and you can’t contribute to your culture in a meaningful way unless you have the determination to see something through. I believe that bookselling is an essential role in the world of academia, archives and cultural preservation. So, taking part in the Montgomery scholarship community is just part of the same thing. These words, these pieces of ephemera, the archives, the cataloguing numbers and the private collections, these are all part of transmitting our past into the future. Montgomery’s work is a cornerstone of Canadian literature, and since I’m a Canadian writer and bookseller, knowing about her makes sense to me.

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

Vanessa: The book trade in Canada is massively different from the United States. There are no association book dealers other than Jason and I in Canada under the age of fifty. We are doing things in another way than the generation before us. What I know for sure is that the market is shifting. Up north, we need to focus on fostering the trade. There are lots of collectors, but not a lot of sellers.

Jason: The trade will be fine. Those who adapt will survive. Books are simply too fascinating. And they will always have value. And the sellers who discover new markets or embrace and learn the idiosyncrasies and progressive ways of selling will do just fine. I think bookdealers are being forced to come out from behind the myth of the dusty grump and be visible and accountable. That is not a bad thing. In fact what was once mysterious is now common, and dealers are having to be more creative in finding the mysterious -- I should say romantic -- in books once more. This is work, but good work. And good things will come of it.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Vanessa: We hope to put out our first catalogue by spring. It’s going to be epic.

Jason: What she said.

(Note from Fine Books & Collections: There are several other association book dealers in Canada who are under 50 years old, including the proprietors of Bison Books, Patrick McGarhern, and Spafford Books).

Tomi Ungerer is one of those multi-talented artists who, while known to many, is never quite known for the same thing. To some, he is a graphic artist whose commercial art for newspapers and magazines in the 1950s-60s was fresh and thought-provoking, while others appreciate the erotic drawings that raised quite a stir upon publication. For most, however, Ungerer’s fame is greatest as a children’s book author-illustrator. In The Three Robbers (1961), Moon Man (1966), The Beast of Monsieur Racine (1971), and many others, he was chipping away at a new kind of children’s literature, something more imaginative and less conventional, that influenced the likes of Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein. “No one, I dare say, no one was as original. Tomi influenced everybody,” said Sendak.

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Tomi Ungerer, Untitled, 1961 (drawing for The Three Robbers). Collage of cut paper, gouache, and marker on paper, 11 3/4 x 9 1/4 inches. Image courtesy of the Children’s Literature Research Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

On view now at New York City’s Drawing Center is Tomi Ungerer: All in One, the first career retrospective in the United States dedicated to the artist. The exhibit shows the many faces of Ungerer--and in doing so, rounds out our constricted knowledge of him. Ungerer may be the 1998 winner of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Prize for children’s literature, and his most recent book, Fog Island (2013), may have been heralded as a top children’s book of the year, but he can still use the re-introduction that a major retrospective can furnish. Some priggish responses to his erotic illustrations had convinced him that his days as a children’s illustrator were over, and after the publication of his Fornicon in 1971, he and his wife abruptly relocated to Nova Scotia, in a sort of self-imposed exile. Ungerer continued to make art, and in 2007, the Tomi Ungerer Museum opened in the city of his birth, Strasbourg, France.  

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Eat, 1967, Self-published poster. 21 x 26 1/2 inches. From the collection of Jack Rennert, New York. © Tomi Ungerer/Diogenes Verlag AG, Zurich.

Tomi Ungerer: All in One is up through March 22. A limited edition, signed print of Ungerer’s Eat poster and an extensively illustrated catalogue containing curatorial essays and an autobiographical statement about drawing by Ungerer are available in the gallery.
Today marks the start of Bibliography Week in New York City, a yearly event where national organizations devoted to book history hold their annual meetings. Bibliophiles from around the world descend on the city for these bibliographic meetings - but also for the wealth of bookish events planed by allied groups.

A schedule follows, courtesy of The Grolier Club:


• Colloquium on Children’s Books. Grolier Club: 1:00 pm-5:00 pm. A half-day colloquium on children’s books: “Journeys Through Bookland: Explorations in Children’s Literature,” held in connection with the Grolier Club exhibition “One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature,” brings together six children’s literary experts who will guide participants through highlights in the history, present and future of the book for children. Admission: $75 for adults, $25 for students. Space is limited, and reservations are required. Please contact Grolier Club Administrative Assistant Maev Brennan at the Club (212-838-6690, x7) or via email at mbrennan@grolierclub.org.

• Rethinking the Book Arts: New Perspectives on Building the National Collection, a talk by Mark Dimunation, Chief, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, The Library of Congress.  6:00 pm-7:30 pm. In the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library (203 Butler Library, Columbia University). Reception to follow in the RBML on the 6th floor of Butler Library, where the exhibition “Diverse Characters: An Exhibition of Letterforms and Books by Russell Maret” will be on view. 


• The Literature of the Liberation, 1944-1946, a lecture by Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey. At the Grolier Club:  2:30-3:30 pm. An exhibition of this material, drawn from Sir Charles’ collection, will be on show at the Grolier Club beginning Thursday, January 22.  


• Booklyn’s Fine Press Salon is Open. At Booklyn, 37 Greenpoint Avenue, 4th Floor, Greenpoint, Brooklyn. You are invited to visit from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm to peruse new and innovative fine press books from around the world, including rare works by Wolfgang Buchta, Lesley Dill, Peter Koch, Ruth Lingen, CTL Presse, Veronika Schapers, Mark Wagner, Xu Bing and more. Please contact Marshall Weber (718-383-9621, or mweber@booklyn.org) for more information. For more details on Booklyn, visit www.booklyn.org

• The 131st Annual Meeting and Dinner of the Grolier Club. At the Metropolitan Club, 1 East 60th Street, at Fifth Avenue (two blocks west of the Grolier Club). Grolier Club members only, please.  


• Booksellers’ Showcase. At Christ Church Methodist, 520 Park Avenue (at 60th Street). A special mini-antiquarian book fair, sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm in the Parish Hall of Christ Church Methodist, next door to the Grolier Club.

• The annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America. At the Cosmopolitan Club, 122 E 66th Street (Park and Lexington): . Papers from New Scholars at 2 pm, Annual meeting at 4 pm, with address by Craig Kallendorf, Professor of English and Classics at Texas A&M University, on “The Medium Is the Message: Printing the Classics, from the Hand Press to the Computer Age”. Reception follows at 6 pm. 


Center for Book Arts: Winter Open House, and Special Exhibition Tour. At the Center for Book Arts, 28 West 27th Street, 3rd floor. From 11 am to 2 pm participants can see artists conduct hands-on demonstrations, tour the Center’s Jane Mead Timken Printshop, and talk to CBA staff about courses and programs. From noon to 1 pm the Center will offer a special tour of the current exhibition [TBA]. For more details, visit the Center for Book Arts website.

• ”The History of Material Forgery,” a lecture by Nick Wilding. At the New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue (at 103rd Street). 11 am. Contact Arlene Shaner, Reference Librarian for Historical Collections, at 212-822-7313, or ashaner@nyam.org. 

• The annual meeting of the American Printing History Association. At the New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Trustees’ Room, Second Floor:  Reports on this year’s activities and initiatives; presentation of the Individual and Institutional Awards; news and information exchange, beginning at 2:00 pm; lively reception follows. 

SelmaMarch_1965_35-005-39 copy.jpgJust days ahead of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights march in January of 1965, the New-York Historical Society opened last Friday an exhibit of the historic photographs of Stephen Somerstein. As a student newspaper’s picture editor, Somerstein joined and documented the protest march with “five cameras slung around my neck,” he recalled. He snapped about 400 photographs over the 54-mile journey--of the leaders, the marchers, and of those who either cheered or jeered from the sidewalks.

Freedom Journey from 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein is on view through April 19.

Image: Stephen Somerstein, young civil rights marchers with American flags march in Montgomery, 1965. Courtesy of the photographer, via the New-York Historical Society.

If Charles Perrault (1628-1703) hadn’t been forced into early retirement, the world might never have had Mother Goose, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty, and other memorable fairytale characters. For most of his life, Perrault worked in government service under the protection of Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. His reputation as a writer grew throughout his career, and in 1671 he was elected to the Académie Française, France’s leading literary institution. He wrote odes and speeches praising King Louis XIV for his artistic patronage and promoted the importance of literature and art in a civilized society. In a 1687 dialogue called Parallèles des anciens et des modernes (Parallels between the Ancients and the Moderns) Perrault lambasts ancient writers like Homer and Aristotle as childish and barbaric, and lauds humanity’s progress. This piece was actually part of a much larger debate on scholarship and literary criticism between Perrault and other members of the Académie, polarizing the group and shocking the academic community. Hostilities raged until 1694 when Perrault publicly reconciled with Nicolas Boileau, the leader of the Ancients faction.

Français : Illustration issue de Le Maître cha...

Français : Illustration issue de Le Maître chat ou le Chat botté de Charles Perrault en 1885 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Colbert died in 1683, Perrault was quickly dismissed from his government position by jealous rivals. Left alone to care for four children (Perrault’s wife had died in 1678), he spent his days writing the Contes du temps passé to entertain and educate his youngest son, Pierre. Eight stories in all, they include “Little Red Riding Hood,”  “Cinderella” “Little Thumbling” and were published in 1697 to an enthusiastic public. Like the Grimm fairy tales, many of these originated as oral tales, but Perrault polished them into literary gems that still influence children’s sensibilities as well as Disney blockbusters. Interestingly, the Contes advances Perrault’s position that modernity trumps antiquity, since he argued that his stories teach morality better than ancient fables. Three hundred years later, and on the eve of Perrault’s 387th birthday, Perrault’s campaign has stood the test of time. 

On January 30, Swiss auction house Spink will offer an auction of bonds and share certificates from around the world. This burgeoning area of ephemera collecting offers a glimpse at world history through a fascinating new lens. 

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Highlights include a 1908 share of the French company Compagnie Générale de Navigation, who incorporated to produce the Model-A airplane from the Wright Brothers after Wilbur demonstrated their invention in Le Mans. The coolest thing about the stock certificate? The fact that it’s illustrated with a lithograph of the Wright Model-A. (The business itself was soon a failure, closing its doors after selling a handful of airplanes to the French military in 1910). The rare certificate is estimated at $2,000-$3,000. (If only its original investors could rise from the grave and command that price for their shares).

On a similar note, a 1909 share is on offer of the German aviation firm Deutsche Luftsschiffahrts-AG (or DELAG) who carted passengers around Europe between 1909 and 1935 on zeppelins! The firm was forced into liquidation, however, by the Nazis in 1935, and their zeppelins were given to the newly formed company Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei. Two years later the Hindenburg disaster destroyed the industry. Estimate $500-$700.

Also from 1909 is a share of the solar cell producer Sun Electric Generator Company, by the far the earliest share in the field of solar energy. Sun Electric Generator, however, was closed after its owners were arrested for fraud in 1911.  After patenting their unique “Thermo Electric Battery and Apparatus,” the firm used fake sales of the product to drive up the price of stock shares, leading to an official investigation.  Police declared the invention a fraud, finding that the apparatus was secretly connected to regular city power in Baltimore. The stock certificate is illustrated with a lithograph of the offending device. Estimate $1,500-$2,000.

[Editor’s Note: FB&C ran a feature on scripophily--collecting antique bonds and share certificates--back in 2008. An online version of it is still available at IBSS, the International Bond & Share Society.]

GalleryShot1.jpgTomorrow evening Glenn Horowitz Bookseller will open RARE, a 1,000-square-foot gallery space to showcase “first editions, manuscripts, letters, archival material, fine art, photography, and decorative arts from the 19th century to the present,” according to a press release.

Horowtiz--who assisted in the sale of Tom Wolfe’s papers to the New York Public Library and, more recently, in the Ransom Center’s acquisition of Gabriel García Márquez’s papers--has long had his office in New York City, where he buys and sells manuscripts, archival material, and inscribed first editions. The company also publishes illustrated catalogues and monographs, such as the recent Don DeLillo/Richard Prince collaboration, The Word for Snow.

For the last few years, Horowitz has relied on his gallery space in East Hampton for exhibits, a trek for many visitors. RARE, located at street level in the Rockefeller Apartments at 17 West 54th Street, across from the Museum of Modern Art’s Sculpture Garden, alleviates that by offering a more convenient exhibit space.  

The gallery opening also launches its first exhibit, Matter/Giacometti. Featuring vintage photographs, storyboards, typeface designs, posters, and letters, the show explores Swiss designer and photographer Herbert Matter’s working materials for his book about Alberto Giacometti, nearly 25 years in the making. This is the first time the book (published in 1986) and its associated archives have been the focus of an exhibit. Matter/Giacometti will be on display through February 7.

Future exhibits at RARE will include 1920s Constructivist graphics for Soviet cinema and contemporary pop-up books, among others.

Image: Gallery Interior, Courtesy of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller. 

We recently caught up with NPR’s Literary Detective (and previous Fine Books & Collections contributor) Paul Collins about his book “Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take On America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery


How did this project begin for you?

It began when I was reading through an old 1914 compilation, American State Trials.  The idea of Hamilton and Burr joining up on a murder case just sounded too good to be true, but there it was.  And not only that, they had a pretty good idea of whodunnit.  Once I discovered a new piece of evidence for the case - I won’t give the spoiler! - that pretty much sealed it for me.  I really had to write about then.

Was the finished book what you imagined when you began? Or did your research take you down new and unexpected alleys?

This one wandered far less from conception to completion than some other books, both figuratively and literally, in part because it’s not a travelogue.  But the role of politics - the election of 1800, and the maneuvering around water-supply politics in NYC - came to the fore more than I initially planned, because it soon became obvious that they were inextricably interwoven into the case.

 How did you acquire your primary documents? Did you build a personal book collection?  Visit special collections libraries?  Go to town with interlibrary loan?

The competing trial transcripts were crucial -- there were three, and very nearly a fourth, which is about as close to a media frenzy as you can get in 1800.  Without those, and that level of case detail where you have people testifying what someone wore or said on a particular day, it’d have been very hard to create a book around this crime.

The NY Historical Society was also a huge help, because they had a number of diaries that helped on day to day ordinary-life stuff.  The availability on the Early American Newspapers database of thousands of Manhattan newspapers from that period also helped - and I read them all!  (This is slightly less impressive than it sounds; each issue was normally only 4 pages.)

But that’s the challenge if you’re trying to a write a narrative history that has anything like a novelistic level of detail - it’s not just the big stuff, like the details of the case in itself, it’s the little stuff like what color was someone’s bedstead painted, what did they eat for dinner that night, whose house down the street got robbed the week before, which juror ran a grocery with another juror a decade earlier, that sort of thing.  You can’t get that from standard accounts; it’s only diaries and searchable scanned newspapers that can dredge up that stuff.

The big question: Hamilton or Burr... and why...

I’ll admit that I’m fond of Burr and his progressive views, particularly on women.  That said, he really was a bit of scoundrel.

What’s next on the docket for you?

I’m writing Blood and Ivy for W.W. Norton; it’s an account of the Parkman-Webster “Harvard murder” case of 1849.  It’s been delayed slightly, because I recently began as chair of the English department at Portland State. On the other hand, if you’re writing a book about a campus scandal, being a chair gives you a rather practical understanding of that!

Can we expect to see any more Collins Library reissues down the road?

I’m afraid I’ve let it sit fallow for a few years, because of my teaching duties and my own books.  But the transition of McSweeney’s to a nonprofit is really a new era for them -- we’re already talking about some new possibilities there.  

Rick Ring, head curator & librarian of the Watkinson Library at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, has long been a proponent of students’ use of rare books and special collections. As he told us last year when he was profiled in our Bright Young Librarians series, “I like to create an environment where curiosity, inspiration, and discovery is contagious and electrifying.”

Coasters.jpgSince 2011, he has accomplished this largely through a Creative Fellowship Program for undergraduates, in which selected students produce a creative project based on or inspired by special collections material. Now Ring’s students are diving into the archives yet again. A Six Pack of Student Exhibitions, referring to the six students (three graduate and three undergraduate) that participated in Ring’s fall 2014 American Studies course on museum and library exhibition, is on display through June 30 at Watkinson Library. Each student designed a mini-exhibit based on his or her interest and the material in the library’s vault. The projects included: Voices for the Vote: What Women were Saying and Reading during the Fight for Suffrage (Gaia N. Cloutier ‘16); The Impossibility of Translating Culture (Alix A. de Gramont ‘15); Aotearoa: The Land of the Long White Cloud (Quirin A. Sackmann ‘15); Vinegar Valentines (Meghan E. Shaw, graduate student); Shall We Dance? The Evolution of Etiquette on the Dance Floor (Karen J. Tuthill-Jones, graduate student); and Functional Pottery in America (Mariah J. West, graduate student).

The students also created a neat set of coasters to accompany the exhibit (seen above), printed by local letterpress shop, Hartford Prints.

Read more about the exhibits and the opening event last month on Ring’s blog, The Bibliophile’s Lair.

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest--

‘One more step, Mr. Hands,’ said I, ‘and I’ll blow your brains out!’ Image from The Folio Society’s Treasure Island, illustrated by Sterling Hundley. Reproduced with permission.

Since 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island  has set the standard for pirate tales, igniting a passion that has endured ever since. The morally ambiguous Long John Silver, the fearsome ship The Jolly Roger, even Davy Jones’s locker have entered our collective imaginations.  The 1911 edition of the swashbuckling adventure, with illustrations by N.C. Wyeth, showcases bloodthirsty pirates seeking booty and is forever intertwined with Stevenson’s story.

As iconic as those images are, The Folio Society felt it was time to give the book an update, and with an eye to exquisite craftsmanship and design, the London-based publishing house has just released a sumptuous collector’s edition of Treasure Island. Introduced by British children’s book author Michael Morpurgo, this version includes new illustrations by Virginia native Sterling Hundley. From his studio outside Richmond, Hundley spoke with me about the challenges of tackling a project where an illustrator’s work is so associated with a particular book.  

Hundley admitted to some initial intimidation, but a healthy dose of self-assurance helped him work through his doubts. “Wyeth’s Treasure Island is like the third rail for illustrators - you don’t touch it,” he said. “After I committed to the project I asked myself what I was thinking, because the cultural implications of this book are so widespread. I reminded myself that Folio hired me to give a classic tale a contemporary look.”  

Initially Hundley worked big, like Wyeth; epic oil paintings with grand, sweeping gestures. He soon realized that imitation would not work for this project. “I had a moment of clarity where I wondered why I would try to do anything that gets anywhere close to Wyeth when I knew I couldn’t. So I returned to my roots in draftsmanship.” (Hundley’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, The LA Times, and other publications.) Working on a smaller scale allowed him to create detail and add refinement. Ultimately, Hundley’s oil paintings and drawings were brought together using a sophisticated Photoshop program using tools that mimic real brushes and allow the artist to control opacity, viscosity and flow. The result is refreshingly modern.


There are images where Hundley acknowledges the old master gracefully: In one pivotal illustration, Jim Hawkins has been chased into the mast by the pirate Israel Hands. In Wyeth’s depiction, Jim has already shot Hands, whom we see falling into the water. Hundley also recreated the scene, but altered the perspective. “I had to do that scene, and with the way the signatures were laid out, I couldn’t skip it. I put Jim in the mast, but I chose a different moment in time, just before Jim has the upper hand.” In another illustration, the pirate gang is crossing a wall, but Hundley shows the attackers from a rear position, rather than the side shot that Wyeth chose.  

Hundley had free reign when it came to designing the cover art, endpapers, even the slipcase, which is a topographical map of Skull Island, with an X marking a hollow eye socket. (The image is also recreated on the spine, as seen above.) Complete with eleven interior plates, the project conveys the energy and violence of the original artwork while navigating readers through this violent and perilous pirate world.

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, introduced by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Sterling Hundley; The Folio Society, $84.95, 256 pages; frontispiece and 11 color illustrations and original Stevenson map.

Dorothy Sayers said he was “unsurpassed for creepy skill in mysterious adventures,” but the mystery novels of Joseph Jefferson Farjeon have largely been forgotten since his death 60 years ago. Farjeon, however, wrote a number of bestselling mysteries and plays - over 80 in total - between 1924 and 1955. 
His novel Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story, first published in 1937, was re-released in 2014 as part of the British Library’s Crime Classics series.  It shocked the publishing industry, however, when it outsold Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt in British Christmas sales this year. Even Amazon ran out of stock for awhile as it struggled to keep up with demand.

Mystery in White tells the story of a group of six people stuck on a train stranded by snow on Christmas Eve. They decide to try to walk to the next station rather than risk remaining all night on the train.

On the way, they stumble upon a mysterious, unlocked house with a table set for dinner, but no one at home.  Slowly, the passengers begin to unravel the secrets of the empty house.  

And that’s when the murders start.

Farjeon was born in London in 1885 into an artistic family.  His play Number 17 was a huge success and was turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock.  Farjeon died in Hove, aged 72, in 1955. 

The new edition of Mystery in White is estimated to have sold about 60,000 copies in 2014.
Big news for history buffs in Boston today: the newfound time capsule buried 220 years ago by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams was opened last night, revealing colonial coins, a silver plaque likely engraved by Revere himself, and piles of paper ephemera. Conservators from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts carefully unpacked the small box, which was unearthed from a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House last month and then X-rayed to determine its contents.

Michael Comeau and Pam Hatchfield CROP.jpgSo what’s inside? Conservator Pam Hatchfield excavated the treasure with a porcupine quill and a dental tool. The first layer contained five newspapers from the mid-nineteenth century--“in amazingly good condition,” according to Hatchfield. In 1855, the original leather pouch interred by Revere and Adams was accidentally discovered and replaced by a sturdier brass box. At the time, contemporary newspapers were added. Underneath sat two dozen coins, including a rare 1652 pine tree shilling. Some of the silver pieces had newsprint stuck to them and some had been corroded by long-term water damage. The capsule also held a paper seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “calling” cards, and a title page from a seventeenth-century Massachusetts Colony Records.

The objects will receive conservation treatment and go on exhibit for a brief time before reburial.  

Great pictures of the contents are online, as is this short video.

Image: Michael Comeau and Pam Hatchfield of Boston’s MFA. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Today we are checking back in with Laura Massey, who was featured in our Bright Young Booksellers series over two years ago when she was employed by Peter Harrington in London. Massey has since gone on to open up her own antiquarian bookshop in London called Alembic Rare Books


Please introduce us to your new shop.  What does Alembic specialize in? Where are you located?

Alembic is based in north London and specialises in books, manuscripts, objects, and visual material in the sciences, with stock in all major scientific fields from the late medieval period to the present. My particular areas of interest are alchemy and the early history of science; nuclear physics & the Manhattan project; natural history; computing; and anatomy. I’m also fascinated by popular science, especially from the Victorian era when scientific pursuits became recreations for the middle classes. Often you find that these books inspired children who grew up to become renowned scientists. They also gave women an entry into scientific fields that were closed to them at the professional level, and a number of women became best-selling popular science authors. These types of books are great gifts or starting points for new collectors, and I keep a good selection in stock.

That leads me to our other area, which is women’s history. In addition to books by female scientists, I tend to focus on the lives of ordinary women and stock things like scrapbooks, manuscript recipe books, diaries, and crafts. One of my most interesting pieces is a manuscript receipt for rent payment received by an Englishwoman in 1353, which demonstrates how involved medieval women were in running businesses and estates.

Remind us of your background in rare books:

I did my undergraduate degree in the history of science at Georgia Tech and spent several years as a student worker in the school’s archives & special collections department. There’s a great bookshop in Atlanta called A Cappella, and the owner Frank Reiss graciously allowed me to volunteer there while I decided whether to pursue a career in rare books. In 2008 I moved to London and completed a master’s degree in book history at the Institute of English Studies of the University of London. I then joined the staff at Peter Harrington, where I spent four years as general cataloguer and blogger, and also began specialising in science books, contributing a significant portion of the firm’s recent science catalogue.

How has the transition been from employee to shop-owner?

It’s been fantastic, and I’m really grateful for the huge amount of support and encouragement I’ve received from the rest of the rare book community. As for the day-to-day stuff, being a general cataloguer in a large shop is great because you encounter so many different types of books, but now it’s nice to be able to focus on the specific areas that interest me. I’m really enjoying making my own decisions about purchasing, and it was a lot of fun to design my website and logo. Though I do really miss the camaraderie of working in a shop, and being able to share my interesting purchases with colleagues.

In your original BYT interview, you mentioned that you were reluctant to open your own shop as you weren’t keen on admin and bookkeeping.  How’s that been going for you?

Much better than expected! The first thing I did when I decided to go out on my own was buy the Financial Times Small Business Start-Up Guide, which was extremely helpful, mostly in reassuring me that all the unfamiliar things I needed to do and know as a business person were relatively straightforward. And I’m apparently such a nerd that I’m even finding accounting software and tax law interesting.

At Peter Harrington, you were a resident blogger.  Are you still writing anywhere online?

I’m writing a blog for Alembic, and my first post is on a rare jacketed copy of The Salamander, the first novel about a flapper and the book that inspired Zelda Fitzgerald’s lifestyle.

Favorite book that’s crossed your door at Alembic?

This wonderful prize-binding that contains two works on the physics of spinning tops and soap bubbles. Prize-bound books were given to students as rewards for scholarly excellence. Most of them date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they’re often works on general topics, such as overviews of natural history. This example is special because the subjects are quite specific and unusual. But what makes it really interesting is that both the books were written by leading scientists who were fascinated by these seemingly minor phenomena because they encompassed some of the great concepts and questions in science. In fact, the work on soap bubbles was considered the definitive account of the subject. It’s a gorgeous book and represents the best of what science writing can be.

Started any personal collections beyond antique jelly moulds yet?

Not yet! My personal collecting is still pretty haphazard. But I am pleased to be branching out into scientific objects and other types of antiques as part of my business. I have a particularly nice diptych sundial & compass at the moment.

Any upcoming fairs / catalogues?

Nothing firm yet, though I’m working toward catalogue number 1 and my newsletters can be subscribed to at the bottom of this page. I also regularly post images of new acquisitions to twitter, facebook, and Google+.
One of my favorite annual holiday gifts is a bag/box of about ten books that I placed on a running wish list sometime in the previous year. They are, essentially, the books I never got to when they were new, or that I only just learned about. They are all “reading” books, not collectible books, although most pertain to the book/art/collecting world in some way. The stack becomes my ‘to be read’ pile. In between all of the other work-related reading (and the few impulse buys), I pull one of these from the pile to savor each month. I think most of these will appeal to FB&C readers...

9780199951048.jpgThe Newton Papers: The Strange & True Odyssey of Isaac Newton’s Manuscripts by Sarah Dry. Published in May 2014, this account details why and how Newton’s papers were kept from the public eye. The writeup in Wired caught my attention.

Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England by William H. Sherman. First published in 2007, this is not a new book but one that has long been on my radar as one to read about marginalia, provenance, and early books.

Three Things You Need to Know about Rockets: A Real-Life Scottish Fairytale by Jessica A. Fox. I came across this 2013 memoir about moving to remote Scotland to work in a secondhand book shop while researching the book I’m writing. So reading it is like research, only more entertaining.

Warner copy.jpgTough Day for the Army by John Warner. This is a book of short stories by a McSweeney’s editor, aka Biblioracle, who has been known to successfully recommend a book to a complete stranger after he/she has revealed five previous reads. He also recently wrote about buying first editions in the Chicago Trib.

The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley. The subject is intriguing, and we interviewed the author, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, for an article on Queen Victoria’s collections a couple of years back. Why not?

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. This novel, set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, has landed on many ‘best of’ lists, and I look forward to finding out why.

Edgar Allan Poe The Fever Called Living by Paul Collins. It might be enough to say that I’ll read anything by Collins, author of Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, The Book of William: How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World, etc. And Poe is endlessly fascinating.

The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William B. Helmreich. This is the least “bookish” book on my list. This guy spent four years schlepping down every block in all five boroughs of NYC, studying the city’s present and not-so-distant past.

9781472116666.jpg+There are two more, which, to be honest, would have been amongst this year-end pile if I had had more patience.

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell, an overview of the world’s bookstores, was given to me early, and I’ve been enjoying nibbles of it ever since.

The Public Domain Review: Selected Essays, 2011-2013, is a collection of neat and unique articles from one of the web’s best magazines. (I couldn’t wait for Santa; I hastily ordered mine.)

Resolutions for the Francophile

What’s your resolution for 2015? For those who aspire to learn a new language, don’t be tempted to shell out cash for one of those audio-language programs just yet, especially if you’ve set your sights on French.  TV5 Monde is a global French television network available in over 200 countries and maintains a robust web presence by streaming news programs, documentaries, art shows, cooking shows, sports and films. An entire rubric on the site is dedicated to la langue française, with resources and interactive activities for students.  Self-motivated learners at all levels will find plenty of opportunities to improve their reading and speaking abilities while simultaneously learning about French culture.
Detail of a portrait of Charles Perrault by Ph...

Detail of a portrait of Charles Perrault by Philippe Lallemand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve resolved to brush up on your knowledge of French literature, TV5 offers la bibliothèque numérique or digital library, where over two hundred classic books, in all genres, with material spanning seven centuries are available to download, gratis. There’s the Roman de Reart, which appeared in the early thirteenth century, and work by Moliere, Charles Perrault, George Sand, and Victor Hugo. Author guides and a handy dictionary for unfamiliar mots make this a valuable, free resource for making those resolutions stick. Bonne année 2015, et Bonne lecture!   

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