February 2015 Archives

National Library of Ireland and W.B. Yeats

If you’re trying to justify a trip to Ireland this March for reasons that don’t involve Guinness and little green leprechauns, consider a visit to the National Library of Ireland’s award-winning exhibit on William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). You certainly wouldn’t be alone--since it’s opening in 2006, more than a quarter of a million people have made the journey to Dublin to explore Ireland’s preeminent twentieth-century poet and playwright.

en: Portrait of young William Butler Yeats by ...

Portrait of young William Butler Yeats by his father, John Butler Yeats (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

Winner of the 1923 Noble Prize for literature, Yeats was a major force behind reviving international interest in Irish literature. In 1892, he founded the Irish Literary Society along with fellow writer T. W. Rolleston and Irish nationalist Charles Gavan Duffy. The group’s goal was to promote the intellectual and literary renaissance in Ireland, and met at Yeats’ home on Blenheim Road in London. Yeats published Celtic Twilight, in 1893,  a volume that American poet Edward Hisrch called a ‘curious hybrid of the story and essay,’ in the 1981 issue of the Journal of the Folklore Institute. In fact, Celtic Twilight was a collection of Yeats’ stories and poems that had previously appeared in newspapers throughout the UK, with a focus on Irish folk and fairy tales. The book’s title eventually became synonymous with the literary movement. Yeats’ social engagement wasn’t limited to the literary scene either: In 1922 he became a senator in the newly formed Senate of Ireland, where he served two terms. (Despite best intentions, the Senate was eventually abolished in 1936.)  

The National Library of Ireland is the world’s largest repository of Yeats’ notebooks, manuscripts and other materials, which were donated by the author’s widow. The exhibition draws on these items to create a thematically organized walk through Yeats life, work and enduring influence. (Note: while patrons must have a reader’s card or temporary pass to enter the National Library itself, this exhibit is open, free, to the visiting public.) Still can’t get to Dublin? The entire exhibit is accessible online--a fascinating multimedia experience that seamlessly wields 21st-century technology to explore the lasting and poignant significance of one of Ireland’s greatest champions. 

The exhibit of the Life and Works of William Butler Yeats at the National Library of Ireland can be accessed here: http://www.nli.ie/yeats/ 

Related articles
On March 7, Addison & Sarova Auctioneers in Macon, Georgia, will hold a grab-bag auction of 100 rare books and manuscripts that includes a Zaehnsdorf-bound set of Dibdin’s Bibliographical Decameron, a hand-colored Koberger Bible leaf, a fifteenth-century manuscript on vellum, a finely bound set of Pepys from 1825, two incunabula, early law & religion books, and some Faulkner firsts. Variety is the name of the game here, and the catalogue offers many unexpected turns. Here are few of the stand-out rarities.

Addison-2.jpgRobert Cushman’s The Sin and Danger of Self-Love (Boston, 1724). First American edition of a sermon first published in London in 1622, with its contemporary paper covers. The verso of the title page showcases the penmanship of eighteenth-century owners Elizabeth Follet and Susanna Grant. According to the auctioneer, “We find no record of this scarce edition ever appearing at auction ... The present edition has been seemingly unobtainable until now.” The estimate is $10,000-15,000.

40.jpgGerson’s Opus tripartite de praeceptis Decalogi ...(Cologne, c. 1467). A “very rare first edition of one of the earliest productions of the first press established in Cologne.” Showing fine rubrication and bound in full brown levant. The estimate is $5,000-8,000. Another incunable, Gerson’s Imitatio Christi (Brescia, 1485), is also on offer.

43327688.jpgWilliam Langland’s The Vision of Pierce Plowman (London, 1561). “Aside from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this work is regarded as the most important of early English literature. All early editions (this being the 4th) of Piers Plowman are rare with Pforzheimer listing only this and the second edition of 1550.” This one is further distinguished by manuscript notes, underlining, and marginalia throughout (from the 18th or early 19th century?) and an engraved bookplate of American industrialist Waldo C. Bryant. The estimate is $5,000-8,000.

Images via Addison & Sarova.
Agatha_Christie for fan letter post.png
As part of a series of celebrations marking the birth of Agatha Christie 125 years ago, an online campaign is inviting fans from around the world to share stories about how the author changed their lives. In an effort to help the campaign, Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, has shared several previously unseen fan letters written to the Queen of Crime.

The letters include a congratulatory note from P G Wodehouse sent to Christie after the publication of Halloween Party.  Wodehouse states he was “pleased and proud” that Christie dedicated the book to him and that “a new Agatha Christie novel is always an event.”

A fourteen year old boy in Bristol wrote Christie in 1958 about the book club he started at his school to raise funds to buy her books.  “I have bought 28 books by you and this is how I have managed it. I charge the boys 3d per book to read at school, and 6d if they wished to take them home.”

More sobering fan letters were also treasured by Christie, including one from a Polish woman who wrote how she exchanged a piece of candle for a Polish translation of Christie’s novel The Man in the Brown Suit while in a German labour camp during WWII.

“I read and reread so often that I almost knew it by heart... for seven months it was my only link with a normal world.”

A woman also wrote in 1963 after having spent a decade in a Romanian prison with no access to books. 

“During the 12 years I spent in prison I never saw a written page. My memory, however, could not be sealed up and thanks to it and to you my fellow sufferers cam to know and to love the works of Agatha Christie.”

Christie’s grandson, Prichard, said of the publication of the letters, “As we call to her fans across the globe to share their stories and experiences of Christie, I look forward to discovering how her work continues to inspire today.”

[Image from Wikipedia]
Conan_doyle for Selkirk article.jpg
An unsigned, 1,300-word Sherlock Holmes story has just been discovered in a pamphlet printed in 1903. The 48-page booklet was published during a three-day funding bazaar to raise funds for bridge restoration in Selkirk, a Scottish Borders town. It includes stories and poetry from local residents of Selkirk. Entitled “The Book o’ The Brig,” the pamphlet also announces the arrival of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the final day of the bazaar as a celebrity guest of honor.  

Sales from the book netted $633, which helped install the iron bridge still standing today.

Walter Elliot, a Scottish historian and poet who resides near Selkirk, found the pamphlet in his attic while searching for bridge mementos to display in a pop-up museum commemorating the bridge as it once again faces restoration work.

The story, entitled “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, By Deduction, the Brig Bazaar” features Holmes and Watson in London discussing amongst other things Watson’s upcoming trip to Selkirk to see the bridge.

“It’s unsigned, and I’m not a specialist, but the vocabulary seems pretty close to the way Conan Doyle wrote. I’m fairly sure it was written by him,” said Elliot in an interview with the Guardian.

The implication is that Conan Doyle dashed off a quick story for publication in the pamphlet to help raise funds for the bridge restoration work, winking at his audience by leaving it unsigned. If verified, the story would be the first unknown Holmes story written by Conan Doyle to surface since the last was published 80 years ago.

The entire text of the story is online at The Daily Record.

Coming up this week at Bloomsbury Auctions in London is an incredible collection of vintage NASA photographs. Telephoto panoramic mosaics, crew portraits, and all manor of lunar views comprise this stunning set of 692 images, dating from 1945 to 1972. Some are what we have come to see as iconic space images, while others were virtually unpublished and accessible only to researchers in the archives of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, where most of this collection is sourced, according to the sale catalogue. Here are some highlights.

2.pngClyde Holliday’s vintage gelatin silver print of the first photograph from space, October 24, 1946. Estimate: $1,230-1,540.

80.pngBuzz Aldrin’s vintage chromogenic print of the first self-portrait in space, Gemini 12, November 1966. Estimate: $923-1,230.
255.pngNeil Armstrong’s vintage chromogenic print of Buzz Aldrin posing beside the U.S. flag, Apollo 11, July 1969. Estimate: $923-1,230.

633.pngHarrison Schmitt’s vintage chromogenic print of the “Blue Marble,” Apollo 17, December 1972. Estimate: $1,150-1,540.
Images via Bloomsbury Auctions.

James Bond Enters Canadian Public Domain

Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming

Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next James Bond thriller could take place in Canada. As reported last month by The Globe and Mail, stories written by Ian Fleming featuring the international man of mystery are now in the Canadian public domain. If this seems early, you’re right; Canadian copyright laws only meet the Berne Convention’s minimum copyright term of assuring exclusive rights fifty years beyond an author’s death. (The United States and Europe set their standard at 70 years.) Since Ian Fleming died in 1964, his works entered the public domain on January 1, 2015.  

James Bond remains copyrighted by the Ian Fleming Estate in Europe and the USA, so new books in the series would have to be written and published in Canada. Not that many Canadian authors are interested in picking up the mantle--according to the The Globe and Mail’s story, sticking to what’s in the books could be tricky, because the copyright issue only extends to written works--the Bond movies are still protected, meaning a new book could not use material from any of the films without infringement.  

Still, it’s tempting to envision a Canadian Agent 007, and Ian Fleming may have had some Canadian connections. As a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II, he was rumored to have trained at Camp X (now Intrepid Park), a paramilitary and commando installation in Whitby, Ontario. There, over five hundred Allied secret agents mastered the dark arts of espionage such as silent killing, sabotage, and other forms of tradecraft. 

There’s speculation that Canada might extend the James Bond copyright, but there’s been no official word on that yet, and requests to the Ian Fleming Estate for comment went unanswered. Fleming’s series and subsequent films remain hugely popular, with global book sales of 100 million copies and generating over 150 million dollars, to say nothing of the movies and related licensed merchandise. Perhaps there’s room yet in the Bond legacy for another heart-stopping tale of cloak and swagger. 

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Nathan Moore of Eugene, Oregon, who collects books on labor and occupational songs:

Nathan Photo.jpg

Where are you from / where do you live?

I grew up outside of Portland, Oregon.  In 1998, I moved to Eugene, Oregon, to attend the University of Oregon.   

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

I earned an M.A. from the Folklore Program at the University of Oregon.  My research focused on the musical traditions of the American labor movement.  The title of my terminal project was More Than A Labor Singer: Converging Traditions in the Harry S. Stamper, Jr. Papers, and it involved archiving and analyzing the recorded and written works of the late Harry S. Stamper, Jr., a folksinger and longshoreman from Charleston, Oregon.  I currently work as an independent folklorist, a bookstore clerk, and a musician with Low Tide Drifters, a folk music band.    

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in?
I collect books on labor and occupational songs.  Specifically, I collect rare songbooks, many of which were printed by labor unions, political organizations, or independent publishers.  I also collect related academic and popular books on labor songs and other forms of working-class cultural expression.  My good friend Mark Ross, a noted folksinger and book collector, helped me get started by introducing me to musicians, folklorists, and others who published books on labor and occupational music.  In graduate school, James Fox, Head of Special Collections & University Archives, and Nathan Georgitis of the Randall V. Mills Archives of Northwest Folklore taught me how to preserve my rare song books. 

How many books are in your collection?  

I have about twenty songbooks, and at least a dozen of them are rare.  I have another 25 or so books on the subject of labor songs and occupational traditions.  

Song Books 1.JPG

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book that I consciously bought for my collection was the 2005 centenary edition of The Little Red Songbook, the famous the songbook that the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) have been publishing since 1909.  The IWW was a labor union founded in 1905 that produced hundreds of songs, many of which have become folk music standards or have been recorded by popular artists.  For anyone interested in IWW songs, the noted folklorist Archie Green wrote extensively on the subject.  In 2007, he edited The Big Red Songbook, a detailed collection of IWW songs, which I highly recommend.

How about the most recent book?

I just bought a nice second printing of Starlight on the Rails & Other Songs by U. Utah Phillips.  Phillips was a well-known folksinger and activist who wrote songs about the labor movement, trains, and the American West, as well as many other subjects.  I purchased the book from Ken Saunders Rare Books, an antiquarian bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

And your favorite book in your collection?

It’s definitely hard to choose a favorite, but it’s probably my IWW song book from 1945.  It’s the twenty-eighth edition and is the oldest song book  in my collection.  I’d love to get some older ones, though!  

Song Books 2.JPG
 Best bargain you’ve found?

I just found a nice copy of Joe Glazer and Edith Fowke’s Songs of Work and Freedom.  It was only a couple of bucks, so that was exciting.  To be honest, I’m always looking for a deal.  That’s part of the fun.  Anyone can go online and find a book that they want for a lot of money, but I like searching the thrift stores and used book stores for a bargain and a treasure!  
How about The One that Got Away?

I try not to dwell on those.   

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?
I would absolutely love a copy of “Coal Dust on the Fiddle” by George Korson.  Korson was a pioneering occupational folklorist who documented the songs and stories of coal miners, especially in Pennsylvania.  He was also one of the first American folklorists to illustrate how immigrant traditions influence occupational folklore in the United States.     

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

Right now, I work at Tsunami Books in Eugene, Oregon.  I find great titles there every day!  I recently found a very unique book called “Men and Machines: A Story about Longshoring on the West Coast Waterfront.”  It’s a photographic essay about the technological changes that occurred on the waterfront in the last half of the twentieth century.    

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

Well, I actually do have a number of other collections.  I collect LPs (work/labor music, folk and country, blues, and old punk records).  I also have an extensive CD and cassette collection.  Oddly enough, I also have a growing science fiction book collection as well.      

Thanks to Nathan Moore for participating in our series.  Nominations for Bright Young Collectors (including self-nominations) are welcome at nathan@finebooksmagazine.com

Guest Post by Catherine Batac Walder

For our first visit to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, “The Making of Harry Potter,” we thought it would be quite an experience to also see Hogwarts in the snow. Weekend tickets for this seasonal event appeared to be sold out. We checked for changes every week and finally saw an availability for January 31. (One thing about visiting the studios is you can’t just turn up and buy tickets; another is, since it’s mostly a self-guided tour, it’s best to get a morning slot so as not to feel rushed as there is so much to take in. Visitors do stay around for hours and so afternoons can get really crowded.)

Walder2_Harry Potter studio.JPGInside a mandrake.

Much has been said about the ten years and all the work it took to make the eight Harry Potter films; for example, how props were painstakingly made by hand. Everything on display at the studios is original--costumes, sets, and props. Some of the creatures were huge, like Aragog the spider, which was covered by hand with yak hair, sisal, and hemp from brooms. The spider was so complex that it required nearly 100 technicians to operate it.

There are two soundstages, J and K, and a backlot. We spent a lot of time exploring the sets in J: Hagrid’s hut, the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore’s office, among others. Many of these were built to scale, while special “forced perspective” techniques were used for the other sets, such as the hallway at the wizard pub and inn, to make them appear much longer. Studio K housed the bigger sets, such as Diagon Alley and Hogwarts Castle.

Walder1_Harry Potter studio.JPGThe Monster Book of Monsters

For someone not entirely familiar with filmmaking, the surprise was those scenes in the film that I thought were computer-generated imagery but were actually mechanical effects. The visuals used in The Burrow (Weasley home), e.g., the knife chopping on its own, all used special mechanical effects. As did the mandrakes and The Monster Book of Monsters. A guide showed us how to work the machine that produced Harry’s footprints in the snow while he was wearing the invisibility cloak.

Walder3_Harry Potter studio.JPGThe device used to make the snow footprints of an invisible Harry.

As expected, the merchandise at the studio shop was a little overpriced. There were items of very good quality but you wouldn’t really expect one to pay much just for a plastic broomstick. Speaking of broomsticks, our daughter was surprisingly cooperative during the broomstick flight experience that we did pay for the photos and video as souvenirs (convincing ourselves that we wouldn’t be able to get this anywhere else, and considering that she is under five and was admitted to the tour for free).

Walder4_Harry Potter studio.JPGThe wand shop where each box bears the name of one of the more than 4,000 people who worked on the Harry Potter motion pictures.

Sometimes, imagining a story and sharing it with an audience of one is fulfilling enough; J. K. Rowling was able to achieve this millions of times over, allowing other people to create with her. It is fascinating to learn that the Hogwarts ‘portraits’ are of the filmmaking staff and their families, and such aspects of the film make it the filmmakers’ own, not the author’s, as these were obviously not the faces Rowling had imagined. While it’s true that there is always that case of an author not fully agreeing with what is brought to screen, the makers of the Harry Potter films shared Rowling’s imagined world to a large extent, making the stories accessible to a wider audience and possibly more fantastical for a lot of people.

The Hogwarts model covered in snow, along with the Christmas decorations, were up till February 1. February 5 saw the first-ever Harry Potter Book Night. On March 19, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London will be opening a 20,000-ft. expansion, including the original Hogwarts Express steam engine and a recreation of Platform 9¾.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a writer living in the UK. She has blogged for us recently about Richard Adams and the Oxford Literary Festival.

Images: Credit: Catherine Batac Walder.
Quinn’s Auction Galleries is offering a signed condolence letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Coretta Scott King after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The letter - an enormously important document in the history of the Civil Rights movement - is dated April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis:

Dear Mrs. King:  

My thoughts have been with you and your children throughout this long and anguished day. 

Tonight, Mrs. Johnson and I pray again that God gives you the solace of His strength. 

Since early morning, I have devoted all my hours and energy to honoring your good husband in the manner he would most approve. I have sought --by word, deed, and official act - to unite this sorrowing and troubled nation against further and wider violence. 

I have met in that cause - in your husband’s name and faith - with leaders of government, Negro and white communities, our cities, churches and courts. We found more than grief to share. I wanted you to know tonight of the determination that binds us: We will overcome this calamity and continue the work of justice and love that is Martin Luther King’s legacy and trust to us. 

I am also determined that the assassin will be found and punished. The full powers of local and Federal authority are marshaled now to assure it. 

I am enclosing copies of my statements today so that you may know fully the concerns and intentions that guide me. I believe, with all my heart, that the American majority will also be guided by them, in goodwill and great hope. All of us ask God to comfort you now and restore your compassionate influence to us. 

Lyndon B. Johnson.

The letter arrived at Quinn’s from the collection of Stoney and Shirley Cooks.  The letter was gifted to Shirley Cooks from Harry Belafonte, the songwriter and social activist.

Bidding starts at $60,000 with a $120,000 - $180,000 estimate. Online bidding is currently open.  The auction, which also contains other items related to Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights movement, will be held on March 5th.

For this President’s Day, how about a quick gamgeorge-washington-portrait-1.jpge of Presidential Lost & Found? Prompted by an article published in Slate last week (“Who Owns Lincoln’s Letters”), in which professor Louis P. Masur accosts private collectors who squirrel away important presidential documents, I wondered about presidential books and letters surreptitiously saved (by collectors) and then brought to light.

Masur mentions one -- in 1984, Lincoln’s last address was found in the secret compartment of an antique table in Long Island. Malcolm Forbes then bought it at auction for $231,000. An amazing find, completely unknown to the consignors, but obviously treasured by some former owner. (Another Lincoln document was dislodged from a college president’s closet in 2013.)

What of George Washington’s has turned up recently? In 2007, one of his letters was unearthed from a scrapbook kept by a young girl named Julia Kean. It’s now safely housed at Kean University in New Jersey. Amidst the playing cards and party invitations, she also had a Thomas Jefferson letter. 

Speaking of Jefferson, a cache of his annotated books was discovered in the collection of Washington University in St. Louis in 2011. His books were scattered at auction upon his death; these 74 volumes were acquired by collector Joseph Coolidge. (You can read more about that in our Fall 2011 issue). 
English: Oscar Wilde, photographic print on ca...

English: Oscar Wilde, photographic print on card mount: albumen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philadelphia has a case of Wilde fever. In late January, the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia opened its latest exhibition displaying newly discovered works by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). The Center for Performing Arts is hosting the East Coast premiere of “Oscar,” an opera chronicling Wilde’s scandalous love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas and the ruinous trial and incarceration that followed. The big question is, what do these events have to do with Philadelphia? As it turns out, a lot. Exhibit curators Mark Samuels Lasner and Dr. Margaret Stetz spoke with me earlier this week about how their show demonstrates a history of a long-lasting relationship between Oscar Wilde and Philadelphia. 

Over fifty pieces make up the Rosenbach’s show, including materials from two lectures the Irish writer gave in Philadelphia in 1882. Stetz explained that when she and Lasner learned that “Oscar” was opening in town, they felt it was an excellent time to showcase Wilde’s Philadelphia connections. “The exhibit examines Wilde’s two visits to Philadelphia in 1882, his lectures, his relationships with Philadelphians, and his visits with Walt Whitman,” Stetz said. Wilde’s visits to the City of Brotherly Love also led to a meeting with publisher J.M Stoddart, who eventually published his novella “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in 1891.  The show also explores how Philadelphia based writers, composers, artists and especially collectors have dedicated themselves to Wilde and his work. 

In addition to loans from private collections, material from the show came from the Library of Congress, the William Andrews Clark Library at UCLA and the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, including the University of Delaware, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most exciting items came from the Free Library of Philadelphia, with whom the Rosenbach recently merged. “Margaret and I just kept staring at this email we received from the Free Library’s curator,” Lasner explained. “Three manuscripts had been there since 1978, catalogued, but not on public view. Scholars didn’t know about them, but there they were, hidden in plain sight.” Simply put, no one had ever asked for anything by Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde poetical notebook page.jpg

Poetical notebook of Oscar Wilde, ca. 1879-80. Free Library of Philadelphia Literary Manuscripts.

Over one hundred pages of Wilde’s notebooks containing versions of poems that later appeared in different formats were rediscovered at the Free Library.  “It’s riveting to see these poems in a format that nobody knew about, not even the scholars who did the Oxford edition of Wilde’s poems knew these were here!” Stetz explained. After the discovery, the Free Library digitized the documents, and put them online.  Now, visitors can see the Free Library’s typescript of “Salomé” displayed alongside the Rosenbach’s manuscript of the same play. Both are opened to the same page where Salomé is about to perform her intoxicating dance for King Herod. Stetz explained the significance: “The manuscript says “elle danse”. (She dances.) In the typescript next to “elle danse,” Wilde has handwritten “elle danse la danse des sept voiles.” (She dances the dance of the seven veils.) You can see Wilde come up with this idea and write it into the new version, which is very exciting.”  

Wilde photograph Sarony.jpg

Napoleon Sarony, photograph of Oscar Wilde. New York, 1882. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 1954.2135

Wilde gave two lectures in Philadelphia, one in January 1882, and one at the end of his cross-country tour in May. The first one was a total flop. “It was a deadly serious lecture about the English Renaissance. It was a total bore.” Stetz said. “Wilde didn’t know what he was doing - he had 1500 people at the old Horticultural Hall on Broad Street, and he didn’t know how to entertain them, or that he should. He put them to sleep.” As Wilde traveled the country, he refined his lecture, and during his springtime presentation he focused on dress, decorating and design principles. “It was much more accessible and interesting,” said Stetz. “He learned how to talk to people. He came back to Philadelphia as a cross between a male Martha Stewart and [Project Runway host] Tim Gunn.”

Keller cartoon from the Wasp of San Francisco ...

Keller cartoon from the Wasp of San Francisco depicting Wilde on the occasion of his visit there in 1882 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A core of serious Wilde collectors lived in Philadelphia as well, from A. Edward Newton to hat manufacturing heir John Stetson. “A whole group of Philadelphia collectors were passionate about collecting Wilde. Stetson formed the largest and best collection at the time,” said Lasner. Stetson’s collection of 400 items was sold in 1920 at Andersen Galleries in New York for $50,000, which included manuscripts and Wilde’s scandalous love letters to Lord Alfred Douglas. “It is remarkable how many people collected Wilde in Philadelphia, and it’s not a city most people associate with the writer.” 

Everything is Going On Brilliantly: Oscar Wilde and Philadelphia
On display Friday, January 23, 2015 - Sunday, April 26, 2015  Rosenbach Museum & Library 2008-2010 Delancey Place Philadelphia, PA 19103 USA (215)732-1600 https://rosenbach.org/learn/exhibitions/everything-going-brilliantly-oscar-wilde-and-philadelphia 

OSCAR Music by Theodore Morrison, Libretto by John Cox and Theodore Morrison, Academy of Music Part of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts 240 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102 http://www.operaphila.org/production/oscar  (Check website for performance schedule) 

Bookfinder.com, an online price comparison tool for books, releases an annual list of their most searched for out-of-print books. The 2014 list was just unveiled and it holds a few familiar names--and a few surprises as well. For years, Madonna’s book Sex topped the list, however the queen was toppled from her crown this year by not just one, but two other titles.

Here are the top ten most searched for books on Bookfinder.com in descending order:

10) Collector’s Guide to Colt .45 Service Pistols by Charles W. Clawson (considered “the Bible” of Colt Model 1911 handguns, which were produced for 34 years and still collected today).

9) 365 Bedtime Stories by Nan Gilbert (a children’s book first published in 1955 containing a story for each day of the year about the inhabitants of “What-a-Jolly Street”).

8) On the Nature and Existence of God by Richard M. Gale (first published in 1991, a reaction to the theism of the 1980s).

7) The Road We Are Traveling: 1914-1942 by Stuart Chase (first published in 1942, featuring a social and political analysis of early to mid 20th-century America and seeing a resurgence in popularity after a TV mention by Glenn Beck).

6) The Colorado Kid by Stephen King (first published in 2005 for the Hard Case Crime imprint and available in paperback only).

5) Rage by Stephen King (first published in 1977 and the first of King’s Richard Bachman novels. King purposefully let Rage go out of print, where it remains to this day, but is available as part of The Bachman Books collection).

4) The Body by Stephen King (this story is available in the Different Seasons collection and serves as the inspiration for the classic film “Stand By Me.”)

3) Sex by Madonna (first published in 1992 and notable both for its impressive sales and impressive controversy. The boundary-pushing book was allowed to go out of print, where it became one of the most sought after books of all time in the second-hand market. Madonna has since moved on to new phases of her career, making a reprint unlikely anytime in the near future).

2) Lovely Reed: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Building Bamboo Fly Rods by Jack Howell (yep, a book about building bamboo fishing poles was more sought after than Madonna’s book about sex. Lovely Reed was first published in 1998).

1) On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman F. Dixon (first published in 1976, this book surveys 100 years of military inefficiency from the Crimean War through World War II).

highlight_books_iraq.jpgWhen innocent people are being slaughtered by ISIS terrorists in the most savage and unspeakable of ways, it is easy to marginalize reports that they are also hauling precious books by the hundreds into the streets of Mosul in northern Iraq and turning them into ashes. The justification given for this latest example of large-scale biblioclasm--by definition, the deliberate destruction of books as a means of eradicating another people--is that it is a systematic initiative bent on “cultural cleansing,” which in this instance is the immolation of any books they regard as inimical to their particular interpretation of Islam.

News stories (see also here; and here) of the past couple of weeks have reported that 2,000 volumes were taken from the Central Library of Mosul, including children’s stories, poetry, philosophy and books on sports, health, culture and science, and destroyed; only Islamic texts were left behind. A few days later, scientific texts from the University of Mosul library were piled in a heap and set ablaze in front of students. Other accounts report heavy damage to the archives of a Sunni Muslim library in Mosul, the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers, and the Mosul Museum Library with works dating back to 5000 B.C.

Nine years ago this month--this very week, in fact--I traveled to Iraq at the invitation of Lt. Col. Brian McNerney, then a senior public affairs officer with the U.S.Army, now an archivist at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, to speak at the dedication of a new library he had just willed into existence at Camp Anaconda in Balad. One of the inducements to my making the trip was his offer to take me to the city of Ur, where one of the civilized world’s first gathering of books had been established in Old Testament times, and then to Mosul, where we would visit the nearby archaeological site of the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in ancient Nineveh. I wrote about the visit to Ur in Fine Books & Collections, the Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. Unfortunately, we never made it to Mosul; then, as now, it was a very dangerous place--for people, and, it turns out, also for books.

--Nicholas Basbanes is the author, most recently, of On Paper: The Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History.

Image: Browsing titles at a book market in Iraq. ©Larisa Epatko via UNESCO. 
Our current issue of Fine Books & Collections features a visit to Hemingway’s Cuba, including “Finca Vigia,” his home of 21 years on the outskirts of Havana. After Hemingway committed suicide in Kethum, Idaho in 1961, his fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, donated “Finca Vigia” to the Cuban people. 

Or at least that’s what the Cuban government always claimed. 

Mary, however, had her own story.  She said after Hemingway committed suicide, the Cuban government contacted her in Idaho, informing her of its plans to expropriate all Hemingway property in Cuba, including the house. Mary negotiated with the Cuban government to remove some personal property, including Hemingway manuscripts left in a Havana vault, however the bulk of the estate was abandoned.

Well, it turns out Mary was misremembering. 

A document coming to auction this Wednesday at Alexander Historical Auctions proves that Mary did indeed donate “Finca Vigia” to the Cuban people. Lot 1397 from the February 11th sale in Maryland is an autographed letter from Mary Hemingway to the “People of Cuba” donating the family home to the government. It reads, in part, “...Whereas - my husband, Ernest Hemingway, was for twenty-five years a friend of the Pueblo of Cuba...he never took part in the politics of Cuba...he never sold any possessions of his, except his words, having given away cars, guns, books and his Nobel Prize Medal to the Virgen del Cobre...I believe that he would be pleased that his property...in Cuba be given to the people of Cuba...as a center for opportunities for wider education...to be maintained in his memory...I hereby give to the people of Cuba this property...

The document was discovered amongst the papers of Robert Herrera, one of Hemingway’s close friends while he lived in Cuba.

The estimate is $2,000-3,000.

Guest Post by Jonathan Shipley, our man in Oakland...

They came in droves. Booksellers and book buyers from the four corners of the world flew in from London and Los Angeles, Australia and Alabama. Fielding row upon row of booths at the 48th California Antiquarian Book Fair, attendees sought out their particular interests, fueled by an overarching love of the written word. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 9.08.35 AM.pngTaking place this year in Oakland, it was only natural that I spied Jack London at every turn during my Saturday sojourn. He drank beers not far from the convention center where the fair was held (its newest venue), so volumes of The Call of the Wild and White Fang were prevalent. Further afield, Californiana was all around--books about the Gold Rush, rare Steinbeck first editions, John Muir tomes, and Beat poetry. But there was so much more.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 9.10.49 AM.pngF. Scott Fitzgerald’s walking cane (pictured at left) was for sale for $50,000 at the Ursus Books booth. Audubon was available for $600,000, and Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio was handy too. There were books about ping pong, hot air balloon travel, animal husbandry, Oz books, book on astronomy, jaw fractures, negro spirituals, trains, physics, cooking, cats, cars, even elephantiasis. All the fiction heavyweights were in the ring, including Hemingway, Salinger, Poe, and Dickens. One dealer had all 75 volumes of Strand Magazine, the magazine that serialized Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. From the cash in your wallet to several hundred thousand dollars, there was something in every price range. 

The book fair started again early on Sunday morning, 8 a.m., to be exact. That’s when, upstairs from the convention hall, several gathered--coffee in hand--for a live PBA Galleries auction of rare books and manuscripts with early medical works from the George Bray collection. I got my paddle but didn’t lift it once. For one thing, I didn’t have the financial resources of most everyone there. It was exciting, however, when someone bought Shakespeare’s Second Folio for $114,000. I thought I might get a shot at a signed Calvin and Hobbes book. No such luck. It hammered for $1,140. My favorite item was Experiments and observations on the gastric juice, and the physiology of digestion (1833) by William Beaumont. It sold for $780. Gastric juices--there’s no telling what one might find interesting at one of the biggest rare book fairs in the country.

For those just getting into book collecting there were several events at the fair. Vic Zoschak of Tavistock Books held two seminars on Sunday. The first, “Book Collecting 101,” discussed what to collect, collecting strategies, what a first edition is, and a run down of bookish terms and jargon. He followed this with another seminar, “What’s This Book Worth?” Zoschak discussed the primary factors that give books commercial and monetary value. Afterwords, in another room, it was “Discovery Day.” Fairgoers were offered the opportunity to bring three books and get them appraised by book professionals. The last lecture of the day was, to me, the most interesting. “Jack London, Photographer” was presented by Sara S. Hodson, who has literally written the book on London as a picture taker. Known for his adventure stories, very little attention has been paid to his work as a photographer. With 4,000 of his negatives at the California Department of Parks and Recreation and 12,000 photographs at the Huntington Library, Hodson discussed London’s ability to snap photojournalistic images of the low and destitute, giving them some amount of pride and stature. He copiously photographed the homeless of Great Britain in 1902 and Korean refugees during the 1904 Russo-Japanese War, and took some of the first photographs of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

After all the events, the hubbub on the convention floor was that it was a solid show. And I found something for myself before heading back home to Seattle. I didn’t break the bank with my purchase (I have no bank to break) but I’m pleased with my little Walt Whitman book, regardless.  

-Jonathan Shipley is a freelance writer living in Seattle who writes about culture, travel, food, and his kid. Follow him @shipleywriter.

Images credit: Jonathan Shipley.

A Pop-up from the Past


Naturgemählde: A 3-D German’s Children’s Book from 1827, Leopold Chimani 
Courtesy Simon Beattie, Ltd., Booth 302.

Two centuries before Robert Sabuda began thrilling readers with bold feats of paper engineering, there was Leopold Chimani, whose 1827 Naturgemählde is a brilliant example of 19th-century multi-dimensional illustration, and part of London bookseller Simon Beattie’s California Book Fair catalog. Conceived as an interactive way to teach children geography, the Austrian author-illustrator created dozens of colored cutout illustrations of exotic animals, wild beasts, plants and animals that are inserted into a scored grid. The book explores Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia, with cutouts to match each region. The cutouts can be manipulated to create all sorts of exciting scenes of faraway places. The Naturgemählde no doubt delighted children of all ages while making education fun and accessible.

This extremely rare item was going to be offered for $12,000, but sold just prior to the start of the fair. Regardless, be sure to stop by Beattie’s booth, #302, to discover his other books, such as a puzzle printed on cotton commemorating the Congress of Berlin in 1878. (Avid blog readers may recall Beattie was the first bookseller profiled for Nate Pedersen’s “Bright Young Things” section in April 2012.)

cparistotlemasterpiece.jpgCalifornia is one of our sexier states, so it follows that you can purchase a 17th century sex manual at the 48th California Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend in Oakland. 

First published in 1684 “Aristotle’s Masterpiece” was an enormous bestseller owing both to its explicit overview of sexual intercourse and to the clever marketing ploy of attributing its authorship to Aristotle.  Of course, Aristotle did not actually write the book. Nor was “Aristotle’s Masterpiece” the first sex manual.  However, the book struck a chord in Europe, where it was widely re-printed and distributed “under the table” for the next 200 years.  Eventually, the book was published in over 100 different editions.

“Aristotle’s Masterpiece” offers its readers practical advice on copulation, conception, pregnancy, and birth.  It also offers insight into such terrors of the 17th century imagination as “monstrous births.” It’s amusing, when reading through its table of contents, to see the subject matter transition abruptly from a “word of advice to both sexes in the act of copulation” to “pictures of several monstrous births.”  One can almost sense the glee of its original compiler to finally get to show off some drawings of monster-children.

A fascinating book about a perennially fascinating subject.

oparistotlemasterpiece.jpgThe bookseller Jeremy Norman will have a 1684 edition of “Aristotle’s Masterpiece” priced at $65,000 at booth 809 this weekend.

(Images courtesy of the CA Book Fair)

Hendrix Bar Invoice 11467.jpgOne of the distinctly groovier objects one might acquire in California this week is Jimi Hendrix’s overdue bar bill. This slip of paper, dated October 31, 1969--less than a year before the legendary rock guitarist died at the age of 27--and addressed to Hendrix asks that he pay his Halloween evening’s delinquent beverage tab of $44.25 because “The Scene needs the money badly.” The Scene, owned by Steve Paul, was a popular club on West 46th Street in Manhattan. So reads the fine print at the bottom: “Please make checks payable to PEACE and FREEDOM DISCOTHEQUE, INC.”  

This neat bit of music memorabilia will be offered by Schubertiade Music & Arts LLC for $1,200 at this weekend’s California International Antiquarian Book Fair. To nab the tab, visit booth 106.

Image Courtesy of the CA Book Fair.
RuschaGasolineStations.jpgOne of my earliest blog posts with Fine Books & Collections was entitled Collecting Photobooks. Pictured at the top of that post was the dust jacket for the classic Twentysix Gasoline Stations, the book that put photobook collecting on the map in 1963, when its photographer, Ed Ruscha, issued the book in a limited run from his own imprint. After a poor initial reception, the photobook gradually built a cult audience in the 1960s before being outright praised from the 1980s onward as the “first modern artist’s book.”

A scarce first edition of Twentysix Gasoline Stations - one of only 400 copies - will be on hand this weekend at the California Antiquarian Book Fair. Laurence McGilvery will have it at booths 510 and 511. He has priced it at $12,500, a cheaper price than any copy I could find online when I wrote the Collecting Photobooks post in 2011.

As its name suggests, Twentysix Gasoline Stations contains purposefully dull photographs of twenty-six gas stations along Route 66, traveled by Ruscha from California to Oklahoma in the early 60s. He self-published the book in 1963, when he was only 24 years old. In addition to the quality of the photographs, the book has long been praised for its sharp design. 

Ruscha famously submitted a copy of the book to the Library of Congress, who promptly rejected it for its “unorthodox form and supposed lack of information.” 

To this day, the Library of Congress does not own a copy.

Perhaps that will change this weekend in Oakland.

Dust jackets are a twentieth-century invention, right? Wrong. In fact, a dust jacket for a book published in 1830 and found in the Bodleian Library is thought to be the earliest extant example, though printed paper covers for bound books were probably introduced in the previous decade. Still, finding nineteenth-century books in their jackets can be challenge, since many were discarded as mere wrappers upon purchase.   

Trollope_Mastiffs_Inventory copy.jpgNow, an entire collection of 350 early dust jackets, the bulk of which date from the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s and span fiction, biography, travel guides, and natural history, has come to market. Books Tell You Why, a rare book dealer based in South Carolina, will be bringing a selection of representative titles to the California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland, February 6-8.

While well-known authors William Dean Howells, Washington Irving, Kate Greenaway, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain appear multiple times on the list of books in this collection, it’s fun to note the more peculiar titles, such as Stops or How to Punctuate (1884); Daedalus, or, the Causes and Principles of the Excellence of Greek Sculpture (1860); Argon, A new Constituent of the Atmosphere (1896); Hassan: A Fellah; A Romance Of Palestine (1898); Vondel’s Lucifer (1898); and The Camp Fire Girls In The Outside World (1914). A personal favorite: The Book Fancier: Or The Romance of Book Collecting (1897).

Leaves_of_Grass_Whitman_Inventory.jpgA prospectus that records all of the titles is available upon request for those not attending the book fair this weekend. Preliminary estimates of the collection’s value range from $300,000 to $500,000, and bookseller Andrea Koczela added, “While our preference would be to sell the collection as a group, we will offer the books individually.”

The University of Virginia recently acquired a collection of 19th-century American and English books in jackets, amassed by bookseller Tom Congalton of Between the Covers. In a post announcing that acquisition, curator David Whitesell wrote, “Relatively few 19th-century jackets survive in institutional collections, and fewer still are available on the market.”

Images: Anthony Trollope’s How The “Mastiffs” Went To Iceland (1878); Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass with Sands at Seventy and A Backward Glance O’er Traveled Roads (1896). Courtesy of Books Tell You Why.

Auction Guide