March 2015 Archives

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To commemorate its 80th birthday in February, Penguin UK released 80 titles as “Little Black Classics.” The pocket-sized books were all issued with distinctive black covers and an attractive price point of 80 pence a piece, providing Penguin collectors with an interesting--and cheap--addition to their collections.

The series has also proven very popular with general consumers: over 70,000 copies sold in the first week of publication. These sales figures are particularly impressive considering all 80 titles are in the public domain and are freely available on sites such as Project Gutenberg.

This is not the first time Penguin has pulled this marketing stunt. Twenty years ago, in 1995, Penguin released 60 classics at 60 pence a pop to commemorate its 60th anniversary. Presumably we have something similar to look forward to in 2035, when Penguin reaches 100.

While the Penguin 80 are only available at the moment in the UK, an American release--perhaps with different titles--is likely to follow.

The desk of Charles Dickens--where he wrote Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood--was purchased by the Charles Dickens Museum in London. The desk is now on permanent public display at the museum.

Dickens used the desk at his last home, Gad’s Hill Place in Kent. His desk and its accompanying chair passed down through several generations of Dickens descendants before it was sold to a private collector at a charity auction in 2004. The desk has always been in private hands, however a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund allowed the Charles Dickens Museum to purchase the desk for £780,000 ($1.15 million).

“We are delighted to have been able to acquire Charles Dickens’ iconic writing desk and chair for permanent display in his study at 48 Doughty Street,” said Robert Moye, director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

“They hold a unique place in our literary heritage and, as we embark on our exhibition exploring The Mystery of Edwin Drood, it is timely that the desk he used when writing his final novel has been secured for the benefit of all our visitors.”

[Image from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.]

Lincoln and the Jews: An Exhibit

The four-year Civil War sesquicentennial is drawing down, but there are still many wonderful books and exhibits to explore.  Last Friday, the New-York Historical Society opened an exhibit called Lincoln and the Jews that chronicles the little-known relationship between America’s sixteenth president and the Jewish community. Many of the one hundred manuscripts, letters, official appointments, pardons, Bibles,and Judaica on display are from the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, an independent educational organization focusing on the histories of America and Israel, specifically during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The show also coincides with the forthcoming publication of Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna’s Lincoln and the Jews: A History (Thomas Dunne Books, March 2015), written in collaboration with the Manuscript Foundation’s founder, Benjamin Shapell.

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During Lincoln’s presidency, the Jewish population in America grew from 3,000 to 15,000 people, yet anti-Semitism was commonplace and acceptable throughout much of American society. Still, the president had many close Jewish friends and advisors, such as podiatrist Issachar Zacharie, who ultimately became the president’s confidant, and even ran a secret mission to New Orleans to drum up pro-Union support among his “countrymen.” The exhibit includes a letter from Lincoln to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton granting passage for Zacharie to visit relatives in Savannah after the city had been captured by the Union. Lincoln made unpopular pro-Jewish political decisions as well, such as recognizing the promotion and decoration of Jewish Civil War soldiers and amending the chaplaincy law so that Jews and other non-Christians could serve as chaplains in the military.  

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image reproduced with permission from the New-York Historical Society.

Timothy Wroten, Senior Communications Manager at the New-York Historical Society, explained that hosting the show in Manhattan is an obvious choice. “New York is a Jewish city, and it’s the pinnacle of the American experience,” he said. “It’s tempting to think that New York is so different from the rest of the country, but much of America’s history starts here.”

Lincoln’s ties to Jews and Judaism even extended to his death--the eve of his assassination, April 14, 1865, happened to be the fifth night of Passover, when observant Jews were at temple. Once news of Lincoln’s passing reached the congregants, black mourning ribbons were quickly hung on the bimahs and worshippers chanted songs usually reserved for Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year.

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A Jewish doctor at Lincoln’s deathbed: Alonzo Chappel’s 1867 painting depicts the room in which Lincoln lay dying.  Dr. Charles Liebermann, a Russian-born Jewish ophthalmologist and a leading Washington physician, is prominently featured here, gazing intently at the president. Lierbermann had attended at Lincoln’s deathbed throughout the nine-hour coma. Reproduced with permission from the New-York Historical Society. 

LINCOLN AND THE JEWS is on view at the New-York Historical Society from March 20 - June 7. More information is at
A first edition of William Smith’s 1815 Geological Map of England and Wales - previously considered lost - has been recovered by archivists with the Geological Society. Smith’s map was the first geological map of a nation ever produced, illustrating the geological strata of England, Wales, and much of Scotland. The map recently discovered at the Geological Society is one of the first ten hand-colored maps produced by Smith in 1815.

The map was found during an audit of the Society’s archives in 2014.  Victoria Woodstock, the map’s discoverer, said, “The map was found among completely unrelated material, so at first I didn’t realise the significance of what I’d uncovered. Once we had worked out that it was an early copy of one of the earliest geological maps ever made, I was astonished. It’s the kind of thing that anyone working in archives dreams of, and definitely the highlight of my career so far!”

The map was identified as a first edition from its lack of serial number and from geological features that Smith would update in later editions. Its value is difficult to estimate, although another early copy recently was offered at £150,000.

Remarkably well-preserved owing to its lengthy disappearance, the map has now been fully restored, digitized, and made available online at the Geological Society’s website as part of the bicentennial celebration of the map’s publication.

For more on the story of William Smith and the creation of the first geological map, see Simon Winchester’s excellent book “The Map That Changed the World.”  Winchester was interviewed by Fine Books & Collections for our current issue.

land-midnight-sun-500.jpgOn April 22, the John Hay Library at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, will host a lecture by book artist, author, and FB&C book art columnist Richard Minsky titled “The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930: One Hundred Great Covers from the Brown University Library.” Minsky will discuss how visual artists transformed book covers by embracing Modernism--from Proto-Constructivism and Futurism to Art Nouveau to Surrealism and Abstraction. Minsky’s talk will be complemented by an exhibit of 100 publishers’ bindings pulled from Brown’s collection, including the two beauties previewed here. The exhibit runs from April 15 through May 14. 

bodley-abroad-800.jpgImages: The Land of the Midnight Sun by Paul B. Du Chaillu (Harper & Brothers, 1881). Cover by Edwin A. Abbey. Mr. Bodley Abroad by Horace E. Scudder (Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1881). Unidentified artist. Courtesy of Richard Minsky.
On March 21 Oxford University opened the doors of the Weston Library, fresh from an £80-million makeover. Formerly known as the “New Bodleian,” the newly dubbed Weston Library includes several exhibition halls where treasures from the Bodleian collections will be on public display.

The three-year renovation project was led by architect Jim Eyre, who radically redesigned the building originally constructed in the 1930s. The New Bodleian was commandeered for war use during WWII before it could be opened to the public, delaying its official opening until 1946. It then served in a dual role as a space for readers and a storage site for some 3.5 million volumes in the Oxford collections.

The renovations include state-of-the-art storage for Bodleian special collections, new spaces for academic research, including three reading rooms, a digital media center, a new Visiting Scholar Center, new public exhibition spaces, a shop, and a cafe.

Michael Suarez, professor of English at the University of Virginia and director of Rare Book School, is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian. He said of the renovations, “Now at last the Bodleian Libraries has a state-of-the-art facility commensurate with its world-class research collections. Working at the Weston nearly every day, I can say from experience that it is a marvelous place, a fantastic scholarly resource. Scholars from around the globe will benefit tremendously from this thoroughgoing renovation for generations to come.”

The opening exhibition in the new library is called “Marks of Genius,” which “looks at ways in which common attitudes towards genius are manifested in the physical form of a number of remarkable books and manuscripts, and considering the relationship between genius and learning, it explores ways in which the works of genius found in a university library can be acquired, collected and read.” Highlights include the Magna Carta and the original dust jacket design for The Hobbit.

[Images from the Bodleian Libraries]
At $85,267 (£57,000), this finely bound set of Samuel Purchas’s Pilgrimes (1625-26) was the top lot at the third sale of the Brooke-Hitching library at Sotheby’s London last week. Over forty years this collector had amassed a stunning collection of rare books related to voyages, exploration, and discovery between 1576-1939. As our correspondent Ian McKay reported in FB&C’s winter issue, “Records have become almost commonplace where the two sales so far conducted to disperse the magnificent Franklin Brooke-Hitching library ... are concerned.” McKay went on to highlight two examples of the “superlative condition” and rarity “that the collector always strove for.”

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On March 19, there were three more record-breakers, according to Sotheby’s: $66,731 (£45,000) for the Huth-Penrose copy of Mortimer’s Observations and Remarks made during a Voyage... in the Brig Mercury (1791); $51,902 (£35,000) for Middleston’s The Last East-Indian Voyage (1606); and $48,194 (£32,500) for a first edition of Lind’s landmark, A Treatise of the Scurvy (1753).

The sale achieved a total of $1.8 million (£1.2) well above its pre-sale high estimate. The final sale (Q-Z) will be held in London on September 30.

Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
photo credit: PRNewswire

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
(“Mending Wall” Robert Frost, 1-4)

March 26 marks the birthday of four-time Pulitzer Prize-winnng poet Robert Frost, who, although a man of the twentieth century, wrote poems evoking traditional, rural New England landscapes of another time. His poetry recalls a simpler era, and yet Frost conveys the quiet strength of everyday Americans that continues to inspire.

Events across the country will commemorate the day, but one in particular stands out - the inaugural Mending Wall Day, organized by Lowell, Massachusetts-based stoneware studio, American Stonecraft. The event is named for the Frost poem “Mending Wall,” which recounts how fieldstones push their way through the dirt during the winter months. Traditionally, once the snow melted, hardy New England farmers would move the rocks out of their fields in preparation for  planting. Since farmers are resourceful folk, these stones were used to build the walls that grace hundreds of fields and backyards from Connecticut to Maine. (In an informative essay on, John-Manuel Andriote explains the history and singularity of New England rocks, estimating that 380,000 miles of stonewalls zigzag throughout the region.) That rite of passage continues every spring on farms throughout New England.

Robert Frost, 1913.

Robert Frost, 1913. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mending Wall Day project is the brainchild of Groton, MA, native Gerald Croteau III, a former D.C-based mergers and acquisitions consultant who switched careers after a visit to the family farm in the Merrimack valley.  “I looked at a fieldstone split open, and all the beautiful colors inside that rock, that’s all it took. I left my old job, moved back to Massachusetts, and set up shop,” he said. Four years later, American Stonecraft partners with local farmers by using their freshly unearthed stones to make custom tableware such as coasters and bowls (called ‘bowlders’ on American Stonecraft’s site). Each unique piece is labeled with the farm of origin, recounting via multicolored striations the time-worn tale of these rocks, and the farmers who put them to good use. Now, the company’s tableware are the vessels for culinary delights at chef Dan Barber’s upscale farm-to table restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, New York. Fieldstones from the restaurant’s adjoining farm provided the raw material for the distinctive serving ware.

A Bowlder. Photo Credit: American Stonecraft

Mending Wall Day’s inaugural goals are modest, but laudable. “We want to increase cultural awareness of New England stonewalls by organizing independent community gatherings like this one, where neighbors gather to rebuild and tend to fieldstone walls,” explained Croteau during a telephone conversation from his Congress Street studio overlooking an historic canal in Lowell, Massachusetts. Croteau’s choice of studio location also reflects his commitment to community. “Lowell has the most working artists per capita in America.” Also known as the Mill City, Lowell is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, thanks to a dedicated group of artists, musicians and entrepreneurs who are transforming formerly abandoned mills and storefronts into thriving galleries, studios, showrooms and restaurants. “It feels like Boston’s Brooklyn,” Croteau mused. Sure, plenty of neighborhoods still resemble hardscrabble scenes from the film The Fighter but things are looking up for the resilient, resourceful people of Lowell.

Lowell National Park Boat Tour of Canal (actua...

Lowell National Park Boat Tour of Canal (actually Pawtucket Canal). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year the Mending Wall Day event is being held on Thursday, March 26, in the nearby rural town of Dunstable. Croteau’s group will collect rocks from the 350-acre Tully Farm, a family-run operation since 1873 whose herd of cows provide milk to nearby cheese making cooperative Cabot. Though he’s not expecting a large turnout--eight Stonecraft employees, (a number of whom hail from Frost’s childhood hometown of Lawrence) plus Tully farmers-- Croteau is optimistic about what the future holds. “Mending Wall Day is about finding the balance between city life and country life, and I’m hopeful that if people hear about our work this year, then maybe next year they’ll join us. It only takes one to start a movement.” One stone at a time, good fences continue to make good neighbors.

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Gerald Croteau at Allandale Farm. Photo Credit: American Stonecraft

More about the company and Mending Wall Day below:
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The largest collection of daguerreotypes of Venice in the world--and probably the earliest surviving photographs of the Alps--have been officially confirmed as taken by John Ruskin, the famous 19th-century art critic, writer, and artist.

The photographs were uncovered at Cumbrian auction house Penrith Farmers’ & Kidd’s PLC in 2006 by photographic dealers Ken and Jenny Jacobson. The daguerreotypes sold for £75,000 after an original estimate of just £80. Following extensive conservation and research over the next eight years, the Jacobsons were able to confirm that the daguerreotypes were indeed photographed by Ruskin.

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The Jacobsons published a book yesterday with Bernard Quaritch about their remarkable discovery. Entitled Carrying Off the Palaces: John Ruskin’s Lost Daguerreotypes, the book contains all 325 known Ruskin daguerreotypes. Many of the photographs discovered by the Jacobsons appear in print for the first time with this publication. The book also explores Ruskin’s complicated relationship with the new photographic arts in the 19th century.

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At the book launch yesterday Ken Jacobson said, “The discovery of 188 previously unknown John Ruskin daguerreotypes has been the most exciting of our career. The propitious circumstances of this find were truly magnified many times over by the fascinating discoveries we made during our research and the generosity, intelligence and friendship we shared with other scholars and our conservators.
We feel that the quality and unorthodox style of many of Ruskin’s daguerreotypes will come as a major surprise to both photographic historians and those in the field of Ruskin scholarship. It is an astonishing accomplishment for a polymath better known for his achievements in so many other disciplines. Ruskin’s daguerreotypes would be a sensational new revelation in the history of photography even if he were completely unknown. We hope the work will be as intriguing to others as it has been to us.”
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Images: Courtesy of Bernard Quaritch.
5479069887_bbae6d5c91_z.jpgThe George Washington University Museum in Washington, D.C. will host its grand opening on Saturday with two exhibits from the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection of historic maps and documents. Small donated the collection to GW in 2011, along with $5 million toward the renovation of the museum on its Foggy Bottom campus. The result is a 53,000-square-foot LEED Gold-certified museum complex housing the Textile Museum, the historic Woodhull House, the Arthur D. Jenkins Library, and the Small Center for National Capital Area Studies.

To inaugurate the complex, two exhibits of Small material will go on display. Seat of Empire: Planning Washington, 1790-1801 will consider urban design and the landscape of early D.C. through rare maps and related images. The Civil War and the Making of Modern Washington will track the city’s evolution from war-time encampment through Reconstruction with prints, maps, and illustrations from the period.  

The Smithsonian Press has also issued a new illustrated book, The Evolution of Washington, D.C.: Historical Selections from the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection at the George Washington University, featuring 90 pieces of memorabilia from the collection.
You can read more about Small’s “Capital Collection” and GW’s new museum in our spring issue.

Image: Map of Future Site of Washington, D.C., 1790. From the Albert H. Small - George Washington University Washingtoniana Collection.
Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Madison Rootenberg of Durham, North Carolina, who collects unicorn books.

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Where are you from / where do you live?

Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and currently living in Durham, NC.

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

I went to Emerson College for Writing, Literature and Publishing and I am currently the Assistant Youth, Family and Camp Director at the Levin Jewish Community Center in Durham-Chapel Hill.
Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

When I was 5 years old I was in London with my grandparents for a book fair, and they had asked me what I wanted to start collecting. I found a sticker on the side of a building as we were leaving saying, “Save the Unicorns” and decided the only way to do that was to collect all of the books on them ever written!

How many books are in your collection? 

Oh goodness, over 100, I’ve lost count.

What was the first book you bought for your collection? 

I believe it was an Animal Encyclopedia from the 1400’s that had a section on unicorns.

How about the most recent book? 

A collection of hand-painted pages from children’s books that all contain a unicorn. 

And your favorite book in your collection? 

A miniature book that is less than an inch big!

How about the One that Got Away? 

Still looking for a manuscript of “The Last Unicorn.” I have it on both VHS and DVD though. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection? 

Supposedly the British Library recently found a cook book from medieval times containing a section on how to cook a unicorn. This proves they were real, right?!

Who is your favorite bookseller? 

My dad and grandparents of course! B & L Rootenberg Rare Books and Manuscripts.

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

If I had the space, dogs! Every pitbull on the street or in a pound. Hopefully I’ll have a farm one day and can start rescuing more. 

Thanks to Madison for participating in our series.  Nominations for Bright Young Collectors (including self-nominations) are welcome at
Around this time each year, a stack accumulates on my desk of post-holiday, pre-beach reads, all of which would be of interest to FB&C readers. Here are five non-fiction titles, in brief, that deserve your attention. 

9781616893668.jpgMore than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art by Liza Kirwin (Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95). Out this month is the paperback edition of this popular compendium of letters written by artists--e.g., Alfred Joseph Frueh sent his fiancee a pop-up gallery of art on the back of a 1913 letter and Andy Warhol drew a smiley face with speech bubble on his 1949 letter to a Harper’s editor. From pen-and-ink caricatures to almost fully realized scenic watercolors, each correspondent illuminated his or her note with something other than text. The result is endlessly enticing. And for a bonus track: full transcripts of all the letters.

The Pebble Chance: Feuilletons & Other Prose by Marius Kociejowski (Biblioasis, $18.95). This is a collection of intelligent and charming essays on poetry, art, and books, at least two of which, “A Factotum in the Book Trade” and “The Testament of Charlotte B.,” will have direct appeal for antiquarian book-collector types. The author has long worked as a book dealer in London, and he is also a poet and a travel writer. Plus, Michael Dirda raved about the book in the Washington Post. What else could you ask for?

The King Penguin Series: A Survey by Michael Lake (Penguin Collectors Society, £12). This new book from the PCS surveys the original King Penguins, a hardback imprint launched by Allen Lane in 1939. The King Penguins were meant to be both affordable and handsome enough to be collectible. This compact and beautifully illustrated book offers a wonderful history of the series, a gallery of cover art, and a full bibliography.

Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries by Ander Monson (Graywolf Press, $22). Taking inspiration from library left-behinds, Monson writes brief essays and snippets of response with the enthusiasm and wit of a poetry slam winner. Contemplating a signed book at the University of Arizona, he writes, “In the age of disassociation and fragmentation, history-free ebooks torrented on the Internet, burger meat from random cows gathered up in drive-thru fast-food burger patties to be liked, live-tweeted as we eat, there’s also this: a thing, an artifact, complete with Hancock and finger trace, which makes it more than other books, we’re meant to know.” Monson has said that this book got started as a series of actual notes he wrote and tucked into volumes returned to the library, like a living book art project. This volume shares that private project with a larger audience.

The War That Used Up Words: American Writers and the First World War by Hazel Hutchinson (Yale University Press, $45). Henry James, Edith Wharton, Grace Fallow Norton, Mary Borden, Ellen La Motte, E. E. Cummings, and John Dos Passos -- how did these seven writers shape American opinions about WWI? Hutchinson focuses her lens not on the “lost generation,” but on the writers who were observing and participating before America even joined the effort.

Mystery Writers of America Cookbook

The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White; Quirk Books, $24.95, on sale March 24th

What is a good mystery novel without a sharp kitchen knife and a little culinary mishap? Recall any of Agatha Christie’s poison-soaked meals or Connie Archer’s “Soup Lover’s Mystery” series.   Many of the great case-cracking fictional characters relish their meals too, from Miss Marple’s tea and scones to Alex Cooper’s necessary Dewar’s on the rocks. Food frequently defines character and also offers tantalizing clues and plot twists. 

Now, readers can cook the same meals some of the greatest mystery writers enjoy. Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson and Peter James are just a handful of of contributors to this volume, providing mouth-watering delights and interesting recipe backstories. All proceeds from the book go towards funding the Mystery Writers of America, an organization that promotes writers in the genre, provides scholarships for writers, and presents the annual Edgar Awards.


With over 100 ‘wickedly good’ entries to savor, from breakfast selections to after-dinner cocktails, editor (and former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief) Kate White also includes colorful insight about how food and murder often go hand in hand. (Stomach contents can be critical in determining whether a victim’s last meal was more deadly than delicious, for example.) Recipes such as the wonderfully titled Male Chauvinist Pigs in the Blanket from Nelson DeMille, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone’s Famous Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich and Alison Gaylin’s The ‘Smoking Gun’ Margherita are sure to delight the mystery aficionado with gastronomic tendencies. 

Who’s ready for dessert? Why not try James Patterson’s ‘killer’ chocolate cake recipe below, provided courtesy of Quirk Books. 

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photo credit: Steve Legato


Grandma’s Killer Chocolate Cake

Here’s one “killer” Alex Cross always loves to catch--Grandma’s Killer Cake! A special family recipe dating from the 1940s, this decadent cake seems to get better with age; it is tastier on day two. And you need to be a good detective around the house after it has been made, sitting there in its glass-domed cake stand, staring back at you with deadly temptation, because a piece seems to mysteriously disappear every time I go into the kitchen. Not to be caught red-handed, so looms the “Killer Cake Killer”!



2⁄3 cup butter

2 cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 cups flour

11⁄3 cups buttermilk

11⁄3 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 ⁄ 5 cup hot water

31⁄2 squares bitter chocolate, melted gently

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1⁄2 cup butter

3 squares bitter chocolate

 2 cups granulated sugar

 2⁄3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs. 

2. Blend in flour and buttermilk in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour. Add baking soda mixture, followed by chocolate and vanilla extract. 

3. Pour batter into one 9-by-12-inch pan or two round 9-inch springform pans. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool. 

4. Combine all frosting ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a full boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Let cool. You can put saucepan on ice if necessary to cool quickly. 

5. Remove the cake from the pan, frost, and serve. 

James Patterson has sold 300 million books worldwide, including the Alex Cross, Michael Bennett, Women’s Murder Club, Maximum Ride, and Middle School series. He supports getting kids reading through scholarship, Book Bucks programs, book donations, and his website, He lives in Palm Beach with his wife, Sue, and his son, Jack.


Excerpted from The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook edited by Kate White. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books.





In an excellent conversation piece posted on BBC’s Culture page, journalist Jane Ciabattari argues that 1925 was the greatest year for books.

The year 1925 was a golden moment in literary history. Ernest Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were all published that year. As were Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, among others.” 

Ciabatarri cites 1862, 1899, and 1950 as other strong contenders but concludes that 1925 takes the cake:

...1925 brought something unique - a vibrant cultural outpouring, multiple landmark books and a paradigm shift in prose style.

I thought we’d examine the books cited by Ciabatarri from a collectable lens.

1) “In Our Time” by Ernest Hemingway. Published by Boni & Liveright in New York City in 1925 in an edition limited to a scant 1335 copies. If you want to purchase one of those copies today, expect to dish out roughly $1k. And if you want the dust jacket - one of the rarest Hemingway jackets to find - you’ll need a bit over $20k.

2) “Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf. Published by The Hogarth Press in London in 1925 in an edition of 2000 copies. You’ll need about $1k to pick up the first edition of “Mrs Dalloway” as well. The first edition is extremely rare with a dust jacket. The only copy I could find online was priced at $75k.

3) “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the high spots of 20th-century literature collecting and famously rare and expensive in the original dust jacket. Published by Scribner’s in New York in 1925, a first edition of “The Great Gatsby” with dust jacket is a six figure purchase. You’ll need at least $125,000 for this beauty.

4) “The Making of Americans” by Gertrude Stein. Published by Contact Editions and Three Mountains Press in Paris in 1925 in an edition of 500 copies. $1200 will get you a first edition.

5) “Manhattan Transfer” by John Dos Passos. Published in New York by Harper, Manhattan Transfer is less expensive. A copy without dust jacket can be had for $30, although if you want the rare dust jacket as well expect to pay a few grand.

6) “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser. Published by Boni & Liveright in New York (who also published “In Our Time”), this is the cheapest book on this list. A copy can be had for $25. A first edition with dust jacket will set you back about $200.

7) “Arrowsmith” by Sinclair Lewis. Published in New York by Harcourt Brace, you can buy a first edition of Arrowsmith for less than $10 without the dust jacket. If you want the dust jacket, however, which is quite rare, you’ll need about $750.

So the books cited by Ciabatarri hold up quite well on the collectable side of the equation as well. A fine collection of first editions with dust jackets of 1925’s high spots will set you back about a quarter of a million dollars.  

And that’s just for these seven books alone.

What do you think? Any other contenders for best literature year?

[Image from Wikipedia]

image001.pngToday FB&C launches the second annual Rare Book Week, a coordinated effort to focus attention on the antiquarian book fairs, book & manuscript auctions, rare book & fine art exhibits, and bookish browsing available in New York City from April 7-15 this year.

Don McLean’s “American Pie” manuscript will be offered at Christie’s on April 7, and Alan Turing’s notebook will be turned over to a new owner at Bonhams on April 13. Each are expected to reach $1 million--it’s a show you don’t want to miss! 

And then there are the book fairs. In addition to the ABAA’s New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which opens for a preview night on Thursday, April 9, and runs all weekend, two ‘shadow shows’ will entice collectors on Saturday, April 11.

If you’re looking to go exhibit-hopping, there are at least a dozen to choose from, e.g., the Grolier Club celebrating Aldus Manutius; the New York Society Library showcasing marginalia; and the New-York History Society’s Final Flight of Audubon watercolors.

For browsers, there are clearly several great bookstores to choose from in New York, but what about the more “offbeat” places, like Printed Matter, the Center for Book Arts, or Bowne & Co. Stationers? Check them out.

All this & more on the Rare Book Week site. The spring issue of Fine Books, in mailboxes now, also contains an illustrated guide to Rare Book Week, featuring a selection of highlights from booksellers and auction houses.

Book your plans for Rare Book Week 2015! 
Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Nelson Harst of Antifurniture in New York City:


How did you get started in rare books?

I’ve always worked in books, including great independent bookstores like the University Book Store in Seattle and Book Culture in New York. I’ve also sold extensively online. At some point in those book selling roles, I began to focus more on the rare and collectible. 

My particular interest is in display, curation and arrangement of books. For several years, I’ve been involved in the Bidoun Library project. We did shows at the New Museum, Serpentine Gallery and most recently the Carnegie Museums’s last International show in 2013. The Bidoun Library was about presenting books about/from/around the “Middle East.” We included some very rare and valuable items, such as Iranian revolutionary magazines and propaganda photobooks. We had an incredible archive of posters, stickers and flyers that circulated around Tahir Square during the spring of 2010. But then we’d also do things like buy every book on Amazon priced under a dollar that had “Arab” or “Veil” in the title. There’s a lot of them. 

We’d juxtapose the cheap, crap books next to the rare items. In the exhibit, most of the books could be picked up and flipped through; I like to make books accessible and get them out from under the glass vitrines whenever possible. Though as I’ve had access to better books, I’ve learned something about this great contradiction of accessibility. On one hand, rare books maintain their value by not being handled; on the other hand the key to engaging a new generation of collectors and book users is literally getting the best books into people’s hands.

My real break into dealing truly rare books came in summer of 2014. Two things happened, almost at the exact same time. First of all, I enrolled in CABS that summer and learned massively about the inside mechanics of the trade. Completely by coincidence, Harper of Harper’s Books contacted me a week prior to CABS. He had no idea I was attending CABS. But Harper had noticed what I was doing on Instagram and on the streets of NYC. Since then I’ve been working as a sort of traveling medicine show for his books as well as my own. Harper has incredible material and a creative and eclectic taste; I’ve been very lucky to have had the chance to work with him and his team.

When did you open Antifurniture and what do you specialize in?

I started Antifurniture in the spring of 2014. It started as a sort of social media experiment on Instagram and then evolved into a NYC book table on the corner of Howard and Broadway in SoHo. My focus has always been visual books. I sum up the scope as as “Visual Culture, Pop to Post Modern.” Some of the subjects I stock include photography, fashion, architecture, art and commercial illustration. Many of my customers are designers, artists and stylists. Often, they are buying my books primarily as reference material rather than as collectible objects-- though often, the impulse to collect does run parallel to creative work.

Please introduce us to your mobile bookstore model:

I like to appear in unlikely places with my books. Last summer, my main spot was in SoHo on the corner of Broadway and Howard Street, just above Canal. But I also appeared in the East Village, Chinatown and Chelsea. My set up is compact enough to fit in even the smallest NYC cab. Two fold up tables, four crates and a directors chair. I also pack a clock, because I think its important to take time into account when dealing with books. Sometimes I also bring a little camp stool too if I’m expecting friends to stop by and hang out. Since the onset of winter though I’ve had to abandon the street model. I’m experimenting now with open house Sunday’s at my apartment in Williamsburg as well as hotel room pop up shops, an idea Harper invented along with Fulton Ryder a couple years prior. 

We also understand you use Instagram in a creative way to advertise your business.  Please tell us about that as well:

I post daily, sometimes several times daily, to my Instagram account, @antifurniture. I always do three posts. A cover shot of course, and two interiors. Sometimes if a book is really great, I do a series of six posts. Aside from my table and pop up shops, my bookstore is virtual and appears on your phone, anywhere in the world. Instagram is not just am advertising tool, it’s an actual marketplace where I buy and sell and chat with other like minded dealers and collectors. It’s also what I do instead of a website, searchable inventory or lists. 

What do you love about the book trade?

It’s an exceptionally cordial and fun profession. It’s also a very creative and open field; anything could be a book. I love being part of the visual culture ecosystem of artists, designers, editors, museums and libraries. But what I love most of all is the space a bookstore creates. When I set up my table on the street, the most fantastic and unrelated people start congregating and browsing and chatting. Something about a selection of books creatives a conversation place, a salon bubble that’s really very special.

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

A nearly unknown fashion forecast journal called Presage by an nearly unknown creative director named Rosita Fanto. It’s one of Harper’s. He has a massive archive of the journal, over 80 installments in total. Each installment is a hand made book arts piece that functions as a swatch book, color palate and inspiration object for designers. It ran from 1962 through 1986 and had a small but dedicated audience of people working in the fashion trade. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Because the audience was international, with subscribers everywhere from Paris to Taiwan, Fanto created a non-verbal language that is both visual and tactile. It’s a vastly under appreciated creation.

What do you personally collect?

Not books! But I do rather haphazardly collect LPs and postcards. 

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

The book trade is obviously at a transitional moment. It’s probably a transition that will never resolve entirely. People think they need books less, but the most active users of books (artists, designers and writers) understand that the print object remains a unique and valuable storage technology. If the book trade is going to remain vibrant, that interest in books must be stimulated. Rare books must function both as collectible objects, cultural totems, but must also continue to exist and be created as useful active objects. 

Miramax has released the first trailer for Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellen as the aged sleuth with one last case to crack. Set in 1947, Holmes has long since retired to his English country house and is now busy beekeeping. But one mystery from his past continues to buzz around his bonnet, and soon he is off to Japan in search of a rare botanical specimen.

The film, loosely adapted by director Bill Condon from Mitch Cullin’s novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, premiered in Berlin last month. It should be stateside later this year. Read an early review here. Watch the one-minute teaser here:

Two stories to talk about this week, each one taking place on either end of the country. First, let’s start on the East Coast, where the inaugural Art on Paper show is being held at Pier 36 in New York City. Organizing the affair is Art Market productions, a Brooklyn-based firm that produces the Miami Art Project and the Seattle Art Fair. Fifty-five galleries from around the city will feature works by artists whose primary medium, whether for sculpture, painting, drawing or photography, is paper. All proceeds from opening night benefit the Brooklyn Museum.  Highlights include hand-cut cardboard sculptures by Wayne White, Meg Hitchcock’s Mundaka Upanishad, an installation showcasing letters cut from the Koran and a massive paper cloudscape by Brooklyn-based artist Mia Pearlman. Even the prolific, book-writing (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) TED-talking David Eggers is showing fifty original animal-themed drawings, all for sale, with proceeds going towards a nonprofit that helps children pay for college.  The show runs from March 5th through the 8th, and ticket prices range from $25.00 for a one day pass, to a three day pass for $150.00, which also includes access to the VIP opening night party and lounge. 
Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, s...

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, seated at desk covered with his books / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In La Jolla, California, an unpublished manuscript by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) was recently found in the author’s home. According the Barbara Marcus, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books, the manuscript, entitled “What Pet Should I Get?” was originally discovered back in 1991, shortly after the author’s death. The material was boxed and forgotten about until now, when Geisel’s widow once again set to cleaning out the author’s office space. The manuscript, accompanied by photographs and illustrations, is believed to have been written in the late 1950s, since the brother and sister in this volume also appear in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, which was published in 1960. “What Pet Should I Get?” will be published by Random House in July 2015 and will join the pantheon of Seuss stories beloved by millions worldwide. (Coincidentally, Seuss would have celebrated his 111st birthday on March 2, making this announcement doubly sweet.) 
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, opened today what looks like a very cool exhibit of avant-garde art inspired by science fiction, the ‘Space Race,’ and Cold War-era technology. Past Futures: Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas shows 60 artworks in a range of media and style that display the interconnectedness of the artistic process, such as Raquel Forner’s “Astronauta y testigos, televisados (Astronaut and witnesses, televised),” 1971, and “SEFT-1 over Metlac bridge, January 25, 2011,” a photograph by Ivan Puig taken after he and his brother, Andres Padilla Domene, built a futuristic vehicle to tour abandoned areas of their native Mexico.

Graves-moon-900x660.jpgSeen above is: “Fra Mauro Region of the Moon, 1972,” by multimedia artist Nancy Graves, whose interest in natural history, especially aerial landscapes and moon maps, fueled her work. From the series “Lithographs Based on Geologic Maps of Lunar Orbiter and Apollo Landing Sites.” Lithograph. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA. Gift of Anne MacDougall and Gil Einstein in honor of Marjorie B. Cohn. ©Nancy Graves Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, NY, NY.

The exhibit is up through June 7. Read more about it here.
02928v.jpgMarch 4, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s celebrated second inaugural address. Lincoln delivered the 700-word speech, which touched on the obvious issues of war and slavery, only six weeks before his assassination. Although there have been 35 inaugural speeches since, this one, with its resonant closing phrase, “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” still ranks among the best.

Beginning today through Saturday, the Library of Congress will display the fragile original manuscript of Lincoln’s speech in the Great Hall of the Library’s Jefferson Building. According to the LC’s press release, visitors will not only get a rare peek at Lincoln’s smudged manuscript but also the printer’s proof, which he cut-and-pasted into 27 mini paragraphs to make it easier to read during the inauguration ceremony.

In New York, Lincoln’s oratorical skills are honored by the Morgan Library & Museum, whose current exhibition, Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation, runs through June 7.

Image: Lincoln’s second inaugural, photo by Alexander Gardner, March 4, 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

at dukes children folio.jpg

A new edition of Anthony Trollope’s novel The Duke’s Children will be published by The Folio Society this month, with an additional 65,000 words cut from the original 1880 edition.

The complete, unabridged text will be published in celebration of the bi-centenary of the author’s birth in 1815. The Duke’s Children is the sixth and final novel in Trollope’s Palliser series.  

Scholars have spent the last decade slowly reinstating the words that Trollope cut from his original version, focusing their research on Trollope’s manuscript for The Duke’s Children held at the Beinecke Library. The researchers, led by professor Steven Amarnick of Kingsborough Community College, were surprised to discover the the extent of the edits, which removed almost a quarter of the original novel.

The reason the cuts were made in the first place has been lost to history.

“It’s quite extraordinary the different cumulative effect it has, on the richness of the text and the subtlety of the characters,” said Joe Whitlock Blundell of The Folio Society of the restored edition in an interview with The Guardian. “When I first read The Duke’s Children 30 years ago, it all seemed to be focused on the Duke’s reactions. But in the restored version, the characters of the children come through far more sympathetically.”

The Folio Society’s unabridged edition of The Duke’s Children will be produced in a limited edition (1980 copies) priced at $330, however the society hopes a mass-market version of the restored edition will also be released in the near future.

Last month, the Harvard MetaLAB released Cold Storage, a mini-documentary about the Harvard Depository (HD), a 127,000-square-foot “guarded compound” 25 miles from campus where approximately 9 million of Harvard Library’s lesser-used books, pamphlets, records, etc. are stored in a space reminiscent of Home Depot.  

The 24-minute film, written and directed by Jeffrey Schnapp, provides a real sense of the vastness of the collection--this “analog server farm”--and manages to do so artfully. Its beauty does not reside, as one might assume, in images of rare books, wooden desks, and warm desk lamps. Here, mechanized forklifts buzz down gloomy aisles in search of one barcoded item or another. The stark, cement-and-metal scenery evokes (and speaks to) Alain Resnais’ 1956 Toute la memoire du monde (All the World’s Memory), which documented the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Cold Storage impresses upon us the importance of the HD not only to the university’s scholars, but to humanity as a whole; it is a paean to preservation.           

Cold Storage
premiered on February 6 in conjunction with Icons of Knowledge: Architecture and Symbolism in National Libraries, an exhibit at Harvard’s Loeb Library through March 22.

Watch here:

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