May 2015 Archives

Children across America are counting down the days until school gives way to the lazy, laid-back days of summer. While little ones take a break, the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in Worcester, Massachusetts kicks off its summer season this weekend with the first of four multi-day seminars dedicated to various aspects of book history and culture, with one in late June that will examine children as readers and authors.

The AAS has held summer seminars in the history of the book since 1983, focusing on a different topic every year, and from June 21 through June 26, the weeklong workshop will examine child readership in pre-1900 America. Over 26,000 childhood artifacts are part of the AAS holdings, offering a seemingly endless array of primary materials to provide fodder for discussion and to paint a more complete view of childhood in early America. Miniature printing presses, toys, and even books created by children all testify to the world of young Americans that was sometimes enchanting and magical, other times thoroughly practical.  

A 1769 speller, published in New London, Connecticut (reproduced with permission from the American Antiquarian Society) 

“There are definitely marks of readership on our children’s material,” said Paul Erickson, director of Academic Programs, who spoke about the upcoming workshop as well as the condition of the items at the AAS.  It’s rare to find antiquarian children’s books that haven’t been well-read and well loved. “I like to call some of the markings ‘juvenile marginalia,” Erickson continued. These notes and scribbles may not appeal to the professional collector, but to a scholar they offer all sorts of valuable information about how and why children read. Pre-1900s children’s books ran the gamut on topics as well. “People wrote kids books about everything from funerals to primers on finance, Erickson explained.” Some of the books were intended as career guides and took the place of formal education.  

Competition to attend this year’s seminar was intense: Over sixty candidates posted applications for only twenty available spots. The attendees include a mix of graduate students, faculty, and librarians from across the country. So while children play and school fades to a distant memory, visiting professors Martin Brückner (Delaware) and Patricia Crain (NYU) will have their students hard at to work as they explore the complexities of childhood in this most engaging way.

For further information, please contact Paul Erickson, Director of Academic Programs at AAS, at or (508) 471-2158. American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts 01609-1634
Tel: 508-755-5221, Fax: 508-753-3311,

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Kelli Hansen, Print Collections Librarian in Special Collections and Rare Books at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

kelli hansen byl.JPG

How did you get started in rare books?

When I was a graduate student in art history, I worked as a curatorial assistant on an exhibition called The Art of the Book, 1000-1650, at the University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology.  We planned to show materials from the museum’s collections, but we also made arrangements to borrow from the special collections at the university libraries.  I was sent to special collections, a place I had never visited before, to scout items from the catalog that might be suitable for the exhibition. 

The first piece I looked at was a fragment of Bede in Insular script from the ninth century. Even though I had just come from the vaults of a museum, I felt completely awed by this experience of being one-on-one with the oldest manuscript I’d ever encountered.  My MA work focused on medieval manuscripts and early printing, so from a research perspective, I felt like I had stumbled into a treasure trove. 

Over the course of that project, it dawned on me that libraries could offer me a chance to combine my research interests with my desire to work with people. When a para-professional reference job opened in the special collections department a few months later, I applied for it and was hired. I’ve been working in libraries and archives ever since.

Where did you earn your advanced degree?

A few years after finishing my MA in art history at the University of Missouri, I went on to complete an MSIS at the University of Texas with a certificate in special collections and archives.  Austin is so rich in archives and libraries, and I was fortunate to be able to work in some really diverse and fantastic collections and learn from wonderful librarians and archivists.  Just as I was finishing my last semester in Texas, a job opened here, and I jumped at the chance to come back.

What is your role at your institution?

We have a small staff, so all of us do a variety of things. My roles are to do reference, instruction, outreach, and web development. In daily life, that means I help instructors devise assignments and activities that introduce students to primary source research, lead course sessions, assist students with the research process, and take shifts on the reference desk.  We have a wide range of courses that use the collections here - in any given week I might find myself presenting on comics, medieval manuscripts, propaganda, posters, or the history of information technology.

I also curate exhibitions and help to coordinate partnerships with other campus and community institutions.  Recently I’ve been active in helping to organize a cross-campus working group of librarians, archivists, and curators, with the goal of integrating our collections more fully into the university’s curriculum.  We also partner with the campus Life Sciences and Society Program to curate an exhibition based on their yearly symposium topic, which challenges all of us to think about our collections in different ways. I’ve worked on exhibitions and digital projects related to food science, epigenetics, and science communication since I’ve been here.  Last year, I curated an exhibition on narrative and sequential art from the fifteenth century to the present, and I was approached by Exhibits USA to package it for national tour.  It’s currently in the marketing phase, and I’m looking forward to continuing that project!

On the digital site of things, I manage the Special Collections web site, digital exhibitions, and social media (Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook).  My most recent project on social media is our weekly Beautiful Math series, which looks at intersections among the arts, sciences, and mathematics.  And I’m in the process of revamping our digital exhibition system.

That sounds like a laundry list, but it’s what I do!  The variety of my day-to-day work is both challenging and invigorating. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

Impossible to choose.  I probably have a new favorite every week, and I love that about my job.  I do tend to love things that have value as artifacts in that that they have interesting marginalia or give us some sense of use or ownership contexts.  I love manuscripts of all periods, especially illuminated ones, but ordinary ones are also interesting for many different reasons.  I love correspondence, although I don’t work with it much in this position, but I have in the past. 

Right now I’m also fascinated with the history of illustration and printmaking processes, and how words and images interact on the page.  That interest includes everything from early printed books to graphic novels.  I’ve gotten very interested in the early woodcut novelists, especially Frans Masereel, from seeing examples in the collections here. 

What do you personally collect?

I don’t collect anything for myself. I’m surrounded by so much stuff at work that I often feel a need for minimalism when it comes to my own household.  With two small children, I don’t do very well at it, but I try. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

Spend time with my family and work in my garden. I also knit and read, when I get a rare moment to sit down by myself.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

You truly never know what you’ll find when preparing for a class, or researching for an exhibition, or just paging something in the stacks.  I love being surrounded by history and beauty every day.  But I think what excites me the most is seeing all the different ways our researchers and students use the materials in their work.  There is no better feeling than teaching a class session full of students who are engaged with what they’re studying and are eager to know more, or helping a researcher find exactly the missing piece they were looking for.  I hope to bring about the same type of “aha!” moments that happened to me in the reading room here.

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

I think the future for all of us (libraries, archives, and museums) is to become more open, collaborative, and community-oriented.  We’re all in the process of shifting our roles from being the gatekeepers to being the guides and facilitators, both in person and online.  I welcome these changes and am excited about where we’re headed. 

At the same time, higher education is changing.  I suspect those of us in academic institutions will find that our roles will change too.  For example, the number of classes and students in Special Collections here at Missouri has tripled over the past decade and is still increasing, leading us to prioritize teaching as a big part of what we do.  Being able to demonstrate growth and utility is vital.  It’s going to be more and more important for us to be able to explain why we and our collections are a valuable educational resource.

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


One of the strengths of the collections here is a large group of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British pamphlets on religious and political subjects.  There are thousands of them, and many are very scarce.  We’ll be starting a project to identify unique materials from that collection over the next few months.  The Fragmenta Manuscripta collection is a group of medieval manuscript fragments assembled in the seventeenth century, which supplements the mainly textual medieval and Renaissance manuscript codices in the collection.  That’s the collection that contains that Bede fragment that got me started down this path in the first place.  We have a substantial collection of comic books and artwork, including a nice collection of underground comics and early graphic novels.  We also have the collection of a nineteenth-century French lawyer, Jacques Flach, which has lots of unique materials, and we have the papers of the American playwright Lanford Wilson.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We will be mounting an exhibition of work by comic artists with ties to Mizzou this fall.  There’s a great comic community here, with people interested in comics as literature, art, history, and journalism.  We’ll try to get that community involved with what we do this fall.

In spring 2016, we’ll have two exhibitions. One will deal with climate change and the Anthropocene, which is next year’s Life Sciences and Society Symposium topic.  The other will celebrate the centennial of our library building, and will also incorporate materials from the Missouri Historic Textile Collection and the University Archives.  

(Nominations for Bright Young Librarians, Booksellers, or Collectors are welcome at

Smithson-List-1-autographs.jpgJames Smithson, after whom the Smithsonian Institution is named, was a rock hound.

This 1820 manuscript, in his hand, is an inventory describing the collection he kept in a mahogany cabinet. At the top, Smithson has written, “Catalogue of my Cabinet: 1820” before commencing to list his rocks and minerals--pyrites, green micaceous stone from Switzerland, bog iron ore, etc.

The incredible document, “almost certainly the only one in private hands” says bookseller Nathan Raab of the Raab Collection, was recently deaccessioned from a New Jersey institution and is now for sale for $75,000. Prior to its NJ residency, the manuscript had been owned by William Jones Rhees, the Smithsonian’s chief clerk from 1852 until the early 1890s.

Smithson is an intriguing character. Born in 1765 an illegitimate son of the first Duke of Northumberland, he pursued natural sciences with particular attention to mineralogy. He never married, and when he made his will, he decided that should his nephew/heir also die childless, his entire collection should be shipped to the United States “to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men.” He died in 1829, and the Smithsonian Institution was founded, after much legal wrangling, in 1846.

Image: Courtesy of Raab Collection.

9781439118238_custom-a465912f88ba4a1af9faef7450a8ef251c96f154-s300-c85.jpgAcross an ocean and more than 500 years, America remains gripped by Shakespeare. That is perhaps no where more apparent than the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., which houses the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare, including 82 First Folios (of the 233 surviving copies). And in the past two years, two books have been published about its founders and their “foliomania.” Last spring, it was Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry And Emily Folger by Stephen H. Grant (Johns Hopkins University Press, $29.95). This month, Andrea Mays offers her take in The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio (Simon & Schuster, $27). There was also Paul Collins’ The Book of William: How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World, published back in 2009, which begs the question: what’s new?

All of these titles are pleasing reads and each will provide insight into Shakespeare’s spare biography, but what’s fresh is the concentration on Henry Folger and how this shy, self-made oil tycoon amassed such a collection. Slightly less formal than Grant’s biography, Mays’ account is lively without sacrificing detail. We hear how Shakespeare’s contemporaries sourced the first collection of plays, seven years after the playwright’s death; why actor David Garrick’s 1769 ‘Jubilee’ Shakespeare festival in Stratford was a disaster; and what were the sticking points in Folger’s intense negotiations for the Folio presented by its printer William Jaggard to Augustine Vincent. Mays excels in the accounting, too: purchase prices and circumstances of each and every First Folio Folger bought.
Framing the Folgers as romantic figures is problematic no matter where one looks. If theirs is a love story, it’s the adoration of acquisition. Moreover, it is difficult (for the reader, and the writers, it seems) to reconcile the fact that while the Folgers’ intentions were wonderful and they did inevitably create an unprecedented resource for Shakespearean and Elizabethan scholars, they also locked away their books for decades, secretively, even selfishly.

Fellow collectors will enjoy tagging along on Henry’s great chase, as he secures one treasure after another. His collection can never, of course, be replicated. But the passion and the determination can be contagious. 


The London International Antiquarian Book Fair is a week away, and fittingly, among the 180 dealers who will be there, David Brass (of David Brass Rare Books) is bringing a first edition of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906), inscribed to none other than Mary Hodgson. Hodgson (1876-1962) was nurse and nanny to George and Jack Llewelyn Davies, the brothers who inspired the “lost boys” of Barrie’s classic tale. What’s more astounding is that there is even an inscription at all, which reads simply, “To Mary Hodgson / with kindest regards / from J.M. Barrie / Jan 1907.” Barrie rarely signed copies of his books, and for years the relationship between Barrie and Hodgson was strained at best, contentious and pernicious at its worst.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

First, the backstory: In 1897, Scottish novelist and dramatist James M. Barrie met Hodgson and her charges in London’s Kensington Gardens. Barrie was instantly captivated by the boys’ spirit, and thereafter would frequently accompany them on their promenades, all the while charming the children with stories of fairies and pirates. These visits would ultimately inspire Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

Mary Hodgson, nurse of the Llewelyn Davies boys. Taken in 1912. author unknown. {{PD-US}

Both Hodgson and Barrie were possessive of the children. He reveled in their mischievousness, while she felt Barrie undermined her authority. Barrie was completely aware of her hostility.  Nana, the overbearing dog/nanny in Peter Pan, was his everlasting homage to Hodgson.

Eventually, Barrie and Hodgson reluctantly came to terms with each other, and the novelist presented this copy, complete with a tipped-in color frontispiece and forty-nine tipped-in color plates, as a way to bury the hatchet. Barrie may have fancied himself an overgrown child, but he learned that apologies go a long way to healing old wounds.

This stunning presentation copy of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham, will be available at the David Brass Rare Books booth starting Thursday, May 28th.
Price available upon request.
More information about the fair can be found here.


Hard Case Crime, one of my favorite indie publishers, recently released a long forgotten crime novel by Gore Vidal titled Thieves Fall Out. Vidal wrote the novel in the early 1950s while reeling from criticism about the controversial content in his third book, The City and The Pillar. Under the pen name “Cameron Kay,” Vidal published Thieves Fall Out in 1953. The pulpy novel--about an American smuggling an artifact out of Egypt in the middle of revolution--was soon forgotten by almost everyone except Vidal scholars.

Charles Ardai, publisher of Hard Case Crime, spoke with us over e-mail about the novel:

Please tell us about the re-discovery process for Gore Vidal’s Thieves Fall Out. It was lost for 60 years--how did you find it again?
I first read about Thieves Fall Out randomly on a blog regarding Gore Vidal’s work. Hunting down a copy wasn’t too hard, with the network of rare book dealers I know, though copies were scarce and I think ran something like $150. I bought a copy, read it, and enjoyed it, and particularly enjoyed that it was not just a Casablanca-flavored tale of intrigue in exotic lands but a crime novel as well. So I reached out to a friend who I knew lived on the same block as Gore in California and got him to help me approach the author. Gore asked to see a copy of the book (“I haven’t read it in fifty years,” I recall him telling us), so I carefully photocopied it and mailed it to him. A few months later he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to be associated, in his advanced age, to this early work by a much younger man, so we discussed the idea of reprinting it only under the pseudonym. But we never quite got there. Then he died, and then years passed, but I never gave up hope. And eventually we persuaded the estate that this book was an important part of an important author’s legacy and shouldn’t be lost forever.
Are there any other lost Gore Vidal crime or pulp novels that you think might eventually turn up?
Not crime. I understand there is an unfinished science-fiction novel in the vaults somewhere, but I don’t believe there’s anything else of the sort we specialize in.
Do you think the writing style is recognizable to Vidal fans?  Or are they in for a surprise?
It’s not written with the same level of care and polish applied to each sentence, just as John Banville’s Benjamin Black books aren’t written quite the same as the literary work he turns out under his real name. But you can tell it’s Vidal all the same. The acerbic observations, the interest in political matters even when he’s mostly occupied with telling an entertaining’s there. But it’s on the edges. In the center is a good, old-fashioned, two-fisted pulp story. And that may be a surprise for readers who think of this author as perhaps too dignified to indulge in this sort of storytelling. But Vidal was always playful and had a taste for the low as well as the high. He liked to surprise, even to shock. I think readers will be able to reconcile the playful, mischievous Vidal with the author of Thieves Fall Out.
What’s coming up next for Hard Case?
Oh, so much! We’ve turned up two early novels by Ed McBain that haven’t been in print for half a century, and those are coming in July (So Nude, So Dead) and next January (Cut Me In). In September, we have a brand new novel by the wonderful Lawrence Block, The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes, debuting in hardcover, as well as an illustrated hardcover edition of Stephen King’s Joyland. In October we’re publishing new editions of Max Allan Collins’ first five “Quarry” novels with new covers by Robert McGinnis, to coincide with the launch of the “Quarry” TV series on Cinemax. And there’s more we can’t talk about yet. But rest assured that Hard Case Crime fans have plenty of good stuff to look forward to.

028935.jpgIt may have come as a surprise to some when Yale University Library announced earlier this year its acquisition of 2,700 VHS tapes, becoming the first institution in the country to actively collect the outmoded medium. What arrived at Sterling Library back in March were largely horror-genre movies from the seventies and eighties, prompted by librarian David Gary and PhD student Aaron Pratt.

So how long before VHS tapes turn up in the catalogues of antiquarian booksellers? In what he calls a “c-list” of “Uncommon, Unlikely & Odd” books and book-related items, Ken Lopez of Hadley, Massachusetts, offers up this rare VHS of the 1975 Academy Award-winning film of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (HBO/Cannon Video, n.d.), signed by Kesey, who, according to the bookseller, was rather unhappy with the movie’s casting. For collectors of Kesey, or perhaps for the burgeoning subset of VHS collectors out there, this rare VHS is priced at $750.

Image via Ken Lopez.  
Kahlo.jpgMexican artist Frida Kahlo, who died in 1954, is a hot topic of late. First, a group of 25 unpublished love letters written not to her husband, Diego Rivera, but to her lover, Spanish artist Jose Bartoli, sold at auction for $137,000 back in April. Then, earlier this month, a London gallery put on exhibit her colorful wardrobe, apparently secreted away in the bathroom of the Mexico City home she shared with Rivera. And over the past weekend, the New York Botanical Garden in New York City opened Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life, a reimagination of her Casa Azul home and studio. The NYBG’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is transformed into Kahlo’s garden, with folkart and native plants, while the gallery features 14 of her paintings and works on paper, including Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), Flower of Life (1944), and Still Life with Parrot and Flag (1951). This exhibit is the first to focus on the artist’s engagement with nature. It is on view through November 1.  

Image: An evocation of Frida Kahlo’s studio overlooking her garden at the NYBG’s Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life. Photo by Ivo M. Vermeulen.

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”  

Sojourner Truth spoke these words at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention on May 28 1851, as part of her famous “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech, and her message of equality and self-empowerment is as relevant today as it was 164 years ago. (Though it’s likely Truth’s exact words were amended by fellow suffragist Francis Gage, there is an undeniable power and strength in the sentiment.)  Over two hundred years after her birth as a Dutch-speaking slave named Isabella Baumfree, the life and work of this charismatic preacher, suffragist and abolitionist is being remembered with newly dedicated sculptures and musicals, a petition to have her likeness printed on the $20 bill, and continues to inspire today’s activists striving for social justice.  

Towering over her peers at nearly six feet tall, Truth had “a heart of gold and a tongue of fire,”  and was an immensely spiritual woman who agitated alongside Frederick Douglas and William Llyod Garrison for universal suffrage and an end to slavery. Truth spoke with a passion and eloquence that could spur audiences to action and stop rabbles in their tracks.

By Randall Studio (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

ALA-notable author Ann Turner recently wrote My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth (HarperCollins, $17.99) which explores the life and times of this larger-than-life figure. Written in flowing free-verse, and told from Truth’s fiery point of view, Turner recounts the heartbreaking story of Truth’s early life and how those experiences informed her decision to change her name, became an itinerant preacher and champion for civil rights. Truth spent almost thirty years toiling in fields, enduring beatings and extraordinary hardship at the hands of masters who thought “my back was a cart for hauling rocks wood timber and grain”.  She eventually escaped to freedom with the youngest of her four children, and from that point on became a courageous voice for oppressed people.  Her story is at once enthralling and harrowing, with enough challenge and heartbreak to fill more than one lifetime. (My Name is Truth is by no means a complete biography, but it’s a great jumping-off point for further education, and Turner helpfully provides additional resources in the postscript.)

©2015 James Ransome, reproduced with permission from HarperCollins.

Truth practiced what she preached, and was incredibly self-sufficient, a model for women of any era to emulate. In 1846 she purchased a home in Florence, Massachusetts with the earnings from her speaking engagements and sales of her autobiography. (Since she could not read or write, Truth dictated her memoirs to Olive Gilbert of Northampton, Massachusetts.)  She was the first African-American woman to bring three lawsuits to court and win them all.  When her son was illegally sold to an Alabama plantation owner, Truth sued and retrieved her child. She filed a slander lawsuit when a newspaper printed that she was a witch and had poisoned a leader of a religious group, and won a $125 judgement.  And when she was hit by a street-car in Washington D.C. Truth filed a personal injury lawsuit, and again a judge ruled in her favor.
Turner touches on the first lawsuit where we see mother and child reunited, but it’s bittersweet; at first the son doesn’t recognize Truth, and “his back is a mess of scars, his soul too.”
Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator James Ransome’s watercolors capture the magnitude of Truth’s life and impact on the American political and cultural landscape. Bright, bold images of a woman determined to incite change match the sonorous and passionate storytelling.
Complete with insightful author’s notes, My Name Is Truth is a story of courage and determination, of a woman whose purpose was to call people out of slavery and into the light of freedom and equality. 

My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth, by Ann Turner, illustrated by James Ransome; HarperCollins Children’s Books, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 6-10.

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Micah McCrotty of Knoxville, Tennessee:

Where do you live?

I have lived in the great city of Knoxville, Tennessee for 10 years.

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

I studied counseling, theology, and literature while in college at Johnson University.  Now I manage a long term living facility for adults with mental disabilities.  I hope to eventually return to school to study either theology or literature. 

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

My collection focuses on ephemera and first editions of southern American authors and poets, primarily the first half of the 20th century.  Because these authors are relatively recent and common, I often find them at local thrift shops.  I love the writings of Flannery O’Connor, James Agee, Alex Haley, Robert Penn Warren, James Dickey, some of the Fugitive poets, other southern themed poetry from small presses or university presses, and of course Faulkner.  I collect other writers as well who are more current, including Cormac McCarthy, Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, and Charles Frazier.  

I often try to read critical works as well and so my collection also includes a large amount of authorial studies.  Reading in this way has been a major help in realizing direction for the collection as a whole. Before my interest became honed to southern writers, I sought after the great modern American writers in first edition, and so I still hope to finish my Hemingway and Steinbeck collection.
How many books are in your collection?

It varies depending on trading and a continual need to free up bookshelf space, but currently I have about 200 in the southern lit collection with 9 various ephemera pieces.  My entire first edition collection totals near 375.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

I tried to read through Hemingway’s works in order of publication while in college.  I came across a hardback of ‘Islands in the Stream’ at a local thrift shop and I learned later that it was in fact a first edition. That sparked my interest in serious collecting.  The first piece I bought intentionally for the southern lit collection was a signed copy of ‘A Place To Come To,’ which now I have realize is very common, but at the time I thought I had discovered a national treasure.

How about the most recent book?

This week I found a signed numbered pre-released copy of ‘A Place To Come To,’ still in the original box, at a very reasonable price.  Three weeks ago I purchased an uncorrected proof with some minor pencil notations and corrections of Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway (only chapter 8) which eventually became ‘Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story.’  Before that document, I added a signed Reynolds Price book called ‘Love and Work’ to the collection.

And your favorite book in your collection?

My parents gave me a fine copy of ‘The Nick Adams Stories’ when I first began collecting and it has remained special to me.  The fly fishing and nature descriptions which highlight the book were some of my first favorite short stories and I find myself rereading them every few years. 
Best bargain you’ve found?

Just like any rare book collector, I hold a hope of finding a rare book at a used bookstore which has been mislabeled.  I once found a first edition of Flannery O’Connor’s ‘The Violent Bear it Away’ in Good + condition for $8 in a store which has a reputation for being thoroughly picked through by collectors.  It was a very beautiful copy which I later traded for my copy of ‘Death in the Afternoon.’  I also purchased a signed ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for $6 at another local used bookstore.  I could hardly believe my luck.  

How about The One that Got Away?

I was once offered to buy a Flannery O’Connor galley proof for a price that, at the time, seemed far too much for me to spend.  It was one of those situations where I had to make a decision without research or price comparing and so I passed.  After I returned home I looked up similar items online and realized the amazing opportunity I had just waved away then immediately reached out to the seller in email.  I received an email back after two weeks of waiting which informed me that he had sold it minutes after I walked away!  
What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

This is a difficult question.  My favorite of Faulkner’s works is ‘Light in August’ so a signed Fine/Fine copy would certainly be a treasure.  I would argue it as one of the greatest American novels, and the artwork on the dust jacket is very striking.  Shelby Foote called it Faulkner’s “greatest novel as novel,” and I would agree. I haven’t yet made the plunge into Twain, but there are certainly several books among his canon that I foresee hunting for a lifetime.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

Knoxville does not have a stand alone rare book store and so I have to travel or shop online for anything specific.  Nashville’s Yeoman’s in the Fork is a fun gallery for anyone passing through the area and I sometimes call them if I have a question.  I have also made friends at conventions who sell online without a storefront and I contact them with inquiries. 

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

Split cane fly rods have a long history with their own celebrities and dignitaries.  I think it would be interesting to collect and preserve some of the work of those master craftsmen.
An incredible collection of pen-and-ink illustrations for the 1906 edition of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds goes to auction tomorrow in Beverly Hills. Brazilian artist Henrique Alvim Corrêa, whose imagination was spurred after reading a French edition of the science fiction classic, produced some sketches of tripod aliens and death rays and brought them to Wells in London. Wells was so pleased with them (and so dissatisfied by the earlier illustrations commissioned for the 1898 first book form), he asked Corrêa to illustrate a 500-copy, limited edition published by L’Vandamme in Brussels.

Thirty illustrations, plus a promotional poster and a postcard from Wells to Corrêa, were consigned to Heritage Auctions by collector Stefan Gefter. Here are a few highlights:

Larrivee copy.jpgLot 71264: The illustration for the title page of Book I: The Coming of the Martians, 1906. Estimate: $20,000-25,000.

Emerges copy.jpgLot 71268: The illustration “Martian Emerges,” from Book I: The Coming of the Martians, Chapter IV: “The Cylinder Opens,” 1906. Estimate $8,000-12,000.

Humans copy.jpgLot 71284: The illustration “Frightened Human,” from Book II: The Earth Under the Martians, Chapter III: “The Days of Imprisonment,” 1906. Estimate: $4,000-6,000.

Drunken copy.jpgLot 71289: The illustration “Martin Viewing Drunken Crowd,” from Book II: The Earth Under the Martians, Chapter VII: “The Man on Putney Hill,” 1906. Estimate $8,000-12,000.

Images via Heritage Auctions.
ben-david-israel museum.png

Heading to Israel in the next week? Swing by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to see the oldest surviving copy of the Ten Commandments, dating to somewhere between 30 and 1 BC.  

The fragile 2,000-year-old manuscript is very rarely allowed on public display. It was loaned to the Israel Museum from the Israel Antiquities Authority for a simple and powerful exhibition called “A Brief History of Humankind,” which displays fourteen pivotal objects in the evolution of humanity.  The exhibition is part of the museum’s celebrations for its 50th anniversary.

The manuscript was found as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery in the mid 20th century when Khirbet Qumran was excavated.

“When you are thinking about universal law, the universal principle of ethics, ... this is the first law that comes to your mind,” exhibit curator Tania Coen-Uzzielli said in a press release.

The manuscript of the Ten Commandments will only be on loan for two weeks - and we are one week in already - so if you are interested in seeing it, you better jump on the next jet to Jerusalem. After the loan period expires, the manuscript will return to its hyper-secure and hyper-controlled storage environment in complete darkness.

A facsimile will replace it.

[Image from the Israel Museum]

The National Museum of Women in the Arts, located in Washington, D.C., opened today an exhibit of Vanessa Bell’s book design. Bell,
(1879-1961) ,w
a member of the celebrated Bloomsbury Group, designed graphic dust jackets and illustrations for the Hogarth Press, a publishing house co-founded by her sister, novelist Virginia Woolf. Enjoy here a sampling of exhibit’s highlights:

Bell__Monday or Tuesday copy.jpgVanessa Bell, cover design for Virginia Woolf’s Monday or Tuesday, The Hogarth Press, 1921; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

Bell__The Waves copy.jpgVanessa Bell, jacket design for Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, The Hogarth Press, 1931; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

Bell__The Years copy.jpgVanessa Bell, jacket design for Virginia Woolf’s The Years, The Hogarth Press, 1937; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

Bell__Three Guineas copy.jpgVanessa Bell, jacket design for Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, The Hogarth Press, 1938; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

Bell__Haunted House copy.jpgVanessa Bell, jacket design for Virginia Woolf’s A Haunted House and other stories, The Hogarth Press, 1943; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

Music, a lecture and an Italian dinner in honor of Robert Browning’s 203rd birthday were the order of events on Thursday at Baylor University’s Armstrong Browning Library. An annual celebration, the birthday festivities are held in the grand three-story Italian Renaissance-style building built by the Browning collection founder, Dr. A.J. Armstrong. Filled with sixty-two stained glass windows, marble columns, black walnut marquetry paneling, and intricate ceiling designs, the Armstrong Library is routinely cited by various tastemakers as one of America’s most beautiful libraries, and attracts over 25,000 visitors a year. 

Elizabeth and Robert Browning, public domain (Wikimedia)

Rita Patteson, director of the Armstrong Library, spoke with me ahead of the celebration.  “Browning Day is the biggest event of the year for us,” she said. “It’s our chance to share the beauty of Browning’s poetry with the world, and to showcase our collection.”  The library is the repository of the largest collection of correspondence and other material written by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, two of the 19th century’s preeminent poets and prolific letter-writers.

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ABL McLean Foyer of Meditation, Ryan Duncan, Baylor Marketing and Communications

Events started at 3:30 p.m in the Hankamer Treasure Room with the premiere of “Mysterion,” a composition created by the Armstrong Library’s Artist-in-Residence Carlos Colón.  Baylor professor Joshua King followed up with a lecture entitled “Reforming Christ’s Body in Aurora Leigh,” discussing Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 1856 masterpiece, a nine-book novel composed in blank verse that assured her position as one of the foremost poets of the Victorian era.

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ABL Treasure Room, credit Matthew Minard, Baylor Marketing and Communications

After a light reception and time to visit the collection, members of the Fano Club convened their annual dinner, also held in the library. Browning scholar William Lyon Phelps founded the Fano Club in 1912, naming it for the Italian seaside town nestled on the Adriatic Sea where the painting “The Guardian Angel,” by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591 -1666) had inspired Robert Browning to compose “The Guardian Angel: A Picture at Fano” (1848). Initiation requirements include traveling to Fano, Italy and, once viewing the painting, mailing a postcard to the library stating that the aforementioned tasks were complete.  (Seeing “The Guardian Angel” is not as easy as it sounds; Fano is a three-hour drive from Florence, and, in typical Italian fashion, the Civic Museum (where the painting now hangs) is closed Mondays, for a few hours most afternoons, and all Italian holidays.) There are approximately 200 current Fano Club members, of whom nearly 40 traveled to Waco to enjoy the annual dinner. This year, the meal was served family-style and featured a traditional meal of antipasto, chicken saltimbocca and tiramisu for dessert.  Patteson, who is also a Fano Club member, was looking forward to the dinner. “We catch up, read some poetry, and enjoy a wonderful meal, all in the name of Robert Browning.” La dolce vita, indeed.

ABL pied piper 20111115_mm_28316.jpg  
ABL Pied Piper of Hamelin Window, Haskins Studio, Rochester, New York, 1924, credit Matthew Minard, Baylor Marketing and Communications

Click here for more information about Armstrong Browning Library.

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Dr. Patrick Hansma in Michigan:

Me with Library.jpg
Where are you from / where do you live?

I live near Detroit, MI

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

My undergraduate degree is in biomedical science.  After getting my bachelors degree I went on to medical school.  Now I’m a pathologist.

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

My library is fairly diverse but the core of my collecting falls into two categories: 1) autopsy/forensic pathology and 2) Bibles/Biblical studies.  I’ve been collecting autopsy books for a while now but I only recently started on Bibles.  Though I own some very nice copies of the Bible in English--such as Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (2 vol, 1815) and Scott’s Bible (6 vol, 1823)--which are currently are among my best holdings, I intend to develop it more toward’s the Bible in its original languages.  But I just started this collection--so we’ll see where it ends up.
As for autopsies, I’ve been at it for years.  I bet I probably have the most definitive collection of antiquarian books on autopsy methods in private hands.  I have nearly all the major titles and most of the minutiae.  Please don’t think that I’m bragging though--anyone can develop a definitive library.  Just pick your topic and start searching.  It’s amazing what you might find.  In my field I have very little competition.  It’s an uncommon thing to collect.  Which is fine by me, that keeps the prices low.  Most of them were published in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.  So most are cloth bindings, now ex libris from institutions, often stained from being in hospital pathology departments, etc. etc..  Most people collecting in medicine go for much earlier, leather bound high points, with beautiful anatomic or surgical plates.  And I don’t blame them.   My collection is very esoteric and few would enjoy it the way I do.

Overlay death_KJV Bible 1823_along side_Caspers Forensic Medicine 1861.jpg

I also have smaller subsets of collecting interests, including other areas of pathology, other medical topics, anatomy, astronomy, Edgar Allan Poe, Dante Alighieri, and some others.  But autopsies and Bibles take priority.  They represent my career and my faith.

How many books are in your collection?

My wife and I both are book lovers (she’s interested in typography and design).  Our combined library is probably about 900 volumes.  But the antiquarian books make up perhaps a third of that total.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

I’m really not sure. Possibly Wistar’s System of Anatomy, 2 vol, 7th ed, 1839.

How about the most recent book?

In my pathology collection that would be Les Adelson’s Pathology of Homicide, 1974.  In my Biblical studies collection it is A Dictionary of the Holy Bible, 3 vol, London, 1759.  I’m very excited about that one as it demands some research.  It was published anonymously but I’ve been finding things that hint that John Brown may have been involved with that set.  I own Brown’s Bible (1815), Dictionary (1816), and Concordance (1812).  So if Brown can be linked to the 1759 set, I would be pretty thrilled.

Bones_Homicide Investigation 1947_along side_Barry Moser Bible trade edition 1999.jpg

And your favorite book in your collection?

Not possible to pick just one because my collecting is so divided now.  Some of my favorites include Gaub’s Institutiones Pathologiae medicinalis (editio altera, 1763), Hektoen’s Post-Mortem Technique (1894; my copy was owned by Frank Burr Mallory--another famous pathologist who also wrote a book on autopsy procedure), Grabe’s Vetus Testamentum (4 vol bound in 2, vellum, 1730; it’s the Old Testament in Greek transcribed from Codex Alexandrinus), and Bibliorum Sacrorum Concordantia (1685, wood boards, metal clasps and straps intact).

Best bargain you’ve found?

Probably Horner’s Lessons in Practical Anatomy, for the Use of Dissectors, 1st ed, 1823, full leather, near fine.  It’s the first edition of Horner’s first work and it’s not merely a textbook of descriptive anatomy, it is an instruction manual for medical students in the cadaver lab on how to perform the dissection and what to observe.  I wanted it because it contrasts nicely with my autopsy books since it details an entirely different manner of human dissection.  I think I paid $18 for it.

How about The One that Got Away?

There have been too many of those to count.  But a recent one was a 17th century copy of Fernel that sold on ebay for pocket change.  I missed it.  I was furious.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

In pathology, probably Benivieni’s 1507 De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis. It is considered the first book to advocate for the use of the autopsy.  They don’t come around very often and command five figure price tags.  I’ll never own one.  I do own a nice leather bound facsimile though, so that will have to do.  For my Bible collection, any 16th century copy of the Old or New Testament (Erasmus, perhaps?)  with a chain still attached to the binding would be a definite high!  But those also command top dollar.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

The internet.  My autopsy collection is so esoteric that there are no dealers who specialize in it--even among those who deal specifically in medicine.  I once asked the folks at Jeremy Norman’s History of Science if they could help me find a particular book I had been searching for for years (it was written by a very famous 19th century physician who has three medical conditions named after him!).  Their response was basically “never heard of it--but good luck.”  So I have had to act as my own agent.  That meant countless hours on the internet searching in multiple languages to find some of the rarest (because the most neglected) titles.  These books are often quite hard to find--there’s just not much of a market.

That said, there are a few brick and mortar shops I do like (all in Michigan).  Shaw’s Books, Archives Books, Credo Books and Redux Books, just to name a few.

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

Probably guitars.  I like Rickenbacker and Gibson.

Nominations for Bright Young Collectors (including self-nominations) are welcome at

tcc2014_auction_pcback_0.jpgWould you like Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story, to send you a handwritten postcard? How about 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr, or acclaimed biographer Hermione Lee?

Here’s your chance. The Common is holding its second annual postcard auction to raise funds for its biannual, Amherst-based literary journal. If you win, you or a friend of your choosing will receive a personalized postcard -- from this list of authors. Online bidders can bid now through May 13 at midnight; in-person bidding concludes on the night of the literary celebration, The Common in the City: Mumbai on May 14.

The bids opened at $35, and some have already jumped into the hundreds. Good luck!

Articles written by Mark Twain when he was a 29-year-old reporter for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, have been uncovered by scholars at the University of California, Berkeley. Twain was stationed for a year in San Francisco where his job was to write a daily 2,000-word “letter” about San Franciscan life to the readers of the Territorial Enterprise. His colorful and amusing anecdotes - already illustrative of his later hallmarked style - offer an intriguing insight into a young man at a crossroads. Twain, in 1865, was nearing his 30th birthday and still unsure of what he wanted to do with his life.

While scholars have long known that Twain wrote for the Territorial Enterprise, his contributions were considered lost owing to a series of fires that destroyed back issues of the newspaper. Bob Hirst, editor of the Mark Twain project at UC Berkeley, sought out reprints of Twain’s articles that might have appeared in other Western newspapers. Hirst and his team combed through back issues of hundreds of newspapers, taking advantage of recent digitization efforts, and discovering many of Twain’s letters along the way. Some of the letters were unsigned, but the authorship was obvious from Twain’s distinctive style.

In 1865 Twain was unsure of his future. He was in debt, frequently drunk, and unconvinced of his abilities as a writer. After a year of writing his San Francisco reports, Twain decided to commit to the writerly life, boarding a ship for Hawaii and writing fiction and humorous essays. A few years later he published The Innocents Abroad, about Americans traveling in Europe, which launched his career and remains one of the bestselling travel books of all time.

Twain’s letters from San Francisco, as well as a variety of other lesser-known writings, will be available on the Mark Twain Project website.

Image from Wikipedia.

9781594204920_large_The_Last_Bookaneer-673x1024.jpgA title like this is bound to be picked up by any fiction-friendly bibliophile. But what exactly is a bookaneer? Matthew Pearl, author of a slew of literary mysteries beginning with The Dante Club back in 2003, has dreamed up this figure, a literary pirate and “mischief maker” who uses the 1790 copyright loophole that left works of foreign authors unprotected, to make his living. Men like Pen Davenport and his long-time rival, who goes by the cryptonym Belial, steal manuscripts and proof sheets and deliver them into the hands of greedy publishers. (Women, too; one named Kitten is said to the best bookaneer there ever was until she unearthed Mary Shelley’s long lost short story and promptly went mad.) But now its 1891, and that loophole is about to close. Three bounty hunters embark on their final adventure--to Samoa, where an ailing Robert Louis Stevenson is finishing his final work. The tropical island, however, proves more than a challenge to this trio of literary bandits, all trying to out-sleuth one another. It’s an enjoyable read, and Pearl certainly deserves points for tackling antiquated copyright law in commercial fiction!   

The Last Bookaneer (Penguin Press, $27.95) is in stores now, and Pearl is currently on book tour, if you want to catch a reading/signing.

Since early 2011, uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East have brought down old regimes, and in the wake of bloodshed and chaos, looters and profiteers have descended onto ancient sites and plundered antiquities and rare books for profit, representing an irreparable loss of our global cultural heritage. The looters’ meticulous organization is astonishing - satellite images detail the scale of the destruction, and timestamped images indicate how quickly these treasures are disappearing. ISIS maintains a sophisticated network of in-house archaeologists and arts experts who identify and document artifacts, because looting is a tremendous business that shows no signs of abating. Where’s all this loot going? To American and European auction houses, or right into the hands of wealthy collectors throughout the world.

Tonight, the HBO newsmagazine VICE is airing an episode dedicated to the robust trade of black-market antiquities flourishing in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.  In “Egyptian Tomb Raiders,” reporter Gianna Toboni visits world heritage sites such as the tombs at Luxor and Abu Sir Al-Malaq. There, a group of professional looters takes her to a site currently under illicit excavation. The camera pans the surroundings - huge holes hastily dug into the dirt, littered with piles of unwrapped mummified skulls and bones, remains ransacked for jewelry buried thousands of years ago. Large tire tracks in the sand indicate the presence of trucks and bulldozers that paved the way for this wholesale desecration.

Egypt (7 of 20).jpg
Photo credit: Courtesy of HBO

Toboni even gets a local boss to detail the export process. Holding a small stone carving of a queen, she asks how much a dealer in Cairo would pay for that one piece. Without hesitating, he estimates it could fetch $33,000 to $37,000, of which he would net around nine thousand dollars, while his pit crew would earn about $4,000. He adds that he does not know the ultimate price an American would pay.  Multiply the value of that one statue by the thousands of antiquities and manuscripts that disappear daily, and the figures become astronomical. (Some estimates put ISIS’s daily income in the millions of dollars.)

In another scene Toboni visits the Cairo Ministry of Antiquities, where a team of three men search online auction sites for stolen goods. At one point, the director holds up a Christie’s Auction Catalog of a sale of Egyptian Antiquities and says, point blank, that some of the items in that sale were stolen, and that dealers falsified provenance to avoid being incriminated for trafficking in stolen cultural property.

Egypt (13 of 20).jpg
Photo credit: Courtesy of HBO

Toboni doesn’t go to Syria, but she does speak with a Syrian archaeologist, Shawnee State University professor Dr. Amr Al-Azm, who is spearheading an effort to document the destruction via a team of dedicated in-country volunteers. It’s an uphill battle against a transnational criminal organization, but at least he’s started the effort to stop it.  

“Egyptian Tomb Raiders” is a fascinating documentary and begs further inquiry into shady auction house practices and leads viewers to wonder why there isn’t legislation that could inhibit the sale of ill-gotten antiques, at least here in the United States. In fact, bill 5703 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2014 that would have authorized the President to impose import restrictions on antiquities from Syria.It was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice on November 24, and remained there, without action, until the end of the 113th Congress, whereupon the bill died. (Read HR 5703 here.)

At one point, Toboni asks a masked tomb raider how he feels about his job. “I feel like I am stealing from my country and selling it,” he says. “But I need to feed my kids.”

Watch VICE Fridays on HBO at 11 PM, 10 PM central, or stream it via HBO Now,
and catch a sneak-peek of tonight’s show here.

Auction Guide