July 2015 Archives

Dedicated to rare books and manuscripts, Yale University’s Beinecke Library also houses a massive collection of videocassettes and is currently in the process of digitizing the tapes to preserve them and make them accessible online. Library preservationists are currently working with decades-old recordings of “Sesame Street” from the archives of screenwriter and song writer Tony Geiss (1924-2011).

AnAmericanTailPoster.jpgGeiss spent a lifetime creating programming for children. He co-wrote the animated feature films “An American Tail” and “The Land Before Time” and spent almost 40 years writing for public television’s “Sesame Street,” where he created characters like the Muppet Monsters, Abby Cadabby, and the Honkers. Geiss’ work earned him 22 Emmys, and the adoration of children worldwide. 

Digitizing videocassettes has become a priority for the University, which has nearly 2,000 cassettes in various formats, including VHS, U-matic, Betacam, and 8mm. Cassettes degrade over time, according to Frank Clifford, the library’s video digitization project manager, “It’s a matter of time before a lot of these tapes are not going to be playable at all,” he said in a press release. Another challenge is maintaining the equipment necessary to play these tapes, which also break down. One digitized, the material will be easier to maintain, even if the videos are no longer accessible in their original form.

Since starting the digitization process in January, Clifford has digitized over 600 tapes. Of the archives containing videocassettes, Geiss’ is one of the largest, followed closely by poet Ira Cohen’s papers and the archive of Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky. 

Image: “An AmericanTail” Poster via Wikipedia.
Over 2,000 Hebrew manuscripts held at The British Library will be digitized and made freely available online thanks to a new partnership with the National Library of Israel. The manuscripts date from the Middle Ages through the 19th century and include some of the most important previously unpublished Hebrew documents in existence.

Notable among the manuscripts slated for digitization are the First Gaster Bible, c. 10th century (pictured above), the Second Gaster bible, c. 11th - 12th century, a daily prayer book decorated in Italy in the 15th century, a festival prayer book from 15th century Provence, as well as a variety of Judeo-Persian handwritten books. Many of the manuscripts are richly illustrated.

The digitized copies will be accessible on a website run by The National Library of Israel.  The institution hopes to build online a significant digital library of Hebrew manuscripts, drawing on digitized manuscripts from repositories around the world.

The British Library’s Chief Executive, Roly Keating, said “Hebrew manuscripts are one of the great strengths of the British Library’s vast collections, so we are delighted to be working with our counterparts at the National Library of Israel to make these remarkable manuscripts available online.”

[Image from The British Library]

85_1 (Medium).JPGWho keeps a good autograph book these days? For decades, these handy blank books cherished by celebrity seekers and schoolchildren were employed in the collecting of notable signatures. The ornate--almost outlandish--one seen here, bound in quarter leather and highly decorative boards, served Paul N. Peck, a White House staff administrator during the presidency of Herbert Hoover, 1929-1933. Peck assembled an impressive roster of political autographs, including those of President Hoover, Vice-President Charles Curtis, Secretary of State Henry L. Stinson, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon, and Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, among others. The keepsake is going to auction next week at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago and is estimated to make $3,000-5,000.   

Liber Scriptorum-Heritage copy.jpgThe Authors Club, an association for literary-minded gentlemen, was formed in New York City in 1882. In an effort to raise funds for a permanent clubhouse, its members published Liber Scriptorum, a collection of original work, in 1893. Contributors included Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, William Dean Howells, Andrew Carnegie, and printer Theodore Low De Vinne, who ensured the production of a beautiful book, featuring hand-made paper, wood-block engravings, and fine typography bound in blind- and gilt-tooled brown morocco. Incredibly, each of the 109 writers who submitted a story signed his respective work in each volume, e.g. Twain placed his signature just below his “A Californian’s Tale,” and Roosevelt under his “A Shot at Bull Elk.” The edition ran to 251 copies, each selling for $100. In the meantime, Carnegie had donated a suite a rooms at 57th St. & Seventh Ave. to the club, so the Liber profits were used to decorate the rooms instead.  

Liber Scriptorum; The First Book of the Authors Club. New York-3-1 copy.jpgA copy of Liber Scriptorum (#58 in the edition) goes to auction next week at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. As a relic of this bygone circle of New York’s turn-of-the-century literati, as a fine production by De Vinne, or as the first appearance--and signed--of a Twain short story, it is a ‘textbook’ example of a collectible book. The estimate is $4,000, but bidding starts at $2,000. Proxy bidding ends on August 4, and the live auction happens the following day.

Images: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Rizzoli-Exterior-2-524x402.jpgBibliophiles rejoice! Rizzoli, a New York City landmark among book lovers, has opened today a new 5,000-square-foot store at 1133 Broadway, near Madison Square Park. Rizzoli was formerly located on 57th Street, before its much lamented closure in April 2014. The new shop, occupying the ground floor of the historic St. James Building, has preserved some of the classic hallmarks of its previous home, including its cherry wood bookcases and brass and iron chandeliers. New features include an enormous glass showcase facade, a peaked skylight, and stunning Fornasetti Milano-designed wallpaper of clouds and hot air balloons that pays homage to the printed word.  

“For more than 50 years, the Rizzoli bookstore has attracted discerning patrons from around the globe and provided beautifully produced volumes on art, design, interiors, fashion, as well as literature, and important non-fiction books. We believe we have found the perfect location for our new flagship bookstore and we look forward to joining this vibrant community of innovative thinkers,” said Laura Donnini, CEO of RCS Libri, the book publishing arm of the Milan based RCS MediaGroup. “We expect this customer--both New York-based, and visiting from all points national and international--to embrace the 21st century version of their favorite bookstore.”

Image via Rizzoli.
Sometimes great discoveries are right under our noses. Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss to millions of children) died in 1991, and soon after, Audrey, his widow, found a box of unpublished manuscripts and illustrations in his office during a home renovation. The box was put aside, and remained undisturbed and unopened for another 23 years. In 2013, Audrey took a second pass at cleaning her late husband’s office, this time with Geisel’s longtime secretary, Claudia Prescott, whereupon the box was opened again. This time, the contents were examined more carefully, and inside was the complete manuscript and illustrations for What Pet Shall I Get? The material was quickly sent to Random House, which will publish the book on July 28.

Seuss’ former art director, Cathy Goldsmith, estimates the book was written between 1958 and 1962, since the brother-sister duo in this story are the same pair who appear in the 1960 Seuss classic One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. (The New York Times just ran a wonderful profile on Goldsmith, exploring her eleven-year working relationship with Seuss as well as how she prepared this manuscript for publication.) “My connection to Ted remains as vital as it was when we worked closely together years ago--I know he is looking down, watching over the process, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to do everything just as he would have done himself,” Goldsmith said in a prepared statement. The materials will now be stored at the Geisel Library at UC San Diego.

Next week I’ll share my thoughts on What Pet Shall I Get? over at Literary Features Syndicate.

Image: Reproduced with permission from Random House.

On Saturday, the first part of the library of collector Robert Easton heads to auction at Addison & Sarova in Macon, Georgia. Online bidding is open.

Robert Easton was affectionately dubbed the “Henry Higgins of Hollywood,” working as a language and dialect coach on many films over five decades. Easton began work in Hollywood as an actor, however his true passion was language and his favorite hobby was collecting books.

“While ‘on location,’ from London to Shanghai and across 60 odd years of traveling, I have lovingly collected poetry, prose, humor, history, culture, slang and local literature.....often on my hands and knees in seedy secondhand bookstores, sweltering swap meets and fortuitous flea markets.  What a great time I had!,” said Easton, reflecting on his wonderfully diverse collection of books, many of them related to language and dialect.

One of the auction highlights is a large selection of proverbs offered individually and in small lots. Many were sourced from the William Stirling-Maxwell collection of proverbs from Keir House, Scotland.

Addison & Sarova will follow this week’s auction with another Easton auction in the fall, which will feature some of the rare and important items in his collection.

[Images from Addison & Sarova]

Lincoln_fin2_ws.jpegTennessee sculptor Lundy Cupp has carved faces into many objects: tree trunks, walking sticks, and yes, even pumpkins. He has also set his chisel to books--“primarily old encyclopedias,” he wrote in a recent email--to create fine visages in paper. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was sculpted from the 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica, while Albert Einstein was excavated from the 1969 American Peoples Encyclopedia. “I have a very long list of iconic people that I would like to do,” Cupp added, naming Shakespeare and Twain in particular. His faces, some whimsical, others solemn, are reminiscent of the altered book art of Guy Laramee and Brian Dettmer. Take a gander through his gallery.

Image: Courtesy of Lundy Cupp.

2014HemingwayDays01-t.jpgJuly 21 is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, and in celebration of that, today kicks off “Hemingway Days” in Key West, Florida, until July 26. The 35th annual festival features a Hemingway look-alike contest, an exhibit of memorabilia related to the author, a faux running of the bulls, and both a fishing tournament and a writing competition. A full schedule of this year’s events is here.

Hemingway spent about a decade in the tropical Florida locale, from 1928 until 1939, and it inspired the setting for his 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not. His former residence at 907 Whitehead St. is now the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, a National Historic Landmark, open to the public year-round.

Image: Wally Collins, middle, is congratulated after beating 130 other men to be crowned the 2014 “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest winner late Saturday, July 19, 2014, at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)
9780374139667 copy.jpgOur summer issue offers a list of “8 Beach Reads for Bibliophiles,” one of which is a debut novel by Stephen Jarvis called Death and Mr. Pickwick (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30) that attempts to recover the true story behind the creation of Dickens’ The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. It is a rich, multi-layered novel that re-introduces us to illustrator and caricaturist Robert Seymour, who Jarvis believes initially dreamed up Samuel Pickwick and his fellows. Book and print collectors will be especially interested in how scrupulously the author illuminates the world of nineteenth-century British printmaking and publishing. In the Q &A that follows, Jarvis graciously answers our questions about the novel and its characters.

Q: How did you happen upon the idea for this novel? Do you study/collect nineteenth-century illustration or caricature?

A: In the UK, there is a BBC radio show called Desert Island Discs, in which celebrities have to choose eight records and a book to take to a hypothetical desert island. I happened to be listening when a British comedian called Griff Rhys Jones chose The Pickwick Papers as his book, which he described as “so full of life.” There was something about that phrase which resonated with me, and so I decided to get The Pickwick Papers out of the library, as I had never read it before - indeed, I had read very little Dickens before. I did Oliver Twist in school, but that was about it. Anyway, in the modern preface to the novel, there was one line referring to the suicide of the book’s illustrator, Robert Seymour, and I was instantly fascinated. Part of the fascination was that nothing more was said about the suicide - I wanted to know why he had shot himself. I had never even heard of Robert Seymour before, but I just KNEW that there was something here which had to be investigated and written about. Prior to that, I had had no interest in nineteenth-century illustration and caricature, but I am interested now. It was a golden age of British cartooning. The greatest cartoonist of the age was probably James Gillray, but Seymour was a very substantial cartoonist too. He was the most prolific cartoonist of his time, and it is estimated that he drew one-third of all the cartoons published in London, a phenomenal rate of output.

Q: Your research into the artists, printmakers, and booksellers of Dickensian London must have been massive. Tell us about your process. What books and sources did you find most useful?

A: The research was a mountain. Mostly I did it in the British Library, but I also went to Houghton Library in Harvard, as well as libraries in New York and Philadelphia, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It used to be said that more had been written about The Pickwick Papers than any other work of fiction, and I can believe it: there are literally thousands of books, academic papers and articles about Pickwick, and I made it my goal to read everything ever written about the novel, in order to truly understand the Pickwick phenomenon, and the historical circumstances which created it. I will choose three books as particularly significant. Firstly, City of Laughter by Vic Gatrell. This explores the so-called ‘debauchery prints’  which were around just before Pickwick. The Pickwick Papers emerged from traditions of graphic caricature, but public morality was changing, and the old prints were no longer acceptable, and Gatrell brilliantly documents the period of ‘anything goes’ humour before Pickwick. Second, The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi by Andrew McConnell Stott. Seymour shot himself shortly after drawing a picture of a dying clown for The Pickwick Papers, and the clown was based upon the tragic life of a real person, J S Grimaldi, the son of the great clown Joseph Grimaldi. Stott’s book truly helped me to understand both father and son. Thirdly, The Pickwick Papers: An Annotated Bibliography by Elliot D. Engel. Although this book is now in need of updating, it remains the key guide to the literature on The Pickwick Papers. I would also add that I went through many volumes of newspaper cuttings at the Dickens Museum in London, and these were a wonderful source of material too.

Q: You contend that it was Seymour, not Dickens, who was the creative force behind The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Is this something that Dickens fans and scholars continue to debate?

A: Well, my novel shows that Dickens lied about the origins of The Pickwick Papers. The traditional origin of Pickwick simply cannot be true, and that is that. Some other origin of Pickwick happened, and the question is: what was the real origin of Pickwick? The indications are that Dickens was ‘writing up’ to Seymour, that is following the artist’s lead, which is the exact opposite of what Dickens claimed, and that Seymour’s influence continued after the artist’s death. Just how far Seymour’s influence extended will have to remain an open question, unless new evidence turns up. It is known that a huge amount of evidence about Seymour vanished in 1928 - specifically a 350-page unpublished manuscript, “The Life of Robert Seymour,” written by a man called R D Morewood, who was  a meticulous researcher and a close associate of Seymour’s son. This was the “Holy Grail” of my research, and I spent ages trying to find it - the hunt probably added a year to the time it took to write my book. I didn’t find the manuscript though, and I strongly suspect that it was deliberately suppressed by Dickensians, who did not want the truth about Seymour to come out.  If there is to be further investigation of Seymour’s role in Pickwick, this manuscript need to be found, if it still survives.

Q: Tell us a bit about the character who collects Pickwick

A: The collector is based upon a real person called J. F. Dexter, who devoted fifty years of his life to  collecting what he called “A Perfect Pickwick in Parts” - that is, a set of the serially-issued first-edition parts of Pickwick, which was perfect in every respect. Dexter even wanted every advertising flier that was ever inserted in Pickwick, things which were normally thrown away by readers. He spent his life hunting in attics, salerooms, private libraries and secondhand bookshops, in the hope of attaining perfection, and he came pretty close! His copy of Pickwick is the most valuable in the world. It’s in the British Library, and yes I have examined it!

An excerpt of the novel is available. More information about the book and the author can be found at Death and Mr. Pickwick.

Image via Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

That Great Book Which is Ever Before Our Eyes

After ten years of hurtling through space, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft approached Pluto and its moons this week, sending home stunning photographs of the icy dwarf planet. Over the next six months the vessel will continue accumulating data that astronomers hope will reveal some of the secrets concealed by this rocky world at the limits of our solar system. Before the spacecraft began its 3 billion-mile trek in January 2006, NASA scientists maintained that this mission - the exploration of the Kuiper Belt (the farthest, oldest portion of the solar system where Pluto resides) - as the highest priority in space travel.

IImage of Pluto from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. The bright feature in the bottom portion of the planet has been coined “the heart”.
Image Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

Much what we knew about Pluto (and hundreds of asteroids) is due to Clyde Tombaugh. As a 24 year-old at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the farmer-turned-astronomer discovered Pluto in 1930 and sparked what could be considered the modern push to planetary exploration. Tombaugh spent his entire life gazing towards the heavens, and built over thirty telescopes to better understand the cosmos. (His first telescope, a store-bought Sears model, proved insufficient rather quickly.) He died in 1997, just shy of his 91st birthday. Tombaugh was the first American to discover a planet in our solar system, and was honored for his work by becoming the first person whose remains, included in the New Horizons craft, were launched into the stars beyond our corner of the universe. After getting a close-up look at Pluto, he will continue charting new worlds beyond our galactic neighborhood.

Clyde Tombaugh: Discoverer of Pluto (1906-1997) Image Credit: NASA

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Margaret Gamm, Special Collections Acquisitions and Collection Management Librarian at University of Iowa Libraries:

How did you get started in rare books?
When I was in fifth grade, I went to my first book signing, where I was thrilled to watch J.K. Rowling sign my first printing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (alas, not the Philosopher’s Stone). I knew it was special, as did my parents. When I wanted to take it to school with me so that my friends could see it, they ensured that I put it in a Ziploc bag. I gave everybody handling instructions when they wanted to touch it. I guess that counts as early practice for my reading room spiel? Researching the book introduced me to Abebooks and Ebay, which led me down the rabbit hole. Eventually, my undergraduate advisor at the University of Georgia, Professor Frances Teague, suggested an internship at Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library. That sealed the deal.
Where did you earn your MLS?
I graduated with an MSLS and a Concentration in Archives and Records Management from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
What is your role at your institution?
Amongst other things, I select for, acquire, and manage our rare book, manuscript, and maps collections. You can watch me open boxes of orders and gifts on our Vine. I also run the Map Collection tumblr.
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?
My current favorite items in Iowa’s collections are our medieval manuscripts (digitized versions can be seen here). I find something new to me every time I look at them. During a recent class, I noticed a map in the margins of our 1465 Pharsalia manuscript, which I suspect is the oldest map in our collection. The collection that has had the most lasting effect on me is the Heralds of Science, which is located at the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology at the Smithsonian. I transcribed copy specific information for each of the books during the course of an internship there. Working my way through that collection gave me a tremendous appreciation of scientific books and the history of science.
What do you personally collect?
I collect for the institution, so I tend to stay away from too much personal collecting. I have a few signed first printings from my favorite authors, and I would like to collect 19th century fashion images.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy disc golfing and attending weekly trivia with an ever-increasing number of librarians.
What excites you about rare book librarianship?
Everything! There is always something to explore, something to share, and somebody to share it with. I can spend one day focusing on bindings, the next day looking at scrolls, and the next day looking at typography. The topics discussed in our shared office each day might include 20th century science fiction or a 15th century palimpsest. I just returned from Rare Book School, which I knew would be great, but which still surpassed my expectations. It was invigorating to be around so many people who share the same sort of passion.
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?
Special collections are becoming increasingly available to the public and interest is growing in leaps and bounds, which is quite thrilling. Space will always be a problem, whether digital or physical, but the material going into that space is wonderful, and increasingly diverse.  My special collections colleagues (at Iowa and around the world) continue to amaze me with their passion and dedication, and are the biggest reason special collections is such an exciting place to be. Overall, I cannot wait to see where we are heading.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?
There are so many that it’s hard to pick just one. Colleen Theisen highlighted a few when she answered this question two years ago, but there are many more. One is the Szathmary Culinary Collection, which continues to grow as donations and purchases come in. I have focused on manuscript cookbooks in recent additions to the collection. Those can be a lot of fun. If you need a remedy for canine distemper, you can find it right next to the ingredients for a scent jar and a recipe for apple jelly. I am also partial to the Map Collection since it was the first one I worked with here, and it never gets enough love from researchers. There is a lot of untapped potential there for exciting and fresh research.
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
This Fall Special Collections is partnering with the University of Iowa Center for the Book and the John Martin Rare Book Room to host Micrographia: Book Art Responses to Early Modern Scientific Books. The call for interest closed at the beginning of July, so now we are looking forward to seeing what the book artists come up with. We also have several exhibits planned in anticipation of the grand opening of our shared exhibit space on the first floor of the library. One of them is First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, which is coming our way in Fall of 2016.

Common Prayer poster final copy.jpgComfortable Words: American Piety and the Book of Common Prayer, an exhibit featuring more than 25 editions and revisions of the 466-year-old prayer book, including the first edition of 1549, opens today at the United Methodist Archives & History Center at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. The exhibit aims to showcase not only the book’s liturgical utility, but its place in the evolution of English prose--“a generation before Shakespeare and Milton and the King James Bible”--and its transformation by generations of printers, publishers, and binders.

According to curator Kenneth E. Rowe, “The prayer book has also been the crowning masterpiece of the world’s greatest typographers and printers, from Whitchurch in the 1540s to Daye in the 1570s, from Baskett and Baskerville in the mid-1700s to Pickering in the 1840s and DeVinne in the 1890s on down to Updike in the 1930s. Fine binders like Mearne in the 1660s along with Riviere and Zaehnsdorf in the 1880s among others lavished their art on the prayer book, customizing them with magnificent decoration evident in the fine printings and bindings you will see displayed.”

The exhibit will remain on view through October 23.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.05.31 PM.pngThe Boston Public Library announced today that it has posted online the Chronique Anonyme Universelle, or “Genealogy of the Bible,” a 35-foot illuminated scroll dating from 1470-1479. The manuscript traces the genealogy of biblical characters and royals from the creation of the world to 1380.

The scroll, conserved by the Associates of the Boston Public Library and digitized by Boston College, is part of the BPL’s Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts Collection of Distinction.

“It is our great pleasure to share the Chronique Anonyme Universelle in its entirety and to bring viewers back to a significant time period that explores so many elements of our collective history,” commented Tom Blake, Digital Projects Manager, in a statement released today. “Boston Public Library is proud of our ongoing commitment to digitize our collections and connect audiences with a breadth of items they may not see otherwise.”

Image: (Detail) Chronique Anonyme Universelle. Via BPL’s Digital Commonwealth portal.  

Waterloo According to Rabbits

Sage of Waterloo_9780393246919.jpg

The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale, by Leona Francombe; W.W. Norton & Co, $22.95, 240 pages.

“You can always jump higher than you think you can.” Good advice for anybody, but especially important for rabbits. That and other of life’s aphorisms are offered by a wise grandmother bunny named Old Lavender, a central character in this story and who lives at Hougoumont, the historic farm located at the site of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Old Lavender explains the history of the place to her grandson, William, and how the past and present are deeply intertwined here. 

This debut English-language novel by classically-trained pianist Leona Francombe was published on the eve of the two hundred year anniversary of the decisive battle, whose outcome is often cited as paving the way for the rise of modern Europe. Told from William’s point of view, it is a decidedly unique examination of the war and its consequences for humans and animals. (Perhaps another apt proverb here might be “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’) Old Lavender and William discuss historical points as well as philosophical ones, whether war and violence is hell on earth, or the makings of, as a young William puts it, “stirring bedtime stories.” There are few, if any, human voices in the book, which may throw off readers who prefer a more straightforward approach to history (i.e. anything by Geoff Wooten).

I enjoyed it - these are some thoughtful bunnies, and though very little action occurs in the present, history aficionados will certainly appreciate Francombe’s attention to battle detail - from the exacting description of the Hougoumont farmhouse and surrounding property, to the difference in bullet weight (British bullets were seven pounds heavier than French ones). Yes, this is a novel  involving Belgian bunnies discussing ghosts and a major turning point in history, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief for 240 pages, then The Sage of Waterloo is a refreshingly distinct examination of war and its aftermath.

tyndale bible auction sothebys.jpg
A Tyndale Bible is coming up for auction on July 14 at Sotheby’s London. The copy is a 1536 printing, the last printing of Tyndale’s Bible during his lifetime.

William Tyndale, inspired by Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible, translated the New Testament from Greek into English and printed the first complete copies in 1526 while on the run in Europe as a religious fugitive from England. He published two revised editions, one in 1534 and the other in 1536. That same year Tyndale was betrayed to the authorities, arrested, convicted as a religious heretic, and strangled to death in Belgium.

Copies of his Bible, meanwhile, were burnt on discovery in England where they were condemned. (In a terrible twist of irony, only a few years after Tyndale’s death, Henry VIII commissioned the first official Bibles to be published in England in its native tongue).

The Tyndale Bible heading to auction next week is also notable for its discovery by its current owner. In a once-in-a-lifetime “great find” moment, the present owner stumbled across the Tyndale Bible while browsing for books in a secondhand bookshop in Cambridge in the 1960s. The price? 25 shillings or about $2.

At auction next week, the Tyndale Bible is expected to fetch $38,000-53,000.

[Image from Sotheby’s]

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 10.32.02 AM.pngComing up at Sotheby’s London next week is a volume many book collectors covet: Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon (1599), an early treatise on bibliophily, i.e. book love. De Bury (1287-1345) was an English bishop and a book collector who chronicled the acquisition, preservation, organization, and lending practices of a library in twenty handy chapters. He intended to found a college at Oxford with his books, but he died too poor to succeed in that endeavor.

This first English edition is bound in contemporary vellum gilt, with a gilt centerpiece decoration of a Tudor Rose and the remnants of blue silk ties extant. The estimate is £5,000-7,000 ($7,710-10,794). 

Image: Via Sotheby’s.
photo 4.JPGToday in London the antiquarian bookselling firm Maggs Bros. will celebrate the publication of a limited edition, bilingual book titled The Last King of Portugal and Maggs, written by Clara Macedo Cabral. King Manuel II, exiled in Twickenham after the Republican Coup of 1910, began collecting books in 1913. After World War I, the king exclusively commissioned Maggs to assemble “the finest Portuguese book collection printed before 1600.” One of the treasures they sourced: The Book of Marco Polo, printed by Valentim Fernandes in 1502.

Cabral’s history is as much about Maggs, the oldest antiquarian bookseller under continuous family ownership, as it is about Manuel, and therefore will be of interest not only to collectors of Portuguese culture and history but to those who enjoy the lore of bookselling and books about books.

photo 1.JPGMaggs published the book in an edition of 400, hardbound with pretty endpapers and richly illustrated throughout, including two foldout plates (one seen above). Half of the edition will be sent to Portugal, while the remaining 200 will be for sale at Maggs for £20 ($31) per copy, plus postage/handling. Potential buyers may contact Titus Boeder (Titus@Maggs.com).

Images Courtesy of Titus Boeder/Maggs. 
Dreweatts.jpgA star lot at Bloomsbury Auctions’ sale in London this week is the McKell Medical Almanack, an illuminated manuscript on parchment that offers medical-astronomical prognostications for the calendar year (it was commissioned in 1445). What makes it special, aside from its beauty, is that the “long-lost” manuscript was last recorded and seen about sixty years ago, according to the auctioneer. It had been owned by Col. David McCandless McKell (1881-1962) of Cillicothe, Ohio, and was exhibited at the University of Kentucky library in March 1958, but it has been untraceable since. Scholars have been getting by with a black-and-white reproduction.

The estimate is £60,000-80,000 ($93,700-125,000). 

Image via Bloomsbury Auctions.

Alice Goes To The Morgan

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John Tenniel (1820-1914), “Nothing but a pack of cards! “1885, Hand-colored proof. Gift of Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., The Morgan Library & Museum, Photography by Steven H. Crossot, 2014.

Everyone has Alice fever this year, and with good reason; the precocious title character of Lewis Carroll’s (1832-1898) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland turns 150, and museums and libraries around the world are hosting exhibitions and lectures dedicated to exploring the enduring fascination with what many consider one of the greatest stories ever told. From June 26 through October 11, New York’s Morgan Library & Museum will celebrate Alice with original correspondence, drawings and photographs from the Morgan’s own vast holdings. The centerpiece of the show is on loan from the British Library - Carroll’s original 1864 manuscript, complete with his own pen and ink drawings, that the author had presented to Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the Alice in his book.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was polymath in every sense, and his love of languages and logic touched every aspect of his personal and professional life. Even his pen name was carefully conceived; translated into Latin, Charles Lutwidge becomes Ludovicus Carolus, then retranslated back into English as Lewis Carroll. This and other such intriguing trivia are part of the Morgan exhibit and bring yet another dimension to the worldwide success.

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Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), John Tenniel (1820-1914), illustrator, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, London: Macmillan and Co., 1865, First printing (first suppressed edition). Gift of Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., The Morgan Library & Museum. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2015. 

While Carroll may have been a well-regarded professor at Oxford, his true passion lay in telling stories for children. As the oldest of eleven children, Carroll had always held the role as entertainer, often creating stories to entertain his siblings, a talent that  blossomed throughout his career.

The first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland appeared in 1865, though Carroll had hoped to have the book published in 1864 in time for Christmas shoppers. That edition was suppressed almost immediately (illustrator John Tenniel was dissatisfied with the printing quality), and twenty copies of the first printing are believed to be in existence today, one of which is on display at the Morgan. Though Carroll missed the holiday rush, he needn’t have worried; since its appearance between hard covers, the book has never gone out of print, and became an overnight sensation as soon as it hit bookshelves. The exhibit is by no means limited to scholars - the museum has put together a fabulous family guide, complete with interactive activities and large, brightly colored carpets and stools - perfect spots for following Alice down the rabbit hole and into a captivating world of the imagination.

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John Tenniel (1820-1914), Painting the Roses Red, 1885, Hand-colored proof. Gift of Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., The Morgan Library & Museum,  Photography by Steven H. Crossot, 2014. 

Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland at the Morgan Library from June 26 through October 11, 2015

Kafka_portrait.jpgAn Israeli court has awarded a unique collection of Franz Kafka manuscripts to the National Library of Israel, ending a legal dispute that lasted for several decades.

The court ordered Eva Hoffe, a resident of Tel Aviv, to remit all of the Kafka manuscripts in her possesion to the National Library of Israel.

Hoffe currently owns the Kafka manuscripts because of a complicated provenance line.  When Kafa died in 1924, with much of his work still unpublished, he willed his manuscripts to his friend Max Brod. Brod was instructed by Kafka to burn the manuscripts after Kafka died, however Brod ignored his order and carried the manuscripts with him to Palestine in 1939 when he fled Nazi persecutions in Europe.  On Brod’s death in 1968, he left the Kafka collection to his secretary Esther Hoffe, instructing her to “publish his work and ensure after her death that his literary estate be placed for safekeeping in a suitable institution.”

Esther Hoffe, however, instead considered offering the manuscripts for auction overseas in 1973, which drew the attention of the Israeli government. The government instructed Hoffe that she was was not to dispose of any documents, a move that prompted a decades-long legal battle that surpassed Hoffe’s own lifespan.  When she died in 2007, she passed the Kafka manuscripts on to her two daughters, including Eva Hoffe. The pair of sisters began legal proceedings claiming the manuscripts were legally theirs in 2008, however one sister died in the intervening years and a court officially rejected the claim in 2012.

This week a Tel Aviv court upheld the ruling, denying an appeal from Eva, the surviving sister.

So, after a long and complicated legal battle - one could say a “Kafkaesque” legal battle - much of Kafka’s literary legacy will come to rest in the National Library of Israel. The library commented that they will eventually digitize the manuscripts, making them freely available online. 
Sightseers in Washington, D.C., have endless opportunities to be awestruck. This summer, the Library of Congress provides yet another option with its excellent new exhibit, First Among Many: The Bay Psalm Book and Early Moments in American Printing.

Bay Psalm copy.jpgThe first thing visitors behold upon entering the exhibit space is a case containing two copies of the Bay Psalm Book (1640), the first book printed in colonial America, of which only eleven survive. On the left sits the Library of Congress copy--worn and incomplete, but in its original binding. On the right (pictured above) is David M. Rubenstein’s copy--rebound, but complete, even with the original title page. Rubenstein purchased the book at auction in November 2013 for $14.2 million, the current auction record for any printed book. It is a remarkable pairing, and any bibliophile might be pleased to make the trip for it alone.

And yet, there is more to ogle. From the Bay Psalm Book, the exhibit encourages viewers toward the Eliot Indian Bible, the first complete bible printed in the Western Hemisphere, in 1660-1663. Printing spread slowly in the colonies, and it remained less expensive to import English books well into the eighteenth century. But it took off during the pre-Revolutionary period, and the work of New York newspaperman Peter Zenger and of printer-patriot Benjamin Franklin stands to represent these heady days. Franklin, of course, has an entire case devoted to his output, from his apprenticeship to his older brother, James Franklin, to his almanacs, to his “masterwork,” Cicero’s Discourse of Old-age (1744).

“The Revolution in American thought, captured in print, was underway; and the rebellion was soon to follow,” wrote Thomas Paine. An “extremely rare broadside printing” (1777) of his American Crisis hangs in the exhibit, as does a Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence (July 1776) and John Hancock’s “Plea for Support,” printed in December 1776 by Mary Katherine Goddard. Another highlight in this section is Isaiah Thomas’ Royal American Magazine from July 1774, opened to showcase Paul Revere’s engravings.

The Federalist, a mainstay on any list of important early American books, is illustrated in this exhibit by a copy of the 1788 compendium once owned by Alexander Hamilton’s wife, whose sister gifted it to Thomas Jefferson. The annotations he left indicate his best guesses for authorship of many of the anonymously published essays.

Other “firsts” of note include the first novel published in America, William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy, or, The Triumph of Nature, Founded in Truth (1789), and the first volume of poetry by an African American published in America, Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1787).

Tight in scope, well organized, and chock-full of incredible historical high spots, First Among Many situates itself perfectly within the city’s tourism complex. “Lay” museumgoers will enjoy it; book lovers will adore it. The exhibit is up through January 2, 2016. If you can’t make it to D.C., check out the online version.

Image: Credit Brett Barry. Used by permission. 
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