September 2015 Archives

If ever there were a headline--or a book title--to entice bibliophiles, surely this is it. And Sasha Abramsky’s new book, The House of Twenty Thousand Books (NYRB, $27.95), a combination of memoir, history, and biography, more than delivers on that lure.

House20k_2048x2048 copy.jpgAbramsky, a journalist and senior fellow at Demos think tank, writes lovingly of his grandparents’ house at 5 Hillway, in Highgate, London. Chimen, the Russian-born atheist son of a famous rabbi, and his wife, Mimi, gathered not only thousands of rare books there but hundreds of scholars, friends, and family members, turning their home into “one of left-wing London’s great salons.” Each chapter invites readers into one room of the house to survey its bookish contents and to hear fascinating accounts of prominent visitors, bitter arguments, and delicious meals.

Chimen, introduced at a 1969 Jewish Book Week lecture as “possibly the greatest Jewish bibliophile in the world,” collected both Socialist material and Judaica. Abramsky writes, “...every single room in the house, except the bathroom and kitchen, was lined from floor to ceiling with shelves double-stacked with books.” There were rarities like The Communist Manifesto with both Marx’s and Engels’ personal annotations, and William Morris’ complete collection of the Socialist League’s journal, The Commonweal, stored in a box built by Morris. There were sets of egalitarian Everyman’s classics too. The incredibly well-read Chimen, perhaps best suited for academic life, ran a bookshop called Shapiro, Valentine & Co. in London’s East End in the sixties. His encyclopedia memory for bibliography served him well as he became the leading consultant on manuscripts at Sotheby’s; he catalogued the collection of David Sassoon in the seventies, a sale that “essentially jump-started the modern global market in rare Hebrew materials.” In his later years, Chimen joined the faculty of University College London and lectured widely on Jewish books and history.

In 2010, Chimen died at the age of 93, and his library--an estimated 15,000-20,000 volumes--was sold. The author kept a shelf-full of his grandfather’s books as a legacy. More significantly, though, he documented his grandfather’s life. It is an important story, and Abramsky confronts harsh truths with warmth and wisdom. He also understands (and celebrates) the bibliomania behind the floor-to-ceiling, double-stacked shelves. In discussing Chimen’s friendship with Italian expatriate economist Piero Sraffa, he writes, “Over the decades, they swapped rare books and shared with each other the joy of the hunt, the unspeakable pleasure--that only a fellow connoisseur could understand--of finding a particular edition of a particular book or pamphlet, and of procuring it for a lower-than-anticipated price.” It’s a feeling that all of us can relate to.  

Image via NYRB.

Guest Post by Catherine Batac-Walder

aerial photo from annual Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film & Music in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, was held this past weekend on September 24-27, and I had the opportunity to attend the Endeavour event on Sunday. (Endeavour is a British TV drama series, a prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse series, based on the crime novels of Colin Dexter. The show follows the early career of the younger Morse in Oxford in the 1960s.) The panel consisted of actor Shaun Evans (who plays Endeavour Morse), writer Russell Lewis, and producer Dan McCulloch. Dexter, now 85, was present in the audience. The group showed us a clip from series three which airs in January.

As a fan of the original series and of Oxford as a location, it is always refreshing to find new Morse stories. As much as Russell Lewis remarked that Endeavour isn’t meant to be a tribute to what we know about Morse, I couldn’t help but notice the formula being used for these spin-offs. I do love literary mysteries, but it would be nice to have more variety and less crimes that relate to a poem, a crossword puzzle, or a piece of music. Other than this, in my opinion, the actors and creators of Endeavour are doing a great job, and to recreate a 1960s Oxford is no menial task.

Other guests at this year’s festival included Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who talked about his new novel, A Strangeness in my Mind, and radio presenter Paul Gambaccini, whose new book is called Love, Paul Gambaccini.

On its own, Blenheim Palace is a fantastic place to visit with its park, gardens, miniature train, and 300 years of history. It is also the birthplace of Winston Churchill, whose grave is in nearby Bladon.

--Catherine Batac-Walder is a writer living in the UK.

Image via Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film & Music.

249L15414_8FFP8.jpgA typescript of Bob Dylan’s lyrics for “It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” will be auctioned at Sotheby’s London tomorrow. The heavily revised text, showing more than 110 words in Dylan’s handwriting, is, Sotheby’s noted, “a highly important early working draft of the song that first revealed Dylan’s poetic ambitions as a songwriter.” The estimate for these two precious leaves is £150,000-200,000 ($234,000-312,000).

It is widely believed that Dylan typed this document in a “hide-out room” above the Gaslight, a folk music club/cafe in New York City’s Greenwich Village. According to folksinger Tom Paxton, Dylan first thought of “Hard Rain” as a poem. The “hide-out room” was likely the office of Hugh Romney, aka Wavy Gravy, who was the club’s poetry director at the time. This typescript actually comes to auction from the family of Romney’s first wife, Elisabeth (Lily) Djehizian, a waitress at the Gaslight in the early sixties.

According to Sotheby’s, “The current typescript is one of three known manuscripts of the poem, the others being an autograph lyric fragment among the Mackenzie-Krown papers now at the Morgan Library, and the final working manuscript (sold Sotheby’s, New York, 24 June 2014, lot 141, $400,000).”

Pop music lyrics are increasingly a hot commodity at auction. Dylan’s working manuscript of “Like a Rolling Stone,” made more than $2 million in 2014, and Don McLean’s original working manuscript of “American Pie” achieved $1.2 million earlier this year. Tomorrow’s sale also includes manuscript lyrics by Jack Bruce and Bruce Springsteen. 

Image via Sotheby’s.

brodsky doll.jpg

Precise glass towers soar along an alluring coastline, a cozy treehouse named in honor of Winnie-the-Pooh, and a dollhouse that bears a greater resemblance to a totem pole than a child’s plaything - these are a few of the eccentric illustrations created by Moscow natives Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin during a fifteen-year span from 1978 to 1993. (After viewing a set of images, I thought the work was an unexpected marriage of illustrations in Diderot’s Encyclopédie with the unsettling whimsy of Edward Gorey. Take a look for yourself, and tell me what you think.) Though graceful handwritten text often accompanies each etching, it rarely deciphers the image at hand and serves more as a written counterpoint to the Soviet demand that everything be purely functional and devoid of beauty.
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Brodsky and Utkin collaborated on dreamlike illustrations of homes, gardens, and entire cities with the ultimate goal of creating drawings whose futuristic components are solidly rooted in historical precedence, evoking an imaginary utopia at the turn of the 20th century, where utilitarian Soviet structures do not exist and citizens coexist happily among each other in well-planned (if totally fanciful) spaces. Though the men did not travel outside the USSR, their local library provided inspiration on topics like Egyptian tombs, French urban planning, and the Japanese obsession with refinement and precision. In a bid to undermine their work, Soviet detractors called Brodsky and Utkin ‘paper architects’, but the men embraced the moniker, and their art became illustrated architectural criticism of the Soviet Union and its ideology. These monochrome etchings have remained valuable educational tools for city planners, politicians and even set designers. 

A compilation of their work, entitled Brodsky & Utkin, was first published by Princeton Architectural Press in 1991. The book was reprinted earlier this month (again, by Princeton) in the same navy blue, clothbound cover as the original. This latest printing coincides with a display of Brodsky and Utkin’s etchings at London’s Tate Modern art museum. Part of a larger exhibition called Poetry and Dream, these illustrations highlight that, no matter how experimental or abstract contemporary art may be, there is often a strong desire to connect with the past, whether it ever existed or not. 

Brodsky & Utkin, with a new preface by Aleksandr Mergold, and original introduction by Lois Nesbitt; Princeton Architectural Press, $50.

Poetry & Dream is an ongoing display at the Tate Modern art museum in London.

Top Image: Doll’s House, 1990. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Inc. Bottom image: Dwelling House of Winnie-the-Pooh, 1990. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Inc.

Related articles
The rare book department at the Boston Public Library has closed for five to ten weeks after the staff discovered mold spores on a medieval manuscript as well as several other prized holdings in scattered locations throughout the department.

Boston Public Library’s rare book department is located in the McKim Building in Copley Square. The building was completed in 1895, long before modern advances in archival climate control. The staff depends upon the central air conditioning system in the building as well as strategically deployed dehumidifiers. 

The McKim Building is in the middle of a major renovation. When the renovation was coupled with late season humidity it created a “perfect storm” of conditions according to Laura Irmscher, chief of collections strategy. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Irmscher continued, “I think the time of the year and the extended humidity really played a significant part in it.”

Librarians will proceed to stabilize the humidity levels in the rare book department, then decontaminate the impacted materials. All 500,000 volumes in the collection -- widely considered one of the world’s best -- will need to be hand-examined.

Image of the McKim Building from Wikipedia.
Penguin is a book publisher that always seems to be innovating with its packaging and design (e.g. Penguin Drop Caps, Little Black Classics, re-designed Penguin Classics by Coralie Bickford-Smith). Now Penguin is trying its hand at “craft-inspired jackets.” They’ve taken six novels and allowed six artists to re-imagine the cover art in different media. The artwork was then reproduced as paperback cover art. The results are amazing.

getimage-3.jpgFor The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, artist Jenny Hart embroidered the entire design by hand. Read more about it here

getimage-1.jpgFor The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, designer Genevieve Dionne chose the art of wood burning to create her cover. Read more about it here.  

getimage-2.jpgFor The Help by Kathryn Stockett, designer Brenda Riddle created her book jacket first in a quilt. Read more about it here.

The Penguin By Hand series also includes Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club, showing a cut paper and collage-inspired cover; Kim Edwards’ The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter featuring a design created by “tactile typography”; and Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love, displaying a needlepoint design. 

Poe RR.jpgA rare Edgar Allan Poe letter is up for grabs from Boston’s RR Auction. The short but “boldly penned” letter dated September 21, 1843 is addressed to Elwood Evans, a Philadelphia lawyer and potential literary journal subscriber. The author writes, “I have been absent from the city for the last few weeks and your note of the 15th is only this moment received. I have the pleasure of informing you that Mr. Dana’s address is Chestnut Street, Boston.”

Poe letters are uncommon and pricey at auction; even this brief and somewhat ordinary (contextually speaking) piece of correspondence is estimated to make $60,000-80,000. Online bidding has already commenced; the live auction begins on Monday, Sept. 28, at 1:00.

“Poe’s autograph is excessively rare in any form and among the most sought-after of all literary figures,” said Bobby Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction.

Other highlights of next week’s auction include a typed J. D. Salinger letter and a signed first edition of The Archaeology of the Industrial Revolution signed by Stephen Hawking.

Image Courtesy of RR Auction.
H3257-L78859843.jpgAmongst the incredible collection of rare Orson Welles scripts and photographs on offer at Profiles in History’s Hollywood Auction 74 next week, this “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast transcript stands out. The transcript was issued by CBS on October 31, 1938, the day after American listeners heard Welles read the H.G. Wells adaptation and promptly went mad. Yes, Welles’ dramatic reading of the sci-fi classic was so convincing that many believed a real Martian invasion was at hand, and hysteria ensued.

A cover letter included with the hole-punched typescript reads: “Attached is a complete transcript of the Mercury Theatre On the Air transcript of H.G. Wells ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast over the WABC-Columbia Network last night (Sunday, October 30th, 8 o’clock to 9 o’clock PM, EST). This transcript presents an accurate and complete account from the recordings made of the program at the time it was broadcast. The Columbia network sincerely regrets the delay in getting this transcript to you, but it was felt that complete accuracy would be wanted by the press.”

The estimate is $20,000-30,000. Several Citizen Kane manuscripts are also for sale, including an original first rough draft and a final shooting script.

Image via Profiles in History.

A Bibliophile’s Visit to Paris

I just returned from a long weekend in Paris, and it was the first time I’d spent any time in the city in over a decade. As we strolled, sipped, and simply bathed in the glory of the city, I was moved to recall that old epigram by French critic Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or, the more things change, the more things stay the same. I think this applies especially to Parisian book culture. The famous bouquinistes, or open-air antiquarian booksellers, still manned their hunter-green stalls along the river quayside, offering passersby the pleasure of searching for literary treasure while simultaneously taking in the city sights. While I knew that this tradition had existed in Paris since the 1500s, I didn’t realize just how many bookstalls comprise this UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, over 200 booksellers operate 900 book boxes, stretching from the Pont Marie on the Left Bank to the Quai Voltaire on the Right Bank, and is touted on postcards printed by the Mairie de Paris as ‘the largest open-air bookstore in the world.’


A “bouquiniste” by the Seine, in Paris, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After browsing the stalls, I hopped on the Métro, taking the lightning-fast Line 14 to visit my old stomping grounds, the ever-evolving Tolbiac section of the 13th arrondissement. In addition to a bustling Chinatown, this neighborhood is famous for hosting the large towers of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Fourteen years ago, the only things piercing the skyline here were the four glass-and steel towers of the library, and visitors unfamiliar to the area were few and far between. (For a detailed picture of the highly ambitious, intensely controversial construction of the new facility, look no further than the last chapter of Nick Basbanes’ Patience & Fortitude, where the library’s architect calls the Tolbiac site “a stretch of industrial wasteland on the banks of the Seine.”)


By savagecat [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Well, things do change. The area is now home to urban hipsters, boutiques, movie theaters, eco-friendly condos and floating bars. The piscine Josephine Baker, the first pool to be built in Paris since 1992 was opened across from the Bibliotheque. Best described as a pool-barge, the Josephine Baker’s glass windows look directly onto the Seine, and get swimmers as close to taking a plunge in the river without chancing their health. On sunny days, the roof retracts, and sunbathers can gaze out onto the Seine, or admire their literary patrimony soaring into the sky beside them.

So what did I bring home? A novel by Francophone writer and UCLA professor Alain Mabanckou, and another biting satire by Michel Houellebecq, who, rumor has it, also calls the 13th his home. Vive Paris!

In June, I had the pleasure of spending several weeks in Scotland.  One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to The Innerpeffray Library in a beautiful, secluded section of Perthshire.  The Innerpeffray Library is the oldest lending library in Scotland, originally founded in 1680.

I was treated to a tour of the library and its grounds by its delightful Keeper of Books, Lara Haggerty, who was previously profiled in our Bright Young Librarians series on this blog.  Below is a “wee” video I compiled of the visit using my iPhone:

For more about the history of this fascinating library, check out this video:

Brooklyn is the place to be this weekend. The second annual Brooklyn Books, Art, Photos, and Design Expo (BAPD), featuring 150 book and fine art dealers, opens at the Brooklyn Expo Center at 11:00 Saturday morning. Dealers are coming in from far and wide for this event, as last year’s proved a huge success for Impact Events.

806.jpgOfferings will include:

-An original archive of photographs documenting sets constructed for Elia Kazan’s 1945 film adaptation of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, from Honey & Wax Booksellers

-Scream at the Librarian, a silkscreen and letterpress editioned book by artists Raymond Pettibon and Cristin Sheehan Sullivan from Booklyn

-John Cheever’s copy of Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon from John Kehoe Bookseller (pictured)

-An Inaugural Dissertation on Mercury, Embracing Its Medical History, Curative Action, and Abuse in Certain Diseases (1811) from Jeffrey Rovenpor Rare Books

More highlights are listed here. Plus, Richard Minsky, founder of the Center for Book Arts, will host an exhibit based on his book, The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930. To add texture to the experience, he will also give a talk on both Saturday and Sunday at 2:00.

And while you’re Brooklyn bound, take note: the Brooklyn Book Festival is also underway this weekend, as is the NY Art Book Fair in nearby Queens.
Coming to auction next week is Franz Kafka’s signed Czechoslovak passport. The author was born in Prague in 1883. This 32-page booklet with various manuscript notes and stamps, though lacking his passport photo, was used during the last two years of his life as he traveled in Germany and Austria, where he died in 1924.

kafka.jpgThe passport is “hitherto an unknown survival,” notes Bonhams. It is likely that Kafka left it to his friend Robert Klopstock, known to be at the author’s bedside when he died. Klopstock then gave the passport to Kafka’s publisher, Salman Schocken, who collected Kafka’s papers. Schocken then passed it to Gerda Schulz, a fellow Jewish refugee and former employee, whose family has now consigned it to auction. 

Bonhams estimates the passport will bring $10,000-15,000 when it goes to auction in New York on September 22.

Image via Bonhams.

Slovenian Novel Offers Myriad Ways to Read It


Slovenia is a coastal Alpine country smack in the middle of Eastern and Western Europe, and it isn’t exactly known for its literary history. The earliest Slovenian texts are religious treatises, dating from around 1000 AD, and only three of those exist. After a flurry of Protestant writing in the 1600s, Slovenians didn’t start writing in earnest until the 19th century, when poets, Romantic novelists and playwrights began forming a national literary identity. World War II didn’t help the nascent writing community, when Axis powers divided the country and banned citizens from speaking their native tongue. It wasn’t until 1991, after Slovenia successfully fought for independence from Yugoslavia, that the language was allowed to flourish once again.

Now, Slovene literature is moving into exciting territory, with author Bojan Meserko at the helm. After writing science fiction, poetry, and fantasy novels, Meserko’s latest offering may perhaps best be described as experimental literature. 69; A Ti O Tem Pojma Nimaš (69; But You Have No Idea Of It), offers readers a unique experience in non-linear reading. Hardbound with a black jacket covered by fuschia flowers, by all exterior appearances it looks like any other volume. However, inside the covers is a wooden reading frame, and nestled within that reside 69 unnumbered pages, with text facing up and down. In an email, Meserko said that this setup gives readers the freedom to choose their own adventure: “Pages can be mixed and turned as you want, and each time I give a copy of my book to a reader, I mix up the order of the pages, making that copy totally unique from others.” (Only 150 exist in print.) He also calculated that the book has infinite different combinations, and that each permutation yields a coherent text.The general storyline follows a man and his thoughts on village life and those around him, and the particulars change depending on how the book is read. 

French writer Raymond Queneau did something similar with his 1961 publication, A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, where he wrote a series of ten sonnets, where any line of any sonnet could be combined with any nine other lines, and the rhyme scheme and sound would remain intact. And while Queneau enlisted a mathematician to make sure his book would make sense, Meserko worked his text out on his own. Using the physical constraints of paper and type, Meserko is exploring new and exciting patterns of writing and looking at literature, one page at a time.


Correction: This entry previously said that there were 276 ways to read the book.In fact, there are an infinite number of possible combinations.

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Laura Hartmann, who recently won second prize at the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Laura collects books about the Spanish Civil War.

hartmann in parc guell.jpeg

Where are you from / where do you live?


I live in Washington, D.C., and where I’m from is a bit of tricky question to answer. My father was a U.S. foreign service officer - a diplomat - who was stationed in Latin America for most of his career. I was born in the Dominican Republic, and moved around the States a lot when our family finally came home. I’ve lived longest in various towns in Virginia, and so I proudly call myself an (adopted) Virginian.

What do you study at University?


For my undergraduate degree, I studied Latin American and Spanish literature at St. Louis University’s Madrid campus in Spain, where I became interested in the Spanish Civil War. I continued that interest through two M.A. programs - one in English literature and the second in Spanish and Latin American theatre - and into my English Ph.D. program at Northeastern University, in Boston. I’m currently writing my dissertation on foreign women writers and photographers and the Spanish Civil War.

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


I collect books about the Spanish Civil War. As I accumulated my books, I sought to provide contextualizing academic scholarship as well as comparative, primary accounts of the Spanish Civil War across several genres. I have a special interest in Spanish Civil War books by and about women. The focus on foreign women in all their roles (as poets, as journalists, as photographers, as administrators, as nurses) is unique as most approaches would keep these testimonies separate. The main drive behind the collection is to preserve materials that would otherwise be destroyed or forgotten, and to create and curate a collection of Spanish Civil War materials from unexpected, non-traditional lines of inquiry such as visual studies or women’s studies.


In my collection, many of the materials from women are the original editions, because these books went through only one printing. If I wanted a copy of the novel or memoir, there was only one copy to acquire. Over the years, I adjusted the purpose of my collection to reflect various neglected strands of Spanish Civil War studies that suited my academic interests: writing by women, visual studies (such as posters, photographs, and propaganda), and eyewitness life writing more generally.


Recently, I’ve become interested in Spanish Civil War ephemera - like pamphlets published in the 1930s - contemporary interpretations of the war, like an historical/military board game entitled España 1936 that my father bought me for a Christmas present one year.

some of the collection.jpg

How many books are in your collection?


166 items, including the pamphlets - and it’s growing all the time!


What was the first book you bought for your collection?


I can’t quite remember the first book. It was probably Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell or A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston, for the summer class I was taking on the history and literature of the Spanish Civil War, purchased used at the campus bookstore. I know I still have those copies.


I do remember being an undergraduate in Madrid and seeking out Aránzazu Usandizaga’s critical work Escritoras al frente: Intelectuales extranjeras en la Guerra Civil (Writers to the Front: Foreign Intellectuals in the Civil War). I knew that it would be difficult to find materials about foreign women writers in the Spanish Civil War at all, because these writers were barely featured in most academic articles or books that I could find.


From that experience, I knew I should make a special effort while actually in Spain to track down books by and about these women. So, on my travels through Spain, I got in the habit of going into any bookshops I saw and asking the bookseller for their section on the Spanish Civil War.

How about the most recent book?


Earlier this year, University of Ottawa Press put out two recently recovered works about the Spanish Civil War by two Canadian writers - This Time a Better Earth by Ted Allan (ed. Bart Vautour) and Hugh Garner’s Best Stories by Hugh Garner (ed. Emily Robins Sharpe). I purchased these two books in addition to The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War by Peter Carroll.


And your favorite book in your collection?


Oh, I have many favorites! One that stands out is Women’s Voices from the Spanish Civil War, an anthology of autobiographical accounts and excerpts edited by Sally Alexander and Jim Fyrth. When I bought it used, it was the most money I had spent on a book - about $65, I think. It’s recently been republished in paperback at a more affordable graduate student price. For me, purchasing this book meant that I was serious about studying the Spanish Civil War and women’s writing...serious enough to need this book on hand instead of repeatedly checking out the library copy, serious enough to not go to the movies for a couple of months to afford it. And I love the movies.


Another favorite, because of its rarity, is my original 1937 copy of Death in the Making, without a dust jacket. This is Robert Capa’s tribute to Gerda Taro, a photographer killed during the Spanish Civil War. Capa is one of the twentieth century’s great war photographers; this volume of Capa and Taro photographs had one printing. This photo-book is the most valuable item in my collection. It’s such a heartfelt tribute to Taro and to the cause of the Spanish Republic.

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Best bargain you’ve found?


While it’s not quite a bargain since I did spend a good chunk of change, I acquired 70+ items from a rare bookseller on Amazon by reaching out to her directly and wanting to purchase all of her Spanish Civil War materials if she’d negotiate on the price. Part of that acquisition were 43 original pamphlets from 1936-1940, all dealing with Spanish Civil War. Primarily targeted at American audiences, these pamphlets are in English and cover a wide range of topics related to the war - from the Italian involvement in Spain to American nurses’ accounts of their volunteer work in the war.


These pamphlets (and the rest of the volumes) were collected by the late Sanford Soren, who donated his Spanish Civil War collection of pamphlets and books to his local library of Willingboro, New Jersey. I do not know much more about Soren or why he collected these materials. A brief search of open Internet sources revealed that Soren was an attorney and died at the age of 40 in 1972. The bookseller had bought Soren’s collection at an auction, after the Willingboro Public Library discarded it en masse. Although the bookseller had sold some individual items, I managed to buy the collection more or less intact.


After a week of negotiating and arranging delivery, the collection arrived! The bookseller told me that she felt sorry for Soren, having so carefully acquired and maintained this collection to have it unceremoniously shrugged off, and that she knew I’d honor him by taking good care of it and appreciating it...which was how she convinced herself to reduce the price for me. It felt like a coup to discover so many original items from the early-to-mid twentieth century in such great condition, and I’m glad I was bold enough to reach out to negotiate.

How about The One that Got Away?


I must have pushed such a painful occurrence out of my memory, as nothing comes directly to mind!


Because I’m not really concerned with acquiring specific objects or editions (and because the Spanish Civil War tends to be less in demand than other topics), books tend to stay put for me.


That being said, in Madrid there was a vendor who would sell reprints of old posters and photographs from the 1930s-50s of Spain, especially of the civil war. He never sold in the same place, and I only came across him twice. The first time, he had a black and white reprint of a militiawoman that I loved on sight - her hair was askew and she had her rifle on her shoulder with a devil-may-care confidence - but I didn’t have the cash on hand to buy it from him. The next time I saw the vendor, some months later, he told me he had sold out of that reprint and it would be awhile before he made more. And I didn’t see him, or that particular photograph, again.


What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?


I have a quick answer for this one! In the early 1990s, the Spanish Cultural Ministry put on an exhibition of Hungarian-born Kati Horna’s Spanish Civil War photography at the University of Salamanca. The exhibition book, Kati Horna: fotografías de la guerra civil española (1937-1938), is one of my most-sought after pieces. Very few copies of the exhibition book were made, and it is out of print. If you have it, I will snatch it from your hands and run away.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?


Well, I love browsing the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America website and typing in “Spanish Civil War” to see what’s out there or what has been found. Whenever I travel to a new place, I try to search out the used bookstores, as I find that used and rare bookstores are such lovely idiosyncratic places for discovering treasures.


During my high school years in Williamsburg, VA, Mermaid Books on Prince George St. definitely encouraged my love for rare and unusual books. I also like to browse the site for Bolerium Books in San Francisco - “Fighting Commodity Fetishism with Commodity Fetishism” is one of their postcards they sent me with a book I bought.

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


I honestly don’t know. Books are fundamental to my being and how I interact with the world and with history.


I guess I would choose a similar historical genre of a daily object that people found fundamentally necessary for expressing their creativity and their engagement with the world - like antiquarian maps or Quaker spindles. 

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

visit-scotland-image.jpgThe reopening of a historic railway line in Scotland, a boon to locals and tourism officials, also snagged a global audience today when Queen Elizabeth II boarded a train at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. The occasion marked her fulfillment as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch (23,226 days and counting).

To celebrate the milestone, Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, rode the £294-million Scottish Borders Railway, which opened to the public on Sunday. The new scenic railway takes visitors on a 30-mile, 55-minute journey from Edinburgh through Midlothian to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders.  

Many of those visitors, it is hoped, will be literary pilgrims. According to Borders Railway, “Worldwide interest in Sir Walter Scott will be a huge draw, as visitors can follow in the footsteps of the renowned writer, starting in Edinburgh with The Scott Monument and The Writers’ Museum, before taking the Borders Railway through the landscapes that inspired his writing.” Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home, is a short walk from Tweedbank.

Image via Borders Railway.

heritage nobel.jpgFrom time to time, Nobel Prizes appear on the market. While exciting for collectors, there is a peculiar vibe to such sales, considering that someone can buy--for a hefty six-figure sum--a sacred object meant for none other than the person who earned it. This is particularly the case when the recipient is still alive. Still, these objects, like books, have lives of their own.

The trade in Nobels is strong this season. In July, the 1953 award earned by the German-born British biochemist Hans Krebs sold at Sotheby’s London for £275,000 ($425,500). Krebs secured his medal for the discovery of the citric acid cycle. Later this month, Bonhams will auction the 1934 Nobel Prize presented to American physician George Minot for his pioneering work on pernicious anemia. The estimate is $200,000-300,000. (You can read more about it in our free autumn auction guide.) Then, in November, Heritage Auctions will offer the gold medal merited by Francis Peyton Rous for an estimated $300,000-500,000. Rous, an American virologist who studied the relationship between viruses and cancer, won his award in 1966.

All three winners have long since passed, and in the case of Krebs at least, the auction winnings will continue the work of the prize winner by funding biomedical research through the Sir Hans Krebs Trust.

Image: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Andy Warhol’s “America”

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is synonymous with postwar American art, and despite being most recognized for his images of soup cans and Marilyn Monroe, the artist was also a passionate cameraman, famously bringing his Minox 35L with him wherever he went, capturing on film the contradictions and joys of modern life. Many of these images were published in America, Warhol’s 1985 work, part photo-diary and part written observations of celebrity and mediocrity. The book was just reissued by Grove Press, and while it’s tempting to just flip through and gaze at all the famous people, there’s plenty of poor, huddled, unrecognizable masses yearning for a taste of the American dream.  After 30 years, Warhol’s writing is surprisingly insightful and even applicable to the 2015 political and social landscape. Take his musings on immigrants, for example: “When I was in California I found out that people were learning Spanish so they could talk to their maids, and that all the people doing the really boring jobs in the electronics industry were immigrants.... We all came here from somewhere else, and everybody who wants to live in America and obey the law should be able to come too, and there’s no such thing as being more or less American, just American.” (Donald Trump, take note.)

America’s reissue was timed perfectly to coincide with the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition entitled “Andy Warhol: ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ and Other Works, 1953-1967”, running through October 18. In addition to showing the 32 paintings in a linear format as they were first hung in 1962, the show includes the artist’s preparatory sketches and art books from the same period, revealing the man on the cusp of placing his indelible mark on America’s cultural and artistic landscape.

Campbell’s Soup Cans. 1962. ©2015 Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS, NY / TM Licensed by Campbell’s Soup Co. All rights reserved.

America, by Andy Warhol; Grove Press, $20.00, 244 pages.
“Andy Warhol: ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ and Other Works, 1953-1967” can be viewed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, now through October 18.

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Rose Berman, who recently won third prize at the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Rose collects Antoine de Saint Exupéry. 

rose berman.jpg
Where are you from / where do you live? 

I’m from Gaithersburg, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. I’m currently gearing up to move to France to teach English for a year.
What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?
I studied history at the University of Chicago and wrote my bachelor’s thesis on the French memory of World War I during World War II. Though I will be teaching English to elementary-schoolers in Avignon this coming year, I am in the midst of switching paths to attend medical school.
Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in?

I collect books by and about the French author Antoine de Saint Exupéry (you may have read his most famous book, The Little Prince!). I also collect books about the airline he flew for, Aéropostale, and his fellow pilots. Most of my collection is in French, but I have a few of the English translations of his works. I especially value books with photographs and anecdotes I haven’t seen before.
rose berman collection.jpg
How many books are in your collection?

About 50 so far.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

My first book was actually a present from my dad on my eleventh birthday--a copy of The Little Prince. From then on, I was hooked on Saint Exupéry; I think my first purchase was the English translation of Terre des hommes, which I got at Borders (may it rest in peace...).

How about the most recent book?

Saint Exupéry in America, 1942-1943 by Adele Breaux. It’s a memoir by a young teacher who tried to teach Saint Exupéry English during his brief stint in New York. I first read the book in the Library of Congress and have wanted it ever since for its amusing anecdotes...this summer I finally sprung for it.

And your favorite book in your collection?

I love my first edition of Pilote de guerre for its special story. The Nazis did not allow the book to be published in France during the war, so it was instead published in New York out of a respected French bookstore. When I learned this story from a biography, I tracked down the book on AbeBooks. It includes a carefully preserved erratum note in the front.

Best bargain you’ve found?

A lot of my books seem like they should be worth a lot more than I paid; the first edition Pilote de guerre was about $35. I was pleasantly surprised!

How about The One that Got Away?

It’s not a book, but a whole bookstore...during an exchange visit to France when I was 16, my host father took me to an aviation-themed used bookstore somewhere in Paris. I cleared out a whole shelf and found many of my most prized books. I want to go there again, but the Internet hasn’t helped and even my host father doesn’t remember the name of the place!

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

I would love to have a letter written by Saint-Ex or one of his friends (his manuscripts are mostly in libraries now). I’d also like to track down a copy of an extremely rare book, Chez les fils du désert, written by two Aéropostale pilots who were held prisoner in the Sahara.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?
I love the unique books and academic focus of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Hyde Park, Chicago. But I find most of the books for my collection online or in France.

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

In a fantasy world, antique airplanes! More realistically, fountain pens or tiny clocks.

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

9780062409850.jpgWell, the verdict is in. According to a report by rare book dealer James S. Jaffe, there are no more mystery manuscripts in Harper Lee’s safe-deposit box.

Lee’s long-awaited second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was “found” in 2011 and published this past July. At the time, her lawyer, Tonja B. Carter, intimated that a third novel might also be hidden among her papers. She called in Jaffe to inspect the typescripts (and Lee’s vintage Quiet DeLuxe Royal portable typewriter). What he found was an early draft of part 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird, an original typescript of Go Set a Watchman, and the author’s original copy-edited typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird with revisions and corrections by Lee and her Lippincott editor. 

You can download and read the entire report here. The Wall Street Journal broke the story yesterday afternoon.
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