October 2015 Archives

16. Giambattista Bodoni by Turchi .jpg
Giambattista Bodoni in 1792. By Giuseppe Turchi. Reproduced with permission from David Godine.

Typography, the art and science of arranging type to make words legible, was long the province of a select group of printers and designers. (Now anyone with a word processor can adjust fonts to his heart’s content.) Italian printer and type designer Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813) created fonts that continue to influence how we read today. He is now the subject of a book entitled Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World, by Valerie Lester (David R. Godine, $40, October 2015). Bodoni ushered in the era of modern typefaces with his use of clean lines, creating an elegant, geometrical look. Notable contemporary examples of Bodoni font include the masthead of Vanity Fair magazine, the brand logo for Hilton hotels, and even grunge-rock band Nirvana.

Lester spent almost eight years traveling to the charming Italian city of Parma, where Bodoni spent most of his career. This is the first substantial English-language biography of the typographer. “Other biographies indulge in hero-worshipping. They don’t take on the whole man,” she said during a conversation earlier this fall. But since Bodoni was a total perfectionist, and spent most of his time at work, “he’s difficult to write about because his life actually isn’t deeply interesting. He worked so hard, and left little time for other things!” (Bodoni didn’t wed until the ripe old age of 51.) As a result, Lester’s book is also a biography of eighteenth-century Parma. It was a hub of activity, welcoming visitors like Napoleon and the Mozarts père et fils. Even today Parma is a delicious little city. “You can walk around it, there is so much art and so much music. You can go to a concert every night of the week. On Sundays during the winter, the city hosts a midday concert and afterwards Prosecco is served alongside tiny little pieces of pizza. It’s so civilized!”

Hugely ambitious, Bodoni devoted his spare time to completing what many collectors today consider his magnum opus, the Manuale tipografico, a specimen book filled with magnificent examples of type. Bodoni labored for forty years on this side project, which was ultimately published by his wife Margherita five years after his death. Two volumes are filled with Roman characters, capital letters, alphabets in Greek, Hebrew and Arabic (among others), exotic characters, and pages of symbols, ornaments, and ciphers. The Manuale is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of typography, a dazzling compendium of typefaces and designs.  

It was a story of book theft that sparked Lester’s interest in Bodoni. Book conservator Mimi Meyer ransacked the Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin during the early 1990s, stealing over 300 rare books, including the library’s copy of Bodoni’s Manuale. (Among the purloined items were a collection of Petrarch’s poetry published by Aldus Manutius in 1514, works by Lewis Carroll, and a quarto edition of Audubon’s Birds of America.) The FBI suspected Meyers of selling these and other books to auction houses -- including Heritage Auctions and Swann Galleries of New York -- raking in over $400,000 in ill-gotten gains. Many of the stolen books, including the Manuale, were recovered, and in 2004 Meyer was sentenced to three-years probation and ordered to pay $381,595 in restitution. “I wanted to talk to Meyer about the thefts, but she died in January 2010,” Lester said. “Bodoni’s home and workplace were burglarized too, but he was less concerned about the loss of silver and personal items than about his type. He lived to cut type and to print. It was his great joy.”

Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World, by Valerie Lester; David R. Godine, $40, 280 pages.

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Bodoni’s masterpiece, the Manuale Tipografico, Papale. Reproduced with permission from David R.Godine. 
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In preparation for the 1970 edition of The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien annotated a map of Middle-earth for illustrator Pauline Baynes who was creating her own colored map for the Allen & Unwin publication. Baynes then added her own notes to the map and tucked it away in her copy of The Lord of the Rings where it lingered for several decades. The map was found earlier this month by Blackwell’s, an antiquarian bookshop in Oxford that is selling a number of books and illustrations from Baynes’ collection. The illustrator died in 2008.

Blackwell’s has priced the map at £60,000 ($92,000), calling it “an important document, and perhaps the finest piece of Tolkien ephemera to emerge in the last 20 years at least.”

The map reveals some interesting details about Middle-earth; Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford and the Italian city of Ravenna was the inspiration for Minas Tirith. Tolkien also offered Baynes a variety of suggestions about the flora and fauna of Middle-earth.

“The map shows how completely obsessed he was with the details. Anyone else interfered at their peril,” said Sian Wainwright at Blackwell’s in an interview with The Guardian. “He was tricky to work with, but very rewarding in the end.”

“Before going on display in the shop this week, this had only ever been in private hands (Pauline Baynes’s for the majority of its existence). One of the points of interest is how much of a hand Tolkien had in the poster map; all of his suggestions, and there are many (the majority of the annotation on the map is his), are reflected in Baynes’s version,” added Henry Gott of Blackwell’s in the same interview. “The degree to which it is properly collaborative was not previously apparent, and couldn’t be without a document like this. Its importance is mostly to do with the insight it gives into that process.”

Image via Blackwell’s.

cover-LE copy.jpgNow here’s a terrific Halloween read: The Embalmed Head of Oliver Cromwell: A Memoir by Marc Hartzman (Curious Publications, 2015) is a romp through three hundred years of history as told by the decapitated head of England’s former “Lord Protector.” Cromwell, having died of natural causes in 1658, was exhumed by Charles II three years later in order to avenge his father’s beheading. Cromwell’s head was posthumously chopped off and impaled on a spike atop Westminster Hall, where it stayed for more than 25 years. As the story goes, the leathery skull finally fell one day, which initiated a series of “afterlife” adventures for Cromwell’s brainless and embalmed noggin. It--the head, that is--jauntily narrates encounters with Spiritualists, phrenologists, and showmen. The result is delightfully wicked.    

Collectors can get in on the mischief too. The publisher, New York’s Curious Publications, teamed up with Porridge Papers and Signature Bindery of Lincoln, Nebraska, to create a signed, limited edition of fifty copies in a sewn and stamped faux leather binding. The decorative endpapers reproduce a nineteenth-century letter about the transferral of Cromwell’s head from one owner to another, and the textured dust jacket features a whimsical illustration by Brooklyn artist Vi Luong.

“Signature Bindery was excited at the opportunity to bind the limited edition run of Marc Hartzman’s new book,” said owner Kevin Oliver. “With our trademark attention to detail, we created a binding both beautiful in design and perfect in function. The binding celebrates both the author and the artist, and from the moment the book is opened, it takes the reader into the fantastic tale that Mr. Hartzman wove.”

The limited edition is priced at $80. A letterpress-printed poster of Luong’s illustration on handmade paper is also available for $75.

Image: Limited edition, Courtesy of Marc Hartzman.
9780802123213 copy.jpgOn Thursday, November 5, authors Bradford Morrow and Nicholas Basbanes will treat New York City bibliophiles to a public conversation about rare book collecting. Morrow, a book collector and the acclaimed author of last year’s literary thriller, The Forgers (which we reviewed positively last fall), will read from his novel set inside the world of rare books, just released in paperback by the Mysterious Press. Then Basbanes, Fine Books columnist and author, most recently, of On Paper, will join Morrow for a larger discussion about books, forgery, and the art of collecting. The two are sure to share some legendary tales of the trade.    

This event is hosted by Swann Auction Galleries, 104 East 25th Street, 6th Floor, in conjunction with a preview of the Lawrence M. Solomon collection of mystery, detective, and science fiction literature. The book talk begins at 6:00 (RSVP required).

Image: Courtesy of The Mysterious Press
In a letter dated January 20, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt waxed poetic with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, scribbling some verses from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Sail on, O Ship of State!” FDR preceded the patriotic lines, originally written in 1849, with these words, “I think this verse applies to you people as it does to us.” America had not yet entered the World War II, but his letter was meant to provide support and encouragement. According to the Library of Congress, Churchill was so moved he had the letter framed and displayed at his home.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.04.14 PM.pngOff to auction next week is a significant piece of historical ephemera that brings this fascinating story to the surface: a keepsake broadside of “Sail on, O Ship of State,” signed by both Roosevelt and Churchill during the secret Atlantic Conference held aboard two warships anchored off Newfoundland from August 9-12, 1941. At this meeting, the two leaders plotted strategy as the U.S. inched closer to war with Germany.   
According to Dallas Auction Gallery, “This document was printed at the direction of British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill for presentation to United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his top aides ... Both Churchill and Roosevelt kept copies and very few additional copies were signed for senior advisors present aboard Augusta.” This one, formerly in the Forbes collection of American historical documents and most recently in the collection of Dallas collector Sam Wyly, goes to auction on November 4, with an estimate of $10,000-15,000.

The sale also offers a first edition of Churchill’s The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898), a typed signed letter of FDR’s from 1918, and several other historical documents, letters, and art.

Image Courtesy of Dallas Auction Gallery.

89 Years of Winnie-the-Pooh

Winnie the Pooh, the first in a series of children’s books about the eponymous toy bear and other cuddly inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood appeared between hardcovers on October 14, 1926, making 2015 the 89th year the world has reveled in the sweet tales penned by A.A. Milne and illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard. Since then, the four original books in the Pooh canon have been translated into fifty languages, including a Latin version, which spent 20 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 1960. Movies, merchandise, Disney adaptations, and subsequent stories continue to charm new generations of children worldwide. 


“Winnie-the-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself under the name of Sanders.” “Pooh Shepard1928” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pooh_Shepard1928.jpg#/media/File:Pooh_Shepard1928.jpg

While this isn’t exactly a milestone year for Pooh and pals, a few events are sure to draw the attention of fans and collectors alike. First up is the auction of a rare 1932 sketch of Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, available at Nate D. Sanders in Los Angeles. The watercolor includes a note from Shepard to his agent, Carter Brown, thanking him for all his good work. Minimum bidding starts at $50,000, and the auction runs until October 29. (Interested parties can follow the auction here.) Readers may recall the impressive December 2008 sale at Sotheby’s London, where a 42 lot sale of Shepard’s artwork that included 22 original Winnie the Pooh illustrations fetched £1.26 million ($1.97 million).

Nature enthusiasts will find much to enjoy in landscape designer and historian Kathryn Aalto’s The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A walk through the forest that inspired Hundred Acre Wood (Timber Press, $24.95, September 2015), where she discusses the Ashdown Forest, the real woodland setting where Milne’s son often wandered with his stuffed animals in tow. (Among other landmarks, the author points out the real Poohsticks bridge.) Parents nostalgic for a bygone era when children lost track of time playing outdoors might consider Aalto’s book a companion guide to the Pooh tales, a gentle reminder that so much of childhood is founded on magic and secret hideaway places.

I’ve been celebrating Pooh’s birthday by listening to The Best of Winnie-the-Pooh (A Gift Book and CD) (Dutton, $24.95, 1997), a selection of stories narrated by none other than journalist Charles Kuralt, whose distinctly sonorous, reassuring voice lends new dimension to the likes of Eeyore and Piglet. 


“Pooh sticks bridge” by David BROOKER. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pooh_sticks_bridge.jpg#/media/File:Pooh_sticks_bridge.jpg

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An extremely rare 1631 Bible, dubbed “The Wicked Bible” after a critical error left out the word “not” from the seventh commandment (“Thou shalt *not* commit adultery), is heading to auction at Bonhams next month.

In 1631, London printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas printed 1,000 copies of The New Testament. One year later,  it was brought to their attention that The Ten Commandants included the dubious line “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The unfortunate mistake did not go unnoticed by the authorities. The printers were hauled to court on the orders of Charles I where they fined £300 (approximately £45,000 today, or just shy of $70,000) and had their printing license revoked. The vast majority of the 1,000 copy print run was also destroyed, with only 10 copies believed to have survived to modern times. Throughout its subsequent nearly four hundred-year history, the book has been variously dubbed “The Wicked Bible,” “The Sinners Bible,” and “The Adulterous Bible.”

According to Bonhams, which will auction the book as part of its November 11 sale, research has revealed that the mistake may have been a deliberate act of sabotage by a rival printer. The fallout from the scandal did indeed sink the fortunes of both Barker and Lucas. 

The Wicked Bible is estimated at £10,000-£15,000 ($15,000-$23,000).

[Image from Bonhams]
exhibitions2015_spector-01-320x240.jpgBuzz Spector: The Book Under (De-)Construction opened at the Center for Book Arts in New York City earlier this month. Organized by the CBA’s executive director and curator Alexander Campos, this exhibit explores more than three decades of Spector’s altered books, book stacks, and collages made from clipped dust jackets. It is held in conjunction with an artist talk, scheduled for November 20, with a master class following on November 21-22. 

We profiled Spector and his tactile book art back in our spring 2014 issue. At the time, he told Richard Minsky, “Touch has always been central to my work.” Spector further described his first found altered book project:

...The Evolution of a Life: or, From the Bondage of Superstition to the Freedom of Reason by the Rev. Henry Truro Bray. I loved the title, and as a visual pun I tore out the superstition and left the reason. Actually I started making it as a model of a blank book that I wanted Bill to bind for me. I started getting chills altering it after about thirty pages. As I tore the pages away I realized it still looked like pages and columns, but made nonsensical letterforms.
    At first it was the tearing gesture that was the intersection of physical process and text, and I quickly moved on to tearing them and painting on them, or digging into them with X-acto knives to form miniature geographies, and gluing small artifacts onto the surface. After about a year I discovered other artists were embellishing found printed books and realized that it was the tearing of pages that was the significant gesture. I started making serious choices about what book to alter.
The exhibit is up through December 12.

Image: Buzz Spector’s Altered K, via the Center for Book Arts.

OPENROAD_render_cover copy.jpgLast week the Furthermore organization announced that this year’s winner of The Alice Award is David Campany’s The Open Road: Photography & The American Road Trip, published by Aperture. The Alice is an annual prize for illustrated books that puts the emphasis on “The book as book, which is a work of art in itself,” as Furthermore’s founder and president Joan K. Davidson said in a recent interview with us. “When you look around at book prizes, they mostly go to the contents of the book,” she said. “We do that, too, of course, but we consider the quality of the total book. All aspects of it have to be excellent--the idea, the editing, the design, the production.”

Candidates for the $25,000 prize are selected from Furthermore grant recipients by a panel of jurors. This year’s shortlist included Coney Island Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut); Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit (Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan); One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature (Grolier Club, New York City); and A Portrait of Britain (National Portrait Gallery, London).

Read the full text of our article about The Alice and Furthermore here.

Image Courtesy of Aperture. 

Sci-Fi Epic DUNE Turns 50

An early cover of Frank Herbert’s epic intergalactic adventure. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Before Star Wars, there was Dune. (Certainly, before Dune there was The Blazing World, a 1666 utopian romance by British aristocrat Margaret Cavendish, but let’s stick to the 20th century.) It’s all part of the science-fiction genre, and readers have long been enthralled with what author Isaac Asimov coined in 1953 as “that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings.”

Frank Herbert’s Dune particularly reshaped the world of modern science fiction. This epic tale of a warring feudal society in search of a precious natural resource called spice melange, set 21,000 years in the future on a faraway sandworm-infested planet, addresses, among other things, how man-made technology affects our surrounding ecology. The book was groundbreaking, and in addition to becoming the bestselling science fiction novel ever, Dune is also credited with laying the groundwork for the Earth Day movement. The book eventually won the inaugural Nebula award as well as a Hugo, and remains in the public eye with numerous sequels, movies, and other associated tie-ins.

Marking the fiftieth anniversary of Dune’s publication, the Pollak Library at California State University, Fullerton, which acquired the Dune manuscripts in the 1960s (as well as Herbert’s articles, correspondence, and research materials), is exploring the book’s contribution to popular science fiction with a speaker series called Dune: From Print to Cinema and Beyond.” Through November 6, Fullerton faculty and guest speakers will discuss the book’s legacy and how its political and environmental messages remains relevant.

Fans looking for some spice of own might consider the Folio Society’s recently published $125 commemorative edition of the book, with illustrations by Brooklyn-based artist Sam Weber. Weber, you may recall, was commissioned by the United States Post Office to create stamps honoring the life and work of American writer Flannery O’Connor. The artist’s 11 haunting photorealistic oil on board portraits of futuristic men and women are far from being cheesy throwbacks and evoke people whose dark struggles aren’t all that different from our own. The Washington Post’s longtime Book World editor (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Michael Dirda wrote the book’s new introduction, calling it “more than a futuristic swashbuckler or a science-fiction ‘coming-of-age’ novel....It is a serious moral fable about the unforeseen consequences of the choices we make.”

Sam Weber’s Sandworm from Dune. Reproduced with permission from The Folio Society.

Related articles
Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Helene Golay of Lorne Bair Rare Books in Winchester, Virginia:

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How did you get started in rare books?

I think I fall somewhere between the categories “It was a complete accident” and “I was born to do it.” I graduated from Bowdoin in the spring of 2009, which was at the time the worst year on record to be out looking for work (Great Depression notwithstanding). I moved to Texas for sentimental reasons and, after a few weeks of waitressing, was offered a position at the rare books and special collections library at Texas A&M. This meant I got to catalogue some truly beautiful and intelligent private and curated libraries, including those of my former boss Larry Mitchell and the late Robert Dawson, as well as part of the University’s Cervantes collection. Everything changed in the summer of 2011 when I managed to hitch a ride to the RBMS pre-conference in scenic Baton Rouge, where I spent the first heady day amongst ABAA dealers at the bookseller showcase. It was my first encounter with the rare book trade, and Lorne swears to this day that he overheard me say to a colleague: “What’s the f***** deal with all these booksellers?” (This would have been two years before he even met me.) We both know now that this what I was really thinking was, “[Blasphemous epithet], how the hell can I get into this racket?” As will sometimes happen with first love, I ditched my pride and sent my resumé to every ABAA dealer in my hometown of New York (because after two and a half years Texas had finally worn thin). Fred Schreiber took pity on me and recommended me to Jim Cummins, with whom I interned through the spring, and from Jim Cummins I plied Rob Rulon-Miller with beer, which led to two and a half years of employment with him in St. Paul, Minnesota, from whence I made the obvious transition, in the fall of 2014, to Lorne Bair Rare Books.

What is your role at Lorne Bair Rare Books?

My fellow worker Amir Naghib has a broken hand as I write this, so I’ll say that I’m currently the brawn of the operation. But like most booksellers, I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Officially I think I’m the “Head Cataloger,” or at least that’s how Lorne sometimes refers to me when he’s on the phone with a stranger. I’m also the self-titled Alfred Jarry fangirl in residence. 

What do you love about the book trade?

Oh lord, the people. I find that the younger generation of the trade is especially salty and intelligent--a pleasure to spend my life with and thankfully I work for Lorne, the best of them. It’s very hard to be a successful bookseller right now and I think as a result the trade has attracted a lot of very idiosyncratic and blindingly intelligent people who probably “marched to their own drum” as children. I obviously can’t ignore the books, they tend to be as interesting as their sellers and I take an embarrassing amount of pleasure in sitting at my desk with a pile of uncatalogued books, passing them through the sieve, so to speak, and learning from them. 

Describe a typical day for you.

I like to start the morning squabbling with Lorne over whose turn it is to make coffee and tend to the office cat’s hygienic needs. Then I spend the rest of the day cataloging, editing images, selling books, and doing my utmost to avoid hard mylar and the phone when it rings.

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

I admit I enjoy a challenge. Currently on my desk is possibly the earliest published appearance of the Haitian dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, inscribed by him both as Duvalier and his Action Nationale pseudonym “Abderrahman.” A previous owner has rather ominously redacted throughout the entire book the first name of one of the co-authors, Arthur Bonhomme, who would later serve as a Haitian ambassador to the United States. The book itself is an important early contribution to the négritude movement and is exceedingly uncommon--my guess is that older “livres brochés” (this one is dated 1934) don’t tend to thrive in the Haitian climate. In the grand scheme of things this probably wouldn’t be what I’d refer to as my “favorite” book, but it is certainly the one that’s freshest on my mind.

What do you personally collect?

In terms of reading material, I have a relatively healthy collection of World War I history. As for items I’ve accidentally collected which are on prominent display in my apartment, I have about twenty booklets of Tintin decals (ca. 1960); a racy pulp novel titled Assignment Helene, bequeathed to me by Amir and Lorne on my first day at Lorne Bair Rare Books; a French ad for fezzes marketed to colonial African shoppers; and a pair of vintage cat photographs. If there’s a theme, I don’t know what it is, though of the items described, two of them happened to be uncharacteristically colorful things I found chez Garrett Scott.

What do you like to do outside of work?

When there’s money left over, I’ve been learning to ride a horse “Western” style (which means you don’t need to wear those fancy pants) and I write the occasional review for the local film club. I also cook quite a bit. Last winter I decided to roast a duck after work on a week night--it took until midnight and was a bit of a preposterous undertaking for a woman who lives alone, but I did feast for three days after, grease fire in my oven notwithstanding. It goes without saying that I also try to read like a vacuum. 

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

I’m a pretty firm believer in apprenticeship. When I decided I wanted to be a bookseller, I wanted to be able to start off on my own immediately, though where the money was going to come from was a vast and unsurpassable mystery. I don’t think a penniless youngster, no matter how smart, should really consider diving in without at least a few years with a seasoned veteran. There’s not much room for big mistakes if you’re starting out on your own without any previous knowledge of the trade.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We’ve just sent out an online list of postcolonial literature, of which I’m rather proud. Catalog 22 mailed in September and Catalog 23 is already in the early gestation period, though the marathon of cataloging, editing, and layout hasn’t yet begun. I’m hoping to make it to the Boston fair for the first time this year if only to contribute absolutely nothing to the annual trivia competition. I’m also co-curating with Lorne an exhibit at the Yale Law Library on the Tom Mooney trial, which will open in March to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Preparedness Day Bombing.

Nominations for entries in our Bright Young Booksellers series can be sent to nathan@finebooksmagazine.com

On November 2, 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman put pen to paper in order to decline endorsing an acquaintance’s book. “...I did...partially examine the bo[o]ks sent me but I would not be willing to express...an endorsement. The book like all others of which very many are sent to me must work its way into fame by its intrinsic merit...” Who knew book blurbing existing during the Civil War? (NPR recently cited Walt Whitman as one of the first to self-promote with blurbs.)

Swann Sherman.jpgSherman’s correspondent was Francis J. Lippitt, and instead of a publicity quote, Sherman offered the author this advice: “...I think after the publication by Congress of the Official Reports of the last war you can combine your learning with the experience gained & illustrate it by recent & modern examples, which will make a Book on strategy most valuable & interesting not only to the General Readers, but to the military.” Still, Sherman continued, “I must abstain from giving my name.... But I will on all occasions express to you and others the interest I feel in the General subject. Officers in whom I have a personal interest, who have grown up under my eye & instruction are rapidly turning their swords into pens and all ask my aid, so that to give one & not another the endorsement of my name & opinion would be construed with partiality.... I hope you will be content with the expression of my general approval of your efforts.”

In other words, he’s had too many requests, and--unlike some modern authors who will blurb just about anything--Sherman simply refuses to oblige. This unusual autograph letter heads to auction at Swann Galleries in New York next week and is estimated to reach $2,000-3,000.

Image via Swann Galleries. 
Over the weekend, we heard the sad news that Miami collector Ruth Sackner, who, with her husband Marvin, founded the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, passed away in her sleep on Saturday night. She was 79.

Art of Typewriting 9780500241493.jpgThe Sackners are featured in our current issue in an article called “The Art of Collecting Typewriter Art.” Just this month they published The Art of Typewriting, a beautifully illustrated look inside their immense collection that showcases 600 examples by more than 60 artists. We at Fine Books wish that she could have fully celebrated its publication.  

Married for 59 years, the couple created a “veritable museum” in their Miami condo, art critic Steven Heller told Fine Books earlier this year. They were first drawn to conceptual word art after seeing Tom Phillips’ artist’s book, A Humument, on exhibit in Switzerland in 1975. They collected voraciously over the decades, amassing 75,000 pieces of art, according to the Miami Herald.

“Miami lost, today, one of its real cultural giants,” South Florida art collector Dennis Scholl told the Miami Herald. “Ruth was one of those people who really cared about culture in our community. Together they built the greatest collection in the world. That is a hard thing to do.”

Image: Courtesy of Thames & Hudson. 
DSCN0894 copy.jpgComing to auction this week at the UK-based auction house Cheffins is this beautifully bound private press book with illustrations by Welsh artist Kyffin Williams. The title is Two Old Men and Other Stories by Kate Roberts, and this is one of a few special morocco-bound copies by bookbinder Desmond Shaw, with the cover design and illustrations by Williams. This copy belonged to Shaw, from an overall edition of 250 copies, still in its original velvetine-lined book box, published by the Gregynog Press in 1981. According to Cheffins, the book is offered together with letters and draft designs from the publishers to the binder and carries an estimate of £600-1,000 ($920-1,500).

Image Courtesy of Cheffins.

New York Superheroes


Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist), Action Comics (No. 1, June 1938). Published by Detective Comics, Inc., New York. Courtesy of Metropoliscomics.com.

What do Wonder Woman, Superman, and Captain America have in common? Besides otherworldly strength and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, they all hail from New York. New York frequently appears in the stories themselves - Metropolis (Superman) and Gotham City (Batman) are thinly veiled references, while Marvel Comics has always maintained a city-based storyline, giving the Fantastic Four an office in Midtown and making Queens Spider Man’s home.

Why New York? Well, can you really be a superhero without skyscrapers, dark tunnels, and jam-packed crowds? New York’s instantly recognizable skyline and landmarks also provide the perfect “All-American city” background. Starting today, superhero fanatics can explore the role of New York as a creative force in these stories, as well as the origins of other characters at the New-York Historical Society, which unveils its latest exhibition, Superheroes in Gotham. Visitors are greeted by a working Batmobile, one of three that was created for the 1966-68 Batman television series, and three galleries full of books, artwork, and video clips that chronicle the meteoric rise of superheroes in popular culture. The show also examines superheroes’ enduring influence on artists and producers today. Remember the Broadway musical Spider Man: Turn off the Dark? There’s a costume from the show, and a look at what went into creating the most expensive production in Broadway history. (For a time, the show also held the box office record for most ticket sales in one week, generating nearly three million dollars.) 

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H. G. Peter, Drawing of Wonder Woman in Costume, ca. 1941. Courtesy of Metropoliscomics.com.

Comic books pick up on current events, and where superheroes are concerned, the topic frequently turns to war and patriotism. Captain America first appeared in 1941 on the eve of the country’s entry into World War II, and fellow good guy Superman appeared in training materials prepared for the U.S. Army and Navy. Wonder Woman in her stars-and-stripes leotard also testifies to superheroes’ unyielding patriotism.
In addition to displaying first-issue comic books including the 1938 Superman’s Action Comics No.1, visitors can examine Superman’s “birth certificate”, a Catwoman costume, and materials dating from the United States’ first comic book convention, held in 1964 in New York. (New York Comic Con also happens to be taking place at the Javits Center this weekend, which drew over 150,000 people last year.) For film buffs, N-YHS will be screening both the silent version and the 1940 version of The Mark of Zorro on October 16, and on Halloween the whole family (properly costumed, of course) is invited to participate in a superhero trivia contest, fortune telling, crafts and trick-or-treating through the museum. Evil doesn’t stand a chance with this crowd.

Superheroes in Gotham on view October 9, 2015 -- February 21, 2016, at the New-York Historical Society. For more information, including admission prices and hours, visit http://nyhistory.org/visit/plan

For information about New York ComicCon 2015, visit http://www.newyorkcomiccon.com/

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Eva Guggemos, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Eva in Archives.jpg
How did you get started in rare books?

I got my first job in a library when I was a history graduate student at Yale. I worked part-time transcribing oral history recordings in the University Archives. I had been vaguely aware of the existence of special collections before then, but it had never occurred to me that I could have a career in them. Looking at what my boss was doing, though, it seemed like a great job. She was building collections, hosting conferences, running a web site and doing a lot of other fascinating things. I got my first full-time special collections job in the Acquisitions department of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where I worked under E.C. Schroeder. He encouraged me to learn everything I could about the history of the book, bibliography and the rare book market. In that job, I got to see fantastic new acquisitions every day and fell in love with the field. Learning how to collate a book was a revelation! I went on to work as the Research Librarian at the Beinecke before moving to my current position on the West Coast.
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I have an M.A. in History from Yale and an M.L.S. from Simmons.
What is your role at your institution?

I am the Archivist for Pacific University, which is a small school near Portland, Oregon. Since I am the only full-time professional in special collections here, I have a hand in most activities related to our archives and rare books. I spend a lot of my time running digital projects and facilitating access, outreach and metadata tasks. I also teach class sessions throughout the year related to primary source research. It is great to have so much variety in my work, though I often wish I had more staff to get it all done!
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

What a difficult question! At Yale, I got to see a huge number of incredible books and manuscripts. One of my favorites was the ‘Great Mirror of Folly’, a folio compilation of satirical images about the South Sea Bubble of 1720, which was one of the world’s first stock market crashes. At Pacific, our collection is much smaller but we do have a few gems. One of the most interesting the is the “Nez Perces First Book,” published by a missionary press at Lapwai, Idaho, in 1839. It’s thought to be the earliest surviving book printed in the Oregon Territory. Our copy has extra leaves from an even earlier printing used as pastedowns.
What do you personally collect?

I would like to become independently wealthy someday so that I could collect early modern French drama. I have a special fondness for pirated editions. In the meantime, I’ve started to get interested in collecting 19th century American photography. There are a lot of interesting examples available and they are still affordable.
What do you like to do outside of work?

I go camping as often as possible in the summer. During the school year, I try to keep up with my 9-year-old and (let’s be honest) watch a lot of Netflix. 
What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I love introducing students to rare books and manuscripts for the first time. A lot of people are used to thinking of books as just sources of text, rather than as material objects. Getting students to think about the physicality of the objects, how their past owners used them in their daily lives, how they wrote in them or pasted things into them or had them specially bound ... sharing all of those things that are outside the bare text is what is the most fun for me.
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I think that being able to find and interpret primary sources like the ones we have in special collections is becoming increasingly important for many students. I would like to see rare book librarians position themselves as expert teachers on primary sources. We should use original materials in classes whenever possible. At small institutions like mine, though, we should be also ready and willing to teach with digitized collections from other institutions. There is now a critical mass of digitized rare books, manuscripts and other original material on the web, and access is being centralized into sites like the Digital Public Library of America. We should be the ones leading the charge to teach students how to find and use these sources in their research.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

Most people don’t know that Pacific is one of the oldest universities on the West Coast, founded in 1849. When we started, there were no other schools, no stores and hardly even any roads in our area. I think more scholars could take a look at the early writings and records of our university to see how our founders thought they could create a college on the model of Harvard or Yale out in the middle of nowhere. I think there is a lot in these records that could be used to write about the history of the frontier, encounters with Native peoples and education.

[Suggestions for entries in our Bright Young Librarians series are welcome at nathan@finebooksmagazine.com]

NDOWS-1252?Q?ment._Book_of_Joshua_&_the_beginning_of?=  Judges. [Johann Gutenberg &Johann Fust, 1452-1454] 1st ed. Latin Vulgate copy.jpgAt London’s Frieze Masters art fair next week, the Switzerland-based Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books will offer for sale the largest Gutenberg Bible fragment currently known in private hands or available on the market. The 13-leaf, handsomely rubricated fragment is comprised of the complete Book of Joshua and the beginning of Judges from Gutenberg’s famous Latin Bible, printed in the 1450s. The price is €2,000,000 ($2.25 million).  

According to the bookseller, Johann Gutenberg printed only 185 copies of his 42-line Bible, the first major book printed in the West using movable type. Some 48* copies have survived, only 20 of which are complete. Single leaves occasionally appear at auction (selling for $50,000 and up), and earlier this year, Sotheby’s New York sold an eight-page fragment deaccessioned from New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary for $970,000. A complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible, however, has not been seen at auction since 1978.  

In a press release, Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books described the fragment’s provenance: “The present remarkable fragment comprising 13 leaves originates from the Bible of Mannheim Court Library, which was incorporated into the Bavarian Court Library in Munich, c. 1800 and was then sold as an incomplete duplicate. Since 1832 it was in the hands of Robert Curzon, 14th Baron Zouche (1810-1873), in whose family it remained for three generations. In the 1920s it was dispersed it in single books and leaves. Our Book of Joshua comes from the collection of the great bibliophile Otto Schäfer (Schweinfurt), who bought it in 1965 from H. P. Kraus (New York).”

*Some sources say 49.
Image: Leaf from the Gutenberg Bible’s Book of Joshua, courtesy of Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books.

A stunning, Depression-era bathing beauty graced the cover of our summer issue. The photograph was taken in 1939 by Farm Security Administration (FSA) photojournalist Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990). In that issue, writer Jonathan Shipley profiled her life and career, and we heard about (and saw) some of her better known images. Which is why, when paging through Swann Galleries’ catalog for its October 15 sale of Icons & Images: Fine and Vernacular Photographs, I was pleased to recognize Wolcott’s work among the offerings, alongside Walker Evans and W. Eugene Smith.

709952.jpgThe upcoming lot includes three selenium-toned silver prints, all shot in 1938-39 but printed in the 1970s and signed by the photographer. They are quintessential Wolcott images: a “jook joint” in Mississippi; a general store in North Carolina; and a coal miner’s child in West Virginia carrying home a can of kerosene (pictured here). The last-mentioned is one of her best known photographs. The estimate for the lot is $2,500-$3,500.

Singular lots of her photos have sold in the $1,500-$4,000 range in recent years, although the auction record for her work is a gelatin silver print of “Migrant Vegetable Pickers...near Homestead, Florida,” which sold in 2011 for $12,500. 

Image via Swann Galleries. “Coal Miner’s Child Carrying Home Can of Kerosene, Company houses, Scotts Run, W. Va.,” 1938; printed 1977. Marion Post Wolcott.

Ten Days in Wonderland

Earlier this year I mentioned that New York City had fallen under the spell of Alice in Wonderland, and this week the birthday celebrations for the 150-year-old classic reach maximum intensity. Starting today, members of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America (LCSNA) arrive in New York for their annual meeting and to host their two-day conference, “Alice in Popular Culture.” Though this and other events are completely booked, there’s plenty of Carrollian programming for visitors to behold. Below, a sampling of activities for the next few days that are open to the public:

Jessie Willcox Smith's illustration of Alice s...

Jessie Willcox Smith’s illustration of Alice surrounded by the characters of Wonderland. (1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*Friday, October 2: The New York Public Library for Performing Arts opens Alice Live!, an exhibit that traces the history of Alice in Wonderland in live performance, starting with the first professional stage production of the story in London in 1866. (Through January 16.)
*Friday, October 2: Have your ticket ready for the Museum of Mathematics’ Alice birthday party with an adults-only night at the museum. Registration for Unbounded: An Evening at MoMath - The Art and Magic of Alice is required, but includes one free drink. (Subsequent potions available for purchase.) Doors open at 7:30. Costumes welcome.
*Saturday, October 3: Head over to the Sony Wonder Technology Lab for a screening of Behind the Scenes of “Alice in Wonderland,” and take a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Disney’s live-action version of the story. This 14-minute film is shown every half hour.
*Sunday, October 4: Examine Carroll’s original manuscript (on loan from the British Library) at the Morgan’s Alice: 150 Years in Wonderland. Runs through October 12.                      
*Monday, October 5: The Grolier Club is particularly busy this week, hosting an exhibition exploring the translation of Alice into over 170 languages and a two-day colloquium on the 7th and 8th. The exhibition, Alice in a World of Wonderlands runs in conjunction with the recent publication of a three-volume analysis dedicated to the challenges posed in translating the story.

Still not enough? Can’t get to New York? How about a little musical celebration: Boston-based nonprofit Foundwaves collected new songs and art inspired by each chapter of Alice in Wonderland, and everything is accessible here. Listen to Max and the Groovies sing “Drink Me,” or an ode to Chapter 9 called “The Mock Turtle’s Story” by Hi Lo Ha. The overall sound and look of these tributes are perfectly trippy.
John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration fo...

John Tenniel’s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s “Alice in Wonderland.” Alice sitting between Gryphon and Mock turtle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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An upcoming biography of Ted Hughes reveals that the poet was in bed with another lover on the evening that Sylvia Plath, his wife, committed suicide.

Sir Jonathan Bate, a provost of Worcester College, Oxford, and author of the new biography of Ted Hughes also discovered that the Hughes poem “Last Letter” is about the three days leading up to Plath’s suicide at age 30 in 1963.

The poem was inspired by “an enigmatic parting love letter” that Plath wrote to Hughes a few days before she died. Plath wrote a letter stating that she planned to soon leave the country, never to see Hughes again.  

Plath mailed the letter on Friday, expecting it not to arrive until the following day, however an efficient postal service delivered the letter to Hughes on Friday afternoon. Hughes rushed “through the snow-blue, London twilight” to see Plath at her home in Primrose Hill. An argument ensued and Plath burnt the letter.

Hughes wrote of the meeting, ” What happened that night? Your final night.” The poem continues, “Late afternoon, Friday, my last sight of you alive. Burning your letter to me, in the ashtray, with that strange smile.”

A distraught Plath attempted to telephone Hughes on Saturday, however the phone at Hughes’s flat was answered by Hughes’s lover Susan Alliston.  

Plath took her own life on the Sunday evening.  According to Bate, Hughes was in bed with Alliston that night.  Hughes found out about his wife’s suicide the following morning.

Bate’s biography will be published next week.

[Image from Wikipedia]
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