January 2016 Archives

A recently opened exhibit at the Huntington Library explores the life and work of You Chung (Y.C.) Hong (1898-1977), one of the first Chinese Americans to pass the California Bar. An expert on U.S. immigration laws, Hong was a tireless advocate for equal rights of Chinese-Americans and worked to overturn the Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal law signed by president Arthur in 1882 that prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers and severely restricted the entry of Chinese non-laborers. (The law was not repealed until the Magnuson Act of 1943.)  In addition to appearing at numerous congressional hearings in the subject, Hong represented nearly 7,000 clients during his career. “Y.C. Hong: Advocate for Chinese-American Inclusion” draws from the Huntington’s Hong Family Papers (acquired in 2006) and provides a thorough explanation of this prominent attorney and civic leader.

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Translation: These blessings I wish for my compatriots:/ Businesses that flourish,/ Fortunes smoothly sought,/ And once that is done, safe and speedy passage home. Y.C. Hong’s business card/business flyer, ca. 1928. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. 

Among the photographs, ledgers, and correspondence on display, a Chinese typewriter is a particular standout. Purchased by Hong in the 1930s, the machine features over 2500 characters etched on movable metal slugs in its tray bed. To type, one would move the character selection lever across the character chart, then press down on the type bar. The type bar would then pick up the slug, ink it, and impress the image onto paper.

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Improved Shu Zhendong-style Chinese typewriter 改良舒式華文打字機, ca. 1935. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Another impressive artifact is a 1936 document called a “coaching paper,” containing hundreds of question and answers Chinese immigrants would memorize and then recite to their American sponsors. (Immigrants could expect to face nearly 400 questions during their interviews.) To avoid arousing the suspicion of cheating among American authorities, clients were advised to destroy such documents. Children of American citizens were eligible for citizenship which sparked a lucrative trade in false kinship papers. Those fortunate enough to evade detection and gain entry became known as “paper sons” and “paper daughters.”
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Zheng Wenqi’s 鄭文其 coaching paper, ca. 1936. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Y.C. Hong: Advocate for Chinese-American Inclusion” is on view until March 21, 2016 at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. More information may be found here.



Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Jillian Sparks, Special Collections Librarian with Queen’s University Library in Kingston, Ontario:


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What is your role at your institution?

My official title at Queen’s University is Special Collections Librarian. As a Special Collections Librarian I do a bit of everything--collection development, reference, and cataloguing. However, my primary focus is instruction and outreach. Currently we are engaged in making our collection more accessible to faculty and students. To promote awareness of our holdings, I am doing a series of pop-up exhibits over the next few months in conjunction with Robert Burns Day, Valentine’s Day, International Women’s Day, and National Poetry Month. I set up a table with materials and free buttons at the entrance of our main library and talk to students about how they can use our collections. Leaving the reading room to meet the students where they are more comfortable helps prepare them to take the next step and visit us in the reading room as well as presents Special Collection with a more personal face.  With these same goals in mind, I also manage our Instagram and Twitter accounts.

How did you get started in rare books?

I was fortunate enough to be exposed to book history and special collections as an undergraduate at Creighton University. I took a course called “Not Lost in Translation” on the history of the bible that inspired me to think about book transmission and book history. While I was completing my M.A. in English at the University of Victoria I had my epiphany realizing that I loved working with special collections materials and was happiest in that environment. My conversion from English studies to book studies developed through my relationship with one book in particular--Mercury: or the Secret and Swift Messenger by John Wilkins. A secret codebook published in 1641, Mercury is full of unique charts and figures describing how the reader can master the art of secret communication. I first encountered Mercury in a textual studies and methods course which was held in Special Collections. Our wonderful professor, Dr. Erin Kelly introduced us to bibliography. We each chose a book to collate, write signature statements for, examine chain lines, and talk about type setting. The pages of Mercury were dirty and the book had been rebound in a simple grey paper case, but it captured my interest.

Seminar papers and the rigors of graduate school kept me busy until six months later while working with Dr. Janelle Jenstad and special collections staff on a 17th and 18th-century English books exhibit when Wilkins’ book showed up again. Questions on why would someone write a code book in the 17th century and why would someone collect it 200 years later plagued me. Thankfully, Dr. Kelly agreed to supervise a directed study over the summer. During my three-month love affair with Mercury; I would sneak away from my master’s essay at every chance to touch, feel, and smell the pages of that book.  The months of bibliographic study--excavating every detail about publication and John Wilkins’s history--culminated in a comparative study between Mercury and Wilkins’s other work, Essay Towards a Real Character and Philosophical Language (1668), in which I discussed the similarity between the secret codes in the former and universal language in the latter. From then on there was no going back for me, I needed to pursue rare book librarianship.

From the University of Victoria, I headed east to the University of Iowa in order to pursue a joint MLIS degree and Certificate in Book Studies. I was very lucky to be selected as one of the Olson Graduate Research Assistants for Special Collections and University Archives. This two year position prepared me for the many facets of rare book librarianship and allowed me to work with several other Bright Young Librarians--Patrick Olson, Colleen Theisen, Margaret Gamm, and Amy Hildreth Chen--who have all been great mentors!

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree? 

I earned my M.A. in English with a specialization in Medieval and Early Modern Studies from the University of Victoria. My MLIS and Certificate in Book Studies is from the University of Iowa. Iowa’s School of Library and Information Science partners with the Center for the Book to offer a joint program in library science and book studies that involves both book history and book arts. I focused on book binding which has been invaluable in my own research and enabled me to make historical book binding models I use when teaching.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I am sentimental about Mercury and all of John Wilkins’ works and continue to study them. In general, I am drawn to historical scientific works. I am interested in what language is used to convey scientific knowledge and how it creates scientific community. Similarly, I find scientific diagrams and illustrations beautiful and am fascinated with how the visuals complement the text. The History of Hydraulics collection is my favorite collection at the University of Iowa and I am very excited to begin exploring our scientific collections at Queen’s, especially our botanical collection. We have a herbarium compiled by Catherine Parr Traill that is exquisite.

What do you personally collect?

I have an ever growing collection of Jane Austen books and related materials. Tea with Jane Austen is one of the latest additions. My husband and I also collect cookbooks.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to cook, hence the cookbook collection. I live at the confluence of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario and am looking forward to hiking, fishing, camping, and just exploring southeast Ontario this summer.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Everything about it excites me! It is so satisfying to unravel the provenance, unique textual characteristics, and identify binding features while cataloguing. I think this side appeals to every puzzle lover. Yet at the same time rare book librarianship is all about sharing discoveries and helping to facilitate new ones. I love the outreach side of my job and working with students in the classroom and our reading room.

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

Special collections as a field is going through a very exciting transition. Thanks to social media and a number of digital projects, people are now pushing the traditional boundaries of rare book librarianship. As librarians share materials through Tumblr, Instagram, and various video platforms, people get to learn about collections and see behind the veil of the reading room. Digital projects like crowdsourcing transcription and identifying photographs are also incredibly engaging. As a result, I think administrators look to special collections to lead new digital research opportunities and to provide an active learning environment for students. I am especially excited about the evolution of special collections instruction and the overall impact it will have on undergraduate research. We need to cultivate our future readers and advocates and I think that begins in the classroom.

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

Queen’s is home to an extensive Canadiana collection that covers the early history of Canada to Canadian fine press and artist’s books. We recently received a new collection, the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection, about 400 volumes mostly on British history and culture of the 16th through 18th centuries. We are also home to Canadian writer and journalist Robertson Davies’ personal library and have maintained his library’s original order. Davies collected 19th century theatre history when no one else was really interested. The collection includes tinsel prints of several Victorian actors.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Our current exhibit is on Vero Wynne-Edwards and the 1937 MacMillan-Thebaud Expedition. In the spring, Kim Bell will be curating an exhibit on magazines produced by prisoners at the Kingston Penitentiary called “Prison Sentences: Penitentiary Literature in Kingston.” Kim has collaborated with Canada’s Penitentiary Museum in order to showcase the full history of the prison press and I think it will be quite fascinating. There will be a digital exhibit as well. We will be featuring books from our Children’s Books collection over the summer and will open in the fall with an exhibit celebrating the 175th anniversary of Queen’s. 

“Drawings and Digressions,” a new exhibit featuring the art of Timothy C. Ely is on view in New York City, hosted by Abby Schoolman Books, which specializes in the work of contemporary fine art bookbinders.  

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 4.49.47 PM.pngThe work of Tim Ely, master bookbinder and artist, has long been on our radar. Prompted by an exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts in Spokane, Washington, Nick Basbanes profiled him in our winter 2011 issue.

An inveterate doodler for as long as he can remember ... Ely admits to constant daydreaming as a boy, and to always recording the images that fill his brain onto pieces of paper. All of the books he makes are carefully planned and sketched out in advance, and detailed in notebooks, now numbering seventy-three, which constitute the bibliographical record of his accomplishments over the past half-century. He estimates that he has made 450 books over that period.

The current exhibit of enigmatic landscapes is on view through March at the Gallery at Midtown Integrative Health and Wellness. Ely writes of it, “This series of drawings shapes an idea of what speculatively goes on for me in this relationship of humans with land, embedded as I am in my own territory.” 

The MIHAW gallery is located at 515 Madison Ave., 6th floor, and the hours are: 7am to 6pm Monday-Thursday and 7am to 5pm on Fridays. Ely’s books can be seen by appointment at Abby Schoolman Books.

Image Courtesy of Abby Schoolman Books.

1537.jpgA previously unknown Beatrix Potter story was discovered in the Victoria & Albert archive in London. The story will be published for the first time this fall with illustrations by Quentin Blake.

Two years ago, Penguin publisher Jo Hanks found mention of the unedited story, entitled “The Tale of Kitty Boots,” in a letter that Potter wrote to her publisher in 1914.  A search through the Victoria & Albert archive eventually uncovered the story as well as a rough sketch of Kitty-in-Boots.

The story remained unfinished when Potter died in 1943, despite intentions from the author to finish it  Other Potter letters in the V&A archive reveal that she struggled to return to Kitty-in-Boots after a series of real-life interruptions such as keeping up with the daily chores of sheep farming.

The Kitty-in-Boots story attracted illustrator Quentin Blake to the project, known in particular for his illustrations of the Roald Dahl books. Blake said “It seemed almost incredible when, early in 2015, I was sent the manuscript of a story by Beatrix Potter; one which had lain unpublished for 100 years and which, with the exception of a single drawing, she had never illustrated.”

Image: Beatrix Potter/Frederick Warne & Co. & the V&A Museum.
Peruse the catalogue for this Thursday’s Illustration Art auction at Swann Galleries, and you’ll see a fine mix of book and magazine illustration art, including a particularly nice selection of New Yorker art and cartoons. For maximum comic effect, however, take note of several caricatures that harmonize with current political events.

Trump 188.jpgLot 188, for example, is a pen-and-ink drawing of Donald Trump by artist David Levine. It was published in the New York Review of Books on May 22, 1988 alongside “Big Shots,” a review of Trump: The Art of the Deal. The subject--currently a vociferous candidate for the US presidency--appears to be wearing a suit, a tie, and a diaper. The estimate is $2,000-3,000--quite the bargain should he succeed with his current scheme.   

The following lot is another pen-and-ink depiction of Trump by David Levine, this one showing the real estate mogul shouldering his own lumber. It ran in the New York Review of Books on December 21, 2000, alongside “Golden Boy,” a review of The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire. (The review, by the by, eerily warns: “He’s not going to go away. We might as well accept the fact that Donald Trump is the price you pay for living in a marketplace culture.”) Again, the estimate is $2,000-3,000.

Sanders copy.jpgAnd lest they snub the other side of the aisle, Swann Galleries will also offer Edward Sorel’s illustration of a whip-wielding, fist-pounding Bernie Sanders, published in the New Yorker on October 15, 2015, to illustrate an article titled “Bernie Sanders; The Populist Prophet.” The pen and ink wash on paper is mounted on card. Its estimate is $1,000-1,500.

Images via Swann Galleries.

Shakespeare Documented, Online

Marking 400 years since the Bard’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library is pulling out all the stops in 2016: Readers of the most recent issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine may recall the Folger just launched a 52-city tour of a selection of its First Folios. Now, those wishing to learn more about the life and times of the “Swan of Avon” need look no further than their computer screens. The Folger’s latest endeavor is an online exhibition called “Shakespeare Documented,” in partnership from the Bodleian Libraries, the British Library, the National Archives and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The site bills itself as “the largest and most authoritative resource for learning about primary sources that document the life and career of William Shakespeare.”

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Shakespeare Documented is a new online resource sharing the manuscripts and printed books that document the life and career of William Shakespeare. (PRNewsFoto/Folger Shakespeare Library)

Free and accessible as of January 20, “Shakespeare Documented”  provides a comprehensive portrait of the playwright, offering hundreds of print and manuscript documents for in-depth examination, including contemporary accounts (and gossip), anthologies, literary criticism and diary entries--all providing testimony to how Shakespeare became a household name.  Highlights include Shakespeare’s signed last will and testament, wherein he bequeaths property to his daughters and his “second best bed” to his wife, Anne Hathaway. (Apparently this was not considered a slight, but a way to ensure Anne received the correct property. However, this is the only mention of her in the will.) A November 1596 petition against the construction of playhouse in Blackfriars argues that such a structure in the neighborhood would attract vagrants and “greatly disturbe and hinder both the Ministers and the Parishioners in tyme of devine service and Sermones.” (Despite the resistance, Shakespeare eventually moved his company to Blackfriars in 1609, and in 1613 purchased the property. The mortgage documents are also available for closer review.)

“Shakespeare” by It may be by a painter called John Taylor who was an important member of the Painter-Stainers’ Company.[1] - Official gallery link. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shakespeare.jpg#/media/File:Shakespeare.jpg

Though already exhaustive in its offerings, the site continues to be updated with textual descriptions and will no doubt become an invaluable cache of material for scholars and educators. “Shakespeare Documented” joins the Folger’s other digital resources, Folger Digital Texts and Early Modern Manuscripts Online. Discover for yourself at ShakespeareDocumented.org

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Sarah Horowitz, Head of Quaker & Special Collections and Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.



How did you get started in rare books?

When I was an undergraduate, I had a summer job at a local university library where I pasted labels on the spines of books and did inventory. That summer, the library acquired the collection of a nearby seminary which had closed its doors, and the director asked me to look through the books, determine whether the library already owned the titles, and find records in WorldCat or the National Union Catalog for the new materials. The books were mostly from the sixteenth through eighteenth century, and they were like no books I had ever seen before: the paper was thicker, the bindings were plain at first glance but showed signs of both wear and tooling, and the text was a fascinating mix of fonts, languages, and strange spacing. I was unable to read most of the books, and I was not particularly interested in the subject matter, the majority of which was church history and biblical commentaries, but the objects themselves were fascinating to me.


Then, my senior year in college, I took a class on the history of the book, which included a lab component. Two days a week we discussed readings and looked at materials from special collections, but on Fridays we went to the print studio and learned to make paper, set type, and create different types of prints. Our final project was to print and bind a book, which was added to the library’s collection.


Both these experiences, where I got to think about books as objects and not just texts, led me to decide to apply to library school so that I could work in rare books and special collections.


Where did you earn your advanced degrees?

I earned my MLS, with a specialization in rare books librarianship, from Indiana University, where I was privileged to work at the Lilly Library and spend time with their amazing collections. I also have a master’s degree in English from Western Illinois University.


What is your role at your institution?

I am the head of Quaker & Special Collections and Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts. Haverford has a small special collections department, so I do a little bit of everything: teaching, collection development, working with researchers in the reading room, overseeing student workers/interns and their projects, working with donors, planning exhibits, and administrative work. One of the things I love about working at a liberal arts college is the ability to be involved in so many different things.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

There are so many! I love the Microcosm of London, an 1808-1810 Ackermann publication that documents low and high life in London through text and aquatints. It is fascinating how, in such an expensive publication, time is taken to document asylums and prisons and other places that seem like odd choices for a plate book. Haverford is the home of one of the few extant copies of William Penn’s Excellent Priviledge (1687), which includes the first printing of the Magna Carta in what is now the United States; our copy has great Quaker provenance, as well, having been owned by several generations of the Pemberton family. A bibliography describes it as “the worst specimen of Bradford’s [the printer’s] work I have ever seen,” which is an interesting opening for conversations with students about how something can be important and interesting as an object without being beautiful. I am also very excited about a rare Zapotec catechism, published in Mexico in 1766, that we have recently acquired, around which one of our linguistics professors plans to design a class.   

What do you personally collect?

I collect books illustrated by artists from the Whig and Powder school. These are mostly 1890s publications by illustrators such as Hugh Thompson and Charles and Henry Brock. This started as a working collection, because I was writing on how these illustrators changed the meaning of the novels they were working with through their illustrations, but I now enjoy expanding my collection. I also have a small collection of Roycroft Press books; I grew up not far from East Aurora, NY, where Roycroft was based, and in years past it was quite easy to find them in antique and thrift shops.


What do you like to do outside of work?

I love dance and theater, so I try to attend a variety of performances throughout the year; I also take a regular ballet class. I am an avid baker, as my co-workers can attest, so I spend time creating recipes and reading cookbooks and blogs. I can also frequently be found walking or hiking, cooking or dining out with friends, knitting, or playing trivia. As a relatively recent Philadelphia transplant, I have also been exploring the city’s historical sites, libraries, and neighborhoods.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I enjoy connecting researchers, especially undergraduate students, with rare materials, ones that change their perspective or lead them in new directions. This was something I learned early in library school: that while I love rare books, what I enjoy most about working with them is connecting people to them, and seeing how researchers use our materials in ways I might never dream.


One of my favorite things about my job at Haverford is that we have a number of faculty who integrate special collections materials into their classes throughout the semester, so I get to work with students over the course of their research projects and see how they grow as interpreters and readers of the materials, as well as how they put these materials in conversation with their classmates’ projects and the themes of the course.


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

Special Collections is a locus for many current trends in higher education, including an increased interest in material culture, an emphasis on visuality and visual studies, and a focus on locality and local resources. Simultaneously, we as a profession have become more open, expanding our collecting areas, especially in ephemera and popular culture; creating digital projects and repositories that allow users to remix and manipulate our materials; and focusing on outreach to new communities, while also deconstructing and rethinking what it means to collect and preserve materials. I think one of the keys for special collections librarianship moving forward is to evaluate how these changes have affected not just what we do day-to-day but also our missions and staffing, and how we can make sure these exciting new opportunities are sustainable. It’s an exciting time to be working in special collections.


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

Haverford is best known for its Quaker collections, which are world-renowned and amazing; I continually feel privileged to work with them.  However, I wish people were more aware of some of our holdings beyond Quakerism, which are wide-ranging and eclectic. We have strong holdings in the anti-slavery movement in the U.S. We have a small but exciting collection of Shakespearean literature; collected by an alumnus who was inspired by his English professor, it includes both works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries as well as pieces that Shakespeare may have read. We also have the papers of Murray Freeman, a computer scientist who helped to develop standards for the internet as well as an excellent fine art photography collection, with particular strength in photos of and by African-Americans.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We just took down one of my favorite exhibits that I’ve ever worked on, about Modernism, pacifism, and the Spanish Civil War. Fortunately, its digital component of student-created material lives on. Our spring exhibit is “Carl Van Vechten: O, Write My Name - Portraits of the Harlem Renaissance and Beyond,” which features materials from our photography and rare books collections, and I’m very much looking forward to a student-curated exhibit next academic year on the history of astronomy and the telescope.


Bonhams-Darwin copy.jpgBibliophiles will flock to sunny Southern California next month for an event we like to call Rare Book Week West, anchored by one of the three major US antiquarian book fairs (the others being in New York in April and Boston in November). To facilitate and encourage participation during these exciting book fair weeks, Fine Books pulls together information about what else is going on simultaneously--shadow fairs, book and manuscript auctions, library and museum exhibits, and bookish events to attend or places to visit while you’re there. Today we’re launching the 2016 edition of Rare Book Week West, featuring the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America-sponsored book fair in Pasadena and Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair, as well as local auctions held by PBA Galleries and Bonhams (where you can bid on the first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species seen here), and more.

If you’re headed to CA from February 11-14, let our guide help you plan your trip. 

Image: Courtesy of Bonhams.
Young women in 17th century Europe were not exactly overwhelmed by the number of creative outlets open to them.  Needlework became, for these women, a rare opportunity to explore their imaginative capabilities.  A unique collection of 17th century needlework, offered this week at auction by Sotheby’s, provides a fascinating glimpse into the creative forces at work behind a seemingly mundane activity. Some highlights below:

A 17th century needlework book cover with detailed nature scenes (Est. $4,000 - $6,000):

A colorful depiction of the marriage of James II and Queen Mary of Modena, complete with a variety of royal symbols: (Est. $3,000 - $5,000)

A beautiful and highly imaginative example of 17th century stumpwork (where the embroidery rises up off the linen).  Look for the caterpillar with the human face two hundred years before “Alice in Wonderland.” (Est. $8,000-$12,000)

A James I needlework casket almost entirely completed with a (very) expensive silver thread.  The scenes around the casket are an allegory for the five senses. (Est. $25,000 - $35,000)


boh-102---f30v-31_l.jpgOpening this coming weekend is New York’s famous Winter Antiques Show, held at the Park Avenue Armory from the 22nd-31st. A collector recently told me that she purchased the very first book in her collection after a visit to this show, about fifteen years ago. So what does it have to offer for collectors of rare books, manuscripts, and maps this year? For starters, Les Enluminures will be there, with an offering of medieval manuscripts, such as the Book of Hours, c. 1490, pictured here. Daniel Crouch Rare Books will also be exhibiting, as will Thomas Heneage Art Books, Arader Galleries, and The Old Print Shop. If you are in town, it’s definitely worth checking out! 

Image via Les Enluminures.

The American Library Association (ALA) held its midwinter meeting in Boston last weekend. Nearly 11,000 educators, writers, publishers and exhibitors attended lectures and lunches that focused on how librarians could better engage the communities they serve. Attendees also basked in the glow of celebrity--among others, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns talked about creativity and writing, and newly minted children’s book author Chelsea Clinton delivered the closing speech about how children can positively impact their communities.

Scholastic hosted its annual Picture Book Lunch on Saturday at the Westin Hotel adjacent to the Boston Convention Center, where editors Arthur A. Levine, Tracy Mack and others highlighted forthcoming titles for 2016. (Keep an eye out for books on babies, birds, and ballet.) Author-illustrator Barbara McClintock and husband and wife illustrating team Sean Qualls and Selina Alko discussed their latest projects and the challenges in making picture books chime with children. McClintock shared her process of getting the images of little ballerinas just right for her forthcoming book, Emma and Julia Love Ballet. To sketch dancers in motion, McClintock visited a local children’s ballet studio. She also laced up a pair of slippers so that she could feel the movements for herself. Qualls and Alko used their recently released picture book on Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas to illustrate the ups and downs of working together on the same project while also living under the same roof. (Their secret to creative tranquility is separate studios.) 


The highly anticipated Youth Media Awards were delivered on Monday in recognition of the best contributions to children’s literature, and this year’s group was especially diverse. Matt de la Peña is the first Latino author to receive the Newbery Award for Last Stop on Market Street, and the Caldecott Award went to Sophie Blackall for illustrating Finding Winnie. (NBC News profiled Peña and also explored the country’s rapidly-growing Latino readership.) A full list of award and honor recipients can be found here.

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Other highlights: The Geisel Award is a relative newcomer to the awards scene (established in 2006), and recognizes the most distinguished beginner reader book. The illustrations and text must be geared to children in grades kindergarten through second grade--perhaps the most challenging audience for authors to sustain interest and promote developing literacy skills. This year the award went to Sam Ricks, illustrator of Don’t Throw It to Mo!, written by David A. Adler. In the debut young adult novel author category, every award or honor recipient was a woman, and the top award went to Becky Albertalli for Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Jerry Pinkney was honored with two lifetime achievement awards for his overall contributions to children’s literature.

While the awards were exciting, this conference was about making connections with all readers, and that the world of books offers constant companionship. As John Adams advised his son John Quincy before departing for Europe: “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.”

While researching my recent posts about bestsellers from 100 years ago (see parts 1 and 2), I came across the blog “Great Penformances” run by Linda Aragoni.  Linda reviews vintage novels on her blog on the anniversary of the year they appeared on the bestseller lists.  So, in 2015, Linda reviewed all of the 1915 bestsellers I wrote about here at Fine Books.  Linda and I struck up a conversation over e-mail about the 1915 bestsellers and their contemporary appeal:

What was your favorite book from 1915?

boothtarkingtonturmoil.jpgWhen I wrapped up my reviews of the 1915 bestsellers, I chose The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington and The Harbor by Earnest Poole as the best of the 1915 bestsellers. Each provides a window into America’s transformation from the horsepower age to the motor age. And each was followed in a couple years by another novel on the same theme that won the author a Pulitzer Prize for literature.

It’s embarrassing to admit that my favorite book from 1915 is one that’s a lightweight: Angela’s Business by Henry Sydnor Harrison. Its a quirky novel about a would-be novelist who tries hard to be one of the trendsetters but discovers what he truly believes in are traditional values from his grandparents’ age.

Do you think modern audiences would enjoy any of the 1915 bestsellers? 

For simple diversion, I think modern audiences would enjoy Angela’s Business and K by Mary Roberts Rinehart, a novel that blends romance and mystery.


Any other comments about the 1915 list? 

The bestsellers from 1915 don’t include any that I’d buy for my permanent library. Even the best of them are one-time reads.

Have you already started in on the 1916 bestsellers? Anything to look forward to? 

I’ve finished the 1916 bestsellers. In fact, I’ve read all the 1910-1919 lists for a collection of reviews the Great War era novels which I hope to publish next year. 

Two novels on the 1916 list get my A rating: The Real Adventure by Henry Kitchell Webster and Life and Gabriella: The Story of a Woman’s Courage by Ellen Glasgow. They are stories of the marriages of two very different--but very gutsy--women at a time when women’s roles were very rigidly set by society. Both are available at Project Gutenberg.

Check out Linda Aragoni’s blog “Great Penformances,” or visit her on Twitter @VintageNovels

The man who graces the front cover of our winter issue is US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera. The Library of Congress honored the California-born poet with that title in June of last year, and since that time, Herrera has been active on the LOC’s website, editing the many submissions to his web-based epic poem, La Familia (The Family), but also showcasing some of the library’s resources in El Jardin (The Garden).

Lampioes0047_180.jpgIn one of his El Jardin webcasts produced last fall at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center, Herrera and folklife specialist Margaret Kruesi discuss literatura de cordel, a Portuguese term for “literature on a string” because these booklets are literally displayed on a string in Brazilian street markets. (See the 7-minute video here.) Herrera talks about the art of poetry, and the importance of “cheap” chapbook editions to poets even today. Then, he wrote a poem about it.

For more information about literatura de cordel, go here.

Image: Lampiões by Alexandre José Felipe Cavalcanti d’Albuquerque Sabaó Saboia [a.k.a. Dila], no date (acquired 1986). Woodcut probably by the author. The outlaw and folk hero Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, known as Lampião, and his gang of bandits are a frequently recurring subject of cordel poetry, songs, and illustrations. AFC 1970/002:M00156.  

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Amy Hildreth Chen, the Special Collections Instruction Librarian at the University of Iowa.

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How did you get started in rare books?


My junior year at the University of Iowa, I was reading the New York Times in the cafeteria when I ran across an article discussing Emory University’s acquisition of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, at the time the largest collection of twentieth century Anglophone poetry in private hands. When I decided pursue a PhD in English a year later, I remembered the article and decided to apply to Emory due to the collection.


I wound up working in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL, now the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library) for a total of five years, three of which I spent assisting Kevin Young, the curator of the Danowski collection. During this time, I received a well-rounded education: I learned to process collections, create exhibitions, manage the daily influx of acquisitions, talk to donors, and visit with rare book and manuscript dealers. I also brought my library work into the classroom as I designed and taught four courses for the English department focusing on special collections holdings.


Due to these experiences, I knew I wanted to seek a career in the field. The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) allowed me to become a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alabama, where I devoted two years to coordinating their instruction, exhibition, and outreach programs while writing a book about the Wade Hall collection. Wade Hall collected American books, manuscripts, music, and quilts; his collection is the largest at Alabama and the most eclectic. Sadly, Wade Hall passed away this fall, but my work honoring his collection should be forthcoming from New South Books in late 2016.


Where did you earn your advanced degree?


I have a PhD in English from Emory. My official areas of expertise are twentieth century British, Irish, and American poetry as well as archive theory. My dissertation discussed the American market for twentieth-century literary collections.


What is your role at your institution?


I became the Special Collections Instruction Librarian at the University of Iowa in June 2015. The department split Colleen Theisen’s role as Outreach and Instruction Librarian to allow her to focus on Outreach while giving someone new the opportunity to manage the rapidly expanding Instruction program.


Now, I oversee the daily ins and outs of booking, preparing for, and teaching classes, although I certainly don’t teach them all on my own. To give you a sense of the scale of our program, this fall we taught 119 classes as a department. What I like most about my job is the mandate I’ve been given to develop innovative curricula using rare materials.


I also run Archive Journal’s Twitter feed and help edit the Notes and Queries section with Gabrielle Dean and Lauren Coats.


Favorite rare book/ephemera that you’ve handled?


I work equally with rare books and manuscript collections, so can I cheat and name two?


My favorite rare book is Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color (1963). I taught a session for Anne Herbert’s Color Theory class nearly every semester I spent at Alabama. During one visit, Anne mentioned that Yale used the text and images in the book to create an app. So when Sue Hettmansperger from Iowa’s School of Art and Art History just happened to request a session on Albers, I asked her if she’d be willing to stretch her concept of the visit to include a discussion of the app. She graciously agreed. We had a wonderful time analyzing how each plate achieves its surprising effect and then comparing the physical version to its digital adaptation. I appreciate the book’s beauty as well as how it lends itself to a variety of curricular approaches.


My favorite manuscript is Lucille Clifton’s typescript of the Book of Days, the poetry collection left unpublished at the time of her death. Every one of those poems is striking. I find the poem “birth-day” especially devastating: “what we will become/ waits in us like an ache.”


What do you personally collect?


I collect poetry broadsides from the institutions where I’ve been employed. Broadsides represent my interest in poetry and visual art and they are a nice way to chart the timeline of my life. I have quite a few broadsides from Emory as well as a few from Alabama. But, appropriately, the first broadside I picked up was “There is a Gold Light in Certain Old Paintings” by Donald Justice. I was given it for free when I attended a memorial reading at Iowa in 2004. Now that I’ve come full circle and work where I used to study, that broadside has a place of pride in my living room.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I continue to pursue my academic research and I do some creative writing as well. When I need to turn my brain off, I practice Pilates. My husband and I also like to try out new restaurants.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


I believe rare book librarianship, and special collections as a whole, is at the vanguard of research and teaching in higher education. Jacques Derrida may have popularized the concept of the “archival turn,” but rare book librarians and archivists are the ones who get the credit for the profession’s development in the past decade.


Since I teach where I went to school, I have an intimate perspective on this shift. I watch how courses I took over a decade ago that didn’t come to special collections now dedicate two or more sessions to working with rare materials. It’s an honor to participate in this more inclusive vision of special collections.


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


It’s going to be great. Colleges and universities realize that using rare books and manuscripts in the classroom generates richer educational experiences. Students light up when they read a letter from the past or hold a book from centuries ago. That delight helps them tolerate some of the challenges that naturally arise when working with our materials. As individual teaching faculty become more aware of what’s possible pedagogically, their interest only grows. The key for us is to continue to build sustainable instruction programs that offer quality curricula to our campuses while balancing the preservation needs of our holdings and working well with our colleagues in other sectors of the academic library.


More broadly, the future of special collections librarianship also depends on the future of higher education. As we shift to new methods of inquiry in the humanities, and more people move into alt-ac roles, staying cutting-edge in instruction and research depends on continuing to embrace and incorporate diverse perspectives.


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


I must highlight the strength of our book arts collection. It supports UI’s Center for the Book, but it’s so rich that students from other universities regularly visit the collection. My colleague Margaret Gamm does a fantastic job selecting new acquisitions. The most recent arrivals get a place of pride in our reading room, where students and faculty often stop in to pursue what she’s bought. I love thinking about how humanities researchers and artists use the same materials differently.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


Iowa just remodeled the main library to create a state-of-the-art gallery. In January 2016, our first exhibition will focus on James Van Allen, who pioneered magnetospheric research in space. After that, our next shows include an exhibition on Star Trek and a show devoted to Shakespeare’s First Folio, on tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library. 

The New York Public Library made an exciting announcement last week--it has made available more than 180,000 images of public domain material from its collection as high-resolution downloads. The idea is to “facilitate sharing, research and reuse by scholars, artists, educators, technologists, publishers, and Internet users of all kinds.”

Images hail from every nook of the NYPL’s rich holdings, from medieval manuscripts to Federal Art Project and Farm Security Administration photographs. Here’s a sampling of images that caught our eye:

Thoreau-nypl.digitalcollections.e26fc720-6d0b-0132-8333-58d385a7b928.001.r.jpgHenry David Thoreau’s holograph draft manuscript of “Wild Apples,” 1850-1860.

Elvis Memorabilia Rocks Graceland Auction

In 1956, Elvis Presley hip-thrust his way onto American record charts and television sets, making his silver-screen debut in Love Me Tender and appearing on programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show no less than 11 times. Perhaps the most thrilling place to catch a glimpse of the King that year was live in concert: Presley enthralled crowds in nearly 80 cities across the country, securing the sexy baritone’s place in the hearts of fans forever.

A 1957 cropped photograph of Elvis from a publicity still for Jailhouse Rock. Source: The Library of Congress.

To celebrate Presley’s arrival on the entertainment scene 60 years ago, the Graceland Mansion is hosting a series of events including an auction and birthday party that will extend through this weekend. (The singer would have been 81 today.)  Last evening, the second-most visited home in America hosted a live auction with over 120 authenticated items, such as the 1969 custom Gibson Ebony Dove guitar that Presley played during his televised 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert. Online bidding opened on December 16 for the flattop steel string acoustic instrument. Presale estimates valued it between $350,000-$500,000, however the guitar did not sell, failing to meet its reserve. (In comparison, an anonymous bidder paid $2.4 million in November 2015 for John Lennon’s Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar.) Fans with more modest budgets can order a reproduction Gibson Elvis Ebony Dove for roughly $3000. (Kenpo Karate decal not included.)
Sheet music for Love Me Tender. Source: Screenshot from Amazon.com

Ephemera fared better, including ticket stubs and a Humes High School library card upon which Elvis signed out a copy of The Courageous Heart: A Life of Andrew Jackson for Young Readers in 1948. That faded yellow card fetched $11,875. There was even a piece showcasing Elvis’ tender-hearted side: a telegram sent by Presley to Diane Pichler, a 13-year-old cancer patient about to undergo one of 16 operations that ultimately saved her life. Stamped October 28, 1956, 4:27 a.m., the Western Union telegram encourages the child to be strong, and that Elvis would be singing for her later that day on Ed Sullivan’s show. Pichler claimed in a newspaper interview two decades later that those words gave her the strength to persevere. This little letter sold for $1,000.

Continuing on from our Tuesday post, here are the final five in the countdown of 1915 bestsellers:

5) K by Mary Roberts Rinehart. A romance set it in the industrial Victorian age from the “American Agatha Christie.” Rinehart, whose cozy mysteries were frequent bestsellers, delved into romantic melodrama in K, which follows the relationship between an enigmatic boarder and the daughter of the resident seamstress.

4) Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter.  The first of many sequels to 1914’s #2 bestseller, Pollyanna, Pollyanna Grows Up has the distinction of being the only Polyanna sequel written by Porter herself before the Pollyanna adventures were outsourced to a team of writers. Porter spent the last five years of her life writing adult novels before dying in 1920, aged 51.

3) Michael O’Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter.  Stratton-Porter was a regular on the bestseller lists and used her fame and fortune to launch and support conservation efforts, particularly in her native Indiana. Stratton-Porter is primarily remembered today for her naturalist books, the Limberlost series. Michael O’Halloran is of the popular class of American novels about orphans who make good on their lives.  It follows a spirited newsboy who grows up in a major Midwestern city who takes solace in a tamarack swamp near the city.

2) A Far Country by Winston Churchill.  A bestseller by the American Winston Churchill, whose name would soon be overshadowed by the English Winston Churchill.  Our Churchill, however, wrote a number of bestselling novels, including The Inside of the Cup, which was featured on the 1914 bestseller list..  A Far Country is a bildungsroman that follows Hugh Paret from youth to manhood in his career as a corporate lawyer.

1) And the number 1 bestseller from 1915... The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington.  Tarkington was an enormous bestseller in the early 20th century, selling over 5 million copies of his books in the days before paperbacks.  The Turmoil is the first volume in what Tarkington labeled his “Growth Trilogy,” the second volume of which, The Magnificent Ambersons, would later become an American classic. The Turmoil deals with many of the same themes as The Magnificent Ambersons, such as family dynamics and the furious growth of industrialization in America.  The Turmoil focuses in particular on a strained father-son relationship between Mr. Sheridan, a man of business and a capitalist, and his sickly son, Bibbs, a poet, dreamer, and thinker.

Want to own a first edition of 1915’s bestselling book?  It’ll only set you back about $3.00 today, a comment both upon the sheer amount of copies that were circulating in 1915 and on Tarkington’s diminished reputation.

[For an excellent long-form article about Tarkington, see Thomas Mallon’s piece from The Atlantic in 2004 entitled “Hoosiers.”]

It’s always fun--and edifying--at this time of year to take a “backward glance” at the most popular reads on our site. From stolen books to Sherlock Holmes to the sale of a Gutenberg fragment, here are 2015’s top posts. See what you’ve missed!

#1 FBI Seizes Rare Books Presumed Stolen from the NYPL. According to New York Public Library (NYPL) officials, eight books--seven bibles published between 1692 and 1861 and Benjamin Franklin’s printshop accounts book, known as “Work Book No. 2”--have been seized pursuant to a grand jury subpoena.  

1 Fig 26 copylg-thumb-500x370-8399.jpg#2 Missing Ruskin Photographs Discovered. The largest collection of daguerreotypes of Venice in the world--and probably the earliest surviving photographs of the Alps--have been officially confirmed as taken by John Ruskin, the famous 19th-century art critic, writer, and artist.

#3 Fifty Sherlock Holmes Works Officially in the Public Domain. An ongoing copyright case closed after the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal about Holmes stories in the public domain. 

#4 Bookfinder’s Most Sought Books in 2014. The 2014 list was unveiled and it holds a few familiar names--and a few surprises as well. For years, Madonna’s book, Sex, topped the list, however the queen was toppled this year.

#5 Extremely Rare Apple Computer Dropped Off at Recycling Center. A woman dropped off a box of electronics at Clean Bay Area, a Silicon Valley recycling firm. Included in the box was an Apple I computer, hand-built by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in Jobs’ garage in 1976.

#6 Mystery Novel from 1930s is Surprise Christmas Bestseller. Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story, first published in 1937, was re-released in 2014 as part of the British Library’s Crime Classics series.

#7 Philadelphia Goes ‘Wilde’ with Exhibit, Opera. A history of a long-lasting relationship between Oscar Wilde and the City of Brotherly Love.

#8 “Books about Books” Spring Roundup. Five books that bibliophiles will enjoy. Topics include illustrated letters, marginalia, King Penguins, and WWI writers.

#9 Eight Pages of the Gutenberg Bible for Sale. A complete copy hasn’t been seen at auction since 1978, so this sizable section of the famous Bible, offered by Sotheby’s for its consignor, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, was big news.

#10 A Bibliophile’s Visit to France. 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.

If you’d like to revisit the top stories of 2014 (e.g., Shakespeare’s dictionary, Sylvia Plath’s journals), click here.

Image: Courtesy of Bernard Quaritch.
Last year I began a new annual tradition on the Fine Books blog where I reviewed the bestselling books of 100 years ago. This week, with my first posts in the new year, let’s take a look back at the top ten bestsellers from 1915:

In descending order:

10) Angela’s Business by Henry Sydnor Harrison.  Harrison is largely forgotten today, but in 1915 he was on the heels of a previous bestseller, Queed, from 1911. Harrison was born in Sewanee, Tennessee, and attended Columbia University.  His second novel, the introspective Angela’s Business, delves into the perennial dilemma of the modern woman in the 20th century: career vs family.

9) The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Grey.  No stranger to the bestseller list, Grey is one of the few bestsellers from 1915 still read today.  The Lone Star Ranger follows the story of Buck Duane, an outlaw with a conscience, who eventually joins the Texas Rangers and clears his name.

8) The Harbor by Ernest Poole. Poole was a journalist, who was active in child labor reform in the early 20th century. He also served as a foreign correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post during the First World War. His novel The Harbor is considered one of the first novels to portray trade unions as a positive force in society.  The book is set on the Brooklyn waterfront amongst a group of proletariats. Poole would later win the Pulitzer for his 1918 novel His Family, but some suspected the Pulitzer Committee was really honoring the achievement of Poole’s earlier novel with a social conscience.

7) Felix O’Day by F. Hopkinson Smith. In addition to a successful career as an author, Smith was also an artist and an engineer responsible for building the base that would hold the Statue of Liberty. Smith died in 1915 and Felix O’Day was the second to last of his novels to be published.  Smith had commanded the bestseller lists at the end of the 19th century, particular with his novels Tom Grogan and Caleb West. In the novel, Felix O’Day is a wealthy Englishman recently arrived in America in search of his missing wife who ran off with another man.

6) Jaffrey by William John Locke. Jaffrey, a novel about relationshipswas one of five novels by the ever popular Locke to hit the bestseller lists.  One of this others, The Fortunate Youth, was featured in this same post last year when we reviewed 1914 titles.

And that’s where we will leave it for today.  Tune in again on Thursday this week for the top five bestsellers from 1915....

200399_view 02_02 copy.jpgComing to auction next week in Edinburgh is a scarce first edition of Jonathan Swift’s poem, “The virtues of Sid Hamet the Magician’s rod.” Swift had written to his friend Esther Johnson, aka Stella, about it in October of 1710, calling it a “lampoon.” Having already established a reputation as a political satirist, Swift’s ire was aimed this time at Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin. (Swift had been lobbying Godolphin for benefits for the Irish clergy, to no avail.) The double-sided folio sheet was printed in London by John Morphew that same year. According to the auctioneer, less than twenty are recorded in US and UK institutional collections. This one is expected to bring £800-1,200 ($1,175-$1,763).

Image via Lyon & Turnbull.
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