March 2016 Archives

Twenty-nine Harper Lee letters to various friends and acquaintances are up for auction today, March 31, from Nate D. Sanders in Los Angeles, covering a wide range of topics. 

                                                                                                                                                                   One of the letter highlights is a missive Lee penned to a friend after a 1990 visit to Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. Lee was... not impressed:

                                                                                                                                                                       “...the worst punishment God can devise for this sinner is to make her spirit reside eternally at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.”

                                                                                                                                                                       42397a_lg.jpegIn another letter, Lee praises the novel Tuscaloosa by W. Glasgow Phillips. The novel, now out of print, but easily procured online, is set in Alabama in 1972 and follows a young man who falls in love with an inmate at a mental institution.

                                                                                                                                                                      Lee writes of the novel, “Nowadays there’s so damn little to praise, my heart leaps up when I behold a beautiful English sentence.”

                                                                                                                                                                    Lee also expresses her affection, in a separate letter, for Elise Sanguinetti, calling her “the finest of Alabama’s writers.”

                                                                                                                                                                        The letters, to be sold separtely, have starting bids of $750. Online bidding is available on the Nate D. Sanders website.

barr-cover-shadow-400.jpgApropos to a Salon article last week about women writers languishing in “moldy archives,” I wanted to share the news about book artist Richard Minsky’s newest collection and catalogue, The Books of Amelia E. Barr.

Barr was born in England in 1831 but emigrated to the U.S. when she was 23. She became a writer after her husband and six of her (nine) children died. She wrote primarily for women and was an influential supporter of women’s rights. In total, she published seventy books.* 

Minsky has put together six collections of American publishers’ bindings over the past decade. He stumbled upon Barr’s books while collecting in another area. In addition to the limited edition catalogue (of which he tells me there are only 8 left), Minsky is also offering the collection for sale en bloc. Its eventual acquistion by an institutional library is bound to kindle academic, if not popular, interest in Barr. I asked him more about his interest in her work and this project.

RRB: It is striking how ‘lost to history’ Barr was. When you started collecting her titles, did you intend to ‘recover’ her, or did that happen later in the process?

RM: It wasn’t until I read her autobiography that I saw this as a compelling story, and developed the format where she describes each of the books in the exhibition. As I learned more I saw her importance not only as a popular author, but her narrative of the circumstances of writing, her interactions with publishers, and the letters from her readers, all appealed to me as a coherent study in book history. This complements the collection as a study in material culture and graphic design. What topped it off was her dramatic expository position on women’s rights which, at a time when women were marching to get the vote, brought constitutional process into the mix. She reached out to women with this underlying theme set in the context of well-researched historical romance fiction.
     The extent of her readership is indicated not only by the number of editions of her books. According to the “What Middletown Read” project, which documented the circulation of books in the Muncie, Indiana, Public Library from 1891 to 1902, Amelia Barr’s Bernicia was borrowed 291 times. The library had eleven Barr books in that period, with 1,052 transactions by 667 patrons. If one extrapolates from that one small Midwest city library to the entire nation...

RRB: How long did the collecting & cataloguing take? Where did you do most of your buying?

                                                                                                                                                                            RM: Books by Amelia Barr were in my first exhibition (2005-06), so in that sense it was over a decade. It took a year to do the research and write the catalogue. Most books were acquired over the Internet, and some were scouted for me by dealers.

belle-bowling-350.jpgRRB: Can you pinpoint something about her fiction that made it such a good fit for decorated bindings?

                                                                                                                                                                   RM: She wrote primarily for women, and much of it was historical romance novels, so there was a lot of room for floral and decorative work, as well as metaphoric and literal imagery. 

RRB: In the past decade, you’ve done this kind of large-format collecting, exhibiting & cataloguing process 6 times (including Barr). Do you plan to do another?

RM: I didn’t plan to do any of them--they grabbed me one way or another and were too compelling to ignore. Right now I’m working on a small-scale catalogue about The Unknown Modernist Master of 1879-1882. This is the artist responsible for Aboard the Mavis and the Bodley book covers that were decades ahead of their time.

*See also Richard’s post yesterday on what would have been Barr’s 185th birthday.

Images: Catalogue cover adapted from the 1897 William Snelling Hadaway design for Prisoners of Conscience. Courtesy of Richard Minsky. The Bell of Bowling Green, illustrated by Walter H. Everett, cover by Charles Buckles Falls (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908). Courtesy of Richard Minsky.

Jim Harrison, American novelist and poet, died this past weekend at his home in Arizona. Harrison was 78.
                                                                                                                                                             Harrison was much admired for both his poetry and prose, suffused with descriptions of the outdoor life. He was primarily known for his grand-scale novella about a Montana family in the early twentieth century entitled Legends of the Fall, which was turned into a blockbuster film in 1994.
                                                                                                                                                              Harrison was born in Michigan in 1937 and most recently divided his time between Montana and Arizona.
                                                                                                                                                                     A prolific writer, Harrison produced 30 books in 50 years in addition to a host of essays, criticism, screenplays, and reviews. Harrison’s first book of poetry, Plain Song, was published in 1965. His first novel, Wolf, was published six years later and turned into a film starring Jack Nicholson. In 1973 Harrison published his poetry collection Letters to Yesenin, widely considered to be his finest collection of verse. His most recent novel, The Ancient Minstrel, was published earlier this month.

Grolier-Goose Game copy.jpgBoard games may have been an overlooked area in the history of graphic design, but not anymore. In addition to an exhibit, The Royal Game of the Goose, showcasing more than seventy historic game boards, the Grolier Club will also welcome gamers to a colloquium on April 5 from 1-5 p.m., during Rare Book Week in New York.

What follows is a schedule for “Some Beautiful Board Games,” courtesy of the Grolier Club, as well as information about each of the speakers. Adrian Seville, whose private collection forms the basis of the GC’s current exhibit, will focus his talk on the medieval game of the goose and its variants.   

1:00 - 1:15 PM: G. Scott Clemons, Welcome by the President of the Grolier Club & Andrea Immel, Introduction
1:15 - 1:45 PM: Irving Finkel, The Royal Game of Ur
1:45 - 2:15 PM: Anne Dunn-Vaturi, Hounds and Jackals
2:15 - 2:45 PM: Alex De Voogt, Mancala
2:45 - 3:15 PM: Break
3:15 - 3:45 PM: Adrian Seville, Two Fine Goose boards
3:45 - 4:15 PM: Andrea Immel, The Game of the Dolphin
4:15 - 4:45 PM: Margaret K. Hofer, Bulls and Bears: the Great Wall Street Game
4:45 PM: Closing
5:00 PM: Reception

Irving Finkel is Assistant Keeper in the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum London where he has responsibility for cuneiform inscriptions. He also works extensively on ancient board games. The Game of Twenty Squares - or the Royal Game of Ur - is an ideal subject for ludological enquiry, since its distribution across a major stretch of the ancient world and its sheer durability anticipates that of chess.  This lecture will offer a survey in support of that claim, consider the ancient playing rules that have survived from the second century BC, and seek to identify the intrinsic qualities in the game that ensured its international success and survival down to modern times

Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi is Hagop Kevorkian Research Associate in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, and has been documenting the provenance of the Ancient Near Eastern Art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 2009. She is now working on ancient board games from the Near East and Egypt, currently preparing the catalogue of such games for the Musée du Louvre. She is pursuing PhD research on the game of Hounds and Jackals, the topic of her paper today. The game of Hounds and Jackals originated in Egypt at the turn of the second millennium BC and spread to Sudan and the Near East where it is attested until the mid-first millennium BC. Playing scenes are extensively described in ancient Egypt but some representations of the game seem to have gone unnoticed and will be presented for the first time here.

Alex de Voogt is an assistant curator of African Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History and has published widely on board games, in particular mancala games. Alex will be presenting on the largest mancala games known today and how their size affects the modes of play and their identification in the absence of players. Mancala games are characterized by rows of cup-shaped depressions and a proportionate number of playing counters. Variations of these games are found throughout Africa, the Middle East as well as Central, South and South-East Asia. Later introductions to the Americas during the slave trade and twentieth century commercial versions in Europe and North America have made this group of games one of the most wide-spread in the world.

Adrian Seville specializes in research on printed board games, especially the medieval Game of the Goose and its many variants over the centuries. He was educated as a Physicist before joining City University, London, where he became Academic Registrar. His research is supported by his private collection of over 500 games, forming the basis for the current Grolier Club exhibition. Two contrasting boards for the Game of Goose will be presented. The first is a board from Adrian’s multiple games table by Vaugeois of Paris, probably commissioned by Napoleon’s second empress, Marie Louise, around 1813. This classic version of the game will be contrasted with the MET Museum’s splendid 16th century board, which has a remarkable decorative scheme and shows intriguing differences from the classic game.

Andrea Immel is Curator of the Cotsen Children’s Library in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections of the Princeton University Library.   She is interested in the intersections between print, visual, and material cultures of childhood and those for adults 1660-1839. The focus of this talk will be The Royal Game of the Dolphin, one of a handful of unusual board games published by William Darton, junior, in the early 1820s.  Collectors consider these Darton games especially desirable because so beautiful.  Andrea will try to answer the large question of how much fun would children have had playing these early examples of non-competitive games? 

Margaret K. Hofer is Vice President and Museum Director at the New-York Historical Society, where she has worked since 1993. As Curator of Decorative Arts, Margi curated exhibitions on a wide range of topics, including American board games. Her publications include Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman (2015); Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York (2011); A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls (2007); and The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games (2003). Margi Hofer will discuss “Bulls and Bears: The Great Wall Street Game,” produced in 1883 by McLoughlin Bros., the leading American board game manufacturer of the late 19th century. The game board’s dark, cynical illustrations of rapacious robber barons represent a departure from the imagery of rosy-cheeked, go-getting Americans typically found on games of the period. The sources for the illustrations, which were lifted from satirical cartoons in the popular press, will be identified and examined. 

Registration is $75 per person, $25 for students. To reserve, please call Maev Brennan at 212-838-6690 or email

                                                                                                                                              The exhibit will remain on view through May 14.

Image: THE ROYAL GAME OF GOOSE. London: E[dward] Wallis; printed by W. Lake, 50 Old Bailey, [c. 1840]. Hand-colored lithograph, 38 × 46 cm. Collection of Adrian Seville, courtesy of the Grolier Club.

Olympians Descend on Manhattan

On Tuesday, ISIS suicide bombers carried out attacks that killed over 30 people and wounded more than 300 in Brussels. The next day, as members of the press gathered at the Manhattan Onassis Cultural Center in advance of an archaeology exhibition, Greek Minister of Culture Aristides Baltas wondered how this exhibit could provide meaning in the wake of such horrific events, suggesting that “culture and education may be the best weapon against terrorism of all kinds.” “Gods and Mortals at Olympus” certainly offers hope that an understanding of Hellenic culture may civilize ruthless extremists, though it is something of an uphill battle: Terrorist groups, and ISIS in particular, routinely plunder ancient sites to fund their operations. However, for the rest of us, there’s much to be learned from this show, on view now through June 18th.


Spectacle-Shaped Brooch with Fabric Remains Early Iron Age (1000-700 BC). Copper alloy, iron, and textile. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.


Nestled in the slopes of Mount Olympus, Dion was the religious center of Macedon for centuries, with sanctuaries dedicated to Zeus, Artemis and the Egyptian goddess Isis. Over ninety artifacts excavated from unearthed temples, baths, and private homes are on display in the Onassis Foundation’s recently renovated gallery space.  Brooches from the Iron Age, copper lamps, gold bracelets and stunning Roman-era mosaics evoke the importance of Dion as a sacred site, and how the constant influx of outside cultures influenced local art and architecture.


Mosaic of the Epiphany of Dionysus Late 2nd-early 3rd century AD. Stone tesserae. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Dion was also a major theater hub dating back to 400 BC, when Euripides wrote The Bacchae under the patronage of Macedon’s King Archelaus and was believed to have visited the city seeking inspiration. A suite of mosaics depicting theatrical masks surround the imposing “Epiphany of Dionysus,” a 5 foot by 7 foot mosaic dating from the late 2nd century CE which shows the god of wine and theater bursting out of the sea on a jaguar-drawn chariot. Pulled from a luxurious villa, the piece suggests that the homeowner had embraced Roman customs while still retaining various Greek religious traditions. (Many of the stelae on display have inscriptions written in both Greek and Latin, offering further evidence of life in the city under Roman rule.)


Slab with the Imprint of Two Feet and Dedicatory Inscription Late 2nd-3rd century AD. Marble. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Equally impressive is a diminutive 3rd century BC gold bracelet with lion’s head finials, which was discovered in a Macedonian tomb outside the city. Massive marble statues, table supports, and stelae depicting various gods, all offer tantalizing glimpses of this special place.


Bracelet with Lion’s Head Finials Late 3rd century BC. Gold. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Shepherding the exhibit into the 21st century are installations by contemporary Greek artists Maria Zervos and Kostas Ioannidis. Zervos’ video combines imagery shot at Mount Olympus with her translations of poetry by the ancient female poet Telesilla (510 BC), exploring how contemporary viewers perceive ancient notions of perfection and immortality. Ioannidis created sound installations which can be heard in the gallery foyer, playing on the idea of a “mountain language.” An onsite video game called “Secrets of the Past--Excavating the City of Zeus” invites players to pretend they’re directing the excavation work at Dion and decide the best way to unearth and examine the artifacts.

The Greeks at Dion demonstrated an ability to adapt as religious beliefs changed, even in the midst of war and natural disasters, and these artifacts offer opportunities to discover similarities between an ancient culture and our own. That’s something to be hopeful about.

GODS AND MORTALS AT OLYMPUS: ANCIENT DION, CITY OF ZEUS is free to the public. Visit the Onassis Foundation’s website for information on guided tours and additional programming.

Metallica_-_Master_of_Puppets_cover.jpgEach year the Library of Congress selects twenty-five artistic pieces considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” for historical preservation. This year, the Libray surprised observers by selecting its first ever heavy metal recording: “Master of Puppets,” a hugely influential album by Metallica issued in 1986.

“Master of Puppets,” the third album from Metallica and its first on a major record label, “shows the group moving away from its thrash metal history and reputation and exploring new ideas,” the Library of Congress said in a press release.

“Thrash, a reaction against the pop metal of the early 1980s, aimed to renew metal by emphasizing speed and aggression,” continued the Library.

“Master of Puppets” became the first thrash metal album to go platinum, eventually selling over 6 million copies. The album was also the last to feature original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton who died in a bus crash during its accompanying tour.

In addition to “Master of Puppets,” the Library of Congress selected several jazz recordings and a 1947 speech from secretary of state George Marshall about the what came to be known as “the Marshall Plan,” which was the groundwork for American led reconstruction efforts in post-WWII Europe. 

cockerelokukor.jpgFollowing a string of student protests against symbols of Britain’s colonial past, Jesus College at Cambridge University has removed a bronze statue of an African cockerel from its main hall. The University is considering repratiating the statue, called “Okukor” to Nigeria.

The statue is part of a group of bronze sculptures collectively called the “Benin Bronzes,” which were looted from the former kingdom of Benin (modern day south Nigeria) in 1897. After British officers were killed during a trade mission to Benin earlier that year, the British navy launched an invasion of the kingdom, culminating with the burning and looting of Benin City.

Two of the Benin Bronzes were repatriated to Nigeria in 2014 by the grandson of a participant in the invasion. The move was applauded by Nigerian officials, who called upon European nations to return a further 3,500 to 4,000 works of art looted from the palace.

The successful protest movement by the Cambridge students to remove the Okukor statue was also met with praise by Nigerian Prince Edun Akenzua, who said “We commend the initiative of the Cambridge students. They have done what they should do... We appeal to European countries to return our cultural properties dotting museums and galleries in London, Paris, Berlin and other cities around the world.”

Lot-415-E-Simms-Campbell-Night-Club-Map-Harlem copy.jpgThis 1932 Night-Club Map showing Harlem’s entertainment hotspots (the Savoy Ballroom, the Cotton Club) appeared as a centerfold illustration in volume 1, number 1 of the 1932 Manhattan Magazine, and again nine months later in Esquire. It was created by E. Simms Campbell (1906-1971), one of first commercially successful African-American cartoonists. He steadily produced artwork for Esquire upon its launch in 1933, and his work was also published in Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, and Playboy. According to the New York Times, a museum curator rediscovered the map in 1993 when he was organizing an exhibition about Louis Armstrong for the Queens Museum. Since then, copies of the pictorial map have found their way to auction--selling most recently for $16,000 at Swann Galleries in 2011 and for $12,000 at PBA Galleries in 2014.

Now, the original artwork for A Night-Club Map of Harlem will go to auction at Swann Galleries on March 31, estimated at $40,000-60,000. Measuring 19 1/4” x 30,” the map is executed in pen and brush on Whatman Drawing Board and is signed in ink by Campbell.

                                                                                                                                                                          Other sale highlights include a signed copy of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and the 1848 edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, published at the office of the North Star, Douglass’ paper.

Image courtesy of Swann Galleries.

Met.jpgThe public opening last week of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s third location, The Met Breuer at 945 Madison Avenue, also occasioned the launch of a pop-up bookshop, “Phaidon x The Met Bookstore.” A collaboration between Phaidon Press, a global art book publisher, and The Met Store, the museum’s retail arm, the shop offers museum-goers a selection of nearly 300 titles in art, architecture, design, photography, fashion, travel, and food, as well as “an array of limited and autographed editions by Edmund de Waal, Stephen Shore, and chef Enrique Olvera” and, in the coming months, “signed copies of new monographs,” according to a press release.

The pop-up bookstore will remain open through summer 2016.

Keith Fox, chief executive officer at Phaidon, remarked, “We are proud to be part of the historic milestone of the opening of The Met Breuer. The building’s legacy is inspiring, and Phaidon’s mission is closely aligned with this branch’s cultural, aesthetic, and artistic identity. To see our beautiful books housed in the ‘Phaidon x The Met Bookstore,’ with its iconic window and design, is truly a dream come true.”

The new museum site is named after architect Marcel Breuer, who designed the landmark building. It is meant to provide additional space for contemporary art exhibits and related events. Currently on view is a retrospective of Indian abstract artist Nasreen Mohamedi and an exhibit titled Unfinished that delves into “the question of when a work of art is finished.”

Photo: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Final illustration for “LET ME DRIVE THE BUS” ©2003 by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, 2003. Aquarelle watercolor pencil on paper.

                                                                                                                                                                  Hours before the Saint Patrick’s Day parade was scheduled to march up 5th Avenue yesterday, members of the press gathered in a second floor gallery of the New-York Historical Society to examine an exhibition organized by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA dedicated to the work of bestselling author-illustrator Mo Willems.

Though currently residing in Northampton, Massachusetts, Willems created his iconic characters such as The Pigeon and Trixie while living in Brooklyn, and these characters are dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers--slightly neurotic, full of chutzpah, yet entirely loveable. The show reveals how Willems’ life and career were shaped by the people, sights, and sounds of New York. The Knuffle Bunny trilogy, for example, is full of photographs Willems took while living in Park Slope, Brooklyn; Prospect Park, PS 107, Grand Army Plaza, and laundromats form the backbone of these decidedly urban tales.

After a short introduction, the author walked us through the exhibit showcasing 90 sketches, animation cells, and sculptures. Early in his career, Willems wrote and illustrated for adults, but ultimately shifted his focus to creating children’s books. “Writing for adults means tracking culture so you can spoof it, which requires a lot of effort on my part,” he explained. ‘With kids, you just have to deal with anxieties, neuroses, and pain, which I am well acquainted with and don’t have to leave my home to discover.”


The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! Final illustration for “I’ve changed my mind.” ©2008 by Mo Willems. Aquarelle watercolor pencil and red colored pencil on paper.

A finished Willems illustration is deceptively simple, but “being simple is not the same as being easy,” he said as we moved towards a set of preliminary sketches. “Every design needs to be one line away from becoming an abstraction. The characters need to be accessible enough that a five year-old can reasonably copy them, but the images still have to carry emotion and weight.” Willems said he goes through hundreds of sketches for a single book, some of which are on display. “You never know when a drawing is right, but you know immediately when it’s wrong. A reader shouldn’t look at the page and admire the color palette, the page-turn, and the lines. A story is successful if you look at an image and say, ‘Wow, that took him five minutes.’ Then I’ve done well.”

After the tour, my seven-year-old daughter and I asked if Willems would sign three books we brought, and he graciously obliged. While inscribing our copy of The Story of Diva and Flea, his collaboration with Tony DiTerlizzi set in Paris, we asked about his experience living in the City of Lights while conducting research. Once revealed that we spoke French, he began chattering away about the beauty of Paris, and the wonders of the people and things there, much to the delight and amazement of my daughter. It seems no matter where he hangs his hat, Willems finds a way to draw out the charm and wit of his adopted home.

The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems opens today, March 18, and runs through September 25, with family events, cartoon screenings, daily storytimes and book signings taking place scheduled throughout. Visit for a detailed calendar of events.

Be sure to check out Noah Fleisher & Lauren Zittle’s story on Mo Willems in the Spring 2016 print issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine.


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Leonardo the Terrible Monster Preliminary sketch © 2005 by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children. Blue colored pencil and graphite on pencil.

CMoG Rebecca Hopman.jpgOur Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Rebecca Hopman, Outreach Librarian with the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

How did you get started in rare books?


I entered Augustana College planning to become a children’s librarian, but that changed when I visited Special Collections with my British literature class. There, Jamie Nelson and Sarah Horowitz introduced us to their collections. I was over the moon when I realized I could explore the collections whenever I wanted, but I was truly converted after they let us touch a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible. Special collections was clearly the place for me; I could combine my interests in history, literature, and librarianship, and, let’s be honest, read other people’s letters and diaries.


I was fortunate enough to be hired as a student worker in Special Collections a year or so later. Both Jamie and Sarah encouraged their students to explore a variety of special collections work, and my experiences there confirmed my career path.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?


I earned my MLS, with a specialization in archives and records management, from the University of Maryland, College Park, where I worked with the talented people in the University Archives and Special Collections. I tailored my degree program to include classes on the history of the book, outreach, and programming to suit the work I hoped to do as an archivist/special collections librarian.


What is your role at your institution? (And please introduce our readers to your institution as well, which is a bit different from most of the other institutions we’ve profiled thus far).


I became the Outreach Librarian for the Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass in October 2013. I lead our outreach program, which includes planning and coordinating events, tours, a donor newsletter, and the Library’s social media campaigns. I also run our oral history program, which documents the voices of glass artists, those who have worked in the glass industry, and former Museum staff. In addition, I serve on the reference desk and provide instruction to groups including our docents and glass artists.


The Museum’s mission is to “Tell the World about Glass.” We do so through inviting people to explore the glass galleries, Library collections, and special exhibitions; to watch hot glass demonstrations; to make their own piece of glass at The Studio; and to participate in programs and events throughout the year. The Rakow Library is the research center for the Museum, and we aim to collect everything published on the subject of glass. Our collection spans the 3,500+ year history of glass, covering everything from art and design to science and technology. The Library is open to the public, and although we are a non-circulating special library, we make as much of our collection accessible as possible through our digitization and InterLibrary Loan programs.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


I discover new favorites all the time, and as the Outreach Librarian I enjoy sharing those I think our visitors and followers will connect with. I never run out of interesting finds to include on a tour or in a social media post.


However, there is one collection that remains at the top of my list.  During my first summer working in Augustana Special Collections, I came across a set of diaries written by a former Augustana student and librarian, Lydia Olsson (1874-1958). I was immediately hooked on her descriptions of classes, social events, and her relationships with friends and family members. As a history lover, it was intriguing to see my college campus 100+ years ago through another female student’s eyes. I realized that Lydia’s writing might also be compelling to others, so I decided to transcribe her diaries. In addition, I proposed using them as part of an exhibition on early female student life at Augustana College, and the resulting exhibit remains one of my favorite accomplishments.


What do you personally collect?


Lack of space and students loans have kept me from acquiring too much, but I do own several editions of Lucile by Owen Meredith, inspired by Sid Huttner’s Lucile Project.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I’m a pop culture nerd, so I consume lots of movies, TV shows, graphic novels, etc. I also embroider, knit, and crochet - I’m currently embroidering a series of 16th-century woodcuts. During warmer months I enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


The books, of course, but even more so I love sharing those books with our community. The best part of my job is when I can connect someone with a book, document, or collection that inspires them.


In addition, I’m always excited to see what my colleagues in the special collections and archives community are up to. Whether they are using technology creatively to enhance access to their collections, creating popular programming, or sharing fun images of #hatsinthelibrary, I draw inspiration from them for my own projects.


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


I am happy to see more special collections doing outreach. To many people, we are still keepers of the restricted section where you wear white gloves to touch dusty old books and boxes. Thanks to the work of many of my colleagues, however, people are beginning to understand how much we have to offer them in the digital age.


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


As with every special library, we have any number of unique collections. Some of my personal favorites include the design drawings in the Blaschka Archive, the Whitefriars stained glass cartoon collection, and our collection of handwritten batch books (or glass recipe books). The easiest way to take a peek inside our collections is to check out the #RakowLibrary hashtag on Instagram. You’ll also see us pop up on all of the Museum’s social media channels.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


Our most recent exhibition, “America’s Favorite Dish: Celebrating a Century of Pyrex,” commemorates the history of Pyrex wares, the brand’s development, and its place in the American household. Much of the research done for the exhibition, along with the Museum’s collection of Pyrex, can be found on our Pyrex Potluck website. Our next exhibition, “Revealing the Invisible: The History of Glass and the Microscope,” opens April 23rd and will explore the history of the microscope and depictions of the microscopic world in books and periodicals between the 17th century and the late 19th century. “Revealing the Invisible” will run at the same time as the Museum’s upcoming special exhibition, “Fragile Legacy: The Marine Invertebrate Models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka,” which features a number of drawings and archival materials from the Library’s Blaschka collection.

Who knew Charlton Heston collected rare books? If not an “aggressive” collector, still the actor amassed a small and varied collection that included some rare Shakespeare imprints, as well as some other surprising volumes, all set to go to auction at Bonhams on March 22. Held in collaboration with Turner Classic Movies, the “Charlton Heston Collection” offers its fair share of typical celebrity memorabilia--e.g, movie scripts, costumes, directors’ chairs, Heston’s 14K Screen Actors Guild membership card--as well as home furnishings and jewelry. But the Academy Award winner also had a two-story library in his Beverly Hills home, in which there resided a shelf or two of truly collectible volumes.


AUSTEN copy.jpgIt seems the five-term National Rifle Association (NRA) president favored Jane Austen. Seen here at left is lot 112, the first collected edition of Austen’s novels (1833), estimated at $3,000-5,000. It is preceded in the auction by lot 110, a second edition of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1813), estimated at $5,000-7,000, and by lot 111, a first American edition in original boards of Austen’s Mansfield Park (1832), estimated at $3,000-5,000.

                                                                                                                                                 There’s also quite a spectacular limited first edition (with family provenance) of Hemingway’s In Our Time, Lewis & Clark’s first English edition of Travels to the Source of the Missouri River..., and a first edition of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance. Again, who knew?!

                                                                                                                                             Image courtesy of Bonhams.

514Qdz6chmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe mass market edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, long a staple in classrooms across the country, will soon be discontinued. The cheap version of the classic novel, which retailed from Hachette for $8.99, was sold en masse (and at a discount) to schools around America. Over twenty million copies have sold in that format. At the wishes of the Lee estate, however, the mass market edition will be discontinued after April. Instead buyers, including schools, will be forced to purchase the more expensive trade paperback editions ($14.99 to $16.99) from HarperCollins.

It’s a curious move from Lee’s estate, who issued a statement to Hachette that the license for the mass market paperback would not be renewed “at the wishes of the author.” The estate may instead renegotiate a new mass market paperback contract (and enjoy its accompanying advance) with HarperCollins, who also published Go Set a Watchman.

Claudia Durst Johnson, a friend of Lee and the author of Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird was quoted in The New York Times expressing her frustration with the decision.  “This book is a standard in our schools, which are struggling financially now.”

Whispered about by hopeful collectors and scholars for decades, the manuscript of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Cancer of Superstition, commisssioned and co-written by magician Harry Houdini, has finally come to light. It was rather incredibly “discovered by a private collector among the records of a now-defunct magic shop,” according to Chicago’s Potter & Potter Auctions, which will auction the 31-page typewritten story on April 9.

Lovecraft.jpgIn the manuscript, the sci-fi master and the magician delve into ancient and modern superstitions, writing about werewolves, cannibals, and black magic, and advancing a “primitivist theory of the development of superstition.” The proposed book-length project came to a halt when Houdini unexpectedly died in 1926 at the age of 52. Prior to this discovery, only an outline and part of a first chapter were known to exist. 

                                                                                                                                                                      Potter & Potter will open the bidding at $13,000, although it is estimated to make $25,000-40,000.

                                                                                                                                             The two-part auction of Houdiniana and the Davenport Magic Collection will also feature personal scrapbooks annotated by Houdini, rare photos and posters of him, handcuffs, keys, autographs, lockpicks, and original film footage. An archive of early correspondence to Houdini from the vaudeville impresario Martin Beck, who helped transform Houdini into the “Handcuff King,” is another highlight.

                                                                                                                                                                             Image Courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions.

Today would have been the 100th birthday of author-illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983), whose groundbreaking work incorporating minorities as protagonists in children’s books earned him worldwide admiration and acclaim. Keats, a lifelong New Yorker and child of poor Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, saw diversity everywhere--except in children’s books, and made it his life’s work to bring the vibrant world around him to the printed page.


Ezra Jack Keats_1.jpg

EJK at work. Reproduced with permission from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.


That moment came in 1962, when Keats wrote and illustrated the Caldecott Medal-winning The Snowy Day, where Peter, an adorable, snowsuit-wearing black boy, enjoys the wintery wonderland before him. Charming and deceptively simple, it was one of the earliest picture books featuring a child of color as the hero. When asked in a 1974 interview with the Milwaukee Journal what prompted him to create Peter, Keats offered an honest assessment of what kids look for in their books, saying, “I think that children look at Peter first of all as a child, who is like themselves in some ways, whether they are a boy or girl, black, brown or white, fat or skinny or what.” The Snowy Day broke the color barrier for mainstream children’s picture books, and remains a cultural touchstone--look no further than this year’s Newbery Medal and Caldecott Honor-winner, Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street, to see Keats’ continued impact on contemporary picture-book illustration.  

Red - Snowy Day_High Res 2 red Penguin.jpgmarket1.JPG

Covers for The Snowy Day and Last Stop on Market Street. The Snowy Day reproduced with permission from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.


To promote arts and literacy programs for children, the artist founded the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation (EJKF) in 1964, using his book royalties to fund the annual Ezra Jack Keats Book Award and numerous performance scholarships and grants. (This was particularly important to Keats, who had earned three scholarships to attend art school as a teenager, but still couldn’t afford to attend.) This year, the foundation is celebrating Keats’ centennial with projects and activities coast to coast. There’s even a birthday kit lesson plan, complete with games and animated read-alouds, available on the foundation’s website.

Bookmaking 2015 two winners.jpg

2015 Bookmaking award winners. Image reproduced with permission from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.


Since 1986, the Keats foundation has organized a bookmaking competition in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education. Students participating in the yearlong project learn research methods and critical analysis skills while creating their book, and the ultimate goal is to ignite a profound, lifelong relationship with books. The program is growing, too: Since 2013, the San Francisco Unified School District and the Contemporary Jewish Museum have partnered with the EJKF to provide a similar program to their students. This year’s New York winners will be announced in April during the Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and the San Francisco award ceremony takes place this Sunday (see below).

Want to get in on the celebration? Check out some of the events happening in New York and San Francisco over the coming weeks:

Ezra Jack Keats Read-a-Thon at Books of Wonder, NYC, today from 10 a.m to 1p.m. Readers include Pat Cummings, Sean Qualls, Caldecott Honor-winner David Ezra Stein and Coretta-Scott King Award-winner Andrea Pinkney
March 13: “Celebrating Authors Big and Small,” Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, 11-3, incorporating Keats birthday festivities and a viewing of books from the EJK Bookmaking Competition. The EJK Bookmaking Awards follow
March 24: Bedtime Stories at the Brooklyn Public Library
April 6-8: Keats Centennial Lecture and EJK Book Awards at the Children’s Book Festival, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

A full calendar of events is at the EJKF website:

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Sarah Minegar, Special Collections Archivst and Museum Educator at Morristown National Historic Park.


Sarah_Minegar.jpgLet’s start by learning about Morristown National Historic Park and its research library. Please introduce us to the institution and its history:

Instituted in 1933 as the first historical park in the Park Service, Morristown NHP marks a watershed moment in Park history and its involvement in the preservation movement of the early twentieth century.  Morristown represents a “coming of age” of sorts for the Park Service--when the agency joined an effort to expand its capacity as a protector of natural and cultural resources of national significance. In the process of acquiring public lands and structures of historical importance, Park Service director Horace Albright stumbled upon a fortuitous preservation project in development in Morristown, New Jersey. Together with Albright, wealthy investment banker Lloyd W. Smith, Morristown Mayor Clyde Potts, and the Washington Association of New Jersey helped secure the sites of George Washington’s 1779-1780 winter encampment, establishing the first historical park. Smith’s affinity for the site and his involvement in the Washington Association led to the eventual establishment of a museum, library, and archives featuring Smith’s personal collections as the foundational research materials. The Lloyd W. Smith Collection, spanning seven centuries and covering thousands of topic areas, is why I am here today.


What is your role at Morristown?

In my official capacity, I serve as special collections archivist and museum educator. The reality of a small institution means those roles encompass a whole host of interesting “duties as assigned.” I have had the good fortune of being able to dabble in everything: collections care, cataloging, exhibit prep, minor conservation, internships, packing and rehousing, loans, reference, and historical housekeeping. I am one of three people representing the division of cultural resources and thus a custodian for all things related to research, collections care, and the use of resources.

How did you get started in rare books?

I’d have to say my unofficial journey began while accompanying my parents to many an antique shop as a child. I would rummage through crates of tintypes and thumb stacks of books while I waited. But it wasn’t until graduate school that I even set foot in an archives or rare book repository. Coming from a teaching background, I was intrigued by the potential I saw in this “alternative classroom” setting. I got my first real taste when I responded to a posting for a summer position at Morristown NHP. That summer job became a permanent position and I continued refining my role throughout grad school and continue to do so today. Part of that cultivation process has been to supplement my doctorate in history and literature with specific archival and rare book training courses. It has also involved flexing my educator muscles by piloting new collections-based learning opportunities for patrons.

Where did you earn your degrees?

I earned my undergraduate degrees in education from Oakland City University, a small private liberal arts college in my home state of Indiana. For two years, I taught high school English and social studies. I then moved to New Jersey to pursue my graduate degrees in Modern History and Literature. Both my M.Phil. and Ph.D. are from Drew University. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is a tough one, especially since I work with so many manuscripts and printed works, but the book that really puts a sparkle in my eye is our 1896 microminiature of Galileo’s letter to Madame Christina di Lorena. This book, measuring 3/4 by 1/2 inch, features 2-point “fly’s eye” type, decorative endpapers, hand-sewn gatherings, and a gold embossed cover. Ruth Adomeit once remarked that this edition was the “greatest marvel of book making in the history of miniature books.” As a scholar, I am drawn in by the craftsmanship and attention to detail--a truly astonishing example of microscopic type foundry and imposition. As an educator, I love how it commands the attention of the room and almost demands intrigue.

What do you personally collect?


I have a personal fascination with literary utopia and amassed numerous volumes of English language utopian/dystopian works while writing my dissertation. As a graduation gift, my husband bought me a first edition Walden Two and I proudly display it with my other copies. Though this book is rather contemporary and may not be considered “rare” by any sense, I am delighted to own an early imprint of this controversial tome that ruffled so many feathers. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend most of my weekends outdoors with my husband and dog. If we aren’t out on a trail somewhere, you can find us roaming the halls of a museum. We keep our eyes peeled for temporary exhibits both in the city and more locally. The recent Picasso Sculpture exhibit at the MOMA was a real treat.

What excites you about working with a special collection?

For me, the connection I feel to history is never stronger than when I’m processing or teaching with collections. I find it very empowering to be entrusted with these treasures and I try to endow a little of that charge to my students and researchers. As a collections manager, I get the satisfaction of knowing the work I do today will assist future scholars in their intellectual pursuits--and maybe even contribute to profound historical realizations. I love that my geeky passions are part of a continuum of learning. 

You’re in a unique position working with a special collection located in a National Historic Park. What are your thoughts on working with special collections in atypical settings? How can we bring these “hidden collections” into the light?

One of the biggest obstacles we face is one of awareness. Researchers simply do not expect a National Park that commemorates a six month period of the American Revolution to have a diverse library and archival collection. We get a lot of requests for muster roles and Hessian manuscripts while our Susan B. Anthony, Darwin, Louis XVI, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Booker T. Washington, and Alessandro Scarlatti wait unnoticed. Conversely, some military historians assume we are a more traditional repository with large holdings of materials falling under consecutive series. While we do house small series of family and business papers, we do not actively accession or manage large record groups. Our most unique collection, the Lloyd W. Smith Collection, was the lifetime pursuit of a personal collector and it is sometimes difficult to explain to patrons that as such there are “gaps” in the topics it covers. To mitigate some of these misunderstandings, we maintain a special collections blog featuring unique artifacts and researcher and intern projects. This has not only helped us clarify our holdings but has also provided a space for us to celebrate and share aspects of the collection that are beyond the scope of our traditional gallery exhibit narrative. The other way we bring recognition to a relatively “hidden” resource is through stewardship programming. We have an active internship program and we work with classroom teachers to develop educator-led, place-based object labs and tours. We have found that investing in students directly has the most return. 


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

I would like to simply advocate for our library and archives. Nestled within an historical park that is part of a large agency, I think our fascinating collection gets overlooked. 

Our collections and education blogs might be the best place to get acquainted with our holdings:

Any upcoming exhibitions?

This year the National Park celebrates its centennial. As part of the centennial #findyourpark mission, we have put together a series of talks, concerts, and exhibits that highlight our collections. This May we will celebrate Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Giuditta by inviting The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey to perform the transcribed 1693 score. This score is one of three known versions of La Giuditta. The two other versions of this oratorio are housed at the National Library of Naples and the University of Cambridge, but the earliest and unabridged version is part of the Morristown NHP collection.  


Ency Brit.jpgAh, the beloved Encyclopaedia Britannica. Since it ceased publication in 2012 after 241 years, our nostalgia for these volumes has only increased. (Even my born-digital children have requested a set.) So I find it exciting that a first edition of this most cherished of encyclopedias, published in Edinburgh in 1771, will appear at auction later this month. Addison & Sarova will offer the three-volume set, bound in later half-calf with a little rubbing, but, more importantly, retaining all 160 plates. According to the auctioneer, “The set is scarcely seen containing all of the plates--particularly the child-birthing plates, present in the third volume, which caused an outcry when the book was first published and thus were not included in many issues.” The estimate is $6,000-8,000.

(For some history on EB, see Britannica’s own entry on the first edition.)

Also of particular interest in the March 19 sale: A copy of “Double Falshood,” a play “strongly” believed to have been written by William Shakespeare. Printed in 1728, the disputed play is bound here with other eighteenth-century plays (cropped in the early sheep re-bind). It has not been seen at auction “in many decades,” according to Addison & Sarova. The estimate is $1,500-2,500. A scarce, early Erasmus -- Moriae Encomium (Strasbourg, 1511) -- is another highlight. It is estimated to go for $30,000-40,000.

Image courtesy of Addison & Sarova.

The Special Collections Library at the University of Delaware will host a special talk in conjunction with its ongoing Easter Rising exhibition. Irish scholar Anne M. Boylan, professor emerita at the University of Delaware, will present a lecture entitled “20th-Century Ireland: A Family Odyssey” on March 15, at 4:30 p.m. in the Reading Room. The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception.

                                                                                                                                                                     maeve_resized.jpgImage: Eva Gore-Booth. The Death of Fionavar: From the Triumph of Maeve. London: E. MacDonald, 1916. Decorations by Constance Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz). Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library.

                                                                                                                                                                         The accompanying Easter Rising exhibition, entitled A terrible beauty is born: the Easter Rising at 100, will remain on view until June 12. The exhibition commemorates the centenary of the Irish rebellion during Easter Week, 1916, which was violently quelled by the British. The exhibition examines events and attitudes before and after the Easter Rising, including the rise of Irish Nationalism and literature produced during the Troubles. Highlights include a rare first edition of William Butler Yeats’ poem Easter, 1916 as well as a variety of unique broadsides, pamphlets, and letters.

                                                                                                                                                                          A terrible beauty is born was curated by senior assistant librarian Maureen Cech. An online version is available here.                                                                                                                                             

the-madwoman-upstairs-9781501124211_hr.jpgIt can be no easy task to re-hash Brontë lore--whether in fiction or non-fiction--and yet, occasionally a reader finds reason to rejoice. Catherine Lowell’s debut novel, The Madwoman Upstairs (Touchstone, $25.99), is utterly absorbing, a lighthearted read that appeals to those of us who unwind with TV adaptations of Victorian novels (almost any will do) and who might be still be sobbing this morning over the demise of Downton Abbey.

Twenty-year-old American Samantha Whipple is the last of the Brontë line and thus the center of much unwanted public scrutiny. The world seems to believe that Samantha’s family is hiding a hoard of Brontë treasures. Samantha’s enigmatic father--who home-schooled her, primarily in literature--died young, but not before planting clues to Samantha’s “inheritance.” She sets off to attend Oxford University, where she feels quite lonely, until her father’s annotated copies of Brontë novels (believed to have burned in a house fire years before) begin appearing in her room.

Lowell’s plot moves along at a brisk pace, introducing characters who upstage Whipple, the men in particular. Her father, Tristan, is either a genius or a loon; her professor, James Orville, is a taskmaster we warm to; and her adversary, Sir John, has a dark side that borrows a bit from A.S. Byatt’s unscrupulous collector Mortimer Cropper in Possession. Sir John is on the hunt for the Brontë relics--a brooch, a quill, a manuscript, items that will give him a “deeper understand of their novels, of course.” (He surely would have enjoyed The Brontë Cabinet--having written a similar book about Brontë objects.)      

There’s loads of literary banter and a smidge of romance--a lark that can keep one awake well past her bedtime, and The Madwoman Upstairs does just that.

Image: Courtesy of Touchstone Books. 

Poe Tales of Mystery and Imagination_zpspmkvavb2.jpgTales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe bound by Susan Allix, estimated at £1,000-1,500.


A collection of rare books, many in unique bindings, goes under the hammer at the Bonhams Books and Manuscripts sale in London on March 16. Offered in 130 separate lots, these books were owned by bibliophile Denis Collins (1948-2015), who had commisioned many of the books to be bound by some of today’s leading designer bookbinders, such as Susan Allix and Mark Cockram.

                                                                                                                                                                                     Handling the sale is Bonhams’ book and manuscript valuer Simon Roberts, who sees the Collins items as a rarity in the auction world. “It is certainly very unusual for a major auction to have such a good selection of art bindings--it tends to be a retail-dominated world.”

                                                                                                                                                                                               New York-based Abby Schoolman is a representative of contemporary art bookbinders (including Mark Cockram) and sees the auction as something of a sea-change in the marketplace. “This auction is particularly exciting because I believe it is the first time a big three auction house has featured a group of bindings by living art binders,” Schoolman said. “All of these artists are very much alive and still working. You can commision them and buy their books from dealers. That is new.”

                                                                                                                                                                                            “Other than the first twelve lots where the binder is also the author and illustrator, the contemporary binder is the headliner, not the illustrators or authors,” Schoolman added. One such example is Mark Cockram’s binding of the signed limited edition of The Tempest by Shakespeare, illustrated by Edmund Dulac. “If this were a typical illustrated books auction, this title would be catalogued under Dulac, the illustrator,” Schoolman explained. “In an English literature auction, it might be listed under Shakespeare. Instead, the artist-binder is featured. It is extremely interesting and exciting to see.”

                                                                                                                                                                                         Roberts offered further clarity into how the works were headlined: “Denis Collins was quite unusual in that many of the books were valuable even before he had the special bindings commissioned. For example, there are limited editions of works illustrated by Barbier, Dulac, and so on, and we have put them under a heading of the binder--some of Susan Allix’s letters discuss at length how her bindings were inspired by the illustrator,” he said, which offer insight into how the bindings developed to represent the work as a whole.

                                                                                                                                                                                “Perhaps without intending to, this sale could be a step towards the renaissance of art binding,” said Schoolman. “Bonhams is featuring these books, not burying them deep in the sale. From where I’m sitting, it’s a good thing.” Roberts agrees--“though we’ll have to wait until the sale to see how much of a renewed interest there acutally is, it certainly feels as if the auction catalogue has captured people’s imaginations--it makes a refreshing change to see genuinely unique objects in a book catalogue.”


James Brockman’s red goatskin binding for Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne, with illustrations by Edmund Dulac.


Mark Cockram’s flotage-dyed goatskin binding for The Tempest, with illustrations by Edmund Dulac.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Diane Dias DeFazio, Circulation Librarian with The New York Society Library:


DDD_headshot_SKot.jpgWhat is your role at your institution (and please introduce our readers as well to the New York Society Library)?

So often we talk of wearing lots of hats where we work, and there’s probably a millinery joke there, somewhere, but I literally have more than one job! I am the Circulation Librarian at the New York Society Library, an Adjunct Librarian for Reference and Digital Initiatives at Brooklyn College, and I write exhibition labels for the Thomas J. Watson Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The New York Society Library prides itself on some impressive facts: it’s the oldest cultural institution in town (established in 1754), it was briefly the de facto Library of Congress (an early location was inside Federal Hall), it has a storied pedigree of member-readers (more on that later), and it was known as “the City Library” for over 150 years. It is open to the public for research and reference, but from its inception, the Library has been a membership one, and members enjoy borrowing privileges for (most of) our collection of over 300,000 volumes, electronic resources, and attendance at our many yearly exhibition openings and other events. Since 1937, the Library has been located in the former John S. and Catherine Rogers House, an Italianate five-story mansion designed and built by Trowbridge and Livingston in 1917. It’s a New York City landmark, but it’s also a former residence, which gives it a cozy, human-scale feel, I think. I am responsible for overseeing operations at the Library during evening and weekend hours, which includes administration of public services and training junior staff. Every day is fantastically different, and one moment I might be listening to a member’s stories as we look at her grandmother’s eighteenth-century atlas, or teaching a class, or making a Mylar enclosure, or assisting a high school student on a class project.

Brooklyn College was established in 1930 and was the first public institution of higher learning in New York City to have coeducational enrollment. The campus, built during the Great Depression, is rare for an urban setting: red brick Georgian buildings around a tree-lined central quad on a 26-acre site (it’s lovely in the late summer). The student population is diverse, with 60% self-identifying as members of a minority, and most are the first in their families to attend college. The Library began a collaborative program to create open educational resources (OERs) in 2015, and I partner with faculty from different departments to create digital platforms for those resources. Because of my design and tech background, I’m also part of a team that’s rethinking the Library’s LibGuides and its website.

At Watson, I work with the Acquisitions and Book Conservation departments, research materials, and write for the Library’s exhibitions. Every six weeks or so, the Chief Librarian and Assistant Manager for Acquisitions select special collections items to showcase, and, in the past year, that’s meant a variety of items were highlighted, from Japanese counterculture periodicals and interwar French typography sample books to trade publications on elevator cabs and twentieth-century automobile advertisements. 

It’s a lot to fit into a week sometimes, but working for a public college, a membership library, and an art museum offers intensely rewarding experiences and provides me with incredible perspective, so it’s all worthwhile. 

How did you get started in rare books?

Ah, yes, The Origin Story. Wherein we meet our heroine, she gets hit on the head by a copy of Hypnerotomachia polyphili, and wakes up in the most glorious library. (Kidding!)

My story is a two-parter, and, really, it all comes down to a fortuitous set of circumstances. 

By way of introduction, I’m from a very small town, and part of my life story involves local library discrimination, a teacher confiscating my books in junior high, and a general lack of access, but I was lucky--my Mom is curious and committed to broad-based education, and we lived close enough to (and, by that, I mean 72 miles away from) Pittsburgh--and I kind of grew up in museums and libraries there. Fortuitous moment the first. 

I started in libraries as a work-study student at Watson about ten years ago. I don’t remember all the details of how I got to my current role, but I know that my first project was fine bindings from the collection of Jayne Wrightsman, and the experience formed one of the best educations in rare books and connoisseurship I could ever hope for. That was seven years and over 500 book descriptions ago, I subsequently worked as a researcher for six years, the Met inspired me to apply to library school, and I’m eternally indebted to Holly Phillips and Ken Soehner for their continued encouragement, and for giving me so many marvelous opportunities. That’s part one. 

Part two begins as many stories do: I took a class, and it opened my eyes. Mind you, I was fortunate enough to have stellar teachers over the years--Doron S. Ben-Atar and the late Anne Mannion at Fordham, Andrew Dolkart and Norman Weiss at Columbia, Irene Lopatovska--people unafraid to tell it like it is, challenge me, and I think about their advice every day, so ... my pedagogical experiences have been consistently good. Anyway, in my final semester of library school, I signed up for one last course: Rare Books & Special Collections. 

I recently heard Mindy Dubansky characterize the event of finding her calling in bookbinding as like “being hit with Cupid’s arrow,” and, yeah, it was kind of like that. Before I knew it, I was obsessed with Gaskell and Gascoigne (passing mention of the Montgolfiers! printing terms that parallel architectural phraseology! watermarks! mezzotints!). I was excited all the time. I was in deep, and then one day my instructor handed me a descriptive bibliography assignment (The Hermit, 1727), and said, “This is for you.” I’ll probably never know if that was an intentional gesture or not, but from then on, I didn’t look back. 

Where did you earn your advanced degrees?

I have an MS in Historic Preservation from Columbia, and my MSLIS is from Pratt. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I know I’m not alone here, so bear with me: the items that immediately come to mind are associated with meaningful moments. One could say that an item becomes my favorite when I work with it (my Instagram is testament to this), but some things resonate longer. A few resonators are (in no particular order):  the “Ratzer map” and land books at Brooklyn Historical Society, some of the first special collections materials I used in teaching elementary-school students; the Wrightsman miniatures on ballooning; Thomas Lamb’s architectural drawings and the Otis escalator trade catalogs I pored over for my thesis at Columbia; the aforementioned unassuming Cambridge panel style copy of The Hermit; I. N. Phelps Stokes’ notebooks from Brentano’s department store; and the first book I wrote about post-library school (literally the day after Commencement), a sumptuously bound illustrated catalog on, of all things, copper door and window hardware, which reminded me how powerful/thrilling/inspirational a finely crafted book can be. 

If I had to confine my answer to my institutions’ holdings, I’d pick the American publishers bindings--that circulate!--at Brooklyn College, and Vols. I-VI of Histoire de Polybe from the Society Library’s special collections, lovely eighteenth-century cat’s paw calf bindings, which swept me off my feet with their French curl endpapers, Fargeaud-Limousin watermarks, and engravings of Hannibal’s Alpine campaigns. 

What do you personally collect?

My thesis advisor once told me that he had a retirement plan, but his money was “in stuff”--that is, his collections probably held more value than his 401k. I haven’t been at the game as long as Norman, but I try to remember that sentiment every time I buy something. 

I collect books on New York City, architecture history, and the history of photography; architectural fragments; ephemera from the 1939-40 and 1964-65 New York World’s Fairs; and promotional scale model banks ... that are also banks. Also, I have a bunch of stereograph cards.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a New Yorker who cooks! (We exist.) Other than that, I bike (mostly in Prospect Park); stand too close to art in museums; photograph things (mostly architecture); and I hold a semi-regular gathering of archivists, librarians, and other friends at a Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn. 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Everything, truly--the materials, the content, a really good catalog record, teaching and bringing new audiences to special collections, the buildings and reading rooms themselves, the collaborations, the community and the special collections Insta-verse, the stories and experience of others in the field, and I love how we talk about our work, and how we seem to all really like what we do. 

Can I tell you a story? There’s one other thing. I was probably seven or eight, and a teacher took our class through a basement corridor at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and--my memory may be hazy here--but there was, like, an half-excavated archaeopteryx on top of a pallet against the wall, and I remember walking past vases and crates that seemed like something out of Indiana Jones, thinking, “This is amazing! How do I get to be here all the time?” 

And, OK, fine--that story has no books in it, but--that moment! That jaw-dropping moment! That is what excites me about rare books librarianship.

We speak softly of the wonder inherent in this profession--we defend, share, promote, embrace it with all of our senses--but there is something to be said really loudly, I think, for the astounding privilege we all have of waking up every day and knowing that the pieces of history with which we’ve been entrusted can change and enrich other people’s lives. I knew, back then in the Carnegie basement, that I wanted to work with awe-inspiring precious pieces of history, and sometimes I can’t believe I really get to do it.

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

A few thoughts. Let’s please never stop learning or encouraging curiosity.  (Someone once told me, in response to my pursuit of an MSLIS, that “enough education is enough,” and it was such an abhorrent statement I guess it really stuck with me.) I love that this community supports philosophies antipodal to that backward assertion, and I’m so thankful to be a small part of such a world.

Secondly, we’re at a great moment for expanding definitions in the field, and I think the future of special collections can be seen in a willingness to embrace that which is “new” or “weird” or otherwise nontraditional. I like what Arthur Fournier and places like the Interference Archive are doing a lot.

Going forward, I believe that special collections superstars will continue to make the most of alternative platforms in teaching and outreach, and I can’t wait to see what we all come up with next.

So, all of those things, and parenthetically, I have to add that I’ve been listening to Brother David Steindl-Rast lately, and I really admire what he has to say about accepting gratitude. In order to continue to build a generous community of readers, researchers, and the next generation of professionals, I hope we don’t lose sight of how genuine an expression of appreciation can be. 

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

For each institution, I’d like to put the emphasis on interesting: at NYSL, we recently debuted City Readers, a database of historic records, books, and readership that allows researchers to discover and analyze the Library’s role as a social and literary institution in New York at the turn of the nineteenth century (including George Washington’s borrowing history); the music scores and government documents at Brooklyn College Library; and the Alice Cordelia Morse collection, American publishers bindings, and trade catalogs at Watson Library. 

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

The Society Library is currently showing Sarah Parker Goodhue: A Hidden Collection Comes to Light, which illuminates the treasures of this important donor, who left the Library its largest-ever bequest. This exhibition is the first showing of many of these materials. 

I’m really proud of the current selections on view at Watson, which celebrate the Lunar New Year and include Chinese-language books on jades and bronzes. And I’m particularly excited about an exhibition in Fall 2016, spearheaded by Tony White, on the Library’s new acquisitions of artists books and selections from independent publishers.

And, if you’re going to RBMS 2016, I’ll see you there! I’m thrilled to be presenting a poster on publishers’ bindings, diversity, and the collections of Brooklyn College; I’m co-organizing an Instagram meetup with colleagues from the University of Miami Special Collections, American Antiquarian Society, and Southwestern University; and it will all be so much fun.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 8.30.39 AM.pngIn London today, Sotheby’s offered a collection of art and books that belonged to Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. All eyes were on the Waugh--that is, an inscribed pre-publication edition of his Brideshead Revisited, and it did not disappoint, selling for £52,500 ($78,362), more than double its estimate. Indeed all of the books, even those pre-packed in themed lots, exceeded their estimates. Another high point was a collection of books owned by the duchess (signed or with her bookplate) that included a first edition of Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons (1959), two Anthony Powell firsts, and a Bruce Chatwin first. Together the four were estimated at a mere £300-500; instead they were bid up to £5,625 ($7,889). Her Grace’s treasured Elvis ephemera also sold high at £4,375 ($6,530).

                                                                                                                                                                                              Image via Sotheby’s.

_L_UK16BPRS_02.jpgPeter Rabbit, beloved creation of Beatrix Potter, has become the first character from children’s literature to appear on a British coin.

Wearing his trademark blue jacket, Peter Rabbit’s portrait graces the front of a special, colored edition of the 50 pence coin issued yesterday. Coins featuring other Potter characters will be released later in 2016, the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth.

The coin images were designed by coin designer Emma Noble who said it was “amazing to be given the opportunity to work with such a famous and treasured literary character.”

The Royal Mint issued a statement declaring Peter Rabbit “the most recognisable of Potter’s creations, and one of the most cherished from children’s literature.”

Collectors can purchase the coin for £55.00 directly from the Royal Mint.  The colored version is limited to 15,000. An uncolored version can also be ordered directly from the Mint for £10.00 with no declared limitation on the minting.

Auction Guide