June 2016 Archives

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Mattie Taormina, Director of Sutro Library in San Francisco, a branch of the California State Library.

Crop head shot.pngWhat is your role at your institution?

After ten years as the Head of Public Services and Processing Manuscript Librarian at Stanford University, I became the new director of the Sutro Library in March.  The Sutro Library is a branch of the California State Library and we hold the 90,000+ volumes amassed by famed book collector, Adolph Sutro. We are a small staff so I get to do a little bit of everything, from collection development to engaging with donors.  Since we are a public research library located on a vibrant California State University campus, I am especially excited to grow our outreach and instruction program to the faculty and students of San Francisco State University.

How did you get started in rare books?

I began working with rare books when I was an undergraduate studying at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Keble College, Oxford. Much of my coursework required me to use the book collections at the Bodleian Library, the Rhodes House, and the Oxford Student Union.  I vividly remember spending hours poring over the books in the Radcliffe Camera, inhaling their slightly spicy smell. When I joined the staff at Stanford, my interest was rekindled again thanks in large part to the Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, Roberto Trujillo, and the Rare Books Curator, John Mustain. Since I am an archivist by training, I think I’ll forever be a student of rare books.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I completed my BA in American History at the University of San Francisco.  After graduation, I pursued an MA in Public History (concentration in archives and manuscripts) from California State University Sacramento. I completed an MLIS from San Jose State University (concentration on archives and special collections) before that program went to an entirely online format. I also have taken some incredible classes at the California Rare Books School. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I had so many favorite books when I worked at Stanford that it makes it hard to pick just one. A few that come to mind would be a 1737 universal etymological English dictionary owned by John Hancock when he was 11 years old and was signed by him three times.  Another is the Golden Cockerel Press’ Four Gospels. Only 12 were printed on vellum and Stanford’s vellum copy is number one.

I suppose the book I enjoyed sharing the most with students was a copy of the first draft of The Star Wars by George Lucas dated 1974. I am a big fan of the original Star Wars movies so having the opportunity to geek out with others over this screenplay was incredibly gratifying.  The 1974 story was very different from the one depicted in the final film and students always responded so positively to it. 

What do you personally collect?

Any collecting I do is curbed by the size of my house.  I do have a small collection pertaining to my travels. The collection started with the original suitcases my grandparents carried when they immigrated to the United States. Over the years, I have purchased something from each country I have visited, with recent objects coming from Cuba, Croatia and Greece.

What do you like to do outside of work?

The lines between my personal and work interests are blurred as I turned my love of cultural heritage into a livelihood. When I am not sitting at work, I can be found visiting a museum, attending a concert or play, or frequenting one of the many outstanding restaurants found in the Bay Area.  

I have a bad case of wanderlust so traveling is very important to me. Regardless of where my journeys take me, I always visit libraries, archives and museums.  

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

When one hears of preserving born digital content, one naturally thinks of archival materials but technology is changing our rare book access and preservation habits as well. I am intrigued by the challenges I see with some of the new Artists Books being produced that use both analog and technological formats to create a sensory experience.  The ones I have seen pose some very unique preservation challenges for rare book librarians: how do we preserve the born-digital content so that it is accessible for future readers while still allowing the artist’s vision of that experience to occur in the manner in which they designed it?  

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

I think the part that excites me most about working in special collections and archives today is as a profession, we are looking at our communities’ current social and civil changes and inviting the community to collaborate with us on collections.  Examples of this change can be found in University of Riverside’s University Archivist, Bergis Jules, who is collaborating with community organizers and individuals throughout the United States involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.  The special collections librarians at UCLA are another example: they are soliciting 1980s era punk music materials from the Los Angeles community. 

These initiatives allow for more holistic and inclusive records to be developed, diversifying traditional collection development policies to not only include the voices in power, but those that are historically marginalized as well.  Having the community and other information professionals work alongside curators will broaden the voices found in our holdings for future generations to research, contemplate, and enjoy. 

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

One of the more unique parts of the Sutro Library is our Mexicana collection consisting of forty to fifty thousand books, pamphlets, broadsides, and manuscripts on Mexican culture, religion, and politics from 1540 to 1889.  Sutro acquired the collection from famed bookseller, Francisco Abadiano in 1889.  Included in this purchase was a sizeable portion of the Colegio Imperal de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco library--the first academic library of the New World. In fact, the Mexicana collection includes the first legal code printed in the Americas. 

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We will have a new exhibit called Into the West that will open in time for the new academic year in August. The exhibit will feature our holdings on Western European travel and exploration of the West from the 1500s-1800s. It will include Adolph Sutro’s scrapbook from when he visited Mexico, various maps and atlases, and other illustrated books on travel.

Since it is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we will end the year by mounting an exhibit of the Shakespeareana parts of Sutro’s collection. On display will be our original first thru fourth Folios and other content related to contemporaries of the Bard.

Coming to auction in London on July 6 is this vellum register apparently made for Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1454-1486. The volume contains a Sarum calendar, Gospel extracts, and lists of churches, chapels, and religious houses in the diocese of Canterbury, as well as other administrativia (yes, in Latin). It is embellished by one large illuminated initial and smaller red and blue penwork initials, some incorporating drawings of monks’ heads. Numerous 16th- and 17th-century inscriptions and doodles cover blank spaces in the manner of an autograph album.

Canterbury.pngSotheby’s, which will offer the register alongside 70 other medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, calls it “A remarkable witness to the administration of Canterbury Cathedral, England’s most important medieval religious foundation.” The estimate is £5,000-7,000 ($7,200-10,000).

Image via Sotheby’s.

Prinicipia-title.pngA first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, often shortened to “Principia,” will be sold at auction by Christie’s on July 12. The book was part of the collection of Giancarlo Beltrame, who amassed a very impressive scientific books collection, the first half of which will be sold next month, the second half following on November 30. The estimate is £200,000-300,000 ($268,200-402,300).

First published in 1687, Newton’s Principia revolutionized science with mathematical descriptions of the universal physical laws of gravitation and motion, the basis for the motion of bodies in unresisting space (the law of inertia), the motion of fluids, the effect of friction on bodies moving through fluids, and the law of universal gravitation. The Principia was published by Joseph Streater for the Royal Society in London at the expense of Edmond Halley, and distributed to various booksellers by Newton and Halley.

Einstein would later describe the work as “The greatest intellectual stride that it has ever been granted to any man to make.”

The Beltrame copy also has an interesting provenance, having belonged to the Victorian historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle and to the American banker and amateur astronomer Gustavus Wynne Cook.

[Title page image from Wikipedia]

Within the next week subscribers will receive our summer issue featuring “Biblio 360,” our annual listing of book clubs & societies, classes & workshops, events & exhibits of interest to book collectors. Until then, we wanted to call attention to some upcoming summer events in case you want to “book” your trip now!

Tennessee Antiquarian Book Fair: A book fair with Southern flair held July 8-10 on the campus of the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. “Book prices ranging from $10 to $50,000 are sure to pique the interest of the leisure reader as well as the most avid collector.” The cost is $10 for weekend admission; $15 for Friday preview plus weekend admission, all refundable with purchase of books.

PulpFest 2016: A convention, a fair, and an auction for collectors of vintage popular fiction, comics, westerns, and related materials, with particular attention this year to the 120th anniversary of the debut of the first pulp magazine, The Argosy. Happening in Columbus, Ohio, from July 21-24. The cost is $10-$40 depending on length of visit.  

Newberry Book Fair.jpgNewberry Book Fair: “Chicago’s favorite used-book binge,” held this year July 28-31. Browse 120,000+ books in 70 categories--sounds like a fantastic scouting opportunity. Free.

Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair: The 32nd annual Rocky Mountain offers “books and maps ... cultural oddities and whimsical finds” on August 5-6 in Denver, Colorado. This year’s exhibitors include Back of Beyond, Rulon-Miller Books, Ken Sanders Rare Books, and many more. The cost is $7 per day, $12 for both days, less if purchased in advance. 

Miniature Book Society Conclave: The Dallas/McKinney area of Texas hosts the 2016 annual gathering of miniature book enthusiasts, August 5-8. You must register for programs and trips ($275 per person, by July 7), but the Sunday book fair, with a “robust number of high-profile vendors,” is open to the public from 11:00-4:00 at no cost.

Image: The 2014 Newberry Book Fair.

A Bibliophile in the Nursery

Late June is always hectic around here: Half-days at school throw off daily routines, and packing my daughter for camp is often a multi-day, multi-sensory experience that fails to disappoint. And this year, we’ve also decided to update our woefully inadequate home office. Demolition and construction are slated to take place over the summer while the house is empty, which meant completely emptying the workroom of its contents.

Disassembling the 19th-century partner desk was easy enough--they certainly don’t make beasts like this handmade 36-inch oak escritoire anymore--but taking the bookshelves apart and removing their load was, as perhaps you readers can imagine, no simple manoeuver.

My current bookshelves are simple, sturdy, pre-fab birch planks, and though they’ve served faithfully for many years, I need more room. A common complaint I heard from my parents growing up, I face the same need for greater shelf space.

Now, those pre-fab stacks crowd a small antechamber on our second level, reshelved. I’m surrounded by books on every floor.

Home sweet home.

Construction offers a rare opportunity to cull, to deacquisition books deemed no longer fit for duty, or that would find better use elsewhere, on someone else’s bookshelf. Unlike my father, whose archive spans decades, my collection is more modest in size and scope, but still impressive enough to give the uninitiated pause when they first visit. (To see what it’s like parting with truly amazing books, read my father’s ode to packing up his library in the spring issue of Fine Books and Collections.)

The beginning stages of deaccession are the hardest, but once a rhythm is established, I dare say a certain ruthlessness prevails. Mass-market paperbacks are an easy toss--though I’m still on the lookout for my dog-eared, highlighted-to-hell Hachette softcover edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, especially now that it’s no longer in production.

Despite an initial urge to purge, bibliophilia got the better of me, and most books are back on the shelves where they originated. I rediscovered some lost treasures throughout the process: A 1970 publication of Squirrels of North America by Dorcas MacClintock left me scratching my head until I discovered the author was a fellow Smith grad. Stamped a “regional discard” by the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System, Squirrels retains its due date envelope and cards pasted to the back flyleaf, and was last borrowed from the Upton Public Library in June 1995. My nature-loving daughter adores the charming renderings of marmots and prairie dogs, and now claims the book as her own.

My sweetest find was Bibliophile in the Nursery: A Bookman’s Treasure of Collectors’ Lore on Old and Rare Children’s Books. This “profusely illustrated” first-edition is rich in advice for collectors of children’s books; a delightful mix of historical essays, lists, and biographical notation, with entries by such authorities as folklorists Iona and Peter Opie; collector Elisabeth Ball, whose donations are now found in the Morgan Library, the Lilly Library, and the Free Library; and Houghton Library’s librarian emeritus W.H. Bond.

The empty office is a refreshing palate cleanser, but I’m already looking forward to fall and to filling the new shelves with old favorites.


By Georgios Jakobides - Bonhams London, 20 May 2008, lot 22, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17863841

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with James Freemantle, collector of Private Press books. James is a contributor to The Private Library, the journal of the Private Libraries Association, as well as Parenthesis and Matrix (Whittington Press), as well as being a member of the Oxford Guild of Printers and Double Crown Club, and proprietor of the recently established St James Park Press. James has been a Judge at the annual Fine Press Fair in Oxford, has written the exhibition catalogue entry for I.M. Imprimit for The Private Press Today exhibition at St. Brides, and runs a Twitter page on the Art of the Book.


Where are you from / where do you live?

I was born and live in London, England, now near St James’s Park, having been brought up in the English countryside in Buckinghamshire.  

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I studied English Literature with Film before moving on to a career in Law. I am now a Litigation Partner at a London law firm. 

jfreemantleco1.jpgPlease introduce us to your book collection. What areas do you collect in? 

Almost exclusively Private Press (Fine Press) books, although as an extension of this books and prints of typographic, artistic or bibliographic interest. This could be anything from a book such as A Specimen Book of Pattern Papers (1928) by the Curwen Press to large coloured linocuts by the artist Clifford Webb, to a leaf from an incunabula by William Caxton. As there have historically been a large number of private presses, however, I buy predominantly English presses of the twentieth century. 

From the earlier presses, I have a large amount of ephemera from the Daniel, Kelmscott and Doves Presses, which can sometimes be rarer than the books themselves and give enough of the feel of those presses to placate the desire for the books (although of course I wouldn’t turn down a complete collection of any of these). I actually buy ephemera and archival material for all the Presses I am interested in, for an insight into the history of their production.

For the Essex House, Ashendene, Eragny and Caradoc Presses, I buy the books too. For all of these, I tend towards copies printed on vellum, which are usually only printed in a handful of copies, or with some association to the printers, meaning copies inscribed by Hornby, Pissarro and others. For the Essex House Press, for example, I have a unique copy of the Essex House Song Book, bound by Charles McLeish (who worked at the Doves Bindery under Cobden Sanderson for many years) for C. R. Ashbee’s daughter, in which Ashbee has interleaved pages printed on vellum, paper as well as pages written and decorated in his own hand. 

From the next generation of Presses, I have an almost complete set of Golden Cockerel Press books, including (almost as an ephemeral item) a single volume of The Canterbury Tales, illustrated by Eric Gill, printed on vellum. The Golden Cockerel Press was my first serious foray into the private presses, and as such I located as much additional material as I could, including proofs, original designs, correspondence, prospectuses, catalogues, publisher’s files, engravings, binding blocks, copper plates and more. I am slightly more specific for the Gregynog Press, for which I only look for the special bindings by George Fisher, although these are exceedingly rare, as well as the prospectuses for the titles issued by the Press. Similarly, for the Hogarth Press, I only buy those editions that were hand-printed by Virginia Woolf. 

Of the more modern Presses, I buy books by Presses that are no longer printing, such as Gogmagog, Twelve by Eight, Workshop, and Locks Press, and from those still active, such as the Reading Room, Parvenu, Grapho Editions, I.M. Imprimit, Whittington, Fleece, Salvage and Incline Presses. It is usually easier to locate the ephemera and production material for these modern Presses, which can include related artistic material. For example, for Gogmagog and the Workshop Press, I have a number of original prints and paintings by the printers Morris Cox and Mark Arman, who ran those Presses, and by further example a vast number of broadsides from the Whittington Press.

Of the American Presses, I have dabbled with the Arion Press and Barbarian Press, usually because they have printings of wood-engravings which appeal. There are various other Presses that are represented within the collection, but not to the same degree as those mentioned. 


jfreemantleco3.jpgHow many books are in your collection?

I haven’t counted, but there must be over a thousand, not including bibliographic books that aren’t printed by any particular Press, which I try to keep to a minimum. Presses don’t generally print that many titles, as of course it is all done in limited editions and by hand, so one Press may only have half a dozen titles under their imprint, whilst the Golden Cockerel Press reached 214 titles. When I add archival material and ephemera to the number of books, there is possibly the same again in terms of floor space.


What was the first book you bought for your collection?

I actually discovered Private Press books because I was interested in Milton’s Paradise Lost, having studied it at school. We were given a school copy of the book with an illustration by William Blake on the cover, and that image (and indeed that book) has never been forgotten. I took an interest in the publishing history of Paradise Lost, which was first printed in 1667, and bought early editions, including those illustrated by John Martin, Fuseli and others. Whilst I was reading around the subject, I found and bought copies of the Golden Cockerel Press as well as Doves Press editions of Paradise Lost. Both are extraordinarily attractive printings, and immediately introduced me to what a Private Press could offer. My first most memorable and serious purchase, however, was an English first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses (John Lane, Bodley Head, 1936), which I bought almost entirely on account of it being in a slipcase covered in Paul Nash patterned paper, with an Eric Gill designed bow on the front, bound in vellum, limited to 100 copies and signed by Joyce. These sort of elements are more synonymous with a Private Press book, than a commercial edition. It is still the most expensive single book I have ever bought, from a Sotheby’s auction. I exchanged it probably a year after buying it, for an Ashendene Press book printed on vellum and a group of Hogarth Press hand-printed books. 


How about the most recent book?

Books are being added regularly, so most recently, aside from books by those Presses already mentioned, I have bought books from the Fanfrolico, Seven Acres, Simon King, and Kit Kat Presses, as well as Rampant Lions Press books illustrated by J. G. Lubbock.

jfreemantleco2.jpgAnd your favourite book in your collection?

Every Press brings something different. As much as the art of the book is important, so too is the story behind it. Being handmade books, there is usually a single or small number of creative minds behind the book and you can usually get a sense of this when you see the output of each different Press. In that sense, no single Press is alike. Books from the Golden Cockerel Press, for instance, are very different from those printed by the Caradoc Press. 

My favourite book would therefore have to incorporate great artistic and typographic design, coupled with an interesting story, as well as being a desirable rarity. I could therefore mention, for its typographic elegance and fantastic Gwen Raverat engravings, the Japanese Vellum printed Daphnis and Chloe (1931) from the Ashendene Press, of which only around ten exist due to the remainder of the printed sheets being destroyed due to problems with the printing, for which I wrote an article on this for The Private Library; or indeed the Book of Job, printed on vellum with hand-illuminated initials and illustrations, from the Caradoc Press, of which only seven are reported to have been completed, but this may be as much because I am also writing a book on the history of that Press at the moment. 

Best bargain you’ve found?

I have always been impressed by the generosity of printers to literally give away things they may print by hand. So many of the Presses that are still active are this generous, so in the sense of the best bargain, anything like this would be top of the list. 

If I were to name something I have found and bought, one that springs to mind would be a copy of The Praise and Happinesse of the Countrie-Life (1938) from the Gregynog Press. It is one of the specially bound copies, of which there are only twenty, and I found it on eBay. The seller had not known it was one of the specials, so it was not expensive. The reason it sticks in the mind though, is because, so I am told by the expert on these matters David Lewis, the original subscriber (private presses often had subscribers for their publications) was a Senator David Aiken Reed (born in Pittsburgh, 1880 - 1953), and his collection of special Gregynog bindings had been consigned to the Princeton Library, but at the time they were shipped, this and one other title were seemingly never received. It turned up, again unmarked as a special copy, at an auction in Philadelphia decades later, where the eBay seller had bought it in a box of books unknowingly and sold it on through the internet. Knowing it was one of the specials, I bought it. 

How about The One that Got Away?

I will always feel like I have missed out on great private press books. There are three moments that particularly stick in my mind though. The first is the time that two large collections of Ashendene Press books were being sold, one by a dealer and another through an auction abroad. At the time the dealer had them, I wasn’t really looking to buy Ashendene Press books, despite her showing them to me before she had even issued the catalogue when I could have cherry-picked any titles I wanted (they all sold almost immediately), and even when I was buying them, I missed a great auction sale and only found out about it when the auction catalogue showed up for sale on the internet days after the event. There are so many titles I would have liked to have from both the dealer and auction. The second is another auction, during which I was so preoccupied with a high-ticket item that I was bidding on (and never won), I completely overlooked some original correspondence from C. R. Ashbee of the Essex House Press where he writes about the setting up of the Press. When it is a unique item like this, you know it is very unlikely you will see it again in your lifetime. The last is a final auction offering, being an almost complete collection of Whittington Press books. There were literally hundreds of books in one Lot and it went for relatively little money. I never knew about the sale, but if I had at the time, I would have gone for it. For the most part, however, I am usually quite bold with my purchases and would rather regret buying a book, than regret having turned it down.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

There are three titles that I would really consider top of my list. The first is the Song of Songs (1902) from the Ashendene Press. All forty copies are hand-illuminated by Florence Kingsford and printed on vellum. The second and third would be considered the black tulips of the private press world, being Whym Chow (1914) from the Eragny Press, printed in twenty-seven copies and the one title from the Press that never appears, and the suppressed illustrated edition of the Lovers Song Book from the Gregynog Press, printed in only nine copies with wood-engravings by Blair Hughes Stanton that were considered too risqué at the time, so was only published in 1933 without the illustrations. 

Who is your favourite bookseller / bookstore?

Private Press books are sold through shops, dealers by appointment only, auction house and online. It is therefore necessary to look everywhere. Those I go through regularly include:- shops: Collinge & Clarke, Claude Cox Rare Books, Sophie Schneideman, Blackwells Rare Books, Tindley and Everett; dealers: Barrie Marks, Michael Taylor, Colin Franklin; auction houses: Sothebys, Christies, Bonhams, Bloomsbury; internet: eBay, Abebooks; but there are numerous others that I look to, including Vincent Barlow, Julian Smith at Clarendon Books, Besleys, Peter Ellis, Peter Nicholls at Boxwood, Bayntuns, Peter Harrington, Woodbine, Wykeham, Colin Page et al. and in America there are plenty, including Veatchs, Bromers, Oak Knoll, John Windle and others. 

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

I would have to say prints and artwork, as I almost do already given the large amount of wood-engravings, linocuts, etchings, paintings and other prints I have by artists connected with the private presses, and some unconnected. 

At the 2015 New York Antiquarian Book Fair, I was brought up short by the sight of a tatty composition book displayed under glass in Brian Cassidy’s booth. It was, he confirmed, one of Joe Gould’s notebooks. It seemed more than serendipitous to me, as I had just finished reading a galley of Man in Profile, the 2015 biography of longtime New Yorker writer, Joseph Mitchell, whose lengthy articles, “Professor Sea Gull” (1943) and “Joe Gould’s Secret” (1964) had made the Greenwich Village Bohemian scribbler famous--or infamous. Both articles attempted to get to the bottom of this question: did a manuscript of Gould’s ten-million-word “Oral History of Our Time” truly exist?

9781101947586 copy.jpgA few months after the book fair, Harvard historian Jill Lepore published in the New Yorker an excerpt of her work, “Joe Gould’s Teeth,” about her quest for the voluminous “Oral History.” It felt to me as if Thomas Kunkel’s biography of Mitchell and Lepore’s recent research on Gould had summoned that dime-store notebook out of the past, out of thin air, though probably more likely out of an attic. Many have sought Gould’s manuscript(s) over the years, and most have given up. (The Fales Library at NYU houses a set of his diaries.)

Lepore’s book on the subject, also titled Joe Gould’s Teeth, was published last month (Knopf, $24.95). It’s a fascinating read that brings readers into the archives to hunt for clues about Gould’s personal history, his literary comrades (Ezra Pound, E. E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams), his obsession with an African-American sculptor named Augusta Savage, and his death, in a mental hospital, in 1957.  

The topic may be too quirky for some, but as she did in Book of Ages, her biography of Jane Franklin, Lepore takes a forgotten character and uses her impeccable research skills to debunk myths and reveal a clearer picture of the past. Her narrative voice is chatty--pulling us aside, leaning in, and telling us her “Holy Grail” story, a form familiar to many collectors, and much beloved. 

                                                                                                                                                                     Image courtesy of Knopf.

Novelist Dan Brown, known for his runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code (2003), has donated €300,000 ($338,000) to the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, aka The Ritman Library, in Amsterdam. The money will be used to digitize the library’s core collection of about 4,600 early printed books (pre-1900) and about 300 older manuscripts. Once they are digitized, the collections will be freely available online on the library’s website. The Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds also contributed €15,000 to the project.

The Ritman Library was founded by Dutch businessman and book collector Joost Ritman in 1984. The library specializes in hermeticism, as well as the related fields of Rosicrucianism, alchemy, gnosis, esotericism, and Kabbalah and is widely considered one of the finest collections of its type in existence.  

Brown visited the Ritman Library several times while conducting researching his novels The Lost Symbol and Inferno. Brown “considers it a great honor to play a role in this important preservation initiative that will make these texts available to the public.”  

The author announced his involvement in a YouTube video (in which he appears from behind a revolving door in his personal library):

Mosher.jpgJust a few weeks ago I was delighted to hear that collector and bookseller Philip R. Bishop renovated and relaunched a website devoted to the work of American private press pioneer Thomas Bird Mosher (1852-1923) of Portland, Maine. As Bishop writes of him, “Mosher’s contributions to the private press movement in the United States rank him high as a major exponent and promoter of the British Pre-Raphaelites, Aesthetes, and Victorians to his fellow Americans.” This comprehensive website complements Bishop’s bio-bibliography, Thomas Bird Mosher: Pirate Press of Publishers (Oak Knoll Press, 1998).  

Bishop picked up his first Mosher Press book--Richard Jefferies’ The Story of My Heart--in the mid-1980s, I learned when I interviewed him for my book, Rare Books Uncovered. He was first captivated by the content but also impressed by the aesthetics of the book itself. Thus began Bishop’s collecting journey; his Mosher Press collection is now, far and away, the best and most extensive of its kind and includes books from Mosher’s personal library, Mosher-printed books in fine bindings, inscribed and association copies of Mosher books, manuscripts, ephemera, and more.

                                                                                                                                                              Currently, three highlights from Bishop’s collection are on view in New Members Collect at the Grolier Club through July 30.

Image: Advertising Diptych for The Mosher Books. Courtesy of Mosher Books.


One of the images Tenniel declared entirely dissatistactory, leading to the recall of the entire first edition. This edition of Alice, in remarkable condition, did not sell on Thursday. Credit: Christie’s Images LTD.


At high noon on Thursday, June 16 at Christie’s auction house in Rockefeller Plaza, a rare first edition copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland went to the auction block in a stand-alone sale.

Pre-sale estimates for the 1865 red-cloth bound volume were between two to three million dollars. Sometimes referred to as the “suppressed Alice” because Carroll withdrew the edition from the market days after publication, only twenty-two volumes remain in existence, and of those six are held in private collections.

This particular volume, in outstanding condition and with remarkable provenance, failed to meet its reserve and did not sell.

Christie’s public relations representative Jennifer Cuminale said that “though the book did not sell, there was much global bidding and spirited interest. Unfortunately, the Alice did not meet its reserve.” The volume is still available to post-auction inquiry.

Interested parties may inquire directly with Christie’s books and manuscripts department for further information.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Kate Wells, Rhode Island Collection Librarian within the Special Collections Department at the Providence Public Library.

katewellsportrait.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I am the Rhode Island Collection Librarian within the Special Collections Department at the Providence Public Library. PPL has collected materials about the history of Rhode Island and City of Providence since it’s inception in 1874. These materials have been known as the “Rhode Island Collection” since 1901 as part of the non-circulating reference collection, but were only designated as a special collection in 2012. The careful work that librarians did for over a century to accumulate these resources has resulted in a collection that now includes unique and rare items as well as very commonplace ones.

I work as a lone arranger in an urban public library. On behalf of the Rhode Island Collection, I coordinate new acquisitions, catalog published items, process archival and visual materials, coordinate digitization projects, supervise volunteers and interns, provide research services, curate exhibitions, and do a lot of outreach within our community including promoting the collection via social media and programming. While I manage the collection on my own, I could never get things done if I didn’t collaborate with excellent colleagues both inside the PPL and with other cultural heritage and arts organizations here in Providence. I wear a lot of hats, but I never get bored.

How did you get started in rare books?

I was working in the corporate world and was not particularly happy with the work or with the career path open to me. Maybe I watched Say Anything too many times as a teenager, but I felt like Lloyd Dobler when he says “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”  I wanted a career that I felt good about when I went home at the end of the day.


It took me some time to have the courage to make a full career change, but I quit my job and went to Simmons College full-time for a dual degree with a Masters in History and MLIS with an archives concentration. I must’ve been totally naive and/or very stupid to make that jump without ever having worked in a library or archive!  I was lucky to have my internships at the Houghton Library at Harvard University where I got great work practice with very good archivists and got to work with amazing collections.

Since graduating, I’ve never had a job where I was able to just process archival collections all day! I’ve worked in for a municipal city clerk’s office saving vital records from dark corners of basements and attics. I’ve spent time as a cataloging librarian, a reference librarian, and an archivist within university libraries. I’ve supported the research of thousands of scholars, students, genealogists and enthusiasts. I’ve written and managed grants, set up digital repositories and major scanning projects, taught classes and workshops. All of that experience has been invaluable to my current position where I do a bit of everything.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

That is an impossible question. That changes each month as it’s usually related to whatever I’m working with in the moment. I started our @rhodeislandcollection Instagram account partly so that I could remember the interesting and quirky items that I pull for researchers as part of my daily work.

The PPL Special Collections has some incredibly beautiful rare books and ephemera - items that are beautiful to handle because of their craftsmanship, their exquisite materials, or their provenance.  But what I love most are the items that give me a sense of the daily life of regular people.  One item that never fails to amaze me is from our Harris Collection on the Civil War and Slavery.  A ledger from the gunboat U.S.S. LaFayette, 1859-1863, as it participated in the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi documents the contraband slaves that they took on board from various plantations as they made their way up the Mississippi River. These lists include the full list of each individual, by name and age, that were freed on board. These mundane, administrative records document this totally amazing moment - when entire families of people were given freedom, but also taken away from the only sense of community that many of them had ever known. It’s incredible to imagine that experience and to know that, in many cases, this list may be the first time that these people can be identified in documented history.

What do you personally collect?

The funny thing is that at home I’m actually not very sentimental about my own collections. I do have a small collection of early 20th century children’s illustrations and block prints, but mainly I have vintage fabric, buttons and sewing notions that I have collected with the intention to use for various sewing projects. The problem is that I just can’t seem to bring myself to cut into vintage fabric and so I just hoard it!

What do you like to do outside of work?

My husband and I just bought our first house so we’re currently spending most of our free time on renovation or gardening projects. I also love hiking with our dog, cocktails and meals with friends, scouting for finds in estate sales and antique stores and working on various knitting and sewing projects.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I have never been more excited about it than in my current job at PPL. This is my first experience working in a public library and the opportunity to introduce special collections to people who may otherwise feel intimidated to work with rare materials has been incredibly rewarding. Core to our mission is to provide access to any patron who comes in our doors or visits our website. I work with an amazing group of colleagues who are all passionate about making our rare books and archival material relevant to a wide audience. No matter who you are and what your interests, if you walk in our doors we want to get you engaged.  We don’t want you to just come in and look; we want you to DO something with what you find and tell us all about it.

We’ve collaborated with high school students, artists, zine writers and musicians, tradespeople and artisans, and community organizers to bring our materials to life in new ways. I always love working with serious scholars, but there’s a different energy that comes from working with people who use rare books and archival materials to adapt to their own interests. Seeing a teenager get impassioned for social justice after working with activist materials from the 1970s; working with a professional sign painter to find historic advertising references for a new client; or collaborating with a community organizer to teach young people how to conduct oral history interviews and document their own community - these have been incredibly fun opportunities. As special collections librarians, we have the opportunity to know about these incredible resources and to share them.

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

We all get the question - are libraries even relevant anymore? And of course, we are in many, many ways. The uniqueness of special collections is what will ensure its relevance. What will draw visitors to a particular library will continue to be what makes that particular institution unique. That might be the staff’s subject expertise, engaging programming or the unique collections of materials that are only available at that particular library. In that sense, I think that special collections may be the area of librarianship with the most stability.

But I think that the future of our work requires that we reach beyond our comfort zones to engage a much larger audience than we traditionally have. We can’t expect people to just come to us. We need to make it easier for them to know what we have and they need to be encouraged to use it in ways relevant to their own personal interests. Whenever possible, we need to do more than just put scans up online.  We need to engage people to actively do something with them - to reinvent, adapt, and create new products. The more barriers we put up to use, the most we put our collections and own relevance at risk.

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

We recently got the first delivery installment of a new acquisition that I am really excited about.  The Lou Costa Collection documents the Cape Verdean community in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence in the 20th century. This community has been completely dispersed by a combination of urban development and gentrification since the 1980s. The bulk of the collection includes photographs collected by Mr. Costa from family, friends and old neighborhood residents.  This collection documents an incredibly diverse neighborhood that has had a huge influence on the region’s history. Growing our Rhode Island Collection’s holdings for mid to late 20th century materials and related to under-documented people and neighborhoods has been my primary collecting goal and I’m so thrilled to see this collection come here.  Not only that, but the collector has so much information to impart to us about the people and locations in each photograph. His descriptions are invaluable to identifying the people, businesses and locations in each image. He describes a lively and close knit neighborhood. My favorite part of working with him is that he identifies everyone by their local nickname as well as their birth name. We have the most gorgeous early 20th century portrait of an eight year old boy labeled “Porkchop Alves” which tickles me every time I see it.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

I’m currently in the middle of curating an exhibition for Spring 2017 that will examine changes in American foodways and dining culture through the lens of setting the table. This exhibition will be part of a larger PPL theme examining the culture of food which we are working on with a number of other Rhode Island organizations.  Our hope is to spark a state-wide conversation about the role of food in our lives and communities. The challenge is thinking about how to make an engaging exhibition about food when you can’t smell or taste it! My goal for the exhibition is to think about the way economies, routines, traditions, and etiquette root us to food and people who share a meal with us. We’ll look at various place settings and dinnerware as entry points into larger themes of race, class, and social justice. That’s the goal anyways; we’ll see how it all pans out.

Men of Concord.JPGAs some faithful readers of this blog might recall, I’m a fan and a collector of Henry David Thoreau and his circle, and one of my favorite books is Men of Concord, a 1936 Houghton-Mifflin production that paired Thoreau’s journal entries with color illustrations by N. C. Wyeth.

Wyeth painted twelve oil panels (approximately 38” x 33”) for the book, which was a long-delayed labor of love. An admirer of Thoreau, Wyeth initially pitched his idea to Houghton-Mifflin in 1918. But it wasn’t until Thoreau bibliographer Francis H. Allen signed on to the project that it got underway. Allen selected the text, Wyeth provided the twelve color illustrations, and Wyeth’s son Andrew supplied pen-and-ink sketches.

Now, for the first time in nearly eighty years, all twelve of Wyeth’s panels, as well as charcoal drawings, watercolors, and sketches made for the book, are on exhibit at the Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts. The exhibit, N. C. Wyeth’s Men of Concord, which opened on April 15 and runs through September 18, traces the evolution of the book project and examines the artist’s working process.

Wyeth’s panels are, even to my untrained eye, stunning. They are bright and beautiful and life-like. As Allen wrote in the book’s preface, “The reader will feel that through these pictures he himself has come almost into personal contact with Thoreau and with the men of Concord.”

The panels have long since been scattered to the winds, said Leslie Perrin Wilson, curator of special collections at the Concord Free Public Library. Wyeth intended them to remain together in Concord and even offered them to the library at the discounted price of $5,000 for the set. When that didn’t pan out, he sold them individually. A donor bought one for the library, and the library later had the opportunity to buy two more, but other collectors swallowed up the rest. Christine Podmaniczky, curator of the N. C. Wyeth Collections and Historic Properties at the Brandywine River Museum of Art and consulting curator for this exhibit, located the far-flung nine panels for this splendid reunion.

A related exhibit, From Thoreau’s Seasons to Men of Concord: N. C. Wyeth Inspired, is on view at the Concord Free Public Library, also through September 18.  

Image: Men of Concord. Credit: Rebecca Rego Barry.

penguin 2016 modern poets.jpgCollectors of Penguin’s Modern Poets series will soon have another set to add to their collections. The popular series will be revived by Penguin this summer to introduce readers (and collectors) to a new set of 21st-century poets.

The first Penguin Modern Poets series - 27 volumes strong - launched in 1962 and ran through the mid 1970s featuring a variety contemporary poets such as Laurence Durrell, Charles Bukowski, and John Ashbery. Each entry in the series contained work by three poets, mostly British and American, arranged in carefully selected groupings.

The series was revived again in the 1990s for a three year, thirteen volume run, featuring poets such as Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage.

And now, in 2016, Penguin poetry editor Donald Futers will be launching the series again in July, calling the contemporary era a “golden age” of poetry. The first volume will contain poetry by Anne Carson, Sophie Collins, and Emily Berry.

Futers already has the first twelve entries in the new Modern Poets series planned out, referring to the potential for the series to be “infinite” in an interview with The Guardian.

Futers continued, “In the past, the series has been incredibly successful - when I’ve talked to people about the fact I’m starting a new series up, they consistently tell me how much they loved the old one.”

Is letter writing an art form? Whether through penmanship alone or added doodles and illuminations, Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (Princeton Architectural Press, $27.50) “offers examples of how writing a letter can be an artistic act,” writes editor Mary Savig.  

9781616894627.jpgSelected within are more than fifty pieces of manuscript correspondence, each showcased by a large illustration and, on the facing page, a paragraph or two by a scholar summarizing its subject matter but focusing on what the handwriting might reveal about the sender’s “style, personality, sense of place, and relationship with the recipient.” The overall idea, writes Savig, was to step back “from the verbal content of the letter to reflect on the visual.”

One of the scholars, Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, calls Georgia O’ Keeffe’s penmanship on a 1939 letter to Cady Wells “idiosyncratic ... bold and confident.” I might call it calligraphic--it really is stunning to look at. The careful, almost 18th-century-looking handwriting of American minimalist artist Dan Flavin surprises, as does an ornate script cartoonist and illustrator Saul Steinberg developed in the mid-1940s and then used to pen remarks for a Smithsonian luncheon in 1967. (Sheila Schwartz points out that he did not use this faux cursive for his “real handwriting.”) Maxfield Parrish’s penmanship is “deliberate” yet charming.

Both art lovers and those simply enamored by the art of handwriting will enjoy perusing this book. For those that wish to delve deeper into the correspondence, full transcripts are printed at the back of the volume.

Of related interest is another book from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art called More Than Words, which we reviewed last spring.

Image courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Babar Comes to Houghton Library

Harvard’s Houghton Library recently acquired the complete archive of Jean de Brunhoff’s preparatory materials for his 1934 alphabet book, ABC de Babar. Over one hundred sketches, hand-colored proofs, and other items were gifted to the library by Laurent de Brunhoff and Laurent’s wife, Phyllis Rose.

Jean de Brunhoff published the first Babar book in 1931, and by his death in 1937 wrote and illustrated seven stories about Babar, the orphan elephant who eventually becomes king of the pachyderms. In 1945, Laurent de Brunhoff, Jean’s oldest son, resumed the Babar series, and has written and illustrated more than thirty additional titles.

“The ABC de Babar was the fourth book of Jean’s series and differed from its predecessors in that it did not tell a story but was an alphabet book,” explained Hope Mayo, the Houghton Library’s curator of printing and graphic arts. “It’s charming, and it suits the Houghton very well, because the collection demonstrates how a commercially successful children’s book was produced in the 1930s,” she continued.

Letter T 1.jpg

How good is your French? Can you spot all 28 words that start with “T”? Original art work by Jean de Brunhoff for ABC de Babar (MS Typ 1186, Houghton Library, Harvard University).

Now through August 31, eighteen of the items donated by the couple will be on display in the Amy Lowell Room. “This selection of sketches and proofs from the preparatory stages demonstrates the sequence of creating a children’s book,” said Mayo. An original drawing by Laurent de Brunhoff and commissioned by the Houghton is also on display, with Babar walking up the library steps with his abcedaire in hand.


Babar Brings his ABC to Houghton Library crop.jpg

Babar Brings His ABC to Houghton Library. Original watercolor and gouache drawing by Laurent de Brunhoff (TypDr 2070.B240.16b, Houghton Library, Harvard University)


The ABC de Babar used characters and settings from de Brunhoff’s earlier books to illustrate each letter of the alphabet. For example, a page for the letter “T” (pictured at top) shows Babar and his family sitting on a terrasse, drinking tea, and enjoying a view of the Tour Eiffel and tulips. On this page alone are 28 words in French that begin with the letter “T,” a tour de force that further demonstrates why Babar has remained a global icon for eight decades.

                                                                                                                                                           Babar Comes to the Houghton runs from June 9 through August 31 in the Amy Lowell Room at Harvard University’s Houghton Library.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Elizabeth DeBold, Curatorial Assistant at The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

DeBold_photo.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?


My official title is Curatorial Assistant. We currently have two curators--a Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints and a Curator of Manuscripts.


Curatorial responsibilities range across all aspects of the Folger’s Central Library, so I work both directly with them on their many projects as well as liaising on their behalf with other Central Library departments. In the past year I’ve helped in developing exhibition materials, presentations, and digital humanities initiatives, as well as supporting their duties providing general collections care, selecting new items to acquire, and working with library patrons and the public locally, nationally, and internationally. Luckily, I’ve always enjoyed jobs where I get to wear many different “hats” and work on multiple projects at once. During a typical week, I may be proof-reading exhibition labels, planning staff trainings on collection disaster preparedness, working on the logistics for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, coordinating a digitization project, answering reference questions, pulling and preparing collection items for a curator-led tour, reviewing upcoming auctions, and/or consulting with our conservators about treatment possibilities. I never know what will come up when I walk in the door on a Monday!


How did you get started in rare books?


I built my own major in Medieval Studies as an undergraduate at Skidmore College, and it was through this interdisciplinary course and the support of the several wonderful medievalists who supervised me that I was first able to work with rare books and manuscripts.


If I had to pick a moment when I realized I wanted to work with special collections as a career, it would be when my main advisor sent me in her stead to the Bodleian Library to transcribe a manuscript on the life of a German female mystic that she needed for her own research. I was studying abroad in the UK at the time, but hadn’t had the opportunity to call up any rare materials for my courses at that point. I have a vivid memory of sitting in Duke Humfrey’s library, absolutely floored by where I was, what I was holding, and the possibilities extending from that manuscript. I have experienced other moments like this since then, working with materials from letters written during the Civil War to obscure 20th-century religious pamphlets to the first printed books, which re-affirm this path to me, but everything first crystallized for me there.


I went on to library school and had later, formal training in special collections librarianship, but without my undergraduate advisor’s enthusiasm, trust, and guidance (not only in that instance but in many others), I may not have had the experiences that put me where I am today.    


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree? 


In addition to my B.A. in Medieval Studies from Skidmore College, I have a Master’s in Library Science with a concentration in Archives and Records Management and a Certificate in Non-Profit Leadership from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


As others have said, it’s so hard to pick just one! We have so many incredible collections and items at the Folger, and I feel extremely spoiled and gleeful every day.


If I absolutely had to choose, one of my favorite items in our collection is a small bound volume containing 25 small watercolor drawings on mica, depicting costumes and hairstyles worn by the 19th-century actress Fanny Kemble while performing mostly Shakespearean roles. The faces of the paintings are left blank, and the owner would have been able to place the transparent mica sheets over a portrait of Fanny to see how the costumes looked on her. It’s incredibly unique and detailed, and I think says a lot as an object about the cult of celebrity, as well as the continuing rise of women in the theater. It also gives us another glimpse of what costuming looked like at the time.


Besides the beauty of the paintings, I love this item so much because I think it’s such a strong representation of other types of collection items that we have here in addition to our printed books and manuscript collections. A lot of people don’t realize that in addition to the latter, we have some fascinating objects, costumes, figurines, and other sorts of items that illustrate the growth of Shakespeare-worship over time, and the ways that people interacted with and consumed the content of his plays.   


What do you personally collect?


I have unintentionally become a collector of assorted pinback buttons--they always seemed like a good souvenir to me, so I have different ones from places I’ve traveled, or that have been given to me by family members, or that I’ve even found on the ground. My favorite is from an organ festival I attended a few years ago (the instrument, not body parts!) I also love the late children’s illustrator Trina Schart Hyman, and have bought a number of her books over the years. If I had the funds, I would definitely collect her artwork more actively.  


What do you like to do outside of work?


I’m really lucky in that D.C. is such a great place for music--I currently sing with a local chorus, and when I’m able, take advantage of the excellent performances at Strathmore and the Kennedy Center. I’m also taking some time outside of work to improve my language skills. I’m focusing on Latin at the moment, but planning to brush up on my reading knowledge of German and French as well. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say I like to just hang out on my couch with my cats sometimes!  


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


One of my favorite things about my job is being able to spend time in the stacks and handle items from such a wide variety of periods and people, that are important and valuable for so many different reasons and in so many different ways.  I also really enjoy being able to dip into others’ research through answering reference queries--it doesn’t matter what I’m working on, I’m always learning something new and interesting, every day. What more could anyone want from a job?

From a professional standpoint, I’m excited about where the field is going as much as what it is. I’m excited about what new and different materials are finally getting the recognition they deserve as “special” and worthy of attention, preservation, and care as much as the works of someone like William Shakespeare, as well as focusing on how best to collect and document different movements and populations that have heretofore been ignored by the archival record. I’m excited about working with my fellow early career librarians, who are so enthusiastic about the new and different ways in which we can provide better, deeper access to materials, and who are finding their way to careers in special collections librarianship from more diverse backgrounds. Some people (most of them non-librarians) talk about the “death” of the physical book, and besides this being completely untrue in general, it feels especially untrue for special collections--technological advancements are only making our collections and activities richer and improving our understanding of these items, their history, and what we’re able to say about them and how we’re able to connect with them. That’s incredibly exciting.  


Finally, of course, I love the sheer thrill of working with items of historical and cultural significance. It’s just cool to look over and see a script of Henry V signed by Laurence Olivier, or know that the book you’re holding came off of William Jaggard’s press in 1623.     

Thoughts on the future of special collections?


I hope that we continue pushing, as a profession. Pushing our collections into the public eye, encouraging access, and promoting new ways of thinking about and engaging with our materials. Since I got my start with rare books through academics who were passionate about using rare materials and spoke so highly of libraries and special collections, connecting younger users with rare items is deeply meaningful to me. Teaching primary source literacy is so important in building a foundation not just for scholarship, but for living in the world and knowing how to think and interrogate information that comes our way. Special collections librarians have as much of a duty as any librarian does to promote our collections and teach patrons different ways to engage with the materials.


As mentioned above, I also think that we’re operating in a time where what is “special” and what deserves to be collected and preserved has undergone a radical redefinition. I hope we continue to talk about how we can increase the diversity of our holdings, our patrons, and the field of special collections librarians in the profession. We need to create opportunity and space for groups that have been traditionally been excluded from the archives and special collections libraries on a variety of levels, including patrons outside of the academy, people of color, and marginalized communities.  


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


One part of our collections that I always love having the chance to interact with is what we call our “case files.” Henry and Emily Folger had the hearts and souls of librarians, and kept really well-documented records of most items they collected. Henry kept much of his correspondence with dealers and auction houses, as well as his annotated catalogs and even shipping ephemera, while Emily did an enormous amount of cataloging and bibliographic work that resulted in a personalized card catalog. It’s enormously helpful in shedding light on the provenance of items that they collected, as well as providing a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives and thoughts of wealthy collectors who were deeply invested in the book trade at the turn of the 20th century. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Henry Folger’s personality a bit more through his letters and telegrams, and been grateful for knowing more about where a collection item came from and why it was originally included. If anyone comes to work at the Folger and sees a number beginning with “cs” in an item’s catalog record, this means that we may have a case file available. Unfortunately it doesn’t guarantee that there are any notes or materials about the specific item, but there may be something.  

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


We have so many exciting things to look forward to this year, especially since it’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Our current exhibition, America’s Shakespeare, is up until July 24th. This exhibition provides a detailed look at the many ways Shakespeare has influenced and been used in American life, from the Revolutionary War to the present day, and includes a wide range of items from our collections such as costumes, video clips, and finger puppets. In the beginning of August we’ll open Will & Jane, an exhibit focusing on Shakespeare and Austen as famous authors who have become cultural idols. The exhibition will compare how we talk about such figures, merchandise them, and consume their content in their afterlives.


Finally, we have several ongoing tours and exhibitions. One is called First Folio!: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare. Since January, we’ve been sending out some of our copies of the First Folio to universities, historical societies, and museums in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico to go on display to the public. Chances are there’s one near you! The response so far has been incredible, and we’ve been really grateful for all the programming the host sites have done around the Folio.


The other is a permanent, digital exhibition called Shakespeare Documented. This is the largest and most authoritative collection of primary source materials documenting Shakespeare’s life, and was formed in partnership with almost thirty institutional partners across the world. It provides detailed images, transcriptions, and information from noted scholars, and provides incredible levels of access for the world to these documents, many of which are digitized for the first time.


We have so much going on that’s accessible even if someone can’t make it to D.C., so I hope your readers will all take the opportunity to visit the Folger website and explore what we have!  

Online TOC-COLOR.jpgEarlier this year, the Kislak Center for Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania hosted an exhibit and a symposium related to fine and private press books. The exhibit, Across the Spectrum: Color in American Fine & Private Press Books, 1890-2015, and the symposium, The Art of the Book: Fine Printing in North America in the 21st Century, were prompted by the university’s acquisition of the Jean-François Vilain and Roger S. Wieck Collection of Private Presses, Ephemera, & Related References.

An accompanying catalogue, designed by Jerry Kelly and including essays by curator Lynne Farrington, book artist Russell Maret, and collector Jean-François Vilain, was published and is now available. Considering the context here, it’s no wonder that the catalogue was beautifully produced--full-color illustrations on fine paper wrapped in a letterpress-printed textured paper cover. But the essays are wonderful too. Vilain discusses the three types of illumination in Arts & Crafts-style books and looks at how they compare to medieval examples. He also surveys the private press movement in America at the turn of the twentieth century, highlighting the Roycroft Printing Shop and many others that made gorgeous books full of color. Maret’s essay touches upon the distinction between fine press and artists’ books and examines the use of color (hand-applied or printed) in contemporary works. His conviction that books made by artists can transcend the notion of a book as merely a “textual delivery device” certainly resonates.
                                                                                                                                                               The illustrated exhibition checklist begins with English influences (Kelmscott Press, Doves Press) but moves quickly into American publishers, including Mosher Press, Grabhorn Press, Bird & Bull Press, Arion Press, and even some commercial publishers like E.P. Dutton and Putnam’s that reached for higher standards of production.
                                                                                                                                                           William Morris would have agreed: this catalogue is useful and beautiful, and thus, a keeper.

Image via Penn Libraries. 

A Dutch team of scientists and academics are employing a new X-Ray technology to decipher fragments of medieval manuscripts that were used in later bookbindings. The technology, called macro X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (MA-XRF), allows these fragments to be read without removing the binding. A potential treasure trove of medieval fragments awaits researchers as the technology is deployed.

After the invention of the printing press and the rapid spread of print culture across Europe, early bookbinders frequently “recycled” medieval manuscripts to help strengthen new bookbindings. About one in five early modern bookbindings are estimated to contain fragments of medieval manuscripts. The ability to read these fragments - without destroying a binding in the process - is revolutionary.  Sections from a variety of previously considered “lost” manuscripts may be found in the bindings of later books.

The Dutch team originally invented the X-ray technology to use on paintings, and made the news in 2011 when they discovered a Rembrandt self-portrait beneath another work. 

Professor Joris Dik explained the technology in its application on early modern books, “A thin beam of X-rays is used to scan the object, charting the presence and abundance of various elements below the surface. That is how iron, copper and zinc, the main element constituents of medieval inks, could be viewed, even when covered by a layer of paper or parchment.”

The only problem, at the moment, is the speed of the technology, which takes about 24 hours to scan a binding. Faster techniques, however, are being explored.

Ali Passport.jpgMuhammad Ali, who died on Friday, has, coincidentally, been on my mind for the past few weeks. In preparing an article on collectible passports for our upcoming summer issue, we zeroed in on one very significant passport coming up for sale this week: a replacement passport issued to the three-time heavyweight champion in Dublin, Ireland, on July 19, 1972, the day he defeated Alvin Lewis. Ali used this passport for the next eighteen months, a busy and important period of his professional boxing career.

Interest in this piece of sports history was always going to be strong, and now, it would seem, it will be intense. The passport goes to auction at Bonhams New York on Wednesday, conservatively estimated at $25,000-35,000.     

Look out for the auction’s results and more on collectible passports in our summer quarterly.

Image Courtesy of Bonhams.

The Carnavalet museum, the archaeological crypt located under the parvis of Nôtre-Dame, and the Petit Palais are just three of the 14 institutions that comprise the municipal museums of Paris. Together, the consortium (also known as Paris Musées) welcomed over 3 million visitors in 2015. In that same period, 9.3 million people visited the Louvre. In a bid to generate greater interest and public awareness in the city’s museums, Paris Musées recently launched a website where nearly 200,000 images from the various instutions are accessible online. As part of the kick-off, Paris Musées curators teamed up with ten well-known Instagramers--artists, photographers, fashion bloggers, and comedians--to reinterpret ten different works of art found in the municipal collections.

Instagram artists like @audrey.pirault and @rafaelmantesso selected paintings and photographs and gave them a funky, chic overhaul in tune with the social media generation. For example, an oil painting of the illustrious Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) by Georges Clairin (1843-1919) shows the comédienne draped luxuriously over a satiny divan. Instagrammer @miss_etc remade the portrait into a sumptuous selfie, showing the artist lounging on a beige sofa in pricey sneakers and flowy gown, holding her iPhone just right to capture the moment.


Georges CLAIRIN (1843-1919). Portrait de Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923). 1876. Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais. ©Petit Palais.


The Instagram exhibition is targeting a specific audience: People who do not go to museums. By inviting social-media darlings (each with hundreds of thousands of followers) to reimagine classic works of art, Paris Musées is battling the perception that museums are stuffy, irrelevant, out-of-touch cabinets of curiosity, and are in fact culturally relevant and hip.


Portrait de Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) reinterpreted by @miss_etc. Reproduced with permission from Paris Musées.


The Instagram exhibition is being held at the Gare Saint-Lazare. While a train station seems an odd choice for an art installation, the goal is to promote the city’s museums to the greater, non-museum-going public, and thousands of commuters hustle through the massive station daily. Passers-by will also be invited to propose their own remakes and share them online using the #ParallèleParisMusées hashtag, the whole endeavor highlighting how technology can bridge the gap between art and audience.

Art, inaccessible? Not in Paris.

Check out the Paris Musées Instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/parismusees/

                                                                                                                                                               The Instagram art will be on view at the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris through July 31. More information is available here.

David_Mitchell_by_Kubik.JPGDavid Mitchell, author of “Cloud Atlas,” has joined Margaret Atwood in burying an unpublished work by a Norwegian forest for publication in 2114. (Not a typo.) Both authors are participants in Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s “Future Library” project. Each year from 2014 to 2114, a writer has been (or will be) selected by a panel to contribute a completed piece of writing to the project. The text, which can not be read by anyone beside the author until 2114, will be held for safekeeping by the Oslo public library. Meanwhile, 1,000 trees were planted in the nearby Normarka Forest. The project’s goal is to collect 100 original pieces of writing for publication in 2114 (after many of the early participants have passed away), which will be published on paper harvested from the 1,000 trees.

In 2015, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood became the first author to participate in the project, contributing a manuscript entitled “The Scribbler Moon.” This year’s author, David Mitchell, submitted a piece entitled “From Me Flows What You Call Time.” 

Mitchell said of the project, “Civilisation, according to one of those handy Chinese proverbs, is the basking in the shade of trees planted a hundred years ago, trees which the gardener knew would outlive him or her, but which he or she planted anyway for the pleasure of people not yet born. I accepted the Future Library’s invitation to participate because I would like to plant such a tree. The project is a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavour begun by long-dead people a century ago. Imagine if the Future Library had been conceived in 1914, and a hundred authors from all over the world had written a hundred volumes between 1915 and today, unseen until now - what a human highway through time to be a part of. Contributing and belonging to a narrative arc longer than your own lifespan is good for your soul.”

Modern fiction collectors, however, will now have to wait 98 years for their Atwood or Mitchell collections to truly be complete, a joy only to be realized by their descendants.

Katie Paterson’s other artistic projects include a map of 27,000 dead stars and a slideshow illustrating the history of darkness through the ages. She has asked contributors to the Future Library project to write about “the theme of imagination and time, which they can take in so many directions.”

[Image of David Mitchell from Wikipedia]

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 3.41.51 PM.pngAuthor/illustrator William Steig (1907-2003) is perhaps best known as the author of Shrek! (1990), which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film series. But he contained multitudes--the Brooklyn-born artist dubbed the “King of Cartoons” drew more than 100 covers and countless drawings for the New Yorker magazine over seven decades. In the late sixties, while still working for the magazine, he began writing children’s books. His third book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969) won the Caldecott Medal in 1970, and his Doctor De Soto (1982) split the 1983 National Book Award with Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius.

In 2013, the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections acquired a “treasure trove” of Steig’s work from his widow, Jeanne. As Lynne Farrington, the Kislak curator, said at the time, “[Steig] was far more than just a New Yorker artist, and far more than just a children’s author ... He was doing all kinds of things and he lived a very long life.” An exhibition, As the Ink Flows: Works from the Pen of William Steig, followed in 2014.

Now, another such archive of Steig’s prolific work will cross the auction blog. On June 14, Sotheby’s New York will offer a collection of 359 pen-and-ink, wash, and watercolor drawings on paper assembled by the artist’s son Jeremy Steig. It includes magazine cover art, unpublished work, and original illustrations for Caleb and Kate (1986) and The Zabajaba Jungle (1991). The auction estimate is $150,000-200,000.

Jeremy, a noted jazz musician, died this past April. His collection, a combination of gifts from his father as well as purchased pieces, has been in Japan where he lived and has never been exhibited publicly, according to Sotheby’s.

Image via Sotheby’s.

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