February 2017 Archives

1LaiFong.jpgThirty original photographs considered masterpieces from the late Qing Dynasty will be exhibited in New York at PRPH Books. The exhibition, presented by the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop, will run as part of Asia Week New York, March 7-20. 

The photographs, from the Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection, will be exhibited together for the first time. They open a window to the lost world of nineteenth-century China, before the country was irrevocably changed by the significant upheavals of the twentieth century. Photographs of China from the late Qing Dynasty are very rare and, as a result, largely unstudied.

The photographs in the exhibition will include both Western and Chinese photographers, such as Lai Fong, Felice Beato, John Thomson, Thomas Child, William Saunders, Pun Lun, and Tung Hing. All are drawn from Loewentheil’s collection of Qing Dynasty photographs, currently the largest in private hands.

2FBeato.jpgThe opening reception is on March 10, 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., with a gallery talk “China’s place in the history of photography,” on March 15, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. 

Images courtesy of Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection

Former antiquarian bookseller and book collector--we profiled his Lewis Carroll collection in our spring 2014 issue--Charlie Lovett launched his fiction writing career with his 2013 debut, The Bookman’s Tale, which became a New York Times bestseller. He followed up with the Austen-inspired First Impressions (2014), and more recently with The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (2016). Now Lovett has a new book to offer, The Lost Book of the Grail, to be published by Viking tomorrow, and it is his best work yet.   

9780399562518.jpgSet in Trollope’s fictional cathedral/university town of Barchester, this bibliomystery immediately enchants those with a weakness for old books and church bells. Arthur Prescott is a 40-year-old literature teacher with serious luddite tendencies and a borderline obsession with King Arthur and Holy Grail mythology. He is most suited to days spent in the rare book room of Barchester Cathedral Library, punctuated by drinks with fellow book collectors and cathedral services (morning prayers, Evensong, compline). His favorite volume is a 1634 William Stansby edition of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, though its “leather binding was badly worn at the joints and corners, and nearly two inches of the lower spine was lacking.”  

Enter Bethany Davis, a loquacious American fourteen years his junior, sent to Barchester to digitize pre-Reformation Christian manuscripts, courtesy of some Midwestern billionaire. Obviously these opposites attract, although suspicions abound. While university officials contemplate the sale of the manuscripts once the scanning is completed, Arthur sets off to uncover a secret he believes can save the books.  

Lovett layers his narrative with quick dips into Barchester’s history, as Arthur and his clever conspirators unravel a mystery spanning more than a millennium. These characters are lively and relatable, and the novel’s pace is spot-on. The Lost Book of the Grail is truly a page-turner for bibliophiles.

And though we’re told to ‘never judge a book by its cover,’ this one is pretty terrific, with its cut-paper, antique map, and manuscript detailing.

Image courtesy of Viking.

Readers may recall the 2012-2013 brouhaha over Jane Austen’s gold and turquoise ring. In short: a ring once owned by Jane Austen was offered at auction. American singer Kelly Clarkson won it for £152,450 ($236,557) but was disallowed from bringing it home to the states after the UK’s culture minister, Ed Vaizey, issued a temporary ban on its export. The Jane Austen House Museum then raised funds to match Clarkson’s bid, thereby safeguarding it for the nation. A happy ending (well, except for Clarkson).

On Monday night, FOX Business Network’s Strange Inheritance, a “primetime series which explores unusual stories of inheritance,” revisits this saga. Host Jamie Colby travels to Oxfordshire to meet Nicky Gottelier, the fifth generation descendant of Jane Austen who inherited the ring. If this sounds like your cup of tea, tune in. The show airs this Monday, the 27th at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
SI320_PRODSTILL_JAMIE MARY1 copy.jpgAbove: Jamie Colby at the Jane Austen’s House Museum looking at the ring. Courtesy of FOX.

                                                                                                                                              Several clips of recent Strange Inheritance episodes are online, featuring all manner of ancestral artifacts, from George Washington’s wallet to a one-of-a-kind penny. Of particular interest is an episode about a man whose father and aunt obsessively collected 80,000 Hollywood autographs, and one about a trove of historical documents owned by a murdered forebear from New York’s Gilded Age.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 1.42.57 PM.pngRare Book Week NYC commences less than two weeks from now, running roughly March 6-13, earlier this year than previously. Aside from slightly chillier weather (or not, it’s about 60 degrees in Manhattan today), Rare Book Week will still dazzle: three antiquarian book fairs, three book and manuscript auctions, more than a dozen “bookish” exhibitions, and everything else that the Big Apple has to offer. 

                                                                                                                                                   For the past few years, Fine Books has produced a Rare Book Week printed supplement in its spring issue and a website dedicated to previewing the book fairs, auctions, exhibitions, and related events. The spring issue will arrive in mailboxes shortly, and the website is now live.  

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Derek Walker, proprietor with his wife Anna, of McNaughtan’s Bookshop in Edinburgh, Scotland.


How did you both get started in rare books?

I’ve been a haunter of secondhand bookshops ever since I outgrew the children’s section at my local library, so when I went looking for a part-time job while working towards a degree in London it was a stroke of luck that Charlie Unsworth of Unsworth’s Booksellers was in need of interested amateurs to help staff his then-new concession in Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I started there doing basic cataloguing of academic secondhand books and discovered the joys of collation and binding description under Leo Cadogan, who was then Charlie’s antiquarian specialist and shop manager. I was studying Greek and Latin and interested in the history of scholarship, so handling the original editions which I had read about in secondary literature was a strong draw towards that side of the trade for me. The completion of my degree happened to coincide with Leo’s decision to set up Leo Cadogan Rare Books, so I stepped into his shoes for Charlie, later moving to Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford when internal developments at Foyles meant Charlie had to close his concession there.

At Blackwell’s I met my wife and business partner Anna. She worked in the new books side of the business, so she’s now learning about rare books as we run McNaughtan’s together. Pretty much my entire history of paid employment has involved cataloguing or archives, but Anna has many other skills, having studied film and worked in radio and journalism as well.

When did you purchase McNaughtan’s and what do you specialize in?

We took over McNaughtan’s in August of 2015. We had been considering a move away from Oxford, which is a beautiful city but we felt after 7 years that we’d experienced most of it - plus it is impossibly expensive to settle down in that part of the UK. We were planning to visit Edinburgh anyway when we heard that Elizabeth Strong was looking to sell McNaughtan’s, and luckily it all worked out.

We have inherited some of the specialties of the shop - secondhand art books, literature, and the obligatory Scottish history and local subjects - and brought with us the interests I developed at Unsworth’s and Blackwell’s - Greek and Latin classics, the history of scholarship, hand-press-era printing, bindings, private press books. The elegance of type and press-work that was achieved in 18th century printing is something that I particularly appreciate, and Scotland has strong representation in that category, particularly the output of the Foulis Press.

How do you divide your roles at McNaughtan’s?

I am the book-buyer, antiquarian specialist, and accountant, while Anna does most other things. That includes pricing secondhand books, processing photographs of stock, handling the shop’s social media accounts and mailing list, and of course overseeing the Gallery, which hosts a new exhibition of original artwork every couple of months. This is something that we inherited from Elizabeth Strong, a keen painter, and it gives us a venue for promoting local and up-and-coming talent, as well as new and interesting things to look at ourselves on a regular basis.

What do you love about the book trade?

First of all the books - holding something really fine is a physical thrill, and there is always more to find and learn about. Having an open shop ensures that things I wouldn’t have thought to look for regularly walk in through the door, and also gives us the opportunity to occasionally introduce someone new and unsuspecting to the joys of rare books.

There is also a special sense of stability and purpose to maintaining the tradition of the trade in rare books: we are lucky to be able to handle the same objects - not just the same type of thing, but often the actual individual artefacts - that had passed through the hands of scholars, collectors, readers, and other booksellers in generations past. As a hobby I used to practice juggling large numbers of objects, in which keeping a pattern going is a constant effort against gravity and entropy, and I sometimes thought this was a good metaphor for human culture and our purpose in the world. Preserving and circulating this knowledge and these artefacts are ways of maintaining patterns of human ideas and achievement, as much as we can, against the inevitable forces of neglect and oblivion.

slack_for_ios_upload_1024.jpgDescribe a typical day for you:

A typical day involves getting to the shop in time to do a little bit of prep (sweeping steps, emptying receptacles) before opening the doors to the public at 11am. There are always emails to be written, often auction or dealers’ catalogues to browse, and then books to research, describe, price, and photograph. We hope for there to be orders to pack and send, and put up with administrative paperwork and accounts. We also keep a stream of secondhand books flowing out onto the shelves, which requires regular efforts in pricing and reshelving, and all of this is punctuated by questions from customers (some interesting, some inevitably silly) and, we hope, sales.

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

Not long after we took over McNaughtan’s we acquired a copy of Barnes’s 1711 edition of Homer - this edition was a masterpiece of its type, compiling the learning of virtually all previous commentators and editors, and printed in ruinously elegant style at the editor’s own expense - in an attractive red leather binding. On closer inspection it turned out to have been the copy of John Urry, an Oxford scholar best known for an edition of Chaucer which represents either the nadir or the zenith of Chaucerian study in the early modern period. Furthermore, it had been given to Urry by Edward Harley, who with his father built one of the finest collections of manuscripts ever seen, including manuscripts of Chaucer that Urry consulted. And then the book was curiously extra-illustrated with several plates which turned out to have come from the first edition of Pope’s translation of Homer - except that they were bound into these volumes some time before Pope’s edition was published. The solution to how that came to be may lie in the fact that Urry was at the time working with the publisher of Pope’s Homer towards printing his edition of Chaucer.

A heady mix of fine 18th-century printing and binding (including elegant Greek typography) and notable provenance, touching on scholarship both at its most learned and most naively mistaken as well as high-end book collecting, with a bibliographical mystery thrown in - one would have a hard time imagining a book more relevant to my interests.

What do you personally collect?

My desire for rare books is largely sated by being able to handle them every day at work. At home, I personally collect a number of authors and subjects that I enjoy reading and reading about - focusing not on ‘collectable’ editions but rather on ‘completeness’. These include Anthony Hecht, Philip Larkin, John Lanchester, Umberto Eco, and A.E. Housman, plus books about books, classical reception, and other topics.

Anna is a film buff and looks out for books on the history of cinema and visual culture.

11703083_10152891551120706_9117854333834492894_n.jpgWhat do you like to do outside of work?

I like to read, keep up with new technology, and explore sweet delicacies (Edinburgh is seeing something of a doughnut renaissance at the present moment). Anna enjoys the rapidly developing vegan food scene in Scotland. But we just had our first baby, so he will be occupying most of our spare time for the foreseeable future.

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

I don’t think the trade is going away. It’s had boom times and lean times, and governmental failure to appreciate the value of libraries, plus the concentration of wealth in the hands of people who think all solutions are technological, will continue to affect it in the short term. But fundamentally, books will never stop having been the major way in which human beings communicated stories, ideas, and discoveries for centuries. Nothing that can happen in the next hundred years (apart from a total collapse of civilisation) will significantly affect the importance, interest, and saleability of objects that are already three hundred years old. And, as we’ve already seen to some extent, the more that people spend parts of their life in digital interactions, the more they value having a real experience - handling a nice book, eating a quality meal, visiting a beautiful place - as a special treat.

Bookstore-smaller.jpgAny upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We plan to begin issuing printed catalogues, once we have been able to build up an appropriate group of books; in the meantime we issue a short list of 25 or 30 items as a PDF every month or two. The next one should appear in March.

Also in March will be the Edinburgh Book Fair, at which we will be exhibiting. This is one of the few events jointly run by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association, so it features a range of dealers and stock that is broader than most fairs. In addition, this year the fair is the centrepiece of a new festival which I have organised dedicated to rare books and book history, called Rare Books Edinburgh. There will be talks, workshops, exhibitions, and other events from most of the city’s major bookish institutions, including the National Library, several departments of the University of Edinburgh and its library, and the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society.

Then at the very beginning of June we will be exhibiting at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair, at Olympia, a fair which needs no introduction.

Images courtesy of Derek and Anna Walker.

The official first day of spring is less than a month away, and many gardeners have spent the cold, dark days of winter leafing through seed catalogs, plotting their outdoor spaces when the earth thaws. And seed catalogs remain blue-ribbon earners; the National Gardening Market Research Company found that American gardeners spent $3.6 billion dollars growing fruits and vegetables in their backyards, patios, and rooftops.


Burpees.jpegFor those interested in the history of seed selling, the seed catalog collection maintained by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries includes more than 10,000 historical seed and nursery catalogs, many donated by Mrs. David Burpee in 1982--such as the one pictured here at left, Burpee’s Farm Annual (1887). A quick glance through the holdings highlights the cornucopia of catalogs for all sorts of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and how ripe the American public has been for this sort of advertising for nearly two centuries. Seed selling germinated in America in the early 1700s when gardeners with particularly robust crops would advertise their offerings in newspaper advertisements and through word of mouth. Catalogs wholly devoted to selling seeds bloomed by the mid 1800s, when succulent, hyperpigmented images (often chromolithographic prints) of watermelons, tomatoes, and other lavishly illustrated produce enticed snow-bound urbanites to send in their requests and hope for an early spring. The Biodiversity Heritage Library also maintains a web-friendly catalog of heritage seed catalogs, and much of the Smithsonian Seed Collection is also accessible online


Allen Seed.JPG

Roses in bloom. Credit: USDA

                                                                                                                                                                Instagram has proved fertile territory for vintage seed catalogs--Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds tantalizes visitors with photographs of magenta-hued sweet potatoes, wax apples,
even black beauty tomatoes, while cover art for Territorial Seed Company’s catalog remains a bright celebration of the bounty beneath our feet. 

Marcel Proust died in 1922 at age 51. While there are many surviving photographs of the author, his voice was never recorded, and he was never captured on film. Or at least that’s what scholars have long thought. But that may just have changed.

A Canadian professor, Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, of Laval University, announced last week that he believes a film of wedding guests in 1904 may contain a brief clip of the elusive author. The film was recently found in the archives of the Centre National du Cinéma in Paris. It documents a wedding celebrated in 1904 between Elaine, the daughter of the Count and Countess Greffulhe, and the Duke Armand Guiche, a wedding which Proust is known to have attended.

The young man thought to be Proust descends the stairs at 0:37 in the above clip, wearing a frock coat and a Derby hat. Proust would have been 34 years old at the time.

Amongst a collection of antique rifles, carved pipes, and Civil War imprints for sale tomorrow at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati is this beautiful late eighteenth-century English rebus Bible. Titled The Hieroglyphick Bible, III Edition by its anonymous creator, the 8 x 12.75” copybook contains selected verses from the King James Bible, illustrated in rebus form, with small watercolors throughout. The auction house believes the illustrator to have been an English seaman--albeit one acquainted with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

Better rebus.jpgThe book comes from the collection of E. Norman Flayderman, a collector and antique arms dealer who founded the militaria outfit, N. Flayderman & Co. According to Cowan’s, “Flayderman apparently acquired this while researching his book, Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders: Whales and Whalemen (New Milford, CT, 1972).” Files found with the rebus Bible indicate that it originally hailed from a New Bedford, Massachusetts, family.
Rebus 2 copy.jpgThis illustrated Bible is, as Cowan’s intimates in its catalogue, sea journal meets Nuremberg Chronicle. It is estimated to reach $15,000-25,000 at auction.

Images via Cowan’s Auctions

Bonhams will hold its Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in London on Wednesday March 1st, and as usual, the accompanying full-color catalog brims with well-appointed material sure to pique the interest of a range of collectors. The theme for the March auction appears to be exploration and scholarly inquiry, with particular emphasis on science, technology, and literature through the ages.

Political documents pepper the catalog as well, such as a 1797 Letters Patent signed by President John Adams confirming the appointment of Thomas Bulkeley as the United States Consul for the port of Lisbon. Included in the lot is a letter rebuking any conflict of interest; Bulkeley sought no monetary favors in the deal because, “he possesses a very large independent fortune.” Estimated bids at $2492.20.

Arguably the highlight of the catalog is the collection of a deceased, unnamed French bibliophile comprising of fantasy and scientific literature from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. The collector assembled his material over the past thirty years, focusing initially on the recent history of aviation and then moving into the annals of the past. Bonhams has arranged this section of the catalog into two sections: one dedicated to the philosophers and scientists whose heavenly observations informed their work, and the second explores the challenges of human flight.

Among the high spots in the deceased French bibliophile’s trove include a first edition, two-volume set of Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World...by Lemuel Gulliver, commonly referred to as Gulliver’s Travels, estimated at twenty-five thousand dollars. A 1634 first edition of Johannes Kepler’s A Dream: or, a Posthumous Work of Lunar Astronomy is also estimated at twenty-five thousand dollars.

Whether flights of fancy or grounded in scientific principles, the material in the forthcoming Bonhams sale has a common goal of making sense of the world beneath our feet and the universe above. The catalog is also available online for further browsing. 

The University of Delaware’s Special Collections Library has received the largest and most valuable donation in its history. The Mark Samuels Lasner collection of British literature and art, worth an estimated $10 million, was officially donated to the library last week.

                                                                                                                                                              Library-Mark_Samuels_Lasner-Portraits-Room-122216-035 copy.jpgSamuels Lasner, legally blind and sometimes labeled the “foremost blind book collector in the world,” began collecting at a young age. His collection, built over 40 years, focuses on British literature and art between 1850 and 1900, with a particular emphasis on the Pre-Raphaelites and writers and illustrators from the 1890s. In total, the collection includes over 9,500 books, letters, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, and art. Lasner has long been attracted to association copies. Notable signatures on items in the collection include those of Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Charles Darwin, Max Beerbohm, William Morris, Henry James, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Aubrey Beardsley. Nearly 1,000 items alone relate to Max Beerbohm.

                                                                                                                                                                             “This is a monumental gift that will be transformational for the University of Delaware,” said UD Provost Domenico Grasso. “There’s no collection quite like it in the world, and the benefit to scholars across disciplines and backgrounds is remarkable. Mr. Samuels Lasner’s generosity will impact UD students and faculty for generations.”

                                                                                                                                                                   Related events include a symposium titled “Celebrating the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection: Rare Books and Manuscripts, Victorian Literature and Art,” to be held March 17-18, featuring keynote speaker Elaine Showalter, and an exhibition, Victorian Passions: Stories from the Mark Samuels Lasner collection, currently on view through June 3.

                                                                                                                                                                     Samuels Lasner is a senior research fellow at the University of Delaware Library in addition to serving on the council of the Grolier Club. He has also written bibliographies on Aubrey Beardsley and William Allingham, amongst a host of other accomplishments.

                                                                                                                                                                      Image Courtesy of the University of Delaware

It might be hard to square Rambo with rare books, but then again, people can surprise you. It turns out that actor and director Sylvester Stallone, best known for his beefy roles in Rocky and Rambo, amassed a private library of roughly 1,000 volumes, which will be offered in 40+ lots at Heritage Auctions in New York on March 8.

James Gannon, Heritage Auction’s director of rare books, told HA’s house magazine, The Intelligent Collector: “The collection includes attractive and desirable library sets by the greatest authors of the 18th and 19th centuries ... Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, The Bronte Sisters, Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emile Zola, and Charles Dickens are all represented.”

Stallone.jpegWalt Whitman, too. Stallone owns the Paumanok edition of The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman (1902), limited to 300 sets and bound in blazing red morocco (pictured above). The $4,000 estimate reflects the fact that an extraordinary 1890 handwritten postcard from Whitman accompanies this set.

Other highlights include a 10-volume leather-bound set of Sir Walter Scott’s The Waverley Novels (c. 1910), which includes a one-page autographed letter, signed by Scott (estimate: $2,000), and a 22-volume example of the Complete Writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1900), signed by Hawthorne on a tipped-in Liverpool customs certificate dated 1854 (estimate: $1,500).

Image: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

In the early morning hours of January 30, a gang of thieves, in a carefully coordinated scheme, broke into a warehouse near London’s Heathrow airport and made off with over £2 million in rare books. The books, belonging to three different rare book dealers, were being shipped to the United States for the 50th Annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair this past weekend.

                                                                                                                                                                In total, the thieves stole over 160 books, mostly incunabula and early printed works from the 15th through the 16th centuries, including a 1566 copy of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium worth an estimated £215,000.

                                                                                                                                                                           After scaling the warehouse, the thieves bored holes through reinforced skylights, then descended into the warehouse via ropes, without disturbing any of the building’s motion sensors. Once inside, the thieves pried open six specific containers, ignoring a variety of other valuable merchandise in an effort to find the rare books. They seem to have compared the books against a master list, as they left quite a few books behind. In total, the theives may have spent several hours inside the warehouse.

                                                                                                                                                                    The thieves were likely stealing “to order,” based on a list generated by a collector. The books, all known titles, would be impossible to sell on to a reputable dealer or auction house, so are almost certainly headed to a private collection somewhere.

                                                                                                                                                                  Brian Lake, of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (UK), said to The Daily Mail, “Quite honestly I have never heard of a heist like this involving books - it is extraordinary.”



Statement from the ABA:
                                                                                                                                                        A break-in took place at warehouse in Feltham on the night of January 29th. We understand that it was a well-planned operation and the thieves abseiled through the roof to avoid alarms. Antiquarian books in transit to a book fair in California were stolen. Some of the books were over 500 years old, and the total value may run into hundreds of thousands. Investigations are ongoing and the ABA is doing everything it can to establish the full extent of the thefts and assist police in the recovery of the missing books. We have an excellent national, and international, communications network in place, which has helped recover many lost and stolen items in the past, and we are confident that we will be able to help on this occasion too.

Full details of the stolen books can be found at stolen-book.org.
If you are offered any of the titles on the list, please contact David.A.Ward@met.pnn.police.uk of London’s Metropolitan Police.

Guest post by Jonathan Shipley

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 1.38.47 PM.pngA first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The first photograph ever taken of the American West. The book, The Culture of the Nude in China. A manuscript letter written by John Wilkes Booth. Charles Darwin’s Insectivorous Plants. A piece of sheet music written by one Ludwig von Beethoven. Oskar Schindler’s business card. Black Panther magazines. These are just some of the thousands of treasures that were available last weekend at the 50th California International Antiquarian Book Fair.

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 1.37.54 PM.pngFeaturing over 200 booksellers, book arts booths, lectures, and an auction put together by PBA, the fair was a banquet for book lovers. Exhibitors spanned the globe, from Denmark to Delaware, as did the subject matter, from John Steinbeck first editions to ancient tomes about vertebrate zoology. With Trump’s ascendency, there was an undercurrent among the offerings of nationalism, patriotism, World War II, women’s rights, and race relations.

All in all, another banner year at the book fair.

--Jonathan Shipley is a freelance writer based in Washington state. He sent us a postcard from the 2015 CA book fair too. Follow him @shipleywriter.

                                                                                                                                                            Images, credit: Jonathan Shipley.

The 50th California International Antiquarian Book Fair (CIABF) kicks off today, and in addition to the nearly two hundred booksellers bringing beautiful books and manuscripts, nineteen local book artists and organizations, from calligraphers to letterpress printers, will be sharing their love of all things biblio as well.                                                                                                                                            

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the highlights visitors won’t want to miss:

The all-volunteer San-Jose Printer’s Guild of letterpress printers will have a vintage table-top printing press at the fair where attendees are invited to print their own letterpress coasters. A Valentine’s Day design graces the front, while information about the Guild’s May 6 Printers’ Fair is on the reverse. The Guild will also be displaying examples of letterpress printing created by members, including flyers, booklets, posters, and other ephemera, as well as a few collectible catalogs from type foundries of decades past.



credit: Matt Kelsey

More info about the Guild can be found at www.sjprintersguild.com.



credit: Matt Kelsey

The Friends of Calligraphy, based in San Francisco, will be on hand to demonstrate calligraphic techniques while exploring the history and applications of the art of hand lettering, gestural art, and design. Four calligraphers will be on site during the fair, showcasing calligraphy in a variety of styles and providing an opportunity to watch calligraphy being crafted by expert hands. http://www.friendsofcalligraphy.org/



credit: White Rain Productions

Representatives from the non-profit Ephemera Society of North America (based in Cazenovia, New York) are operating an information booth promoting society membership as well as their annual conference in March in Connecticut. Members will discuss various examples of ephemera and the importance of collecting and studying items never intended for posterity. Two displays, “Early Trade Cards and Ephemera,” and “Easter Egg Dyeing Ephemera,” include material from the collection of Society president Bruce Shyer, who will be at the booth to answer questions. More information at: http://www.ephemerasociety.org/wp.html



credit: Ephemera Society


San Francisco’s American Bookbinders Museum will showcase the history and craft of bookbinding by displaying and explaining the various tools and traditions of bookbinding. http://bookbindersmuseum.org/

209681_0.jpgAll this week on the blog we’ve been highlighting Rare Book Week West.

Today’s post is about a special benefit auction to be hosted by PBA Galleries.

On Sunday, February 12, at 8:00 a.m. at the Oakland Marriott City Center Hotel, PBA Galleries will host a two-part auction. The first part, consisting of lots 1-127, will be a general rare books and manuscripts auction, while the second part, lots 128-221 will feature books donated for auction by antiquarian booksellers. Money raised from the donated books will be used to benefit the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Benevolent Fund and the Elisabeth Woodburn Fund, which provides financial support for scholarly research and education relevant to the antiquarian book trade. 

Some unusual highlights from the benefit side of the auction include a lot of fruit, vegetable, and fish can labels from the 1920s-1940s (estimate $500-800), 55 Japanese woodblock prints from the 1920s, (estimate $300-500), eight photo albums of a railroad trip through the United States in 1936 (estimate $400-600), and a collection of 132 pieces of illustrated vintage sheet music (estimate $700-1,000). The big ticket item in the benefit auction is a first printing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (pictured above), estimated at $6,000-9,000.

Online bidding is also available for buyers not attending in person.

[Image from PBA Galleries]



We’re highlighting Rare Book Week West offerings this week, and today my morbid curiosity gets the better of me. Check out this awesome objet du livre, for sale at the 50th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, which opens on Friday at the Oakland Marriott: a limited edition, red morocco-bound copy of Jack the Ripper: A Bloody Alphabet, housed in a papier-mâché human heart-shaped box, and including a handmade wooden anatomical specimen stand for display. The book--and its custom cardiac enclosure--was crafted in 2014 by Sean E. Richards, director of Byzantium Studios, Ltd. in Norman, Oklahoma, with illustrations by Kristi Wyatt.  

John Howell_ Jack the Ripper_2.jpegJohn Howell_ Jack the Ripper.jpegAccording to the bookseller, John Howell for Books, “This artist’s book reflects Sean Richards’ life-long fascination with Jack the Ripper and his years of research on the Victorian crime spree attributed to this shadowy character. It also displays Richards’ virtuosity as a visionary artist and creative bookbinder, who manifests his ideas in leather and papier-mâché.”

In other words, it’s just incredibly cool. The price is $5,500.

Images courtesy of the CA International Antiquarian Book Fair.

DSC_5464-768x513.jpgAll this week on the blog we’ll be highlighting Rare Book Week West--either items on offer at the book fairs and special auction or items on exhibit at numerous San Francisco Bay-area venues.

Today’s post is about the special exhibit on display right now at the Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley. “The Gift to Sing” features highlights from the African American collection of Leon Litwack, professor emeritus of history at the University, and winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Litwack, who had a celebrated career as a professor of African American culture, has assembled one of the best African American collections in private hands.

Litwack got an early start on his collection. As a teenager, he haunted a used bookstore called the Book Den in his hometown of Santa Barbara, where he picked up some early Langston Hughes copies for $1 each that are included in the exhibit. Other highlights on display include are Harlem Renaissance first editions in striking dust jackets, Bobby Seale’s copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (purchased by Litwack for the scandalously low price of $5), a copy of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass inscribed by William Lloyd Garrison, and Ida B. Wells’ pamphlet on lynching The Red Record.

The exhibit also complements Litwack’s collection with selected pieces from Bancroft’s African American collection, including the first book published by an African American, Phyllis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773).

“The Gift to Sing: Highlights of the Leon F. Litwack and Bancroft Library African American Collections” is on display in the Bancroft Library Gallery through February 17, 2017, from 10 am to 4 pm.

[Photo by Alejandro Serrano for Bancroft Library].

All this week on the blog we’ll be highlighting Rare Book Week West--either items on offer at the book fairs and special auction or items on exhibit at numerous San Francisco Bay-area venues. Today’s post combines two of these: the Codex Book Fair & Symposium and the Book Club of California, both of which put the spotlight Chinese book art and design this year.

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 11.42.08 AM.pngPictured above is a handmade book by Codex exhibitor, Ning Li of XM Books.

At Codex, which opened earlier today, eleven artists from China are exhibiting their work. At the symposium tomorrow and Tuesday, both keynote speakers, Lu Jingren and Marshall Weber, will address related topics. Jingren, one of China’s most influential book designers, will discuss traditional Chinese book art and the effect of Western influences. Weber, artist and curator at Booklyn, will give a talk titled “Reflections on Diamond Leaves: artists’ books in China now.”

Concurrently, the Book Club of California hosts the exhibition, Lu Jingren: Master of Chinese Book Design, showcasing “some of Professor Lu’s finest and most inventive works, which provide a modern response to the centuries-long traditions of both Chinese and Japanese book making.” The exhibit remains on view through March 13.

#ColorOurCollections Week

Sharpen your pencils, and not your trusty #2 Ticonderoga or Mirado Black Warrior--this is a job for Prismacolor and Faber-Castell. From February 6-11, libraries and cultural institutions worldwide will participate in the second “Color Our Collections” Week. The inaugural event grew out of a Twitter exchange between the New York Academy of Medicine and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. As it turns out, prints of woodcuts and engravings are just waiting to be colored in. Last year, thirty institutions participated in the celebration. Some shared a few choice images each day, while others like the Smithsonian and the Bodleian Library uploaded entire coloring books in PDF format to their websites. (Click on the links above to see.)


The Color Our Collections celebration is a curious convergence of old and new modes of communication offering a new way of interacting with materials rarely seen by the public. Connecting to potential patrons via Twitter, libraries and museums also affirm their relevance while engaging with a potentially global audience.


A teaser image from the Wangensteen Historical Library’s coloring book: An illustration from a 1634 book by Ambroise Paré. (credit: University of Minnesota Libraries)                                

Though it may be tempting to write off the adult coloring fad as another sign of the infantilization of an aging generation, art therapy actually helps with concentration (stay within the lines!), relaxation, and yes, creative expression. There’s something about holding a pencil and staring at a sheet of paper that provides an interactive experience screens have yet to achieve. Besides, who doesn’t want to imagine oneself as a Benedictine monk, cloistered away in a scriptorium carefully illustrating precious works of art?

Choose from hundreds of images from a range of topics and share your work online, using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections. More information about the celebration, as well as a list of participating institutions, may be found here

Tom Portrait-1.JPGOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Tom Lecky, proprietor of Riverrun Books & Manuscripts in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York:

How did you get started in rare books?

As a teenager, literature opened up an immense world to me and I started to go regularly to used bookstores. I tended towards experimental writers on small presses, which meant that first editions were my only options. So, more time in bookstores. Later, in graduate school, I was lucky to have two very different mentors. The writer Gilbert Sorrentino introduced me to a world of authors and artists who have become my lifelong passions. Sorrentino influenced my entire philosophy of life, and since I wanted to know more about the literary and artistic world he’d shared with me, I spent even more time, money and energy collecting books related to that world. And then the Americanist Jay Fliegelman took me to San Francisco to see several antiquarian booksellers. This introduction to serious bookselling illuminated a path other than the academic one on which I’d put myself.  I knew I wanted to work with books as a career, and was lucky enough to be invited to work for Doyle New York. This was a remarkable opportunity for a twenty-two year old. I participated in every aspect of the auction world, from packing to cataloguing, marketing, auctioneering, and running a department. A few years later I met Francis Wahlgren, and he and Felix de Marez Oyens offered me a job at Christie’s. I have been very fortunate to meet, learn from, and work with such great people in the world of books.

When did you take over Riverrun and what do you specialize in?

I bought Riverrun in June 2016. Our core stock is strong in literature, science fiction, architecture, art, photography, and scholarly books. Given my career history, and my experience with a broad range of material beyond Riverrun’s original inventory, I am adding books and collections in a greater range of antiquarian subjects. I also represent private clients in en bloc sales of their entire subject collections.

What do you love about the book trade?

It starts and ends with the books. I want to be around books all day and with a great group of like-minded colleagues and clients. There are few things as motivating as the daily discoveries made in a career as broad and rich as ours.

Describe a typical day for you:

I usually first fulfill orders and then move on to whatever projects are at hand. Cataloguing new material and work on appraisals tends to come first. My days and weeks are usually punctuated with regional visits to people’s homes, travel further afield to see clients, and appointments at the shop. Consultancy projects for Christie’s and advising clients round out my schedule.

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

I can’t limit myself to one. Standouts are the bookseller/publisher Samuel Smith’s copy of Newton’s Principia that was sold last December at Christie’s New York, setting a new auction record for a scientific book. I still dream about the condition of the Holford-Bok-Berland copy of Walton’s Compleat Angler, and think of the rare opportunity to have handled Roger North’s copy of Peter Martyr’s The Decades of the Newe World from the Frank S. Streeter sale. Kerouac’s On the Road typescript scroll also has to be on the list.

What do you personally collect?

My wife affectionately calls them “thin books.” From the time we met in high school to today I have collected avant garde American poetry, mostly in William Carlos Williams’s lineage through the Black Mountain College and Language schools, including Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Clark Coolidge, Charles Bernstein, and Lynn Hejinian. But the main figure is Paul Blackburn, a grossly underrated poet whose abilities and influence on other poets are so far out of balance with the attention he gets.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have released four albums of experimental improvisatory music, and so I have a life outside of books that I share with musicians and composers. I honor the engineering gene in my family history by trying to keep an old motorcycle on the road, and spend as much time with my wife and sons as possible.

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

I see a vast and rewarding marketplace at present, one that continually adapts to the systemic changes of our digital evolution. One can research more easily, reach people more easily, interact more easily than ever before.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I published my first printed catalogue in December. It contained a collection of Adirondack material (to reflect my origins) and expanded to a range of range of subjects: antiquarian to contemporary and including literature, medicine, art, religion, Americana, and popular culture. As John Dewey wrote “Only diversity makes change and progress.” It certainly drives me, as can be seen in the variety of subjects found in the digital catalogues I distribute regularly via my email list and website. 

[Image supplied by Tom Lecky]

In our current issue, arts journalist Gabrielle Selz visits John Windle’s new William Blake Gallery in San Francisco (a preview just in time for this year’s Rare Book Week West). This new exhibition space, just down the hall from Windle’s rare book shop, is “devoted to the artwork of the radical, visionary printmaker...William Blake (1757-1827).” In addition to the new gallery, Selz noted a “resurgence in Blake’s popularity in contemporary culture,” citing, for example, a  2016 car commercial in which Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) recites Blake’s “The Tyger.”

9781101973141.jpgBut here’s something we missed: Vintage Classics released a new edition of Blake’s Poems in December, selected and introduced by musician and memoirist Patti Smith, who once wrote a song titled “My Blakean Year.” In the book’s introduction, she recalls a transformative experience when her mother first presented her with a 1927 edition of the poet’s Songs of Innocence, having found it at a church bazaar. This is not the first time that Smith has been involved in a Blake collection--she refers to him as “the spiritual ancestor of generations of poets”--but this reprint certainly signals renewed appreciation.

Image Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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