March 2017 Archives


Japanese, 19th century Miniature Album Photo: Randy Batista                                                                                                                                                                        

Sometimes the best gifts come in tiny packages. Now through November 2018, the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida will be exhibiting over one hundred tiny treasures from the Harn’s Asian art collection in celebration of the five-year anniversary of the opening of its David A. Cofrin Asian Art Wing.

Curator Jason Steuber decided over four years ago that the show would investigate what he feels is the overlooked topic of miniatures across Asian art. “Small things are prevalent in our daily lives in many forms, and the exhibition serves as a reminder that art comes in all shapes and sizes,” he explained. Miniatures rarely show up in museum displays because of the unique challenges they pose regarding audience engagement and access. A small album of dainty paintings requires a deft curatorial hand to craft a pint-size diorama, and figuring how to best display these miniatures takes patience and creativity. Steuber and his team constructed small stands and new wall cases to show the miniatures at eye level. A gallery book filled with detailed photographs invites closer inspection.



Japanese, 19th century Miniature Album Photo: Randy Batista

Some of the highlights of the show include an album of landscapes and fore-edge paintings by Chinese eighteenth-century landscape painter Ming Zhong, a painting of a reclining nude rendered on 3 x 4 ⅞ in. envelope by Japanese artist Yoshida Yoshio (1870-1956), and Shibata Zeshin’s (1807-1891) miniature album of twelve lacquer paintings on paper. The largest miniatures clock in at nearly ten by six inches, while the tiniest of the items nestles comfortably in the palm of one’s hand.

With some of the miniatures dating to the Neolithic period (3,000 BCE), it’s clear that humans have had a longstanding fascination with shrunken treasures. “I often admire the beauty of my books, the craftsmanship of the artists and artisans who created them, and I’m awed by their history,” said notable miniature collector Pat Pistner regarding her Japanese Hyakumantō Dhārāni (770CE), one of the oldest examples of block printed text on miniature scrolls. Indeed, collectors prize miniatures for their exquisite beauty, scale, and exacting detail--in miniature, books and artwork permit the eye to focus on components otherwise overlooked, fully embracing the old adage of “less is more.”

Admission to the museum is free. For more information, call 352-392-9826 or visit, an online price comparison tool for books, releases an annual list of its most searched for out-of-print books. The 2016 list was just unveiled, and this year’s winner for “most sought after book” was... Westworld by Michael Crichton.

This surprise winner in a spot typically reserved for Madonna’s Sex book was entirely due to the HBO revival of the show last year. For the uninitiated, Westworld began its life as a 1973 film, starring Yul Brynner, about a Western-themed amusement park populated by androids. Last year, HBO turned that concept into a 10-part television series. The original 1973 film was scripted by Michael Crichton, who also authored Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and a host of other bestselling novels. In 1974, a companion book to the Westworld film was published, featuring the script as well as an introduction from Crichton and photographs from the set. (The book is not a novelization of Westworld, probably to the disappointment of its purchasers.) The huge popularity of HBO’s revival led to the spike in demand for this long out-of-print movie companion book. Prices today begin at $125.

The perennially popular Sex by Madonna came in at number two last year. Other standouts from the eclectic 2016 list are a permaculture manual, two books about painting methods, an encyclopedia of quilt patterns, a 1991 investment manual, and Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (also turned into a popular film). 

Image Courtesy of Bookfinder.

For more than five decades, 80-year-old English cartoonist Gerald Scarfe has been at the ready with his pen to comment on the political and cultural scene. His work has appeared in the New Yorker and the Sunday Times, as well as in theatre and film. On April 5, 130 of his originals go to auction at Sotheby’s London for the first major sale of his drawings.

From Winston Churchill to Donald Trump, Scarfe has taken a no-holds-barred approach to his art. In a press statement, he commented, “I feel it’s the duty of an artist to re-interpret the world and to freshen our stale vision, making us see what we hadn’t realised was there. What I’m trying to do is simply to bring out their essential characteristics. I find a particular delight in taking the caricature as far as I can.”

Pink Floyd Scarfe Sothebys.pngFor some, Scarfe is easily recognized as the artist (read: genius) behind Pink Floyd’s The Wall. According to Rolling Stone magazine, “Scarfe famously began crafting the visual world of The Wall before Pink Floyd began recording the album.” Scarfe not only drew illustrations for the 1979 album, he did the animation for the 1982 film version, including the WWII bombing sequence, as well. Several related pieces are among Sotheby’s offerings; my favorite, “The Teacher,” is pictured above. Its auction estimate is £7,000-9,000 ($8,750-11,250).

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 10.11.03 AM.pngThe literary-minded among us will pause over Scarfe’s Shakespeare and his Wilde, but get perhaps the biggest laugh over “The Book Signing,” which depicts Tony Blair signing copies of his 2010 memoir, A Journey, atop a solider’s coffin. Executed in pen, ink, and watercolor, the drawing is estimated at £4,000-6,000 ($5,000-7,500).

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 10.15.02 AM.pngAnd, apropos of today’s news especially, Scarfe’s “Lost in the Brexit Jungle,” featuring Theresa May, seems destined for a bidding war. The estimate is £5,000-7,000 ($6,250-8,750).

Images via Sotheby’s

rbewithimage.jpgWhile there are only a few days left, if you’re in the United Kingdom you may want to swing up to Edinburgh to check out a new festival, “Rare Books Edinburgh,” which is coming toward the end of its ten-day run. The festival launched on March 20, bringing together ten institutions and organizations in the celebration of book culture, collecting, and the history of the book. The festival’s tent pole was the Edinburgh Book Fair, held this past weekend, but the talks, workshops, and exhibitions continue until March 30.

“The latest figures for hardcover and eBook sales show that books are back, and collectable books in fact never went away’, said festival organizer Derek Walker, co-owner of McNaughtan’s Bookshop in Edinburgh, and a recent profile in our Bright Young Booksellers series. “This city is lucky to have so many world-class bookshops, libraries, collections, and organizations, and Rare Books Edinburgh is an unparalleled opportunity for locals and visitors to see, learn about, handle, and even buy important, antique, or collectable books and printed material. It will be a veritable feast for book-lovers of all kinds.”

Talks suitable for beginners, as well as advanced workshops, are on offer, many of them free and open to the public. A full program, complete with registration information is available on the festival website:

Participating institutions include the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh University Library, the Centre for the History of the Book, the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Central Library, Blackwell’s Bookshop, and auction house Lyon & Turnbull.

Vaults-768x870.jpegIt was in 1817 that brothers James and John Harper opened a small printing shop in New York City. Among their successes over the past 200 years, HarperCollins pioneered the process of stereotyping; published the first American editions of the Brontë sisters’ novels; and championed Martin Luther King, Jr., publishing his Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story in 1958.

To celebrate its anniversary, the long-running book publisher has created an extensive website that encompasses not only the Harper history, but the histories of the companies that have come under its umbrella during the ensuing two centuries, e.g. Collins, Thomas Nelson, Harlequin, Allen & Unwin, Lippincott, etc. The site features an annotated historical timeline, a selection of stories about significant books and authors, and a list of 200 “iconic” titles, including Riders of the Purple Sage, Little House on the Prairie, Ariel, A Christmas Carol, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Moby-Dick.


Melville-Harper-Agreement-1857BW_BG_22_C5_A-768x1055.jpegThe ‘Why I Read’ section shares quotes from authors around the world about reading, writing, and books that have influenced them. I particularly like T.C. Boyle’s take: “I read in the way that I breathe, as a necessity of life. Reading allows me to vanish from the oppressive material world and its eternal electronic hum and find myself in some other place altogether.”

One can also poke into the HC archives to read a 1959 letter by Russell Hoban to his editor Ursula Nordstrom upon publication of his Bread and Jam for Frances; appreciate the original artwork for a 1965 edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and see photos from Collins’ editorial offices (in Canada) c. 1940s.


N.B. Through July 21, Columbia University’s Butler Library is hosting Harper & Brothers to HarperCollins Publishers: A Bicentennial Exhibition on this very topic.

Images, above: Vaults in the Harper & Brothers offices where stereotyped plates were stored (circa 1855); middle: The original agreement between Herman Melville and Harper & Brothers for Moby-Dick, dated September 12, 1851. Via

Rise of the Centaur: A History of a Typeface



Readers of our spring print issue may recall Allison Meier’s story on book designer and typographer Jerry Kelly, which touched briefly on his recently published chronicle of Centaur type, The Noblest Roman. Co-authored with Abbeville Press art director Misha Beletsky, the book explores Centaur’s origins well as the life of its creator, Bruce Rogers (1870-1957). Originally published by the Book Club of California in 2016, a trade edition appeared this week from David R. Godine, himself a letterpress printer-turned-publisher.

                                                                                                                                                                                           The Noblest Roman is itself physical proof of the enduring beauty and functionality of Centaur type and is set in three digital versions of the typeface; the main text is set in a revival of the original foundry Centaur, a new version is reserved for captions, and monotype Centaur sets off display text. An added treat is the tipped-in type specimen created with Monotype Centaur and Museum Centaur, newly cast from foundry mats that haven’t been employed in one hundred years. Printed in four colors via offset lithography by Kelly, the whole endeavor makes for an immensely readable and elegant production. Just on face value alone, it is a typophile’s delight.



An interior shot of The Noblest Roman. Reproduced with permission from David R. Godine. 

The book traces Centaur’s origins to the year 1470, when French printer and type designer Nicolas Jenson perfected the proportions and spacing of his namesake type. Jenson’s type was hailed as “brilliant” and “more perfect in form than those of any previous printer.” Fast forward five hundred years to William Morris’ revival of Jenson’s type, and subsequently, to Roger’s perfection of the proportions to create the type employed regularly by institutions like Penguin Books and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kelly and Beletsky also tackle the near-mythical status of Rogers in the world of book design and how his mercurial personality has made credible biographical treatment challenging. The Noblest Roman draws on new research to create a nuanced portrait of this towering figure and includes sidebar biographies of fellow printers, designers, and punchcutters, rendering this a thorough history of typography and typographers of the twentieth century.

What made this style so groundbreaking in 1470 and so appealing in the
twentieth century? More sculptural than calligraphic, Centaur still appears lively without too much flair that might otherwise distract a reader, while slight irregularities in the ties, terminals, and crossbars keep the typeface from becoming monotonous inkblots splashed across the page. Centaur has gracefully made the leap to digital media as well, where it is regularly employed for its readability.

The Noblest Roman was recently awarded the Mercantile Library Prize in American Bibliography, a cash award announced every three years. Previous winners include the American Antiquarian Society, Joseph Felcone, and Andrea Krupp. This year the award is split between The Noblest Roman and The Mythical Indies and Columbus’ Apocalyptic Letter by Elizabeth Moore Willingham (Sussex Academic Press).

Though named after the title of the first book in which it appeared, Centaur is very much like its mythological namesake; a hybrid of styles that has undergone numerous incarnations, with sublime results. And though editors routinely discourage the use of absolutes, The Noblest Roman makes a most compelling case for this exquisite type.

The Noblest Roman, by Jerry Kelly and Misha Beletsky; David R. Godine, $45.00, 128 pages.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with James McBride of William Reese Company in New Haven, Connecticut. 

IMG_1924up.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

My background is in rare book and special collections librarianship.  I did my library degree at the University of Texas at Austin and also completed a second Master’s degree in Book History at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.  While I was at Texas, I also worked as a rare book cataloguer for the Harry Ransom Center, working on 16th century Italian, mostly Aldine imprints.  I figured when I returned to the States from Scotland in the fall of 2015, I would continue on that track and find a library position as a Rare Books Cataloguer.  Bill hired me instead, and so here I am in the trade, thoroughly enjoying myself.

What is your role at William Reese Company?

My official title is Americana Cataloguer, or perhaps Americana Associate.  The second is probably more appropriate.  Principally, I do research and write cataloguing for most of our incoming material, but I also carry out many other duties as the need arises -- filling orders, responding to questions and inquiries, answering the phone, purchasing and collecting new materials, making visits to customers, sellers, and institutions, going to book fairs, bidding at auctions, and, of course, trying to sell books.

What do you love about the book trade?

Working for Reese Co. allows me the luxury of getting to see and to work with amazing material on a daily basis.  Another one of the great things is the variation my job affords me -- there are so many different aspects to working in the trade that it is difficult to get stuck in a rut.  It is also a pleasure to be able to meet and to interact with the fun and interesting characters that populate our world.  And if they’re not fun and/or interesting, at least they’re probably crazy.

Describe a typical day for you:

Generally, I come in and first deal with orders and inquiries that have come in overnight, and then discuss with my colleagues if we have anything that needs our special attention during the course of the day, which is usually the case.  I can then turn my attention to cataloguing, though this is liberally interspersed with other tasks that land on my desk throughout the day.

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

One of my favorite books so far would have to be the private first printing of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia.  It was the first really important thing that I was sent out to collect, and I spent the entire drive back to New Haven checking my bag in the passenger seat every five minutes to make sure it hadn’t magically disappeared.  I’ve also gotten to spend some time with a complete set of Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian, an impressive thing, to say the least.  More recently, I saw a copy of the first pamphlet printing of the Declaration of Independence, made on July 8, 1776, just a few days after the vote for independence and Dunlap’s broadside.

What do you personally collect?

I have a record collection that grows in fits and starts.  Mostly punk albums, with some jazz and rock thrown in, and a few oddities like LPs of the Mr. Rogers songbook and Jazzercise tunes.  In terms of books, I tend toward travel narratives, though recently I’ve been trying to build up something of a reference collection.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend far too much time watching soccer on weekend mornings, and am also a particular and rather long-suffering devotee of the New York Mets.  The only sport in which I still retain some passable skill is skiing, though I don’t get to do nearly enough of it.  In other, apparently unaffiliated parts of my brain, I have a thing for old gangster movies and for long train rides.

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

It is my fond hope that the good people of the book world continue to buy enough books from us to keep me in a job. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We recently put out a catalog of material on Colonial America (#341), as well as two smaller lists on Natural History (Bulletin #45) and Manuscripts (Bulletin #46).  And coming quite soon will be a catalogue focusing on Latin Americana (#342).

Image courtesy of James McBride.

Coming up this Sunday, March 26 at 9 p.m., Masterpiece presents To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, written and directed by Sally Wainwright. The two-hour BBC drama traces the lives of the Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë from dutiful daughters into audacious authors. To Walk Invisible was filmed in and around Haworth, the Yorkshire village where the Brontës lived; a replica of their home, the Parsonage, was created for filming on location last year, as A. N. Devers reported in our summer 2016 feature story, “A Breath of Jane Eyre.”

To Walk Invisible_24 copy.jpgBased largely on Charlotte’s letters--which are artfully read throughout--To Walk Invisible focuses on the three-year period in the mid-1840s when the women decided to move ahead with the publication of their collective poems. The drama’s title comes from one of these letters, in which Charlotte writes, “I think if a good fairy were to offer me the choice of a gift, I would say--grant me the power to walk invisible.” Their Poems appeared in 1846 (under the male pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell), closely followed in 1847 by their individual novels--Charlotte’s Jane Eyre as a stand-alone, and Emily’s Wuthering Heights bundled into three volumes with Anne’s Agnes Grey.

                                                                                                                                                                                    In this dramatic retelling of their story, Anne and Branwell are restored to the bigger picture; Anne being the sweetest sibling, Branwell being the wildest. Emily, played by Chloe Pirrie, is matter of fact and unafraid to stand up to her devilish brother. She is also quite wonderful in disrupting a cozy library scene when she accuses Charlotte of reading her poems without permission. Charlotte (Finn Atkins) is more severe than we might imagine her. She is also the mastermind of their literary futures.

Historical dramas too often bait viewers with pretty gowns and lush landscapes, so it’s refreshing here to see some realism both in content (Branwell’s abusive alcoholism), scenery (from dirty interior walls to muddy outside lanes), and costumes that are plain and true to the people wearing them. The moors are there too, don’t worry. Viewer’s tip: The tones are hushed in many scenes, so turn up the volume.
PBS granted a press preview to Fine Books for this post. Watch a 30-second clip here.

                                                                                                                                                                     An exhibit, To Walk Invisible: From Parsonage to Production, is currently on view at the Parsonage through January 1, 2018.

                                                                                                                                                                     Image: Pictured (from left to right) Emily Brontë (Chloe Pirrie), Anne Brontë (Charlie Murphy), and Charlotte Brontë  (Finn Atkins). Credit: Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE.

Figure-1-set-360x371.pngLast month, Sandra Clark, a Jane Austen collector in Texas, surprised Chawton House, the ancestral home of Austen, by gifting them a complete set of the author’s novels that had once been housed in the family library. The Austen set was published in 1833 by Richard Bentley and bears the bookplate of Montagu George Knight, the son of Jane Austen’s nephew, Edward Knight. The books are known to have been held in the Chawton House library until at least 1908, however why the books were sold (or to whom) remains a mystery.  The books eventually made their way to south Texas, where they were discovered again by Clark.

The Bentley set of Austen novels are also significant for being the first reprinting of Austen’s works after her death. Bentley’s decision to publish the books as part of his “Standard Novels” series helped establish Austen’s place in the literary canon.

An upcoming exhibition at Chawton House Library entitled “Fickle Fortunes: Jane Austen and Germaine de Staël” will include the set, along with a variety of other first editions, manuscripts, and letters.

Interested readers can learn more about the discovery in a post from Professor Janine Barchas of the University of Texas at Austin and a board member of the North American Friends of Chawton House Library. Barchas recognized the Knight bookplate in Clark’s Austen collection and helped facilitate the gift.

[Image from Chawton House]

Bob Dylan manuscripts have trickled into the market in recent years--the pinnacle at auction being the original handwritten lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone,” which sold for $2 million at Sotheby’s in 2014--and now that he has won the Nobel Prize in literature, that seems unlikely to change.   

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 10.17.16 AM.pngCase in point: Coming up at Bonhams New York next week is an early, two-page manuscript of the legendary musician. Written in pencil, this manuscript was originally in the possession of Dylan’s Hibbing High School friend, Dale Boutang, and indeed the two poems describe the antics of teenage life in the mid-1950s; one is labeled a “Good Poem,” the other a “Bad Poem.” With the manuscript comes a silver gelatin print of a young Dylan seated on a motorcyle with a friend (Boutang?) standing alongside.

Last seen at auction eleven years ago, the manuscript is estimated to reach $10,000-15,000.

Image courtesy of Bonhams.

A Book-Lover’s Guide to St. Patrick’s Day

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, meaning Irish pubs from Boston to Dublin will be busier than usual and just about everyone will be sporting some sort of good luck charm. However, if the idea of day-drinking and parade-hopping turns you green, there’s still a few ways to let your inner Irish spirit free, even from the comfort of your own library. Behold, a bibliophile’s guide to St. Patrick’s Day:


Credit John Vernon Lord for Folio Society

1. Ready to meet your goal of finally reading James Joyce’s Ulysses? Consider picking up the edition recently published by the Folio Society, which refers to the original 1922 publication. Joyce scholars John O’ Hanlon and Danis Rose provide a note regarding the present iteration, and Stacey Herbert discusses the history of Ulysses in print. Award-winning artist John Vernon Lord created 18 color illustrations capturing various episodes in the book, helpfully guiding readers through this 752-page day in the life of Leopold Bloom. Complete with a Gaelic-green slipcase depicting the waves of Dublin Bay, there is perhaps no better way to say Éire go Brách for bibliophiles today. Available for $195.95 from the Folio Society.


Plunkett with the flag (University of South Florida) 

2. Over 150,000 Irish Americans fought for the Union in the Civil War, and many of their stories of loyalty and bravery are chronicled in Susannah Ural’s The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 (NYU Press, 2006). Thomas Plunkett was one of these combattants, serving as a color bearer for the Worcester-based 21st Massachusetts Regiment Volunteer Infantry. During the Battle of Fredericksburg a fellow flag-bearer was shot down, so Plunkett picked up the colors and led his unit until cannon fire ripped away his arms. Despite the injury, Plunkett pressed the flag to his chest with the remains of his limbs and held fast until relieved by a fellow soldier. Plunkett survived the war and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in battle, and the blood-stained flag is now at the Massachusetts State House. 

3. Across the Atlantic, the National Library of Ireland is closed for the holiday, but its permanent exhibition dedicated to poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is free and open to the public during regular business hours and accessible online



Portrait of young William Butler Yeats by his father, John Butler Yeats (Photo: Wikipedia).



 Oscar Wilde, photographic print on card mount: albumen. (Photo: Wikimedia                                                                                                                         

4. In case you missed “L’impertinent absolu” (“Insolence Incarnate”), the first major French exhibition dedicated to Oscar Wilde at the Petit Palais that closed in January, fear not; now you can own a piece of Wilde’s childhood. A hotel built by Wilde’s parents is for sale in Ireland. The ten-bedroom oceanfront property in the coastal resort town of Bray was constructed in 1850 by Wilde’s parents as a seaside retreat. Upon their death, Wilde inherited the property, but sold it in 1878. Recently converted into a hotel, this piece of literary history could be yours for €2.2 million. 

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Alexander Akin of Bolerium Books in San Francisco:

AlexanderAkin.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

My mom has a yellowed newspaper clipping that shows me in a baby carrier on her back as she and my dad peruse books at the UC Riverside library book sale. I guess my parents got me hooked early. My dad was a steelworker, and my mom a union organizer, and as a kid I thought every working-class family had a huge library at home. I remember my first purchase of a rare (though not expensive) book when I was ten, when I found a hardcover tract published by missionaries in China about a hundred years ago, using a phonetic transcription to represent the local dialect of a coastal town. I paid something like four weeks’ allowance for it, and still have it. The first item I ever got signed was a campaign brochure from when Angela Davis was running for vice president. (It wasn’t exactly a huge coup to get her autograph, since my mom worked with her). Through high school and college I worked summers for a coin dealer who specialized in medieval Islamic and Indian coins, and I collected books relevant to these fields for a working library. While collecting books, though, I never thought of selling them until I was in graduate school, when I started scouting for the (late, lamented) firm of McIntyre and Moore in Cambridge, MA. I kept finding books I didn’t need for myself, but that I recognized as worthwhile, and it occurred to me that I could try selling them or trading them for store credit. I was working on a dissertation in late imperial Chinese cartography, and I traded stacks of unrelated tomes from nearby thrift shops, estate sales, and even piles of academic books left on the sidewalk before recycling pickup, in exchange for many a title in Chinese history from M&M. I then started selling on Amazon to keep a larger proportion of the proceeds. We moved to San Francisco to follow a job opportunity for my wife, while I was in the writing-up stage of my dissertation and taking care of my daughter during the day. I carried her around in a Baby Bjorn while visiting various bookstores to keep from going stir-crazy. One day I walked into Bolerium and I realized I had found paradise on earth.

What is your role at Bolerium?

It started from the fact that I was spending more money there than my dissertation completion grant could really allow. I started bugging John Durham about doing some sort of work at the shop for store credit. Eventually, he set me loose on the towering piles of boxes in storage, sorting stuff out by category, completing runs of serials, etc, while I set aside things that I wanted for myself in payment. One day I found a box of Chinese-language gay travel guides to Taiwan, going back to the first one that was published. He had no idea how they had found their way into Bolerium’s storage. (There were - and still are - boxes on our second floor that haven’t been touched in 20 years). Mike Pincus, his business partner at the time, picked up the phone and sold the lot to an east coast library in a flash. That might have been the incident that led John to take me more seriously as a potential asset to the shop. My dissertation completion grant had concluded and I was eligible to work for pay, so he hired me as a packer (which was great training for what sells and to whom), working on cataloging after the shipping was done for the day. I had finished my dissertation, however, and with a PhD from Harvard I went on the job market, fully expecting to become a professor of Chinese history. I found a short-term position in Boston as the Smith Fellow at Roxbury Latin School (a wonderful experience), while also filling in at Brandeis in the afternoons for a faculty member who was on leave for the year. The fiscal crisis at that time (2010) had really decimated the market for my field of late imperial Chinese history. Budgets were slashed and many university jobs that had been advertised were quietly canceled. Worst of all, in many cases teaching at colleges on an adjunct basis actually paid less than Bolerium. Since my wife had found a lucrative niche in San Francisco, I realized that it didn’t make sense for me to drag the family around the country scrambling from post to post until I found something with tenure. I came back to Bolerium, this time for good, and after a couple of years we incorporated. I became the junior partner, with John the majority owner. I’ve expanded the shop’s specialties to include more Asian and Asian-American material, and I also buy and catalog stock related to radical politics, Judaica and African American history. When we do book fairs I usually travel with John, though in some cases I represent the shop alone, such as at last year’s Boston ABAA show.

What do you love about the book trade?

As an historian I love discovering new things. You can have all the Hemingway first editions you want; I’ll take the trove of mimeographed newsletters published in the 1940s by underground activists in Chinatown. Our trade is quite diverse, with room for all sorts of specialties and variant approaches. At an ABAA fair I can see things that I fantasize about collecting if I won the lottery, like illuminated French manuscripts from the 15th century. The stuff I really like to handle, though, is what I envision as the raw material for researchers working on relatively understudied fields. Our shop has been cited in the acknowledgements of many books on political history and LGBT studies, and I tremendously enjoy finding librarians who “click” with us and helping them to build their research collections. Some time back we sold a book about a gay religious utopian commune near San Diego, a work of truly awe-inspiring strangeness, to a famous theological seminary - and last year out of the blue we received a letter from a grad student thanking us for having sourced that work, which became a centerpiece of his research. This job combines my academic background with the romance of the treasure hunt, offering endless opportunities for sleuthing.

Describe a typical day for you:

Get up at 6:30 to get the kids ready for school. By the time I head for the shop, sometimes stopping at one of our storage units to pick up or drop off material, most of the orders that came in overnight have been processed by our hardworking early birds, but I may pitch in to find items in foreign languages or to search for recalcitrant titles that nobody else has been able to put their finger on yet (a frequent problem in a large shop where some stock was cataloged years ago). I have stacks of papers, pamphlets and books arrayed around my workspace that crave cataloging, but the amount of this work that gets done depends on all sorts of other factors. Calls come in all the time from people trying to unburden themselves of books or ephemera, and sometimes it’s worth throwing out the day’s plans to make an emergency trip to someone’s garage in the East Bay in pursuit of some trove or other. One respect in which we differ from most shops is that our specialties in radical politics and LGBT history bring us lots of leads from retired activists or their heirs. I like doing these book calls with my partner John, because we have different priorities and different ideas of what things are worth to us, and it can be valuable to bounce these ideas back and forth. The leads often come to us because of John’s own activism in various groups going back to the 1970s. In any case, whatever interruptions the day has brought to my cataloging, by the afternoon I head out to pick up the kids, and it’s family time until they go to bed, after which I often work on cataloging stuff I’ve brought home with me, or I put together thematic pricelists. Sometimes I can get more cataloging done in a couple of uninterrupted hours at night than I can all day in the shop.

PaperSon.jpgFavorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

The most amazing thing in the past year was a handwritten prompt book for a “paper son,” someone immigrating from China to the US in the 1930s under a false identity. A racist law from 1882 had banned general Chinese immigration, but there was a loophole if you were the child of a previously naturalized citizen who had gone back to China and married there. (Since Chinese women could not usually immigrate, and it was illegal in many places to marry someone of another ethnicity, going back to China was the easiest way to have a family - often the kids would live there for years before being brought over). In the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the local records burned up, which opened a window of opportunity because there was no easy way to verify claims about who had been born in the city. Thus a small industry of “paper sons” sprang up, in which people in China would pay for a false identity as the grown child of a Chinese-American citizen. Immigration officials (correctly) assumed that a significant proportion of such claims were false, so they interrogated would-be immigrants about the most minute details of their family connections, the arrangement of rooms in the house they lived in, what businesses were in their neighborhood in the ancestral village in China, and so on. People who claimed to be related would be interrogated in separate rooms to see if their answers corresponded. In order to prepare for these interviews, handwritten booklets would be produced that listed every conceivable question, paired with an answer for the “paper son” to memorize. The booklet we had included a sketch map of the neighborhood around the alleged clan compound. It is very unusual for these prompt books to survive, because of course discovery would mean serious trouble, including expulsion from the US. The example we handled is now in the collections of the Chinese Historical Society here in San Francisco.

What do you personally collect?

Books on Asian and Islamic numismatics, Chinese propaganda publications intended for foreign audiences, ephemera related to the World Festival of Youth and Students, lots of other series that have personal or academic significance for me. The one arena where I spend serious money is my collection of pro-Khmer Rouge propaganda. When I was in grad school I encountered a book in the library stacks that had been published by a sectarian communist group based in Chicago that had a friendship visit to Cambodia, during which they met Pol Pot and other senior leaders, toured communal farms, and so on. The book was lavishly illustrated with photographs of cheerful peasants in labor camps, children smiling with guns, and so on. Given what was known even then about the Killing Fields and mass starvation, the naiveté of these American visitors seems astonishing. For some radical political groups that are committed to excavating hidden injustices in their own countries, there is a desire to perceive a more just society in some foreign utopia. To see this in Cambodia under Pol Pot struck me as just about the furthest one could push this “grass is greener” complex. I have known a number of Cambodian immigrants who grew up in this period, all of whom have physical scars as well as emotional ones, and somehow it became a passion of mine to seek out everything I could that was published by foreign enablers, endorsers, or supporters of the Khmer Rouge. China was of course their main diplomatic sponsor, and as I can read Chinese I search for relevant material on the Chinese market, including children’s comic books from the 1970s that feature Khmer Rouge guerrillas as heroes, doing things like throwing grenades into boatloads of Lon Nol government soldiers. I have material from all over the world, and my plan is to write a book about this phenomenon - but I still find material that surprises me and adds new dimensions to the picture, so I’m not yet ready.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have two kids, 3 and 10, and I spend a lot of time with them. That’s an advantage to this business, the freedom of scheduling, especially for a shop like ours that has several employees. I used to be a big hiker, going on multi-day treks, but it’s harder with kids of this age. I still have some tenuous connections to the coin business and I sometimes travel to do translation at auctions of Chinese coins; last year I went to a show in Hong Kong to represent the firm I used to work for. I still do research in the field of Chinese historical cartography, presenting papers at conferences of the Association for Asian Studies and the American Association of Geographers, and publishing articles. I also spend more time than I should on Facebook, to be honest!

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

Every urban bookstore faces the problem of rising rent, unless the proprietor is also the landlord, and I see many cities becoming culturally desertified. A few years back I went to an academic conference in San Diego and I printed out a list someone had posted online a year or two previously, naming his ten favorite best bookstores downtown. After finishing my other business, I started tracking them down, and found that every single shop on this particular list had closed - one of them just a week earlier. Of course the books are still out there, but the market is atomized, with countless individuals dealing online from their basements or garages, and many collectors, even serious collectors, have little to do with ABAA-level shops. One thing I’ve been happy to see in my area is that even as some shops have been driven out of San Francisco by rising rent and the sterilization of the city’s cultural legacy, relatively young people are opening shops across the bay in places like Oakland. When I read the laments of long-time booksellers about what the internet has done to business, I feel glad that I only came onto the scene long after the process was already underway. This allows me to focus on the opportunities this brings (like selling to buyers all over the world, or being able to scout online for under-described or unappreciated items), rather than the way of life it has undermined. The greatest fear I have, for a business like ours with its orientation to libraries, is the seemingly ever-increasing turn to digital repositories. Many younger librarians seem to be under the impression that everything they need is already digitized somewhere, and their focus is on purchasing access rights rather than seeking out physical material that is unknown (but would cost money to process and store).

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Having recently finished the ABAA fair in Oakland, our next out-of-shop experience will be at RBMS in Iowa City this summer. I’m also putting together a catalog of political handbills, from the Knights of Labor to Black Lives Matter.

[Images provided by Alexander Akin]

At TEFAF Maastricht this week, North American manuscript dealers Les Enluminures closed a more than $3 million deal with the Kreis Warendorf and the Sparkasse Münsterland Ost to bring the thousand-year-old Liesborn Gospels “home” to Germany.

LiesbornGospels1 copy.jpgThe illuminated manuscript was written and decorated on parchment around the year 980 by the scribe Gerwardus and used at Liesborn Abbey, a convent of nuns in Westphalia, a region in the northwestern part of the country. In the twelfth century, the abbey was “re-founded” as a monastery for monks. The manuscript remained tucked away until its closure in 1803, nearly a millennium after the book’s creation. It was later acquired by the famous English book collector Sir Thomas Phillips and changed hands (and lands) several times, relocating to California, Norway, and Switzerland, until its acquisition by Les Enluminures. Incredibly, the book is in “almost perfect condition” and retains its medieval wooden binding as well.  

“It was until now one of the oldest manuscripts of the Gospels still in private possession,” according to a press statement. “It is always a source of very great satisfaction when a manuscript finally returns to its rightful and ancestral home,” said Professor Sandra Hindman, founder and president of Les Enluminures.

                                                                                                                                                                               Image courtesy of Les Enluminures.

Schindler,_Oskar.jpgGerman industrialist Oskar Schindler saved the lives of approximately 1,200 Jews during the Nazi regime by employing them in his enamelware factory in occupied Poland and subsequently at his armaments factory in occupied Czechoslovakia, a story immortalized in the novel, Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally and the subsequent film, Schindler’s List, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Schindler drew up seven lists of Jews to be transferred by special arrangement from the concentration camp at Plaszòw to work at his Czechoslovakia factory in 1944 and 1945, a move which almost certainly saved their lives. Schindler spent his entire fortune during the war to bribe Nazi officials and save his workers from deportation and death.

Of the seven original Schindler’s lists, only four are thought to have survived. Two are held in Israel at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, and one is held at the US Holocaust museum in Washington DC. This fourth list, the penultimate list from April, 1945, is the only list in private hands. It is currently being offered for sale by documents dealer Moments in Time.

The reserve price is $2.4m.

[Image of Oskar Schindler from Wikipedia]

IMG_0803.JPGFriday was a marathon day of book fair browsing. I started my day uptown at the NYC Book and Ephemera Fair, where I caught up with booksellers, several “Bright Young Booksellers” among them. I had the chance to meet Edmund Brumfitt, a London-based bookseller who was exhibiting on his own in New York for the first time (he was previously with Pickering & Chatto). He showed me a “pocket guide to physiognomy” c. 1805 that I found intriguing, primarily for its folding leaf of illustrations. (Considering my penchant for medical/surgical illustration, it was tempting, but more on that later.) We did come away from this fair with one purchase, a gift for my daughters: American Girl’s Home Book of Work and Play (1883), from John Liberati Books, where we struck gold last year with a serendipitous find.

From there, I ventured to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, where five or six hours of serious looking (and not-so-serious chatting) barely scratches the surface of what this fair has to offer. I was taken aback by a 1793 needlework map of the world, offered by Boston Rare Maps (pictured below). A large and beautiful world map executed in silk thread on satin, it is amazing to behold, perhaps even more so when one reads that it was made “almost certainly [by] an English girl of school age.”  

BRM2711-Barwick-embroidered-World-1783_lowres-1024x640.jpgRaptis Rare Books, which recently relocated to Palm Beach, Florida, showcased a wall of titles with an economic/political/timely bent, including the rare first edition of Asa Greene’s The Perils of Pearl Street, Including a Taste of the Dangers of Wall Street (1834). Between the Covers Rare Books was offering a substantial and wow-inducing archive of children’s book editor and author Charlotte Zolotow. I also enjoyed perusing their first edition of the unfamiliar (to me, anyway) dos-a-dos volume penned by Dorothy Parker (Men I’m Not Married To) and Franklin P. Adams (Women I’m Not Married To) and published in 1922. As always, vernacular art, photography, and agitprop--from Donald Trump to Harvey Milk--commanded attention in the vibrant booth shared by Brian Cassidy Bookseller and Lux Mentis Booksellers. And a trip to the fair would have been incomplete without a look at Seth Kaller’s $2+ million Alexander Hamilton collection; more on that here.  
IMG_0056.JPGOne of the gems at this fair, in my opinion, was a stunning fine binding of Butterflies and Moths (British) by Hannah Brown, offered by Bromer Booksellers (pictured above). The full leather binding is embroidered over colored leather inlays with silk thread; brass “pins” inserted through the boards appear to hold each in place. Its custom wooden case is made to look like a specimen box.

And ... two further purchases were made: a medical treatise on the eye from 1833 with a dazzling illustration and lovely contemporary marbled boards, from Jarndyce Booksellers; and the South African first edition of J. M. Coetzee’s The Life & Times of Michael K (1983), one of my all-time favorite novels, from Jeff Bergman Books.

                                                                                                                                             Images, top: Courtesy of the author; middle: Courtesy of Boston Rare Maps; bottom: Courtesy of the author.

Rare Book Week NYC: Navigating the Bazaar


Book Week has arrived in New York, and there’s plenty to do and little time to do it in. What are the best ways to get the most bang for your buck? Below, a few suggestions to help make your Book Week a rousing success:

1. Go to, browse the list of exhibitors, and study the layout of the shows (there’s three this year). With over two hundred exhibitors at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair (NYABF) alone, it’s wise to have some sense of which dealers you want to see first. What do you do if you don’t have a clue about who’s who? The NYABF is mantaining a robust Instagram page where various exhibitor-provided highlights give a sense of the vendors and their specialties.
2. Pack smart. If your game plan includes active acquisition, tuck a sturdy canvas tote into your carry-all or purse.
3. Find your Fair. The NYABF is Book Week’s crown jewel, and tantalizing offerings include a $3,000 children’s book entitled Die Wunderfahrt at Pierre Coumans’ booth, a stunning 40-volume collection of Balzac presented by Imperial Fine Books ($15,000), and other not-to-be-missed items. Still, if all the glitz and glamor of the Park Avenue bazaar is too rich for your blood, head over to the Uptown Satellite Show at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Wallace Hall at 980 Park Avenue. Sixty dealers, such as Rare PaperLizz Young, and Jonathan Kearns, are participating. Don’t be surprised if you see a few dealers from the NYABF browsing here as well. Free shuttle service between both locations runs from 7:45 am-6:45 pm throughout the weekend. And finally, the hip “Shadow Show” takes place on Saturday from 10pm to 5pm directly across from the Armory at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, where show organizer John Bruno (as seen on PBS’s “Market Warriors”) will be conducting appraisals from 1-3pm.
4. Do your homework. Active collectors know that education is key to making smart purchases. See the bibliographies in A Gentle Madness and Among the Gently Mad for worthwhile guides to book hunting. As noted author and collector Michael Sadleir said in 1937, “In nature the bird who gets up earliest catches the most worms, but in book collecting the prizes fall to birds who know worms when they see them.”
5. Get there early. Though the NYABF and the Satellite Show are running extended hours this year, the good stuff always goes first.
6. Talk to the exhibitors. Booksellers, especially antiquarian booksellers, are a highly educated lot, so a conversation on Renaissance illuminated manuscripts could lead into all sorts of glorious directions. 
7. Take it in stride, i.e., wear comfortable walking shoes--your feet will thank you.
8. Are you driving? Bring a roll of quarters in case you’re one of the lucky few who snags street parking. Failing to feed the parking meter could set you back $65, and that’s no way to end a great day at the Fair.

What are your best practices for a successful Book Week? Let us know!

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Rebecca Romney, of Honey & Wax Booksellers, and author of Printer’s Error, out next week from HarperCollins. (An excerpt from Printer’s Error can be read in the current issue of Fine Books & Collections.)

R Romney.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

Pure accident. I had just returned home from a year teaching English in Japan. I had planned on getting a Master’s degree in Japanese Literature, but was not able to get back to the US in time to start for the fall semester. While I was waiting for the next semester, I looked around for a job in Las Vegas, where I had temporarily settled because my family lived there. This was the fall of 2007, and Bauman Rare Books was hiring staff to open its new gallery in the Palazzo.

It didn’t take long before I knew I had stumbled quite innocently into the perfect job for me. And at Bauman, I benefited from the old-school apprenticeship model, in addition to a quick turnover of books (allowing me to see multiple copies of a single title in a short period of time), and many customer interactions in a retail environment. Thus a better initial answer might be: pure serendipity.

Tell us about your recent move to Honey & Wax and your new role there:

I left Bauman in early 2016 and spent some time drilling down on the manuscript for my book, Printer’s Error. But soon I was craving the rare book trade again. Heather O’Donnell and I are friends from back when we were both at Bauman, and would often grab dinner when I was in New York. We share a similar philosophy about the book trade. When I left Bauman, Heather saw that as an opportunity and opened up a dialogue with me.

We arranged for me to collaborate with Honey & Wax from my home in Philadelphia. (I had moved there in 2014 to manage Bauman’s central operations.) I visit Brooklyn once a week, but I work mostly independently, researching, buying, cataloging, and selling. In addition I lend another hand and eye towards general Honey & Wax projects, like book fairs, catalogs, buying for stock, etc. I feel lucky: we are good friends who also happen to work very well together.   

Describe a typical day for you:

On any given day I can wear many hats. I am most likely to be hunting and researching books to buy, cataloging books we’ve bought, or discussing and selling these books with clients. But the amount of time I may spend in a day on any single one of these tasks varies greatly. 

What do you love about the book trade?

The book trade is an excuse for me to spend my life learning, while still contributing in a meaningful way to our civilization.

I love the research. It doesn’t take much for my curiosity to turn into obsession. In many other situations, this susceptibility to enthusiasm (my euphemism for “obsession”) can be counter-productive. But the kind of cataloging I do means leaving no stone unturned, so this otherwise questionably helpful instinct can be mustered to good use. I am easily fascinated, and not so easily bored.

I also love the social aspects of this business. Many of my closest friendships, and indeed many of my favorite people in the world, I have met through the trade. This applies equally to fellow members of the trade and academics in related fields, but also to customers. Over the years, I have met many clients who are brilliant, interesting, and engaging. I love to talk books with them.

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

The book I felt most honored to handle was a first edition of Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687) in a contemporary vellum binding. It had these yapp was a thing of beauty.

But often I feel that the favorite item I’ve handled is whatever I’ve cataloged most recently. I’m always fresh off some new discovery that has pleased me in some unexpected way.

For example, recently I cataloged the first edition in English of a novel written by Sonja Kovalevsky, a Russian mathematician who became the first female professor in modern Europe. Similar to Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, it examines the interaction between the new socialist radicals and the conservatives of older generations in mid-nineteenth century Russia - but, here’s the kicker: it’s inflected with informed commentary on women’s education there. It was not issued again in English until 2001, under the title Nihilist Girl. (That title is so good. So. Good.)

Another recent favorite is an amusing Victorian-era entomology primer called Episodes in Insect Life. The work depicts anthropomorphized insects. Fine; Jiminy Cricket is familiar to us. But these are remarkable: the cricket turned into the weary author, a butterfly as a “painted lady,” a bee doing “Apian Phreno-Magnetism.” Let me say that again: bees, practicing phrenology and mesmerism.

What do you personally collect?

Don’t ask me that question. I hate that question. It encourages me to do something I work very hard not to do (against my natural inclination). Instead, I feed that impulse into collection-building with my clients. I recently put together a collection of great spy novels and, even though I thought this genre wasn’t my thing, reading and researching these books has turned out to be surprisingly satisfying. I prefer this type of collecting, which also happens to keep me fed.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Besides reading, yes? That’s obvious? I’ve found I need frequent physical activity, or I tend to get lost in my head rather too often. I do Krav Maga and try to lap swim regularly. I’m also partial to video games, which I know is a rather unpopular stance in our world. You can argue the merits of that last choice with me if you’re inclined, but play Portal first. Then tell me if you still feel that way.

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

I see a lot of pessimism and bewilderment in the trade, but I also see a lot of people doing interesting new things. I recall a conversation at the Boston ABAA fair a couple years ago with a brilliant and respected member of the trade, who has been selling books for over four decades. He was shaking his head, saying, “I don’t know what your generation is going to do.” My response: “I am bursting with ideas.” And I’m definitely not the only one. It’s not easy - it takes work, real expertise, vision, and resources - but the possibilities of what one can do in the trade are as exciting as ever.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Honey & Wax just released its fifth print catalog last fall. We will be exhibiting at the ABAA book fair in New York this March. Booth E17: come visit.

Tell us about your podcast and your upcoming book project:

I created a podcast with author JP Romney called Biblioclast, a sort of book club for iconoclasts. Which is to say: we talk about classic books from a place of affection, but we also aren’t looking to pull any punches in our discussions. Each episode is on the short side (10-15 minutes), so they’re meant to be quick, digestible biblio-candy. New episodes will drop in March. The featured book: The Handmaid’s Tale.

y450-293.pngJP and I also co-authored a book about books called Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History, forthcoming from HarperCollins on March 14. That’s just after the New York Book Fair. It’s meant to be an introduction to the major themes and topics in print history, through the lens of individual figures’ absurd, ironic, or just plain crazy life stories. For example, one chapter follows William Blake’s invention of illuminated printing, the medium in which he printed most of his own poetry, and which he claimed to have learned from his recently deceased brother in a dream.

The book is meant for a general audience, rather than the book history community directly. For this reason, we’ve taken a tone of levity throughout (but with over 800 endnotes because I can’t help myself). JP’s particular strength is as a comic writer, so it’s influenced as much by John Oliver as it is A.S.W. Rosenbach.

On March 15, we are having a book release party at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, co-sponsored by Honey & Wax. If you’re in NYC, please stop by; I would love to have you. I’ll also be at the Rosenbach talking about the book on April 27.

You can read more about Printer’s Error on my website or pre-order it here. Or start by reading the current issue of Fine Books & Collections: an excerpt from the book is the cover story.

[Images provided by Rebecca Romney]

PBS has been a savior these past few months, not only as an impeccable source of “real” news but also of escape. Its new historical drama series about Queen Victoria pulled me through the inauguration haze (and, yes, I do see some irony there). Still riding high from Sunday night’s Victoria finale, I have been preparing for Rare Book Week by perusing catalogs and lists of ABAA book fair highlights and taking note of books and manuscripts that I’d like to see on Friday.

Heald.jpgOne of those items is an incredible presentation album of eighty etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, to be offered at the fair by Manhattan’s own Donald A. Heald Rare Books. According to the catalog copy, Victoria “took up etching as a hobby, introducing the art to her husband shortly after their marriage in 1840.” (I wish PBS had given us a glimpse of that...) They etched separately and together, sometimes working on the same plate, which was then handed off for biting and printing. Their artistic subjects were courtiers, children, and dogs. “[V]ery few of each of the etchings were printed, the pastime being largely for the royal couple’s own amusement; an occasional print and a very few sets, like the present, were distributed as gifts.”

Only two complete sets are known--one in the Royal Collection and one at the British Museum. This set, lacking seven etchings and bound in contemporary purple morocco, was presented by the queen to Sir Theodore Martin, author of Queen Victoria as I Knew Her (1901).

At the princely sum of $125,000, it is clearly a volume fit for a royal collection.

Image via Donald A. Heald Rare Books.

55a Foringer Abundan#8724A3 copy.jpgIt’s Rare Book Week in New York City with the New York Antiquarian Book Fair running from Thursday through Sunday, as well as both a “satellite show” and a “shadow show” to tempt buyers.

If you want to give your credit card a break, however, here are several free book exhibits on display across the city:

The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th St, is opening its doors with two exhibits on display: Images of Value: The Artwork Behind U.S. Security Engraving 1830s-1980s, (see image) which surveys 150 years of images in watercolor drawings, prints, photographs, and oil paintings that were used as engraving subjects by US bank note firms, largely from the collection of Mark D. Tomasko. (For more on this exhibit, check out a New York Times article). Head up to the second floor for For Art’s Sake: The Aesthetic Movement in Print and Beyond from the Collection of Eric Holzenberg. The free exhibits are open to the public Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

At The Center for Book Arts, 28 W. 27th St., 3rd floor, you can visit Pulp as Portal: Socially Engaged Hand-Papermaking, an exhibition that features “the artist’s book--specifically bookworks, publications, zines, and printed matter--as both artwork and outcome.” While you’re there, you can also check out Chantal Zakari: Narratives of Conflict (in collaboration with Mike Mandel).

The Metropolitan Musem of Art, 1000 5th Ave, has a special exhibit on the “heritage and allure” of Parade de cirque, painted in 1887-88 by Georges Seurat, featuring more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, period posters, and illustrated journals, supplemented by musical instruments and an array of documentary material. (While technically free, the Met does have suggested admission rates).

Image: Alonzo E. Foringer. [Standing female with wheat and scythe]. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30.” For American Bank Note Company, 1927. Collection of Mark D. Tomasko.

trunk copy.jpg

On Wednesday of this week (Rare Book Week in NYC), Heritage Auctions will offer for sale a traveling trunk once owned by Mark Twain. Not only is it, as the catalogue copy puts it, “an astounding artifact from arguably the most important author in American literature,” but for us at FB&C, it is particularly gratifying, as we “broke the story,” so to speak, of its recent discovery and its owner’s efforts to research and authenticate it:

The story seems as far-fetched as Mark Twain’s tall tales. A man, who by day crafts and restores stained glass, happened by an old trunk at an auction in Kansas City, Missouri, in early 2015. The words ‘Property of Samuel L. Clemens’ applied in black paint caught his eye. A lifelong fan of the American author born Samuel L. Clemens but better known as Mark Twain, the browser’s interest was piqued. He purchased the tatty antique and began a yearlong quest to verify its authenticity. (Read the full article here.)

The bidding opens at $25,000, and we’ll be watching!

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Stories to Tell at the Harry Ransom Center


Photo credit: Pete Smith                                                                                                                             

Since its establishment in 1957, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has positioned itself as “a cultural compass” in the Lone Star State, acquiring phenomenal literary manuscripts, letters, film memorabilia, as well as a Gutenberg Bible once owned by Carl and Lily Pforzheimer now on permanent display in the first-floor rotuunda. (See “Instant Ivy” in A Gentle Madness for a thorough account of the “institutional bibliomania” pursued during the tenure of the Center’s namesake founder, a drive that positioned it today as one of the finest research libraries in America.)

Now through July 16 the Center is hosting an exhibition highlighting some of those treasures in “Stories to Tell: Selections from the Harry Ransom Center.” Over 250 items explore the worlds of literature, film, art, photography, and dance, and how those disciplines enrich the human experience. The display labels read like a who’s-who of the twentieth century: Henri Matisse, Walker Evans, Gloria Swanson, Bob Woodward, Carl Berenstein, Robert de Niro, Henri Houdini, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and others. 
                                                                                                                                                          Creative improvisation is the name of the game in the hall where some of Robert de Niro’s archive is on display. His copy of the Taxi Driver script shows the lines, “You talkin’ to me?” scribbled at the bottom of the page, confirming that the actor was rehearsing the ad-lib as part of the final performance. That improvised monologue resulted in perhaps one of the most memorable lines in movie history.



Hack license issued to Robert De Niro, New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, September 23, 1974 Robert De Niro Papers, Harry Ransom Center. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                Testifying to the exact opposite of winging it are two cases dedicated to Kazuo Ishiguro and David Foster Wallace. Both collections are recent additions--Ishiguro’s was acquired in 2015, and the majority of the Wallace papers arrived in 2009. Manuscripts curator Megan Barnard prepared these displays, focusing on the creative process of both authors. “Ishiguro meticulously saved his drafts, notes, and papers, and the archive documents the full arc of his career,” Barnard explained. Prior to shipping his collection to Austin, Ishiguro added extensive notes handwritten on yellow sticky notes and typed discursive memos. “Now, researchers have access to the original primary materials documenting Ishiguro’s creative work and to many of his personal reflections and memories that provide context for those items,” said Barnard.



A page from Kazuo Ishiguro’s diary, dated October 22, 1975. Harry Ransom Center. 

The David Foster Wallace material is studied more frequently than any other collection at the HRC. “There seems to be especially strong interest in Wallace’s work from a new generation of scholars, many of whom are writing their dissertations or are approaching archival research for the first time,” explained Barnard. As a result, the Wallace display demonstrates the Center’s commitment to building and enhancing this archive to provide a complete understanding of the writer and his work.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Texans are known to “go big or go home,” and while the HRC is known for acquiring large troves of material, Barnard asserts that those acquisitions represent a fraction of their collection development activities. “We are equally dedicated to supplementing and enhancing the archives we already have by acquiring related materials from other sources to provide researchers a fuller understanding of a writer, a work, or an important cultural moment.”

                                                                                                                                                                               Admission to Stories to Tell: Selections from the Harry Ransom Center is free. For more information, visit 

                                                                                                                                                                            Hook ‘em Horns.



Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Emil Allakhverdov, proprietor of Rare Paper in New York City:

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 10.56.52 PM.pngHow did you get started in rare books and ephemera?

I became familiar with rare books and ephemera ten years ago when I was living in Odessa, Ukraine.  Having a degree in economics, I could never imagine that I would be so drawn into the world of collecting. My first mentor was my father-in-law. It was his passion for collecting which was so contagious that led me to enter into a field absolutely new to me. Very soon I became so involved and interested in this process that I collected my own first collection - postcards of my birthplace, the city of Baku, Azerbaijan. I was really in love with my new hobby and felt encouraged to learn about the deltiology field in depth, and this cultivated my desire to become a collector. However, unlike many collectors of that time, who preferred to find their “treasures” at various shows, I was working only on the Internet.  I was surprised to see how easy and convenient it could be to contact dealers and collectors from all over the world in just a few clicks. Soon I switched to another subject, the history of Odessa, the town in which I lived. Just buying did not work; sometimes it was necessary to have something to offer to other collectors, something that I could surprise them with - that’s how I started selling. Over time I realized that I wanted to do it for a living, meeting new collectors and dealers, researching and studying the subject.

When did you open Rare Paper and what do you specialize in?

My online store opened at the beginning of 2016. I specialize in scarce and unique Russian books and ephemera I have not seen before, that I want to share with others.

What do you love about the book and paper trade?

Most important for me are the people I meet... and the unexpected element of surprise that arises out their breadth of knowledge, experience and interest. I love to meet people, and listening to their stories always increases my knowledge. Also, there is the possibility to travel around the world in search of another treasure.

Describe a typical day for you:

I do not have a daily schedule. No two days are alike. However, my day usually begins with mail and phone calls, which will determine my schedule. It may be meetings with my clients, business trips, attending shows, shipping orders and preparing products for upcoming auctions.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera, or rare paper, etc.) that you’ve handled?

I have seen and held many rarities, but it is more interesting to talk about what I have in stock at the moment. Special among my current rare items is an 1850’s Daguerreotype of the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas I. I was able to locate another like it only in the Hermitage collection. Another unique paper is an original hand painted postcard of the famous Russian avant-garde artist, Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni).

What do you personally collect?

For over 10 years I have been collecting objects related to the history of the city of Odessa (Ukraine): Postcards, photographs, books, documents and ephemera. In the US, I’ve started a new subject, émigré books and ephemera, both Russian and Ukrainian. Recently I’ve become the owner of an extensive collection of Ukrainian children’s books. More than 1,000 émigré books were published in Europe and in the US from 1918 to 1970. Now I am searching for new books to add to my collection.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I volunteer in the Thomas J. Watson Library (at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), assisting in the Slavic and Special Collections Department. I like to visit new museum exhibitions and other cultural events in New York City with my wife. We also love to travel in upstate New York, especially along the Hudson River.

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

Today we can see how the concept of collecting is changing. We live during a time in which more and more people prefer to participate in online auctions and make purchases from home. Young people show no interest in old books at all. I don’t think the concept of collecting itself is dying; I think people will just be collecting other things. People will always enjoy owning things of value and rare beauty, and those who can afford to will collect them. I believe the main goal of dealers and collectors today, besides buying and selling of course, would be to encourage interest among younger individuals in identifying a new generation of objects worth collecting.  Aside from this it is important to pass along the shared knowledge obtained from previous generations of collectors who did their work without the Internet.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

March 10, New York City Book and Ephemera Fair

March 17-18, New York City Spring 2017 Postcard Expo

March 31, Photo NYC Fair 2017

September 8, Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair with the New Works on Paper Gallery 

Image Courtesy of Emil Allakhverdov.

TEFAF Maastricht is widely regarded as the world’s preeminent art fair. Though TEFAF recently expanded into New York City, this anchor fair is held in the Netherlands from March 10-19 and is going into its thirtieth year. TEFAF draws rare book, map, and manuscript dealers and collectors as well, as we found during our visit in 2013, but the offerings bask in the highest echelon of such material. They are captivating to look at and destined for museums or major private collections. Here are four highlights:

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 10.38.57 AM.pngShapero Rare Books has exhibited at TEFAF for nearly 25 years. One of its show-stoppers this year is Maria Sibylla Merian’s groundbreaking work of entomology, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (1726-1730). Courtesy of Shapero Rare Books.   

Nova et Accurata Totius Europae Tabula, Fre derick de Wit, Amsterdam, 1700. £60,000 copy.jpgDaniel Crouch Rare Books plans to display historic maps exploring how the boundaries of and within Europe, “changed over the centuries through conquest, decline, and simply better mapping.” Pictured here: Nova et Accurata Totius Europae Tabula, Frederick de Wit, Amsterdam, 1700. Courtesy of Daniel Crouch Rare Books.

1. Radegund_Life and Office_Poitiers_1496-1500_f.8_Feast copy.jpegDr. Jörn Günther Rare Books will offer several notable manuscripts, including the one shown above: Life of St. Radegund, a manuscript in French and Latin, illuminated by the Master of St. Radegund and made for King Charles VIII and his wife Anne de Bretagne. The manuscript was made in France, presumably between 1496-98. Courtesy of Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books.

isabeau-de-croix-boh-177v-178r copy.jpgLes Enluminures will exhibit this “flawless” fifteenth-century Book of Hours with 69 miniatures known as the Hours of Isabeau de Croix. Dr. Sandra Hindman, CEO and President of Les Enluminures, says, “This is by far one of the best Books of Hours I have ever handled as a dealer.” Courtesy of Les Enluminures.

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