June 2017 Archives

On Saturday, July 24, at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Boston-based RR Auction held a robst sale of memorabilia relating to notorious mobsters and outlaws like Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger.

                                                                                                                                                                         

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High spots included Capone’s ritzy platinum watch made by the Illinois Watch company. The timepiece exceeded its $25,000 pre-sale estimate, fetching a hammer price of $84,375.00. Manufactured between 1928 and 1929, the watch contains seventy-two cut diamonds, a platinum face, and an original 12 inch watch chain made of 14k white gold. The reverse of the case reveals the initials “AC,” itself consisting of twenty-three cut diamonds and surrounded by twenty-six others. The watch was accompanied by an affidavit from Capone’s great-grandson, Eric Griese, detailing its provenance.


A signed demurrer (a legal document objecting to an opponent’s point) relating to a case between Capone and the State of Florida failed to meet its pre-sale estimate of $30,000, realising $19,375.00. The document probably related to a raid on Capone’s Palm Island mansion in 1930 and highlights Capone’s constant run-ins with the law.


Two life-size reproductions of John Dillinger’s death masks realized $406.25. Four plaster masks were believed to have been made of the outlaw, with two remaining in existence. The day after Dillinger was shot and killed by Chicago police, his remains were visited by over one thousand visitors at the Chicago morgue.


Crime may not pay, but it sure makes for exciting auctions--check out all the results at rrauctions.com

                                                                                                                                                                          Mugshot of Al Capone: Public Domain

A man who says he is a distant cousin of Jesse James has come forward with a never-before-seen ambrotype of the notorious outlaw, young and handsome with piercing light eyes.

JJ 010.JPGPatrick Meguiar of Tennessee first heard about the antique photo from his grandfather, Maynard Meguiar, who would tell stories about their ancestral connection to James, calling him “closely kin,” a claim that is disputed by Eric F. James, co-founder of the James Preservation Trust. Maynard’s grandparents spent time with James “on a least a couple of occasions,” according to Patrick Meguiar. “The first time in 1868 and the second time in the late 1870s when cousin Jesse lived in Nashville, Tennessee.” As family history has it, James gave the ambrotype to his cousin Sarah Mariah Martin Meguiar after he paid her a visit while hiding from the law following the Nimrod Long Bank Robbery. The ambrotype has been passed down in the Meguiar family ever since, landing with Patrick in 1977.

Meguiar, who never married, said he has now decided to sell it “because I have no one to leave it to in my family.” The ambrotype will be offered at auction in Georgia on August 26. It is estimated to make $8,000-12,000.  

According to Meguiar, what’s striking about the image are those obviously light eyes; James’ eye color has raised eyebrows before. Some images that claim to depict James show dark eyes, which is incorrect, said Meguiar. “My image has the right eye color that is well-documented in lifetime descriptions.” Indeed the only image signed and validated by James’ widow (seen here) also appears to show light eyes. The most recently “discovered” tintype, in 2015--also a family heirloom--picturing James with Robert Ford makes James look cross-eyed, and, as Meguiar put it, “My cousin was not cross-eyed.” Nevertheless, it sold at auction for $35,000.

JJ 005.JPGPhoto authentication is a fraught issue where James imagery is concerned. “The flood of newly discovered ‘Jesse James’ photos never stops,” said T.J. Stiles, author of Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War (2003). “They obviously can’t all, or most, or perhaps any, be true images of Jesse James. This makes me suspicious of all newly discovered photos.” He added that because James was a fugitive, he very likely did not have many portraits of himself made. It would take “rock-solid provenance,” Stiles said, to build a case for authenticity, including a “clear chain of custody dating back to Jesse James, or at least his immediate family, and some contemporary documentation.”

Those are things the auctioneer, Addison & Sarova in Macon, Georgia, believes it can offer in this case. “One of the things that makes it so great is that we can trace the provenance entirely,” said Michael Addison. “There have been many photos over time purporting to be of Jesse James, most of which are fakes. In this case, the evidence is overwhelming given the provenance, but it’s also fairly easy to compare this photo with the known photo of Jesse dressed as a Quantrill guerrilla, at 19 years of age. The present photo is of Jesse at about 21 years of age. So, his appearance hasn’t changed all that much, and that makes the verification more simple.”

JJ 021.JPGImages courtesy of Addison & Sarova.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                     Yesterday marked twenty years since J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published, and with 450 million books sold worldwide, “Pottermania” shows no signs of abating; the British Library is hosting a “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” in October, publisher Bloomsbury books issued a celebratory party pack filled with games, puzzles, and books, and the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) just launched a digital collection highlighting the historical and scientific connections behind many of the elements in the series.


Entitled “How to Pass Your O.W.L’s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course,” the digial exhibition examines forty of the nearly 33,000 rare books and manuscripts housed at the NYAM and their connection to the Harry Potter books. Rare books curator Anne Garner said the show is a natural fit. “The genesis of the show was finding a way to attract more kids to the library,” she said. “When visitors come to the rare book room, they often say it looks like Hogwarts, and when we realized the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter was coming up, mounting this show made even more sense.”                                                       

                                                                                                                                                                                               Rowling’s background in the classics provided much grist for her books, where spells and creatures often have Latin roots--and the NYAM’s show illustrates where she pulled from history. Organized thematically by seven courses taught throughout the Harry Potter series, the collection appears like a fictional study guide to assist would-be wizards in their studies.                                                                

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Take the section entitled Herbology, for example: “Some plants are good for spells and not for others,” explained Garner. “In Book Two [The Chamber of Secrets] Harry goes to a class where the teacher is instructing how to repot mandrakes. Mandrake roots look eerily human, and in the fifteenth century, there was a superstition that if you pulled a mandrake root out of the ground, it would scream.” An incunable on display from 1499 called Hortus sanitus (Garden of Health) exhorts would-be botanists to use a dog and earmuffs to pull mandrakes out of the ground. “Harry’s professor tells his students to wear earmuffs when they’re pulling out mandrakes. Clearly, Rowling was familiar with these ancient treatises and incorporated them into her books.”


The Serpent of Slytherin also has roots in medieval lore. “The word basilisk comes from the Greek word basiliskos -- little king--and the ancients believed it was a mythical snake with a head in the shape of a crown, whose mere gaze could kill,” said Garner. Rowling’s basilisk in The Chamber of Secrets is also a monstrous beast with killer eyes owned by the villainous Slytherin.


Even Nicholas Flamel, a pivotal character in the first book, is based on an actual person. “Flamel appears in Book One as a 600-year-old alchemist and is credited with discovering and making the philosopher’s stone, the pinnacle of chemical achievement that led to eternal life,” said Garner. “In fact, the actual Flamel wasn’t an alchemist, but a fourteenth-century French bookseller and scribe who married well.” Seventeenth century booksellers revived Flamel as an expert in the hermetic arts--a popular topic at the time-- and the NYAM’s display includes a text on hieroglyphics attributed to Flamel, but was likely fabricated by the author, William Salmon, to generate reader interest.                                                                                                                                                                                

The images are accessible online only, but the library does welcome vistors by appointment. “Filmmakers, genaolgy researchers, even cookbook writers visit our collections because we house centuries of documentation relating to how humans view and care for their bodies through history,” Garner said. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                 The New York Academy of Medicine is located at 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street New York, NY. View the Harry Potter-themed online collection here

                                                                                                                                                                                                 

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Image credits: The New York Academy of Medicine. 

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Alan Kitchen, proprietor of Black Forest Bookshop, an online bookshop based in Indiana:


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How did you get started in rare books?


I received a BA in Fine Arts, a subject still very dear to me, but literature took a strong hold right after college. For several years I worked for a big-box bookstore, and sometime during that period I learned that people pay attention to the finer points of books, something I think which appealed to the burgeoning art “collector” in me, and began vaguely teaching myself the rudimentary aspects of collection building. Though only later a collector, I think it was the childhood visits to the amazing Hyde Brothers Bookshop in Fort Wayne, IN, that opened up the importance of used bookshops in my mind. Midway through the corporate phase, my now wife and I moved to Denver, which is of course an amazing book town and exposure to numerous good sellers and kinds of books really propelled me forward. Like any sensible book person in that city, I adopted the Hermitage Bookshop as a weekly check-in spot. After two years of diligent visits and shyly asking questions or putting forth my “wants,” the kind and knowledgeable owner, Robert Topp, asked me over a cup of coffee, if I had any interest in furthering my book education by joining his shop. Stunned, I had to tell him that my wife and I were committed to a six-month trip abroad in Europe, to which he offered: “I can give you six weeks, then you can start for me.” I spent five years at the shop, which came to an end after another lengthy trip and relocation to Indiana.


When did you open Black Forest Bookshop and what do you specialize in?


After six months of driving coast to coast, a relocation and addition to our family, I opened my online store Black Forest Bookshop in the summer of 2016. It can’t be said I specialize as of yet, but my inventory is prominently literature, with philosophy, poetry, and some history.


What do you love about the book trade?


As many have stated before, the people are a big draw. Any time one gets to talk and share with others that have a like passion, it stimulates one to explore further and try harder. The eye-opening conversations with customers at the shop sometimes verged on the metaphysical, sometimes I felt as though it was a graduate course. Then there are certainly the items themselves, the hunting, finding, researching, and learning. Coupled with this then, are the long stretches of solitude that are also a strong pull for me; like many, I suspect, that love books.


Describe a typical day for you:


Well I am a stay-at-home father for the time being, so beyond those widely consuming duties, I regularly check email, respond to inquiries and process orders. My sidekick and I run to the post office, check for book sales, etc. Weekends are occasionally consumed with long scouting drives across the Midwest.


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


One of the favorites currently in inventory: The modest 1949 Alan Swallow edition of John Williams’s poetry collection The Broken Landscape. Deservedly known for the renaissance of his novels (my favorite being Butcher’s Crossing) this little item is inscribed by the author before the famous prose was ever published!


What do you personally collect?


I have been building a collection of literature in translation, with a focus on European and probably specifically German writers, though not strictly limited. I enjoy my collections of books by W.G. Sebald, Thomas Bernhard, and Robert Walser. I am also fond of my very modest but personally important group of contemporary painter monographs.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I love to travel, hike, camp and read. Hanging out with my wife and daughter is the best of times.


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


I think its future is strong. Why wouldn’t it be? People have always loved important, beautiful, gratifying objects; we have entire complexes built to house them. That being said, I think it’s vital that dealers reach out to a wider variety of customer and will need to extend what is considered of secondary-market importance. Many small and new presses are publishing great material that will need properly cataloged moving forward. Paperback originals will become a new major collectible in the next fifty years. I have daydreams of whole auction catalogs full of these some day. This part of preserving and selling may even come to be seen as a form of activism, environmentally, economically and culturally speaking. While at the shop the largest growing customer group were people in their 30s, spending real money, meanwhile, many of the earlier generation largely lamented...who knows. I think there is room for optimism.


Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?


As of this writing, there are no specific plans.


We can be contacted at blackforestbookshop@gmail.com 


Image courtesy of Alan Kitchen.


















Earlier this week, the Concord Museum in Massachusetts received a daguerreotype of Sophia Thoreau (1819-1876), younger sister of American essayist and naturalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). The timing is fortuitous; July 12 marks the bicentennial of the birth of the author of Walden and Civil Disobedience.

                                                                                                                                             

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“It is remarkable that her [Sophia’s] image should come to the Concord Museum, since all the great Thoreau objects in our collection came through her hands,” said museum curator David Wood. Numbering 250 artifacts, including Thoreau’s writing desk, snowshoes, textiles, and books, the Concord Museum boasts the largest collection of objects related to Concord’s native son. Thoreau’s journals and manuscripts are at New York’s Morgan Library. 


Thoreau’s fame came posthumously, largely due to the efforts of Sophia, who served as her brother’s literary executor until her own death. She shepherded Henry’s journals to Harrison Blake, an admirer and disciple of Thoreau who edited the material for publication.

                                                                                                                                                

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                                                                                                                                               The Sophia daguerreotype is a gift from the Geneva Frost Estate in Maine, and the acquisition is so new that Concord Museum is still researching the portrait and how it ended up in Maine in the first place.                                                                                                                                      

The Concord Museum recently collaborated with the Morgan Library on a comprehensive exhibition dedicated to Henry Thoreau entitled This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal, currently on display in Manhattan. The show travels to Concord in September, where the portrait will be displayed alongside Henry’s quill pen, which is inscribed with a handwriiten note by Sophia, “The pen that brother Henry last wrote with.” This Ever New Self  will be on display in Conord until January 2018. 

                                                                                                                                                                               

Image: (top) Unknown, Portrait of Sophia Thoreau. Used with permission from the Concord Museum; (middle) Benjamin D. Maxham (1821-1889), Henry David Thoreau, 1856, daguerreotype. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Jane+Austen+portrait copy.jpgOn Friday the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford will ask the question: Which Jane Austen?

In an exhibition marking the bicentennial of the author’s death, Austen’s world is broadened beyond her native Hampshire. The manuscripts, artifacts, and ephemera on exhibit aim to contextualize Austen as a businesswoman and as an avid spectator of global issues, including war and British empire-building. For example, her novels, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, are interpreted in the exhibition as wartime texts set alongside military treatises and political cartoons. Three of Austen’s brothers served in the military; the logbook kept by Frank Austen as Post-Captain of HMS Canopus, open at his entry describing the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Nelson, is one of the show’s highlights.

Oxford University professor Kathryn Sutherland, curator of the exhibition and leading Austen expert, said, “Contrary to popular belief, Jane Austen was no retiring country mouse. And while it is assumed that, as an 18th-century female, her context was local and her outlook parochial, Austen was always very much a writer of the world.”

Jane+Austen+Volume+the+First_cover(1) copy.jpgOther highlights include “Volume the First,” a collection of short stories, plays, and verse written by Austen between the ages of 12 and 18; manuscripts of The Watsons and Sanditon; first editions of her novels; her writing desk; and many family and professional letters. The Bodleian Libraries have one of the world’s three most significant collections of Austen material. For this exhibition, several institutions, including Chawton House Library, Jane Austen’s House Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the John Murray Archive, and others, loaned important items.    

A range of events are taking place across the UK this summer to observe the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death (July 18), including The Mysterious Miss Austen, an exhibition at the Discovery Centre, Winchester (through July 24), and various tours, programs, and exhibits at Chawton House Library and Jane Austen’s House Museum.

Images: (Top) A portrait of Jane Austen from the frontispiece of A Memoir of Jane Austen, a biography of the novelist published in 1869 by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh.The portrait is a steel engraving by an unknown artist and is based on a watercolor by James Andrews (1807-1875). Andrews, in his turn, based his portrait on a sketch made by Jane’s sister Cassandra c. 1810. Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. (Middle) Front cover of the unique manuscript “Volume the First.” Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

Guest Post by Martha Bayne

The second-floor ballroom at Chicago’s Journeymen Plumbers Union Hall is a beautiful space--its broad, curving staircases and hanging lamps arguably as well suited to browsing vintage maps and books as hammering out a new contract for the Local. Or at least it was on Saturday, June 17, when the Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association (MWABA) hosted its 56th annual Chicago Book and Paper Fair.

IMG_2923 copy.jpgOf the fifty-three exhibitors, the vast majority were from the Midwest--Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, though some had traveled farther. In addition to the array of first editions of Lolita, On the Road, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, locked inside protective vitrine cases, some glorious bits of Chicagoiana could be found on display and up for sale: a massive ten-volume set documenting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a signed limited edition of Norman Maclean’s 1976 fly-fishing masterpiece A River Runs Through It, and Vol. 1, #2 of “The Dil Pickler,” a letterpress pamphlet produced by the city’s famed Bohemian club of free thinkers.

IMG_2911 copy.jpgIn a corner of the floor Carlos Martinez, proprietor of Chicago’s Bibliodisia, pointed out a two-volume set of the Koran with marbled paper covers and a colored map insert ($1,075) and a worn copy of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal ($75), an inspiration for J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and the basis for many of the potions and herbal remedies used at Hogwarts.

The fair was going “very well,” said Martinez, adding, “I’m always amazed at what people will buy.”

“I like looking at old stuff,” said Don Krage, who comes to the fair every year with his son, a collector of opera memorabilia. “This place is so full of things that go back hundreds of years; I always find interesting things for myself that spark my imagination.”

--Martha Bayne is a Chicago-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in Buzzfeed Reader, Belt Magazine, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Reader, Latterly Magazine, the Rumpus, and other regional and national outlets.

Images courtesy of Martha Bayne

Streaming Books, Literally

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screenshot: PixGrove                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Ever feel like your home is overwhelmed with books? (No? Really?) Well, Spanish artist Alicia Martin has taken inspiration from book sprawl and created massive outdoor sculptures that suggest the aftermath of a book-eating cyclone.


Since the late 1990s, Martin’s book sculptures have tumbled from windows or cascaded over archways throughout Europe, with three located in the heart of Madrid. Despite the innate grandeur of these projects, very little has been written about Martin’s work, in English or Spanish, other than on than a handful of Pinterest sites and blogs. But, here’s what we know:


Each sculpture requires a minimum of 5,000 volumes, according to the artist, who sources her raw material from an ever-present supply of discards. Each structure is held together by internal metal and mesh framing, around which Martin attaches the books. These sculptures recall the work of another biblio-centric artist, that of Nancy Gifford and her piece “Lament,” which we wrote about back in 2014. (Update: “Lament” found a permanent home at the Davidson Library at UC Santa Barbara in 2016.)


In different ways, both Gifford and Martin offer up commentary on the grand sweep of cultural change underway. “The book chose me,” said Martin for the Spanish-language art website queleer.com in 2014. “It [a book] carries much symbolism, and though the result seems obsessive, I do not recognize myself in this obsession. It is an object that stores and records time and space. The book itself is an object to be read, and offers as many “readings” as there are people who have read it.”


So, the next time your books find themselves everywhere but the bookshelves, just think: glued together and toppling out a window, they could have a new story to tell.

                                                                                                                                                          

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The House at Lobster Cove

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The House at Lobster Cove, by Jane Goodrich; Benna Books, $24.95, 388 pages.


George Nixon Black (1842-1928) was a Boston-based heir to a real estate fortune, philanthropist, and collector, and in Jane Goodrich’s fictionalized biography, violence and unhappiness give way to secret romance.                                                                                                                                                                                               Born in a rough-and-tumble timber town in Maine, Nixon’s privileged childhood is marked with turmoil. His family moves to Boston, and Nixon’s nascent homosexuality requires stealth and secrecy while navigating a world filled with buttoned-up Brahmins.                                  

After the death of his infirm sister, Nixon (as he was called to distinguish from his father) taps architect Robert Peabody to build a summer home in the seaside resort town of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Dubbed Kragsyde, the shingle-style home becomes Nixon’s private pleasure grounds where he retreats from Boston with his lover, Charles Brooks Pittman. Nixon and Pittman carve out nearly forty years at Kragsyde, pursuing an unconventional life of domestic bliss. Since so little is known about Nixon’s private life, here the author has crafted a persuasive rendering of what happened behind closed doors.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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                                                                                                                                                                As one of the wealthiest men in Boston, Nixon also used his fortune to amass a magnificent collection of antiques and paintings, and ultimately became one of the largest benefactors of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, for example, came from Nixon. 

                                                                                                                                                                                     

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                                                                                                                                                     Goodrich first learned about Kragsyde and its owner as an art-history student. When she discovered that the house had been demolished 1929, she vowed to resurrect it on Swan’s Island, Maine, which planted the seed for this project.                                                                                                                                                                 

The book itself reflects Goodrich’s other formidable talent as a letterpress printer. The cream-colored cover and title pages were both hand-printed at the author’s studio, while the illustration is Peabody’s own hand-drawn sketch of Kragsyde.


A beguiling examination of life and love in the Gilded Age, The House at Lobster Cove is an ode to a man, his house, and their respective secrets.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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                                                                                                                                                                                   All images courtesy Jane Goodrich. Library photo: Bret Morgan. 

What better day than June 14--the birthday of author Harriet Beecher Stowe--to share this exciting literary tourism news: The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut, launched a new interactive tour of the writer’s house this past weekend. According to a press release, “Throughout the National Historic Landmark home, velvet ropes and stanchions have been removed.” You can literally immerse yourself in Stowe’s salon. “In Stowe’s parlor, visitors will sit to discuss 19th-century social justice issues just as Stowe did during her residence. In conversation with their guide, visitors will connect the past to the present, identifying issues that resonate today.”

Stowe House exterior showing KSD copy.jpgStowe (1811-1896) is best known for her bestselling anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The Stowe Center is a museum and research library based in the home where she lived from 1873-1896 (incidentally, right next door to fellow author Mark Twain).

The Stowe House recently began an extensive, $3.3-million preservation project as well. So far, new climate controls, state-of-the-art fire suppression, and renovated historic windows have been installed. They are currently working on interiors, with custom-made carpeting, paint, and wallpapers reflecting Stowe’s choices being readied for final placement this summer.  

“An important part of the Stowe Center’s mission is preserving Stowe’s home and historic collections,” said Thomas Farrish, chair of the Stowe Center Board of Trustees. “After being open to the public since 1968, major capital improvements were essential to preserve the National Historic Landmark for generations to come.”

Aside from the new tour and refurbished rooms, visitors can also see the table where Stowe wrote her famous bestseller, as well as the 1853 anti-slavery petition presented to her by the women of Great Britain--the 26-volume collection was signed by a half million women.

The Stowe House is open year-round. Check out its calendar of events and programs online.

Image credit: Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT. Courtesy of the HBSC. 

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The Beatrix Potter Society hosted a three-day symposium this past weekend at Connecticut College dedicated to discussing various Potter archives and biographies in an overall appreciation of the creator of beloved classics like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. Connecticut College’s Betsy Bray and Kathy Cole coordinated the event, which was two years in the making. Most participants hailed from libraries and institutions across the United States and Great Britain, though the group maintains a robust membership in Japan, where Peter Rabbit and a taste for British wit are hugely popular. 


The symposium kicked things off Friday with an opening reception at the Shain Library. Honorary Chair Linda Lear welcomed participants to her alma mater and to the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, which opened in 2008 and now houses her research collection on Beatrix Potter.


Last year marked the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth, and with it came a flurry of academic and commercial publications, inspiring a spirited examination on Saturday (moderated by Lear) devoted to the many biographies of Potter and their virtues. Incidentally, Lear is the author of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature (2007) which was reissued last year in time for Potter’s sesquicentennial.


Fellow Connecticut College alumnus and University of Delaware Senior Research Fellow Mark Samuels Lasner was one of the weekend’s featured speakers and discussed the corpus of Potter bibliographies. Lasner recently donated his own 9,500-volume collection of British literature and art from 1850 through 1900 to the University of Delaware.


Collector Selwyn Goodacre also spoke at the symposium. A retired physician, Goodacre collects American “unauthorized editions” of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and has every printing of the book, which numbers over 150. Goodacre is a regular at these events: he’s attended every biennial conference in England since the society’s inception in 1980 and has spoken at four of them.


Beatrix Potter Society Chairperson Rowena Godfrey talked about Potter’s continued relevance in 2017. “[Potter] was a fascinating, complicated, and contradictory person, and those qualities appeal to casual readers, serious collectors, and professional archivists. Her books remain immensely profitable, so she remains in the public eye, and her archives continue to foster rich study. Her life and her work offers so much to so many people, and oddly enough, the one person who would hate this would be Potter herself.” Perhaps some part of her would appreciate so many people dedicated to the curatorship and protection of her work and bequests.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Image: The Tailor Mouse, 1902, by Beatrix Potter. (Public Domain)

At auction last week in New York was a bound volume containing two early nineteenth-century ship’s logbooks, “Journal of a Voyage, from Bristol to the Mediterranean, Anno Domini 1819” and “Log-Book Kept on board the Astraea On a Voyage from London to the Mediterranean, Anno-Domini 1821.” Unlike many logbooks of their kind, these two displayed exceptional artistic merit, containing 28 leaves of ink calligraphy (page headers) and 35 fine watercolor drawings. Their creator, Captain William Hodgson, drew not only his own ships but other trading vessels traveling through the Mediterranean at the time.   

2450-296_2 copy.jpgInterest in the nautical manuscripts was strong. Multiple bidders took the volume well past its $3,000-5,000 estimate; ultimately, a dealer won it for $20,800. Swann Galleries specialist Caleb Kiffer noted, “The log book is one of those unusual items that rarely comes to market and that gets people really excited.”

_DSC4070.jpgRead more about this lot on Swann’s blog.

Images courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Hamlet: Globe to Globe

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                                                                                                                                                                               In 2012, Globe Theatre’s artistic director Dominic Dromgoole and his team came up with “a daft idea:” celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth by taking Hamlet on a two-year tour of 197 countries. In Hamlet: Globe to Globe, Dromgoole explains how the concept took shape, the logistics that were involved, and how a centuries-old play resonated with audiences around the world.


On the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth--April 23, 2014--twelve actors and four stage managers began their global trek at a breakneck speed. Flying into a new country, setting up, performing, dismantling, and moving on for nearly two years testified to the actors’ stamina and perseverance. Plenty could have easily derailed this undertaking as well: an attack of Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico City, for example, nearly ended them.


Hamlet possess the breathless quality of an early 20th-century travelogue. At times, the pace is frenzied, but that is partly due to the subject matter, in a sense recreating what the Globe actors must have felt during two years performing on the road. Anecdotes of kicking back (time permitting) at various tour stops provide moments of levity and respite.


How did performing Hamlet throughout the world connect disparate audiences to Shakespeare’s most powerful tragedy? Dromgoole answers this in fits and spurts--when the troupe arrives in Saudi Arabia, he remarks on the large number of students attending the performance, recalling that Hamlet was also a student on leave from his studies in Wittenberg. It is unclear whether the rousing reception at curtain call was because the Saudi students made that connection or because they simply enjoyed the performance. Later, Dromgoole encounters students in a piazza, where he learns that Hamlet’s disobedience thrilled them most. This is an unusual but informative interaction, and more such stories would have provided greater insight.


The troupe’s visit to a refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border in October 2015 received much publicity, and Dromgoole’s descriptions of the conditions are powerful. But there’s no sense of whether the performance left any impact on the refugees. The audience “squawked with an awkward excitement” when Hamlet tussles with Ophelia, but there’s no sense of what that squawking meant. Did the Syrians connect with a play performed in a language they may not have understood? If so, what did they feel? That is the tantalizing question.


A few sections discuss the complications surrounding comprehension--a production in Mexico City relies on a less-than-reliable local translator--and it would have been interesting to learn how, if at all, the play was translated to non-English speaking audiences.


What’s the takeaway? The author’s love for Shakespeare is paramount, and his discussions on the minutiae of the tragedy would be valuable to any student of the Bard. While recounting a most admirable endeavor--bringing “Hamlet” to the world--Hamlet: Globe to Globe reaffirms that Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature is universally timeless and needs no translation.

                                                                                                                                                                            

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Hamlet and Laertes face off in the final duel in Odeon Amphitheatre, Amman, Jordan. Credit: Sarah Lee

                                                                                                                                                                              

Hamlet: Globe to Globe, by Dominic Dromgoole; Grove Press, $27.00, 390 pages.

Recently, the Wolfsonian-Florida International University and Instagram forum #JJ Community launched a social media campaign aimed at contemporary photographers, asking them to respond to the work of celebrated WPA photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Over seven thousand entries were submitted via Instagram, and from those, fifteen finalists have been selected to exhibit their work in the museum’s lobby beginning Friday, June 9, in an installation titled The Long Road to Now: Digital Photos Inspired by Berenice Abbott’s Road Trip. It coincides with the museum’s current exhibit, North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1 (organized by the Syracuse University Art Collection).

The winning entries (pictured below) fall under three themes: Signage, Classic, and Road Trip, each derived from motifs found in North and South. Abbott is largely known for black-and-white photography that depicted urban America between the wars, New York City specifically. On her 1954 journey along U.S. Route 1, she took more than two thousands photographs of East Coast roads, towns, and inhabitants.   

image-wolf.jpgLeft to right: details of winning submissions by artists Toby Baldinger (IG: @tobyb_nyc | Signage category), Frank Orrico (IG: @franko68 | Classic category), and Susie Nishio (IG: @loggerhead55 | Road Trip category).

Said Wolfsonian director Tim Rodgers: “In this day and age, with so many millions of images shared, consumed, and quickly forgotten online, we’re excited to extend these ephemeral moments for the chance at deeper reflection. The fifteen stunning works, each so carefully considered and skillfully executed, are right at home when seen in conversation with Abbott’s iconic images.”

The winning entires will remain on view through October 8.

The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, opened last week an exhibition of book cover design called The Cover Sells the Book: Transformations in Commercial Book Publishing, 1860-1920. Whatever your favored term--pictorial bindings, publishers’ bindings, or decorative cloth bindings--or movement--Aesthetic, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, or Pre-Raphaelitism, the idea here is to chart “the sweeping changes in book design, inspired by technological developments, marketing strategies, and shifting ideas about art.”

The Scarlet Letter copy.jpgIn the Victorian and post-Victorian age, technological change made books easier to print and market widely. It also created an unusual backlash: artists like William Morris turned away from the mass production of books and returned to the ‘old-fashioned’ methods of letterpress and hand-illumination. He believed in creating beautiful books through the use of quality materials and integrated design. It wasn’t long before that aesthetic was adapted and commercialized by major publishers for their mass-produced, but still eye-catching publishers’ bindings.

“People wanted beautiful books in their homes, both for viewing pleasure and as a clear status symbol. The new interest in books as works of art attracted an expanded group of consumers, a burgeoning middle class with more disposable income,” said Rachael DiEleuterio, librarian and archivist at the Delaware Art Museum.

Camp-Fires and Guide-Posts copy.jpgMorris and his fellow British artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti feature prominently in the exhibition, as do American designers Sarah Wyman Whitman and Margaret Armstrong. The selections on view are largely pulled from Mary G. Sawyer’s 2009 gift of more than 3,000 books to the Delaware Art Museum’s Helen Farr Sloan Library and Archives. Several items from noted Delaware bibliophile Mark Samuels Lasner are also included among the fifty-plus books and posters on display.

If you can’t make it to Delaware before the exhibit closes on August 27, check out the online version.

                                                                                                                                         Images: (Top) The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892), Binding designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum. (Middle) Camp-Fires and Guide-Posts, by Henry Van Dyke (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1921), Binding designed by Margaret Armstrong (1867-1904), Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum.

If you were online over the weekend, perhaps you noticed the Google Doodle dedicated to Josephine Baker, whose 111th birthday would have been on June 3rd. (Baker died in 1975 in Paris of a cerebral hemmorhage.) 

                                                                                                                                                                      

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                                                                                                                                                                       The American dancer who went to Paris at age nineteen and quickly epitomized the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties is now the subject of a recently released graphic novel biography.

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Written by French author-illustrator duo José-Luis Bocquet and Catel Muller, Josephine Baker (SelfMadeHero; $22.95) explores Baker’s rise to fame as one of the first black entertainers to grace the world stage.

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Illustrations by Catel Muller. Reproduced with permission from SelfMadeHero                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Despite her fame and becoming one of the highest-paid stage performers of the era, Baker experienced racism daily, and offstage joined the French Resistance (Baker was the first American woman to be buried in France with military honors) as well as the Civil Rights movement, championing unity and tolerance for all.

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Illustrations by Catel Muller. Reproduced with permission from SelfMadeHero                                                         

At a hefty 568 pages, no stone goes unturned in this biographic treatment, which also includes the stories of the twelve adopted children Baker called her “rainbow tribe” and fifty-five mini biographies of the men and women in Baker’s life. Catel Muller’s sinewy illustrations evoke a swinging, graceful exuberance, the whole a revealing portrait of a woman who refused to live life in the shadows.                          

                                                                                                                                                                       

Josephine Baker, by José-Luis Bocquet, illustrated by Catel Muller, SelfMadeHero; $22.95, 568 pages. 

We spy some beautiful birds headed to auction in New York on June 15. The ornithological library of Dr. Gerald Dorros comprises a “superb selection of important works from the heyday of beautifully illustrated natural history books,” according to Christie’s.

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 10.53.10 AM.pngThe biggest names in birding are accounted for--Audubon, Gould, Elliot--in first editions, several in presentation copies. And in some cases, such as the first edition of Saverio Manetti’s Storia naturale degli Uccelli (1767-1776) pictured here, the auction estimate reaches six figures ($150,000-250,000). Same goes for Gould’s The Birds of Australia (1851-1869), estimated at $250,000-350,000. Those birds can fly!

More modestly, and more interestingly to some, will be the material related to the publication and sale of Audubon’s books, such as the “very rare” prospectus for the original edition of The Birds of America (1831) that bears an unsigned ink presentation in what may be Audubon’s hand, according to the auction catalogue. The estimate is $6,000-8,000. Another lot features the scarce salesman’s sample for the 1871 Lockwood octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America and Quadrupeds of America, containing extensive examples of the text and forty hand-colored plates. It is estimated at $7,000-10,000. Still another lot boasts a title-page to volume three of Birds (1834-35) boldly inscribed by Audubon in 1840 while visiting Baltimore to solicit subscriptions for his masterpiece. It is estimated at $10,000-15,000.  

Image via Christie’s

Manhattan-based Symphony Space is welcoming summer with its annual Bloomsday performance dedicated to celebrating James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses.

For the uninitiated, Bloomsday refers to the date--June 16--during which the events of Ulysses take place and the day is observed worldwide with readings and celebrations.  


As in years past, Symphony Space’s Bloomsday event features authors, actors, and self-proclaimed “Joyceans” who will perform readings from sections of the book considered to be the most heretical, sexual, and political--in other words, the very elements that got Ulysses declared obscene in the United States from 1922 until 1933, during which time the U.S. Postal service seized and burned nearly 500 copies of the book. Federal Judge Judge Woolsey finally lifted the ban in 1933, saying that “The words which are criticized as dirty are old Saxon words known to almost all men, and I venture, to many women....If one does not wish to assoicate with such folks as Joyce describes, that is one’s own choice.”

                                                                                                                                                                       Presented in collaboration with the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and co-produced with the Irish Arts Center, this year’s Bloomsday on Broadway is hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon and stars Criminal Minds actress Kirsten Vangsness, Malachy McCourt, Valorie Curry, and others.

                                                                                                                            

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Malachy McCourt. Reproduced with permission from Symphony Space


Considered to be one of the most challenging books for even the most dedicated Jocyeans to read cover to cover, Bloomsday on Broadway is partnering with the Leonard Lopate Show Book Club to bring in experts and authors to help audience members unlock Joyce’s wit and wisdom--attendees are invited to join the Facebook Group to participate in the discussion before and after the performance.


“Bloomsday on Broadway XXXVI: One Book Called Ulysses” takes place on Friday, June 16 at 7 p.m. at the Peter Jay Sharpe Theater at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street in New York. General admission tickets cost $26.

                                                                                                                                                                 For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/home

Auction Guide