October 2017 Archives

For the first time, English students at Southeastern University (SEU) in Lakeland, Florida, have the opportunity to examine various editions and manuscripts while reading and analyzing John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton (1608-1694). English professor Cameron McNabb, happens to be a collector of rare and antiquarian manuscripts, and this semester has opened her personal Milton archives to students to provide fresh context and nuance to Milton’s desire to “justify the ways of God to men.”                                                                     
Professor McNabb spoke with us recently about catching the collecting bug, why Milton has remained a formidable influence in her life and work, and what she hopes her students will learn from working with primary sources.                                          
I understand Milton was your first love--discovered while you were an undergraduate English student at the University of Maryland. Could you talk about what you find so compelling about him and his work? 
                                                                                                                                                                    I actually first encountered Milton in high school. I read Paradise Lost “for fun” and I was hooked. I was already interested in Christian theology, but I had not encountered a writer who was willing to ask the tough questions like Milton was. He introduced me to questions I didn’t even know I should be asking, and he did so in the most beautiful poetry I had ever read. He has been the most formative thinker and writer in my own life and faith.                                                                                                              
What would you say is the highlight of your Milton collection? 
                                                                                                                                                                 My 1738 edition of Paradise Lost was my first purchase, and it is still the highlight to me, even though I now have older and rarer editions. I bought it from G. David’s while studying one summer in Cambridge during grad school. My program provided tuition and accommodations, as well as breakfast and dinner, so I had only brought along enough money for several weeks’ worth of lunches and a little spending money for the weekends. On my second or third day in Cambridge, I found G. David’s and the 1738 edition. I bought it immediately, spending almost all of my summer’s lunch money on it. I skipped lunches for the rest of the term, but Milton was definitely worth it.   
                                                                                                                                                                                Is this the first time students are working with rare books in your classes? If not, what has been student reaction to this kind of work? 
                                                                                                                                                                This is the first time students are getting such a hands-on experience with my books. In previous classes, I’ve brought some items in and used them as examples of printing conventions or book history, and students have always been really drawn to looking at authentic examples. I find that what they’re learning is much more meaningful to them when they can see real examples. Students this semester are very excited to get to work with so many items from my collection. For example, in some of our classes so far, I’ve handed out copies of engravings by Gustave Doré for us to discuss, but I remind them that they will be working with an actual edition of Doré’s Paradise Lost as well!                                                                                                                                                                            
What is the culminating activity for the class? What are the students expected to learn at the end of reading Paradise Lost
Paradise_Lost_13.jpg                                                                                                                                                                                   One of the things I stress with my students is that there are many ways to approach and respond to any text, and the way my Milton class is structured highlights that approach well. Over the course of the semester, we are analyzing not only the text of the poem but also visual representations of it (such as by Doré and William Blake), musical adaptions of it (such as Haydn’s “The Creation”), and the textual and production histories of it (such as those found in my collection). Each of these approaches allows for students to explore the poem through a new lens. Students will be writing short essays on each of the facets I just mentioned, and then they will produce a final essay that combines all of these lenses and produces an original argument about the poem. In particular, there hasn’t been much scholarly interest in the 18th-century editions of Milton, which my collection contains and which are part of the poem’s tradition that extends to the visual and musical artists discussed, so I hope my students’ analyses will begin to fill in a gap in the scholarship. 
                                                                                                                                                                       Image: illustration by Gustave Doré, via Wikimedia Commons

IMG_2609 2.JPGFor the past year and a half I have lived in Hampstead, a village in North London rich in literary history. My local pub, the King William IV has plastered its walls with large framed portraits of living and dead writers and artists it claims as local, from current resident John Le Carré to Agatha Christie, from T. S. Eliot to Katherine Mansfield, all who supposedly for one reason of the other, can be tied to the area. I chose my Hampstead remembering a short visit years ago, when I was touring literary houses all over London, where I had wandered up from the overground train station into Daunt Books, walked into John Keats’s house on Valentine’s Day, and then up Hampstead Heath, London’s wild, uncultivated park, and into the Vale of Health, where I was bombarded by blue plaques denoting the literary houses of D. H. Lawrence and of Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

                                                                                                                                                                                          Last week I invited the women of London’s rare book trade to Hampstead for a tour similar to the one I initially made on accident. We saw many writers’ houses, including that of Wilkie Collins, H. G. Wells, Katherine Mansfield, and Daphne du Maurier’s Cannon Hall, before we enjoyed an evening in good company. There are many lesser known writers without plaques in Hampstead, something I learned from publisher Nicola Beauman, who spoke at length at my local bookstore about dozens of women of Hampstead who had produced compelling novels, like May Sinclair and Amber Reeves and Elizabeth Jenkins, many out-of-print, several who she had brought back into print herself. It was a beautiful, romantic night, but on our tour, I wish I had been able to point out to the women I was hosting some of these under-recognized writers’ houses too. I wished they also had blue plaques. Perhaps next year I can host an Overlooked Women Writers of Hampstead tour -- and perhaps someday their books will be coveted and collected and they, too, will have blue plaques.

                                                                                                                                                                                Image: Women in the rare book trade gaze up at Daphne du Maurier’s Canon House. It sold for £28 million pounds in 2015. Courtesy of A.N. Devers.


                                                                                                                                                                            Readers may recall our story back in March highlighing the TEFAF Maastricht art and antiquarian fair. Next week TEFAF lands in Manhattan, where it will hold court at the Park Avenue Armory from October 28 through November 1 and welcome nearly one hundred dealers from around the world. Held three times a year in North America and in Europe, TEFAF is widely considered one of the world’s premier art and antiques fair, offering museum-quality pieces to the general public.                                          

                                                                                                                                                                              Among the dealers at this year’s show include Heribert Tenschert, a Switzerland-based German bookseller who, in his words, specializes in “the finest manuscripts and printed books available in the book market.” For the past 40 years, Tenschert has easily met that challenge--his catalogues themselves are collectable in their own right and sell for hundreds of dollars. The former professor of Romance Languages marks this milestone year with a particularly fetching two-volume catalogue entitled Paris mon Amour featuring “25 important illuminated manuscripts made in Paris between 1380 and 1460,” to be followed next year by another two-volume catalogue highlighting 35 books from 1460 through 1540. Tenschert’s stall at TEFAF will be almost entirely devoted to illuminated manuscripts, showcasing over fifty Books of Hours, including the 530-page illuminated Hours of Jacquette de Luxembourg and the Hours of Catherine of Aragon, whose gold leaf borders and 60 full-page miniatures is considered one of the most exquisite examples of its era.

                                                                                                                                                                            In 1997, Nick Basbanes visited Tenschert’s converted 18th-century mill picturesquely located on the banks of the Biber (a tributary of the Rhine) near Basel while researching his 2001 book, Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture. Though he grosses eight-figure sales annually, Tenschert’s clients number in the double digits--his offerings are reserved for the wealthiest people in the world. “I like to sell to private individuals because then I can buy them back at some point in the future,” Tenschert explains in Basbanes’ chapter entitled “Hunters and Gatherers.” He goes on to explain how he acquires his treasures, prices them, and whether super-selective collectors are endangered. It seems safe to say that in the seventeen years since Patience & Fortitude was published that business remains good. See for yourself at Stand 23 at TEFAF.                                                                                                                                                                                 Head over to our just-launched sister site Art & Object for more on illuminated manuscripts, including my story that ran last year in Fine Books about the Boston area’s ambitious multi-venue project dedicated to these beautiful books.                                                                        

Image credit: Heribert Tenschert Paris mon amour. 

Johnson-Back Up Our Americans Now poster #1 300 dpi copy.jpgIn terms of the Vietnam War, what’s past is definitely present. Not only has the monumental, 18-hour Ken Burns documentary been airing on PBS these past few weeks, but the New-York Historical Society has just opened its expansive new exhibit, The Vietnam War: 1945-1975. As our readers will recall, we published a feature story on Vietnam collector Stuart Lutz in our winter issue. Lutz, both a collector and a dealer in historical documents, loaned about thirty items to the N-YHS exhibit. He will also be holding a live webinar on October 24 about Vietnam War artifacts, like the vintage LBJ poster pictured here, through the Appraisers Association. “Lutz will discuss various Vietnam War collecting categories, what is rare and what is not, pricing, important items, and much more.” Details can be found here.   

Image: Vintage LBJ poster, courtesy of Stuart Lutz Historic Documents.

Mex News.jpgThe St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL opened earlier this week an exhibit devoted to historic newspapers. Headlines of History: Historic Newspapers of St. Louis and the World Through the Centuries at the St. Louis Mercantile Library Association is the third in a planned tetralogy of exhibitions building to the 175th anniversary of the St. Louis Mercantile Library, a membership library that is, according to its website, “the oldest library west of the Mississippi.”  

The library’s special collections contain more than one hundred historical newspaper titles and include the newspaper and printing morgue of the St. Louis Globe Democrat. This exhibition focuses on the library’s important newspaper holdings and features such items as the first known issue of the Missouri Gazette, the oldest newspaper printed west of the Mississippi, and an issue of the Pennsylvania Ledger from July 13, 1776 marking the first printing of the Declaration of Independence in a newspaper.

A national symposium tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, titled “From Franklin to Pulitzer; Pioneer Newspapers and News Pioneers,” will complement the exhibition, which runs through September 2019.

Image: Mexican News, engraving by Alfred Jones, after Richard Caton Woodville. New York, 1853. Courtesy of St. Louis Mercantile Library.

Spirits at Stowe House

If you’re looking for a literary take on Halloween, check out the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford this month, which will be hosting an after-hours ghost tour while discussing 19th-century Spiritualism.



                                                                                                                                                                                                Hailing from a famously religious family, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and fervent abolitionist was also a devotée of séances and occasional forays into Spiritualism--a religious movement that maintained that the deceased could communicate with the living through spirit guides. Stowe’s own husband, theology professor Calvin Stowe even wrote about seeing fairies and demons appearing at his bedside in the middle of the night. 

In addition to offering an interactive tour of the Stowe house, the Victorian Cottage where Stowe lived for over two decades is now a National Historic Landmark.

“Spirits at Stowe” takes place on several dates in October; $18 per person, $12 for Stowe Center members.

                                                                                                                                                          Image: “Frederick Hill Meserve’s Historical Portraits, ca. 1850-1915 (MS Am 2242), Houghton Library, Harvard University.” Photographer unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

England’s Lake District is a well-known spot for biblio-tourism. Against a backdrop of beautiful scenery, poetic souls revel in the words of Wordsworth. But, as Craig Manor Hotel reminds us with this awesome infographic, there are more “Lakeland scribes” to enjoy in this literary landscape.


Lit-Lakes-V5 copy.jpgImage courtesy of Craig Manor Hotel

The Center for Book Arts (CBA) opens its latest exhibit this evening dedicated to the work of British artist and CBA faculty fellow Mark Cockram. Beyond the Rules includes examples of Cockram’s creative bookbinding and book artistry. His multi-dimensional, multi-textual book sculptures reflect Cockram’s all-encompasing fascination with the book as art object.


Cockram Inferno Limbo.jpg

“I work with the book,” Cockram said. “Within the book, an infinitely complex array of materials and techniques come together and combine with a history as rich and diverse as we who create and use it. I often refer to the book in its totality as Alchemy.” Adept at working with traditional bookbinding methods, Cockram will often modify or develop new techniques as each project unfolds, depending on how he feels the text would best be served by a particular binding. Recent work has led him to create art with “up-cycled,” or creatively repurposed materials. 

Though the exhibit itself only encompasses six books, each reveals Cockram’s careful consideration of both the textual elements and authorial intent. The eclectic list includes an art book inspired by The Divine Comedy, an homage to artist Joseph Cornell, and a reinterpretation of The Four Gospels.

Dewilde Lysistrata binding.jpg
As a professional bookbinder, artist, and teacher, Cockram’s work has been displayed at the National Art Library at London’s V&A Museum, the Library of Congress, the British Library, the Grolier Club, and in private collections worldwide. Beyond the Rules, however, is Cockram’s first solo show in the United States.

Beyond the Rules is on display at the Center for Book Arts through December 16. 


                                                                                                                                                                   Also happening this weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Nick Basbanes presents his observations from working with primary source material at the Longfellow House for his forthcoming dual biography entitled Cross of Snow: The Love Story and Lasting Legacy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  A cake reception will precede the lecture at 2 p.m, which will be held at the Sherrill Library at Lesley University on 89 Brattle Street in Cambridge. The lecture is free to the public. 

                                                                                                                                                                          Images: Inferno Limbo and Dewilde Lysistrata. Credit: Abby Schoolman

Considering the Nobel Bump

KazuoIshiguro_TheRemainsOfTheDay.jpgWhen I moved to London a year and a half ago, I determined that I would enjoy the novelty of being able to bet on the Nobel Prize for Literature. It has always been one of my favorite times on the literary calendar -- the season is changing to autumn, and there is a fresh bite to the air, and it feels hopeful that people are betting on literature and watching it as if it were a sporting event. It seems so unlikely to me, as an American, that there is any kind of way to bet on books besides to take a risk and buy and read them.

                                                                                                                                                                            So last year I ran two miles in the rain after dropping off my son at nursery to a Ladbrokes betting site and risked everything on the odds-on favorite, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. I would have bet on several more people, but there was trouble processing my payment and the betting closed. I lost; Bob Dylan won. I didn’t feel bad about spending money on a form of frivolity even after losing, I continued to feel a form of glee that such a thing could be done. I also had heard Dylan was a contender for years, and had even considered him in my early choices. 

                                                                                                                                                                             I had very little time this week to consider my betting, and like last year I barely made it to the betting parlour on time after bringing my son to school. I bet a spread of authors after reading a few predictions and decided that Margaret Atwood would be my favorite, followed by Thiong’o again, Korean poet Ko Un, and Spain’s Javier Marias. I also thought about Kazuo Ishiguro, but he hadn’t been given a chance in the press, and he seemed too young to me to be a likely contender. Ishiguro is one of my favorite writers. Remains of the Day is one of my favorite contemporary novels, it also happens to have been inspired by a song by Tom Waits, one of my favorite singers. And though I lost today, I was thrilled for the news. 

                                                                                                                                                                              I have worked at several bookstores over the years, and watched with fascination what happens when an author dies, or an author wins a major award. There is an immediate interest and refocusing on the writer’s work and a sales bump. And now that I am a new to the trade as a rare book dealer, I wonder how the Nobel impacts sales of first editions. I have most of Ishiguro’s firsts, plucked over the years from used bookstores, and I know there is a healthy price at book fairs put on firsts of Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go -- he is already popularly collected. It may seem cynical to care about the price of modern first editions, but I see it as establishing and investing in the idea of an author’s having value in a world that makes very little room for the importance of writing. Today, signed first editions available online of Remains of the Day range from $200-600. I suspect by the end of the week that range will have doubled, and copies will be scarce for a while.


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Images: (Top) Remains of the Day first edition via Wikipedia; (Bottom) Kazuo Ishiguro and A.N. Devers at a book signing. Courtesy of A.N. Devers.

On August 10, 1928, H. K. Beazley wrote a check to author D. H. Lawrence for a total of £5.2.0 (five pounds and two shillings). According to Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull, the check “was used to purchase three copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” At the time, two booksellers, Richard Aldington and S.S. Kotelinansky, were “taking care” of the “British stash” of the recently published novel, which had been spurned by UK booksellers due to the book’s erotic content. In order to get a copy, it seems a reader would have to send an order to its publisher, Pino Orioli in Florence, who would forward the check to Lawrence in Switzerland, who would then direct one of the two booksellers to actually dispatch the order. On August 17, 1928, Lawrence asked Aldington to post three copies to H. K. Beazley, 19 Churton St., Victoria S.W. (Beazley must have been quite the reader or collector; he regularly listed his “Books Wanted” in the Bookseller and the Publishers’ Circular in the early twentieth century.) Some confusion ensued about the check--how could it not?--but Lawrence did sign it, and it was paid into his account on August 21. We assume Beazley got his books.

223038.jpgA pretty piece of ephemera with Lawrence’s signature and some interesting publishing history too, the check heads to auction on October 11, estimated at £800-1,200 ($1,060-$1,325).

Image courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Colleen Barrett of Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company.

Colleen Barrett PRBM.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

When asked what I want to be when I grow up, my standard answer has always been “happy.” As a junior at Purdue University, I realized that while I really enjoyed being an English major I still had no idea what I wanted to do professionally. Later that semester, my book history class took a field trip to the Lilly Library at Indiana University. While handling their Shakespeare first folio, it dawned on me that I could actually get paid to work with this sort of stuff, so I promptly decided to become a rare book librarian. Following my MLS at Indiana, I catalogued the Clara Peck collection at Transylvania University before Cynthy and David asked if I would like to join PRB&M. My academic advisor Joel Silver once told me you don’t know anything before you’ve handled 3000 books, so I decided joining a firm that specializes in early books of Europe and the Americas was a great way to quickly handle and learn about a massive variety of texts, even if it wasn’t a traditional library setting.

What is your role at PRBM?

I am one of three cataloguers on staff. Since we’re a relatively small company, this means I am involved in most aspects of the business, from helping with appraisal prep work to buying flowers for our open houses, in addition to actually cataloging things for sale.

What do you love about the book trade?

For me, there’s an inherent romance in being able to handle things *first.* When I worked as a library cataloger I was lucky enough to be one of the first few people to handle a book (following acquisition of course), but here I get to start at almost if not the very beginning of the process.

Furthermore I am continually impressed by the friendliness and passion of other booksellers. I have yet to meet someone who is not excited by what he, she, or they is doing, which is not something I can say for most professions.

Being allowed to drink coffee with the books or take them home occasionally also rocks.  

Describe a typical day for you:

While no day here is typical, mine usually starts with our shared email, where I might find an order to process, inquiry for photographs of a specific book, or even questions about shipment methods to other countries. Once these tasks are finished I often spend the rest of my time cataloging new material for sale, answering phone inquiries, working on various collection maintenance projects, or playing with our shopcat Blake.

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

Anything Audubon. There’s something so fascinating about the intersection of research, artwork, and pure joy of discovery represented in his works, and every time I look at them I notice something new to love. I’m fortunate enough to have worked with his materials at all of my workplaces in various ways, and even catalogued some of his items at both Transy and PRB&M. We currently have a copy of the third octavo edition at the shop, so I feel quite fortunate to be able to pick one up to look through every now and again during breaks.

What do you personally collect?

I mostly collect books about books with a specific focus on bookseller/collector/librarian memoirs, but I also own numerous contemporary sci-fi fantasy of the steampunk, time travel, or alternate city variety and nicer gift editions of Tolkien and Gaiman’s works. I always plan to (eventually) read whatever I buy, so I tend to think of my purchases as more of a research collection than a pristine gathering of important works.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Cook! Since I subscribed to a CSA vegetable share this summer, I have spent most evenings trying out new recipes for things like bottle gourd curry or bitter melon potatoes. Otherwise I am a fan of pretending to reduce my TBR pile, going to concerts, and celebrating random holidays -- my two current favorites being IPA Day and Independent Bookstore Day. I also really enjoy attending meetings of the Philobiblon Club (the book collecting club here in Philadelphia).

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

It really is an exciting time to be here! There will always be the need for independent, intelligent, and creative people to make a living, and I cannot think of another profession better suited to this than antiquarian bookselling. I have no doubt the trade will continue to grow and flourish in interesting and unexpected ways. It’s such a treat to see so many inventive booksellers coming up with new collecting areas and ways to think about traditional collecting fields these past few years.  

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We’ll be at the California Book Fair in February, and we’re constantly updating the newest arrivals section of our website, which can be found here.

Auction Guide