November 2017 Archives

A rare, complete “museum set” comprising 75 gelatin silver prints of Ansel Adams’ iconic images, signed by the photographer, is slated for auction at Doyle in New York on December 14. Being sold on behalf of the College of New Rochelle, which received the set as a donation in 2012, the set “is among the most comprehensive known to exist,” according to the auction house. It features the photographer’s most famous pictures, including Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico; Winter Sunrise, the Sierra Nevada; and Bridal Veil Fall, Yosemite Valley, California.  

Ansel_Adams_04 copy.jpgThe set will be sold in seventy individual lots, all priced in the four-to-five-figure range, plus one group lot featuring the five-image Surf Sequence. The original wooden shipping case is available, too. Pictured here is The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942. It is estimated at $30,000-50,000.

Image courtesy of Doyle

Guest Post by Catherine Batac Walder

Nearly a month since its opening, we finally got to see Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library in London. I’ve seen some of the items on the internet before (e.g., J.K. Rowling’s original sketches on Pottermore) and heard the quotes from past interviews with the author, but it was of course extraordinary to see the objects from her collection in person. This is the first major exhibition that explores the rich and diverse qualities of her stories, in relation to traditions of folklore and magic. There was a video of Rowling shown in which she said that that she invented 90-95% of the magic in the Potter books; the exhibit gives us an idea of the kind of research she would have done in creating Harry’s world.

harry-potter-ripley-scroll copy.jpgA room with books that looked as though they were suspended in the air was a fitting entrance to the exhibition that was divided into the following sections: The Journey, Potions, Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Past, Present, Future. The Harry Potter Studio Tour in London explores the films, but this BL exhibit is for the fans of the books and is definitely geared towards older fans. My seven-year-old kept herself busy jotting down answers in the Family Trail booklet (why she’s interested in “how to make potions to gain admirers” is beyond me), but I couldn’t make her marvel at Rowling’s original sketches or the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” manuscript annotated by the author and her editor. Typed pages, unedited, of different early versions of the books didn’t excite her, either. I showed her Rowling’s detailed map of Hogwarts with the giant squid that lives in the lake and this was at least met with a little bit of interest. But I have a feeling that those notes and drawings on table napkins and crumpled scraps of paper left a mark on my daughter, of how there’s no limit to our creativity and how important it is to record our thoughts the moment they strike us, before we lose them. Together we looked at Rowling’s drawing of the “opening to Diagon Alley in six stages”--the author draws rather well, I realized, and this served her well in bringing to life her imagination through visual images. “I try to be meticulous and make sure that everything operates according to laws, however odd, so that everyone understands exactly how and why,” she once said in an interview.

One item that I found interesting was an apothecary’s sign featuring a handsome unicorn that would have stood outside a shop in the 1700s. Then there was Bald’s Leechbook, “an attempt to incorporate everything that is known about medicine from the Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean world.” Another big, conspicuous item on display is the Battersea Cauldron found in the Thames at Battersea in 1861 (pictured below). There is also the “Oldest Atlas of the Night Sky” (China, c. AD 700) and the “Ripley Scroll,” a 16th-century alchemical manuscript that describes how to make the Philosopher’s Stone (pictured above). I had to check carefully to see if that was the authentic 15th-century tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, and indeed it was, on loan from Musée de Cluny in Paris. There were also playing cards, crystal balls, Chinese oracle bones, a fortune telling teacup, a broomstick, tea leaves, and the list goes on and on: a history of magic all in one place.

harry-potter-battersea-cauldron copy.jpgJim Kay’s paintings and sketches were a joy to behold. He had this intricate drawing of a greenhouse and clearly, he drew that not just as an artist but also as someone who once worked at Kew Gardens. There was a five-minute film showing him at work at his small studio in the back of his house. He’s got a small garden but he gets inspired by anything in it, a line or a color, and he goes back to the studio thinking that might work and he has a go at it. He would sometimes call upon personal experience when completing a work, such as he did for his drawings of the shops along Diagon Alley.

harry-potter-mandrake-being-pulled-out-by-a-dog copy.jpgBefore visiting, my only advice is to make sure you’ve eaten as you could easily stay for three hours, and there is just a lot of things to digest. Blame it on my headache (due to lack of proper food), but there was just so much information that, in the end, I couldn’t distinguish reality from fantasy anymore. Consider this text about a mandrake, “The best way to obtain the plant safely was to unearth its roots with an ivory stake, attaching one end of a cord to the mandrake and the other to a dog. The dog could be encouraged to move forward by blowing a horn, dragging the mandrake with it. The sound of the horn would also serve to drown out the plant’s terrible shriek,” from Giovanni Cadamosto’s Illustrated Herbal (Italy or Germany, 15th century). If this information is from a nonfiction book, surely it must be real, right? And in one glass case, the Invisibility Cloak from a “Private Lender” was on display, too, so I couldn’t have been the only one dreaming this up.

The last room in the exhibit, “Past, Present, Future,” showed several pieces including an annotated first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone auctioned for charity and the Harry Potter and The Cursed Child Model Box that was used by the creative team of the West End production. I liked this room as it’s a testimony to the growing world of Harry Potter, and to us fans it is such comfort that there will be books within books, and that the stories will never end, even after all fantastic beasts are found.

We concluded our Harry Potter day out by visiting St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel just across the road from the British Library, the impressive building seen in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and Ron missed their train to Hogwarts and took the flying Ford Anglia. Nearby is King’s Cross Station where the trolley and Platform 9 ¾ could be found.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a writer who lives in the UK. She has contributed several posts from abroad over the years, most recently: “Q & A with Harry Potter Anniversary Edition Illustrator Levi Pinfold,” and “Sitting With Jane: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Life in Hampshire.” Find her at:

Image credits: The Ripley Scroll, England, 16th century (c) British Library Board; Battersea Cauldron, on loan from Trustees of the British Museum.©Trustees of the British Museum; A mandrake being pulled out by a dog, in Giovanni Cadamosto, Herbal (c) British Library Board.

Lincoln Letter and Mallet Go to Auction

Lincoln_autograph letter.jpg

With the holiday season comes the winter auctions, and Christie’s December 5 books and manuscripts sale in New York is full of exquisite stocking stuffers for the collectors on your list. Among the items up for bid is a letter written in 1858 by Abraham Lincoln, at the time the Republican candidate for the United States Senate. Lincoln composed the letter in preparation for seven forthcoming debates with Democratic incumbent Stephen Douglas. (In 1858, senators were elected by state legislatures and these debates helped sway the Illinois General Assembly.) Addressed to fellow attorney Henry Asbury,
the letter outlines how Lincoln intended to debate whether a territory had the right to exclude slavery even in the wake of the Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court case stating that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in U.S. territories. 

A recent convert to the Republican party after the collapse of the Whigs, Asbury had previously written to Lincoln on July 28 with suggestions for the second of seven debates with Douglas. “Do not let him [Douglas] dodge here,” exhorted Douglas. Lincoln’s response, dated July 31, agrees with Asbury’s tactic to force Douglas to clarify his position on slavery, which in turn alienated Douglas from southern voters.

Though Lincoln lost his senate bid, the debates catapulted him into the national political consciousness. The resulting splintering of the Democratic Party gave Lincoln the necessary majority votes to become America’s sixteenth president in 1860.

Pre-sale estimates on this document fall between $500,000-700,000.

Offered in the same auction: a wooden bench mallet bearing the initials “A.L.” that is believed to be the earliest artifact belonging to Lincoln in a private collection. Fashioned from a broken rail-splitting maul, Lincoln used the mallet when he lived in Pigeon Creek, Indiana, from 1816 through 1830. The maul is crafted from a cherry wood burl with a hickory handle. The mallet came into possession of Lincoln’s Pigeon Creek neighbor, Barnabas Carter, Jr. in 1829 or 1830, and has remained in the family until now. Pre-sale estimates range from $300,000-500,000.Lincoln_mallet_v1.jpg

Images courtesy of Christie’s

FBC2018winterCV1-no-barcode.jpgMost subscribers have already received--or will very soon receive--our winter issue, which, you can tell from the spine-chilling cover, celebrates the forthcoming 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published in January 1818. Our feature focuses on a fascinating aspect of the book’s bicentennial--how universities and museums are looking at the novel through various scientific, technological, and medical lenses. Examples include Arizona State University’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, Stanford University’s Frankenstein@200, and the Rosenbach’s current exhibition, Frankenstein & Dracula: Gothic Monsters/Modern Science.  

It was this last one, on view in Philadelphia through February 11, that came to mind when I noticed that both the 1831 Frankenstein (the first one-volume edition, first illustrated, and first to carry Shelley’s name) and a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) were among the top lots at Swann Galleries’ literature auction on November 14.

249_1 copy.jpgIt seems that both “monsterpieces” are alive and well, at least in book collecting circles. Both sold to collectors--the Shelley (pictured above) for $5,000, and the Stoker (below) for $12,500.

268_1 copy.jpgThere are sure to be many more events and opportunities for revisiting the wrenching story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster throughout 2018. Notably, the theme of this year’s California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena will be--you guessed it--Frankenstein!

Book images: Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries  

National Book Award Winners 2017

Happy after-Thanksgiving! Looking for something to read? Why not choose from the recently minted National Book Award winners. Jesmyn Ward took home the ficion award for Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner/Simon & Schuster). This is the second time Ward’s writing has been recognzied by the National Book Foundation; her Salvage the Bones won in 2011. Sing, Unburied, Sing explores the life if a young boy raised by his grandparents in Mississippi and how he navigates the gritty path into adulthood.                                                

Masha Gessen won the nonfiction prize for The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House). A Russian-American journalist, Gessen explores how the return of totalitarinism impacts the lives of four Russians.                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                                                                   Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart won for poetry (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux), and Robin Benway’s Far from the Tree was recognized as the winner for young people’s literature.                           

                                                                                                                                                                                              Recoginzed for her contribution to American letters, Annie Proulx said in her acceptance speech that though we may live in troubled times, it’s great books like those recognized by the National Book Foundation that give us hope for the future.                                                                                                                     

A complete list of winners and finalists may be found here

Earlier this month, the CODEX Foundation announced a new and forthcoming publication focused on contemporary book arts called The CODEX Papers. According to the announcement posted by bookseller Gerald W. Cloud:

    Our editorial brief is to publish papers that promote a clear understanding of the enormously complex and historically rich field of the book arts, including:
    -Scholarly, bibliographical, and historical perspectives
    -Research, reports, and critical articles on contemporary book arts
    -On the future development of the codex
    -Photo essays documenting studios, ateliers, and libraries
    -Interviews and profiles
    -Book and exhibition reviews and publishing perspectives
    -Collecting contemporary book arts
    -Letters to the editors, opinion, and travel
    -Dispatches from the global perspective
    -Codex Antipodes
    -Codex Mexico
    -Codex Nordica

With its biennial book fair and symposium, the California-based CODEX Foundation promotes the art of the book. The Foundation has also published two books, Book Art Object and Book Art Object 2, as well as a series of monographs. The CODEX Papers will be a welcome addition to its list of publications.

The inaugural issue will be published in the fall of 2018. Interested writers may submit proposals including title and subject to by December 15, 2017. Copy deadline is February 1, 2018.

If your travels take you to Massachusetts now through the new year, be sure to add the Concord Museum to your itinerary and check out the 22nd annual Family Trees: A Celebration of Children’s Literature. Thirty-seven decorated trees fill the museum, each inspired by classic and contemporary children’s literature.


RLNDragonsTacos (2) adj b.jpg                                                                                                                               

Moving Books Press founder and children’s book author D. B. Johnson is serving as this year’s honorary chairperson. Johnson’s first book, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, was inspired by fellow Concord resident Henry David Thoreau.

Family Trees is an all-volunteer effort and routinely attracts families from throughout the Boston area. Admission is $8 for children over five, $10 for adults. Additional programming includes crafts, photos with Santa, and readalouds with D. B. Johnson and Dragons Love Tacos author Adam Rubin. Full details may be found here.

Image courtesy of the Concord Museum

With the holiday season fast upon us, we have already posted our shortlist of bookish gift ideas, which includes five recently published books about books worthy of your attention. Today, we’re going to add five just-released titles to our list, any one of which would make a terrific holiday gift for you or some bibliophile you love.

Illustrated DJ.jpgThe Illustrated Dust Jacket: 1920-1970 (Thames & Hudson, $39.95) by Martin Salisbury is a history of dust jackets, certainly a favorite topic among book collectors of modern first editions. Lushly illustrated (371 illustrations, according to the publisher), Salisbury’s exciting visual history showcases the work of Edward Gorey, Vanessa Bell, Alvin Lustig, and many others. A selection of favorites can be seen here.

Bookshops-cover.jpgBookshops: A Reader’s History (Biblioasis, $24.95) by Jorge Carrión welcomes the reader into the world’s bookshops in a series of meditative essays based on his travels; Carrión was a bibliotourist before that was a thing. Recalling a 2002 trip to Antiquos Libros Modernos in Buenos Aires, he writes, “Touching old books is one of the few tactile experiences that can connect you to a distant past.” This is the ideal read for a cozy weekend trip.    

Purcell.jpgThe Country House Library (Yale University Press, $55) by Mark Purcell is a beautiful volume, sumptuously illustrated with photos of private library interiors as well as close-ups of the books, manuscripts, and objects they contain. Purcell, the deputy director of Cambridge University Library, provides erudite commentary as he takes us into these grand rooms. If you combined Downton Abbey with books about books, this would be the delightful result.    

Joseph Banks' Florilegium 9780500519363.jpgJoseph Banks’ Florilegium (Thames & Hudson, $85), with texts by Mel Gooding, David Mabberley, and Joe Studholme, is impressive: a folio-sized, full-color publication of eighteenth-century botanical prints initially commissioned by Banks upon his return from Captain Cook’s first sail around the world. If you have a penchant for botany, voyages, and travel, this is your perfect storm.  

Steffens F17 Unpacking.jpgUnpacking My Library: Artists and Their Books (Yale University Press, $20), edited by Jo Steffens and Matthias Neumann, follows on the heels of two others in the Unpacking series: Architects and Their Books, and Writers and Their Books. The photos--wide shots and shelfies--offer a peek into the libraries of ten contemporary artists and are accompanied by engaging interviews. Personal favorites: the pic of Theaster Gates’ library, and reading about Ed Ruscha’s collection of fore-edge paintings.

Images courtesy of the publishers


Digital publishing has made enormous strides in recent years, upending the traditional book industry while also democratizing the process of book creation. According to an Amazon representative interviewed by New York Times reporter Alexandra Alter, nearly one third of all bestselling e-books on Amazon are self-published (though what “bestselling” means these days is nebulous and doesn’t necessarily translate into authors striking it rich).

In any event, the digital medium is here and has forever changed the way readers consume books. Until now, the domain of art books has remained relatively unscathed by the revolution. That appears to be changing: London-based startup Volume recently partnered up with independent UK publisher Thames & Hudson to create the first online publishing platform for high-quality illustrated physical books. Volume’s co-founder, Lucas Dietrich, is also the international editorial director at Thames & Hudson.

To fund each project, Volume hosts campaigns similar to Kickstarter. If the pledge goal is met on time, the project moves forward, and pledges are refunded if the project does not meet its fundraising target. Like other crowdsourcing ventures, Volume is offering rewards for backers at various monetary levels.

Appropriately, Volume’s inaugural title, a journey through the world of printed matter, is Look & See by master designer and letterpress expert Anthony Burrill. As of today, the project has 103 backers who have raised nearly $5,000 towards their ultimate goal of $50,000. A minimum pledge of $20 nets the investor a copy of the book, while $650 gets you a day in the studio with Burrill, plus other typographic goodies.

Considering that many art books on Thames & Hudson’s website range from $25 and up, crowdfunding an art book is not exactly a bargain, though that doesn’t seem to be Volume’s intention, either. Co-founder Darren Wall says that, “The flexibility and reach Volume will offer authors is unprecedented, from interaction with communities established around single book projects to exciting new production methods that would simply be beyond the capacity of most publishers.” Future projects include a reissue of an art book on Brutalism, work by designers John Maeda and Takenobu Igarashi, and a retrospective on video games.



rbs_ncb.jpgOur Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Nora Benedict who collects Argentine printing and publishing history. Nora recently won honorable mention in the Honey & Wax book collecting contest.

Where are you from / where do you live?
I’m originally from Pennsylvania, but am currently living in New Jersey.
What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?
Throughout my undergraduate and graduate careers I focused on the relationship between literature and the plastic arts. An initial foray into printmaking during my early years in college led me to develop an interest in the book as a physical object, and I was fortunate to take several graduate courses on bibliography as well as a few Rare Book School classes to help fuel my research. Broadly speaking, my work centers on twentieth-century Latin American literature, descriptive bibliography, book history, and questions of access and maintenance surrounding both digital and print cultures. 
I recently finished my Ph.D. in Spanish literature at the University of Virginia and started a job a few months ago as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University. In the CDH I’m working on building a database and creating a series of network analysis visualizations surrounding one specific publisher in Argentina: Victoria Ocampo. I also am working on a book that examine Borges’s engagement with the physical form of the book through his varying jobs in the publishing industry and how each of these positions influenced not only his formation as a writer, but also the overarching shape of Argentine literary tradition. 
Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 
The central theme that connects all of the various books in my collection is Argentine printing and publishing history. I started off by acquiring multiple editions of Jorge Luis Borges’s Otras inquisiciones (Editorial Sur, 1952; Emecé Editores, 1960) for a specific project, then branched out to other works that he wrote as well as those that he edited, anthologized, translated, or prefaced. This subtle bifurcation has led me to focus on publishers’ catalogues, printers’ specimen books, and unique series and collections (some without any connection to my beloved Borges!). In recent months I’ve been inspired to collect all of the books produced by one particular Buenos Aires firm, the Editorial Sur, which might take me the next few decades. 
IMG_7234.JPGHow many books are in your collection?
Just about 150 books.
What was the first book you bought for your collection?
Jorge Luis Borges’s Otras inquisiciones (Emecé Editores, 1960). 
How about the most recent book?
George Santayana’s Diálogos en limbo (Editorial Losada, 1941). 
And your favorite book in your collection?
There is something special about each and every book in my collection, but I’ve become increasingly obsessed with my nearly complete run of the “Pajarita de papel” series produced by the Editorial Losada. Aside from the unusual grouping of authors in the collection, each volume has artsy endpapers, original illustrations, and unique type ornaments that make them stand out from anything else I’ve seen from contemporaneous publishers.  
Best bargain you’ve found?
A while back I managed to track down a first edition of Borges’s translation of Kafka’s Metamorfosis (Editorial Losada, 1938) for just around $20 (USD)!
How about The One that Got Away?
When I was still very focused on all things Borges, many, many desirable books slipped through my fingers (mainly because I was operating on a limited, graduate-school budget). Now that I’ve turned my attention to focus on Argentine publishers and printers more broadly, I’ve suffered a lot less collector’s heartbreak! 
What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?
While acquiring a complete run of Borges’s works is still high on my list of (long-term) priorities, I also have been in search of Emecé Editores’ Catálogo general perpetuo (v. 3-7) for some time now. 
Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?
From the perspective of a researcher-collector in Argentina, the Librería Alberto Casares in Buenos Aires holds a special place in my heart. Alberto was an immense help to me while I was researching for my dissertation, and he frequently let me sit and leaf through his own collection of publishers’ catalogues and rare Borges gems. That said, there are an incredible number of uniquely impressive bookstores throughout Buenos Aires -- like El Ateneo and Eterna Cadencia -- that make it exceedingly difficult to pick just one. From the perspective of a collector in the States, Daedalus in Charlottesville, Virginia, is always a personal favorite. 
What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?
Matchbooks. My grandfather had a small collection of matchbooks from all of the places he visited throughout his life, and I always liked the idea of small mementos of one’s travels. 

Coming up this weekend in Hong Kong is China in Print, where thirty dealers in rare books, manuscripts, and photography will offer “the finest examples of printed works from the Far East and rest of the world.” Managed by Bernard Quaritch of London and sponsored by AbeBooks, the fair anticipates a “buoyant market” in its sixth year, according to the organizers. Here’s a sampling of what will be showcased:

Asia Bookroom.jpgAmong the highlights at Asia Bookroom’s stand will be two color woodblocks on oban tate-e sheets, diptyche style, satirically depicting the Opium War. Known as the Peking Dream Pillow, it was created by Japanese artist Imaizumi Ippyō in 1884.

Hill.jpgNew York’s Jonathan A. Hill, Bookseller, will show a first edition of Kocho ruien [A Library of Chinese Classics by Courtly Scholars] published by Shaoyu Jiang in 78 parts in 1621--“one of the very few surviving ‘imperial editions’ printed with movable type in Japan.”

Christie Lucius.jpgOne of the fair’s most popular exhibits is bound to be the “lost” Agatha Christie manuscript notebook at Lucius Books. The unpublished notes relate to her novels, A Murder Has Been Arranged and They Do It With Mirrors, and her plays, Spider’s Web and Miss Perry. According to the seller, “Of the 74 Agatha Christie notebooks known to exist, this recently discovered one is not only the richest in content but is the only one outside of the author’s estate.”
Jonkers.jpegAnd from Jonkers Rare Books this beauty: a Jessie M. King hand-painted vellucent binding of The Story of Rosalynde (1902), made for Cedric Chivers. It has been called “The most beautiful, and certainly the most ornate” of King’s vellucent binding designs.

Images courtesy of China in Print

Kitchen Work

Perhaps you already kicked off the holiday season with an impressive Halloween yard display. Others of you may consider Thanksgiving the traditional start to a seemingly never-ending buffet of open houses and cocktail parties. With that in mind, I humbly submit a little literary hors d’oeuvre: the Fall 2017 edition of Kitchen Work, a new, print-only quarterly journal focusing on what and how we eat and drink.                                                                                                             

Dedicated to exploring the various nooks and crannies of kitchens big and small, Kitchen Work is the brainchild of Michael Strauss, owner of the Heirloom Cafe in San-Francisco.

The journal accepts submissions from “anyone and everyone,” with the caveat that the stories focus on some aspect of eating or drinking. The latest issue’s theme is how automation influences--for better or worse--how we cook and how we eat. Contributors include New York Times writer Daniel Duane’s musings on ambitous Christmas cookbooks, Nebraska-based chef Nick Strawhecker’s post-9/11 Thanksgiving meal in Cortona, Italy, legendary wine merchant Neil Rosenthal’s account of his relationship with an eccentric French winemaker, and even a solder’s return to Vietnam, this time on a culinary expedition.

The 90-page volume is a charming, frothy delight, begging to be read while standing anxiously in the kitchen this Thanksgiving wondering if you’ve overcooked your holiday bird. Sheathed in cherry-red wrappers, Kitchen Work would also make a lovely holiday present for the bookish gastronome in your life. At twelve dollars apiece, you may even be tempted to give one to yourself.

A research visit to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale last week afforded me the opportunity to see its current, magnificent exhibition, Making the Medieval English Manuscript: The Takamiya Collection. Drawn from the Beinecke’s collection of manuscripts, as well as from the collection of Japanese collector Toshiyuki Takamiya, on deposit at the university since 2013. “With a rare combination of scholarly and antiquarian expertise, Professor Emeritus Takamiya of Keio University in Tokyo assembled an unrivaled collection of medieval manuscripts over four decades,” said curator Raymond Clemens in a press release earlier this year.

IMG_0107.JPGTakamiya’s Chaucer manuscripts have starring roles in this exhibition, including the beautiful deluxe Devonshire Chaucer and the “unprepossessing” Sion College copy of the Canterbury Tales, written as early as 1460 and relatively unadorned. But my personal favorite from the Takamiya collection was the fifteenth-century English prayer roll. According to the exhibition notes, the long, narrow scroll was intended as a “birth girdle,” to be worn by a woman during childbirth. Containing illustrations of the Passion and a series of prayer texts, it was meant to provide “heavenly aid” when worn prayer-side in. Illuminated manuscript as physic; who knew? Another favorite was the Beinecke’s Latin-English illustrated vocabulary manuscript, made in England between 1400-1500 (pictured above).  

The exhibition remains on view through December 10.

Image credit: Rebecca Rego Barry

Boston Rare Book Week Preview: Blake Etchings


The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair opens today, the perfect prompt to preview one of the show’s incredible highlights, courtesy of John Windle: two original etchings from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and a single relief etching of the poem “Holy Thursday.”

First, a little background: In the 1780s, Blake revived the art of manuscript illumination, believing, in part, that the Industrial Revolution had degraded an art form into nothing more than a simple commodity. In response, Blake and his wife Catherine painstakingly printed, bound, and hand colored each book he produced. Few originals survive--only nine copies of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell are known to exist, for example. Slightly more endure--forty, to be precise--of Songs of Innocence, the first of Blake’s illuminated works and is a celebration of youthful innocence. 

                                                                                                                                                                                    Windle’s interest in Blake began in the 1960s when he worked for famed London book dealer Bernard Quaritch, which led to Windle’s opening of a San Francisco gallery devoted entirely to the 18th-century poet. Richard Davies at ABEbooks recently visited the Blake Gallery and spoke with Windle, which you can read here

The two plates at the Boston book fair hail from Copy Y, an incomplete copy that resurfaced in Cologne, Germany, in 1980. Printed in light brown on separate sheets with extensive hand-coloring in watercolor and additions in black ink, the two etchings are available for $250,000.

Also available from John Windle is a single sheet relief etching from Songs of Innocence called “Holy Thursday.” This plate comes from Copy W, one of Blake’s proof printings for Songs of Innocence and is considered one of the earliest existing examples of Blake’s attempts at illuminated printing. The poem itself refers to Ascension Day, when London orphanages traditionally washed, dressed, and paraded thousands of their charges to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a special ceremony, and the verses contrast the brilliant ceremony with the bleak, somber reality that awaited the children afterwards. “Holy Thursday” is available for $150,000.

                                                                                                                                                                                     Images courtesy of John Windle

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Angela DiVeglia, Curatorial Assistant at Providence Public Library Special Collections.

Research_consultations.jpgWhat is your role at Providence Public Library?

My job title is Curatorial Assistant; I work under the Head Curator of Collections, as one of four members of the Special Collections Department. I work on exhibitions and loans, do the bulk of our rare book cataloging, process the odd (sometimes very odd) archival collection, teach classes, coordinate our annual Creative Fellowship, and act as the liaison to the local arts and design community.

How did you get started in rare books?

In the early 2000’s, I was living in Boston and working in public education, as well as working with an awesome collective of people to start the Papercut Zine Library. We began with a few boxes of zines and comic books, creating our own custom cataloging system and hand-illustrated library cards. (The library still exists, and now has over 16,000 items in its collection!) Our collection grew rapidly through donations from zine authors, comics artists, bookstores and distros, and collectors; alongside the usual materials, donors would occasionally approach us with incredible ephemera and printed materials documenting social movements and underground music in and around Boston. We often couldn’t accept these historical materials (we didn’t have climate control, we had irregular open hours--while our values aligned with our donors’, we frequently weren’t the most appropriate home for these materials), but this planted a deep seed in me as I realized that 1. Someone desperately needed to be documenting social movements and subcultures, and the impetus had to come from the communities being documented, and 2. I wanted to build the skill set to do this kind of work!

I began researching MLS programs that year, with encouragement from an anonymous reference librarian at the Boston Public Library. Before that, I had only been vaguely aware of archives as a field. I wish it had been on my career radar earlier! After working in a number of community libraries and infoshops in New England and in the mid-south, earning an MLS, processing incredible working archival collections on-site at The Highlander Center (a popular education center in East Tennessee) and Bread and Puppet Theater (a political puppet theater in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont), and working as a tech services and reference librarian, I finally ended up in my current position at the Providence Public Library. Phew! It’s amazing to have a job where I make use of all the disparate knowledge and skills that I’ve acquired through my atypical career trajectory.

Where did you earn your MLS?

I got my MLS at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a focus in archives. While I was there, I was fortunate to have a graduate assistantship working on the North Carolina Maps project, which still heavily informs my ideas about metadata and access points. I also spent a year working as the graduate intern in the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library. It was a fantastic experience, and exposed me to all the different aspects of hands-on archival work, from processing enormous archival collections to meeting with donors to helping researchers with extensive projects. (One particularly memorable project involved a researcher recreating an art installation from an artist whose papers are in Duke’s collections; I somehow ended up pushing a book cart of half-dressed mannequin parts through the library, which remains a real career highlight.) 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is an impossible question to answer! I feel like I discover new and incredible things in our collections almost every day.

Some books at PPL that I return to over and over are early 20th century folios of pochoir prints by E. A. Séguy depicting nature-based and geometric patterns. Pochoir prints are made using layers--sometimes dozens or even hundreds of layers--of highly-detailed stencils, colored with super-pigmented ink using oversized pompom-esque brushes. The colors in these folios are unbelievably vibrant given their age, and the “wow” factor is high--everyone who sees them gasps! (We put together a really fun exhibit in 2015 where we had local artists look at these and other pattern books, and then use them as the basis for new creative work.)

What do you personally collect?

I live in a very small house, so my collecting capacity is limited. I do have a sizeable collection of antique bottles and sea glass; I’m a huge fan of historical trash. I like how much old bottles can tell us about the consumption habits and day-to-day lives of people in the past.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m an avid urban gardener, which currently means spending the bulk of my non-work daylight hours building increasingly absurd infrastructure to deter my neighborhood’s marauding citified woodchucks. I raise chickens, which are an endless source of entertainment. I also love sewing and knitting, bike riding, and attending Providence’s seemingly endless number of strange and wonderful arts events.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I’m very excited about books as physical objects. I love the tactile experience of opening a book, and I love being able to share that with researchers, especially ones who are new to special collections research. (Favorite reading room moment in recent memory: someone opening a historic magazine and exclaiming, “I can’t believe I’m allowed to touch this!”) Through my experience at PPL, I’ve found that younger researchers and teens have a kind of reverence for physical materials, and they understand the specialness of unique items in a world of endless digital duplication. As long as we continue developing methods of effective outreach and increasing our collections’ accessibility, I think special collections are in good shape moving forward.

Speaking of outreach and accessibility, I’m incredibly lucky to work at PPL alongside colleagues who share my belief that preservation is futile if it isn’t also tied to accessibility--that we save items so that they can be used, even if the two activities can seem at odds. I’m also delighted to work somewhere that doesn’t prioritize specific kinds of use--a tattoo artist or a teen clothing designer is just as welcome to view our rare materials as a scholar. Use brings materials alive, as they’re touched, incorporated into new scholarly or creative work, and brought into conversation with contemporary ideas.

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

As I mentioned, I believe that special collections have a really, shall I say, special place in a tech-heavy world. In PPL’s outreach, we often refer to the “immersive research experience”, which I think is a huge selling point for our collections. Because of the slower pace of special collections research, our users can spend whole afternoons absorbed in a particular visual or intellectual topic. Also--and I especially find this with our visual researchers and artists--it’s very valuable to see information within its broader context, instead of isolated like it would be in online search results. It’s a much richer experience.

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

I think that one of the most underutilized collections at PPL is our sizeable collection of books and periodicals about textiles and the textile industry. (It’s largely uncataloged, which we hope to change soon, but for now users tend to hear about it through word of mouth.) It was built up as a technical collection for people working in the textile industry, and now is a fantastic record of the history of the New England textile economy. It has information about machines and their operation/ repair, and about fibers, dyeing, and weaving. It includes fiber samples, color samples, and some fabric samples; it also has loads of information about particular mills or mill owners. (Many of the textile magazines were read by mill operatives, and they have announcements sections in the back that were like inter-mill gossip sections: what mills were bought or sold, which workers were promoted or passed away. Truly fascinating! The machinery/systems books written for mill owners, on the other hand, are almost completely silent on the fact that machines were operated by people--workers are barely mentioned, if at all.) I’ve seen contemporary textile artists work with this collection, digging up weaving patterns or natural dye recipes; it is also a fantastic resource for people interested in the history of regional manufacturing.

I’d also love to draw your attention to a recent project that I spearheaded: this past summer, PPL published a comic book called Lizard Ramone in Hot Pursuit: A Guide to Archives for Artists and Makers, written and illustrated by Providence artist Jeremy Ferris. Jeremy and I worked together closely for many months, discussing how archives work, what visual research looks like, useful access points for visual researchers, and common barriers to effective research. Because Jeremy is a hilarious genius, he somehow managed to translate all of this into a comic book that’s as fun to read as it is informative. The comic book was designed it to be useful to our researchers, but also general enough that it could be useful at any archives, special collections library, or historical society. A bookmark-style local insert (illustrated by Providence artist O. Horvath) offers Rhode Island-specific information on local repositories. I think it’s an amazing outreach tool for reaching visual artists in a medium that’s familiar and accessible, and acknowledges the ways that many artists think and work.

 You can read the whole comic book online here; that webpage also includes a link to a print-ready version of the book that you can download and take to your local print shop, and a template for those wanting to make their own local inserts. It’s like a mini toolkit for archivists and special collections librarians!

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

In addition to ongoing, smaller exhibits, PPL has an annual exhibition and program series. Our 2018 exhibition, “HairBrained,” will focus on hairstyles throughout history--braids, curls, facial hair, wigs--and the ways in which hair defines and reflects culture, self-identity, agency, and politics. We’re aiming to represent a variety of cultures and time periods in each exhibit case; items will range from historical postcards to an issue of The Black Panther newspaper, from early 20th century costume books with stunning color lithography to a 1726 history of pirates. You can see the exhibition at the library during the months of March-June 2018. Hair is a surprisingly complex and rich topic, and I anticipate the exhibition being both fun and challenging!

The Boston Book, Print, and Ephemera Fair, aka the ‘Satellite Show,’ will take place on Saturday from 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. at the Back Bay Events Center (within walking distance of the ABAA fair at the Hynes Auditorium). Today we’re taking a look at some of the show’s highlights. (View a fuller gallery here.)

Lit Envelope.jpgFirst, a neat piece of publishing ephemera: a “tromp l’oeil similitude envelope that served as a ‘dust jacket’ advertisement” for Frances Sargent Osgood’s 1849 takedown of New York’s literati, A Letter About the Lions: a letter to Mabel in the country. Says the bookseller, Read ‘em Again Books, “...there are only two known copies of which this is one.”  

Crane.jpgNext, a handsome first edition of Stephen Crane’s War is Kind (1899), designed and illustrated by Will Bradley, who wrote to the publishers: “The book represents my best work up till now as a designer and printer. I have become greatly interested in it and want to make it my masterpiece.” Offered by Boomerang Booksellers.

Hobson.jpgAnd from Pages of Yesteryear ... This funky illustrated anatomy book, the first book on Western medicine to be published in China, Quan to xin lun, by British medical missionary Benjamin Hobson (c. 1850s). Includes 43 full plates of human and comparative anatomy. 96 double leaves, sidesewn accordion style.

Images courtesy of Book and Paper Fairs

Rosenthal picture 1.jpg                                                                                                                                   

In January, bookseller Bernard Rosenthal passed away in Oakland, California, at the age of 96. Rosenthal was born in Munich in 1920 into a family of booksellers known throughout the industry as the “Rosenthal Dynasty.” Part of the massive exodus of Jewish antiquarian booksellers from Germany during the Nazi regime--the “gentle invaders” as Rosenthal called them--he ended up in New York, where he set up shop in the 1950s. Rosenthal eventually moved to Berkeley, where he focused on medieval manuscripts and early printed books. (For more on Rosenthal and fellow emigré booksellers of the early 20th century, read Nick Basbanes’ chapter “Hunters and Gatherers” in Patience & Fortitude.) Rosenthal’s catalogs became the stuff of legend in the antiquarian world, in which he described easily overlooked details and craftsmanship that only came to light after careful examination of the item at hand. “We have committed the cardinal sin of the bookseller: we have READ most of these books...which has, however, brought some surprising results,” Rosenthal wrote in one of his early catalogs.

Now, in memoriam to Rosenthal and his life’s work, California-based booksellers Nick Aretakis, Ian Jackson, and Ben Kinmont have recently announced the publication of a new biography. Entitled Bernard M. Rosenthal (Berkeley: The Wednesday Table), the book examines Rosenthal’s contributions to the antiquarian bookselling trade. Written by fellow bookseller and longtime friend Ian Jackson, the bibliography traces Rosenthal’s life and career, while also highlighting the bookseller’s ability to thrive in a notoriously difficult and expensive industry. 

Hand-stitched in printed dark-gray wrappers, printed on letterpress by Richard Seibert, and issued in a limited-edition run of 400 numbered copies, the folio-sized book is available for $60. Contact Nick Aretakis at, Ian Jackson at, or Ben Kinmont at to order. Required reading for antiquarian booksellers and historians alike.

Next weekend it’s Boston’s turn to host rare book collectors, dealers, and librarians. These bibliophiles will have their choice of two book fairs -- the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (Nov. 10-12) and the Boston Book & Ephemera Show (Nov. 11) -- one auction, and numerous exhibitions. On the blog this week, we’ll be previewing some highlights.

Capping off this ‘year of Thoreau,’ today we feature three manuscript survey maps by Henry D. Thoreau, all of which head to auction at Skinner on November 12.

Skinner 113.jpgHere is Thoreau’s “Plan of a Woodlot in Lincoln and Concord Mass.,” from April 30, 1857. In brown ink on heavy wove paper, this survey marks out a three-acre piece of land and is docketed on the verso in Thoreau’s hand. The estimate is $3,000-5,000.

Thoreau 114.jpgThoreau executed this “Plan of Robert D. Gilson’s Mill in Littleton, Mass.,” on May 9, 1857. In red and brown ink on heavy wove paper, this signed survey shows sketches of stone walls, the buildings, dam flume, and curb wheel. The estimate is $4,000-6,000.

thoreau-henry-david-1817-1862-plan-of-that-part-of-thomas-brooks-woodlot-in-lincoln-mass-which-was-burned-over-in-the-fall-of-1.jpgThe third and most colorful of the lot is this “Plan of that Part of Thomas Brooks’ Woodlot, in Lincoln, Mass, which was burned over in the fall of 1857,” completed on June 5, 1858. This large survey is also done in brown ink, but finished in green and red watercolors. The estimate is $5,000-7,000.

Images via Skinner


Three Women Playing Instruments, by Katsushika Ōi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

                                                                                                                                                                                                  A few months ago, a curator at the Honolulu Museum of Art stumbled upon a rare 19th-century manual on Japanese art that he didn’t even know existed in the museum archives. Stephen Salel had been searching for materials for an exhibition devoted to female Japanese manga artists. Recognized today as a subgenre of graphic novels, manga as an artform dates to the nineteenth century, and Salel was looking specifically for work created by Katsushika Oi (1800-1866), considered by many experts to be the first female manga artist. If the name sounds familiar, that’s probably because she was the daughter of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), whose 1823 woodblock print, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, has been reproduced countless times around the world.

Finding illustrations by the younger Katsushika proved challenging for Salel, yet he was relentless in his pursuit. Her work is at the Tokyo National Museum and at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art, but he wanted to confirm whether the Honolulu Museum had any material lurking in its archives. “I felt very confident that I could find one of her books in our own collection,” said Salel recently.

Salel scoured the Honolulu Museum of Art’s holdings until he came across the Illustrated Handbook for Daily Life for Women, published in 1847--the missing link for his show. The publication date and accompanying illustrations led Salel to conclude that this was an example by his elusive artist. “It was one of those times I felt like I might have made the right career choice,” he said.

The book was acquired by the museum in 2003 as part of the 20,000 piece Richard Lane Collection, which includes Japanese, Chinese, and Korean prints, books, and paintings from the Edo Period (1615-1868). 

Salel’s manga exhibition is slated for 2021--plenty of time to continue sleuthing for more forgotten treasures.

MM Prayers.jpgWas Marilyn Monroe the praying type? The blonde bombshell converted to Judaism in 1956, hours before the July 1 wedding ceremony uniting her with playwright Arthur Miller (they had married in a courthouse two days prior). Under the direction of Rabbi Robert E. Goldburg, Monroe had been studying the faith for months in preparation for her conversion. This book, The Form of Daily Prayers, According to the custom of the German and Polish Jews (1922), was her “somewhat worn” personal copy that contains a “few notations in the text in pencil, apparently in her hand,” according to Doyle, which will offer the book at auction on November 7. It last sold at Christie’s in 1999 within the ‘Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe’ sale alongside other books from her library and retains a book label from that auction. It is expected to make $4,000-6,000 this time around.

Image courtesy of Doyle

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Samantha Montano who collects disaster accounts. Samantha’s collection also recently won an honorable mention in the Honey & Wax book collecting contest.


Where are you from / where do you live?

I am originally from Maine, USA but have spent my recent years in New Orleans, Louisiana and Fargo, North Dakota.

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

I just completed my doctoral degree in emergency management. My research examines disaster volunteerism, emergent groups and grassroots efforts in disaster recovery, and the nonprofit sector in disaster. I am now continuing this research, as well as writing a book about the role of the emergency management system in managing many consequences of climate change. 

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

I collect non-fiction accounts of disasters published in the late 19th and early 20th century. Any hazard event from this time period is of interest but unsurprisingly the majority center around the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. These books are beautiful accounts written in moments of devastation and hope.

How many books are in your collection?

I own hundreds of disaster books but I only consider 25 to be a part of this particular collection.

montano collection.jpgWhat was the first book you bought for your collection?

The Story of the Great Flood and Cyclone Disaster by Thomas Herbert Russell from 1913. I came across it hidden away in a used bookstore in Fargo, North Dakota.

How about the most recent book?

Mail Story of The Flood by the United States Railway Mail Service from 1928.  This text is an account of the 1927 New England flood from the perspective of local postal workers.

And your favorite book in your collection?

Report of the Chicago Relief and Aid Society to the Common Council of the City of Chicago from 1872. This text is an accounting of the donations received and distributed by the relief and aid society established by the City of Chicago after the 1871 fire. It is my favorite for sentimental reasons. The Aid Society was an emergent group which is the area of study for which I am most passionate.

Best bargain you’ve found?

Probably my copy of Chicago and the great conflagration by Elias Colbert & Everett Chamberlin. I found it in near pristine condition at a used bookstore in Tennessee. It is definitely worth more than the $5 I paid.

How about The One that Got Away?

There is not one that stands out in particular. As a graduate student, I had a limited budget so many books have had to be left behind.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

I cannot answer this question with a specific title. Every single book in this collection was authored by a man. Though not surprising, it is disappointing. I am constantly searching for disaster books written by women during this time period. Original texts written by the founder of the Red Cross, Clara Barton, are high on my list.  

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I do not really have a favorite though John K. King in Detroit tends to have a wide selection and perfect book scouting atmosphere. I most enjoy the hunt for these books, how it takes me to bookstores I never would have seen otherwise.

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

I have a novice fascination with geography so I would likely collect old maps.

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