December 2017 Archives

“Home” For The Holidays

For many of us, the next few weeks will be a flurry of holiday parties, last-minute gift runs, and the chance to see family and friends. In a bid to remember why we go through so much trouble to be with loved ones this time of year, consider picking up the third literary anthology in the Freeman’s collection entitled Home (Grove, $16). Thirty-seven writers from around the world focused on the idea of home, each bringing a new perspective and interpretation.


In the narrative nonfiction piece “Vacationland,” author Kerri Arsenault returns to her hometown of Mexico, Maine, which sits on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Now a derelict relic of a bygone era, the townspeople’s former prosperity came from toiling in the paper mill in nearby Rumford. “That’s money coming out of those smokestacks,” Arsenault’s father used to say, but there was plenty else coming out of those stacks, too--dioxin, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and other by-products of contemporary mass-produced papermaking, slowly poisoning the surrounding environment and its inhabitants. (Read “At the Crossroads” in On Paper for a look inside the modern commercial papermaking experience.)

                                                                                                                                                                  By 1970, oxygen levels in the Androscoggin were zero, choking out the fish, while the toxic brew spewed from the plant plastered the riverbanks with rainbow-colored foam. Esophageal cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia cases skyrocketed in Rumford and Mexico, yet the mill kept churning out the high glossy paper demanded by its customers, ironically like the National Geographic Society. Though a boon for the town’s coffers, a century of mismanagement had its price.


As she deals with her father’s slow demise from asbestosis of the lungs cultivated from forty-three years of work in the paper mill, Arsenault contemplates the contradictions between how the rest of the country sees Maine--as a pristine wilderness filled with pine trees--and the one she experienced growing up in a town that smelled like eggs and where the tap water made her gag. Indeed, she wonders whether the Maine so beloved by E.B. White and Henry Thoreau has even existed since the Abenaki Native Americans managed the land as their own.


“When we leave home, we leave behind our past and encounter a version of home when we return, built of legends true and false,” Arsenault concludes. Perhaps the contradictions ring louder for her than for others, but “Vacationland” is a clear-eyed meditation on what happens when the place you grew up is suddenly unrecognizable. At once unsentimental yet surprisingly nostalgic, “Vacationland” and other stories in Home refuse to be forgotten.



Mitchell, Henry (1876) The State Arms of the UnionBostonL. Prang & Co.

Book Lovers Misc.jpgLast year we featured “5 Facts You Might Not Know About the Bodleian Library,” a listicle based on Claire Cock-Starkey’s book, Bodleianalia. In that same sprit, we share five tidbits gleaned from her newest work, The Book Lovers’ Miscellany ($17.50), a perfect little gift book of bibliophilic wisdom with topics ranging from how to identify a first edition to a brief history of the Frankfurt Book Fair to book towns around the world. 

1. The rarest book in the world is a 1593 first edition of Venus and Adonis by William Shakespeare. The Bodleian’s copy “is the only known copy of this book in existence.”

2. The first book ordered on Amazon was a scientific tome called Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter.

3. Agatha Christie is the most translated author in the world with 7,233 distinct translated editions. Jules Verne runs a distant second with 4,751 distinct translated editions.

4. James Joyce’s Dubliners was rejected twenty-two times before a publisher agreed to a small print run.

5. At 1,466 years old, the Leiden Herbaria at Leiden University Library is one of the oldest surviving intact books in the world.

Image: Courtesy of the University of Chicago Press

If Arthur Ransome’s classic series, Swallows and Amazons, is a favorite, you’ll be chuffed to learn of a new tourism initiative that allows visitors to “cast off into your very own Swallows & Amazons adventure.”

Brought to you by Craig Manor Hotel, which recently released another literary itinerary in England’s Lake District, this treasure map (infographic) leads you in the characters’ footsteps.

SwallowsAmazonForest_6 copy2.jpgCourtesy of Craig Manor Hotel

The year-end fundraiser to keep Booklyn in Brooklyn is nearing its final days. Founded in 1999, the non-profit artists and bookmakers association has promoted, documented, and distributed artists’ books to the general public and educational institutions, dedicated to education through the exhibition and distribution of art books and prints. (For a thorough examination, read A.N. Devers’ piece about the non-profit here, from our Spring 2015 issue.) 

Having long ago grown out of its 600-square-foot studio in Greenpoint, the organization has been on the hunt for a new home, and was recently invited to take up residence at ArtBuilt Brooklyn, a 50,000-square-foot art community at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. There, Booklyn will have a production studio, art gallery, event space, and an office to continue producing artists’ books.



To make the move, Booklyn went to its loyal fans on Kickstarter, where its current fundraiser is $2,219 shy of meeting its $15,000 goal. To entice backers, the Booklyn team just added new rewards, like Scream at the Librarian, a hand-screenprinted, hand-bound, signed, limited-edition art book by Joel Rane and illustrated by Raymond Pettibon and Christin Sullivan, available for a donation of $800. Isabella Kirkland’s Taxa, six archival digital prints based on the artist’s oil paintings of birds and still lifes recalling 17th- century Dutch masters is available in a suite of six, along with a project monograph, for $3,000.



                                                                                                                                                                        See all the goodies and help keep Booklyn ring in 2018 in Brooklyn here.

                                                                                                                                                                    Images courtesy of Booklyn

The big news at Sotheby’s forthcoming Judaica sale on December 20 may be the 14th-century illuminated Hebrew Bible from Spain, estimated to sell in excess of $3.5 million, but there are some other sterling (pun intended) lots in the sale, including more than two dozen silver (and gold) bookbindings, from the 17th-19th centuries, mostly of Italian or German make. Almost all come from the collection of Jack Lunzer, the late diamond merchant and creator/custodian of the Valmadonna Trust Library. Here are a few highlights:  

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 9.48.49 AM.pngLot 83: A German silver small bookbinding from the late 17th century by Christiana and Magdalena Küslin (the granddaughters of Mathias Merian, whose engravings were the basis of the famous Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695), and fitted with a book of prints from the Old Testament. The estimate is $7,000-10,000.

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 9.45.17 AM.pngLot 90: A rare gold binding, c. 1780-1800, of either Dutch or German make, fitted with Sefer Keritut, printed by Francesco Rossi, Verona, 1647. The estimate is $12,000-18,000.

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 9.25.00 AM.pngLot 92: An ornate mid-18th-century Italian silver binding, crafted by either Giovanni or Bendeto Teoli and fitted with a 1742 Venetian prayer book containing the bookplate of the late Iowa book collector Oliver Henry Perkins. The estimate is $20,000-30,000.  

Images courtesy of Sotheby’s

“I don’t think of myself as a completist, although I certainly have many thousands of Doyle things,” said collector Dan Posnansky in Nick Basbanes’ book hunting guide, Among the Gently Mad. Still, Posnansky spent over sixty years sleuthing out book stores and estate sales in search of materials relating to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) and his literary detective, Sherlock Holmes. By his own account, Posnansky estimated he was in possession of roughy ten thousand volumes of all things Sherlockian.

On December 19, most of that collection is heading to auction at Calabasas-based Profiles in History and is billed as the largest single Sherlock Holmes collection to go to market. Photographs, letters, pamphlets, advertisements, commemorative objects and more will all be available at the no-reserve sale.

Perhaps the most exciting high points includes the collection of pirated editions from the late 19th century--books printed in the United States that flouted nascent and inconsistent copyright laws. At the time, American copyright stretched for 28 years with possible renewal for another 28, while English copyright extended for the life of the author plus fifty years. This loophole placed Doyle’s work in the American public domain, meaning publishers could print his books without paying him any royalties. Over the course of his collecting career, Posnansky identified no less than one hundred publishing pirateers, mostly based in New York and Chicago, and his quest yielded a trove of over 1,200 pirate editions.

Of those pirated editions, one stands out: a signed copy of The Sign of the Four. This particular volume was owned by Eugene Field, a Chicago poet, bibliophile, and surprisingly, an outspoken critic of pirated editions. Yet, during Doyle’s 1894 visit to Chicago, Field had the chutzpah to present his own pirated book to the author for an inscription. Recognizing the unauthorized volume for what it was, Doyle nevertheless obliged with an abrasive ditty:


This bloody pirate stole my sloop
And holds her in his wicked ward.
Lord send that walking on my poop
I see him kick at my main-yard.


Doyle also included a crude illustration of a flag bearing a skull and crossbones with a noose around the name of the publisher. “I spent thirty years tracking it [the book] down before I was finally able to buy it,” Posnansky said in Among the Gently Mad. “He [Doyle] wrote a lot of letters about piracy, but this is the only documented instance of where he made his feelings known in the copy of a pirated book. And the thing that makes it really beautiful is that it is written in one of the most egregious examples of piracies you can find of his work.”

Fellow Sherlockian Glen Miranker wrote a reminiscence in the auction catalog about seeking out the addresses of long gone New York pirateers. “Armed with photocopies and notes, we’d go on foot or by taxi to address after address (fortified by food from Katz’s Deli on Houston Street)....Spending time with a gifted collector can rub off. I call it the Posnansky Effect.”

More information about the auction can be found here

                                                                                                                                                                                Images courtesy of Profiles in History

Katpadi.jpgPick up The Book Hunters of Katpadi (2017), Pradeep Sebastian’s first novel, and you will be instantly struck by its beauty--a dazzling dust jacket, charming illustrations, and a black ribbon book marker. It’s the kind of treatment not often given to mysteries, but this one is obviously special because it is a bibliomystery, a term defined by Otto Penzler as a “mystery story that involves the world of books: a bookshop, a rare volume, a library, a collector, or a bookseller.” Bingo!

Now that you’ve been lured in, there’s more good news: Sebastian spins an exciting yarn about the discovery of a long-lost and highly coveted manuscript written by British explorer (and Kama Sutra translator) Sir Richard Francis Burton. Set in and around an antiquarian bookshop called Biblio in Chennai, India, The Book Hunters of Katpadi has a cast of characters that will be familiar to bibliophiles, including clever booksellers, fervent collectors, and ambitious auctioneers. The fact that these characters have conversations about Richard Heber and Thomas Frognall Dibdin as a matter of course will not be lost on book collectors. The shady fringes of the antiquarian book market also emerge, providing the adventure and intrigue that such a mystery requires.

Sebastian, a collector himself, writes a column about books for The Hindu. Nick Basbanes called his 2010 collection of essays, The Groaning Shelf, “impressive” and “erudite.” Now Sebastian has applied his talents to fiction and crafted an engrossing tale of rarities lost--and found--in his native India. Sebastian shows a subtle hand, elegantly evoking sights, sounds, and tastes in his narrative and reaching well beyond a typical gumshoe plot.  

Since the book was published in India, getting your hands on a physical copy here in the states will require ordering via Biblio or Abebooks (but it will be well worth it!). Or, you can download the Kindle version from Amazon UK.   

When Doris Lessing, age 89, finally won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007, her response was, “Oh, Christ.” Lessing’s name had been floated for years, and she had given up hope--or had simply stopped caring. Best known for her 1962 feminist novel, The Golden Notebook, Lessing was the eleventh woman to win the coveted award. She showed up in Stockholm, gave her speech--highlighting the “hunger for books” and the lack of access to them, particularly in her native Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia)--and went back to writing. She died in 2013.  

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 7.34.29 AM.pngNow her prize is headed to auction, estimated to reach £150,000-250,000 ($200,000-335,000) at Christie’s in London on December 13.

In 2014, Lessing’s executors donated her personal library of some 3,000 volumes was to the city library in Harare, Zimbabwe. She had long supported literacy and library charities in the region. 

Image via Christie’s

The weather outside wasn’t too frightful, and there were plenty of other festivities taking place nearby, but this weekend’s Northampton Book and Book Arts Fair enjoyed brisk business and lively discussion.

The Northampton Book and Book Arts Fair is produced by Book Arts Promotions in association with  Smith College Libraries, Mark Brumberg, of Boomerang Booksellers, and Duane A. Stevens, of Wiggins Fine Books.

Over forty exhibitors from around New England and beyond set up shop in the Smith College Campus Center, representing a diverse array of book designers, papermakers, engravers, and fine letterpress publishers. Sellers reported success during the two-day event, with over 300 people in attendance.

On Saturday afternoon, Nick Basbanes signed copies of his books, then gave the fair’s keynote lecture in the Graham Hall Auditorium, where he reflected on thirty years of writing about the history of the book and book culture.

As evening descended, the crowds dispersed into the chilly New England night.

Golding.jpgOn December 14, UK auctioneer Dominic Winter will offer the book collection of Richard Adams, the novelist best known for his 1972 novel, Watership Down. It is brimful of tremendous literary first editions--Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Trollope--plus a Shakespeare Second Folio and a first edition of Milton’s epic poem Lycidas (one of only 33 copies known). Pictured here is his signed first edition of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Adams, who died last year at the age of 96, was quite the book collector.

His daughter, Juliet Johnson, provides an introduction to the auction catalogue, and touches upon this topic. She writes:                                                                                                                                                What turned him into a collector of rare and first editions? I believe it was a combination of his love of literature and his love of history. If you loved both, what could be more exciting than to hold and own that first edition of Emma which Jane herself had perhaps picked up, in the typeface which she herself had no doubt perused with such pride? And with the success of his own work, my father could at last afford to indulge himself and become a true bibliophile ... Collecting became almost an obsession. It is sad to see so much of it go, but my father would no doubt have taken comfort from his beloved Thomas Hardy, and perhaps have been pleased that after his death these great books will pass to others who will love and treasure them.                                                                                                                                         
Image courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers

Eagle-eyed readers may recall our story back in April about a Kickstarter-funded biography on William Addison Dwiggins, that twentieth-century book designer who coined the term “graphic design” back in the 1920s.                                                                                                                                                                   

The inaugural project for Letterform Archive ultimately received $171,574, sailing past its fundraising goal of $50,000. As of November 21, the book was in its final proofing stage and will be on the press before the year is out. Proofing the book is no small task: over 1,000 images pepper the book, but author-designer Bruce Kennett and his team are dedicated to “producing a printed image that comes as close as the real thing,” with a secondary goal of setting a new bar for subsequent Archive publications.


                                                                                                                                                                                       W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design focuses on Dwiggins’ contributions to graphic design while also exploring his mastery of seemingly disparate art forms--in addition to designing roughly 300 book covers for publisher Alfred A. Knopf and creating Electra and Caledonia, two widely used typefaces, Dwiggins was a puppet master. His collection of marionettes--along with Dwiggins-designed books, broadsides, and furniture--were donated to the Boston Public Library in 1967 and represent his zealous attention to detail while crafting whimsical wooden playthings.

Of the 1,059 backers, a lucky few pledged enough to earn a deluxe edition of the biography, bound with a leather spine and gold foil-stamped lettering by master calligrapher Richard Lipton. Order fulfillment of the regular edition is slated for early January, which may disappoint backers who hoped to have their copy in time for the holidays, but fear not, Kennett and the Letterform Archive team are sure you will find the results worth the wait.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Image courtesy of the Letterform Archive

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