May 2018 Archives

Women in a Golden Age of Artists’ Books

Though artists’ books can arguably trace their origins back to medieval volumes like the Trѐs Riches Heures, contemporary artists’ books tend to reference William Blake as the forerunner to the genre. And since then, the field has produced masters like Dieter Roth, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, and others who transform books into art objects.                                                                                               

The 1970s and 80s are considered by many experts as the golden age of offset printed artists’ books, and though it was a field mostly dominated by men, women were making their mark, too. A roundtable discussion being held at New York’s Center for Book Arts on Tuesday May 22 will explore the work of those women creators of offset printed artists’ books, the challenges they faced, and what they hope the future holds for the next generation of printmakers. Participants include Cynthia Marsh, founder of Tennessee’s Goldsmith Press; Rebecca Michaels, a photography professor at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia; and Philadelphia-based book artist, printmaker, and professor Patty Smith.       

The panel will be moderated by the Met’s associate chief librarian of the Watson Library, Tony White, whose exhibition, Production, not Reproduction: a Chronological History of Offset Printed Artists’ Books, appeared at Yale in 2006 and at the Center for Book Arts in 2007. The work of Smith, Marsh, and Michaels was featured in both iterations of that exhibition. White also served as guest editor for Volume 25 of the Journal of Artists’ Books.                                                                                            


“I interviewed all three women ten years ago when I was creating a genealogy of offset printers for Volume #25 of the Journal of Artists Books,” explained White. “I learned about where they discovered printing, who they studied with, and who they taught. There are a number of male offset printers who have received more recognition, but who came a generation or so later. With so many women book artists’ and printers, I want to make sure their stories are heard, especially in the contemporary book production environment.”                                                                                                                         

Though Tuesday’s panel of participants is far from complete, White believes that the women sharing their stories are representative of the experiences others have had.                                                        

“In a way, I am returning to a project I started in 2007 to gather and publish the interviews of offset printers,” explained White. “The focus of the program is on women who played important, foundational roles in the field of high speed rotary offset printing. “It is a highly technical and demanding printing process--much less forgiving that letterpress.”                                                    

“Women in a Golden Age of Artists’ Books” happens on Tuesday, May 22 at the Center for Book Arts (28 West 27th St, 3rd floor) from 6:30-7:45. RSVP to this event at

Rare Books London is now underway, and there’s an audible hum of activity in the rare book trade about ABA’s 61st annual London fair running from May 24-26. 


Here is our second brief round-up of dealers’ particular favorites offered with hope for warmer, less rainy weather and a great turnout for the fair’s debut in a new venue. See you at Battersea!



Deborah Coltham Rare Books has sent this 1802 broadside advertising a range of waterproof clothing designed, manufactured and patented by Ackermann, Suardy & Co of Chelsea, who invented a method for rendering materials impenetrable to water. Enticingly, Maria Hadfield Cosway, a close friend of Thomas Jefferson, did the enchanting stipple engraving. Price £1,800



There is a rare, dramatic, and important, if unnerving, entry from Alembic Rare Books in a ring-bound official photo album of the United States Air Force’s “Operation Greenhouse” documenting thermonuclear weapon use in 1951. The 89 original photographs in this album were taken by a crew of thirty professional photographers from the Air Force’s Lookout Mountain Laboratory in Hollywood, California, who also filmed two documentaries, one for public consumption and the other for the government. Price £6500



And to calm our now stirred nerves, here is Simon Beattie’s meditative offering in Susan Maria Ffarington’s illustrated panorama of The 104th Psalm. Lithographed by Vincent Brooks Day & Son, London, c.1870, it measures twelve feet in length, and illustrates all thirty-five verses of Psalm 104. Ffarington was the author of several devotional books for children and designed windows for parish churches near her estate. Sounds heavenly. Price £600



It’s a nice easy step from Psalms to Shakespeare, and we’re finishing up our preview with Sophie Schneideman’s offering of Cranach Press’s The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, of which she writes: “Hamlet was 17 years in gestation from when [Count Kessler] had seen Gordon Craig’s black figures for his Moscow Hamlet and decided that spectacular woodcuts could be printed from them. The result is one of the most important and spectacular works of the private press movement.” Price £14,000


Our first ABA fair round-up, posted last week, is here.


Images courtesy of the booksellers

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Emily Kader, Rare Book Research Librarian at the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.

Kader headshot.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I’m the Rare Book Research Librarian at Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In this role I oversee reference and teaching with rare books from across Wilson Library’s collections. I do a lot of instruction and also train our graduate students in special collections pedagogy and teaching with primary sources. I’m a big advocate for active learning, object-based inquiry, and undergraduate research using rare books, and I love to see students that I’ve taught return to the reading room as researchers. I’m also the go-to person for reference questions relating to rare books, descriptive bibliography, and literary studies. Since UNC is a public institution, we have a diverse population of patrons, including on-campus faculty and students, visiting researchers, and the general public. I love all my patrons equally, but I would say my favorite set of researchers is UNC’s graduate students. Putting doctoral and masters students in touch with resources that change the course of their scholarship--whether for digital projects or traditional dissertations and theses--is one of the best parts of my job.

How did you get started in rare books?


After finishing my PhD in English at Emory University, I knew I wanted to work in special collections and to teach with primary sources. I had taught using literary manuscripts at Emory’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Library and also with the Library of Congress’s digitized collection, Voices from the Days of Slavery. I saw how working closely with these kinds of materials changed my students’ approach to learning--they came alive and opened up to the subject matter in a way that traditional classroom teaching just didn’t achieve. My a-ha moment came while I was on a visiting fellowship at Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center, doing research related to my dissertation. I was surrounded by archivists and librarians doing incredibly important work that had an ethics and an impact that I envied. I remember Todd Harvey, the reference specialist there, telling me that I should get my MLS and become an archivist, and something just clicked. So, I applied to library school and was offered an assistantship through UNC’s School of Library and Information Science program. I was lucky to be placed as the assistant to the Rare Book Librarian, John Vincler, who showed me the ropes with rare books, encouraged me to attend Rare Book School, and was a wonderful mentor. I made myself valuable by teaching as many instruction sessions as I could while soaking up knowledge of the history of the book and descriptive bibliography. A full-time position opened up just before I graduated, and I was able to stay at Wilson Library as a professional librarian. So, I didn’t become an archivist, but I found a neighboring home in rare books.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?


School of Information and Library Science, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


Wilson Library has this little book of hours printed by Thielman Kerver in an agenda format. It’s a small, thin, little book that’s about the size of a smart phone, so you can just imagine it in the hands or on the body of an early modern reader. Some of the text has been lightly excoriated, with one line of ink down the middle of a series of pages. It’s still completely readable, so I like to imagine that whoever owned it--maybe it was a woman--was a perhaps little radical and wanted to keep this illicit text legible. Whoever they were, I love to imagine this book moving about with its original owner in their world.


What do you personally collect?


In my house we have lots of books, but most of them are not collector’s items. I do have a small collection of twentieth-century Irish books--mostly poetry and a little drama--including some lovely Dolmen Press editions.

What do you like to do outside of work?


Outside of work I love spending time with my husband, Lucas, and our three-year-old daughter, Matilda. On weekends we all go to the farmers’ market, to the park, and to the fabulous Chapel Hill Public Library. When I have a moment to myself, I read fiction or jog in our neighborhood. I’m also trying to become a gardener, with my daughter’s help, of course.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?


I am most excited about the ways rare books can be objects of empathy and can connect people living today with human beings who lived in the past. There are so many ways this connection can happen, whether its understanding that someone made the paper and someone else composed the type in a hand-press-period book, or realizing that a book belonged to a reader who lived through a certain moment in history. My favorite example of this is when a student of mine articulated that a tiny Civil War era hymnal was carried on the body of a young man who went into battle. Through this object, she imagined his fear and his pain and that he was a living, breathing person. Rare book objects allow us to touch history, but my hope is that they also allow us reach out the people of the past and understand a small part of their experience.

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


I think special collections is moving toward greater access and is beginning to build a greater diversity of researchers. The work that this new generation of researchers will produce--or that they are producing now--is really exciting to me. We’ve been a restrictive space of inquiry designed for a small set of scholars for so long. But we’re beginning to reach people from different backgrounds whose perspectives are going to bring new dimensions to scholarship based in special collections.



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

One of the most under-utilized collections at Wilson Library is our W. B. Yeats Collection. Before it came to us it belonged to George Mills Harper, who during his lifetime was the foremost scholar on Yeats and the occult. Aside from that, it really is an ideal collection for Irish modernists doing book history, with lots of different editions by Yeats and his circle and lots of material relating to the Cuala Press and the Abbey Theatre. If you want to get a material sense of the book in Yeats’s world, it’s a fantastic collection.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


Yes! This summer we are hosting “Reconstructing Frankenstein’s Monster: Mary Shelley’s World in Print.” In addition to being a fascinating exhibition, it’s also been curated by a class of UNC undergraduates taking Jeanne Moskal’s English 295 honors course. I’ve had the privilege of working with these students this spring, helping them make their choices and perform research. It’s really a showcase of the power of undergraduate research in special collections.


[Image provided by Emily Kader]

FBC2018summerCV1-no-bar-code.jpgWe received the sad news that author Tom Wolfe passed away yesterday at the age of 88. As fate would have it, Wolfe graces the cover of our summer issue--in the mail as I type--wherein we have one of the last interviews that he ever gave. Martha Steger, who interviewed Wolfe three times over the course of his long career, visited Wolfe at his Upper East Side apartment on January 7. She talked to the author about New Journalism fifty years after The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, his now-classic 1968 book chronicling a LSD-powered bus trip with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. They also discussed car racing, immigration, and ... Trump.  

To celebrate and honor Tom Wolfe, we wanted to share this interview with all of our readers, and so we’re posting the entire feature here

It is that time of year again, when Marcia and I must put all thoughts of road trips to one side, whilst we concentrate on preparing for the PBFA London Antiquarian Book Fair. As the name suggests, this is in London, has lots of antiquarian books, and is put on by the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA). We manage the fair -- so it keeps us pretty busy.

ilec1.jpgThis year, we have once more gathered a group of over 100 exhibitors who come to London to buy and sell beautiful books, maps and other works on paper. Dealers come from every part of the world to be part of the fair. This year at the Ibis Hotel, Lillie Road, we will welcome dealers from Canada, including Aquila Books and Voyager Press. From America, B & B Rare Books and D & D Galleries. (My new policy of only accepting Americans who use initials for their trading name seems to be bearing fruit.) We also have friends old and new from Europe. Christian Haslinger and Antiquariaat Talke will both be presenting their usual impressive stands. We are also bringing along a contingent of Dutch booksellers this year, who we have met on our travels.

ilec2.jpgOf course our core membership are the stalwarts of the PBFA. We are very pleased that we span the generations of the organisation. Gerry and Glenda Mosdell from the Junction bookshop are amongst the “founding fathers” of the association, and at the other end of the spectrum, we are pleased to once again welcome the Bibliomaniacs, a group of booksellers from Papplewick school in Ascot, who proudly claim themselves as the youngest antiquarian booksellers in the world.

ilec 3.jpgWhatever your particular taste in books, you will find examples here. From the fine bindings of Temple Bookbinders to the modern firsts of Holybourne Books and Cheltenham Rare Books. From the ancient manuscripts of Alastor and Modern First Editions to the Antarctic explorations of Kingsbridge Books and Meridian Books. Naturally there will be a variety of maps and prints from the likes of Michael Morris and several others.

As usual, the event is part of Rare Books London, which sees London present a variety of book fairs and events to the world. We hope you will be able to come and visit the fair. If you do, be sure to say hello to Marcia on the reception, and Marc on the Harrison-Hiett stand.

--Marc Harrison and his wife Marcia run Harrison-Hiett Rare Books in The Netherlands. Images courtesy of the author.

Swann Galleries offers 19th & 20th Century Literature on Tuesday, May 15, in 310 lots. The top-estimated lot is a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems (Paris: Contact, 1923), printed in just 300 copies ($20,000-30,000). A set of three first printed editions of Emily Dickinson’s poems could sell for $10,000 to $15,000. A copy of the first printed edition of Anne Frank’s diary (Amsterdam, 1947) in the third-issue dust jacket is estimated at $7,000-10,000. Also included are unbound long galley proofs for Philip K. Dick’s VALIS ($4,000-6,000) and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House in original monthly parts ($2,000-3,000).


At Toovey’s in West Sussex on Tuesday, Antiquarian & Collectors’ Books, in 354 lots. Luigi Mayer’s folio volume with aquatint plates Views in the Ottoman Empire (London, 1803), rebound, is estimated at £1,000-1,500. Mathias Koops’ Historical Account of the Substances which Have Been Used to Describe Events, and to Convey Ideas from the earliest Date to the Invention of Paper (London, 1800), printed on straw paper, could sell for £300-500. A number of lots in this sale are from the collection at West Horsley Place, the historic house inherited by Bamber Gascoigne in 2014.


Rounding out the trio of Tuesday sales, Sotheby’s London offers Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History Including the Library of Colin and Joan Deacon, in 419 lots. A set of eleven works by John Gould, in forty-three volumes in near-uniform green morocco bindings, could sell for £700,000-900,000. A volume containing a complete set of the Indian Tracts of Bartholomé de las Casas, in contemporary limp vellum binding with manuscript annotations and ownership notes recording that the volume belonged to Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616), early historian of Peru, is estimated at £100,000-150,000. Fifteen albumen photographs of Mecca from the 1880s could fetch £80,000-120,000. A copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle rates a £25,000-35,000 estimate, and a copy of Audubon’s “Carolina Parrot” plate is estimated at £20,000-30,000.


Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 7.53.14 AM.pngOn Wednesday, May 16, Dominic Winter Auctioneers sells Printed Books, Maps & Documents, in 578 lots. Among the top-expected lots are John Speed’s 1676 A new and accurat map of the world (£5,000-8,000); a 1698 second edition of John Ogilby’s Britannia (£3,000-5,000); and James Bruce’s Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (£1,500-2,000). If your library needs a set of steps, there’s a Victorian gothic oak set available, from Exeter College, Oxford (pictured right; £300-500).


PBA Galleries offers a Spring Miscellany on Thursday, May 17, in 455 lots. The highest estimate, $6,000-9,000, goes to a copy of Jean Charlot’s Picture Book (1933), this is one of five special sets containing progressive proofs for the 32 lithographs. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it was offered last month with a higher estimate.) Lots 199-380 are being sold without reserve and lots 381-455 are shelf lots, also sold without reserve. Many lots related to Merle Armitage, John Henry Nash, and the Grabhorn Press will go under the hammer.


Image via Dominic Winter Auctioneers

Welcome Bookworks, a New Artist’s Book Fair

FB&C readers, welcome Bookworks to the book artist’s fair scene. The San Francisco Center for the Book is hosting its inaugural event on Friday, May 18, from 5:30-8:00 p.m. at their location on Rhode Island Avenue. Eighteen book artists will be displaying their creations, all at price points between $50 to $500.


BW.JPG“We want this fair to support up-and-coming artists much in the way our founders, Mary Austin and Kathleen Burch intended when they created SFCB back in 1996,” said executive director Jeff Thomas. “Additionally, San Francisco hosts the CODEX book arts fair each spring, but young and struggling book artists often can’t exhibit there due to the relatively high cost to participate,” he said. “Our show is dedicated to supporting artists just starting out, as well as giving new collectors a reasonably-priced venue to start their own collections.” In addition to giving new artists a platform to reach prospective buyers, the show also welcomes established local book artists like Mary Laird and Lisa Rappoport. “At its core, this show is really about the vibrant book artist’s community here in San Francisco and that it can be accessible to all,” explained Thomas.

The event is free and will be accompanied by light hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, so RSVP ASAP! 

In just over two weeks the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association will host its 61st annual London fair, and for the first time will move to central London’s Battersea Park. The three-day event will feature 170 leading UK and international dealers, and is the centerpiece of over two months of activities relating to Rare Books London


Here’s a very small sample of what’s for sale at Battersea, with much more to come next week. 


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Justin Croft Antiquarian Books has sent us a sublime edition of Le Livre des mortes [The Book of the Dead], published in Paris by G. Leblanc in 1948. Held in a black chemise and slipcase, it is a folio with text and plates etched and engraved throughout and in its original wrappers. Illustrated by Anton Prinner, an important transgender artist who “habitually was addressed by his friend Picasso as ‘Monsieur Madame.’ The book is profound in its large format and drawn from the translation by Pierret after the Turin papyrus. Prinner was likely born Anna Prinner but lived as a man throughout his life, studied painting at the Budapest school of fine arts in 1920 and went to Paris in 1928. He also studied occult sciences, esoteric doctrines, and mystical philosophies. Price £8,000


10851a.jpgJohn Atkinson Fine & Rare Books has a first UK edition of recently deceased and much heralded theoretical physicist Stephen W. Hawking’s bestselling and famous book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, uncommon with inserted postcard sent from Hawking’s address at the University of Cambridge. Price £1,750


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And coinciding nicely with the exhibition on Captain Cook’s voyages that just opened at the British Library, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the departure of the Endeavour on his first voyage, Maggs Bros. Ltd. Rare Books & Manuscripts has shared a first edition of James Cook and John Hawkesworth’s stunner, An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of his Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow and the Endeavour...


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This Account is in full tree calf binding, contemporary to publication, that has come from the library of the Earls of Macclesfield. This set is offered to the market for the first time, having been held back by the family from the series of Sotheby’s sales in the 2000s. Price: £15,000


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Finally for today, Weird Stories, a wonderfully witchy and scarce volumue from Jonathan Kearns Rare Books and Curiosities. Published by Chatto & Windus in 1884, it is, says Kearns, “one of the scarcest collections of Victorian weird tales from a widely acclaimed master in the field,” with stories including “The Old House in Vauxhall Walk” and the legendary “Old Mrs. Jones.” Price: £2,500


Images courtesy of the booksellers

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Bryn Hoffman, proprietor of Pyewacket Books in Oakland, California:


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How did you get started in rare books?

I was working as an archivist last year and I started meeting independent booksellers and was realized I could totally do that. My undergraduate work was done at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, the great books school, where I studied philosophy and comparative literature and I got my MLIS with an archives concentration from Simmons College. Also I’ve been bookbinding on and off since I was a teen, so once I learned that “rare book dealer” was an actual job, it was obvious to me that I was built for it.

As I learned more about the trade, I started to fall in love with this idea of bookselling in which we could actually help change the larger cultural landscape by reimagining and re-cataloguing important materials. We get to scour flea markets, auction houses, and personal collections with impunity. I was always a thrift store/garage sale/flea market kid, so this is just the best for me. We also get to catalogue without institutional bias and present materials in the light we think they should be seen. In my lists, I get to say what I think is important and why. That’s powerful.

Unfortunately, as I’ve met more booksellers and learned more about the trade I’ve realized that it is, in fact, eating itself. A lot of us are selling the same books in the same ways to the same people. This is a bummer, but it’s not enough to drive me away. I think that there’s a lot of potential in bookselling and I’m confident that it can be extracted from the mire.

When did you open Pyewacket Books and what do you specialize in?

I started on April 2nd. I’m focusing primarily on occult books and esoterica, LGBTQIA materials, and things pertaining to sex and sex work, but I’m open to anything else important, curious, interesting, odd.

What do you love about the book trade?

I like owning my labour and my time. I’m doing a lot of the things I did as a librarian and archivist - cataloguing, researching, banging my head against a keyboard - but at 3am in my bed or 2pm in a coffeeshop in North Beach. I’ve been on the move for the past several years, so I like that this line of work allows me freedom of movement. Plus some of the people have been chill so far. Oh, and spending all my time with books pretty neat, too.

Describe a typical day for you:

I put on my bathrobe, make coffee, and check emails and social media. I generally chill like that for awhile before starting in on work-work, which right now consists of cataloguing and book hunting. The Bay Area is chockablock full of neat places to find books so I never want for adventure. I usually like to pack a bag with snacks, my laptop, and a few books to-be-catalogued and venture out. My apartment is hella small and our cat is a pubescent maniac so it’s not easy working from home. I work in cafÇs, public parks - wherever there’s wifi. I’ve been making an effort to put out one short list per week. Once the list goes out, all those items get added to my website, where they’re available for sale. I try to put out lists on a theme - no matter how loose. This feels sustainable so far - we’ll see what the future holds.

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

I was at the Vermont State Archives for a hot minute, doing an internship, and they had this letter written and signed by George Washington in which he expounded on the virtues of Vermonters - tough as nails, gritty, full of whatever “moxie” was in the 18th century. He said that they were rad but also sort of assholes because their loyalty to “the cause” was always in jeopardy. If they thought for even a second that Vermont was in danger of attack they’d hightail it to the home defense. I am a Vermonter and identified with the sentiment. I also appreciated Washington’s candor and very fine handwriting.

What do you personally collect?

I collect a bit around bookbinding. The thing I’m always hunting for are zines and handmade/artists books about online dating and artists books about relationships in general. That may seem niche but I’ve got a pretty solid collection going. A few years ago I was at a zine fest and this person had a zine they’d written about dating via craigslist in, like, 2005. You know, before OkCupid and all the others. I didn’t have the cash on me to buy it (it was like $5) and I’ve regretted it ever since. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot in the past few weeks, especially in the lead-up to SESTA/FOSTA being passed. You can’t do that anymore - date via craigslist - and it’s one of those things that disappears quietly but leaves a big hole. When the next-next generation asks “what happened?” we’re going to want documents like that zine to attest to the fact it wasn’t always this way. Man, I really fucked up not buying it.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m an avid pedestrian so I usually spend a good portion of my day walking around Oakland or San Francisco. I mentioned bookbinding already. I also spend a lot of time knitting and weaving. I just made a loom that I’m pretty excited about.

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

I’ll preface by saying that it ain’t gonna look like what it looks like now if it’s going to survive. That said, there are definitely some rad booksellers out and about. For example, I’m stoked to be in the profession with the likes of Rachel Furnari of Graph Books and A.N. Devers of The Second Shelf. I’m also a big fan of Fuchsia Voremberg over at Maggs. That said, I think the book trade as a whole needs to take a good long look at itself and ask where are the women in the room? Where are the queers? Where are the people of colour? If we’re not actively engaged in making the trade more accessible to new collectors and newˇbooksellers who are not just straight cisgender white dudes of a certain age, we’re going to collapse. And we’ll deserve to.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I’ll be exhibiting at the Rose City Book & Paper Fair in Portland in June,ˇand at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair in September. I hope to have my first print catalogue ready by the end of the calendar year, but I’m not ready to get into that yet - It’s gonna be rad though. I’ll also be out and about and buying at Battersea at the end of May. I am STOKED to meet Sir David Attenborough.

[Image provided by Bryn Hoffman]

In 1870, the eccentric American transportation entrepreneur George Francis Train took a trip around the world in eighty travel days (with a two-month stopover in Paris), so when Jules Verne published his bestselling Around the World in Eighty Days in 1873, Train was quick to claim, “Verne stole my thunder. I’m Phileas Fogg.” Ever the competitor--and self-publicist--Train undertook a total of three trips around the world, each time attempting to beat the record. His final trip clocked in at sixty days.

JC_TrainPassport_18.jpgNo doubt he was a well-traveled man, and here’s one of his passports to prove it. Train’s 1857 passport is one of many such documents that went on exhibit last month in Passports: Lives in Transit at Harvard’s Houghton Library. Issued to Train by the American Delegation in Great Britain, but written in French, which was at the time the language of international relations, this passport records his jaunts to Tuscany, Florence, and the Papal States. (This was long before he ran for president, published an obscene newsletter, or bankrolled Susan B. Anthony.)  

JC_TrainPassport_06.jpgCurated by Lucas Mertehikian and Rodrigo Del Rio, the exhibition also follows the paper trails of other nineteenth- and twentieth-century travelers, émigrés, and refugees like Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, physicist Gertrude Neumark Rothschild, and author/activist Shirley Graham Du Bois, and calls attention to larger geopolitical issues.  

“I realized the weight of what we were doing when we first opened George Train’s passport,” commented Del Rio. “This 19th-century American businessman claimed to be the inspiration for Around the World in Eighty Days. He basically could travel anywhere he wanted. Differently from the case of Leon Trotsky, who was continuously fleeing, or W.E.B. and Shirley Du Bois, who renounced their American citizenship due to pressure from the government, finally finding home in their ancestral Africa. Freedom of movement was thus unevenly distributed. The cosmopolitan desire of making the whole world your home was a dream only some people could have.”

The exhibition remains on view through August 18.

Images: Houghton Library, MS Am 2763 (12). Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 10.13.54 AM.pngOn Tuesday, May 8, University Archives offers Autographed Documents, Manuscripts, Books & Relics, in 253 lots. The top-estimated lot is a collection of more than 500 pages of Shel Silverstein material, including correspondence, drafts and proofs, autograph manuscripts, sketches, and more ($60,000-70,000). A long Martin Luther King, Jr. letter to his friend and personal secretary Maude Ballou written during King’s 1959 trip to India is estimated at $25,000-30,000. Also on offer are Lee Harvey Oswald’s chess set ($20,000-24,000), a Betamax cassette of the first state of the famous Apple “1984” commercial ($10,000-15,000), and a duffel bag owned by JFK ($9,000-11,000), as well as other objects associated with the Kennedy family. An interesting Revolutionary War manuscript broadside could fetch $2,400-2,600. My favorite lot from this one, though, is a Horace Greeley note to an autograph seeker ($300-400; pictured above): “It is an idle fancy, this of autograph collecting and one should know enough to date his letter more lucidly than ‘Charlestown [?]’ before he begins to indulge it. How can I guess what state you live in? Yours Horace Greeley.”


Heritage Auctions holds its Comics and Comics Art Signature Sale May 10-12, with 1,688 lots up for grabs. A Frank Franzetta painting for Death Dealer 6 (1990) is currently bid up to $600,000, while a copy of Action Comics #1 (1938) is at $340,000. Batman #1 (1940) is at $110,000; this copy hasn’t been sold at auction before, according to the lot description. The original art for a 1986 Calvin and Hobbes strip has been bid up to $32,000.


Another sale of Rare, Out-of-Print, and Used Books to benefit the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society will be held on Friday, May 11, in 466 lots. A broad range of local history and genealogy, Mennonite material, religious history, &c.


Image courtesy of University Archives

It’s been a busy year for Peter Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail; Sony Picture’s feature-film adaptation based on Beatrix Potter’s stories has grossed over $300 million in ticket sales worldwide since its February box office debut. And it’s not the only Potter-related event this spring: an exhibit in England showcases the more feminist side of the author, while an auction of recently discovered letters proves once again the boundless interest in the lady of the Lake District. 




Now through October 28, the Lake District’s Hawkshead Gallery is celebrating 100 years of female suffrage in the United Kingdom with an exhibition highlighting Potter’s original artwork, handwritten letters, and other personal items in The Right Sort of Woman. The show’s title comes from a letter Potter wrote to the Times in 1916 in which she extols the importance of employing women on farms. Though perhaps lesser-known today for her abilities as a successful businesswoman than for her beloved children’s books, various letters on display show her financial acumen had a decidedly feminist streak. One of Potter’s shepherds recalls how she never paid him directly, bringing his weekly wages to his wife instead.


Potter paraphernalia continues to do well at auction, too; five previously unknown letters written during World War II reveal the author’s frustration at a recent potato harvest and the perils of soil exhaustion in the face of widespread famine. The letters were consigned to Dawsons of Maidenhead and sold to a London-based buyer on February 28 for approximately $16,000.


That’ll buy a lot of lettuce.  


Image via Wikimedia

Tomorrow the Philadelphia Museum of Art opens its new exhibition, Biting Wit and Brazen Folly: British Satirical Prints, 1780s-1830s. Sixty prints showcasing the brilliance of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century graphic satire, especially the work of George Cruikshank, James Gillray, William Heath, and Thomas Rowlandson, will be on display. Organized thematically, the exhibition considers how these caricaturists portrayed the art and fashion of their day. Of particular interest to me is the section devoted to prints of medical subjects, including, for example, Thomas Rowlandson’s The Hypochondriac (1788), a dark depiction of mental illness. According to the exhibition’s description online, “The preoccupation with disease was an inevitable subject for artists, as illness was prevalent in a modernizing London where medical procedures were still primitive and people were understandably skeptical of the state of knowledge and skill of medical practitioners.” Here are three examples that catch the eye and send a chill up the spine:

Rowlandson.jpgThe Amputation, 1785, by Thomas Rowlandson. Hand-colored etching and aquatint, published in London, England. Purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the SmithKline Beckman (later the SmithKline Beechman) Corporation Fund, 1982.

Heath.jpgA Little Rheum-Atick, 1828, by William Heath. Hand-colored etching, published by Thomas McLean, on 26 Haymarket Street, London, England. Purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the SmithKline Beckman (later SmithKline Beecham) Fund for the Ars Medica Collection, 1968.

Gout GIllray.jpgThe Gout, 1799, by James Gillray. Hand-colored etching (soft-ground), published by H. Humphrey, 27 St. James’s Street, London. Purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the SmithKline Beckman Corporation Fund, 1949.

The exhibition will be on view through August 22.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Maureen Maryanski, Education and Outreach Librarian at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. 

mem_01.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I am the Education and Outreach Librarian at Indiana University’s Lilly Library. I work as a member of the four-person Public Services department with Rebecca Baumann, Sarah McElroy Mitchell, and Isabel Planton. My primary responsibility is scheduling and facilitating all class visits and tours, approximately 250-300 a year. As such, we’re quite busy year-round, but it’s a wonderfully fulfilling job that allows me to interact with students, faculty, and community members, introducing them to the vast and magnificent collections we hold. I teach many of the class sessions, on a wide variety of topics, ranging from medieval manuscripts and early printed books to the history of birth and literary archives. Many classes incorporate active learning activities, and I work with instructors and my colleagues to develop and adapt these exercises for the needs and goals of specific courses.

As part of my duties, I also help plan and conduct a variety of outreach initiatives that include participating in First Thursday activities organized by the IU Arts and Humanities Council, creating pop-up exhibitions, and administering the Lilly Library’s Instagram account (follow us at @iulillylibrary!). I’m also involved in the day-to-day running of the Public Services department, including email and in-person reference, supervising and mentoring graduate students, and ensuring the smooth running of the building. I count myself incredibly lucky to work with such grounded, intelligent, supportive, and hilarious colleagues who make every day, no matter what’s happening, a joy.

How did you get started in rare books?

It’s a rather long story, but here are the pertinent points. I was a modern dance major at Indiana University, and a back injury led me to re-evaluate my life choices. I started working in Interlibrary Loan at the Wells Library (the main library) at IU in 2007 between my junior and senior years. I liked the work, being surrounded by books and helping others access them, and began to think about librarianship. (Side note: I do remember being six-years-old and asking a librarian at my public library how to become a librarian. The library was one of my favorite places in the world, and I was always reading, but my dual loves of books and dancing didn’t always take me in the same direction!) One day I walked into the Lilly Library, and immediately it felt like I was home. I didn’t know what rare books or special collections meant, but I knew this was the kind of place I wanted to be.

In 2009, I started a dual master’s program at IU to earn an MA in History and an MLS with a rare books and manuscripts specialization. Over the course of the next three years, I took every class at the Lilly Library that I could: rare book librarianship, history of the book, reference sources for rare books, descriptive bibliography, rare book cataloging, manuscript processing. I immersed myself in rare books and manuscripts and worked several student positions in Public Services and Conservation, trying to learn everything I could. It was the beginning of my realization that this job is one where you’re constantly learning, which I love! I’ve always been the kind of person who jumps from subject to subject, interested in everything at the same time. One of the hardest decisions I had to make was selecting a focus for my history master’s. I didn’t want to be limited by geography or time period. Why couldn’t I jump from Ancient Rome to British suffragettes? One of the most beautiful parts of this job is that not only is that curiosity and subject-changing encouraged, but it’s also necessary to be successful. And for anyone who’s curious, dancing and books did come back together for me. My first job out of library school was as a Preservation and Archives Fellow with the Dance Heritage Coalition, which took me to New York, where I eventually spent over four years as a Reference Librarian for Printed Collections at the extraordinary New-York Historical Society.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

Is it fair to say this is one of my least favorite questions? It’s only because the answer changes all the time! Every day I learn something new, I handle a book or manuscript I’ve never seen before, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the collections we have the honor of working with.

If I had to choose just one, I would have to say the 1792 first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, owned by Mr. J.K. Lilly. That book is responsible for why I do what I do. That first time I came to the Lilly Library as a senior in college, Vindication was on display, and it took my breath away. It means so much to me and my personal life philosophy. To see this stunning first edition changed the course of my life and led me to the epiphany moment that rare books is where I want to be.

What do you personally collect?

I’m mostly an incidental collector. Recently I’ve begun intentionally collecting Penguins and Dun Emer/Cuala Press imprints. I only have a few of each so far. I’m also interested in collecting multiple editions of authors and novels I love, such as Olive Schreiner, Vera Brittain, and A Room with a View. I’d love to become a more active collector of feminist history and literature.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m ecstatic to be back in my home state of Indiana. Some of my closest friends live in Bloomington, and my family, who I am very close with, live an hour and a half away, so I try to see them as often as I can. In addition to the amazing people in my life, I practice yoga, read anything and everything, watch an unhealthy amount of British television and old films, cross stitch for myself and others, rebel against the patriarchy, and dance spastically in my kitchen, usually while baking a pie.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Time travel. Let me explain. Each time we handle a book we’re coming into contact with the people who created it, from author to binder. These books have lived remarkable and unique lives, every copy of the same work has its own tale to tell. So, in addition to connecting to its creators, we also connect with every person who has read and/or owned it. People touched these pages, reflected on these words, wrote that word in the margin, chose to read it, buy it, collect it. There is meaning and reason behind every item you come in contact with. These books are evidence that people lived, evidence of their lives, and each book can, and does, represent multiple lives. And while we sit with it, ask it questions, let it speak to us, a tiny window opens to the past - and we can touch it. The same is true for manuscripts. I often tell classes looking at manuscript collections that what’s in front of them is what’s left of a life after death. I say this to convey the need to respect the materials, but it’s also a sobering sentiment that conveys the importance of our libraries. We are responsible for people’s lives, for their stories, whether we find them in a book or manuscript. What happens in our reading rooms and classrooms is special, and I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience that specialness. We are but a small part of the very long lives of these remarkable books. If we’re lucky we have the opportunity to spend a few decades living with and caring for them. They will outlive us all, and I’m forever in awe of their stories and survival.

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

It’s an exciting time. Our collections are becoming more diverse and inclusive, as are we as a profession. I think we’re heading towards an interesting place where we can respect and honor the traditions and history of our field, while simultaneously being open to change and evolution. Our rare book libraries and librarians are more transparent with researchers and patrons than ever before, especially through social media. We’re inviting people into our spaces, inviting them to participate in our community, inviting them to experience what we do on a daily basis.

I’m passionate about what I do, and there’s nothing better than meeting and working with people who are just as passionate - and can teach you something you didn’t know. What I see more and more, especially as I observe future librarians in IU’s MLIS program, is a willingness to share knowledge and enthusiasm, to recognize that not one person will have all the answers, all the information. There will always be someone who knows something you don’t and someone who doesn’t know something that you do. And that’s alright. In rare books librarianship, it’s even an advantage. With the breadth and depth of our collections, to expect one person to know all of it is unreasonable. But if everyone works together, if everyone takes a piece of the puzzle, and lovingly, willingly, generously shares what they know with their peers, we all succeed. One of my favorite things about where I am in my career right now is to look around and see members of my library school cohort working with amazing collections, contributing new ideas to the field, collaborating with one another.

Rare books are for everyone, and I’m committed to introducing as many people as I can to the beauty and wonder of collections like those at the Lilly Library. That commitment feeds directly into my passion for teaching with special collections. Break down the barriers, share the wonder that exists in our libraries, and help others develop the skills needed to effectively engage and interact with these books and manuscripts.

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

I’m currently working on a paper with my brilliant colleague Sarah McElroy Mitchell on the collection and life of Ruth Adomeit who collected nearly 8,000 miniature books over six decades. Adomeit bequeathed her collection to the Lilly Library, which now forms the nucleus of our miniature book collection. She was an exceptional woman, a secretary and later schoolteacher living in Cleveland, Ohio who helped change miniature book collecting with her contributions to scholarship, the Miniature Book Society, and the relationships she fostered throughout the rare book world. At the Lilly Library, we have her papers in addition to her miniature books, and it’s remarkable to delve into her correspondence with other collectors and dealers, to see how she navigated this world - and changed it.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Our gorgeous Frankenstein 200: The Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley’s Monster exhibition just opened April 19, curated by the fantastic Rebecca Baumann. It will be up through December. We have a Kurt Vonnegut exhibition opening very soon to coincide with the Vonnegut Festival being held in Bloomington, IN May 11-12. I’m also working on a small two-case exhibition for the summer on Errol Flynn, who I’ve been in love with since I first saw The Adventures of Robin Hood when I was five.

[Photo credit Zach Downey]

Next month, PBS will premiere an eight-part television series that asks, “What is America’s favorite book?” Hosted by Meredith Vieira, The Great American Read puts the focus on fiction and intends to “to get the country reading and passionately talking about books.” Episodes will feature authors, celebrities, and notable American book lovers. The idea is to “book club” the novels on the list with its viewers and then to get everyone to vote for their favorite via social media throughout the summer until the series finale, which will air in October.   

Great America.jpgIn preparation for the debut, PBS has posted its list of “100 most-loved books.” This list was created using the public opinion polling service YouGov, “to conduct a demographically and statistically representative survey asking Americans to name their most-loved novel.” About 7,200 responded, and the list was then winnowed according to criteria (e.g., each author was limited to one title, the book had to be published in English, etc.) set forth by an advisory panel of thirteen literary professionals. The result is an eclectic list -- a mixture of usual suspects like The Catcher in the Rye, Little Women, and The Great Gatsby, plus some high school curriculum classics like The Grapes of Wrath and Things Fall Apart, and then there are contemporary selections like Stephen King’s The Stand and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. By my count, 33 were written by women.

The two-hour premiere debuts on May 22. Until then, get reading! And check out the trailer here.

Image via PBS

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