July 2018 Archives

Late last week the UK’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, Michael Ellis, announced a temporary export ban on a study table once owned by Charles Dickens. The round mahogany table with a revolving drum top covered in green leather was made around 1835 and was used by the famous author for most of his career, according to the Minister’s office, “first in his London home at Devonshire Terrace; then his offices on Wellington Street where he published Household Words and All the Year Round; and finally in his library at Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, Kent.” It remained in the possession of Sir Henry Fielding Dickens’ descendants until its recent sale at Christie’s London for £65,000 ($87,000). Presumably the winning bidder wished to ‘take it home,’ as it were, prompting Ellis to issue the export ban.

Dickens Table.jpgEllis commented in a press release, “As one of Britain’s most famous novelists, it is only right for there to be great expectations on us to protect Dickens’ study table for the benefit of the nation.”

A decision regarding the buyer’s export license has been deferred until October 26, giving UK institutions a chance to raise £67,600, the amount needed to keep the table in the country. Readers may recall a similar snafu with some Jane Austen jewelry years ago, which was resolved when an anonymous benefactor stepped forward with £100,000, thus keeping Austen’s turquoise and gold ring out of the hands of American singer Kelly Clarkson. (It is now in the collection of the Jane Austen House Museum.)

The pending sale of Dickens’ table also calls to mind several writers’ desks that have gone to auction in recent years--one of which was owned by Dickens and was “saved for the nation” with a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. 

Image: Courtesy of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Not a particularly busy auction week, but much to look at if posters or comics are of interest!


On August 1, Swann Galleries sells Vintage Posters, in 608 lots. A group of four Art Nouveau decorative panels by Alphonse Mucha, representing the times of the day, rates the top estimate at $40,000-60,000. Leoneto Cappiello’s 1911 Carnaval poster (pictured) could fetch $20,000-30,000, while a 30 x 20-inch copy of the (now) iconic “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster from 1939 is estimated at $12,000-18,000.


carnaval.png Heritage Auctions holds a Comics, Comic Art & Animation Art Signature Sale in Dallas, August 2-4, with a whopping 4,675 items offered. Expected highlights include an original 1972 Frank Frazetta painting which was used for a 1974 reissue of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Escape on Venus (with a reserve of $500,000); a copy of The Incredible Hulk #1 (Marvel, 1962); and original cover art for Amazing Spider Man #55 (Marvel, 1967).


Image credit: Swann Galleries

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William Birch’s paint box, ca. 1780. Courtesy of the Philadelphia History Museum at the
Atwater Kent, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection.


Conjure an image of early America, and Federal-era architecture, bustling shipyards and streets, and bucolic farm scenes probably come to mind. Whether most of us realize it or not, much of how we view that era was created by William Birch (1755-1834), a London transplant whose work became synonymous with the time when a young nation was full of hope and optimism.


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William Birch. Portrait of George Washington, 1796. Enamel on copper. Philadelphia
Museum of Art. Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection.

Now through October 5, the Library Company of Philadelphia is showcasing Birch’s paintings, including never-displayed manuscripts, enamels, and other pieces illustrating Philadelphia during the nineteenth century when it was the capital of America.



William Birch, Second Street North from Market St. w[i]th Christ Church, (Philadelphia, W. Birch),1827-1828. Hand-colored engraving. Library Company of Philadelphia.

“The exhibition tells the story of Birch’s entire life from his early years in England to his death in Philadelphia,” explained the Library Company’s prints and photographs curator Sarah J. Weatherwax. “It also explores the influence Birch’s work had on Philadelphia iconography long after his death. While many people are aware of Birch’s views of Philadelphia, few know much about his work as an enamel painter or his aspiration of being a landscape architect, themes that are examined in the exhibition.”

Considered America’s first “coffee table book,” Birch’s now-iconic The City of Philadelphia (1800) showed a civilized city and helped bolster early national pride. It was also a commercial success. “The City of Philadelphia showed Philadelphia as the cultural, economic, and political capital of the newly formed United States,” Weatherwax said. “Here, between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers was a city where important institutions flourished, where businesses prospered, and where the inhabitants carried out their activities of daily lives. The engravings are large, colorful (if you paid to have them hand-colored), and engaging.”

Meanwhile, Birch’s follow-up book, Country Seats, was less successful. “The views in Birch’s Country Seats are much smaller in size and appear rather lifeless,” explained Weatherwax. “Nor is there a built-in audience for scenes of a wealthy gentleman’s country estate in the same way that views of city’s street life would have. Also, Americans of the period tended to think of the countryside as the location for agricultural endeavors or other practical uses, not the rural retreats Birch portrayed.” Though Country Seats met a tepid response, Birch knew his work held importance beyond what his contemporaries thought. In his autobiography, Birch wrote that his book was “the only work of its kind yet published.” Little could he have realized the historical record his achievements would provide over two hundred years later.

Birch is considered to be one of the first commercially successful artists in America, and his work remains as relevant as ever, even if the places he painted are drastically changed. “Birch’s views of Philadelphia provide us with our most comprehensive documentation of an 18th century American city and continue to be the cornerstone of how we represent a late 18th century urban space,” said Weatherwax.

Approximately 100 items from the Library Company of Philadelphia’s collection are on display, including material loaned from other institutions and private collectors. Highlights include Birch’s private copy of the Country Seats with a notation stating, “intended to be continued but no encouragement,” two ceramic vases made by the Tucker Factory of Philadelphia decorated with views from Birch’s Country Seats, a watercolor sketch of Birch’s country estate, and a copper engraving plate used for City of Philadelphia.  

The Library Company’s director Michael Barsanti likened Birch’s portraits to America’s baby pictures, and that “they show the strength and promise of our country as it appeared in its earliest days. They also show what we looked like through the eyes of a new immigrant, who saw a contrast between its vitality and undeveloped natural beauty and the England he left behind.”


More information on the exhibition here

I would like to say that after organizing the London PBFA book fair, Marcia and I had a well earned rest. In fact we moved house, which has kept us busy for the last month. But now our gaze returns to the books, and one of the largest fairs of the year is the Dordrecht book market (or Dordtse Boekenmarkt as it is properly known).

dordrecht_1.jpegThis was held on July 1, and this year welcomed almost 500 exhibitors. The market is held outside and takes over the market square in Dordrecht center, as well as ten of the surrounding streets. You can get some idea of the scale of the fair from the map below.

dordrecht5.JPGI set off at a decent pace (you need to with a fair of this size), naturally beginning at number 700/842! With the temperature at 33 degrees (91°F), I was glad of my trusty panama.

Of the 500 stands, 300 can be skipped past at a fair pace. They are stocked with general “reading copies” and although exceedingly popular with the public, cannot hold me for long. Another 100 stands are largely offering comics and “strips,” which remain very popular in the Netherlands. This left 100 stands for me to pick over. Still a pretty healthy number to work through.

dordrecht2 copy.jpgAnd work I did! Amongst the highlights I discovered were a lovely color sample book and a book of cartoons celebrating the Canadian Army in Holland during the second world war. Both from Klikspaan, an excellent antiquarian shop based in Leiden.

dordrecht3 copy.jpgAt nearly 500 stalls, the fair is almost too big to cope with, and I am sure I missed many wonderful items as I skimmed past stalls.

dordrecht4 copy.jpgOf course it isn’t all fun & books. My labors were rewarded with an enormous ice cream, courtesy of Arnoud Bosch of Antiquariaat Salamander. I have naturally, had to promise to buy a book from him at the next fair. An the next fair is another “Biggie:” The annual Deventer book market, the largest fair in Europe with 878 (yes almost 900) stalls. Wish me luck!

Images courtesy of Marc Harrison

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

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Curtis Small, Jr., Coordinator of Public Services for Special Collections at the University of Delaware.


cmall_headshot.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?


My title is Coordinator of Public Services for Special Collections. The main part of my job involves overseeing our exhibition program, our instruction activities, and our reference services. A number of my colleagues handle these tasks as well, but I’m the front line person. I monitor our reference queue, which receives inquiries from researchers everywhere, as well as requests from our faculty for instructional support. I may accommodate the requests myself, or pass them over to colleagues, as appropriate. My special collections colleagues and I regularly curate exhibitions in one of the four exhibition spaces in the library. It is my responsibility to make sure there are no gaps in our exhibition program, so I take an active role in  planning. Also, I am a member of the project team for the Colored Conventions Project, an award winning Digital Humanities project that documents the largest African American advocacy movement of the nineteenth century.


How did you get started in rare books?

Before starting library school I got a Ph.D. in French literature from New York University. I wrote a dissertation examining the Haitian revolution for independence  as represented in French and francophone Caribbean literature. My training at NYU did not emphasize book history, beyond a general knowledge of the importance of the printing press for early modern European literature. About seven years ago, an online course on the history of the book was my real introduction to the topic. Later, while working on my MLIS degree at Simmons GSLIS, I did an archival processing internship at the American Antiquarian Society, and a digital collections internship in Archives and Special Collections at Mount Holyoke College. As an MLIS student, I was not set on working in special collections, although I certainly enjoyed being exposed to rare and historic materials. When I went on the job market, it turned out that my general background in literature, along with my internships and teaching experience made me a good fit for the position I have at University of Delaware. I’m very happy things worked out this way!

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

While my home institution has really wonderful collections, I must say that the most amazing items I have touched have been at the New York Antiquarian book fair. At last year’s fair I encountered presentation copies of James Baldwin’s two early novels Go Tell it on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room. Both were inscribed to Baldwin’s mentor Beauford Delaney, an African American abstract painter who emigrated to Paris and died there in the late 1970s. Baldwin said it was Delaney who took him under his wing in Paris and taught him what it means to be an artist.  In part, I learned French and went to study in Paris during grad school because Baldwin and other Black writers had done the same. Go Tell it on the Mountain is one of the most important novels to me, and finding a copy that reflected such an important artistic relationship was an experience I didn’t think could be topped. However, this year at the New York fair I came across a presentation copy of Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land ) by Martinican poet Aime Cesaire (b.1913 - d. 2008). This book length poem from 1939 is the founding work of the Negritude movement, in which poets from French colonies in Africa and the Caribbean forged a literary aesthetic that reflected their sufferings and aspirations in the face of colonialism. When I saw a copy of the Cahier in a Parisian dealer’s stall in New York, I thought how great it was to discover a first or early edition of a work I had read so many times. When he let me examine it, I realized this copy was inscribed by Cesaire to Andre Breton, the leading poet of French surrealism.  In 1941 Breton left France to escape the Vichy regime. While in Martinique on his way to New York, he came across the literary journal Tropiques, produced by the young Cesaire and his circle. In a now well-known story, the two poets met and recognized each other as literary kindred sprits. The edition at the New York fair had Breton’s famous, laudatory essay on the Notebook, and a gorgeous poetic inscription from Cesaire to Breton. Many readers in the Francophone Caribbean see Cesaire as a literary father figure, and I came to see him that way myself while studying his work in graduate school, especially the Cahier. One of my dissertation chapters was devoted to Cesaire, in fact. I had to leave the fair in order process what I had just seen.


What do you personally collect?

I’ve always bought books, but more from the perspective of a reader than a collector. Since becoming a librarian I have begun purchasing signed or unsigned first editions in the areas of African American literature and African or Caribbean literature in French. My first “collector’s” purchase came during a Rare Book School course several years ago during “bookseller’s night,” a Thursday evening ritual. I found a copy of the 1922 English translation of the novel Batouala (1921) by Martinican author Rene Maran. The novel is unknown to most Americans today, but, like Cesaire’s Cahier, Batouala is a canonical work in Black francophone literature (and winner of France’s Prix Goncourt. Maran was the first Black writer to win the prize). Set in Africa, it sets out to portray the abuses that resulted from French colonialism. Batouala was widely read and admired by African American intellectuals during the Harlem Renaissance period. The copy I found was sitting on a shelf in a Charlottesville bookstore, surrounded by completely dissimilar items. And it wasn’t expensive!


What do you like to do outside of work?

The idea that librarians read a lot is a stereotype with a basis in truth, I’ve found. So, besides reading, I enjoy music, singing and vocal music in particular. I studied voice while in undergraduate school (along with French) and have often sung in choirs over the years. A couple of years ago I started taking guitar lessons and I’m working on my skills at self-accompaniment. I also like to take in art exhibits and do yoga.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


During my course on the history of the book, I wrote a report on an illuminated Latin Vulgate Bible from the 14th century. Before then, I had never spent so much time with a volume as old as that. The experience brought me face to face with the fact that objects from the past outlive their creators and communicate to us in ways that are completely unique. That vellum, manuscript Bible  captured my imagination and inspired me by its beauty. I have experienced many similar thrills since becoming a rare books librarian.

As a teacher and scholar of literature, I was expected to know a great deal about a specific area. As a special collections librarian, I’m learning about about Irish poetry, the history of architecture, the Black Power movement, early astronomy, solar power, and many other subjects related to our collections. I love that.


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


We are all aware that many colleges and universities are highlighting the uniqueness of the special collections materials on their campuses I think this is a wonderful development that bodes well for the survival of special collections departments in this country. I want to address another point, however.  Above, I stated that I was not intent on entering special collections when I was in library school. This was  because I believed that there would not be a lot of racial diversity among my colleagues. Once I joined the profession, I saw that my suspicion was well founded. This is a problem for librarianship in general. In special collections the situation is even more serious. Archives and special collections need to do more to welcome members of underrepresented groups into the profession. Our institutions, our collections and our patrons will benefit from this. Fortunately, I have seen changes, thanks to some of the fellowship and scholarship initiatives that have come out of Rare Book School and RBMS, as well as the vision and commitment of RBMS leadership. Each year I am meeting more and more library students of color who are interested in Special Collections, and who have a great deal to offer the profession.  I am currently serving as co-chair of the Diversity Committee of RBMS.  My fellow committee members and I recently developed RBMS Diversity Stories, a StoryCorps site that features interviews with librarians and archivists of color. The goal is to offer advice to students who may not have considered archives and special collections as a career


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


Currently, the Alice Dunbar Nelson papers are getting the most attention from researchers.

Alice was married for a couple of years to Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first truly successful American American poet. Their marriage was troubled and short-lived, but she went on to have a long career as a writer, teacher, activist, newspaper columnist and more. The collection is large and contains a great amount of still untapped material. This includes her library, which features signed and unsigned first editions of books by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Countee Cullen, Charles Chestnutt, and other major literary figures. There are also first editions of works by Paul himself, many of which he no doubt gave to Alice.  Last year, the 19th Century Women’s Writers Working Group met at here at University of Delaware. The meeting featured presentations and discussions of Alice’s work.  Around that time, an issue of the scholarly journal Legacy was also devoted to her. A couple of years ago, Special Collections hired a postdoctoral fellow who has used the collection for research and teaching. This scholar’s work has included producing the first transcriptions of Alice’s reading journals, and developing digital humanities  projects based on the reading journals and Alice’s scrapbooks. The first biography of  Dunbar-Nelson is also in the works, and there are discussions around publishing one of her novelistic manuscripts for the first time. All these projects depend on access to the Dunbar-Nelson papers, and it’s very exciting to be connected to this work.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

An upcoming exhibition curated by my colleague Alex Johnston [profiled in Bright Young Librarians in 2014] is entitled “Things Are Not What They Seem: Forgeries and Deceptions From the University of Delaware Collections.” It will feature books, manuscripts, and works of art from our extensive collection of literary hoaxes and artistic forgeries. It begins on August 28th, and will run the length of the fall semester this year. For spring 2019, I am developing an exhibition on illustration and its relationship to narrative. I am collaborating with the chief curator of the museums here at University of Delaware. There will be books from Special Collections as well as prints and paintings bearing a relationship to the illustrations in the books. As a result of a recent reorganization, Special Collections is now a part of University Museums here at UD. This exhibition is the first to be co-curated by members of the two sections, and it will feature the largest number of Special Collections books ever displayed in one of the art galleries here on campus.

[Image provided by Curtis Small, Jr.]

With all the news about book theft of late (in Pittsburgh; and Dayton), and a nationally screened film about the 2004 robbery of Audubon’s Birds of America in Kentucky, it may seem as though Travis McDade’s new book, Torn from Their Bindings: The Story of Art, Science, and the Pillaging of American University Libraries, was ripped from the headlines. Sadly, the truth is that not-so-clever book thieves are always with us, as borne out in his meticulously researched page-turner that focuses on the case of Robert Kindred, who sliced thousands of antique prints out of rare books and journals in 1980.   

Torn copy.jpgMcDade is the author of several books about book theft, including Thieves of Book Row: New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring (2013), excerpted in our spring 2013 issue, and Disappearing Ink: The Insider, the FBI, and the Looting of the Kenyon College Library (2015). He is also the curator of law rare books at the University of Illinois College of Law, which is to say, he is the leading expert on rare book crimes. McDade’s approach is methodical as he tracks Kindred (driving a Cadillac, no less) from Southern California to Texas to Illinois, with a few stops in between, stopping at university libraries to pillage the stacks. It is the heist Kindred tries to pull off at the University of Illinois, and for which he got caught, in June of 1980, that McDade zeroes in on. Kindred and his accomplice, Richard Green, had attempted to steal several oversized illustrated books but were foiled when a maintenance man literally stumbled across their cache on his way into the building late one night.

Turns out Kindred, a hustler with a string of bad ideas, is a character right out of fiction, and McDade harnesses that to tell a suspenseful tale and make a compelling argument about library security and preservation issues. Another of the useful takeaways of McDade’s true crime has little to do with crime or even books per se, but much to do with art, in the form of embedded mini biographies of illustrators Eaton, Bewick, and Thorburn, to name a few. The color plates by these illustrators depicting flora and fauna, from journals like Ibis and Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, were Kindred’s main targets, as they were easily removed with a razor blade and rarely marked with ownership stamps. The difficulty of proving their provenance would work in his favor, and would ultimately hamper efforts to return much of the purloined art even years after the case closed.  

Ten years in the making, McDade has delivered a book that should be of great interest to bibliophiles everywhere, particularly those guardians of collections who too often have to deal with the likes of Kindred and his ilk.  
Image: Courtesy of University Press of Kansas

At Bunch Auctions on Monday, July 23, Books & Works on Paper, in 269 lots. Top-estimated lots include an engraving of Marcantonio Raimondo’s “Massacre of the Innocents” from around 1515 ($5,000-7,000); some signed William Gibson volumes ($1,200-1,500); and a 1490 Augsberg edition of the sermons of Robertus Caracciolus ($800-1,000). A wide-ranging sale, with estimates mostly in the three-figure range.


On Tuesday, July 24, Doyle New York sells Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold “Jake” Johnson, in 344 lots (this is a timed, online-only sale). Highlights could include Richard (or Charles) Bowlker’s The Art of Angling Improved in All Its Parts ($700-1,000) and Eric Taverner’s Salmon Fishing (1931), estimated at $1,200-1,800. Lots 111-113 comprise three photograph albums of fishing trips taken by Zane Grey in the 1920s (each is estimated at $700-1,000).

Call Wild.jpg PBA Galleries sells Modern Literature on Thursday, July 26, in 563 lots. Seven lots share estimates of $3,000-5,000, including a first book printing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a first edition of The Call of the Wild in a very well-preserved dust-jacket, a full set of the 63-volume James Joyce Archive, and an inscribed first edition of Catch-22. Lots 440-563 are being sold without reserve.


Finally, on Saturday, July 28, Potter and Potter Auctions holds a Fine Books & Manuscripts sale, in 619 lots. A copy of the Peter Force facsimile engraving of the Declaration of Independence is estimated at $15,000-20,000, while a 1917 “Destroy This Mad Brute” World War I enlistment poster could fetch $12,000-18,000. Other lots include a collection of Hugh Hefner’s correspondence with a high school friend ($10,000-20,000); Emil Orlik’s Aus Japan ($10,000-15,000); and a 1958 Fidel Castro letter to arms smuggler Pedro Luis ($8,000-12,000).


Image courtesy of PBA Galleries

Ada_Lovelace_portrait.jpgA rare copy of Ada Lovelace’s groundbreaking first computer program turned up at a regional auction house, Moore Allen & Innocent, in Glouchestershire, England, today and sold for £95,000 ($125,000) after an intial estimate of £5,000-6,000 was increased to £40,000-60,000.


Bound in burgundy leather with tooled and gilded “Lovelace” on cover, this copy of Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babage Esq. by L F Menabrea of Turin Officer of The Military Engineers, with notes by the translator, who is identified in a handwritten note as Lady Lovelace, also contains extensive reading notes on Lovelace on the flyleaf, and a typed memo attributing the notes to physician William King, a friend and advisor of hers, who published a paper called The Cooperator. (Lovelace also married a different man named William King, strangely enough.)


Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke, was born on Dec. 10, 1815, in London, England, and was taught math by her mother. Her mother also surrounded her with the best education and tutors and introduced her to scientist Mary Somerville. It was that introduction that led Lovelace to know the work of Charles Babbage at 17, soon after she made her society debut. He showed her a large brass calculator and she became obsessed with it. 


Not long after she translated Menabrea’s academic paper on Babbage’s analytical engine, she added a section that extended the length of the paper by three times. This section is simply titled, “Notes.” In “Section G” she published her algorithm, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the engine, which would have worked had it been built. Additionally she mused about the role of computers in society, described how they would be faster than humans at computations, and dismissed the concept of artificial intelligence, explaining, “the Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths.” 


Lovelace died of uterine cancer at age 36. There is disagreement about the importance of her contribution to science and math, and whether or not her contribution can indeed be considered the first computer program or simply an enhancement to Babbage’s work. Recently, she was finally given an obituary by the New York Times in its record-redressing “Overlooked” women of history special section, along with Sylvia Plath and other female luminaries.


Image via Wikimedia


Planning a visit to Cambridge, MA, in the coming weeks? If so, be sure to check out an exhibition at Harvard’s Houghton Library addressing the very hot topics of immigration, DACA, asylum, and travel bans. Passports: Lives in Transit is in its final weeks, and library curators are inviting the public to examine passports, visas, and travel documents hailing from Harvard Library collections, as well as an installation of expired passports. Featured famous migrants include Leon Trotsky, George Balanchine, and others.


On August 10, the library is hosting a closing celebration from 4:30pm to 7pm. First up is a panel discussion and Q & A with speakers from Harvard’s Administrative Fellowship Program. Hosted by Anne-Marie Eze, Houghton’s director of scholarly and public programs, panel participants will discuss “Global Mobility: Identity, Migration, and Passports.” 

From 5:30pm to 7pm, visitors are invited to the Mama Africa Party in the Houghton Library’s Edison and Newman room. Billed as a “cross cultural celebration of humanity’s common roots,” live music will be performed by Afro-pop musician Albino Mbie, dancing performed by Angie Egea, and food provided by Suya Joint All African Cuisine.

Though free to the public, RSVPs are requested to ensure enough food and drink for all:


Image credits:
Albino Mbie/Courtesy of Shuhei Teshima.

Angie Egea/Courtesy of Carven Boursiquot

Shirley Graham Du Bois’ African Passports: Ghana, 1963 and Tanzania, 1972. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Papers of Shirley Graham Du Bois, 1865-1998, MC 476.

Capitol Hill Books in Washington DC, owned and operated by retired rear admiral Morton “Jim” Toole since 1995, was purchased recently by long-time employees of the store. Under Toole’s ownership, the store became a community gem and attracted bibliophiles from around the world. The four new owners, Aaron Beckwith (a recent profile in our Bright Young Booksellers series), Matt Wixon, Kyle Burk, and Shantanu Malkar have vowed to “preserve the fiercely independent spirit of the bookstore and ensure it maintains its place as a literary hub of the community.” 

Beckwith will step into the role of general manager, with plans to expand the store hours, increase its selection of rare books, and host more author events. Toole, meanwhile, will continue to work at the store and offer support and advice to the new owners.

“Old sailors never die; they just fade away,” said Toole in an interview with Medium. “And youth will be served.”

“Jim has shown me the ropes of the book trade for the past 13 years and provided me with detailed accounts of history’s great naval battles, both of which I’m sure will be of paramount importance as I take the helm of this store,” said Beckwith, in the same interview.

The sale was finalized July 12.

Coming up next month at Swann Galleries is a selection of vintage posters -- political, circus, travel -- but the one that caught my eye is “Librairie Romantique,” pictured below.

Librairie Romantique.jpgDesigned by Eugene Grasset in 1887, the poster advertises a series of books on the history of romanticism. The blank space in the lower left would have held the table of contents for that particular volume. As Swann’s cataloguer notes, “The image itself is an homage to Gothic romance, featuring a young woman, clad in 1830s attire, sitting on a pile of old books, a skull at her feet, absorbed in her reading. In the background, the gothic façade of Notre Dame (perhaps a tribute to Victor Hugo) glows in the twilight.”

The poster’s estimate is $700-1,000.

Image courtesy of Swann Galleries

A calmer auction calendar this week, which will give us a chance to look back at some of the remarkable results from last week’s sales.


On Wednesday, July 18, Bonhams London sells Entertainment Memorabilia, in 299 lots. One of just two known copies of a Czech poster for the 1933 movie King Kong rates the top estimate, at £50,000-70,000. Other printed and manuscript items expected to do well are a poster for a November 2, 1964 Beatles concert at King’s Hall in Belfast (£25,000-28,000, pictured); and a birthday card to Pattie Boyd hand-drawn by John Lennon (£8,000-12,000). Lots 172-232 comprise the Mark Jay Collection of Punk Memorabilia, and lots 259-299 focus on the Beatles.



Skinner, Inc. sells Early English Books: A Single Owner Sale on Friday, July 20, in 198 lots. The Roderick Terry copy of the Shakespeare Fourth Folio (1685), in a Riviere binding, is estimated at $65,000-80,000. A 1556 English edition of More’s Utopia could fetch $40,000-60,000, while the first appearance of Galileo’s works in English is estimated at $35,000-50,000. An incomplete copy of the 1495 Wynken de Worde edition of Higden’s Polychronicon, the first at auction since 1976 according to the catalogue, could sell for $40,000-50,000. Anyone with an interest in early English printing will want to give this sale a close look.


Last week’s Sotheby’s sale realized £4,167,764, with the Darwin manuscript leaves and several E. H. Shepard drawings selling particularly well (the Origin leaf made £490,000, and the map of the Hundred Acre Wood sold for £430,000, a new auction record for a book illustration). Darwin and Shepard combined for the top nine lots of the sale, totaling more than £2 million. The copy of Spenser’s Faerie Queen with Charles I provenance sold for £106,250. Several lots sold by the descendants of Sir Charles Lyell also brought high prices: an album of scientific letters reached £93,750 over estimates of just £5,000-7,000, while a presentation copy of Lyell’s Principles of Geology to his father-in-law sold for £50,000 (est. £3,000-5,000). Lyell’s own well-worn copy of the first volume of Principles fetched £40,000 over estimates of just £700-1,000.


The Christie’s sale on Wednesday made a total of £6,200,375, with the Plantin Polyglot Bible leading the way at £488,750. The Fall of Princes manuscript sold for £392,750, and a 1482 Venice edition of Euclid fetched £284,750.


Image credit: Bonhams

Readers of our sister site Art & Object may recall a story from January 2018 on the Parisian organization known as Atelier des Artistes en Exil (AA-E), an arts center that welcomes painters, poets, writers, and musicians chased from their homelands to its 10,000-square-foot space on rue des Poissonniers to practice their craft in peace. Since November 2017, over 200 exiles from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and other wartorn countries have found artistic refuge at the organization founded by Judith Depaule and Ariel Cypel, a pair known for piloting engaged communal artistic spaces throughout Paris. Patrons are welcome to work in the studios, seek legal advice, or even take French lessons, all provided free of charge thanks to generous donations from benefactors around the world. 


On July 8, the AA-E wrapped up a free two-week festival dedicated to educating the neighborhood (the working-class 18th arrondissement) about the people who participate in AA-E programming by hosting a selection of workshops, demonstrations, and exhibitions while also saying “merci” to the locals who welcomed the AA-E in 2017.

Highlights included a solo concert by Samih Choukier, a musician and activist who left Syria for good in 2010 to be able to perform as he pleased while also protesting the Assad regime. Congolese writer and performer Perlige Sita-Kouikani staged a one-man show full of stories from his childhood, and Ukranian refugee and choreographer Cleve Nitoumbi performed a vibrant fusion of hip-hop and street jazz.



The catch? The festival was held not at AA-E headquarters, but in gardens and salons offered as impromptu performance space by residents of the 18th arrondissement. “It [the AA-E] suffers from a lack of visibility in the neighborhood,” explained festival organizer François Kalinowski in a recent interview with Le Monde, “We want to tell our neighbors that the Atelier des Artistes en Exil is here, in your neighborhood, with you!” Here’s hoping the festival helped bridge the divide and encouraged greater awareness and hospitality for the people finding solace and a creative outlet at the AA-E.


As always, the organization is looking for support and donations, detailed here.


Pictured: Sudanese refugee Mohamed Nour Wana. Image courtesy of Sébastien Jédor.

I had mixed emotions as I attended the official press event for the opening of the new Baseball Americana exhibit at the Library of Congress last month.


Photo Jun 27, 10 43 02 AM.jpgI’m pretty sick of Major League Baseball. I gave up my Baltimore Orioles season ticket plan two years ago -- not just because they’re inept but because it’s too painful for me to watch professional baseball at large. The O’s batters and those of seemingly every other team are instructed to just close their eyes and swing for the fences and, if that doesn’t work, to close their eyes tighter. Manufactured runs are extinct species. Halley’s Comet passes by more often than a team demonstrates solid fundamentals.


On the other hand, the Library of Congress is my favorite place on Earth. Anything that the LOC hosts is something I want to see and something I want to support.


Photo Jun 27, 10 40 58 AM (2).jpgI viewed the exhibit after the opening speeches and struggled to connect to it emotionally, the way I would have as a younger man. I felt slight hints of my old love as I watched video of Hank Aaron, the real baseball homerun king, hit homers at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium -- just as I witnessed there in real life as a kid. Hearing Vin Scully’s voice brought me back to all the nights I secretly stayed up late listening to AM radio stations beam through the skies the maestro’s gift for painting pictures with words. I stood awestruck at the part of the exhibit dedicated to Jackie Robinson, a true American hero who like Aaron after him endured more than any man should just to be able to play a game.


I exited the exhibit and headed to view others feeling unable to rekindle my old love for the game. 


My brain, though, kept replaying some of Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden’s words from earlier in the day. She said that one of her hopes for the Baseball Americana exhibit was that it would make the Library more open and accessible to a new audience -- an audience that she hoped would go on to become active users of the Library. She spoke of the exhibit’s potential for building bridges.


Photo Jun 27, 10 57 40 AM.jpgMy blood started pumping as her words sped faster and faster and I perused my old favorites and new exhibits. Hayden’s hope is mine, too. I said hello for at least the tenth time to the Thomas Jefferson library of books that’s adjacent to America’s pastime. Maybe baseball fans heading in or out of Baseball Americana will get hooked on regular ol’ Americana, I thought. I checked out a special summer exhibit about Alexander Hamilton. I got tears in my eyes when I read the actual goodbye letter he wrote to his wife Elizabeth before his fatal duel (pictured above).


I glanced at the breathtaking Jefferson Reading Room, where I’ve spent countless hours researching the American Revolution and other subjects. I thought of the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room that also feels like a second home to me.


I remembered the day so many years ago when I stumbled into the Library on a tour to see something else and heard a tour guide explain that I could use the Library myself. I thought that you had to be a member of Congress or an official student to use its resources. I promptly obtained my library card and dove in to topics for magazine articles, blog posts and future book projects. I spent a few weeks enhancing my family genealogy research and learning more about the life and times of my ancestors in France, Canada, and Minnesota. I read newspapers that they may have once held in their hands.


A lot of people fail to realize that they, too, can actually use the Library of Congress -- that it’s not just a giant building for tourists to meander: It’s a wildly exciting, mind-opening, life-affirming place. If Baseball Americana can attract legions of new visitors and give them the chance to cross Hayden’s bridges and inspire them to become active users and fans of the Library of Congress -- then by all means, buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!


Photo Jun 27, 10 46 19 AM (2).jpgImages credit: Chris Lancette


743px-Portrait_of_a_Man,_Said_to_be_Christopher_Columbus.jpgAn extremely rare 1493 letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain was returned last month to Spain after the United States Justice Department uncovered a clever bit of forgery. The letter, in which Columbus described his first impressions of the Americas, was formally returned to Spain in a June repatriation ceremony. The letter was stolen sometime before November of 2005 from the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and replaced with a near-perfect fake. The original was subsequently sold for $1 million by two Italian rare book dealers in late 2005.

A seven-year investigation by Homeland Security and the US Attorney in Delaware, operating on a public tip, successfully tracked the letter to a private collector who agreed to surrender possession of the letter after “extensive negotiations.” Experts subsequently deemed the letter, “beyond all doubt,” to be the original. The thief replaced the original letter with an extremely convincing fake, a fact uncovered after experts subsquently visited the National Library of Catalonia to examine the letter in its possession. The letter was then returned to Spain in the June repatriation ceremony, held at the residence of the Spanish ambassador.

U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss said in a prepared statement, “The recovery of this Plannck II Columbus Letter on behalf of the Spanish government exemplifies not only the significance of federal agency partnerships in these complicated investigations, but the close coordination that exists between American and foreign law enforcement agencies.  We are truly honored to return this historically important document back to Spain - its rightful owner.”

More details are available in an official US Attorney press release here.

[Image from Wikipedia]

Sometimes a book is as much about its provenance as the item itself. For example, this eighteenth-century encyclopedia of China, finely illustrated by the Osaka artist Tachibana Morikuni owes much of its interest to the fact that it came from the collection of James E. Fagan.

Fagan1.jpgFagan (1926-2011) was an American collector with a special interest in the introduction of Western culture and technology to Japan’s closed Edo-era society (1603-1868), also known as the Tokugawa period. He studied Japanese language and history at Stanford University, and served as a US Naval officer in the Pacific theatre. He then lived and worked in Japan as an attorney in the 1950s and 1960s.

During this time, Fagan assembled and researched his collection of rare Edo-era
woodblock and manuscript maps, prints and books not available outside Japan. Highlights include Nagasaki-e (showing the Japanese fascination with the Dutch East
Indies (VOC) outpost at Deshima island), early Rangaku examinations of Western
science and languages, the evolution of Japanese cartographic knowledge, and the
study of English and Russian military might and technology. Imaginative illustrations
and maps, from Japanese castaways reporting back to the Japanese Court, also provide a glimpse of how the Western world appeared to the first Japanese to circumnavigate the globe. The collection demonstrates Japan’s keen curiosity about the Western world during its long isolationist period, and the artful way the Japanese perspective captures the impact of European contact.

Morokoshi kinmo zui, illustrated by Tachibana Morikuni and published in Japan in 1719, is a good example of Fagan’s interests. It is an extensive encyclopedia on China, profusely illustrated with depictions of Chinese customs, astronomy, maps, landscapes, architecture, mythology, martial arts, weaponry, farming practices, flora & fauna. In fact, all that you would expect from an encyclopedia. In 15 volumes, it is printed from woodblocks, and comes with the original blue paper covers and title slips (under later yellow covers).

Fagan2.jpgTachibana Morikuni, from Osaka, was a leading eighteenth-century painter, illustrator, and writer, and he was a master of both Kano and Tosa styles. A student of
Tsuruzawa Tanzan, Morikuni lived and worked in Osaka. His major illustrated books
include Ehon Koji-dan (1714), Morokoshi Kimmo-zui (the work listed here)
(1719), Ehon shaho-bukuro (1720), Gaten tsuko (1727), Honcho gaen (1729), Utai
gashi (1732), Ehon oshukubai (1740) and Unpitsu soga (1749).

This work has recently been consigned to the Catawiki “Old & Rare” auction, and will be available for bids through approx. 8 p.m. (Central European Time) on Friday, July 13.

Images courtesy of Catawiki

Another round of major sales this week:


At Sotheby’s London on Monday and Tuesday, July 9-10, English Literature, History, Science, Children’s Books and Illustrations, in 322 lots. Highlights include an autograph leaf from Darwin’s Origin (£120,000-180,000) and a number of other Darwin manuscripts, several E. H. Shepard ink drawings, including the original map of the Hundred Acre Wood (£100,000-150,000), a copy of the 1916 proclamation of independence of the Irish Republic (£60,000-80,000), and Charles I’s copy of the Faerie Queen (£30,000-50,000).


Also on Tuesday at Sotheby’s London, Part VIII of The Library of an English Bibliophile, in 247 lots. Lewis Carroll’s annotated copy of the suppressed “sixtieth thousand” printing of Through the Looking Glass is estimated at £30,000-50,000. Two presentation copies of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, one to Darryl Zanuck (producer of the film adaptation) and one to Steinbeck’s sister, are each estimated at £20,000-30,000. A number of other important association and presentation copies are on offer in this sale.


Tuesday will also see the sale of Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures at Dreweatts in London. One reader already pointed our attention to the interesting lot 62 depicting a doctor and two amputees, illuminated manuscript on parchment, c. 1410. The estimate is £5,000-7,000.


On Tuesday and Wednesday at Forum Auctions, The Rothamsted Collection: Rarities from the Lawes Agricultural Library. The first 259 lots, to be sold on Tuesday, include a copy of the first printed book on agriculture, Petrus de Crescentiis’ Ruralia commoda (1471), estimated at £60,000-80,000. Leonard Digges’ A Prognostication everlastinge of righte good effecte (1576), containing the first translation into English of Copernicus’ work, could sell for £15,000-20,000. Lots to be sold on Wednesday include a great deal of material in the three-to-four-figure range, so if you’ve any interest in agricultural books, this catalogue will be worth a browse.


Polyglot copy.jpg 

Christie’s London sells Valuable Books and Manuscripts on Wednesday, July 11, in 393 lots. A copy of the Plantin Polyglot Bible, one of thirteen printed on vellum for King Philip II of Spain, rates the top estimate, at £400,000-600,000 (pictured). Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s Les Liliacées (1802-1816), the first of his major botanical works, could sell for £350,000-500,000. A mid-15th-century Middle English manuscript of John Lydgate’s The Fall of Princes once owned by Mary Sidney is estimated at £250,000-350,000. I could go on at great length about any number of the lots in this sale, but on we go ...


Returning to Forum Auctions for Thursday, July 12, they offer Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper, in 225 lots. A few of the expected highlights include a presentation copy of Charles Babbage’s The Influence of Signs in Mathematical Reasoning (1826), inscribed by Babbage to Thomas Stevenson Davies, secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society (£10,000-15,000); a blue-paper copy of the first Italian translation of Euclid’s Elements (Urbino, 1575), also estimated at £10,000-15,000; and a 1636 copy of Gerard’s Herball, with contemporary hand-coloring (£6,000-8,000).


Also on Thursday, PBA Galleries sells Fine Americana - Travel & Exploration - World History - Cartography, in 703 lots. A 1779 edition of Great-Britain’s Coasting Pilot is estimated at $5,000-8,000, as is a copy of a 1792 two-volume work featuring the first French edition of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. A long letter describing the 1871 Chicago Fire could sell for $4,000-6,000. Lots 610-703 are being sold without reserve.


Finally, there will be two sales at Chiswick Auctions on Thursday: Autographs & Memorabilia, in 235 lots, and The Library of Giancarlo Beltrame Part III and other Fine Antiquarian Books, in 362 lots. The first sale includes a Horatio Nelson letter to William Hamilton, the English ambassador to Naples (£4,000-6,000), and a Joseph Banks letter concerning the importation of botanical specimens (£2,000-3,000). Highlights from the second sale are expected to include a copy of the 1859 first edition of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubáiyát (£15,000-20,000), a set of David Copperfield in the original parts (£5,000-8,000), and the Roderick Terry copy of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard, bound by Riviere (£5,000-8,000).


Image credit: Christie’s

Buyers_2_-_1.jpgA major used book sale is happening this weekend in Newtown, CT, at the 43rd annual C.H Booth Book Sale taking place at the Reed Intermediate School on 3 Trades Lane from July 7-11.

Organized and hosted by the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library, all proceeds from the sale go towards enhancing the library’s current collections, support library services, and fund various adult and children’s literacy programs.

Collectors of Beat Generation writers would do well to to set their alarms for opening day: This year’s sale includes a selection of first editions by authors like William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, many of which hail from the estate of a local book collector. A very good copy of Kerouac’s 1965 semi-autobiographical Desolation Angels can be had for $75, while a good signed first edition, first printing of Burroughs’ The Ticket that Exploded is available for $500.

Francophiles might be tempted by a 13-volume set of J.J. Rousseau’s Works, translated in English and published in 1767. The entire lot is priced at $1,000.

The sale also includes an assortment of 19th-century calendar books, signed children’s books by the likes of Tasha Tudor and Steven Kellogg, puzzles, and other board games. Students might even find a couple of textbooks for the fall.

In short, the C.H. Booth Friends Sale has something for nearly everyone and at prices that can’t be beat.


Numbered admission tickets become available on July 7 at 7am. There is a $5 admission fee on Saturday only. Get there early--we hear the line forms quickly. 

Further questions, including driving directions and parking, can be answered at the Friends FAQ page. Happy Hunting! 


Image via C.H. Booth Book Sale

Enid Marx working on flower and shell designs c1946.jpg

Enid Marx working on flower and shell designs c. 1946. Courtesy of the House of Illustration.


I first came across Enid Marx’s work because of a fondness for the King Penguin titles, a series of pocket-sized books that was published by Penguin between 1939 and 1959 on a variety of subjects. Many of the titles have decorated jackets and endpapers, and one of the first that caught my eye was Marx’s cover for Some British Moths. Her designs for the King Penguins are on display amongst the designs for prints, books, London Transport posters, and fabrics in a career-spanning exhibition of her work, Enid Marx: Print, Pattern and Popular Art, at London’s House of Illustration


Cover for Some British Moths, King Penguin © Estate of Enid Marx.jpg

Cover for Some British Moths, King Penguin © Estate of Enid Marx  


It turns out that Some British Moths was the first of five covers Marx designed for the series, after complaining to the series editor about the quality of the covers that preceded hers. Since moving to London, it’s more obvious to me what an impact Marx and her group of friends from The Royal College of Art (where she was not allowed to graduate for being too “modern”) including Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, and Barbara Hepworth had on British design. Her birds and flowers and striking geometric designs are still commonly referenced on pillows and home designs in big box stores, and her printed paper can be bought by the sheet for gift wrap. I can recognize a print inspired by Enid Marx now from a mile away.


Marx used traditional hand-carved woodblock techniques to print on paper and fabric, and volunteered to design textiles for the wartime Utility Furniture Scheme, creating joyful, affordable printed fabric for the home to those returning from war. And she was first ever female engraver to be awarded the title of Royal Designer for Industry.


Pattern - 'Municipal' patter paper for the Little Gallery, from wood engraving, c1930 © Estate of Enid Marx.jpg

‘Municipal’ pattern paper for the Little Gallery, from wood engraving, c. 1930 © Estate of Enid Marx.


But she still remains a rather obscure name, overshadowed in her afterlife by her contemporaries. The House of Illustrations retrospective presents a strong argument for her place in history, highlighting her impressive and meticulous contributions to design and presenting her design aesthetic as responsible for setting the tone for mid-20th-century design. 


Enid Marx: Print, Pattern and Popular Art is on view at The House of Illustration until September 23.

Rare books and jewelry are a perfect pair, and a new, collaborative exhibition launched by UK rare book dealer Peter Harrington and jewelry designer Theo Fennell puts them together splendidly. The exhibition features rare first editions from Harrington’s stock, such as Goldfinger, The Secret Garden, The Arabian Nights, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and The Complete Pooh Series, alongside stunning, handcrafted rings and brooches. Here are a few examples:

Oz.pngA first edition of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by Frank L. Baum (£775) shown with the Emerald City Ring by Theo Fennell.

Fleming skulls.pngThis first edition of Goldfinger by Ian Fleming (1959) is the seventh book in the James Bond series (£2,000) and is shown with four 18ct yellow gold skull rings by Theo Fennell.
Milne.pngFirst editions of The Complete Pooh Series by A.A. Milne of all four Pooh books (1924-8) are shown with some pieces from the Bee Collection by Theo Fennell. Only 5,175 copies of the first book When We Were Very Young were published so the Series is rare (£3,750).

Fennell commented in a press release: “I have really enjoyed this collaboration with Peter Harrington as it has allowed me to indulge in one of my greatest passions and a source of endless inspiration, books. Harrington’s always have such an eclectic selection that it is one of my dream places to gather ideas. I believe that, as well as being original and beautifully made, jewellery should be thoughtful, sentimental and provocative.”

The exhibition is on until July 12 at Theo Fennell gallery, 169 Fulham Road, London.

Images courtesy of Theo Fennell

There may be just one major auction on the calendar for this week, but it’s quite a sale. Sotheby’s London offers Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts and Continental and Russian Books on Tuesday, July 3, in 188 lots.


The Breviary of Marie, Duchess of Bar (1344-1404), written and illuminated around 1360, rates the top estimate in the sale, at £500,000-700,000. Marie was the daughter of Bonne of Luxembourg and King John II of France and the sister of King Charles V of France and John, Duke of Berry (known for the Très Riches Heures). The breviary includes several full-page miniatures depicting Marie in prayer, and the Sotheby’s catalogue suggests that it was likely commissioned by her father in the years prior to her marriage. The manuscript previously sold at Sotheby’s in 1932 for £450.


A manuscript containing the first forty-four homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew, identified through paleographical analysis as being written in Constantinople in the late ninth century, could sell for £200,000-300,000, while a mid-thirteenth-century Paris Bible illuminated in the style of the Leber Group rates an estimate of £80,000-120,000. A ten-volume, uncut set of the work known in English as Complete Heraldry of the Noble Families of the Russian Empire, from the Year 1797, published at St. Petersburg from 1798 through 1840, is estimated at £50,000-70,000.


blockbook.pngMost the lots in this sale are worth noting, but just a few other examples will have to suffice: the 1491 Vicenza second edition of Euclid’s Elementa Geometriae could fetch £40,000-60,000, while a single leaf from a fifteenth-century block book printed in the Netherlands (pictured) is estimated at £15,000-20,000. A copy of the first translation of Seneca into Castilian (Seville, 1491), in a contemporary binding of blind-stamped half calf over wooden boards, is also rated at £15,000-20,000.


Image credit: Sotheby’s

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