August 2018 Archives

Make Way for the Montana Book Festival!



A quick consultation of the weather forecast reveals hot and humid weather for much of the United States...except for Montana, where the first winter weather advisories have already gone out in parts of the state and other areas are enjoying temperatures in the low seventies. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Why not book a trip out to Big Sky Country for later in September, when the Montana Book Festival gets underway in the city of Missoula. From September 27-30, the festival includes author readings, writing workshops, panel discussions, and live performances. Bonus: the temperatures there during late September average in the mid-sixties.


Formerly known as the Montana Festival for the Book, the latest incarnation was born in 2015 after a local group of Montana booklovers took over the festival from the nonprofit Humanities Montana. The festival is currently run by Sam Burris and former bookseller Tess Fahlgren and has welcomed authors like Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, award-winning short story writer Meagan MacVie, and local authors like Sarah Aronson. This year’s lineup will be announced shortly.


A favorite event returning this year is Pie and Whiskey, the Spokane, Washington-based tent revival dedicated to literary engagement. The adults-only program offers pie, whiskey, and writers reading stories on topics ranging from sex, drugs, politics, and everything in between.


The festival is funded by grassroots efforts and every bit helps. Organizers have even designed a $30 T-shirt with the cheeky slogan “Make America Read Again,” with 100 percent of all profits going to towards programming.


More info on the festival here.


In a fortnight it’s back-to-school and therefore back-to-books with America’s largest regional antiquarian book fair, the annual Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, now in its fifth year and happening over two days on September 8-9 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Expo Center. 


Today also happens to be the birthday of Mary Shelley, and in honor of her genius and magnificent creation of her monster, the fair is celebrating Frankenstein with a preview of the Morgan Library’s forthcoming exhibition: It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200. 


The fair features several Frankenstein editions, including a third edition from Peter Harrington in London. Their copy of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus is handsomely bound in brown half morocco with Johannes Schiller’s The Ghost Seer and Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly; or, The Sleep Walker. Published in 1831, its spines are lettered in gilt, with illustrated title pages by Theodor von Holst. This is the first illustrated edition of Frankenstein, the third overall and the final definitive text and, Harrington notes, the first to gain true popularity. Shelley incorporated most of the changes introduced by William Godwin in the second edition. It also includes her now famous introduction in which she describes her haunting nocturnal storytelling session with Shelley, Byron, and Polidori at the Villa Diodati. The frontispiece is the first book illustration showing Frankenstein and the Creature.


Next week we’ll share more items at the fair. For today, happy birthday to Mary Shelley, who wrote a masterful work of genius as a teenager, a fact doubted by many literary critics and scholars over the years, who prefer to assign her husband with the credit.


Image courtesy of Book and Paper Fairs


Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Ellen Saito, proprietor of Excelsa Scripta Rare Books in Hastings on Hudson, New York.

IMG_0176.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?


As an intern in architecture, I thought I had found my true calling, which involved drafting, blueprints, models and handmade presentations.  By the time I finished graduate school, those forms of creativity had become obsolete due to the advent of computer aided design (CAD). Eager to adapt, I became a CAD operator, but found it to be relatively dry work. Having developed a hobby of rare book collecting, the idea to become a bookseller sprang to mind to allow me to continue along a creative vein. As I got deeper into the collecting and selling of books, I realized that my interests lay in the antiquarian books and rare books, those that not only offered the script, i.e. content, but also the beauty and exterior, i.e. form, that allowed me to come full circle back to my architectural, creative beginnings.



When did you open Excelsa Scripta and what do you specialize in?


I opened Excelsa Scripta on September 1, 2015 with rare books accessible online, at fairs and by appointment. I specialize in antiquarian social justice books to provide people with inspirational books of historical importance on topics such as human rights, social reform, anti-slavery, women’s rights, indigenous cultures, LGBTQ rights, poverty, genocide, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, social and economic equality, diversity, the environment and marginalized achievements.

What do you love about the book trade?


I love the books and I love the business. It offers a creative and multifaceted outlet for learning, improvement and camaraderie that I find highly enjoyable.

Describe a typical day for you:


There is no typical day for me day-to-day, depending on the needs of my clients and where I am in the process of bookselling and the process of preparing for an upcoming fair or trade show. I am constantly theorizing and implementing improvements to my overall business plan. Some of those exercises entail business or administrative aspects and some specific to the books themselves such as, but not limited to, describing books, researching the historical significance of authors and the books, communicating with clients and packaging of books for distribution.

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


My equally favorite books are three autobiographies that I have sold multiple times. The first edition of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass was the first book that really moved me. The first edition of Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington was astonishing. The first American edition of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl absolutely broke my heart.

What do you personally collect?


At this point right now, I tend to sell to my clients these special books. I have a significant collection, which includes antiquarian books, beautiful books and petite sets.

What do you like to do outside of work?


Outside of work, I find great respite by spending time in nature. For a change, my eyes focus on far away vistas, while I walk, hike and explore new trails. Far away book shops, rare book seminars, and book fairs enable me to travel and to see new places. I am particularly fond of stunning views, even those in metropolitan cities. Located near New York City, I adore the Morgan Library and Museum, Frick Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art. I also enjoy reading paperback copies of my rare books.

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


The rare book trade appears to be moving in the right direction. Customers are increasingly well-informed. The collection of prints, maps and ephemera for inventory is intense right now. The demand for brand new books is dwindling, which appears to indicate that rare books will become even more rare and will likely increase in value more quickly than before. Book collectors are likely to increase in number.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?


Yes, my next show will be at the Albany Book and Paper Fair on Sunday, September 23rd. My next catalog will highlight my recently acquired offerings on antiquarian social justice, such as the 1869 first edition of The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill, the 1881 first edition of A Century of Dishonour: A Sketch of the United States Government’s Dealings with some of the North American Tribes by Helen Hunt Jackson and a 1600 collection of ancient Greek victory odes, including those for the Olympic games, by Pindar.

[Image provided by Ellen Saito]

The books-to-film genre amps up its bookishness with “The Bookshop,” a new drama directed by Isabel Coixet and starring Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson. Based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s slim but affecting 1978 novel, the film is a period piece set in a small, coastal English town in 1959. A young widow named Florence Green decides to open a bookshop there, much to the consternation (and later condemnation) of residents.

Florence Green .jpg“This quiet woman, in a quiet village, in very quiet post-war England, is a call to everyone to grow up and claim responsibility for making life better for us all. This is an allegory for the underdog before there was someone there to root for them or make them believe in themselves,” the director commented in a release.

Brundish.jpgGreen comes to understand that this town may not be ready for a cultural awakening. One of her only allies, it seems, is Mr. Brundish, a reclusive bibliophile.

Of special note is the attention to detail in bookshop scenery. A New York Post article from last week reveals how the director “found tons of vintage rare books” to use in the film. For example, she needed 250 copies of the first edition of Lolita. Fascinating!

Having just read and enjoyed Fitzgerald’s novel first the first time earlier this year, I’m on the lookout for showtimes near me (it is now playing in NYC & LA, and wider distribution begins on August 31). Until then, the trailer must suffice:

Images: (Top) Florence Green, played by Emily Mortimer; (Bottom) Mr. Brundish, played by Bill Nighy. Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment.

Here’s what’s coming up this week on the auction front:


Forum Auctions holds an online sale on Tuesday, August 28, of the second part of A Bibliophile’s Bibliographic Library, in 376 lots; the books are available for viewing in Rome. Much will be of interest here to the Italian-reading bibliographer, bookseller, or book historian, and the starting prices are mostly in the two-three-figure range, so bargains may be quite possible.



On Thursday and Friday, August 30 and 31, Keys Fine Art Auctioneers holds a two-day sale of Books & Ephemera, in 1309 lots. Among the top-estimated lots are a 1532 edition of Durer’s Institutiones Geometricae, with the final leaves supplied in manuscript fascimile (£1,800-2,200); a copy of the second issue of Darwin’s Descent of Man (£1,500-2,000); Bowen’s Atlas Anglicanus with the prospectus laid in (£1,500-2,000); and the first issue of The Beano Book (£1,200-1,500; pictured).


Image credit: Keys Fine Art Auctioneers

The Korean Cultural Center in New York is hosting an exhibition on typography now through September 10. In collaboration with New York-based nonprofit Stigma and Cognition, Found in Translation is a celebration of International Literacy Day (recognized this year on Saturday, September 8) while also exploring how literacy and meaning changes in translation.  


19 손바닥도 마주쳐야 소리가 난다 by Yang-Jang & Bazbon.jpg     
To examine various similarities and differences between Korean and Western cultures, the show looks at how language is used in both artistic and typographic endeavors. Show organizers paired nineteen Korean and nineteen Western artists to represent their take on a theme through typography, with the goal of highlighting common ground.

Each typographic artwork examines expressions regularly used in both cultures, highlighting that though the translation may not be literally identical, the meaning is generally the same. For example, Korean typeface studio Yang-Jang & Bazbon (양장점) and New York-based calligrapher Margaret Fu were paired up to explore the phrase, “It takes two to tango.” (손바닥도 마주쳐야 소리가 난다.) Yang-Jang & Bazbon’s work shows a close-up of two men in black suits shaking hands against a red background, the whole creating a very Big Brother, almost menacing vibe. Written in slashing Korean characters, the expression back translates into English as “It takes two hands to make a clap,” suggesting that cooperation helps get things done. Meanwhile, Fu’s artwork also shows two hands, though intertwined in a dance-like embrace, with flowing, graceful script spelling out the phrase. The American’s representation is a more literal take on the the expression.

19 It takes two to tango. by Margaret Fu.jpg

Additionally, a pair of artists was commissioned to create works inspired by “the progress for peace and harmony on the Korean peninsula.”

Found in Translation is at the Gallery Korea at the Korean Cultural Center New York (460 Park Ave at 57th St., NYC). The exhibition is on view through September 10.


Image credits: (Top) Yang-Jang & Bazbon; (Bottom) Margaret Fu

There are books about rare book collecting, and then there are books that are simply bibliophilic in nature -- booklovers’ delights. There are a couple coming out or forthcoming that are fun and full of frivolity and worth pointing out to readers of Fine Books.

bibliophile.jpgFirst is Jane Mount’s Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany. Mount is a beloved illustrator of personal and dream bookshelves, a series which she calls “Ideal Bookshelves” -- she uses simple drawings and watercolors to paint assemblages of readers’ favorite books together on mini-bookshelves, whether or not they own them. Over the years she’s made a huge impact on the book-loving internet with coverage in just about every book and design blog out there, and there’s good reason, her artwork is heartening and warm, positive and book-celebratory. Her new book, Bibliophile, is a wonderful look at her work, and Mount takes readers behind the scenes of favorite writers’ spaces and shelves, bookstores, and their literary cats. It’s an airy and charming and beautiful book.

Next is Susan Harlan and Becca Stadtlander’s Decorating a Room of One’s Own: Conversations on Interior Design with Miss Havisham, Jane Eyre, Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth Bennet, Ishmael, and other Literary Notables. Harlan, a humorist and professor of English at Wake Forest, spoofs decorating culture and English literature in a series of imagined interviews of famous fictional homes and their residents and plays skillfully with literary history. Who wouldn’t want to know Lady Macbeth’s favorite room in the castle?

To round it all off, there’s Anne Bogel’s I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. Bogel is a celebrated book fiend, writer, reader, and literary podcaster. This collection of her work is an argument for reading as a lifestyle choice. We couldn’t agree more.

Illustration of Bibliophile by Jane Mount

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Kim Sherwood of Bath, England:


kimsherwoodbyc.pngWhere are you from / where do you live?


I was born in Camden, in London, in the house that I lived in until I was eighteen. Since then I’ve lived in Norwich, Devon, and Bath, where I am now.


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


I studied English Literature with Creative Writing at undergraduate level at the University of East Anglia, and then went on to do the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia as well. I am a novelist and a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of the West of England. My first novel, Testament, came out just a few weeks ago (July 12th 2018) with riverrun/Quercus, so it’s been an exciting summer. Testament is about the impact of the Holocaust on three generations of a family - it explores identity, memory, and what happens after survival.


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


It all began with dictionaries, which I started collecting when I was about eleven. I collect in two main areas now: dictionaries; and popular twentieth century fiction in hardback, and Penguin and Pan paperbacks.


My dictionary collection began with my love of language - I used to go to sleep reading dictionaries as a child, which probably says something worrying about me, but has given me a grandiloquent, indefatigable, lexiphanic vocabulary, or perhaps simply an abecedarian one, by osmosis. I am interested in how dictionaries illuminate histories and relationships, whether between words, ideas, or even objects. I don’t limit the collection to language, so I also have dictionaries that offer taxonomies of clocks, antique furniture, inventions, colour.


Within early popular twentieth century fiction, I predominantly collect Georgette Heyer, P.G. Wodehouse, Ian Fleming, and Peter O’Donnell, with a growing number of Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton, and Baroness Orczy. I collect first edition hardbacks, and Penguin and Pan paperbacks, for their designs and significant publishing histories.


I have all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels in Pan Paperback. I love the eye-grabbing designs, from borderline lurid pulp illustrations to cut-out bullet holes and films reels.


kimcoll1.pngI also have every Georgette Heyer romance in Pan Paperback. I particularly love the colourful cameo designs. I also have nearly all of Heyer in first edition hardback. I love the watercolour covers by Philip Gough, and later Arthur Barbosa. Both artists very often place the characters in landscaped gardens or Georgian streets, highlighting the precisely fixed lines of the period’s aesthetic - and, through that I think, the rigid lines of the hierarchical society Heyer’s characters usually buck against.


How many books are in your collection?


Oh goodness. (Goes away to count, loses count, tries again.) Well, I have thirty-one dictionaries, and about one hundred and twenty books in my broad popular twentieth century fiction pile. 


What was the first book you bought for your collection?


Good question. I don’t remember the first dictionary I bought myself, but the first significant one I was given is the one-volume hardback Oxford English Dictionary, which was a present for my thirteenth birthday.


How about the most recent book?


The most recent addition was also a gift. My Georgette Heyer collection was made complete by my partner’s grandfather, John. John was a lifelong Heyer fan, and left me his set in his will, so those books are really special to me.


And your favorite book in your collection?


That’s hard! For my birthday, my Mum tracked down an edition of Dr Johnson’s dictionary from 1834. It’s my oldest dictionary, and my most treasured, because of my love for Johnson. It’s a first edition of its run, published by James and John Kay in Philadephia. It’s bound in calf leather with a gilt spine. The Kay brothers used the text Dr Johnson abstracted himself from his two volume 1755 folio edition. I am currently using it to help write my second novel, which is set in the eighteenth century.


Best bargain you’ve found?


Many of my Georgette Heyers were incredible bargains, because the secondhand shops in which I found them didn’t quite know what they had. Heyer can sell between £25.00 and £35.00 - I’ve found a lot of mine for £3. That has changed since Stephen Fry declared his love for Heyer on the radio and drove the price up, though! But I forgive him for bringing the delights of Georgette Heyer to more people.


How about The One that Got Away?


As yet, I don’t have a one that got away, which probably means I’m not very good at denying myself what I want.


What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?


A two volume first edition Johnson dictionary from 1755. I’ll need to become a bestseller several times over before I can afford that though.


Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?


My favourite bookshop is Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. Mr B’s has a brilliantly curated collection, and the booksellers seem to know everything. Recently we’ve been having a lot of fun because I’ve been offering signed copies of my novel Testament through the Mr B’s website. We’ve sent off a stack of personalised copies since publication day - the farthest to Australia, the most heartening to a prison library. 


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


I have noticed a worrying trend in myself to buy too many cushions, and frame everything I possibly can. So I would most likely develop a furnishings obsession. I do collect Fortnum & Masons ceramics, though it’s a slow collection, because I like to find them in charity shops, rather than buy something new and just eat its contents. That would be cheating.

[Image credits: Rosie Sherwood, Kim Sherwood]

Lovecraft’s legions of fans may be interested to hear that his family’s 1881 bible, which contains his birth record and his parents’ certificate of marriage, is currently on offer at Heritage Auctions. The now tatty leatherbound bible was gifted to his mother, “Miss S. Susie Phillips. From her Mother. March 22nd, 1889.” As is typical with family bibles of this era, decorative leaves offer places to record marriages, births, and deaths. In this one, someone, presumably his mother or father, penned: “Howard Phillips Lovecraft born Aug. 20th, 1890. Providence, R. I., 94 Angell Street.” A later inscription, in a different hand, notes the deaths of both Sarah and H.P.

Bible 2 copy.jpgLovecraft’s fame as a writer of short stories in the horror and fantasy genres was, sadly, posthumous. (He died in 1937.) Today, he is beloved by fans, including Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King, and collectors--in 2016, a typewritten manuscript of a story he is believed to have ghostwritten for Harry Houdini sold for $33,600.

Bible 1 copy.jpgThe bidding for the bible opened at $500, and will continue online until the live auction of rare books on September 13 in Dallas.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Chiswick Auctions holds their Summer Books sale on Tuesday, August 22, in 192 lots. Some interesting lots of bibliographical texts in this one (lots 20-38), as well as a first edition of Watership Down inscribed by Richard Adams to his friend Randall Thornton (£800-1,200) and a ready-made collection of forty-one Tauchnitz editions of Wodehouse novels (£300-400).


Also on Tuesday, University Archives sells Autographed Documents, Manuscripts, Books & Relics, in 298 lots. A July 1863 Abraham Lincoln letter to Freedmen’s Inquiry Commissioner Robert Dale Owen is estimated at $50,000-60,000, while a fragment from the shirt Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated could sell for $25,000-30,000. A life-size wax mold of Albert Einstein’s head, signed by Einstein, is estimated at $15,000-20,000.


PBA Galleries sells Americana & the Mexican-American War - Travel & Exploration - Cartography on Wednesday, August 23, in 739 lots (with lots 563-739 being sold without reserve). The 1866-1868 diary of a mining engineer in Montana rates the top estimate, at $6,000-9,000. A very large world map printed on cloth, used to advertise revival meetings around the turn of the twentieth century, is estimated at $3,000-5,000. At the same estimate, and being sold separately, are two photographic order books from the San Francisco firm R. J. Waters & Co., offering photographic prints of sailing ships and of the city of San Francisco.


thurston.png Last but certainly not least, Potter & Potter holds their Summer Magic Auction on Friday, August 25, in 467 lots. Among the expected highlights are a three-sheet color lithographic poster from 1916 for Thurston the Great Magician ($15,000-25,000; pictured). A metal kettle designed to allow the magician to pour any of four drinks could sell for $10,000-15,000, and at the same estimate is Isaac de Caus’ 1659 treatise New and Rare Inventions of Water-Works. Many books, tricks, scrapbooks, &c.


Image credit: Potter & Potter



In 1985, French philosopher and writer Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) published The War: A Memoir, a semi-autobiographical work based on journals she kept during World War II. Famously claiming those diaries had been forgotten for decades until their rediscovery in a kitchen cupboard, the Prix Goncourt-winner used them as inspiration for her novel examining the waning days of the Nazi occupation of France.


The story revolves around Duras’s then-husband Robert Antelme, a fellow writer sent to a concentration camp for his involvement in a Resistance group led by François Mitterand. Duras’s young protagonist is mentally tortured by a Gestapo collaborator who offers information about Antelme in return for her affections. Antelme is eventually liberated, and Duras spares no detail about the difficulties nursing him back to health. Once recovered, Duras announces that she plans to divorce Antelme to marry another member of the Resistance movement.


The spare volume is quintessential Duras; at the time of publication, critics lauded it for its brutal honesty about life in war-torn France and the complexities of love, loss, and the irony of liberation. 


Now, over thirty years after its publication, The War is finding its way to the big screen. Award-winning French director Emmanuel Finkiel’s adaptation entitled Memoir of War opens today at the Film Forum in New York and at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, to be followed by a national rollout in September.


Starring thirty-one year old French actress Mélanie Thierry (The Princess of Montpensier) in what may be her breakout role as a pensive, chain-smoking Duras, the first half of the film deals with Duras’s relationship with Nazi collaborator, Pierre Rabier.


The second hour reveals Duras waiting and wondering, confronting the possibility that her husband is dead and what that means for her. Deftly weaving passages from the book throughout the film, Memoir of War examines the difficult choices people make in terrible times.


Memoir of War, written and directed by Emmanuel Finkiel. A Music Box Films release. Running time: 126 minutes. In French with English subtitles.


Image credit: Music Box Films

Guest Post by Catherine Batac Walder

7 stairs.JPGA walk along the famous Cobb, the wall that protects the harbor, must be high on the list of anyone visiting Lyme Regis. The town is known for the fossils found in the cliffs and beaches, which are part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. I was one of the many whose main purpose of visiting was not to search for fossils, but to see the stairs from where Louisa Musgrove fell in Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion. But there were others before me, most notably, Lord Tennyson, who walked nine miles from Bridport to Lyme in 1867, and when he called upon his friend, fellow poet Francis Palgrave, he refused all refreshment, demanded to be taken to the Cobb, and commanded, “show me the steps from which Louisa Musgrove fell.” Up until that time, the historic seaside town of Lyme Regis, cited by Austen as “Lyme” in the book, was mostly only known as the landing site of the Duke of Monmouth’s failed rebellion of 1685. How generations of readers can turn a minor character and a dramatic scene into a literary destination is always fascinating.

6 stairs.JPGWe spent only a day in Lyme and unbeknownst to us, we visited during the annual Regatta and Carnival Week (August 3-12), so there were no parking spaces, and the sandy parts of the beach were absolutely packed. The crowd thinned out as we got to the Cobb, still I thought I should be very careful--the goal was to find the stairs, and as much as I marveled at every chance of a Jane Austen connection, I didn’t want the stairs to be known to family and friends as “the stairs where Catherine fell, as well.” The text from Persuasion is the most important clue as to the location, but I also used the films as a point of reference. I watched the 1995 film version, and I learned that there were two other films made, in 1971 and 2007, and all three films used three different stairs! But as soon as we got to the Cobb, it was easy to find the stairs, all three were a short distance from one another.

1 stairs.JPGThe first we saw was the double staircase used in the 1971 film. I didn’t think they were the ones Austen thought of, they were solid and even the way the fall had been depicted in the film was too contrived. Furthermore, the plaque underneath this double staircase suggested that it had been repaired and completed in 1826, and I presumed that these stairs had only been added that time. Austen died in 1817, and she visited Lyme in 1803 and 1804, so she wouldn’t have referred to these stairs.

2 stairs.JPGWalking farther, we encountered the second and most popular choice of stairs, locally known as Granny’s Teeth, which were featured in the 1995 film. Before this trip, I searched the internet and read many sites, many of them quite reputable, that believe Granny’s Teeth to be the steps mentioned in Persuasion; not surprisingly, as even the Jane Austen Centre said this set was “the most plausible spot for Louisa’s fall.” They, too, are my favorite stairs, there is just something believable and romantic about them that is easily identifiable with an Austen novel.


3 stairs.JPG  

When you see Granny’s Teeth, you might think the name impolite to grandmothers but it is also the kind of name that Austen would come up with, as honest as she was, I thought. Also, they are so steep that a woman clad in a Regency dress is likely to fall, even if one is very careful.

4 stairs.JPGThe last stairs we encountered (seen in the 2007 film) are the most likely candidate according to locals doing tours in the area, and indeed this is true, if chapter 12 of Persuasion is to be the source. “There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth.” Here, Austen referred to the “new Cobb,” the part that was destroyed towards the end of the eighteenth century, and rebuilt just before her first visit, where these newer, more modern steps than Granny’s Teeth are located. I’m not sure which stairs Tennyson’s friend had shown him, but I bet he would not have been as annoyed as I was seeing how crowded the bottom of Stairs No. 3 was that day. No time to sit on the step and close my eyes in reverie, with people going up and down every few seconds. Well, they were the stairs closest to the end of the Cobb, the swimmers and spectators needed to get to the events of the day. Had the weather been windy and wet, no one among us would have been allowed there, let alone walk to the end of the wall (no channeling of Meryl Streep dressed in her cloak in bad weather then, from that scene in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, also filmed on the end of the Cobb). At the end of my visit to the Cobb, I’d forgotten all fear of falling down stairs. It was the Cobb itself - it was stepping on that sloping man-made wall and being pulled in all directions by a curious three-year-old that was more than scary for me, even if it was a bright sunny day. Someday I’d like to return, during a quiet and dry spring or winter maybe.

5 stairs.JPGHow exciting it must be for authors to write about something as trivial as a set of stairs and for it to become a fuss later. If Austen were still alive, I think she’d laugh at this confusion and probably say that her stairs were imagined, in the same manner that most of the locations of her stories are fictitious.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a writer who lives in the UK. She has contributed several posts from abroad over the years, including this one about Jane Austen in Hampshire. Find her at:

Images (top to bottom): A walk away from the town, seen in the distance; A view of town, as Austen aptly described it, “the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water;” The double staircase; Granny’s Teeth; Close-up of Granny’s Teeth; Possibly the stairs from Persuasion; Author’s copy of Austen’s novels, near the end of the Cobb. Credit: Catherine Batac Walder.

Karin Suni Photo.jpgOur Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Karin Suni, Curator of the Theatre Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

What is your role at your institution?


I am the Curator of the Theatre Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is a research collection of materials on theatre and other forms of popular entertainment with a special focus on Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. When you count it all up, it contains over a million items, not only about theatre, but also about film, television, radio, the circus, minstrels, vaudeville, and burlesque. In addition to traditional books and magazines, we have programs, playbills, theatrical scrapbooks, posters, newspaper clippings, lobby cards, lantern slides, pictures of productions, and film stills. It is a lot to keep track of, but we do our best.  Additionally, as the Theatre Collection is housed within the Rare Book Department (RBD), I’m also one of the librarians for the department as a whole.  While we are all pretty much generalists, the collections I know best are RBD’s Literary Collections and the Colonel Richard Gimbel Collection of Edgar Allan Poe.  I run our Instagram account (here’s a plug for @freelibraryrarebooks), so I try to be aware of fun and interesting things throughout our very varied holdings.  Like all of our staff in RBD, I answer reference questions, give tours and teach classes, create exhibitions, work in accessions, make and update records for our Digital Collections, and whatever else needs doing on a given day.


How did you get started in rare books?


When I was getting my MLS at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), rare books/special collections librarianship was not on my radar.  I intended to be a reference librarian in an academic library, most likely in arts and humanities.  Instead, in 2006, I began working in the Literature Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia.  It was a great mix of subject specialty and public librarianship.  Though the Theatre Collection was part of the Rare Book Department by this point, it was once part of the Literature Department and there was still a good relationship between the two.  I was able to make visits and became familiar with the Collection, which planted the seed for wanting to work somewhere similar in the future.  In 2008, I left the library to pursue my M.A. in Text and Performance Studies at King’s College London, co-taught with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  I was able to visit the National Theatre archives and to focus my final thesis on the problems surrounding documenting performance.  In 2011, when I was interviewing to return to the library, I made it clear that I would very much like to be in charge of the Theatre Collection, and they made it happen for me.  I then completed my Special Collections Certificate through UIUC’s distance learning program because I figured if I was going to be in the job, then I should probably take a few classes.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


I’m going to cheat a little and choose two, one from the Theatre Collection and one from the Rare Book Department.  In the Theatre Collection, we have a scrapbook of playbills from the Arch Street Theatre from the early 1860s that was kept by Louisa Lane Drew (better known as Mrs. John Drew) while she was manager of “The Arch.”  She started her acting career when she was eight years old and continued to perform almost until her death at 77.  She was the first female manager of a major American theater, and through her five children, she ultimately became the matriarch of one of the greatest acting families of all time: the Barrymores (she is the great-great-grandmother of Drew Barrymore).  In the Rare Book Department, we’re lucky enough to have a Shakespeare First Folio.  It’s particularly special as it’s complete and has marginalia that’s been dated to prior to 1670.  There are annotations, bracketing, and underlining that correct perceived errors, highlight passages, and point out textual variants.  My favorite is that the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, which is absent in the First Folio, has been written in on the bottom of the previous page.  It’s a good thing the ending of Titus Andronicus didn’t take up more space!


What do you personally collect?


As you might imagine, I have a lot of books of plays and theatre theory and history.  There’s nothing particularly special about them, other than the sheer amount.  I’m lucky that acting editions of plays are so thin, meaning they don’t require as much bookshelf space.  I also have a special place in my heart for all things Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  When I was seven, the first theatre production I was in was an adaptation of these stories.  I was the end of the caterpillar and the iris in the flower garden.  So, I collect editions with interesting bindings, older editions that I can afford, and books with alternate illustrations.  While I love the Tenniel illustrations (enough that I have three of them as tattoos), I enjoy seeing new interpretations of the characters.


What do you like to do outside of work?


Reading, obviously, traveling, and seeing live performances.  But I also really love cooking and baking.  Though their waistlines might wish otherwise, I’m regularly bringing something sweet I’ve made into the office with me for my co-workers.  I’m fascinated by the science behind baking and enjoy tinkering with recipes to see how I can make them my own within the parameters set out by the chemistry involved.  I may also have a slightly unhealthy love of cooking competition shows, particularly those from Australia.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Being a librarian of any kind is about people. Yes, it’s also about the materials we work with, but what I do, what all librarians do, is match patrons up with those materials and give them the tools to find items they need in the future.  I love seeing the excitement on someone’s face when they see all the typefaces on a 19th-century playbill or the shimmer of gold in a medieval manuscript or their ancestor’s name on a Pennsylvania German fraktur baptismal certificate.  I love hearing someone say “this is exactly what I was looking for,” especially if they came in unsure of what they needed.  It’s also great to find amazingly neat things almost every day. For instance, I opened up a box I thought held spare tissue paper only to discover a rhinestone-encrusted headdress that was worn by actress and dancer Gilda Gray in the 1922 Ziegfeld Follies. And no, though I was very tempted, I didn’t try it on.  I regularly email non-library friends saying things like “my desk is covered in colonial money.”  Their response is usually something along the lines of “your job is awesome and also weird.”


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


I’m very interested in the use of disruptive technologies in how we can better provide access to our materials.  I was fascinated a few years ago when both Cornell and Colgate scanned and 3-d printed copies of their cuneiform tablets.  I think there’s work that can be done with OCR (optical character recognition) and ICR (intelligent character recognition) that would allow us to expand crowdsourcing projects by getting data points extracted that can then be verified by crowdsource participants.  There are museums doing tours interactive tours for visitors at a distance with robots.  All around, I think there are technologies in other sectors (business, science, etc.) that we could be experimenting with in the library field.  And I look forward to getting to play with them, especially the robots.


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


Since I’ve already mentioned a number of the collections we have in the Rare Book Department, I’ll use this opportunity to talk about some of the other special collections at the Free Library.  We have the Children’s Literature Research Collection, which houses more than 85,000 books published from 1837 to the present and archives of local children’s authors and illustrators; the Map Collection, which has more than 130,000 current and historical maps covering every part of the world; the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music represents the largest lending library of orchestral performance material in the world, housing more than 22,000 titles and continuing to grow; and the Print and Picture Collection, which is home to fine art prints, photographs, drawings, and artists’ books, as well as extensive research collections of Philadelphia images.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


In the Rare Book Department, we have two exhibitions up currently: In Our Nature: Flora and Fauna of the Americas in our William B. Dietrich Gallery (open through Sept. 15th) and what we call our Treasures exhibition in cases throughout the rest of the department.  Exhibitions in the Dietrich Gallery are our themed exhibitions and change about every six months. The next one is Philadelphia: The Changing City, which looks at planned and unplanned changes to the city and how they have affected Philadelphia’s landscape, buildings, and inhabitants.  It opens October 10th.  Our Treasures exhibition features items from our various permanent collections, including, but not limited to, cuneiform tablets, medieval manuscripts, incunabula, early children’s books, Beatrix Potter, fraktur, Americana, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Image Courtesy of Karin Suni

Love language and wordplay, puns and palindromes (you know, those words and phrases that read the same backwards and forwards)? Well, you’re not alone. Following a popular 2015 short film called A Man, A Plan, A Palindrome, documentary filmmakers Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius decided to continue following--and filming--the world’s greatest palindrome writers. Today they launched an Indiegogo campaign to finance the final phases of post-production of a feature-length documentary titled The Palindromists.

Starring New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz, children’s author/illustrator Jon Agee, entertainer Weird Al Yankovic, and actress and author Danica McKellar, The Palindromists delves into “the history of palindromes while following the world’s greatest palindromists as they prepare for the 2017 World Palindrome Championship.” You can preview the trailer here:

Say the filmmakers, “With the necessary funds, this film will find its rightful place on the shelf next to the other great ‘geek’ documentaries of the past 20 years.”

Doyle will hold an online-only sale of Hunting Books from the Collection of Arnold “Jake” Johnson on Tuesday, August 14, in 215 lots. John Cyril Francis’ Three Months’ Leave in Somali Land (1895), a privately-printed edition issued after the author’s death, is estimated at $1,000-1,500, as is another privately-printed account of a hunt in Alaska in 1930 by Harold Keith. As of Sunday afternoon, a book estimated at just $80-120 was leading the sale: Henry Job’s The Shadow of the Jaguar (1983), noted in the lot description as being a possibly unique copy, had been bid up to $3,200.


On Wednesday, August 15, Dominic Winter Auctioneers will sell Printed Books, Maps & Documents, in 335 lots. Very much a mixed bag here, with most lots estimated in the double or low-triple digits. Lots 148-165 comprise bookbinding tools and equipment, and lots 254-335 are “quantity” lots, where it looks like some good bargains might be lurking.



Addison & Sarova sells Rare Books & Ephemera on Saturday, August 18, in 422 lots. Some hefty shelf lots are expected to lead the way, including a 247-volume lot of theological works from the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries ($3,500-5,000). Among the single-lot items are a copy of the 1524 Aldine Odyssey ($1,200-1,800; pictured above).


Photo credit: Addison & Sarova

Just as each age has reinvented Shakespeare to suit its own time and culture, so to, it seems, that every era needs its own Kama Sutra, that ancient Hindu treatise on courtship and sexual behavior. To wit: the Folio Society recently published a limited-edition run of 750 hand-numbered copies of the 2,000-year-old instruction manual for joyous living.


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This edition of Vatsyayana’s seven-part Sanskrit compendium is a blend of old and new. The text remains Sir Richard Burton’s 1963 landmark English translation but is accompanied by a specially commissioned essay by historian John Keay that explores the importance of sensuality in ancient Hindu society.

But the art is what really sets this edition apart: sumptuous illustrations by award-winning artist Victo Ngai. The work of the L.A.-based RISD graduate has graced the pages of The New York Times and covers for Simon & Schuster and Random House. Here, her precise handiwork expertly captures the nuance and detail of the Kama Sutra. Interestingly, Ngai is the first woman to ever illustrate this pleasure tome, and her art presents a decidedly female focus.


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We recently spoke to Ngai after her own recent nuptials and asked about this commission and the various influences that shape her work.

Were you surprised by the Folio commission?

Not really because I first suggested this book to The Folio Society’s art director Sheri Gee a few years ago after finishing our first book Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies together.

Did you consciously illustrate the Kama Sutra to reflect a woman’s perspective?

Frankly it hasn’t been my intention to make a “feminist’s Kama Sutra.” To me, the main objective of this project has always been to create the most lush and sumptuous volume that’s worthy of and true to this 2000-year-old Sanskrit classic. However, examining the pieces now in hindsight, I believe I did subconsciously work from a female-centric perspective by selecting subject matters which interest me and composing images which would tell the stories from the woman’s point of view.

What was your approach to illustrating the book? How, if at all, was it different from other projects?

In many ways the process is very similar to illustrating other books- reading the book to get the big picture, rereading the book to pick out stories that catch my eye, distilling the stories into short phrases and simple ideas, translating and refining these ideas into visuals through thumb-nailing, polishing the thumbnails into sketches, creating line drawings which forms the foundation of the final images, then finally finishing the pieces with fitting colors and mood. What is unique to illustrating each book is its content as it would inform the composition, storytelling, color palettes and mark making of the arts.

Were you familiar with the Kama Sutra prior to this project?

Only as familiar as everyone else, that it’s an ancient book about sex from India.

In the West, the Kama Sutra is commonly associated with unexpected and inventive sexual positions, but it’s really a guide to living a well-rounded life. Did anything in the book surprise you?

I was surprised by most of the book, actually. Only one chapter is dedicated to sexual union, which is what you hear mostly about. The other six chapters were a new discovery. I think the biggest surprise to me is how the book can be both patriarchic and progressively feministic at the same time. In many ways it reflects the male dominating social order of its time--that men have the (official) monopoly on polygamy and women’s well-being largely rely on their successes with men. Meanwhile the book stresses the importance for men to keep their women happy and devotes long paragraphs going into great detail on what men need to do to win and sustain a lady’s heart. However, in my opinion, the truly feministic idea appears in the chapter about courtesans. One can always argue the suggested kind gestures and tenderness towards women from other chapters are ultimately means for men to gain what they want, be it sex, love, loyalty or devotion. Whereas in this chapter, the book encourages the women to take charge of their sexuality, giving helpful tips on how to get what they want through manipulation of men, which turns the objectified into an active agency in the heterosexual relationship.


The 25 black and white positions illustrations are certainly erotic but not pornographic--how did you strike the right tone? When did you know you got it right?

Thank you, that’s great to hear! The figure-design was definitely one of the most challenging and time consuming process in this project. Besides the balance between eroticism and pornography, there’s also the juggle between being poetic and informative.

The first round of thumbnails was too realistic and felt like porny medical diagrams. The second round was overly expressive and looked cartoonish. The third round was excessively geometrical that took the fluidity out of the forms. I knew the sweet spot laid somewhere in between all of these unsuccessful attempts, but it still took a few more rounds to get there. What I was aiming for the final design was that the faces and bodies were generic and stylized just enough, but not much, that they can be part iconographies, which are graceful and unemotional, and part humans, which are sexy and provocative.

Were you familiar with Indian art and culture prior to this project?

I wouldn’t say I was very familiar with Indian art and culture before working on this book, but I have always had a keen interest in Hindu Mythologies, miniature paintings, and intricate and ornate patterns. One of the major reasons I wanted to work on this project was to have a proper excuse to research and learn more about this fascinating culture, while getting paid!

What do you hope readers will take away from your illustrations?

That Kama Sutra is a rich and multifaceted book, it’s not only a great window into ancient Hindi’s bedrooms and their impressive flexibility, it also paints a vivid picture of people’s daily household lives which includes making parrots talk after breakfast and bidding on cricket-fights; their religious beliefs and rituals; regional stereotypes and prejudices; social-economic construct of the time as well as tips and advises on romantic relationships which many are still surprisingly relevant today.

I understand you got married recently--congratulations! Did your work on the Kama Sutra influence your nuptials?

Thank you so much! I think the book is a great reminder that it takes work to sustain a happy and fruitful marriage, both inside and outside the bedroom.


The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, Illustrated by Victo Ngai, translated from the Sanscrit by Sir Richard Burton and Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot. Available in a limited edition of 750 copies for $595 each through the Folio Society.


All images reproduced with permission from the Folio Society. 

Best known for his novels like Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut also created visual art, mainly in the form of drawings and prints, as early as 1969. He made sculptures too, though they are “rare” on the market, according to Case Antiques, who sold this c. 1980 aluminum piece, titled “Wasp Waist,” at auction in Tennessee last month for $5,040. Signed and numbered 6/9, the aluminum silhouette is clearly reminiscent of his famous felt-tipped drawings.

WaspWaist 2.jpgAs Peter Reed wrote of ‘Vonnegut as artist’ in 1999: “His fiction struggles to cope with a world of tragi-comic disparities, a universe that defies causality, whose absurdity lends the fantastic equal plausibility with the mundane. Much the same outlook pervades the graphic artworks that have increasingly occupied Vonnegut in recent years.”

Image courtesy of Case Antiques

hemingwaycover22-e1533177520291.jpg“A Room on the Garden Side,” a short story originally written by Ernest Hemingway in 1956, has been published for the first time in this summer’s issue of Strand Magazine. The story, set in the Ritz Hotel in Paris at the end of WWII, “paints a vivid sketch of soldiers tired from war, yet hopeful for the future.” Hemingway scholar Kirk Curnutt contributed an afterward to the story, placing it in a larger context. (Curnutt’s afterward is also available online here).

Hemingway wrote a handful of similar stories around the same time, which he sent to his publisher Charles Scribner with a note that included the following, “I suppose they are a little shocking since they deal with irregular troops and combat and with people who actually kill people....Anyway you can always publish them after I’m dead.”

Strand Magazine acquired the rights to publish the story from the Hemingway Estate last October. While Hemingway scholars have known about “A Room on the Garden Side” for decades, Strand’s publication marks the first time it is available to a wider audience. Managing editor of the Strand, Andrew Gulli, said, “[The Estate has] steered away from commercializing anything unpublished,” in an interview with PBS. “They were very kind to give the story to the Strand because they understand we have a good track record of publishing unpublished works. They want to make sure that if something is released that it will honor the memory of Ernest Hemingway.”

The Strand is no stranger to releasing previously unpublished or lost material from a variety of 20th-century luminaries. (We’ve covered their publication of a Faulkner story here and a Fitzgerald story here).

Hemingway fans and collectors can order the 55th issue of Strand, inclusive of “A Room on the Garden Side,” from the magazine’s website.

Should you find yourself in or near Hartford, Connecticut, make time for the Mark Twain House & Museum. I visited last week and was awed by its beauty. Twain (or Clemens) and his wife, Livy, relocated to Hartford in 1871 and engaged architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to design the 25-room abode. They moved in three years later. Even if you--or members of your travel party--have only read one Twain novel, back in high school, the house alone will delight. One sign I noticed called it ‘America’s Downton Abbey.’ Not quite, but you get the point.

Twain House.jpgAmong our favorite rooms was, of course, the very plush library. There’s no photography allowed inside the house, so you’ll have to picture patterned wallpaper, an elaborate oak mantelpiece, and a Tiffany chandelier. The wooden bookshelves that line the room do not contain Twain’s books, but they do hold titles he owned in contemporary editions. (Writers, take note: you can rent this room for a three-hour writing session.)

We also admired the conservatory, just a nook off the library really, filled with sunlight and hanging plants and a small fountain set in the floor.

But it’s the billiard room that best evokes Twain the writer, in my opinion. Up on the third floor, the large room is dominated by a billiard table--one that was actually owned by Twain--but tucked into the corner is a desk where the author wrote his most famous books, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, among others.

The family, which included three daughters, lived in this home for seventeen years. After that, it became an apartment building and a branch library. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963, and since that time, a series of renovations has returned it to the space that Twain knew and loved.

Image credit: Rebecca Rego Barry

On Thursday, August 9, PBA Galleries holds a 613-lot sale comprising Fine & Rare Books (lots 1-184); Books in Early Jackets - The Bret Sharp Collection (lots 185-385); Art & Illustration, Children’s Books (lots 386-457); Asian & Asian-American Art & Illustration (lots 458-534); the final section (lots 535-613) are being sold without reserve.


Osvald Sirén’s four-volume work Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century (1925) is estimated at $10,000-15,000. An interesting copy of Leaves of Grass, believed to be an undated printing issued in 1896 with an unrecorded publisher’s dust jacket, could fetch $7,000-10,000. At the same estimate is an 1819 topographical and statistical account of Nuremberg, Neues Taschenbuch Von Nürnberg in original dust-jackets and cardboard slipcases.


A very rare copy of the “joint-stock novel” An Object of Pity, created by Robert Louis Stevenson, his family members, and visitors in Samoa in 1892 and privately printed at Sydney (but with a false Amsterdam imprint), is estimated at $5,000-8,000. This copy is from the Stevenson family library, and contains a list of the authors and notations by Stevenson’s stepson and collaborator Lloyd Osbourne. The bookplate is signed by Stevenson’s stepdaughter, Isobel Osbourne Strong. Also included is the response, Objects of Pity, written by Mr. Haggard, the British Land Commissioner and the “hero” of the original work.

birds.pngAn early printing of F. O. Morris’s A Natural History of the Nests and Eggs of British Birds, published in 1864 and featuring early plates by Arthur Rackham, very scarce in the printed jackets, could sell for $4,000-6,000 (pictured).


Also among the lots are a collection of printed invoices and receipts to bookbinder William J. Roy of Lancaster, Pennsylvania from around 1897-1908 ($300-500); a first edition of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring ($300-500).


Image credit: PBA Galleries

Cotton_world_map.jpgLooking for a reason to go to England? The Medieval Academy of America may have something just for you. This fall, it’s launching a travel program modeled on lifelong learning programs run by traditional universities, and the itinerary definitely has the Anglobibliophile in mind.

From October 23-28, Medieval Academy of America executive director Lisa Fagin Davis will be leading the five-day, four-night tour that winds through London and Oxford. Dubbed “The Anglo-Saxons: Britain before 1066,” the excursion includes a visit to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms on display at the British Museum and Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. (Be sure to read the fall issue of FB&C for a review of the Tolkien show.) This is the only week both exhibitions will be on view at the same time.

While in London, the group will take in a performance of “King Lear” with Sir Ian McKellen in the title role of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, as well as a curatorial tour of the Tolkien exhibition. 

The trip costs $2,580, which includes hotel, meals, and tickets, and transportation in-country. Single-occupancy hotel rooms add $750. (Airfare not included.) All proceeds from the trip benefit Medieval Academy of America programming. Participants need not be Medieval Academy members.

The trip is limited to twenty travelers, and registration closes on August 23. See the brochure and detailed itinerary at:


Image: Anglo Saxon Mappa Mundi, c. 1025-1050. Via Wikimedia.

A couple of months ago I published a piece in the Guardian about my decision to start a rare book business focused on work by women, particularly women writers, and the unequal treatment of books by women in the trade. The piece received a good deal of attention, and I didn’t know if anyone would notice or pay attention, particularly outside of the rare book trade.


I was careful to say that I am not the only woman who has focused on the work of women in the book trade by any means, but for the first four years of dreaming about The Second Shelf I didn’t know any myself and I wondered if I might be the first to do so. But I had only been to New York City book fairs, and very few at that. I had only talked to a few people in the trade, who encouraged my business idea and said that it would be a welcome and needed business. It was only when I moved to London and started actively learning the trade and buying stock, that I started to undertand there were many book dealers who focused on the books related to women. In the trade it’s been labeled “women’s interest,” a phrase I don’t particularly like, because women, being about half of humanity, should not be treated as a niche subject. 


Leona and Made.jpgThere are wonderful dealers who made women their focus including the incredible Elizabeth Crawford, who I have only recently met and am in awe of, and Paulette Rose in New York, and I just missed meeting Chantal Bigot of the French book business Les Amazones, but we are now in touch. I know there are many, many more, and certainly we stand on the shoulders of those like Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern, who not only sold rare books but introduced the business to a wider audience in the books they authored, including Old Books, Rare Friends and Between Boards.


There are also many more women in the book trade operating as dealers than there have been in the past, although we are still a small percentage of the total. The Guardian article set in motion a lot of press, none of which I was expecting at all, and interviews from freelance writers outside of the trade. These are articles (Paris Review, Lit Hub) pitched to literary readers who might not know the rare book world at all, and these pieces are drawing attention to the lack of representation in the book trade, and how women are the minority and underrepresented in owning book businesses and leading book firms. This is all true, but what the pieces didn’t set out to do is champion all the scores of women who do run book businesses, leaving the few women interviewed in the pieces seeming more exceptional than we are. Women in rare books are still somewhat rare and they are tremendous -  their achievements are still not well known inside or outside the trade.


I am quite new to the trade and heard little of women’s history in the field until I wrote my Guardian article. This actually only suggests to me how very separate we bookwomen have been treated, as we don’t have a pronounced place in the oral history of the trade--a trade of bookmen. It’s a great time to learn who our foremothers were, and who the tremendous women are standing next to us. I had mentioned several women in the trade to journalists, and some of their names got cut repeatedly, which is a frustration, but it gives me the opportunity to thank one bookwoman here.


In addition to Heather O’Donnell of Honey and Wax, who first introduced me to the trade, I don’t think I would have started this business without the encouragement of Deborah Davis of Love Rare Books. When I moved to England, I didn’t know many people (still don’t know too many people), and she was the person who made the most difference upon arrival and actively encouraged me to try and set up a stand at the monthly Bloomsbury fair. I’m not sure I would have ever been brave enough to show up by myself without knowing anyone or being able to ask advice. She was willing to answer my questions and willing to tell me what I was doing right and wrong. Her encouragement was significant--she was inviting and open at a time when I was struggling to settle in and figure out what I was going to do with this business, or if I was going to do it at all. She also has impeccable taste in books.


I would fail miserably if I were to try to mention every woman in rare books who has made a difference to me or inspired me in the short time I’ve been in the trade, and the history of women in the book trade is still quite obscure to me. I am learning fast, but I don’t have the background or ties to trade organizations and their histories yet.  


Luckily, bookdealer Deborah Coltham gave a talk at the ABA fair this year Battersea in May about the history of women in the trade and has published it on her website. It is a wonderful starting place for us all. I’m inspired by all of these women. We are all changing the book trade for the better.


Image: Courtesy of Rebecca Rego Barry

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Brandon C. Wason, curator of archives and manuscripts at Pitts Theology Library, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia.


What is your role at your institution?

I am the curator of archives and manuscripts at Pitts Theology Library, Emory University. Pitts Library supports the academic activities of Candler School of Theology, as well as the Graduate Division of Religion and other departments on Emory’s campus. In special collections, we primarily collect materials related to the Christian tradition, but other religious traditions are represented as well. As the curator of archives and manuscripts, I oversee our archives and manuscripts department and manage the special collections space. I also head up our digitization efforts and serve on the university’s digital collections steering committee.

How did you get started in rare books?

When I was an undergraduate, my boss collected antiquarian books. After I expressed some interest in the “old books” he flew me and my wife, Wendy, to San Francisco to visit the 2005 California International Antiquarian Book Fair. The book fair was an amazing experience and was really the impetus of my interest in rare books and manuscripts. The highlight, for me, was seeing the 1516 edition of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament on display. I went home from the fair with a nice vellum bound edition of Horace’s poetry and a manuscript letter written by Bishop Lightfoot. That’s how I became initially interested, but I took a detour in my first few jobs in academic libraries, which centered more on public services. It wasn’t until I started my current position in 2015 that I was able to work with rare books and manuscripts on a regular basis.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I came into my current position as a subject specialist; in other words, I didn’t have an MLIS degree or formal training in archives. Instead, I hold a Master of Theological Studies as well as a PhD in religion from Emory University. My dissertation looked at how the author of the book of Acts in the New Testament uses ancient rhetorical strategy to characterize the Apostle Paul in his speeches.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

At Pitts Theology Library, we have a very strong collection of Wesleyana--materials related to John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism. We have hundreds of manuscripts related to the Wesleys but one in particular stands out as my favorite: John Wesley’s diary from 1736. Wesley wrote in this diary during his brief but significant sojourn in the nascent colony of Savannah. Here he details his daily activities while writing in a coded shorthand. Wesley’s ministry in Georgia was ultimately unsuccessful, partly stemming from a failed relationship with a woman named Sophia Hopkey, but his experiences there helped shape his later ministry and what would eventually become the Methodist church. Thus, the diary is certainly one of those pieces that generates a strong reaction from people and in my opinion was the gem of our recent exhibition called Religion of the Heart: John Wesley and the Legacy of Methodism in America.

What do you personally collect?

I don’t actively collect rare books for myself. I have a few that I’ve purchased or have been given, including some beautiful publishers’ bindings or association copies. In terms of book collecting, I’ve really spent a considerable amount of effort on building a robust academic library of biblical studies and related books. I am particularly interested in the history of scholarship and so I tend to focus on books that have shaped the discipline. But, because I have limited space for books, the collection has maintained a steady size of roughly 1,200 volumes. Also, now that I work at a theological library, there seems like less of a need to grow the collection.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a father of two young kids (ages 5 and 2) and so that keeps me busy much of the afternoons and weekends. When I do find time I try to spend it in my workshop building furniture or other things made from wood. I actually find woodworking, especially using hand tools, very therapeutic, and so if I weren’t a librarian, I’d probably build stuff for a living.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I’m interested in the stories that books tell--that is, the information gleaned from the book as an artifact. A book from the fifteenth or early sixteenth century shows us how manuscripts transitioned into the printed form, how the typesetter had to figure out new solutions to present text in multiple registers or unique ways. For instance, we have a 1503 edition of Rabanus Maurus’s De laudibus sanctae cruces, in which the printed form beautifully mimics the figurine drawings and letter arrangement of the manuscript poems. Google Rabanus Maurus’s work and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about.

I love researching the provenance of books and investigating clues on how particular books were used by their former owners, such as their use of manicules and marginal notes. A good percentage of the books in our Special Collections are Sammelbände (or bound-withs), which tell us a lot about how certain books were associated with other books by their owners. I’m fascinated by any sort of observable data that connects us to and sheds light on the previous owners of the books. Sharing this with students, that is, these connections to people of the past, is a very rewarding experience.

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

As academic libraries tend to collect the same circulating books or subscribe to the same databases, it is often special collections departments that distinguish one library from the next. With that in mind, I think there will be a continued rise in the interest of special collections. One of the areas that I’m really excited about is taking digitized collections beyond simply making them publicly accessible. At Pitts Library, we have a few interesting projects in the pipeline, such as collaborating with other institutions to reunite similar collections or separated manuscript leaves. Our library has also been working with the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship to enhance the discoverability of our collections through adding additional media types to digitized collections (e.g., adding searchable text to an audiovisual collection), or to produce online critical editions of works in our collections, and to present content in new and meaningful ways.

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

We recently had an inscription in a book identified as a previously unknown autograph of Martin Luther. The book, part of our Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection, was written under a pseudonym and there was uncertainty about the identify of the author. Yet a three-line inscription written by Luther puts to rest any uncertainty and identifies the author as Johannes Petzenstein. The timing couldn’t have been better. Ulrich Bubenheimer, the scholar who identified the writing as Luther’s, made this discovery about one month before the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have a fairly vigorous exhibition program at Pitts Theology Library and typically have three major exhibitions each year. In August we’ll install a new exhibition called Looking Back - Looking Forward: Reading at the Reformation through the Lens of Contemporary Christianity. Following that, we’ll have an exhibition featuring Emory’s collections of Illuminated manuscripts and incunabula. Then, after that, we’ll have an exhibition on the histories and traditions of the Bible in English. For more on our exhibitions, see this page.

[Image credit: Kathleen Barry, United Methodist News Service]

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