October 2018 Archives

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Margaret Landis of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Margaret was recently an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for women collectors 30 and under.



Where are you from / where do you live?


I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest, and I’m in Albuquerque, NM now.


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


I studied physics and astronomy as an undergraduate, and I earned my PhD in Planetary Sciences from the University of Arizona this past spring. I’m currently a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute.


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


I read a lot, and still mostly on paper so I have a bunch of books I’ve been dragging along with me across a few states. The ones I specifically collect are about the history of women and under-represented minorities in science and exploration. I have a much smaller collection started on polar exploration.


How many books are in your collection?


I have about 30 at last count, which probably means it’s 1-2 books behind.


What was the first book you bought for your collection?


Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe by George Johnson (2006).


How about the most recent book?


Tilly Edinger: Leben Und Werk Einer Judischen Wissenschaftlerin, Rolf Kohring and Gerald Kreft (eds.) (2003). I was in Frankfurt for a work trip and went to the natural history museum and found a display about Tilly Edinger. Most of this book is in German, but not quite all of it. Dr. Edinger grew up and worked in Germany, founding the field of neuropalentology, until she had to flee the Nazis in 1938. She taught at Harvard and Wellesley and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1953.


And your favorite book in your collection?


Chasing Eclipses: The Total Solar Eclipses of 1905, 1914, 1925 by Rebecca R. Joslin (1929). Three trips to finally see a total solar eclipse, told from the first person by the author. I’ve tried to find some more information about Joslin online, and she wrote other books but I haven’t (yet) been able to find out why a Bostonian DAR decided to spend two decades finally trying to see a total solar eclipse.


Best bargain you’ve found?


In terms of time investment, definitely Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie. I was browsing a booth at Tucson Festival of Books, and it was right there for a pretty reasonable price. I’d been wanting to add a copy to my collection after I’d read a few chapters for an undergraduate research project and adding a copy to my collection had always been on my to do list, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. I really like finding something for the collection when I’m just generally browsing--it feels like a very happy coincidence.


How about The One that Got Away?


I’ve been very fortunate in that the books I’ve been adding to the collection have been relatively straight forward to find. I try to be on the ball about new releases out of professional and personal interest, and part of my I’m building my collection is so I have recommendations for people who either 1) don’t see themselves in the history of science or 2) don’t know that women and people of color have been here since the beginning (like using spectroscopy to understand the composition of other stars). Still, I would really like to add a signed first of The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone (2017) and I need to start expanding my collection of titles printed before about 1990.


What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?


Something like Our famous women by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1884). Something that would document maybe the first phase of writing about women pioneers in science for the public. While women and currently under-represented minorities in science have always been part of the history of science, I’m particularly curious to explore the phenomenon of popular writing about them and how it reflects larger social trends of the time.


Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?


One of my favorite standbys is Powell’s in Portland, and my favorite in grad school was Antigone Books (Tucson).


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


I would probably collect maps, especially geologic maps. I think they’re a fascinating way of displaying 3D information on a 2D surface.


Image courtesy of Margaret Landis

There seems no better time than the eve of Halloween to feature the artwork of Charles Addams, the American illustrator whose penchant for the macabre gave us The Addams Family, as well as many wonderfully dark New Yorker cartoons. Besides, one of his most interesting pieces is headed to auction in two weeks.

DDD.jpgOn November 13, Doyle will offer the original drawing for the dust jacket of Addams’ Dear Dead Days: A Family Album, published in 1959, that indeed features the famous family, each of whom appears to be contemplating their demise. The ink and gouache on board is signed and further inscribed “For Margie & Alex with affection - Chas Addams, New York 1959”--“Alex” being Alexander King, author and mid-century media personality, from whose estate this drawing derives.

The estimate is $20,000-30,000.

Image courtesy of Doyle

Another very busy week in the book-auction world:


PIASA in Paris will hold a two-day sale of modern books from the library of François Mitterand, with lots 1-334 sold on Monday and lots 335-683 on Tuesday. The sale includes a good number of signed and inscribed copies, as well as many volumes bound by Mitterand’s wife Danielle. Mitterand often noted on a small inserted slip of paper where and when he acquired each book, and the price he paid.


Also ending on Tuesday, October 30, Doyle New York’s online sale of Travel Literature and Sporting Books from the Library of Arnold ‘Jake’ Johnson, in 272 lots.


Sotheby’s online single-item sale of a poster for the 1932 film The Mummy, starring Boris Karloff, ends on Wednesday, October 31. The starting bid is $950,000.



Leslie Hindman Auctioneers sells The Adventure & Exploration Library of Steve Fossett, Part I on Wednesday, in 215 lots. A copy of the rare variant of Aurora Australis, signed by Shackleton, could sell for $60,000-80,000. An unrecorded issue on vellum of Humboldt and Bonpland’s Vues des Cordillères (1810) is estimated at $30,000-40,000. For the travel/exploration collector, certainly a sale to which attention should be paid. (More on that sale in our fall auction guide.)


Autographed Documents, Manuscripts, Photos, Books & Relics are the order of the day on Wednesday at University Archives, in 283 lots. A manuscript of Bob Dylan’s lyrics for “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is estimated at $50,000-60,000, while a rosary once owned by JFK could fetch $20,000-24,000.


On Thursday, PBA Galleries sells The Joel Harris Collection of Original Illustration Art and Illustrated Books (with additions), in 360 lots. Among the examples of original illustration art on offer are Kam Mak’s oil painting used for the cover of Katherine Kirkpatrick’s Keeping the Good Light ($3,000-5,000).


Addison & Sarova holds a sale of Rare Books & the Harrison Forman Archive on Saturday, November 3, in 367 lots. A first edition of Donne’s Pseudo-Martyr (1610) is estimated at $12,000-18,000. A 1590 copy of Spenser’s Faerie Queene which once belonged to scholar H. W. Garrod (whose research concluded that it had been inscribed by Spenser’s wife) could sell for $10,000-15,000. Lots 306-367 include material from the collection of reporter and photographer Harrison Forman (1904-1978), including photographs of Tibet and Mongolia, film reels, notebooks, &c.


Image credit: Sotheby’s

Booksellers have always had to contend with warding off book thieves hungry for valuable volumes. As part of its ongoing efforts to deter book crime, Raptis Rare Books in Palm Beach, Florida, is employing a new piece of technology called synthetic DNA.

According to the product’s creator, UK-based SelectaDNA, so-called “synthetic DNA” can help fight inventory loss and theft and has been employed in casinos, hospitals, banks, museums, and other institutions worldwide for over a decade to identify and protect valuables. Earlier this month, Raptis became the first bookseller in the United States to incorporate synthetic DNA for authentication and inventory management.


Matthew Raptis.jpg


“Think of each unit of synthetic DNA as a high-tech fingerprint,” explained SelectaDNA vice president Joe Maltese. “Each application of Synthetic DNA generates a unique code, providing clients with the ability to identify and recover lost or stolen rare books. Raptis is using the technology to demonstrate their rare books have been authenticated and sold by them.”

For book collectors worried this serum might mar their treasures, fear not: the non-toxic, water-based serum is invisible to the naked eye. Applied to a book, the serum can last up to five years and has a lifespan of 4 to 6 weeks on skin--helpful to pinpoint a thief who has been inadvertently misted with a special spray, also sold as part of an alarm system by SelectaDNA. The company says their product reduces theft by 83 percent when incorporated into such an alarm system. If triggered by a burglar, the system releases a mist containing a unique DNA code and UV tracer. Shining an ultraviolet light on the suspect will reveal whether he or she purloined the goods in question. 

Raptis is using the DNA Asset Marking System which is applied to books with a special stamp; the images below show Raptis is using a stamp in the shape of an “R.” 


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“Raptis Rare Books takes extraordinary measures to ensure authenticity of its collection of literary treasures,” said Raptis founder Matthew Raptis. “The use of SelectaDNA is an excellent complement to our rigorous authentication protocols,” he continued. “It provides our clients with added confidence in purchasing these rare literary gems.”

Images, from top: Matthew Raptis, owner and founder of Raptis Rare Books, alongside Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio, valued at $100,000. Book marked with synthetic DNA solution without use of ultraviolet light. Book marked with synthetic DNA solution and fluorescing from use of ultraviolet light. Used with permission from SelectaDNA.

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Five years ago, bookseller Elizabeth Young was profiled in our “Bright Young Booksellers” series. What’s she up to now? In December, she is opening a brick-and-mortar bookshop in Brooklyn dedicated to “cooking, cocktails, and culture.” We asked her to tell us more about it. 

You started your business, lizzyoung bookseller, in 2012 with a focus on the culinary arts books and ephemera, what led you to the rare books trade?


Cookbooks have always held a fascination for me. As most cookbook lovers will tell you, it is not necessarily the recipes that grab you and take you in, it is the place you go in your head while reading a cookbook. I guess you could call it something like virtual cooking. You don’t really have to take a pot or pan out, you don’t have to get your kitchen dirty, you can cook a remarkable meal for family and friends, in your head. 


As a former pastry chef and food editor, I am passionate about the culinary arts, but recognize the realities of jumping back into a kitchen at this stage of life. As my two girls made their way in the world, I was looking for something to sink my teeth into that did not involve being elbow deep in chocolate. My father, Roy Young, suggested I come work with him and get to know the rare book business. After spending a couple of years ensconced in the rare book trade, I realized there was a perfect niche for me in rare books focusing on cooking, cocktails, and culture.
What have been favorite items to pass through your hands?
Some of the most rewarding experiences I have had working with rare books is when I come across an unusual culinary manuscript. These handwritten notebooks and ledgers tell a personal story -- when you put together the scraps of paper and ephemera that are pasted, pinned, and stuck in between recipes and remedies, you find a personal narrative that gives you a glimpse into a kitchen from the past. 
There was one in particular, a two-volume set of ledgers, that was written in both English and German that brought to life a Jewish immigrant’s journey from Germany to New York through the medium of recipes and ephemera. Originating from 1910, with over 50 pieces of paper ephemera laid in, this handwritten recipe book revealed a great many hidden gems that were only evident with further exploration. 
One item that was especially notable was a recipe written (in German) on the back of a letter, from The Reichsbund (National Union, or Assosciation) of Jewish Infantry asking “our unemployed comrades to forward their addresses to our secretary, comrade Eugen Sabel, Hannover, 12 Gretchen Street. Do it in writing only.” The letter was signed by Sabel, December 3, 1934. With some research, I discovered that Eugen, his wife, and child were sent to Auschwitz and killed on February 5, 1943.
You’re opening a store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. What are you most excited about, and what made you decide to open a brick-and-mortar shop?
Yes, I am opening a “brick & mortar” shop in my own neighborhood here in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. I was originally inspired to do so by the owner of a similar bookstore in San Francisco, Omnivore Books, which sells both new and rare culinary books. I learned from Celia that placing rare cookbooks and cocktail books next to new ones creates a whole new customer base. Most people who love food and cooking don’t even know the rare book world exists. 
Since food is a topic anyone can talk about, and let’s face it, there seems to be a growing (from the early 1980s) fascination with food -- books about food and drink, the culture of food and how it is produced, as well as food memoirs -- this is just a fun business to be in. I realized, while working at book fairs, one of my favorite things to do is talk to people about the books they love and why they love them. I can still (and probably will do so in the dead of winter) sit quietly and catalogue books and ephemera, but why not open up a little shop and share these treasures with the public.  
You have M. F. K. Fisher’s archive for sale, what does it include and will that be available to see in the shop? 
Years ago I discovered M. F. K. Fisher, the food writer/ranconteuse, and recognized the potential of food and drink in narration as just that, a portrait of a life in words, with food as the thread, holding the whole story together. When I had the opportunity to buy her personal library along with a good number of correspondence, I jumped on the opportunity. 
The Archive encompasses thousands of annotated books, letters, and pieces of ephemera. The correspondence in this archive consist of letters and documents -- connecting the author with family members, friends, and agents. I will definitely have the M. F. K. Fisher catalogue on hand at the shop as well as the binders filled with her correspondence. The books on the other hand, number into the thousands, and are safe and secure in a storage facility. 
What do you like most about being a book dealer?
As I mentioned before, my favorite part of being a bookseller is talking to customers about the books they love and why they love them, and of course trying to find those treasures for my customers. The other rewarding bit of bookselling is the fact that every day I learn something new. Cataloguing books and ephemera can be a bit tedious sometimes but then there are those other days where you get lost down the rabbit hole, while hours roll by and time and space take on a whole new dimension.
Image courtesy of Lizz Young

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Marielle Stockton of Bellingham, Washington. Marielle was recently awarded an Honorable Mention in the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for women 30 and under.

Marielle Stockton by Izaac Post.pngWhere are you from / where do you live?

I’m from Everett, Washington, but am currently living in Bellingham while attending Western Washington University.


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

I am an English Literature major, minoring in Sociology and Classical Studies. I work at the university library as an Information Desk attendant, as well as the Washington State Archives Northwest Regional Branch in Bellingham as a student organizational assistant. I am also a research assistant to Dr. Laura Laffrado, director of the Ella Higginson Recovery Project.


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

I collect books by and about once-forgotten first Poet Laureate of Washington State Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862-1940). Higginson was a poet, novelist, and essayist who lived in Bellingham and gained international fame at the turn into the twentieth century. Unfortunately, by the time she died she was almost completely forgotten for several reasons, the most prominent being WWI, when the majority of books went out of print. When the war was over, Higginson’s books didn’t come back into print save for her one nonfiction guidebook to Alaska and her only novel Mariella of Out West.

There were very few writers in the Pacific Northwest to begin with, even fewer women writers, and none with her level of success. Due to Higginson’s unusual position as a prolific female author in a sparsely-populated corner of the country, there was no one who could compare and therefore no way to find her through the recovery of other female turn-of the-century writers.

My collection has expanded over time from purely books by Higginson, to books about Higginson, to books about Bellingham when Higginson was alive, to postcards and sheet music featuring her work, and now to books by her contemporaries or texts in connection with her. The collection currently paints a picture of the Pacific Northwest that Higginson lived in and wrote about, as well as the literary culture she was writing to and within. My ultimate goal is to collect a copy of each book Ella Higginson wrote, as well as each edition, and moreover collect as many inscribed books as are surviving.


How many books are in your collection?

I have eight books written by Higginson (three are signed by Higginson); two books about Higginson; thirteen books that Higginson drew inspiration from or were published during her own career; one magazine featuring Higginson’s work; two sets of sheet music where Higginson’s poems were used as lyrics; and eight postcards featuring Higginson’s poems. In all, the collection currently consists of thirty-four pieces.


What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought was Mariella of Out-West, Higginson’s only completed novel published in 1902 by Macmillan. The novel is largely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, in which Higginson takes the narrative of the adulterous woman out of the Northeast and informs the reader of the consequences of an adulterous woman in the Pacific Northwest. It is a riveting social commentary about women’s agency, regionalism, and industrialization on the West coast. When first published, critics compared it to the work of Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, and Émile Zola.


How about the most recent book?

The most recent book added to the collection was a biography of Higginson written in 1985 titled The Lyric Singer: A Biography of Ella Higginson. Dr. Laffrado’s research has revealed numerous inaccuracies in this biography, however. Since it was published extremely locally, there are few copies to be found. While incorrect in many ways, it is still a piece of Higginson history. This copy came to me by way of a friend who was at a used bookstore in Oregon. They knew of my current research on Higginson and kindly picked it up for me.


And your favorite book in your collection?

If I had to choose, it would be a signed copy of Higginson’s The Vanishing Race that was posted to eBay this past January. Originally, the seller did not include a picture of the signature but did so upon my inquiry. The picture revealed the following inscription on the first page of the book: “For dear Zoe, With love and best of wishes . . . Ella Higginson.” I knew immediately that this was an authentic inscription (I know her handwriting better than I know my own) and I knew who it was meant for. Mabel Zoe Wilson came to Washington State from Ohio in 1902, hired by the president of the Washington State Normal School at Bellingham to be the school’s first librarian. Higginson lived right across the street from the normal campus. Mabel Zoe Wilson gave her entire career to the normal, a tremendous forty-three years of service. During this time, she and Ella Higginson became very sweet friends. In 1953, over a decade after Higginson’s death, Mabel Zoe Wilson donated a collection of letters to the University of Washington that Ella Higginson had written to her over three decades. These letters reveal a friendship based on similar literary interests, a fascination with Mabel Zoe Wilson’s extensive travels on Higginson’s part, and a mutual investment in the wellbeing of the normal school and the wider Bellingham community. We have record of Ella Higginson inscribing books to Mabel Zoe Wilson and sending them to her with some of these surviving letters, but until this copy of The Vanishing Race, we had found none. This copy, a very slim and plain volume, gives me hope that the remainder of the books Higginson gave to Mabel Zoe Wilson still survive. They are a testament to a beautiful bond between two intelligent and hardworking women.


Best bargain you’ve found?

A postcard featuring Higginson’s most famous poem “Four-Leaf Clover” once turned up on eBay shipping from Romania. That currently stands as the furthest away a Higginson-related piece has ever traveled and then returned to Bellingham (there being 5,613 miles between the two places). However, there are a few copies of Mariella of Out-West floating around Australia that have not been retrieved, and a couple of her volumes in Germany are still there. For the postcard from Romania, an invaluable piece that has survived by miracles only, the seller asked five dollars.


How about The One that Got Away?

There was once on eBay a copy of Higginson’s A Forest Orchid for sale at a price much too high. This was due to the fact that it was signed, but at first glance it was obvious that the signature was fake (and clumsily done with a modern blue ball-point gel-ink pen). I was able to talk the seller down, but not low enough. There was other writing in the book, though, which I and Dr. Laffrado positively identified as Higginson’s. However, the content of the writing was of no significance. I would have liked to have the book anyways, for preservation’s sake, but not at the price the seller was set on. A few days later, the listing was removed and the book was, presumably, not sold online. I wondered for a long time after if I had done the right thing, but you can’t have them all.


What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The crown jewel of any Ella Higginson collection would not be a book by her, but her copy of The Scarlet Letter. As previously noted, Mariella of Out West is largely based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic. To own Higginson’s inspiration for what she considered to be the best piece of fiction she ever wrote would be like owning Herman Melville’s copy of Paradise Lost.


Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

Powells Books in Portland is wonderful, but locally I enjoy Village Books in Fairhaven, Washington.


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

Antique, carved, mother of pearl nib pens. I once had five or so in my possession, but I have limited myself to only one and gifted the rest to my closest friends. I keep pen-pals and when occasion calls, I will use my emerald-green ink and my gold-nibbed mother of pearl pen, the shaft of which is carved in a delicate spiral, like that of an elongated turret shell.

[Image credit: Izaac Post of Western libraries at Western Washington University]

This past weekend the British Library opened a major, “once-in-a-generation” exhibition, the largest ever on the history, literature, and culture of Anglo-Saxon England, according to a press release from the BL. “From stunning illuminated manuscripts to the earliest surviving will of an English woman, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War will highlight the key role manuscripts played in the transmission of ideas, religion, literature and artistic influences throughout England and across political and geographical boundaries, as well as the sophisticated skill and craftsmanship of the artwork produced at this time.”

The show defies the very idea of “high points,” but here’s a look at six stunning manuscripts you can see in London now through February 19, 2019.  

codex-amiatinus-biblioteca-medicea-laurenziana copy.jpgThe Codex Amiatinus is the earliest surviving complete Bible in Latin, made at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the northeast of England in the early 8th century and taken to Italy in 716 as a gift for the Pope. It will be returning to England for the first time in more than 1,300 years, on loan from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. Credit: Sam Lane Photography

beowulf-british-library-board copy.jpgThe British Library’s unique manuscript of “Beowulf.” It is one of four manuscripts of Old English poetry on exhibit, along with the Vercelli Book, the Exeter Book, and the Junius Manuscript. Credit: British Library Board

domesday-national-archives copy.jpgOn loan from The National Archives is the Domesday Book, the most famous book in English history and the earliest surviving public record. Credit: The National Archives

lindisfarne-gospels.jpgThe Lindisfarne Gospels, pictured here, is one of several outstanding illuminated and decorated manuscripts on display, alongside the St. Augustine Gospels, the Book of Durrow, and the Echternach Gospels. Credit: British Library Board

st-cuthbert-gospel.jpgThe oldest intact European book with its original binding is the St. Cuthbert Gospel, made at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the northeast of England in the early 8th century; it was acquired by the British Library in 2012. Credit: Sam Lane Photography

vespasian-psalter copy.jpgThe Vespasian Psalter includes the oldest translation of part of the Bible into English and depicts two musicians playing similar instruments. Credit: British Library Board

Quite a busy auction week coming up:


On Tuesday, October 23, Mexico City auction house Morton Subastas sells Libros y Documentos: Colección de un Bibliófilo, in 261 lots. Brasseur and Waldeck’s Monuments Anciens du Mexique Palenque et Autres Ruines de l’Ancienne Civilisation du Mexique (1866) rates the top estimate, at 500,000-800,000 pesos (roughly $26,000-41,000). A 1585 Mexico City imprint, Estatutos Generales de Barcelona, could fetch 300,000-400,000 pesos ($16,000-21,000).


Also on Tuesday, Lettres et Manuscrits Autographes at Ader in Paris, in 453 lots. A George Sand manuscript is estimated at €12,000-15,000.



There are some books and manuscripts among the 255 lots in the Arts of the Islamic World sale at Sotheby’s London on Wednesday, October 24. A thirteenth-century two-volume copy of Ibn Sinna (Avicenna)’s Canon of Medicine is estimated at £80,000-120,000, while a volume of surgeon Ibn al-Quff’s commentary on the Canon, also from the thirteenth century, could fetch £70,000-90,000. A manuscript of two astronomical works collected together and copied around 1295 is estimated at £50,000-70,000 (pictured above).


Bonhams Edinburgh hosts the Sporting Sale on Wednesday, in 391 lots. There are some books on angling and so forth at the start of the sale.


Swann Galleries sells Rare & Important Travel Posters on Thursday, October 25, in 232 lots. Emil Cardinaux’s St. Moritz (1918) could fetch $15,000-20,000, and sharing estimates of $12,000-18,000 are Burkhard Mangold’s Winter in Davos (1914) and Philip Zec’s striking By Night Train to Scotland (1932).


Forum Auctions has an online sale of Books and Works on Paper on Thursday, in 126 lots. Lots 1-70 come from the collection of the late Sol Rabb, and lots 115-126 are from the collection of James Stevens Cox, F.S.A.


Finally, and also on Thursday, Heritage Auctions sells Historical Manuscripts, in 301 lots. An Abraham Lincoln letter to George McClellan of October 29, 1862, just a week before McClellan’s sacking, has a $60,000 reserve. A large Civil War archive of Massachusetts cavalryman William B. Arnold has a $14,000 reserve.


Image credit: Sotheby’s

Could Macbeth be to Halloween what A Christmas Carol is to Noël? Based on the number performances starring the Thane of Cawdor this month, all signs seem to point to yes. Among the various renditions, Shakespeare’s tragedy exploring the darkest and bloodiest elements of human nature appears in wildly different venues on either ends of the country this month.




Starting October 20 and running through November 3, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles opens its “immersive” production of Macbeth. Directed by former Royal Shakespeare Company member Kenn Sabberton, The Tragedie of Macbeth is set in a haunted house where audience members walk through the play as it is happening. The show starts in the Shakespeare Center’s parking garage, which stands in for the mysterious witches’ heath, then winds its way through the castle. Pared down to seventy minutes with nine actors playing everyone from Macbeth to Banquo, the intimate nature of the show limits fifty spectators per performance. 

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, catch a glimpse of Macbeth through the fog art installation currently set up at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. Fog x Macbeth takes place on Sunday, October 21 at 5 pm, and like the Shakespeare Center’s adaptation, it is an abridged portrayal. This show is part of a larger exhibition by Japanese fog artist Fujito Nakaya, whose five fog sculptures situated in and around Boston are helping celebrate the twenty-year anniversary of the Emerald Lake Conservancy, a group dedicated to conserving the area’s century-old park system created by Frederick Law Olmstead.




The Actor’s Shakespeare Project  (ASP), a Boston-based theater company whose mission is to share Shakespeare’s immortal words with contemporary audiences, uses an adaptation by playwright Migdalia Cruz, whose full play is on stage now through November 11 at Brookline’s United Parish.


Meanwhile, with jets of gray mist pulsing at various intervals as the backdrop, Sunday’s free presentation will take place on the lawn next to the arboreteum’s Hunnewell building. Audience members are welcome to bring lawn chairs or blankets and are encouraged to dress for the elements. 


And finally, Macbeth was recently staged at a place where both actors and audience members deeply related to the characters they portrayed: Twin Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon. One of the actors portraying Macbeth is currently serving life in prison for murder. (Reporter Noelle Crombie at the Oregonian goes into great detail about the performance and the organizations that bring acting programs to inmates.)


“I have done the deed” takes on new meaning, doesn’t it? 


Photo credit: Nile Scott Shots

On Monday, October 15, there were some notable books and manuscripts at the Sotheby’s New York auction of Gallison Hall: The James F. Scott Collection. In fact, it was a copy of the rare first edition of Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia which garnered the top price of the sale at $300,000 (this copy was previously sold at Sotheby’s as part of the James S. Copley library in 2010 for $254,500). Also selling well were a copy of the 1814 edition of Lewis & Clark’s History of the Expedition ($75,000) and an 1826 Thomas Jefferson letter to Robert Mills about a plan for a monument to George Washington ($43,750).


swann.pngSwann Galleries sold Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books, including Phillippine Imprints, on Tuesday, October 16, in 276 lots. The top lot was a copy of a 1488 Strassburg edition of Mandeville’s history of the world, the seventh printed edition in German: it sold for $106,250 over estimates of just $8,000-12,000. A 1734 navigation manual printed in Manila fetched $55,000 (pictured). At $45,000 were a 1494 Zaragoza edition of Boccaccio’s De claris mulieribus in Spanish, as well as a 1668 Paris edition of Fontaine’s Fables.


Chiswick Auctions sold Travel, Natural History, Sporting & Sciences on Wednesday, October 17, in 289 lots.


On Thursday, October 18, PBA Galleries will sell Modern Literature & Poetry with Books in All Fields, in 558 lots. Among the expected top lots are the Black Sun Press edition of Hart Crane’s The Bridge ($30,000-50,000); a first issue of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, with the dust jacket ($15,000-25,000); and a set of unbound sheets of Lovecraft’s The Shunned House ($7,000-10,000).


Potter & Potter sells Houdiniana on Saturday, October 20, in 438 lots. This sale includes the Houdini collection of John Bushey, as well as additional magic-related books, props, &c.


Image credit: Swann Galleries

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Jessica Jordan of Palo Alto, California, who recently won the second annual Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for women collectors aged 30 and younger.


Jessica_Jordan_Picture.JPG1. Where are you from / where do you live?


I am originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, and I currently live in Palo Alto, California.


2. What do you study at University?


In college I was a triple major in English, Theater, and Classical Civilization. After graduating (Wesleyan, Class of 2013), I worked a little bit in publishing and little bit in bookstores before applying to graduate school. I am now a PhD candidate in literature at Stanford University.


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


This is a surprisingly hard question to answer! Thinking about it has made me realize I have a number of micro-collections in my library. Having run the gamut of book careers - each providing ample opportunity for nearly unrestricted book acquisition - I have a little bit of all kinds of things. I am always excited when I find interesting editions of books I’ve done academic work on, and working at a bookstore in the literary-rich greater Boston area allowed me to grow a fairly substantial collection of signed contemporary literature. My most cohesive areas of collecting are probably works related to artists Leo and Diane Dillon and editions of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare.


4. How many books are in your collection?


I have right about 100 items in my Leo and Diane Dillon collection and 25 editions of Tales of Shakespeare.


5. What was the first book you bought for your collection?


I don’t actually remember. My fascination with the Dillons began when I was very young, looking at their artwork on the covers of Wisechild by Monica Furlong and Sabriel by Garth Nix. It was only when I got older that I started learning more about them and began seeking out their work intentionally. My childhood copies are still part of my collection.


Examining different editions of Tales of Shakespeare began as a final project for a class. I wanted to examine how the Lambs’ preface - which emphasizes that Tales should not replace reading the original Shakespearean plays and suggests the prosification might be particularly helpful for young girls - moved through time. Tales of Shakespeare has never been out of print for over two hundred years! I already had a few copies I had picked up because I thought the idea of rewriting Shakespeare was so odd, and have since added to my collection whenever I run across a copy.


6. How about the most recent book?


One of the fun things about collecting the work of Leo and Diane Dillon is that there is no bibliography to work from. They’ve illustrated everything from picture books to record sleeves to science fiction magazines - and there’s no list, as far as I’ve been able to find. It turns collecting into a process of discovery. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Leo Dillon was an illustrator for Galaxy Science Fiction, but there is no list of issues that contain his work. The magazines themselves aren’t that hard to find online - but you have to physically flip through them one at a time to see if there is any Dillon art in them, and finding them in person is more unusual! I just found seven issues at a book sale with art by Leo Dillon I’d never seen before - March 1957, August 1957, September 1957, October 1957, August 1959, October 1959, and February 1960. A real goldmine! The careers of Leo and Diane Dillon have spanned over fifty years, so it’s really interesting to look at that early work.


I also recently found a fourth edition (in two volumes) of Tales From Shakespeare, from 1822. William Blake did the engravings for the first edition in 1807, and they were still using the same plates fifteen years later, which is pretty cool. The plates are unsigned, so many people don’t realize that Blake did the illustrations.


7. And your favorite book in your collection?


I actually got the chance to meet Diane Dillon last summer at the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts. I was able to speak with her and get her to sign a few things, including her recent picture book, I Can Do Anything! Don’t Tell Me I Can’t (her first book since Leo’s death in 2012). That was a really special experience.


8. Best bargain you’ve found?


I found a Dutch religious text from 1681 - De Waere Kercke Triumpherende Over De Valsche - last summer at a yard sale. It was in a box with some early twentieth century books; I think they were five for a dollar. I picked up a few things that looked interesting, not paying too close attention. I was studying for my qualifying exam, so this was mostly a short sojourn to take a break from my work. I didn’t realize what it was until a few hours later, when I was airing the books out (I think they had been in someone’s basement for a while). It had been rebound in cheap, unmarked black boards - I think everyone just assumed it was an old (but not that old!) Bible.


Is it cheating that that’s not a Leo and Diane Dillon book? I also once found a copy copy of Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears signed by them for .75.


9. How about The One that Got Away?


A few years ago, when it was revealed that J.K. Rowling wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, I happened to find out the news pretty early, before a lot of people had heard about it. I did some quick online ordering and I have a first American edition of the book, but I didn’t think to do a search for the UK edition. If I had, I could have gotten a first edition - perhaps even a signed copy, there were a few floating around - for list price. About twelve hours later I realized what I had done, but it was too late.


No Leo and Diane Dillon books or unusual editions of Tales of Shakespeare have ever escaped my grasp. Since my book collecting happens in the relatively low-rent spaces of thrift stores and library book sales, I don’t usually second-guess my impulse to buy.


10. What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?


I don’t think I have a Holy Grail. Maybe that’s a good thing - once you’d found it, everything else might seem a bit anticlimactic.


11. Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?


I have two favorite bookstores - McKay’s Used Books and CDs, which is my local book haunt in Knoxville, and Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I used to work.


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


I can’t really imagine a scenario in which I didn’t collect books, but probably ephemera - old letters and things.

[Image provided by Jessica Jordan]


A few times a year, we take stock of the most recent books about books that have come across our desk (here’s our spring 2018 list, and a mini summer list too). Here’s what we have for fall: six titles ranging from scholarly to humorous, heavier on non-fiction, and all solid recommendations.

Invention copy.jpgThe Invention of Rare Books: Private Interest and Public Memory, 1600-1840 (Cambridge University Press) by David McKitterick will surely be of interest to FB&C readers, particularly those with an interest in book history. This is a comprehensive and erudite look at how rarity has been defined and measured; McKitterick explores the physical characteristics of “rare” books, the role of private libraries, and the development and significance of bibliographical literature, e.g., trade catalogues and Dibdin’s guides. As noted in the prologue, “The invention of rare books means the selection, creation and development of particular kinds of cultural memory.”

Diary.jpgThe Diary of a Bookseller (Melville House) by Shaun Bythell, owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, is a smart, often very funny, account of a year in the life of a bookshop--and I do mean account: how many customers came into the shop, how much money he took in. Those who regularly haunt used bookstores won’t bat an eye at Bythell’s cantankerousness as he deals with flaky staff members and leaky windows and will be chuffed (this is the UK, after all) when he spots a book signed by Sir Walter Scott at the bottom of a box he had forgotten about. Wigtown, a remote village that has become an international “book town,” is also in the spotlight here, and this book would make an absolutely perfect travel companion for a literary pilgrimage. (We hear the book might become a movie, too.) 

In Search.jpgIn Search of Lost Books: The Forgotten Stories of Eight Mythical Volumes (Pushkin Press) by Georgio van Straten is a captivating little book in which the author recounts his search for books and manuscripts that did exist, or may have existed, of which “with one exception, I have not been able to read,” he writes. From a missing manuscript of a novel by Romano Bilenchi to 130 pages of Sylvia Plath’s unfinished novel that “disappeared,” the chapters are both sad and hopeful. Regarding Walter Benjamin’s lost work, he writes: “There might still be some forgotten, yellowing papers in a wardrobe or an old chest in the attic of a house in Portbou...”

Kafka.jpegSpeaking of lost books, Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy (Norton) by Benjamin Balint takes on the case of Franz Kafka’s manuscripts--Kafka ordered them burned, but instead his friend Max Brod saved them and bequeathed them to his secretary, whose daughter hid them away for decades and then tried to auction them off. A controversial trial ensued. Balint does double duty as both court reporter and literary biographer.

In fiction, we have two suggestions:

OTTO_VOL2_large.jpgBibliomysteries: Volume Two (Pegasus Books) is, of course, a sequel to Otto Penzler’s first collection of such tales, and again he offers the crème de la crème of crime writers. Here we have Peter Lovesey writing about a box of Agatha Christie books that may be priceless, while Ian Rankin spins a yarn about a lost manuscript of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (more lost books!). 

Labyrinth.jpgThe Labyrinth of the Spirits (Harper) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is the latest in his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, after The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven. Full disclosure: I’m way behind in this series and have not yet read this one yet, so all I can say is Ruiz Zafón has well proven his skill at biblio-fiction. The series has been called “a colossal achievement” and “a grand epic.”

Images courtesy of the publishers

Last week saw the return of one of my favorite book fairs -- the annual Amsterdam book fair. This is hosted at the Marriott hotel, by the NVvA, which is the Netherlands branch of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. What better way to start the day than this view of the Reichsmuseum from my hotel room?

amsterdam morning copy.jpgAlthough a relatively small fair (there were 48 exhibitors this year) it is very friendly, and expertly managed by the fair team. The fair is just the right size to spend time at every booth, so you don’t feel that you have missed much. Naturally this leads to me spending far too much money! Every booth had brought their best to Amsterdam, my personal favorite being a huge copy of Oriental Field Sports by William Howitt, on sale at the Aix La Chapelle booth.

oriental field sports-1 copy.jpgOne of the nice touches at Amsterdam is that there is always an event for the exhibitors as part of the stall fee. This year we attended a party hosted by Antiquariaat Schierenberg at Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. Here is Jereon looking somewhat relieved the day after.

schierenberg copy.jpgThe following day saw a return to the fair, and more gazing enviously at other people’s stock, including these fine book boxes on Michael Solder’s stand. It is always good to see friendly faces and other associations attend the fair, and to see the beautiful objects they bring.

solder book copy.jpgSo we are all packed up, and back on the circuit for the next fair. For me this is the Bibliomania fair in Paris. Marcia is extremely worried that a five-day fair here gives me far too many purchasing opportunities. Wish me luck.

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

Postcard from Poetic San Francisco

Blue Angels Bridge.JPG


Last week brought approximately one million people to the Bay Area to celebrate America’s men and women in the Armed Forces at the 37th annual San Francisco Fleet Week. My father served two combat deployments as a naval officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34) in the Tonkin Gulf in 1969 and 1970. For roughly the past decade, he and a group of fellow officers from the carrier known affectionately as The Mighty O have made the annual pilgrimage to the City by the Bay. This year the invitation extended to children and grandchildren, meaning nearly a dozen of us descended on the city to navigate cable cars, relentless hills, and the crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Between watching the Blue Angels maneuver over San Francisco and meeting the elite search, rescue, and detection K-9 squads, there was some time to take in the city’s literary offerings as well, such as stopping by City Lights, the independent bookstore-publisher founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and professor Peter Martin.

After browsing the stacks of the beloved shop, we approached a young couple sitting on the sidewalk behind two well-used Smith-Corona typewriters. Their proposition was simple: for a modest fee, supply a topic and these street poets would compose a rhyme, right on the spot. Curious what a ten-dollar poem would yield, we agreed to the terms. The topic? An ode for my “effervescent” daughter. While the young man in the Yale sweatshirt typed away, his comely assistant paged through a well-worn paperback of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, copying words into a small notebook. “This is my vocabulary list for the day,” explained the UT Austin English literature major.



Ten minutes later, our creation was complete; a poem composed in sprung rhythm--a dynamic form similar to free verse--entitled, “For all the Bubbles in the World,” a celebration of my vivacious, free-spirited child. A few spelling mistakes add to its charm. 


bubbles 1.jpg 

What drew these two to the field of itinerant poetry? “We love sharing our love of poetry with the world,” said the young bard as she closed her book. True to the nature of their profession, the traveling minstrels would soon be packing up and heading to another city--they had recently spent a few weeks at Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA--where they would continue to spread good vibes via inspired verse.

As ever, San Francisco remains a most welcoming place for all walks of life.


Images, from top: SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 5, 2018) The U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, flies over the Golden Gate Bridge during San Francisco Fleet Week (SFFW) 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Burgains/Released). Middle and bottom: Photos of itinerant poets and resulting poem by the author. 

At the end of October, the University of London will host a one-day symposium called Women and the Book, noting that this year, the University of London celebrates the 150th anniversary of women’s first access to university education in Britain with the intake of eight women at Queen Mary College.


Tiffany poster.jpgDespite the fact that men have been granted far more access to education than women over the centuries, and have consequently dominated the world of books, women have been writing for at least over 1,000 years, and have been book owners, readers, and publishers since at least the Middle Ages. Therefore the symposium aims to explore the interaction of women and books in Britain from the Middle Ages to the present, from the time that the book left the printing house: as collectors, owners, readers, and mediators, whether curatorial (librarians) or literary (adapting and translating for new audiences). It aims to enable connections across time and across types of engagement with the book, in discussions covering book, literary, and cultural history.


Guest speakers include Dr. Katie Halsey from University of Stirling, who will be speaking about women reading Jane Austen. Dr. David Pearson from University of London will discuss the women book owners of the seventeenth century. It’s worth sharing that Pearson keeps an open source list-in-progress of notable book owners in the seventeenth century, a superb resource for research in the history of the book and for building an understanding of who was buying and reading books in Britain. 


There are three talks on the early modern period, including a talk about early modern women’s texts by Marie-Louise Coolahan and Mark Empey, a talk on embroidered bookbindings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by Gilly Wraight, and one by Stephanie Fell titled “Women’s Hidden Work: Innovative and Creative Descriptive Practices for the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University.” Fell will be discussing the work of catalogers at Duke to create access to topics of scholarly interest - like women and provenance or women printers.


There are three talks themed on the idea of “Women Striking Out” with Stephanie Meek on the censuring of the woman reader, Karin Winslow, who will speak aobut Bella da Costa Greene, and Alicia Carroll on women and the collection of herbal texts in the twentieth century. 


Sara Charles will speak about Medieval readership of a text from a thirteenth-century priory, and Sophie Defrance will speak about girls’ use of libraries at the beginning of the twentieth century.


There is also tea. Of course. The symposium will be held on October 26, from 9:30 am-6:45 pm, Court Room, First Floor, Senate House, University of London. And tickets can be booked online.

Mara FBC 2.jpgOur Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Mara Goldwyn of Berlin:


Where are you from / where do you live?


West Philadelphia born and raised, I now live in the Kreuzberg 36 neighborhood of the former West Berlin. I’ve been here for the past thirteen years via New York City, Santa Fe, NM, and Madrid, Spain.


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


I like to think of myself as a free-library-haunting punk-auto-didact, but the truth is I have a few completed and almost-completed degrees under my belt: A BA in Spanish literature and Latin American studies, a MA in American Studies from the Freie Universität Berlin, an Associate’s in accessories design and millinery from FIT-NYC, and a certificate from the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS). Occupation-wise I am a creative researcher, artist and writer.


Please introduce us to your book collection. What areas do you collect in? (And please introduce to your occasional selling practices here as well).


My collection is more a practice than a clearly definable thing; I consider it more something I do as an artist than something I have, if that makes sense.


It was conceived late one summer night here in Kreuzberg while the Euro-hordes outside my window were caterwauling and clinking beer bottles. All I wanted was a silent room to read and think at night, with no social pressures to drink, smoke or share my thoughts with anyone. This eventually morphed into a cross-section of ideas, research methods, physical collections and artworks that I call The Night Library.


The mission of The Night Library is to “rewild knowledge acquisition,” and with that in mind I’ve set up various art installations--and produced accompanying ‘zines and poetic catalogs--utilizing the collection and giving people a space in which to be alone and distraction-free with the reading material. The hope is that they take the chance to contemplate that, while there is obvious censorship in totalitarian regimes, we in the so-called free world also need to contend with the self-editing and self-policing that comes with living so much of our lives on the internet. [Some of my work can be explored via The Night Library website.]


There was a conference here in Berlin a while back called “Former West,” and that’s a good description of things that seem to catch my eye: items from the Cold War era that nevertheless frustrate Cold War or binary East-West thinking. Fifteen years outside of the States and thirteen in its capitalist showpiece in Europe, West Berlin, have brought me to a more acute recognition of the extent to which I was brought up in a very specific ideology. That is, I’ve begun to recognize that “our” side has propaganda, too.


It’s fascinating to me how as the “winners” of the Cold War we expect the former East to be so self-analytical and to somehow articulate a teleological narrative of oppression that tells us a story we want to hear ...  that after years of being deprived of bananas, Bruce and blue jeans they were suddenly inspired to be free and tear down the Wall themselves, or something. Yet as Westerners we are excused from any type of self-reflection or summing-up of our own world view. For me, the Night Library has become my chance to see my American, capitalist heritage from the outside. It has become the working-through of my own taboos, the things I for some reason think I shouldn’t be reading--let alone owning.


As for the actual items in the collection, I’ve acquired them during my travels in the Americas, Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia over the past ten years or so. They include: apocalyptic ephemera from Evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses; hypnosis and mind time travel manuals; New Age, self-help, cult, occult and UFO literature; implicitly colonialist tourist guides and ethnographies; promotional literature from fossil-fuel extraction interests in the developing world; sundry reprehensible kitsch, conspiracy theory and pseudoscience. Then there’s the stuff from the ex-Eastern Bloc that the locals are mostly carelessly casting off: old GDR text books, ethno-fairy tales from the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet sphere and keepsakes from various international Communist meetups; Russian and Bulgarian children’s books about outer space and DIY-science magazines; East and West German books, comics, records and movies about American cowboys and especially Indians. Finally, I also have small collections of pre-war German cigarette-card books, American 80’s stationary and greeting cards, Mexican pornographic comics, Melodiya albums (the state-owned record label of the USSR) from Soviet Central Asia especially Uzbekistan and psychedelic fabrics from Azerbaijan.


While I’m sure this all sounds eclectic even given my explanation about Former West, I also always find a sort of dream logic that holds it all together. For example my first “intuitive” sub-collection to go with my “Night Library Rare Concentration Room” installation was entitled “Time Lasso.”


As my collection has been crystallizing, I’ve occasionally offered books for sale, too.


How many books are in your collection?


It’s more than books. We’re talking music, ephemera, postcards and all sorts of printed matter (even on fabric); let’s say I have about 300 items.


What was the first book you bought for your collection?


Didn’t buy but picked up ... a series of illustrated Christian fundamentalist Chick cartoon tracts about the satanic dangers of Halloween.


How about the most recent book?


I found a school notebook on a recent trip to Szczecin, Poland, a city on the border with Germany. It has a thumbs-down smiley-face meme on the cover that says “Keep Calm and Learn Niemiecki.” “Niemiecki” is the Polish word for German. The image pretty much sums up the Polish-German relationship at the moment, with the Poles considering German language skills a sort of necessary evil. 


And your favorite item in your collection?


It’s a tie between a Bulgarian flyer I got handed in Sofia with the Hare Krishna Mantra in Cyrillic; Suve tagasitoomine - Põhja-Ameerika indiaanlaste muinasjutte, a tiny 1986 Estonian children’s book illustrated by Tiiu Allikvee and designed by Silvi Liiva with fairy tales from Native American groups located in regions at the same latitude as Estonia; and a 1987 West German souvenir tote bag from Berlin’s 750th anniversary that is printed with an image of the Radio Tower--the West’s answer to East Berlin’s TV Tower--with an actual working FM radio built into it.


Best bargain you’ve found?


I’m not sure if it would be considered a bargain anymore, but I felt it was at the time: A 1981 first edition of The Computer Speaks: God’s Message to the World, by Rashad Khalifa. In it Khalifa had used computers to do a numerological analysis of the Quran and had discovered a mathematical code involving the number 19. (He was assassinated after a fatwa in 1990.)


How about The One that Got Away?


I am haunted by a bright-green hammered-tin advertisement hanging on the side of a newsstand in Kunming, China, that the nice local students showing us around translated to say “10,000 insects.” I should have risked the 10 minutes of looking like a crazy foreigner to have just bought that thing.


What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?


When I read this question, I think of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” with the father-son team of Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. In the movie the former has been obsessively searching for the Holy Grail his whole life, and when he and Indiana come upon it--though there are a lot of other tacky, bejeweled options--it turns out the authentic Grail is just a peasant’s wooden cup.


I don’t have one item that is the end-all be-all for the collection; I think I would’ve gone for one of the kitschy knock-off grails anyway. In general I find a bit patriarchal the compulsive and competitive pursuit of the Rare, not to mention the ecstatic finish that comes with getting that ONE THING that no one else has. What do I want the Holy Grail for? It’s more about the journey.


Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?


I’m a big admirer of my fellow CABS ‘14 alum Nelson Harst and his Antifurniture collection, which I have watched from afar blossoming from a card table of books and ephemera in downtown NYC to a small empire of design items and actual furniture.

I also have a special place in my heart for my friend Molly Russakoff of Molly’s Books and Records in the Italian Market in Philadelphia. There the good stuff is actually on the shelves!


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


Probably obsolete print-technology gadgets like Xerox machines, label-makers and electric typewriters.


Image credit: Maxfield Gassmann

We were saddened to learn last week of the death of Jay Kislak, an extraordinary collector and a generous philanthropist to several libraries, including the Library of Congress and the Kislak Center for Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania. He also provided the financial backing for the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Kislak was 96.


“Although Jay Kislak often stayed out of the spotlight, his generosity could not keep him there. Whether making a $150 million contribution to the Library of Congress or supporting a fledging book collecting contest for young people, he did much to keep books in the public eye,” said Webb Howell, publisher of Fine Books. “He embodied both scholarship and leadership in the world of books.”

Kislak cover.jpgKislak’s gift to the Library of Congress was the subject of a 2008 cover story in Fine Books. The collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, and artifacts focuses on the Americas and includes 4,000 items spanning three millennia; it was largely built between the 1960s and the 1990s. At the time, he told us, “I’m just interested in studying an area of history that happens to have been neglected, and the books are the things to tell the story.”

Well into his nineties, the New Jersey-born real estate mogul was active in collecting and in contributing to collections. Just last year, his foundation made a donation to the University of Miami and Miami Dade College that included 2,300 rare books, maps, manuscripts, pre-Columbian artifacts, and related material, with its particular focus on Florida, the Caribbean, exploration, navigation, and the early Americas. Each school received a first edition of the famous 1493 letter of Christopher Columbus, in which he describes the New World, as well as a selection of rare and important items. As a whole, the collection was valued at $30 million.

“Like the treasures he collected, Jay was one of a kind. The Kislak Center at the University of Miami Libraries is his legacy and a lasting tribute to his love for our community,” University of Miami President Julio Frenk told the Miami Herald.

Sotheby’s Paris sells the seventh part of the R. & B. L. Library on Tuesday, October 9: First Editions, Reviews, Autograph Letters, and Manuscripts, in 313 lots. One of the very rare 1869 copies of Isidore Lucien Ducasse’s Les chants de Maldoror is estimated at €100,000-150,000, while six Mallarmé poems in manuscript could fetch €80,000-120,000. An 1891 letter from Rimbaud to his sister Isabelle is estimated at €80,000-100,000. A number of other Rimbaud and Mallarmé manuscripts also rate high estimates.


On Wednesday, October 10, Chiswick Auctions holds a sale of Autographs & Memorabilia, in 314 lots. Among the expected top lots are a December 1948 letter by Wallis Simpson (£5,000-7,000); a letter from Lord Nelson to Sir William Hamilton (£4,000-6,000); an original typed indictment from the Nuremberg Trials (£3,000-4,000); and a Charles Darwin letter to his cousin (£3,000-4,000).



At PBA Galleries on Thursday, October 11, PBA Galleries sells Rare Golf Books & Memorabilia, in 234 lots. The rare 1891 Duffers’ Golf Club Papers, in original wrappers, is estimated at $20,000-25,000. An 1873 volume of “golfing verse,” Blackheath Golfing Lays, could sell for $10,000-15,000. Also on offer is the only known copy of the program for the 1910 U.S. Amateur Championship ($7,000-10,000), and a wooden measuring device from the Manchester Golf Club (also $7,000-10,000; pictured above).


Image credit: PBA Galleries

Regular readers of Fine Books, in print and online, need no introduction to A.N. Devers, who not only writes for us but, in having recently launched her own rare book business, has also been featured as a Bright Young Bookseller. The Second Shelf focuses on “rare books, modern first editions, and rediscovered work by and about women writers.”

43184097_344543259445971_5108191311656124416_n.jpgThe Second Shelf has just released its first catalogue, which is unlike any rare book catalogue any of us has ever seen. For a few years in an earlier iteration of this blog, I wrote weekly catalogue reviews, but that sputtered out as I saw the same format, and sometimes the same books, over and over again. What makes The Second Shelf: A Quarterly of Rare Books stick out -- and makes it worthy of reviving the Friday catalogue review -- is its unique design: part catalogue, and part literary magazine.   

The literary components include pieces of writing about women by women, including essays by TJ Jarrett on Gwendolyn Brooks and Nell Stevens on Elizabeth Gaskell, the latter illustrated with lush photography by Jo Emmerson. There’s also an original poem by Ariana Reines, commissioned by The Second Shelf to address one of the catalogue’s highlights: Sylvia Plath’s tartan plaid skirt (price £12,500; $16,350).

As a catalogue, here are some of the offerings that caught my eye: a Robert Indiana lithograph of a costume design for Gertrude Stein (£800; $1,050). There’s a set of super charming hand-painted folk art dominoes dating to 1901 (£800; $1,050). There are some excellent editions of Austen, Bronte, and Du Maurier, as well. And, in addition to the tartan skirt and some other Plath memorabilia, there’s a privately printed, spiral-bound book from 1989 called Last Encounters (£575; $750), written by Plath’s neighbor Trevor Thomas Bedford, and which portrayed Ted Hughes in a bad light. Hughes took Bedford to court and attempted to have all copies of the book destroyed. Plath’s brown sleeveless dress, priced at £2,600 ($3,400), has already sold, according to Devers.

Speaking of what has sold so far, Devers has placed some Miriam Tlali editions in a library, as well as an edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “My favorite thing in the catalogue is a Boots’ library copy of Patricia Highsmith, which we hung by a noose and the noose is included, and it sold!” There has also been interest in a collection of eleven Yayoi Kusama first editions.

The catalogue hasn’t been fully distributed yet--it’s still landing in mailboxes around the world. Devers printed 2,000 copies, of which half are spoken for in sales of single issues and subscriptions. A free trade list without the essays and features can be obtained by signing up for the Second Shelf newsletter, said Devers.

Devers, who was featured in Vanity Fair this week, is also founding a shop in London at 14 Smiths Court. She expects to open in mid-November.

Photo by Rebecca Rego Barry

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first in J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster fantasy series starring a young wizard and his friends. Today, the New-York Historical Society welcomes the British Library’s exhibition dedicated to exploring the magic and mythology at the core of the Potter books. Harry Potter: A History of Magic features manuscripts, magical objects, and other treasures hailing from the archives of the British Library, Scholastic (Harry Potter’s publisher), and the author herself. The New York show also features new items not on display in England, such as the pastel illustrations for the original editions of the book and costumes from the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.                                                                                                                                                                    

To get you started, here are top six must-see picks in the exhibition:


1. Jacob Meydenbach, [H]ortus Sanitatis. Mainz, 1491. © British Library Board

Before Wikipedia, there were encyclopedias. This one is the world’s first encyclopedias dedicated to natural history. Harry reads this to learn about growing mandrakes--a plant believed to possess magical healing powers. (The ancient Romans used it as an anesthetic.)


11 harry-potter-jacob-meydenbach.jpg


2. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook. Italy, ca. 1506-08 ©British Library Board


There’s plenty of stargazing in the Potter books, and museum curators included da Vinci’s notebook in the exhibit to inspire young astronomers and scientists of the future. 


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3. The Ripley Scroll, detail England, ca. 1570. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University


This cryptic, twelve-foot alchemical roll decodes the elixir for eternal life and was the inspiration for the first book in the Potter series. One copy recently sold at auction for nearly $800,000.  


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4. Oracle bones. China. ca 1600-1046 BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Give of A.W. Bahr, 1923.

The oldest artifact in the exhibition, these bones, believed by the ancient Chinese to be of dragon extraction, were used over 3,000 years ago to predict the future. 


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5. Robert John Thornton. The Temple of Flora. London, 1807. The LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden. 


Mandrakes, mermaid’s wineglass, wolfsbane--all common plants found in any self-respecting medieval herbalist’s repertoir. Harry’s longtime sidekick Neville Longbottom is a star herbologist and would no doubt consult volumes like this. 


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6. Tombstone of Nicolas Flamel. Paris, 15th century © Paris, Musée de Cluny - Musée national du Moyen Âge. 


Nicholas Flamel was the fourteenth-century scribe and manuscript dealer who dedicated much of his life to decoding the Philosopher’s Stone. Though he didn’t find the secret recipe to eternal life, Flamel lived well into his eighties. He even designed his own tombstone that was originally housed in the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie until it was destroyed in the French Revolution. 


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Harry Potter: A History of Magic runs now through January 27, 2019. Tickets and more information may be found here

Word from London: During the VIP Preview Day yesterday at Frieze Masters, Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books sold an extremely rare, imperial Book of Hours known as “The Wedding Hours” to a private collector for an estimated €3 million ($3.45 million). The Swiss bookseller called it “a highly important work of cultural heritage and is of exceptional historical and art-historical value.”

Hours_Sforza_Milan_1493_68-69_JudgementSolomon-Vesper.jpgThis manuscript on vellum was illuminated by the Master of Anna Sforza in Milan in 1493. It contains 235 leaves, with fifteen full-page miniatures, fourteen of which are accompanied by an elaborately decorated text-page with full, historiated borders. It was created as a wedding gift for Bianca Maria Sforza (1472-1510) upon her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor elect, Maximilian I of Austria-Habsburg. According to the bookseller, “The book was commissioned by the noblewoman’s uncle, Ludovico ‘Il Moro’ Sforza and not only testifies to the high level of Renaissance art made for the Sforza family in Milan, but also shows how art was used to link social, religious, and political life. The famed marriage by proxy between the niece of the Duke of Milan and the Emperor’s son was celebrated with great pomp in Milan on the 30th of November 1493. The entire manuscript is lavishly illuminated with opulent Renaissance motifs in gold and saturated colours.”

Frieze Masters is happening now through Sunday.

Image courtesy of Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Alyssa Carver, archivist with Douglas County Libraries in Colorado.

Stacks-1.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I am an archivist at Douglas County Libraries in the state of Colorado--and, as of a month ago, I am DCL’s first “Head Archivist.” The Archives and Local History department is fairly young, having only existed since 1992 (right around the time the county began its trend toward exponential annual population growth). We collect all sorts of material about Douglas County, which is not unusual, but the fact that we manage closed stacks, reference, and circulating local history collections might be surprising. At least it was for me! I have been with DCL for less than a year, hired on to a small team with lots of autonomy and very little structure. We have since reorganized ourselves into something that looks more like a ‘department’ in order to streamline collection management processes and be more efficient. At this point, a really big part of my job is just figuring out what all this means in the context of the larger institution, and trying to keep us afloat through a weird transition period. Because my background is in cataloging and processing, descriptive strategy and collection control is my top priority: that means everything from shopping for a new CMS to deciding which MARC tags should used in our bib records. Going forward, I’m also really excited about the opportunity to shape our collection development policy and make more deliberate, transparent curatorial decisions. Previously, I think our collecting method was much more passive and intuitive--after all, this was a small, close-knit, agricultural community not long ago. It’s easier in that context to identify what’s significant enough to preserve. Whereas now, we’ve got to figure out what’s meaningful to a population 1,000% larger than it was a century ago and made up almost entirely of highly mobile, suburban-dwelling transplants. It’s actually kind of an exciting problem to have.


How did you get started in rare books?

To preface, I’d like to acknowledge that “rare” books is a slightly problematic term. I usually say something like historic or antiquarian books, or just special collections. And my reason is not just for the sake of being pedantic, but in fact totally related to my first encounter with rare books. My backstory is that I got into the field of librarianship so accidentally that for many years I didn’t even realize that’s what happened. It started during my freshman year of college when I saw a posting for a work-study job at something called the Yiddish Book Center, which was located near campus (in Amherst, Massachusetts). I thought, “Well, I like books,” although I didn’t know anything about Yiddish--like most people on the planet today. But the history of Yiddish literature turns out to be a perfect object lesson in why book history matters and illustrates the role that institutions play in collective memory-making. To summarize briefly: after WWII, the global population of native Yiddish speakers was greatly diminished and geographically displaced. And when that population aged and continued to decrease, there was a point at which it looked like Yiddish was a dying language. When the YBC began collecting Yiddish books in the 1980s, academics estimated that relatively few remained. Instead, the YBC collected more than a million volumes in the first few years. I don’t know why, but for some reason they hired me and taught me Hebrew letters and kept me around for awhile. I was so naive then that it didn’t occur to me that I was doing library-ish work, because I’d never seen special collections before and my idea of a library was a place where you borrow novels.

Now I have come to appreciate the experience of working outside of the traditional academic library environment. It’s important to recognize that value is always subjective and even the concept of scarcity is contextual. And we, professional librarians, archivists, and curators, need to remember that we don’t automatically get it right. This is why I’m passionate about representation and diversity in the historical record, and it’s the foundation of my approach to collection development.  


Where did you earn your MLS?

I got my MLIS degree from Pratt Institute, along with certificates in archives and museum libraries, in New York City. (I also have another MFA I got during that sad interim when I didn’t know that a library degree would help me get a job working with old books.)

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is so difficult! And I feel like this is disloyal, but my favorite items are going to be from Penn State Special Collections (my previous employer), because A) DCL’s collections are smaller and more contemporary, and B) I’m still in the process of getting to know the collections here. I have two favorites from PSU. One is a book of decorative monograms that I became very fond of after using it for a couple of typography classes: A New Book of Cyphers: Containing in General All Names Interwoven, & Revers’d, by Alphabet, by Benjamin Rhodes, 1723. It’s a lovely book, not especially remarkable for an 18th-century specimen, but there’s something so visually arresting about the emblems. Even the students who couldn’t be bothered to look up from their phones for any other fantastic artifact would get excited about this one. And the first thing anyone does with this book is look up their own initials. The other most beautiful thing I’ve ever gotten to play with was this deck of cards designed and illustrated by artist Laura Davidson: all hand printed, painted and gilt, tucked into a handmade wooden box. (“Flora and Fauna,” edition of 20, 2008.) She transformed the card suits into fruits and insects and set them in these dreamy garden scenes. It’s hard for me to explain my love for this, aside from it being lovely and delightful, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it’s reinterpreting something familiar in a contemporary and unabashedly feminine way.

What do you personally collect?

Oh no, this is another hard question. I am such a collector at heart that I really have to keep myself in check to make sure I don’t turn into a full-blown hoarder. One of the rules I force myself to follow is that anything I collect has to be A) cheap and B) small (preferably). This rule is practical for many reasons (like moving around a lot in my student years and not really having money), but I am also generally fond of ephemera and often attracted to things that other people don’t like (meaning, I am specifically interested in something because no one else is). I have been collecting zines and zine-like stuff since I was a teenager: low-budget comics, poetry chapbooks, flyers, religious tracts. I like to collect local ephemera when I travel. And subject-wise my interests are pretty broad, but I’ve noticed they tend towards interesting design elements, illustrations, alphabets, symbols, and anything that consists of listing things in any kind of order: encyclopedias, slang dictionaries, guides to the mystical properties of gems and crystals, descriptions of other collectors collections, etc.  

What do you like to do outside of work?

Someday soon I hope I get the hang of this management stuff, because it’s a lot of work right now. In theory, I’d like to take advantage of the fact that I live in the beautiful state of Colorado but at the moment I reside inside an archival vault. (Okay, I may be exaggerating a little.)

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I think rare books and special collections speak to me because they focus on materiality and specific artifacts. I’m not a Luddite--and I deeply appreciate technology that allows us to communicate and access information all over the world--but I crave the fixity of physical things. Which sounds weird to say, because of course objects deteriorate over time. But at least they are static enough, fixed in time long enough, to examine from different angles, to discuss, to withstand interrogation from different points of view. I guess I am skeptical of information that lacks a defined form.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship, particularly in public libraries?

Because I am new to the public library environment, I’m still trying to figure this out. In a general sense, I think that special collections ARE the future of librarianship (in terms of collection material, not services). As other resources become more universally available and more homogeneous, it’s the unique, local collections that will become more significant, more central to their respective communities. On the other hand, I worry about the financial stability of public libraries in less affluent districts than the one where I work. Special collections are expensive to maintain and complicated to explain, and I think this makes them vulnerable to administrations struggling with budget cuts. (Or the library can’t afford any special collections or archives to begin with.) One of the things that I hope young and/or early career librarians are learning is how to advocate: for themselves, their collections, their patrons’ needs. I cannot stress enough how important this is for any special collections program to succeed. You need to be ready at any moment to explain your budget requests, argue for your value, defend your facilities requirements, and translate your librarian-ese into language an executive director or trustee can understand.

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

I’m still discovering what’s hidden in the far corners of the stacks, but there are some wonderful surprises. At my last job, I worked primarily with graphic design collections, and in that context “brand book” has a specific meaning, quite different from the brand books here. These are essentially directories of registered cattle brands for all the ranches in a region or specific area. I have become sort of fascinated by these--they’re like visual dictionaries of alien hieroglyphics! You might have been able to predict by now that this is exactly the kind of thing I would nerd out on, but I surprised myself by being so interested in something related to cattle ranching (which is not my area of expertise, in case that wasn’t clear.)  

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

I’m still figuring out how we do exhibits here! I have exactly one display case and what’s in there right now is a thematic grouping of Visually Interesting Stuff I Found While Cleaning Out The Vault. Working on some ideas about seasonal rotation and the possibility of community involvement (highlighting student research or history projects) so... stay tuned?

[Image provided by Alyssa Carver]

This past weekend and through yesterday, Brooklyn-based book artist Doug Beube offered his neighborhood a look at Dissolve, his latest sculptural bookwork, an “environmentally sensitive” piece that focuses on two books encased in blocks of ice.

Dissolve 01a.jpegHe explained in a statement: “One book is Arab and Jew; Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land by David K. Shipler and the other is The High Walls of Jerusalem by Roland Sanders. The word ABRAHAM is carved into the books--A-B-R on the left side and A-H-A-M, on the other. As the ice melts, the water is captured by two steel plinths that drain into one tank. The water is dispensed into bottles with labels that read dis/SOLUTION.”

Dissolve 02.jpeg“Abraham” references the religious leader, and “Carving ABR/AHAM into the two books that are frozen represents a combative discourse in which one side no longer hears the other--a form of censorship... As the ice dissolves and the water is collected, the knowledge and contents of the authors’ insights are comingled, becoming an unexpurgated dialogue. Water, and metaphorically dialogue, is a precious resource for both peoples in an arid land, which might be sprinkled onto the terrain to nourish a solution for peace and the prosperity.”

Dissolve 04.jpegBeube studied photography at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY, before moving into collage, papermaking, and bookbinding. His bookworks have included Seed Book (1980), made from straw paper, seeded pulp, and hemp twine; Pocket Book (1992), in which two books -- one philosophy, one mystery -- are encased in green leather and sealed with brass zippers; and Facebook (2009), an altered phonebook that can be used as a mask. He has used frozen books in other installations, as well, including 1988’s Chair of Censorship and 2014’s Melt. Beube published a collection of his work in 2011 titled Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex. He was also featured in a column written by fellow book artist Richard Minsky in our winter 2014 issue, as well as on our blog.

Images: Installation of Dissolve by Doug Beube. Altered book, ice, metal stand, glass bottles. 68 x 112 x 16 inches, 2018. Courtesy of Doug Beube.

Lyon & Turnbull sells Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs on Tuesday, October 2, in 419 lots. A complete copy of Baschieri and Gazzadi’s Zoologia Morale (1843-1846; pictured below) is estimated at £5,000-7,000, while a 1565 Venice edition of Mattioli’s Commentarii could fetch £4,000-6,000. At the same estimate is a special copy of J.K. Rowling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard, inscribed by Rowling.



At Dominic Winter Auctioneers on Wednesday, October 3, Printed Books, Maps & Prints, in 536 lots. Saint-Non’s Voyage Pittoresque de Naples et de Sicile (1781-1786), nearly complete, could sell for £5,000-8,000. An album containing forty-three caricatures by Cruikshank, Gillray, Rowlandson and others is estimated at £3,000-5,000. Some other notable lots include a collection of about 150 “Baxter prints” (£600-900), and a copy of the marvelous 1900 satirical political caricature map “John Bull And His Friends” (£2,000-3,000).


There are a few books among the 309 lots in Creating a Stage: The Collection of Marsha and Robin Williams, to be sold at Sotheby’s New York on Thursday, October 4. See Rebecca’s post from last week for an overview.


Also on Thursday, PBA Galleries sells Americana - Travel & Exploration - World History - Cartography, in 517 lots. Note that lots 365-517 are being sold without reserve. A mixed set of the octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America rates the top estimate, at $30,000-50,000. A copy of the first octavo edition of McKenney & Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America is estimated at $10,000-15,000. A couple other interesting lots include a manuscript volume of Gold Rush-era songs and an 1852 Gold Rush diary (both estimated at $3,000-5,000).


And Saturday sees a special, inaugural auction of Music & Dance: Rare Scores, Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Signed Photographs, Prints and Drawings hosted by antiquarian booksellers J & J Lubrano.


Image credit: Lyon & Turnbull

Auction Guide