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Boston Rare Book Week Preview: Blake Etchings


The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair opens today, the perfect prompt to preview one of the show’s incredible highlights, courtesy of John Windle: two original etchings from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and a single relief etching of the poem “Holy Thursday.”

First, a little background: In the 1780s, Blake revived the art of manuscript illumination, believing, in part, that the Industrial Revolution had degraded an art form into nothing more than a simple commodity. In response, Blake and his wife Catherine painstakingly printed, bound, and hand colored each book he produced. Few originals survive--only nine copies of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell are known to exist, for example. Slightly more endure--forty, to be precise--of Songs of Innocence, the first of Blake’s illuminated works and is a celebration of youthful innocence. 

                                                                                                                                                                                    Windle’s interest in Blake began in the 1960s when he worked for famed London book dealer Bernard Quaritch, which led to Windle’s opening of a San Francisco gallery devoted entirely to the 18th-century poet. Richard Davies at ABEbooks recently visited the Blake Gallery and spoke with Windle, which you can read here

The two plates at the Boston book fair hail from Copy Y, an incomplete copy that resurfaced in Cologne, Germany, in 1980. Printed in light brown on separate sheets with extensive hand-coloring in watercolor and additions in black ink, the two etchings are available for $250,000.

Also available from John Windle is a single sheet relief etching from Songs of Innocence called “Holy Thursday.” This plate comes from Copy W, one of Blake’s proof printings for Songs of Innocence and is considered one of the earliest existing examples of Blake’s attempts at illuminated printing. The poem itself refers to Ascension Day, when London orphanages traditionally washed, dressed, and paraded thousands of their charges to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a special ceremony, and the verses contrast the brilliant ceremony with the bleak, somber reality that awaited the children afterwards. “Holy Thursday” is available for $150,000.

                                                                                                                                                                                     Images courtesy of John Windle

Rosenthal picture 1.jpg                                                                                                                                   

In January, bookseller Bernard Rosenthal passed away in Oakland, California, at the age of 96. Rosenthal was born in Munich in 1920 into a family of booksellers known throughout the industry as the “Rosenthal Dynasty.” Part of the massive exodus of Jewish antiquarian booksellers from Germany during the Nazi regime--the “gentle invaders” as Rosenthal called them--he ended up in New York, where he set up shop in the 1950s. Rosenthal eventually moved to Berkeley, where he focused on medieval manuscripts and early printed books. (For more on Rosenthal and fellow emigré booksellers of the early 20th century, read Nick Basbanes’ chapter “Hunters and Gatherers” in Patience & Fortitude.) Rosenthal’s catalogs became the stuff of legend in the antiquarian world, in which he described easily overlooked details and craftsmanship that only came to light after careful examination of the item at hand. “We have committed the cardinal sin of the bookseller: we have READ most of these books...which has, however, brought some surprising results,” Rosenthal wrote in one of his early catalogs.

Now, in memoriam to Rosenthal and his life’s work, California-based booksellers Nick Aretakis, Ian Jackson, and Ben Kinmont have recently announced the publication of a new biography. Entitled Bernard M. Rosenthal (Berkeley: The Wednesday Table), the book examines Rosenthal’s contributions to the antiquarian bookselling trade. Written by fellow bookseller and longtime friend Ian Jackson, the bibliography traces Rosenthal’s life and career, while also highlighting the bookseller’s ability to thrive in a notoriously difficult and expensive industry. 

Hand-stitched in printed dark-gray wrappers, printed on letterpress by Richard Seibert, and issued in a limited-edition run of 400 numbered copies, the folio-sized book is available for $60. Contact Nick Aretakis at, Ian Jackson at, or Ben Kinmont at to order. Required reading for antiquarian booksellers and historians alike.

“A rather scarce little book, in fine condition with the map,” was how Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then governor of New York, described--and inscribed on the book’s pastedown--his first edition of William H. Colyer’s Sketches of the North River (1838), alongside his name and “Executive Mansion, 1930.”

FDR-book-intro.jpgAccording to its seller, the Raab Collection in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, the slim volume derives from the gubernatorial library of FDR, governor of New York from 1929 until he won the US presidential election in 1932. It is an uncommon book, made more uncommon by its provenance: “This is our first time offering a book from FDR’s personal library in many years.” It is priced at $4,000.

FDR famously hailed from Hyde Park, New York, where his presidential library and museum is now located. He was also a voracious collector. According to the FDR Library, “From an early age he gathered large collections of stamps, ship models, rare books, prints, coins, and drawings. By the time of his election as President, he had amassed one of the nation’s finest collections of naval art and impressive collections of Hudson River Valley art and historical prints.”

Looks like this is one that got away!  

Image courtesy of Raab Collection

ciociaria_cover.jpgThe autumn issue of Fine Books features a survey of photobook collecting, past and present. For the section on contemporary photobooks, we spoke to the founder of the Indie Photobook Library (now at Yale) and featured the work of Douglas Stockdale. The cover of his 2011 photobook, Ciociaria, appears on page 33 (and here at right). But Stockdale isn’t only a photographer, he’s also the founder, editor, and publisher of The PhotoBook Journal (TPBJ).

Based in Southern California, TPBJ is an online journal that promotes “the international photographic community,” primarily by posting reviews of contemporary photobooks and artist’s books that cover a range of subjects and formats. Since its founding in 2008, the journal has published more than 450 book reviews, garnering attention for limited editions, self-published artist’s books, and trade art books alike. “With few exceptions, most books reviewed are first editions, and we provide a pulse on current photobook trends,” according to TPBJ’s fact sheet.  

If this is an area of collecting interest, we direct you to TPBJ here, or to its Facebook page.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Image courtesy of Douglas Stockdale

A couple years ago, I was sitting at my desk in a rented space of the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space, edited by former Paris Review editor Brigid Hughes, where I had once worked as an assistant editor, but had since become a tenant as a freelance writer in need of a desk, when I overheard plans for their forthcoming issue focused on forgotten writers who happened to be women. I became intrigued by one of Hughes’s rediscovered authors, her memoir plucked on the $1 bookshelf at Housing Works in New York City, a woman named Bette Howland, who had published a memoir and two collections of stories, won a MacArthur Genius grant, was a friend and part-time lover of Saul Bellow, and wondered, like Hughes did, why I had never heard of her. I ended up writing a short piece for Lit Hub about A Public Space’s efforts to find and published work by her--and I ended up buying all her first editions online, most for only a few dollars.

                                                                                                                                                                         This is a far too regular a rhetorical question I end up asking silently about women writers who produced serious and accomplished work during their lives, before fading quite quickly from the spotlight, from cultural conversation. And it is a similar problem in rare books, something I saw simultaneously as I started writing for Fine Books and attending rare book fairs, at one of which I bought a first edition Joan Didion for no more than $20, and then checked the price of her neighbor on the bookshelf, Cormac McCarthy, and couldn’t believe it was over five or six hundred. It didn’t bother me that the McCarthy was so expensive. It bothered me that Didion was so cheap. I also observed that the majority of book buyers were men, and majority of sellers were men, and started to realize that that is a part of the problem in terms of getting women the proper respect in their distinguished lives and afterlives if it is primarily men deciding the market and the value.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Since around this time I started to dream up a business focused on books by women, and am now dipping my toe in the rare book trade for the first time with a small selection of books by and about women. The business is called The Second Shelf, after an excellent essay by Meg Wolitzer in the New York Times Book Review--I wrote to her and she gave me permission to use the title for my small venture. I hope to encourage women to buy more first editions and rare books, and also to help find and give occassion to celebrate the best women writers, and the forgotten women writers, including the Bette Howlands who should not be written out of literary history so easily.

                                                                                                                                                                                           It is common knowledge in the publishing world that women buy and read more books. It’s also common knowledge that men don’t tend to read books by women. The market for books by women must include far more women collectors, in order for their books and legacies to share space on the top shelf.

                                                                                                                                                                                 I’ll be sharing some offerings from booksellers exhibiting at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair tomorrow highlighting some underappreciated and important women writers in the spirit of The Second Shelf. 

Endpaper Renaissance

Endpaper art is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Back in 2012, Rebecca Barry profiled British professional marbler Jemma Lewis here on the FB blog, and after our recent story in the fall print issue about the revival of endpapers, we thought it was time to check back in with Lewis and see what she’s been up to. We also heard from Julie Farquhar, the production manager at the Folio Society who produced the 2017 limited edition of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories and which feature Lewis’ endpapers, seen below.


You’ve been credited with being at the vanguard of a rekindled love of marbled, handmade endpapers. What drew you to this profession?

                                                                                                                                                   Lewis: I studied Textile Art at Norwich school of Art & Design and have always had a love for color, surface pattern, and design. My progression to becoming a paper marbler was actually via local bookbinders where I worked for several years in the offices, before going to train with the lady who supplied us with marbled paper.


How do you approach a book project? Is there a desire to match the marbling in some way with the text?

                                                                                                                                                  Lewis: We love to take our inspiration from the book itself, whether that be the title, the illustrations, or a design that ties in with how the book is being bound. In the instance of The Call of the Cthulhu, the purple and green spots were inspired by the two-tone iridescent book cloth used in the casing. Coming up with bespoke designs is one of my favorite parts of the marbling process.


Why do you think there’s a renewed fascination with endpaper decoration?

                                                                                                                                                      Lewis: In the 18th century, marbled papers were the endpaper of choice for beautiful fine bindings. The use of marbled papers has once again seen a resurgence as people appreciate the craftsmanship involved and the many wonderful variations marbling can offer. Marbling is a heritage craft, but the designs and color-ways are no longer restricted to the traditional designs and darker palettes. We use bright base papers, metallic paints, and a contemporary palette.

                                                                                                                                              Farquhar: Endpapers present a good opportunity for additional embellishment or illustration--a double page spread at the very start and end of the book which would otherwise be plain. They can be used to create a mood or a feeling for the entire book, be more specific to the text, or just be purely decorative and enhance the appeal of the overall book design.

                                                                                                                                                       I think people love marbled endpapers as it is all part of the current appeal for the hand-crafted way of producing beautiful bespoke items on a small scale. The colors and patterns feel quite different to conventionally printed endpapers.


Some endpapers are bolder and more expressive than the book jackets--why do you suppose that is?

                                                                                                                                                           Lewis: I think there is something very exciting about opening up what appears to be a fairly plain book and seeing colored marbled endpapers on the inside!

                                                                                                                                            Farquhar: I agree with Jemma. If you are binding with a certain type of cloth or leather and you want to show the natural texture or weave of the cloth or grain of the leather, then your binding design may be quite simple. Or, perhaps the content of the book may merit a simple, classic, perhaps typographic binding design. The endpapers at the very start and end of the book present a great opportunity for embellishment or convey a certain mood and atmosphere while providing an unexpected wow factor.


Check out the fall 2017 print issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine for more on the endpaper renaissance, including a conversation with geometric endpaper enthusiast (and New Yorker illustrator) Bob Staake

I sat down for lunch with my friend Phil and gave him some news that he found shocking: I told him I was thinking hard about selling my once-treasured personal library. I was ready to let it all go -- every rare book about the American Revolution, a small collection of artifacts like a wrought iron camp stove, my big oil on canvas painting of George815.JPG
Washington and other Revolutionary art, my antique chairs, secretary, revolving book cases. My Henry David Thoreau corner, too. I was tired of it, I told him. I never spend time in the library anymore; I never crack a book. The collection I spent the last two decades assembling sat abandoned, my passion snuffed out. I might as well sell it and put the money into something else.

Phil listened patiently, taking time to digest our pile of hamburgers and chicken wings along with what I just told him. He took a slow sip of water and told me that my idea was the dumbest one I had ever conceived. He said that I had clearly been down in the dumps lately and that I should not make such a momentous decision in that state of mind. 

I promised him that I would give myself some time to see if I felt differently later. I shelved the conversation and went back to work running my antiques and collectibles business (and some rare books, too).

My girlfriend Won-ok and I then suddenly moved to a new house. It has a family room built onto it that features floor-to-ceiling recessed book shelves along one wall. It’s bathed in natural light from multiple windows and couldn’t be more perfectly suited for a library. The room struck me as a blank canvas, a chance to create something new. We unloaded our truck and I spent three days setting up my library before I even trifled with things like beds, kitchen utensils, and the like. I was shocked by the fervor the work unleashed. We invited Phil over to take a look. He was blown away. He said the room felt equal parts library, museum and salon. He was kind enough not to say, “I told you so.”

837.JPG Won-ok and I continued unpacking and began hosting social gatherings even as we worked. Everyone naturally gravitated to the library without me ushering them in. We sat for hours and spoke of politics, the news of the day, what our family members were doing, how our careers were going. We talked about old times. People asked me about my books, artifacts and art. They even began to read the books, too. I started reading again myself. I began reconnecting with dear friends including John and Abigail Adams, Ben Franklin and of course the General himself. I began to remember all the things I loved about collecting the American Revolution.

My modest library was more beautiful than it had ever been. I also realized that a huge part of my new joy came from the fact that, unlike the case in my previous dwelling, my library and every other room was not overwhelmed with excess merchandise from our business. Won-ok and I may not have mutually pledged “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor” but we did vow not to let any merchandise invade any part of our new home. It could go in our huge new basement office but not anywhere else. Not even for a day.

Won-ok and I unloaded all kinds of other clutter during the move. Our new home felt like a normal house once again. I kept on reading the Washington Post in my library every morning before work and playing with my books in the evening. I started writing again, too--“clocking out” of my basement office and retiring to the main floor so that I could get creative in my clean, sunny library.

I could not have been more excited to attend the 2017 Washington Antiquarian Book Fair on April 28-29. I was thrilled to return to the hunt of collecting and have the chance to again talk shop with the book dealing world. I even donned one of my all-time favorite t-shirts featuring an Edward Gorey illustration and a caption that reads “Real men read.” The shirt starts conversations everywhere I go, but I certainly didn’t anticipate the one I would have at WABF. Dealer Larry Rakow of Wonderland Books stopped me in my tracks.002.JPG “I designed that shirt!” he said, in clear disbelief to see someone still wearing one nearly 15 years after he created it. Running another company at the time, he asked children’s illustrators to submit work he could use to make t-shirts to promote reading. Famed illustrators like Gorey sent in their work and Rakow developed language for them.

“I realized most t-shirts and items about books were aimed at patrons who were women as they’re dominant in the professions of teaching and libraries,” he told me. “I thought it was time we should start producing shirts that spoke to men, too. That was back when phrases like ‘Real men eat quiche’ were popular. I thought, ‘No, real men don’t eat quiche. Real men read!”

I felt a little star-struck, standing there in the presence of a man whose work has given me so much joy over the years. The one I had on was actually my second; I wore out the first over the years. I couldn’t resist the urge to do a quick video interview with Rakow about the “Real men read” shirt.

I returned to my quest for books to buy and began exploring other opportunities to again immerse myself in the world of Fine Books & Collections. I had a great conversation with Amanda Zimmerman, who has one of my dream jobs as a librarian in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room at the Library of Congress -- my favorite place on the planet. She moonlights as volunteer for the Washington Rare Book Group. Its members include everyone from professional book folks to everyday folks who just love books. I couldn’t sign up for its e-mail list fast enough. I also picked up a brochure from Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Some guys dream of going to a Major League Baseball fantasy camp; I dream of going to a five-day program to study the history of books and printing.

I was so happy to be traipsing around WABF losing myself in the world of old books again that I didn’t notice that something had caught Won-ok’s attention. After years of kindly spending time with me as I enjoyed my hobby but never catching the fever herself, she spotted a book that Rakow had on display: The Speaking Picture Book: A Special Book with Picture, Rhyme and Sound for Little People. The finely crafted book was made in Germany in the 1800s and features nine pulls that you can tug and that miraculously still produce farm animal sounds. (See the book in action in this quick video.) 

021.JPG“If I made more money, I’d like to buy that book,” she told me over our WABF lunch break. I was stunned. She had never purchased an antiquarian book yet there she sat talking about diving right into the deep end of the pool. “I’ve never let that stop me before,” I said. “If you love it, let’s go back and get it before someone else does.”

We sprang from the table and raced back to our new friend Rakow. I couldn’t have been more proud or excited to see Won-ok buy her first rare book. I also couldn’t believe she out-spent me on the day.

Won-ok and I left the fair and eagerly headed home to place our prized new possessions in our prized new library. My love for the room and for old books has been completely reborn--and now there are two of us!

Former journalist Christopher Lancette lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is thrilled to again be contributing to Fine Books & Collections.


The Alchemy of Book Art: 8 Works by Tim Ely

Master bookbinder Tim Ely’s elaborate art books are sophisticated otherworldly mash-ups of landscapes, diagrams, and architecture meant to inspire and provoke. The Snohomish, Washington native has been making books for almost his entire life, finding inspiration on heaven and in earth, fusing science and art with paper and ink. Contemporary art bookbinding specialist Abby Schoolman Books recently prepared a catalog of eight of his art books entitled Timothy C. Ely 8 Books.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Cover for Bones of the Book. Photo courtsey of Abby Schoolman Books.

                                                                                                                                                                   If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Ely pops up frequently here on the FB&C blog, and he was featured in the winter 2011 print issue, as well. His mastery of bookbinding techniques coupled with artistic innovation follow in the footsteps of monastic illuminators and bookbinders, continuing the long legacy of book arts. “Beyond deep reading, I have found that the best way to become informed about an event or gather a bit of enlightenment is to make an expressive book,” Ely says in the catalog. 

Close-up of Ely’s binding technique. Photo courtesy of Abby Schoolman Books.

Some of the books are biographical, such as Bones of the Book ($100,000), in which Ely examines when his parents met at a paper mill, and how this serendipitous association of people and paper somehow led the artist to a lifelong fascination with the art of the book. “Bones of the Book reflects my identity as a maker of things, bones as structural supports, and how that metaphor maps itself onto the cultural object/artifact of the book,” Ely writes. Other creations are more speculative, ruminations on mechanical worlds in outer space, the transmission of thought, and the alchemy of creating spellbinding objects. No matter how you look at them, each is a multidimensional, multisensory work of art.

Timothy C. Ely 8 Books is available through Amazon. Contact Abby Schoolman Books for further information.

A Bibliophile in the Nursery

Late June is always hectic around here: Half-days at school throw off daily routines, and packing my daughter for camp is often a multi-day, multi-sensory experience that fails to disappoint. And this year, we’ve also decided to update our woefully inadequate home office. Demolition and construction are slated to take place over the summer while the house is empty, which meant completely emptying the workroom of its contents.

Disassembling the 19th-century partner desk was easy enough--they certainly don’t make beasts like this handmade 36-inch oak escritoire anymore--but taking the bookshelves apart and removing their load was, as perhaps you readers can imagine, no simple manoeuver.

My current bookshelves are simple, sturdy, pre-fab birch planks, and though they’ve served faithfully for many years, I need more room. A common complaint I heard from my parents growing up, I face the same need for greater shelf space.

Now, those pre-fab stacks crowd a small antechamber on our second level, reshelved. I’m surrounded by books on every floor.

Home sweet home.

Construction offers a rare opportunity to cull, to deacquisition books deemed no longer fit for duty, or that would find better use elsewhere, on someone else’s bookshelf. Unlike my father, whose archive spans decades, my collection is more modest in size and scope, but still impressive enough to give the uninitiated pause when they first visit. (To see what it’s like parting with truly amazing books, read my father’s ode to packing up his library in the spring issue of Fine Books and Collections.)

The beginning stages of deaccession are the hardest, but once a rhythm is established, I dare say a certain ruthlessness prevails. Mass-market paperbacks are an easy toss--though I’m still on the lookout for my dog-eared, highlighted-to-hell Hachette softcover edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, especially now that it’s no longer in production.

Despite an initial urge to purge, bibliophilia got the better of me, and most books are back on the shelves where they originated. I rediscovered some lost treasures throughout the process: A 1970 publication of Squirrels of North America by Dorcas MacClintock left me scratching my head until I discovered the author was a fellow Smith grad. Stamped a “regional discard” by the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System, Squirrels retains its due date envelope and cards pasted to the back flyleaf, and was last borrowed from the Upton Public Library in June 1995. My nature-loving daughter adores the charming renderings of marmots and prairie dogs, and now claims the book as her own.

My sweetest find was Bibliophile in the Nursery: A Bookman’s Treasure of Collectors’ Lore on Old and Rare Children’s Books. This “profusely illustrated” first-edition is rich in advice for collectors of children’s books; a delightful mix of historical essays, lists, and biographical notation, with entries by such authorities as folklorists Iona and Peter Opie; collector Elisabeth Ball, whose donations are now found in the Morgan Library, the Lilly Library, and the Free Library; and Houghton Library’s librarian emeritus W.H. Bond.

The empty office is a refreshing palate cleanser, but I’m already looking forward to fall and to filling the new shelves with old favorites.


By Georgios Jakobides - Bonhams London, 20 May 2008, lot 22, Public Domain,

MANHATTAN, May 24--The Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the setting for a daylong symposium dedicated to exploring the history, design, and manufacture of late 19th to early 20th century American publishers’ book covers, as well as bookbinders’ influence on decorative bookbinding and other artistic movements. Over 125 collectors, curators, librarians, binders, and preservationists also gathered to celebrate the recent acquisition of American decorated publishers’ bindings by the Met’s Watson Library.


Book cover design by Alice Cordelia Morse. Written by Paul Leicester Ford -, Public Domain,


After an introduction by the Met’s head preservation librarian Mindell Dubansky, Richard Minsky took the podium. The Center for Book Arts founder offered compelling evidence for how American book designers such as Alice Cordelia Morse and Amy Richards formed the vanguard of major artistic movements like Art Deco and Surrealism. Senior book conservator at the Northeast Document Conservation Center Todd Pattison explored the role of women in book production and the industrialization of 19th Century American publishers’ bindings. Met curators, including Dubansky and Holly Phillips, spoke about the museum’s vast collections dedicated to decorative bookbindings. Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen discussed the influence of stained glass window design on decorative book cover creators.

Women played a huge, if often overlooked role, in the creation of books, and the symposium’s speakers highlighted women’s achievements in nearly every presentation. During the late 1800s, many women were employed in binderies; folding, sewing, trimming, and stitching books in factories in Philadelphia, Hartford, and New York City. A smaller group of women, such as Alice C. Morse, Sarah Wyman Whitman, and Margaret Armstrong, were primarily responsible for producing beautiful decorative bindings, and maintained successful careers in an ever-evolving industry. Their selection of color palettes, design, and style contributed to the growing field of decorative arts and led the way for future generations of artists.

A closing reception in the Watson library, where original botany watercolors by Margaret Armstrong were on display, put the finishing touches on an illuminating event.

Our current print issue includes a profile of novelist Ransom Riggs, which is also now available online. Today, we are posting the full interview with Riggs, which had been condensed into a digest piece for the print issue. Riggs is the author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its recently released sequel Hollow City.  Additional photographs that Riggs sent us have also been included:

Tell us a bit about your found photography collection. For example, what criteria do you use to purchase photographs?  Where do you do your hunting - online / at shops? How many photographs do you own? 

I own a few thousand snapshots, which is small by the standards of most collectors I know. I generally only buy photos I think I may actually be able to use in a book one day.  I need that focus when buying, because without it I’d just buy everything and my house would be overrun with bucket loads of snapshots; there are just too many beautiful images in the world, and I’d need to own them all. I look for photos that have interesting captions written on the fronts or backs (as were featured in my book Talking Pictures), photos of inexplicable and strange things (for my Peculiar Children novels), landscape photos and action shots that have a certain cinematic quality about them, and photos of very, very interesting people. Many of the characters in my books also show up in the photographs, and to make the cut they have to be evocative -- I like it when there’s something in their eyes or their manner that lifts the photo beyond the average snapshot and connects you to the person; when the photograph tells you something about the character that I can’t describe in words. 

I started collecting in earnest a few years ago, scouring the big flea markets and swap meets of Los Angeles (we have many), as there are always a couple of vintage photo dealers at each. Through those dealers, I started meeting photo collectors -- people with very nice, well-curated collections, several of whom very kindly let me comb through their photos for things I might use in my books. I’ve also spent time online on the photo-sharing site Flickr, where there are a number of collectors who put scans of their finds up for all to see, and now and then I buy photos through eBay and Etsy. 

When did you start your collection?  Was there an “a-ha” moment where you just knew that’s what you wanted to collect? Or did it evolve more gradually?

It started about four years ago, when I found myself at the Rose Bowl Swap Meet up in Pasadena (just north of downtown Los Angeles), and I happened upon a booth where a gentleman named Leonard Lightfoot was selling vintage snapshots. I’d seen other vintage snaps for sale in the backs of antique stores and second hand shops, but always lumped together in big, disorganized piles, most of which was undistinguished junk. Leonard’s photos were different. Rather than bins of thousands, he only had a few hundred photos for sale, each one displayed in a hard plastic case. It was clear he’d gone through thousands and thousands of photos to whittle out these few hundred, and as I flipped through them, I came across so many arresting images. That was my a-ha moment: when I realized that the world was full of beautiful-but-orphaned images like these, and that there were people out there like Leonard who took it upon themselves to go through the great masses of uninteresting photos to find the few that really sang -- and I started to get excited. I wanted to find them, too, and own them, and save them from the oblivion of dumpsters and landfills. To be my own curator of lost photographic folk art. 

What are a couple of your favorite photographs in your collection? Please include a scan of them if possible.

I have lots of favorite “peculiar” photographs, but as I have to save them for future books, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite non-peculiar photos. The first three are photos I thought were simply beautiful, or in the case of “Viva Kennedy” reminded me of some of my favorite street photographers -- not photos I thought I’d be able to use in my books, but which I couldn’t resist adding to my collection anyway.


Tell us a bit about the genesis of Miss Peregrine. How did the idea germinate to build a novel around these found photographs?

It came about right after I started collecting photographs. Though still in its infancy, my collection seemed to fall clearly into two categories: slightly creepy photos that reminded me of Edward Gorey illustrations, and photos with interesting captions written on the front or backs. These split into two separate book ideas: a coffee-table book that used the caption photos, and a narrative fiction book that incorporated the Gorey-esque snapshots. I brought the “peculiar” photos to my editor at Quirk Books -- I’d done one other book with them, a nonfiction book about Sherlock Holmes -- and I asked him what he thought. I wasn’t sure if it should be a book of short stories, or maybe some Gorey-esque poems ... not in my wildest dreams had I thought about writing a novel. I’d never attempted one before, and Quirk didn’t publish much fiction. But after looking through the photos I’d collected, my editor suggested I write a novel using the photos. I leapt on the idea. My collection was small then, and I knew I’d need many, many more photos to choose from while writing, so I started contacting and meeting with other collectors. Robert E. Jackson became a good friend and helped me immensely; half the photos in Miss Peregrine belonged to him. Also Peter J. Cohen and Roselyn Leibowitz in New York, John Van Noate in North Carolina, David Bass in Wisconsin, and many others. I started out knowing nothing about the world of snapshot collecting, and collectors came out of the woodwork to share their knowledge and their photographs with me. I’m grateful to them.

Tell us a bit about Hollow City, its sequel.  What can we expect from it?

The story picks up right where the first novel ends, with the children rowing their little boats into the unknown. They travel far and wide on a mission to save their headmistress, meeting peculiars, exploring time-loops, and battling monsters along the way. And there are fifty more vintage snapshots sprinkled throughout the text. 

Tell us a bit about Talking Pictures. It’s the dream of many collectors to have their collection profiled in such a great showcase. How did that book come about?  Do you plan on a sequel?

The concept came about at the same time as Miss Peregrine, but it took longer to find a publisher, and longer still to complete and print the book. It was a labor of love. I must’ve looked through a million photos -- no exaggeration -- before settling on the two hundred or so that are in Talking Pictures. It was really hard to make that final selection, and there are many more I wish I could’ve included. As for a sequel, while I do have more good caption photos, I don’t have enough for a second book yet, and it takes so long to find good ones ... I need to concentrate on Miss Peregrine for awhile, but maybe one day! 

Hollow City will be your second novel illustrated by found photographs. For your second time out, did you collect photographs purposefully for use in the novel?  Or did you build the story around photos you’d already collected?

This time the story definitely drove which photos I collected. With the first novel, I could let my imagination go and take the story anywhere I wanted to -- and thus let the photos drive the story in many ways -- but this time the story already had an arc of its own, and I only had so much wiggle room. Despite that, I did find many wonderful photos that sparked characters and scenes that I never would’ve imagined otherwise, so there was still quite a bit of the images influencing the story, if not as much as there was the first time around.

Have you noticed an increase in interest in found photography collections since the popularity of Miss Peregrine? Are good pieces harder to find / more expensive as a result?

It’s hard to tell! I don’t think Miss Peregrine changed the snapshot market at all, although I do frequently get emails from fans who tell me they’re going to start collections of their own. I also hear from people who say they’ve been collecting for years. I’ve learned there are many more collectors out there than I ever realized. But no, I wouldn’t say things are getting more expensive or that the good stuff’s been getting harder to find. I’ve never really been interested in the vintage photos people pay lots of money for -- civil war tintypes or old daguerrotypes of famous people. Nor do I have any interest in the really gross, dark stuff that some people pay top-dollar, like post-mortem photos of babies (yuck) or press photos of old murder scenes or whatever. I collect in these little niches most other people don’t care about -- dark-and-weird-but-fun -- and photos that have been written on, which a lot of sellers think hurts their value. All of which is good news for me! 

Haute Culture Press is a small press based in Stockholm, Sweden with a unique publishing vision. Their goal is to translate European classics into English and distribute them internationally. To fund these efforts, Haute Culture produces rare or “luxury” editions of European classics which are financially supported by “Book Angels” who purchase a luxury edition and then receive 100 (or more) free eBooks of the title to distribute to people or institutions of their choice. We interviewed the CEO of Haute Culture, Luis de Miranda, over e-mail:

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When was Haute Culture founded and where are you based?

Haute Culture is a brand of Kreell AB, a company I founded in April 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden, along with our designer Linda Ayres, although we might move to the UK later this year.

The rest of the team include Jamie Schwartz, our editor, Jean-Sébastien Hongre and Olivier Rieu, early investors and Simon Carney, our PR.

Tell us about your publishing vision; about why you formed Haute Culture:

Our aim is summed up in a two-word slogan: content sublimation.

First of all we only publish masterpieces where the author has taken the collective reality and transformed it into sublime text. Secondly, the first form we use are handmade, precious, rare editions, so we materialize those masterpieces into a sublime object. Thirdly, this device, this ‘dispositif’ allows us to create a free viral distribution of the e-book version of the text and that’s another sublimation, a passage from the solid state to the gaseous, digital state.

I created Haute Culture because I believe it to be a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a company that could contribute to the beauty of the world by sublimation. This is a form of alchemy applied to book publishing.

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Tell us about the concept of book angels and your publishing model in general:

Book Angels allow the sublimation process to take place by pre-ordering the precious material version of the book. That helps us finance the translation, the production of the print edition and the distribution of free e-books. Book Angels are the mini-Medici of our venture, a sponsor that can have his or her name acknowledged in the book.

They’re also enlightened collectors, as we promise never to make more than 500 physical books in order to remain within the limits of a limited edition and in doing so create an object whose value increases year after year. No real alchemy can function without the breath of an angel.

Introduce our readers to Tammsarre’s “Truth and Justice.” How did you come to choose that novel for your first publication?

In fact our first publication was a Flaubert tale, Felicity, in December 2013. In 2014 we plan to publish two books: The Sublimes, by Yuri Mamleyev and Truth and Justice, by Anton Hansen Tammsaare.

The first one (not necessary chronologically), whose original title is Chatuny, is a masterpiece of Russian literature written in the late 1960s by an author who is still alive today and considered by younger Russian writers as the new Dostoyevsky. It’s a horrible and sublime novel about the quest for the absolute truth.

The second is the most important Estonian novel ever written, by an author who is now part of the cultural heritage of the Estonian nation and has his own statue in the middle of Tallinn. It’s a earthy novel about the struggle for a new territory, written in the 1930s. A very universal theme. To my great astonishment neither of these books have been published in English before.


Please describe the luxury edition of “Truth and Justice.”

I prefer to talk about a ‘rare edition’ rather than ‘luxury edition’ as our goal isn’t to be “bling-bling”, but to create a highly-designed artistic object that shares a deep connection with the text and the title. So we might use earthy materials to reflect the setting of the novel for example.

We’re still working on the final version though as we think we can improve on the first prototypes we made a few months ago. If you want to get an idea of our work, have a look at our limited edition of Felicity, which is on sale in Assouline boutiques in London, New York, Los Angeles and Paris.

Harold Holzer’s new book “The Civil War in 50 Objects” tells the story of Civil War by examining 50 objects in the collections of the New-York Historical Society. Holzer, a renowned Lincoln scholar, is also the Senior Vice President for Public Affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a Roger Hertog Fellow at the New-York Historical Society. We recently interviewed Holzer over email about his new book:

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Tell us a bit about the genesis of this book:

The idea for the book came to me from the New-York Historical Society, where I serve as Roger Hertog Fellow.  President and CEO Louise Mirrer asked if I would be interested--the answer was an immediate “probably”--and Louise then invited me to come to the museum on Central Park West and have a look at the original objects themselves.  It was absolutely the best behind-the-scenes museum tour I’ve ever taken--and from that moment it was an enthusiastic “yes.”  I was lucky to have been asked; this was a privilege, not just an opportunity.

Of the 50 objects profiled in the book, do you have a particular favorite?

It’s difficult to choose a favorite, but because I’ve spent so many years writing about Lincoln, I think the discovery of an unknown handwritten Lincoln piece was pretty sensational for me--in this case a little memo he scribbled one day in the War Department telegraph office assessing how many electoral votes he might be able to amass on Election Day 1864--a kind of desperate “path to victory” chart written at the low point of his campaign for re-election--which by the way calculated that at best he would win a second term by only a couple of electoral votes.  How extraordinary to picture him there, maybe during a lull between telegrams from the battlefront, wondering whether he--the Union commander-in-chief--would be given another four years to finish the work of saving the Union and destroying slavery.  I think another “favorite”--an odd word for it because it’s so horrifying--is a manacle once used to restrain a slave child.  It’s a painful reminder that behind the bravado of secession, there was a determination to preserve a sickeningly cruel institution.

I’m sure it was hard to limit this book to 50 objects.  Any “deleted scenes” we could restore in this interview?  Are there a couple of objects you would have really liked to include but had to cut?

I think we really got the major highlights included.  Is there enough for a second book? Absolutely--the Historical Society owns a million or so pieces devoted to the Civil War--but no one who buys “50 Objects” should think we left any icons in the files.

You write in the preface of the “heroic survival” of some of these pieces. Was there any particularly dramatic story of survival here?  Did any of the objects survive against all odds?

I am amazed, speaking from a purely preservation point of view, that a complete Zouave military uniform could survive intact under any circumstances, and with all its vivid reds and blues as sparkling as when its brave owner wore it at Antietam--what a target he must have been in that outfit!  The piece that might easily have gotten away from the collection, I suppose, was the half-model of the USS Monitor that its builder owned--more avaricious descendants might have sold this icon at a profit.  Same for the signed Appomattox surrender terms, a copy owned by Col. Ely Parker, an American Indian who served on Grant’s staff.  Parker’s widow sent it elsewhere, but it eventually made its way to the N-YHS--a real treasure.  Just think of it: this is the guy with whom Lee shook hands after he’d surrendered his army--but glared at because, no doubt, it crashed his entire world down to see a person of color on the winning side.  Lee said to him, “I’m glad there’s at least one real American here.”  To which Parker gutsily shot back: “General, today we’re all Americans.”

How about the actually missing objects... Is there a Civil War object that you know existed during the War, but has since disappeared, that you would love the NYHS to get its hands on?

Well, for all Lincoln enthusiasts, it’s the long-lost letter to the widow Lydia Bixby, offering condolences for the loss of five sons fighting for the Union.  As it turned out, some of her sons had survived, Mrs. Bixby was an anti-Lincoln Democrat, and the letter may have been drafted and written out by the president’s secretary John Hay.  Until; we find the original., we won’t know for sure.  But maybe Mrs. Bixby threw it into the fire!

I really like the idea of telling history through surviving material objects. Do you think this approach would work well for other areas of history?  Or is the Civil War uniquely situated to be interpreted in this way?

I actually think the strategy worked before our book appeared--with the fine “History of the World in 100 Objects” from the British Museum and its great director Neil Macgregor--and in a new history of America from the Smithsonian.  Objects tell the story so well--in part because people treasured them so--and of course as long as these projects give historians an opportunity comment, what better way to tell our collective story?

Are you a collector of material objects yourself?  If so, what do you collect?

I actually started out collecting Lincoln engravings and lithographs more than 40 years ago.  I never kept up with it, but I keep some on my walls and they were the starting point of my writing--they interested me so much I started researching their origins, the artists who produced them, and the political and commercial circumstances that inspired them, so I guess, for me, “objects” were a way into the field, rather than academe.  Today I think my most treasured pieces are two modern works that I keep in my office--a breathtakingly beautiful new Lincoln sculpture by a young New York artist named Frank Porcu--which had a nice exhibit at the New-York Historical Society earlier this year--and a magnificent watercolor of Lincoln by a New Yorker who is an institution in his own right--an artist in several creative genres--the great Tony Bennett.

You can purchase Holzer’s book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

Searching for Serendipity in Cyberspace

Recently I wrote about the Folio Society’s new edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and Other Stories. (Check out some of the book’s illustrations here and the story here Greenaway Medal winner Grahame Baker Smith created the illustrations.  

After my story went up,  I wandered the Twittersphere until I unintentionally stumbled upon the illustrator’s Twitter handle. In 140 characters I asked him if he would discuss perfecting his craft, inspiration, and future projects. He agreed, and below is our conversation, happily unrestricted by character limits.


THE SELFISH GIANT Copyright © 2013 by Grahame Baker-Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London. 

Could you tell me how you prepared for this commission?

A couple of coincidences actually prepared me for this commission, not the other way around. In early 2012 I was reading Richard Ellmann’s biography of Wilde, (a fabulous work of literature in its own right) which chronicles the extraordinary and poignant life story of Wilde.  At that time I also received a letter from a man named Nicholas Wilde inquiring about the illustrations I made for the 2011 Folio edition of Pinocchio. Nicholas Wilde is a book collector and he particularly enjoys illustrated editions. We exchanged a few letters before I finally asked if he was by any chance related to Mr. Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. In fact, he is very distant cousin, and suggested that I ask Folio if they would like to do an edition of Oscar’s stories. Since the Folio Society is always open to suggestions they seized the opportunity.

What inspired your illustrations for this book?

The stories are what inspired me, it’s always the story and then - after lots of reading and making notes - I just start drawing and see what happens.

How long did it take to complete the images?

Each image took about a week to a week and a half, spread out over a period of about six months.

You are self taught. Can you describe how you became an artist?

I always loved art at school but didn’t get great marks for it (or anything else). I had a couple of jobs after leaving school but soon realised the ‘work’ thing wasn’t going to light me up! A period of unemployment became a time of complete obsession with drawing and painting. Sometimes it was very lonely, but my dream of doing this - and only this - became a powerful motivating force to practice, practice, practice and get good, something I’m still trying to do. So, I didn’t really become an artist - there just wasn’t an option to do anything else with my life! I still feel the same now, there is a cost in following your dreams but any other path seemed to me as a waste of life.

Do you have a favorite medium?

I have worked in most mediums at various times in my career - acrylic, watercolor, gouache, pastel, charcoal pen and ink. When I started using Photoshop five or six years ago I found it incredibly exciting to be able to mix virtually anything together. I still use a lot of drawing and other traditional methods, but usually it all gets filtered and composited through Photoshop.  For example, I used Photoshop techniques in the Wilde illustrations. It’s a part of the process now, just as drawing or painting is. 

What would you like to illustrate next?

I would love to illustrate some Edgar Allen Poe next, and do more fiction book covers, for some reason I don’t often get asked to do them. I’m also writing a novel for Templar (who published FArTHER) which will have black and white illustrations.

What are you working on now? 

I have formed a company called MisFits with my wife Linda, who is also an illustrator and designer. It’s a family affair; our 17 year old son is a brilliant coder for iOS and is helping us tremendously. We are using MisFits to develop story apps for iPad. We create apps from the idea phase to story, plot the flow-through and wireframe it, create the interface, artwork and animation and then code in the function and interactivity - all in-house! This is a really interesting challenge and it is amazing to weave animation and sound into a story. In terms of the artwork, we maintain the same standards as are applied to print books.  We are also actively finding other ways around the awful ‘page turn’ effect, a totally redundant feature in page-less applications.

I feel the creative possibilities are enormous but it seems a very natural progression to make. We want to make something beautiful and hopefully inspiring - that goal never changes.

I’m not turning my back on books though. I love books more and more as I get older and feel there is an awful lot more to do in print. I never want to give up illustrating books. To me, every day, it is a great joy and privilege to be involved in the world of story-telling.


Yesterday was Labor Day, a holiday founded in the aftermath of the Pullman Strike to celebrate “the social and economic achievements of American workers.” It has since become synonymous with the last weekend of the summer, a final time to light the barbeque and visit the lakeside cabin before the kids go back to school.  Over the weekend, I interviewed Lorne Bair, a bookseller specializing in the history of labor and social movements, about his impression of Labor Day and his thoughts on building a Labor Day book collection:


Does Labor Day have any extra significance to you as a bookseller specializing in social movements and labor history?

Interesting you should ask, because, you know, Labor Day is a strictly American phenomenon and, in a sense, it’s an invention of Capital, not Labor. Labor Day had been celebrated unofficially by workers’ groups as early as 1882, beginning in New York City, but the firstofficial (i.e. government-sanctioned) celebration of Labor Day in the U.S. was in 1894, the result of a bill sponsored by President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland had spent that summer breaking the Pullman Railway Strike, probably the largest and certainly among the most violent labor conflicts in America up to that time. It was a huge strike, involving something like 70% of the entire American railroad workforce (something like a quarter-million workers!), and it was a just strike -- George Pullman was notoriously anti-Labor, and a terrible prick; looking back, it’s hard to take his side in this conflict no matter how you feel about organized labor! What you need to know is that all Pullman employees were required to live in a planned community, built by Pullman himself -- it was called Pullmantown, and it was on the outskirts of Chicago. Workers had to live in Company housing, and they had to buy their food and dry goods at Company stores. So, earlier in 1894, in response to lost revenues as a result of the Panic of 1893, the Pullman Company had begun laying off and cutting the pay of its workers. “Fair enough,” you might say -- after all, there was less product being built -- but at the same time the Company decided to raise the rents on workers’ company-owned houses and to raise prices at the company-owned stores! Remember: the workers had no choice in the matter; many were already in debt to the Company, so they couldn’t even leave!  The workers sought to negotiate, and even invited arbitration - but Boss Pullman would have none of it! Real robber baron stuff. So the workers struck, and then the ARU -- the American Railway Union -- struck in sympathy, crippling the railways and instantly tanking the country’s recovery from the 1893 recession. It was a great strike, and it would certainly have succeeded had the National Guard, under Cleveland’s orders, not sided with Company thugs to help break it. 

Anyway, the mid-term election campaigns of 1894 happened to coincide with the end of the Pullman strike, and the Democrats realized they were going to lose a lot of seats if they didn’t figure out a way to get Labor on their side, quick. So right after the strike was broken they rushed through the bill that established Labor Day. It didn’t do much for the Democrats in 1894, and Cleveland’s political legacy was pretty much repudiated in the Presidential election of ‘96, but the holiday stuck. So that is where Labor Day comes from! 

I would point out that, beginning in 1886, most Americans celebrated “labor day” at the same time as the rest of the world -- that would be May 1st, May Day, which is still widely celebrated as the International Day of the Worker. Problem is, that “labor day” was established to commemorate the martyrs of the Haymarket Massacre of 1886, and has always been associated with radicalism and revolutionary change -- not a legacy that American civic and political leaders wished to perpetuate in the American memory, especially not on the heels of a large and violent strike! So one of the imperatives behind the official establishment of thenew Labor Day was to de-radicalize the celebration of American Labor; to detach the movement from its revolutionary roots. So most radicals I’m acquainted with have their realcelebrations on May Day and think of Labor Day as sort of a dark footnote to labor history. Because, what the day is really celebrating is the triumph of Capital over Labor, right? It should be called Pullman Day! 

One interesting side-note: the Great Pullman Strike of 1894 is also the event that put Eugene Debs, then head of the ARU, on the map as a national figure. Even better, as a result of his famous intransigence in that strike, he was thrown in jail for 6 months -- he spent that 6 months reading Marx, and emerged a committed Socialist, probably the greatest socialist leader we’ve had in this country. He ran for President 4 times.

If someone wanted to build a Labor Day book collection, what would be some key titles to include? I wonder too if there is enough Labor Day material to build a collection around or if it would necessarily dovetail into a labor history collection, or, alternatively, a U. S. holidays collection.  I think the intersection of the two is interesting, but I’m not sure what’s out there...

Well, yes, I think a Labor Day collection could be very interesting indeed, whether on its own or as part of a larger group of material. A particularly interesting approach, it seems to me, would be to juxtapose two collections: the literature that has grown up around May Day versus that of Labor Day. The first would (or could) be a much larger collection, since May Day is internationalist in nature and has generated a great deal of iconography in nearly every culture except our own. Labor Day on the other hand, being a quasi-patriotic holiday, but one with such an interesting (if flawed) origin, has generated comparatively less literature, much of it rather tepid at that. What I would look for would not be books -- there are relatively few relating to Labor Day itself, and there are are rather tepid -- but rather the rich and often very regional genre of ephemera that the holiday has produced. Of particular interest would be material pre-dating the “official” government sanctioning of the holiday. What would I look for? Well, Labor Day from the beginning has always been a great occasion for parades, concerts, and public speechifying, so I would keep my eye out for broadsides, photographs, postcards, posters, concert programs, menus -- anything that reflected the real interaction of the American working class with this holiday that had been established just for them. Here’s the kind of thing I mean, courtesy of Duke University’s Special Collections: 

Or, another example, recently sold at auction - I like this one because it combines a sort of Ideal Worker iconography with the sort of patriotic top-down rhetoric you (thankfully) don’t hear much anymore. I mean, that tag line -- “All Right Thinking Americans are Constructive Workers” -- sheesh. It brings chills:

So, yes, there’s simply tons of material out there - not books, necessarily, but ephemera, graphics, and other non-traditional material and print culture -- and one could make a really stunning collection out of it.  As far as I know, no one is really doing so - at least, not among my customers. I never get requests for “Labor Day” material (whereas I get many, many requests for May Day material). Which says to me that it’s a wide-open collecting niche, just the sort of thing I’d be looking for if I wanted to assemble an interesting collection that hadn’t already been “done” to death! 

Another interesting place to start would be to collect the literature and ephemera of the Pullman Strike itself, and that is certainly a colorful area to collect! The 1890s were already an era of sensational publishing and yellow journalism, so as you might imagine the strike practically spawned a publishing industry of its own. Dozens of books - none of them especially worthwhile from an historical standpoint - and hundreds of pamphlets, magazine articles, leaflets, broadsides and other little bits of ephemera -- were produced between 1893 and 1895. I think my favorite Pullman-related item is a little book by H.H. Van Meter called The Vanishing Fair : A poem about the destruction by fire of most of the Exposition’s buildings during the Pullman Strike of July 1894 (Chicago: Literary Art Co., 1894), about the destruction of the Chicago World’s Fair grounds, one of the less felicitous after-effects of the strike. It’s a nicely printed, thin quarto volume, filled with sensational illustrations and some of the most horrid poetry you can imagine. It is exceedingly uncommon; I’ve only had one copy, and that was some years ago - but I always keep my eyes open for it! If one wanted a semi-reliable contemporary account of the strike, its antecedents and its aftermath, I would probably recommend William Carwardine’s The Pullman Strike (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1894) -- reliably pro-labor, and issued by a socialist publishing house, so undoubtedly a little biased. But trust me -- the pro-Company accounts are worse! They’re simply lies. Interesting lies, maybe, but lies nonetheless; you really can’t believe a thing they say! 

That said, there was published in 1893, before the strike, an exceedingly interesting (and now nearly unprocurable) little volume by a Mrs. Duane Doty, called The Town of Pullman: its growth with brief accounts of its industries (T.P. Struhsacker, 1893). This was a company-sponsored (so obviously decidedly pro-Pullman) account, but it is important for offering a detailed portrait of the architecture, social hierarchy, and economic structure of one of America’s first full-scale company towns. It included a folding plan. I’ve sold one copy in my career, but a very nice reprint was done in the Seventies which can be had for not too much money. It’s an interesting read. 

And then, of course, there’s the whole government angle: it’s been traditional for Presidents to issue Proclamations on Labor Day, usually some sort of lukewarm endorsement of organized labor and all it has done to make America Great (after all, right thinking Americans are Constructive Workers...).  Most of them have been published in some form, often as pamphlets by the Government Printing Office...wouldn’t a substantial run of these make for interesting comparisons? (note I didn’t say “interesting reading”). And, though I’ve never seen it or sought it out, there must have been some print and/or manuscript culture that devolved from the Cleveland administration during the process of founding the first Labor Day.  I’d look for that, and for any House & Senate speeches that may have been published, for or against. Congressmen were always printing up their speeches to distribute among their constituents back home, to make it look like they were busy during their months in Washington.

As  you can see, I could go on all day, but I won’t. My basic feeling about collecting is that practically any subject area, no matter how seemingly obscure or ephemeral, generates a sufficient print culture that one can construct a meaningful, fascinating, and informative collection around it. This is the sort of collecting I try to encourage my customers to do -- because as I’ve said elsewhere, history begins on the ground, with someone picking up a scrap of paper and then going on to make it mean something. And that act of discovery is a function that collectors perform that no one else in society performs! It’s important, and inspiring, and it’s why I continue to do what I do.

Many thanks to Lorne Bair for speaking with us.  Visit his website or check out his blog.
We recently interviewed E. Richard McKinstry, Library Director at Winterthur Museum, about Charles Magnus, the 19th century lithographer, and the subject of McKinstry’s new biography out now with Oak Knoll Press.

Let’s start with a basic intro: Who was Charles Magnus?

Charles Magnus was a printer and storekeeper who was active in New York City for the last 50 or so years of the 1800s. He was born in Elberfeld, Germany in 1826 and came to the United States in 1848 possibly as a result of the political upheavals in Europe at the time. Magnus was always regard as a mapmaker, first because of a momentous project, his Commercial Atlas of the World, and then because he published so many other maps. But, he also issued what we today call paper ephemera: songsheets, illustrated letterheads, greeting cards (especially comic valentines), puzzles, games, decorated envelopes, bird’s eye views of cities, prints, and so on. And, he published a few books. Magnus supported the Union during the American Civil War through his imprints. He may not have created different products during the war, but he certainly adapted what he printed to promote the North. Envelopes became patriotic in nature and lettersheets and songsheets featured battle scenes and wartime songs. Gradually, Magnus turned his energies to storekeeping. At least I think so because his recorded imprints became fewer and fewer as the century progressed.

Was Magnus a trained lithographer when he emigrated?  Or did he take up lithography after his arrival in the United States?

He took up the business after he arrived in the United States. Elsa Amberg, one of his granddaughters, wrote that she thought her grandfather worked as a salesman for a silk firm in Elberfeld before he left for America, Elberfeld being a center of the German silk industry. Elsa also said family lore suggested he may also have been employed making playing cards. I don’t think Magnus ever worked on a lithographer’s stone himself. He was more of an agent, promoter, and storekeeper, employing workers to create the products he sold. 

Did Magnus maintain a connection with Germany?

With Germany, Europe, and with a German speaking public in the United States. Magnus credits European illustrators on some of his works, for example. In addition, he sold a child’s A-B-C book, Comic Picture Book, whose words were in French and which may have originally been a European publication. Magnus likely added his imprint to the front cover. Evidence suggests that Magnus’s commercial atlas was published cooperatively with George Philip and Son, an English firm. Magnus advertised in America in German language newspapers, issued prints with captions in German, and advertised his products on his own prints using the German language. Magnus published likenesses of German-Americans (engineer John Roebling and Civil War soldier Major-General Franz Sigel, for example). Finally, one of his products was geared to a German audience, a German Head Line Copy Book “in eight numbers, known to be the best series, introduced and adopted in most of the German High Schools.”

How large was his business in its heyday?

How I wish I knew. Magnus’s account books and other business records have not survived, and I haven’t even seen a Magnus invoice. Because Magnus published thousands of items during the Civil War, his business was undoubtedly larger in the early 1860s than at any other time. In 1889, twenty-five years after the war, R.G. Dun, the credit rating firm, noted that Magnus ran a small business--whatever that meant--without yielding much of a profit and that he claimed it was worth $50,000, a figure Dun judged high. At the end of his career, in 1900, in an official report New York State’s factory inspector stated that Magnus employed on the average ten males and one female who contributed sixty hours of labor, presumably each week they worked.

Does Magnus have any distinguishing characteristics in his work?  Can you tell a Magnus piece of ephemera from another piece of late 19th century ephemera?

Not reluctant to credit himself, Magnus usually signed his work, which is the obvious giveaway. He also reused the same illustration on different products, so if someone sees an image once, he or she shouldn’t be surprised to run across it again, perhaps many times. After viewing so many Magnus products, it is fairly easy for me to identify them even if his credit line doesn’t appear. Songsheet and lettersheet layouts vary little, for instance, and their images follow patterns. Some of Magnus’s products are quite good, but many are run of the mill I suspect because he printed large quantities of copies rapidly for quick sale.

What are some of your favorite pieces of ephemera printed by Magnus?

In a sense, I still look forward to seeing my favorite. Even though my book has now been published I continue to be on the watch for his work. For imagery, my favorites are cityscapes. Although I was raised in a rural village in northern New Jersey and now live in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania, I have always been drawn to urban scenes. I especially like pre-20th century architecture. Considering Magnus’s work where text takes over, my favorites are his songsheets. Historians studying the history of American music would do well to consult them.

How is Magnus viewed by scholars and collectors today?  What is his legacy?

Two thoughts about researchers: Through prints especially, Charles Magnus together with his contemporaries have provided resources that illustrate urban, suburban, and rural imagery that would have been lost to time if they had not been in business. And because Magnus’s products appealed to large audience, anyone interested in art for the masses should be drawn to Magnus. For collectors: In the marketplace, Magnus items are still relatively inexpensive, so anyone interested in building a collection of his works can do so with modest investment. On eBay, for example, some of his pieces sell for less than twenty dollars. Of course, with the publication of my book, his appeal--and prices for his imprints--might increase.

Gregory Gibson is the proprietor of Ten Pound Island Book Company, an ABAA firm based in Gloucester, Mass.  He is also the author of three books of non-fiction and, as of earlier this year, a crime novel entitled “The Old Turk’s Load.” We recently caught up with Gibson about his new novel over e-mail:

Tell us a bit about “The Old Turk’s Load;” how you came to write it and what it’s about.
I started the book when I was in the Navy, in 1969. In its first iteration it was 18 1/2 single spaced pages. My sailor buddies liked it, so I kept working on it. Almost got it published by Pyramid, a big pulp house, in the 1970s. But they informed me the world was not ready, and probably never would be, for an alcoholic detective hero. I wrote and published other, non-fiction works, but kept going back to the detective novel and trying to make it viable. Finally I had most of the parts in place, and it was like, “OK. I’ve gotta do this before I die.” And I finished it. Then I issued it myself as a pseudo pulp, with lurid cover art, yellowed paper, and cramped typesetting, etc., and sent it to friends for Christmas. Otto Penzler of the legendary Mysterious Press read it, liked it, and bought it. He asked me if I had another one. I said, “Yeah. It’ll be ready in forty years.”

What authors are your influences? And do you collect any of them?
Hammett, Chandler, and James M. Cain (“Mildred Pierce” might be the perfect novel), of course. Also Frederick Exley, Elmore Leonard (especially dig his Westerns!), John Collier, Flann O’Brien, Joseph Mitchell, A. J. Liebling, Nick Tosches, Charles Olson, John Berryman, “Richard Stark,” and many, many others. I own copies of many of their works, but I do not, in any other sense, “collect” any books except reference books - the tools of my trade. Being an antiquarian book dealer, I feel I’d be in competition with myself if I collected the stuff I’m trying so desperately to sell. Just don’t have that collector’s itch, I guess.

Your book jacket bio says about you that “in his imagination he inhabits an undiscovered Raymond Chandler novel somehow set in Manhattan in the Summer of Love.”  So, I’m curious, what’s your favorite Chandler novel?
Well, that’s jacket fluff for you. To be honest, they all run together. I remember the voice more than the plots. But I guess I’d say “Farewell My Lovely” because of Anne Riordan and the red headed kid. They give Marlowe a new dimension.

Other book dealers that have written fiction tend to feature bookish detectives or bookish plots.  “The Old Turk’s Load” has neither.  Is that a purposeful decision?  Are there any tie-ins between working in the antiquarian book trade and writing a crime novel like this one?  
Not much purposeful. I just don’t particularly care for biblio-mysteries (with the exception of Bernie Rhodenbarr and those low lifes in Iain Sinclair’s wonderful “White Chapell, Scarlet Tracings”). I think the book element tends to drag that sub-genre back to the English drawing room, a place I have little interest in.  For me the big tie in between the antiquarian trade and hard boiled crime novels is life on the road. The book trade, as I practice it, involves a lot of travel, and that sometimes includes chancey motels, bars and eateries, and the (sometimes) wonderful, strange characters who inhabit them. 

“The Old Turk’s Load” is your first foray into fiction, after writing several non-fiction books.  Did you always want to be a novelist - or was it a more recent decision?
I have always admired Hammett, Chandler, and James M. Cain, and writing an homage was the best way I could find to express my admiration. Maybe I could find a way to express that admiration again, I don’t know... I tend to think of myself as a writer  - a story teller - rather than a “novelist.” Memoir and non-fiction serve that story telling function just as well, and in some respects they do a better job at it.

Stewart O’Nan described “The Old Turk’s Load” as a “neo-noir that just zips along.” Noir is a sub-genre that I really enjoy, but tends to evade definition. What does noir mean to you?  Would you describe “The Old Turk’s Load” as noir?
I like “neo-noir,” a term I never noticed before I started reading my own reviews. Sounds like we’re inventing something interesting, doesn’t it? But seriously, life is hard, and bad stuff happens, and the reasons are always more complex than we would wish. When we speak of these matters in a frank, energetic, colloquial manner, we sound “hardboiled.” I think this is a distinctily American address, and I find it uniquely suited for talking about life in today’s world. So, yeah. I hope the Turk is noir, and hardboiled, too.

So, what’s next?  Are you working on another novel?  Another non-fiction book?
For the past three years I’ve been working on a book about a remarkable American character called John Ledyard. (You can look him up.) The book involves an old man known as “I” on a long walk, retracing one of Ledyard’s earliest journeys, thinking about America then and America now, and where “I” fits in all this. It’s a non-fiction novelistic memoir. So there you are.

You can purchase “The Old Turk’s Load” online from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

Dr. William S. Peterson, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Maryland, has written a new biography about Ethel Reed, “one of the most elusive figures in the history of American graphic design.”  The book, entitled “The Beautiful Poster Lady: A Life of Ethel Reed,” is out now with Oak Knoll Press. I recently interviewed Dr. Peterson over e-mail:

So, let’s start at the beginning -- who was Ethel Reed?

She was a Boston poster artist who achieved international recognition in the 1890s when she was only twenty-one. This happened to her almost overnight, and newspapers and magazines were soon describing her as the foremost woman graphic designer in America. I decided to write a biography of her because her posters (and book illustrations) are so distinguished -- but also because her personal life was so mysterious. She was a woman of many secrets.

Was she trained or self-taught as a designer?

Very early in her life she fell under the influence of Laura Coombs Hills, a Newburyport artist, and took some lessons from her. Later, in Boston, she also studied briefly at the Cowles Art School, but I think it would be accurate to describe her as largely self-taught. She always claimed that her work was spontaneous and intuitive. In an interview published in 1895, for example, she said, “I’m afraid you will think me an unaccountable sort of person, for all I can say is that when I have an idea I simply sit down to the paper, and the drawing and colour come to me as I proceed.”

What characteristics distinguish her work?

Her contemporaries noticed immediately that there was some resemblance to Aubrey Beardsley’s work. In almost all of her posters there is a solitary female figure, often brooding over a book, with a billowing gown and, in the background, enormous, almost menacing flowers. Ethel Reed’s women seem to be in a meditative mood, but at the same time they are subtly erotic figures.

What are some of her more famous pieces or contributions?

She first caught the attention of the public with a series of posters for the Boston Sunday Herald in the the spring of 1895, and for the next two years she was much in demand among Boston publishers. She did a lot of work during that period, especially for Copeland & Day and Lamson, Wolffe. My personal favorites are a poster she produced for a novel by Albert Morris Bagby, Miss Träumerie, and the poster and illustrations for Gertrude Smith’s The Arabella and Araminta Stories. Then, after she moved to England, she contributed some very interesting illustrations to the Yellow Book.

I understand that Ethel was almost as famous for her personal glamour as for her design work. Could you tell us a bit more about that? Was she a fashion trendsetter?

From 1895 onward the American press was filled with gossip about her, and then in January 1896 she visited Washington, D.C., for a poster exhibition and met Frances Benjamin Johnston, a local photographer of considerable reputation. Johnston took a series of very striking pictures of her in a glamorous black dress, and thereafter, whenever a journalist approached Ethel Reed, she supplied copies of those photographs, which were then published across the continent. I think we would describe her today as a media celebrity. I found it interesting that much of this promotion of her public image came from Ethel Reed herself.


After 1896, Ethel disappeared from public view.  What happened?  Why did she stop designing?  Where did she go?

In the spring of 1896, following a collapsed engagement, she sailed for Europe and led a somewhat wandering life thereafter. She visited France and Germany, lived in Ireland for two years, and eventually settled down in London (where, as I said before, she did some work for the Yellow Book). Meanwhile she had a succession of lovers, bore two children by them, and in 1903 married an English army officer, but the marriage fell apart immediately -- on the honeymoon, no less. In her final years she sank into poverty and obscurity and died of an overdose of sleeping tablets in 1912. There is no simple answer as to why she was unable to relaunch her artistic career in London, but it is worth noting that she became an alcoholic, was addicted to several drugs (including opium), had an extraordinarily turbulent love life, and frequently complained of depression and poor health. In other words, she struggled with a lot of burdens. Why she, in effect, made herself invisible to the public and to her old Boston friends is ultimately a mystery, and I do not claim to have solved it, but at least I have been able to reconstruct, for the first time, the hidden years in London.

How is Ethel Reed viewed by collectors and scholars today? What has been her legacy?

She still has a considerable reputation as a poster artist: her posters continue to sell at high prices, and art historians nowadays regard her as one of the leading figures of the poster revival in the United States, France, and Britain at the end of the nineteenth century. As I wrote in my biography, “The Ethel Reed girl, redolent of the fin de siècle, remains a recognizable feminine type in our cultural memory.”

You can order a copy “The Beautiful Poster Lady: A Life of Ethel Reed” from Oak Knoll Press. Peterson also maintains a blog about Ethel Reed.

Images from Peterson’s blog and used with his permission.

Sara Gran’s latest mystery novel, Claire deWitt and the Bohemian Highway, was released this week by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  It’s a sequel to the excellent Claire deWitt and the City of Dead published in 2011.  Gran formerly worked in used and rare books, for places like The Strand and Shakespeare and Co, as well and on her own as an independent bookseller.  Books - real and imaginary - play significant roles in her novels.  Her private eye, Claire deWitt, is profoundly influenced by an elusive French book of detection from 1959, entitled Détection, which guides - and haunts - her actions throughout the novels.  I recently interviewed Gran over e-mail:


I understand you used to work in rare books, both for shops like The Strand and on your own.  Could you tell us more about your previous life as a bookseller?

I’ve always been obsessive about books. My parents were not collectors, but they were very avid readers, and they were (and are) indiscriminate in the best way: they read what interests them, not what’s hot or collectable. And somewhere along the way I developed a somewhat warped, almost talismanic interest in books-as-physical-objects. So working with books was always a fantasy for me. I used to go to these little indie bookstores, like St Marks book back when it was on St Mark’s place, and I thought the rude bookstore guys who worked there were coolest people on earth. I really couldn’t believe it when I applied for a job at a bookstore and I GOT IT. Of course, the reality was a lot of hard, dirty work--but I still loved it. And I still think people who love books and stay with that love are the coolest people on earth. 

Are the naming conventions for the series a nod to classic mystery series of the past?  (Claire deWitt and the...; Nancy Drew in the...)

Yes, the great old books and also TV shows. They’re fun but a lot of work to come up with!

Several old books populate the pages of Claire deWitt and the City of the Dead, but of course the one that casts the longest shadow over the narrative is Détection by the great French detective Jacques Silette, first published in 1959.  This book often has a profound - even life-changing - effect on those who read it.  Could you tell us a bit more about the inspiration for this book and the mythology behind it?

Well, I’m going to answer that with a story: yesterday I went to the Rose Bowl flea market here in LA. And something from Black Sparrow Press, which I’m sure you and your readers will know, caught my eye at one of the booths. So I look and it turns out this guy has stacks and stacks of unused paper book covers (paper wrappers) from Black Sparrow Press, plus a bunch of printing blocks. His friend worked for the printer and, long story short, saved them all from the trash. So he was selling the blocks that had printed Paul Bowles and Wanda Coleman and John Fante and Charles Bukowski, and no one wanted them. I asked if he’d tried ebay, other book dealers (this guy was not a book guy, just a very cool and smart flea market guy), everything I could imagine. And he said no one wants this stuff. He has a whole garage full of this stuff and no one wants it. So, in part, that’s what Détection is about: the fact that we writers put so much into our books, and we hope they will change readers lives, and sometimes they do--but then twenty years later they’re at a flea market and you can’t give them away. This guy has the plates that printed Post Office, one of the most beautiful books in English. But to me--I could cry just thinking about that book. Détection is a book that really changed Claire’s life, and then she went out in the world and found out that no one gives a shit, and that is a heartbreaking place to be--a religion with no members. An equivalent book for me has been Nelson Algren’s book Nonconformity, which likewise has had such an impact on my life and no one else seems to care about. I have given away probably a dozen copies of this book and not one person has loved it like I do.

My other favorite old book mentioned in City of the Dead is Poisonous Orchids of Siberia.  Could you tell us a bit more about that one?

Thank you! My other favorite book, after Nonconformity, is The Golden Guide for Hallucinogenic Plants. The fact that that book exists is proof that wonderful things can exist in this universe. I like Golden Guides in particular, and field guides in general, especially odd ones. 


How about you -- what are some of your favorite rare books?  Are you an active book collector?  What do you collect?

Most of my favorite rare books are rare in the colloquial sense, not in the bookselling sense of “valuable.” They are uncommon, but no one really wants them, which is fortunate for me. I don’t collect first editions, but I do enjoy early printings of some of my favorites--I have some early Charles Ports novels and some early Andrew Vachss mysteries that really make me happy. I don’t collect in any thorough, completist way, but I buy a lot of books about whatever interests me at the moment, and usually end up writing about it. At the moment, I’m excited by books about Marian apparitions; stage magic; locks, keys, and locksmithing; cons and con artists; and specifically art-related cons (and I welcome suggestions from your readers in these areas). And I will almost always buy something interesting and affordable in the fields of yoga, folklore/magic, flowers, criminology, and early detective fiction. My rule of thumb is: how hard will it be to get this book again if I want it? 
What are some of your favorite mystery writers of the past? How about of the present?

Claire DeWitt is, in many ways, an homage to my favorite fictional detectives, some of whom I feel like I grew up with. My father has always been a big fan of Nero Wolfe, and you will see a lot of both Nero and Archie Goodwin in Claire. I also drew a lot of inspiration from how Rex Stout organized and structured his series. Andrew Vachss’ Burke series is another big inspiration--it’s a rare series where the “detective” (in quotes because Burke is not really a PI) grows and changes over the years, as people do. Jim Sallis’ Lew Griffith series is also very much about a flesh-and-blood person who changes over the years, and Sallis also brings a real sense of poetry to the mystery novel. And Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe is just the all-time best, especially in The Big Sleep.

Claire deWitt and the Bohemian Highway comes out this month. What’s next? Are you already at work on the third book in the series?

Yes, I am, but I am also busy writing for TV and film, so it will be a few years before the next book. And after an extremely busy few years where I’ve had almost no time to read, i am going to spend a lot of time during the rest of 2013 sitting around reading detective novels! 

Visit Sara Gran on her website, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Our occasional series featuring interviews with bibliographers continues today with Joseph Felcone of New Jersey, who published the descriptive bibliography Printing in New Jersey 1754 - 1800 last year (2012) with the American Antiquarian Society, with distribution by Oak Knoll Press. The book was designed by Jerry Kelly.


What drew you to 18th-century printing in New Jersey?  Where did that interest originate?

It’s the intersection of my interest in New Jersey history with my interest in early books and particularly the booktrade in early America. I’ve collected printed New Jerseyana assiduously for forty years. It’s the most important collection ever built privately, and it ranks with the half dozen or so leading institutional collections. I’ve published quite a number of books on both New Jersey history and New Jersey bibliography, so, for me, my collection is both a necessary working library as well as a collection of rare books.

Your book is a “descriptive bibliography.” How does that differ from a conventional bibliography?

American imprint bibliographies have traditionally been checklists--chronological lists, of widely varying scholarship, recording everything printed in a particular state or town or produced by an individual printer. In 1974 William Miller raised the bar dramatically with his descriptive bibliography of Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia printing. I’ve attempted to raise the bar even higher. In addition to full bibliographical apparatus such as collations and expanded pagination and contents statements, I’ve identified type, paper and watermarks, and contemporary bindings, as well as the copy-specific attributes of every copy located.

What was the hardest part about compiling the bibliography?

The final mile. Turning a massive database, assembled over more than twenty-five years, into a coherent and consistent book. I was very fortunate to have two of the country’s finest bibliographers--David Whitesell and Michael Winship--as my readers, in addition to the extraordinary resources of the American Antiquarian Society and particularly its publications department.

How about the most rewarding part?

Discovering previously unrecorded New Jersey printing, chiefly in smaller repositories such as regional historical societies but also in the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

On Oak Knoll’s site, it says that you visited 115 libraries as you compiled this bibliography.  Which were your favorites?

I really don’t have any favorites. Different libraries offered different rewards. The major scholarly repositories are, with a few exceptions, well catalogued and efficiently run, and most of the rare books curators are old friends. But there are rarely surprises. Smaller repositories are a very mixed bag, but always exciting because you never know what you’ll find.

You mentioned your personal New Jersey collection. Are you still adding to it?

A large part of my life over the last forty years has been spent building this collection and researching and cataloguing every book. In 1996 I published a bibliographical catalogue of all the books in the collection from 1698 through 1860, in two volumes, 1,100 pages. Today that same catalogue would be almost twice as large. I add to the collection continually.

What’s your next project?

I have one more New Jersey historical book to finish. Then I plan to research and write up the 1861-1900 part of my collection and publish a new catalogue of the entire collection from 1698 through 1900.

Felcone’s bibliography is available to purchase from Oak Knoll Press.

It can be cliche to call someone a Renaissance Man, but in the case of antiquarian bookseller Ed Nudelman, it is apt. Book collectors and dealers will recognize the name Nudelman Rare Books, an ABAA antiquarian shop since 1983 that specializes in English and American literature, especially the Pre-Raphaelite period. But what you may not know is that Ed Nudelman is a recently retired cancer research scientist, who wrote more than sixty research papers. He is also a published bibliographer and a poet. That kind of productivity, in two (or three) such distinct fields at the same time, is hard for many of us to imagine. So I thought I’d pick his brain about it.

RRB: You started your career as a cancer research scientist. How long were you doing that before you began thinking about books? How long were you a collector before you became a dealer?

6_EDN.jpgEd Nudelman in his home office.

EN: I received my degree in biochemistry from the University of Washington in 1976 and immediately began my first formal appointment at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The Institute is well known for having pioneered bone marrow transplant intervention for some of the then fatal leukemic cancers. I immediately became interested in cancer research and have been working as a scientist in various laboratories and biotech companies ever since.  

It was in the summer of 1979 that I bought my first rare book, an illustrated edition of one of the Scribner’s Classics, by Robert Louis Stevenson entitled A Child’s Garden of Verses. This was during a foray into an antique shop with my soon-to-be wife, Susan, and the model of her going toward the antique pottery and armoires and me going toward the dusty stacks of old books was set into place. But it wasn’t until I noticed that the book was illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith that I became infatuated with that illustrator and more or less obsessed with trying to find all of her books. This eventually occurred, and it was said by many that I was personally responsible for inflating the price of Smith’s first editions in the 1980s. I later sold the entire collection along with original paintings to the Chicago Public Library, but before that occurred, Pelican published my first book, Jessie Willcox Smith, A Bibliography, which has turned out to be the definitive bibliography on her illustrations in books, posters, calendars, magazines, etc.

I was a collector for probably two years before I became a dealer. However, like many of my colleagues, I managed to keep a small collection fairly intact for many years, only selling duplicate copies. At that time I was interested in late nineteenth-century American Illustrators, fine bindings, 1890s, and the Arts and Crafts Movement, and my collecting interests continued to evolve around chiefly the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the 1890s.

RRB: How did you juggle a career in science with a career in bookselling?

EN: It never seemed like juggling to me. I think many scientists become interested in the arts, or at least obtain an appreciation for things appealing to their less ‘exercised’ right side of the brain. For me, after coming home from a difficult day in the lab mixing chemicals, incubating solutions, and in general becoming more and more frustrated analyzing data, there was something unusually rewarding about finding a package and knowing inside it lurked something beautiful (and mysterious): a rare book I’d never seen or held before.  

5_EDN.jpgA selection of Nudelman’s books.

RRB: Your focus as a collector and a dealer is Pre-Raphaelites, the 1890s, and writers of the Arts/Crafts period. To me, an obvious question is, why not medical books?

EN: They did interest me for a while early on, but not passionately; medical books never appealed to me from an aesthetic point of view. And I think I was looking for respite from the rigorous, linear aspects of my career in the science world. So, as alluded to above, my passion for the aesthetic quality of books as objects, fine bindings, wood-engraved illustrations from the 1850s, hand-colored plates... these kinds of things appealed to me early on and continue to fuel my interest and drive. But in our bookshop, we have branched into many other areas such as Natural History, Important Literature, Fine Bindings, and Jugendstil Children’s Books.

RRB: How did poetry enter the picture?

EN: Seven years ago my wife and I relocated to New England (just north of Boston) to pursue a biotech business venture. We had been native Seattleites all our lives, and kept our house in Seattle thinking this would be a two-year adventure. I kept my book business going during this time, but didn’t show at the California ABAA fairs as I had the previous two decades. One result of the move was that I found I had a little more free time to pursue non-vocational interests. I joined an online writing group and started producing a lot of prose, short-stories and the like. One day I posted a poem I had written in high school and it got more attention than any of my stories. That gave me the impetus to explore writing poetry, publishing in journals, and eventually having two poetry books published (third in manuscript).

RRB: So you’ve been a scientist, a bookseller, a bibliographer, and a poet. Anything else? Which has been most rewarding?

EN: Well, I play a lot of guitar, instrumental open tunings like John Fahey and Leo Kotke. I like to hang out with our family, which we have in spades. Our three kids have already produced 6 grandkids, and all are under the age of 5! We have a large house and half an acre in North Seattle and everyone convenes here daily, which we love. Having our book business in our home gives me the flexibility now to work in a dedicated fashion, but not one confined by deadlines and time constraints. I love sitting in my office and peering out over our Provencal garden, inhaling the roses and lavender and, believe it or not, working hard at trying to sell rare books!

8_EDN.jpgNudelman’s Provencal garden.

RRB: What direction are you taking as an antiquarian bookseller these days? What’s your prognosis for book collecting in the 21st century?

EN: We have been expanding our business, buying larger collections, paying more attention to auctions and rare book fairs. We have a growing online presence, including a fully active shopping cart website with multiple photos of every book in our stock.

I’m very optimistic about the future for the rare book business. Commodities of historical and authentic artistic and literary merit will always be in demand. Buying and selling rare books in today’s internet climate puts a premium on research and placing valuation as true to what the market will accept as one possibly can. Buying is a function of what your clients are looking for, and how you can best provide what is needed in a competitive way. In my view, the internet hasn’t leveled the playing field, as some have said, but rather provided more reliable and reproducible metrics on which to base buying and selling. This is the kind of landscape I thrive best in. Therefore, much of my time is spent querying my clientele and researching availability, analyzing all aspects of bibliography, condition, and the uniqueness of an item. I hope this pays off in the long run.

Jemma Lewis.jpgThe art of paper marbling is not lost to Jemma Lewis, a young professional marbler based in rural Wiltshire, UK. Her small family business (her father assists) opened in April of 2009, after she spent eight months in specialized training following a seven-year apprenticeship at local bookbinders, Chivers-Period. Previously Lewis had studied textiles, but at Chivers, she said, “I became interested in antique books and the beautiful marbled papers that bookbinders used as endpapers.”

Lewis provides her wares to bookbinders, publishers, artists, interior designers, fashion designers, and furniture restorers. Her website showcases more than fifty hand-marbled papers in traditional designs, such as the one seen below. She also offers bespoke designs for specific projects and a matching service in which she reproduces historic designs for repair work.

gallery50-large.jpgHer specialty “one-off” art marbled papers, like the one seen here called “Meadow,” are amazing. They can be used for bookbinding, of course, or they can be framed as is. She has a Flickr page showing some of her other designs.

speciality-paper.jpgAll images courtesy of Jemma Lewis Marbling & Design. 

EricCarle-small.jpgLater this month the Woods Hole Film Festival will premiere a new documentary, Eric Carle: Picture Writer, The Art of the Picture Book. The film follows the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, now 82, learning about his childhood love of art and nature and his quest to build the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. Said the film’s director, Kate Geis, “[Eric] has retired from the public life of book-touring and visiting schools, but his audience is still growing and is eager to see who Eric is in ‘real life.’ This documentary is to help satisfy that curiosity, and Eric is generous in sharing his artistic techniques, showing how he plans a picture book, all while telling deeply personal stories of his life.”

View the film’s trailer here.

Above: Eric Carle in his studio holding The Very Hungry Caterpillar book. Photo by Motoko Inoue.

Screen shot 2012-05-21 at 9.37.26 AM.pngThe Piccolo Spoleto Festival, a two-week celebration of literature, film, music, dance, theatre, and visual arts in lovely Charleston, South Carolina, opens this Memorial Day weekend. The festival, now in its 34th year, runs nearly 700 events at many locations around town. Of particular interest to you, dear readers, would be the literary lectures and book signings held at the Charleston Society Library. Our own Nick Basbanes will be there on Thursday, May 31, to tell stores of the “Gently Mad” and to sign copies of the new edition of A Gentle Madness, just published by Fine Books Press.

The festival opens on Friday, May 25 and runs through June 10. You can download a program guide or ticket information here.

“Contrappunto,” the official festival poster (seen here), was designed by Linda Elksnin.
Last late month we reported that Larry McMurtry had decided to auction 350,000 books from his Archer City bookshop. Today we have more details to share.

They auction, to be held on Aug. 10-11, will be run by Addison and Sarova Auctioneers. In addition to 1,400 shelf lots (each lot containing about 150 books, mostly hardcover), they’ll be selling off The McMurtry 100--one hundred titles personally selected by McMurtry to be auctioned individually. “Some were chosen as books that Mr. McMurtry, through 50 years of book-hunting, has scarcely seen (such as a book by Dostoyevsky’s daughter). Some are both rare and valuable,” say the auctioneers. The list is not yet available.  

The director, Michael Addison, offers an overview of the lots here, adding that “Larry McMurtry will be on-hand,” plus there’ll be music, BBQ, and cold beer. “Don’t be the dealer or collector who misses this!”

See the auction preview & sale schedule here.
The Albert H. Small Collection goes on the block this Friday at Christie’s New York. The collection of high spots from a man who has been collecting for sixty years is dazzling -- we have Audubon, Shakespeare (as in second, third, and fourth folios), a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, and a Kelmscott Chaucer, plus a large selection of presidential autographs, various Declaration of Independence editions, and a hand-colored engraving of Paul Revere’s Bloody Massacre.

2655_38a.jpg Humphry Repton’s autograph manuscript “Red Book” for Sunning Hill, Berkshire the Seat of James Sibbald, Esq. 1790. Estimate $30,000-$50,000.

The selection of Humphry Repton manuscript books (one seen above) and other material are among the most “personal” items in the sale. In a special feature we ran on Mr. Small last autumn, he told us about his infatuation with the eighteenth-century British landscape artist:

He came across Repton’s work at the antiquarian book fair in New York in the early days of his collecting. Tired from walking up and down the aisles, he asked a bookseller if he could rest a moment on a seat in her booth. “I was sitting there looking at landscape and gardening materials and was struck by this gorgeous book unlike anything I had ever seen before,” he said. Small had in his hands a reproduction of one of Repton’s famed “red books,” one-of-a-kind volumes the designer presented to clients with descriptions and renderings of his proposed designs. “It was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever see in my life,” Small said. He bought the book and now proudly claims ownership of the second largest collection of original Repton volumes in the United States. He admitted with a laugh that the leading collector only has four; Small has three.
 As of Friday, perhaps the leading collector will have seven.
popdelusions20-800.jpgBook artist Richard Minsky has just announced his latest work, Pop Delusions, a house made out of his own credit cards, Chinese and American paper money, and gold leaf. Look inside and find two editions of Charles Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, bound in credit cards. Yes, credit cards, which sounds like quite an impossible task. Minsky used eighty of his own cards, collected over twenty-five years. “It’s certainly the least replaceable material I’ve ever used,” he told me. “It was the right material for the book, so I had to.”

He added, “All the materials for this work add to the layers of meaning...some of them nobody will see. The Chinese money that backs the credit cards isn’t visible when the house is assembled and the back door is shut. You can see the engravings of the U.S. Treasury on the $10 bills that border the base, but the flip side of them is pasted down, so nobody sees Alexander Hamilton’s portrait, the torch of Liberty, and ‘We the People’ in pink....In an earlier state the portrait side was face up, but in the end I decided it looked better with the greenbacks up, and the treasury building relating to the house of cards.”

PopMarch1.jpgMinsky began construction on March 1, when he posted this image of his materials on his Facebook page. There you can click on each of the photos and read along as the house takes shape and also peek ‘inside’ the back door, where, Minsky points out, you can see that the building on the back of the 100 Yuan note is similar to the treasury building on our bills.

Pop Delusions makes its institutional debut in an exhibit titled Beaten & Bound at the Lubeznick Center for the Arts in Michigan City, IN, on May 26. A reception will be held on June 1, and the exhibit will run through August 26.

Photos courtesy of Richard Minsky.

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FBC2012spring-cover.jpegEither there’s a stunned silence in the book world, or word hasn’t gotten round yet: Larry McMurtry has announced that a public auction will be held August 10 and 11 at his colossal bookstore in Archer City, Texas. Three hundred and fifty thousand books will be sold after a week of previews in-store. Thus the great ‘book town’ will shrink, just a bit. But, as is pointed out on the Booked Up website, “We are not closing. We will continue to operate Booked Up in Building 1 with 150,000 books.”

Coming off our spring cover story about McMurtry, we are as surprised as anyone. Inviting book buyers to “experience Texas in August,” McMurtry offers this eloquent rationale for the forthcoming divestiture:

The several hundred thousand books that we are putting in play constitute a kind of anthology of American bookshops past. In our forty-one years as booksellers we have bought twenty six bookshops and some two hundred personal libraries, some humble, some grand.

So why push them out?

Because we believe that in the book world migration is healthy: old pages await new eyes. Yesterday in Lubbock, Texas I found a copy of Sons and Lovers in the oil-cloth Modern Library with my bookplate in it. Twenty eight thousand volumes have my bookplate in them;  they reside in my big house in Archer City, and yet this one strayed. How it got to Lubbock I’ll likely never know. It’s home again now; but three hundred and fifty thousand of it’s cousins will be flooding into the great river of books that delights and refreshes. Good reading and good luck!
While many of us in the antiquarian book world will descend upon New York City next week, our columnist Nick Basbanes will be giving the keynote at the University of Missouri’s Library Society dinner on Friday, April 13. He’ll be talking about his life as a reporter and writer, about the “special place in his heart” for his first book, A Gentle Madness, and about his upcoming book, Common Bond.

He recently told MU Libraries’ Connections newsletter about the new book, set to be published by Knopf next year:

The latest book, Common Bond, is what I am loosely describing as a cultural history of paper and papermaking. It is a story that covers two thousand years but, consistent with the way I do things, is pretty much an exercise in storytelling. I go where the good stories are. In this case, I traveled to China and spent three weeks along the Burma Road in Yunnan Province, because that’s where papermaking started. I went to Japan, because that’s the only place I could meet with a Living National Treasure papermaker. I went to the National Security Agency, a supersecret facility in Landover, Md., because that’s the only place I could see millions of high security documents pulped. That book took me six years to research and write. And like the earlier ones, I enjoyed it enormously.
You can read the entire article by going here and clicking on Winter 2012 issue.
Community Supported Bookshops

Guest Blog by Todd Pratum of Owl & Company Bookshop, Oakland

After 31 years in the book business, five bookshops and three warehouse internet operations later, I’ve pulled myself out of the internet (almost entirely--tired of staring into a screen instead of a face or walls of fine books) and moved most of my 30,000 volumes into a beautiful new bookshop of my creation. 1,200 sq. ft. for $3,000 on a very busy street, one of the best shopping and clubbing streets in the Bay Area and the Bay Area’s greatest concentration of bookshops, six now, within five blocks. My website is primitive but there are photos on Yelp. So far so good, though there are a lot of people coming in saying things like “I love bookshops,” “I love the smell of old books,” “Thank you for joining our neighborhood,” “I LOVE books,” etc. then leave without buying anything, waving from the door and saying, “Good luck!”

For this reason I am starting something unique in the book business (I believe), what I am calling ‘Community Supported Bookshops.’ CSB, modeled on something well established here in the US, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where people, who now realize the value of the family farm ‘join’ the farm for certain (usually minor and at no extra cost to the farm) benefits, and the joy of supporting something local and real.

Soon we will be charging $40 per year for membership. Besides T-shirts and bumper stickers, all members really get is advance notice of our quarterly 35%-off sales, and they get to come in a week before the public. These sales are held anyway so this costs us nothing. This is my answer to all the people who ‘love’ bookshops but never buy anything. Or come in and find books then use their phone to find it cheaper. (NB about 30% of all purchases on Amazon are generated first by a discovery in a brick and mortar shop).

What I’ve built here is a ‘traditional looking’ bookshop: 13-foot custom wood shelving to the ceiling, with only incandescent lights, a community meeting / art gallery in back, and generous open hours to serve the browser. Most everybody that comes in says things like “This reminds me of London,” “4th Street NY,” “The Old Library where I grew up,” “What a bookshop should be,” Harry Potter, Charing Cross Road (or the movie), the Ninth Gate, etc. And for Generation Y, they intuitively know this is a good authentic thing even though they have never seen anything like it. They value at least the idea. 

If there are any dealers who would like to help me develop this idea into a movement, where other bookshops join the CSB Society and make it global then I would like to correspond. My manager is hot on the idea, and I can pay her for some extra time to work on this project.

A few details: We still pay our generous rate on books for cash and trade but mark everything much cheaper than the net. Turnover is the key (read The Mathematics of Bookselling). No longer do I price books compared to the net but much cheaper.

What do I love the most these days? The amazing books that find their way here. My shop has brought in wonderful libraries and collections. Many are GIVEN to me. But my best and most exciting experience is working with salvage people who find crazy and unique collections of books, documents, letters, ephemera, photos, etc. that have been left at the dump or thrown in dumpsters, or though real estate agents, probate attorneys, even the City Of Oakland (abandoned houses especially), and the like. Why? Because there are only a few bookshops in this entire area of 13 million that buy books, so people are just desperate to do something with them.

We are a totally general shop which is key I think, but I have still retained my old focus on esoterica, antiquarian scholarly books, and “uncommon fact & fiction.”

The SF Book & Fair Show last month in San Francisco was a great learning experience. I haven’t exhibited or even attended a fair for many years, and I sold very few books at this fair, one of the largest in the world, ugh... But I learned. My most memorable observation? Almost everybody was at least 40 years old, with many ancient people and no ‘20-something’ people. This I believe is partly due to the fact that the dealers there only sell the old standards, and don’t try to appeal to young people’s interest. Yet after five bookshops I have always found that when it comes to used books the bread and butter of a general shop is the young people who are most willing to pay for books, and eat later (Erasmus).

Soon we will have a computer terminal here so people can check the internet on any books and decide for themselves what is the better deal.

Thanks to Todd Pratum for sharing his essay. Tell us what you think of community supported bookshops!

Book artist (and our book art columnist) Richard Minsky has just unveiled his latest collection -- The Book Art of Thomas Watson Ball. Following in the footsteps of his three highly successful collections of American publishers’ bindings, he assembled this single-artist collection of more than sixty books, dating from 1897 to 1905. Ball was a designer for Harper’s and other turn-of-the-century publishers, and his work was often unattributed (and copied). Writes Minsky, “Ball was a master of silhouette and skyline, and excelled at landscape and marine subjects. His abstract landscapes on book covers predate Kandinsky and other modernists’ ventures in that direction, beginning in 1897.” The exhibition is up now at Minsky’s Hudson, New York, studio, and some of it can be seen online.

Minsky-Ball.jpgThough not intended to be definitive, Minsky’s exhibition will guide scholars and collectors in this area. To that end, Minsky has also produced an exhibition catalogue. Until February 29, a pre-publication discount in in effect for both the limited and deluxe editions. The deluxe edition of twenty-five is signed and numbered with color photos of all books in the exhibition, printed in archival high resolution inkjet, in a hardbound cloth binding by Minsky, based on a T. W. Ball cover design.The limited edition of one hundred is printed in full color on an Indigo 5000 digital offset press and housed in a flexible cloth cover with a gold-stamped panel adapted from a T. W. Ball design, an archival inkjet printed dust wrapper, and polyester protective overwrap

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of ‘going home again’ so to speak. Drew University Library in Madison, New Jersey, has been holding a series of conversations on collecting. Drew is where I did my graduate work in book history, and where I stayed on to work in the library’s archives for several years. This past fall, the library held a talk on collecting Byron and Whitman with collector Norman B. Tomlinson, and another on collecting political ephemera with Dr. James Fraser. This past week, collector and Rev. John McEllhenney, whose particular interests are Methodism, Robert Frost, and Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, gave a wonderful talk that he titled “Evolution of a Bookish Magpie.”

thomas.jpgMcEllhenney recalled a childhood love of books, but credited Fred Maser, a major collector of prayer books, with really sparking his interest in collecting in the 1950s and 60s. When a parishioner gave him a signed copy of Frost’s A Further Range, he was well on the path to bibliomania, but he felt that a real collection of Frost might be beyond his pocket. His advice to collectors, particularly those without an inheritance: “Find something to collect that you think will grow in value.” Then, in 1974, he read a review of R.S. Thomas’ Selected Poems, bought it, and enjoyed it so much, he decided that Thomas, also a fellow clergyman, would be the focus of his collecting activity.

Not only did McEllhenney voraciously collect Thomas in all forms, he made several trips to Wales to meet him during the 1990s (the poet died in 2000). He had the pleasure--unknown to most collectors--of conversing with, exchanging letters with, even touring the countryside with the object of his collecting life. It is a heartwarming story for any bibliophile.  

McEllhenney has given much of his R.S. Thomas collection--including more than 200 books, 100 periodicals, essays, articles, reviews, typescripts, sound recordings, and ephemera--to Drew, as well as his Frost holdings. He surprised the audience this past week by handing over two more Thomas books, signed by the author to his wife with an elegant cross for a signature.
FBC2012winter-cover.jpgWhen I saw the news bit earlier this week that artist and novelist Audrey Niffenegger will be publishing a short story titled “The Wrong Faerie” in the upcoming anthology, Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane, I was beyond excited. The story is about Charles Altamont Doyle, “a Victorian artist who was institutionalised for alcoholism. He was also the father of Arthur Conan Doyle, and he believed in fairies.” In short, it sounds fabulous already. Maybe I’m biased. As FB&C readers know, I traveled to Chicago this past summer to meet Niffenegger and discuss books, art, fame, and collecting. She also signed a few books for me. The result of that interview is our winter issue’s cover story. But we talked a lot that day, and so there is more to share about our conversation.

I asked her how her creative life has changed since the incredible success of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Here is what she said:

Well, one of the things that changed a lot, I never used to have any money, so I never used to go anywhere...I got a lot done. With Time Traveler, I spent about three years running around doing festivals and promoting it, and with Symmetry, I spent about a year and a half, just solid running around, constantly away. And it’s almost impossible to do real artwork in hotel rooms, so that has been kind of slowing me down. What I’m hoping to do in the next couple of years is not move around as much, get more centered. I’ve got big projects that I’m working on that have to get done with real deadlines, so I basically have no choice but to turn things down and make sure I get my work done. Time management is really the big problem. The monetary impediments were removed, but at the same time the time constraints became overwhelming. A lot of people are like, ‘So that new novel, it must be done, right?’ I’m like, ‘no.’ It’s just difficult when you’re constantly talking about the work you’ve already done to get the new work happening.

Niffenegger collects taxidermy and books. I asked her to talk a bit more about those collections.

The taxidermy is, in a way, not really a serious collection because it’s just strange things that hang around the house, and you look at them and think, ‘hmmm, that’s really strange’... It’s not like I’m a biologist and have great insight into all these creatures. I mean, in my collection, the more damaged they are, the more interesting. There are missing eyes and paws, looking really pathetic. Occasionally I’ll buy a really glorious piece because it’s interesting, but for the most part I buy very strange, cheap, damaged taxidermy. The taxidermy collection is completely eclectic and based on pathos and strangeness. The book collection, on the other hand, there’s a very definite train of thought running through that collection. I am interested in books that use images and words together in interesting ways. So if something is typographically interesting, if it’s telling an interesting story in a way where everything supports the story interestingly, if the illustrations are really spectacular or if it’s going beyond illustration and into a wordless novel or something like that, I’m very interested in that. I’m less interested in sculptural books. I mean, I have a few. I’m very interested in fine print, so, for example, I’m very fond of Arion Press, and I’m always sort of looking out for their things. I’m always interested in what my students and former students are doing, so I veer toward them when I can. Always partial to aquatints because it’s what I myself do. I sometimes buy with an eye to showing my students things, so if I don’t have a good example of a such-and-such, I will sometimes try to acquire one so that when I’m talking about such-and-such, I can say, ‘and here is a such-and-such’ and give them a better chance of understanding what the heck I’m talking about. Books are really hard to show in slides ... it’s so much better if they can handle it, it just becomes a completely different experience.

P1020571-small.jpgAudrey Niffenegger shows me her prints at Printworks Gallery in Chicago this past summer. Photo credit: Brett Barry.

One question that many people ask is if, as an artist, she gets to design her own books and limited editions. Here is what she said:

For Time Traveler and for Symmetry, there were limited editions, and I got to design those. I did not get to design the commercial edition because everybody immediately agreed that I am not a very commercial artist, which is fine with me! The design for the cover of Time Traveler was done by Suzanne Dean who is the head designer at Random UK, and she did Symmetry in the UK. Scribner’s designer Rex Bonomelli, he came up with the shiny, metallic, twiggy cover, which I liked tremendously. Then when it became a paperback, everyone was saying, ‘there must be a person on the cover,’ and I said, ‘well, okay, but just don’t cut off her head.’ And so we went through lots of iterations of people with and without heads. I like what they came up with...The limited editions are fun because they don’t necessarily have to follow all the rules of conventional book design. Like the limited edition I did for Scribner for Symmetry, it doesn’t even have the title on the spine, it the initials of the title and my initials, and if you had it spine-in, that’s all you would be able to see. It’s not the most readable typeface, the book is entirely black, so it’s got lots of things going on that wouldn’t scream ‘buy me!’...A limited edition of a printed book made by commercial processes is a whole different deal than a real printing.
In an e-newsletter received last week, the Boston Athenaeum announced a spectacular $2 million gift from “Anne and David Bromer to create the Anne C. and David J. Bromer Fund at the Boston Athenaeum.” The Bromers, who have owned and operated Bromer Booksellers in Boston for decades, are longtime supporters of the Athenaeum. In the e-newsletter, Athenaeum director and librarian Paula D. Matthews wrote, “Their love, nurtured since their student days, has included a wide-eyed appreciation of the joys of books as physical objects and a deep empathy for the sensuous beauty books possess at their finest.”

The Bromers’ donation will also support the Bromer Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Athenaeum. Stanley Ellis Cushing, the current curator who has been at the Athenaeum for 41 years, is appointed to fill this role.

Wrote Matthews, “Thus the gift and the appointment represent a true confluence of sympathies: for the book as a magical thing, with inks, textures, bindings, materials, and physical dimensions as well as words and pictures.”

s-germany-gutenberg.jpgFor those of you enjoying the winter issue of FB&C, you’ll note an article on bibliophilately by Larry T. Nix, writer/publisher of the Library History Buff blog. Larry has set up a webpage with lots of supplemental resources, information, and images for anyone interested in learning more about this fusion of stamp and book collecting. The stamp seen here is from his collection, issued by Germany in 1954 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible.
103334242.jpgIt would greatly remiss of us not to pause for a brief moment and think about George Whitman, a 98-year-old Paris bookseller, who died yesterday, fittingly in the apartment over his bookshop, Shakespeare & Co. According the shop’s website, Whitman was born in 1913 in East Orange, New Jersey. He moved to Paris in 1948, opened Le Mistral bookshop, and soon renamed it Shakespeare & Co. after the famous shop owned earlier in the century by Sylvia Beach. Whitman was known for his free spirit, and for allowing thousands of lodgers to stay in the shop in exchange for a few hours of book sorting and shelving.

One of those many lodgers over the years was journalist Jeremy Mercer, who, in 2005, published an account of this bohemian lifestyle, Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. I greatly enjoyed reading this memoir several years back, and for anyone who knows little about Whitman or his amazing bookstore, it is absolutely worth a read.

The store remains open, run by Whitman’s daughter. For more about Whitman, see the Shakespeare & Co. website and the New York Times obituary.
Back in October, the Florida Bibliophile Society was pleased to have scholar and writer Maureen E. Mulvihill give a lecture, at the University of Tampa Library, called “The Evolution and Education of a Collector (1980s-): The Mulvihill Collection of Rare and Special Books and Images.” She spoke of ‘Ephelia’ (Mary Villiers Stuart, Duchess of Richmond), Mary Tighe, Mary Leadbeater, Anne Finch, Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, Lucy Hutchinson, Anna Maria Van Schurman, and others in her collection. A two-table display of her selected books, prints, and ephemera were available for viewing as well (see an image below, taken by Florida collector and blogger, Jerry Morris). Mulvihill’s principal interest is Irish and English women writers, mostly pre-1800.


A feature containing excerpts and photos from the presentation is available from The Newsletter of the Florida Bibliophile Society.

Tonight at my local Barnes & Noble, book artist, author, and FB&C columnist Richard Minsky did a talk/signing for his new book, The Book Art of Richard Minsky. As one of the five books we highlighted in our holiday gift guide this year, you may already be aware of this stunning new retrospective of Minsky’s book art, which is available in a trade edition from your local bookseller or a limited slipcase edition direct from Richard. But those were not the only books on display while Richard shared some stories of his bookmaking. There was also the Barnes & Noble 2012 Desk Diary (day planner, calendar, whatever you call it) featuring the American decorated bindings that Richard has been researching, collecting, cataloguing, selling, and celebrating for years. (He chronicled many of them in his 2010 book, The Art of American Book Covers: 1875-1930.) There is a hardcover version of the Desk Diary, which comes in its own box, and two faux leather softcover versions, all of which are beautiful for those of you who, like me, still keep a written calendar. And, at under $20, the price is perfect for gift giving.

Richard showed some images from each of his books, read a short entry on how he designed his first unique binding, and talked about what he looks for in great book art, or fine art to be more broad. “Material, image, and metaphor,” must all be in balance, he said. When asked about what he finds interesting in commercial publishing, he cited the ingenuity of pop-ups and moveable books and a revival of stamped covers, such as can be seen in B&N’s redesigned “classics.” Some new Penguin hardcover classics also have stamped cloth covers (designed by the awesome Coralie Bickford-Smith) as do recent bestselling children’s books like The Dangerous Book for Boys (U.S., 2007). If we are trending away from jackets and back to decorated cloth, we’ll have Richard Minsky to thank.
This past Friday I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest awards ceremony and reception at the Library of Congress. So with twenty-four hours on the clock, I visited two of the biggest and best libraries in the country--which happen to be right around the corner from each other.

042523W5.jpgFirst stop: The Folger Shakespeare Library. I sauntered through Manifold Greatness, the amazing King James Bible exhibit, part of which traveled from Oxford. My favorites from the exhibit were William Blake’s biblical illustrations, a “squirrel” binding, and Queen Elizabeth I’s red velvet-bound Bishops’ bible. I toured the reading room, which is so lovely because it retains an ‘old-fashioned’ library feel (all too often scrubbed out of our state-of-the-art libraries). Tapestries on the wall, stained-glass windows, heavy wooden tables, and a bust of the Bard scanning the room. My private tour included a trip to the special collections areas, where I marveled at a collection of porcelain collectibles, costumes, and yes--the 82 folios. I only wish I had had the forethought to book a ticket for Othello, playing in the cozy, Elizabethan-style Folger Shakespeare theatre.
Guest Blog by James Thomas, Jr., collector and bookseller at Every Other Book in Ft. Wayne, IN.

Have you seen the recent Kindle commercials? In one commercial, you see a young woman reading a traditional book, and in the other she’s carrying a large bag on her way to shop for books. In both commercials a young man shows her the advantages of the Kindle. Not to be outdone, she tells him the advantages of the traditional book--things like being able to bend page corners to mark her place, or lug around a heavy bag of books! Now, those of us viewing one of these commercials probably get a laugh from this, but the young man in the commercial doesn’t. Being the calm, rational type, which is the point really, he remains silent until the young woman realizes the absurdity of her preference for traditional books. In one commercial, she drops her book bag, grabs her friend’s Kindle, and starts to read it like it was her own.

The commercials are simple and direct (with a subtle touch of “dumb blond” humor), and the obvious message is that the smart people forget real books and switch to e-book devices. After all, who wouldn’t be impressed by their capacity to download and store hundreds of titles, and their ability to adjust print size? And of course, traveling with e-books is so convenient and light. Yes, the advantages are undeniable to any reasonable person, but is there something to be said for real books? I believe there is, and it has nothing to do with bending page corners.
For those of you who have been reading our summer issue, you might be as surprised as I was to learn about a folk artist named Clementine Hunter. This story actually started out as a bookish travel piece about Melrose Plantation in Louisiana, once home to an interesting woman named Cammie Henry, who turned it into a colony for writers and artists, creating her own little Southern Renaissance. But we couldn’t help but feel that Hunter, a field hand and plantation cook who was encouraged to put paint on canvas by some of the visiting artists (and whose work is now quite collectible), was a bigger part of the picture.

Coincidentally, just as we were finishing up this article, Hunter, who died in 1988, was making national news. A longtime FBI investigation finally reached its inevitable denouement when a Mr. William Toye of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was formally convicted of forging Hunter paintings. He had been connected to Hunter forgeries since the 1970s.  

The other interesting tidbit we learned was that Clementine Hunter co-authored a cookbook, Melrose Plantation Cookbook, published in 1956. Although it looks like a decent amount (nineteen, according to OCLC) of research libraries have a copy, it is exceedingly scarce to buy. I see only two available online right now. It is a cookbook with a longer story to tell than most others. 

Related articles
The small town of Cowan, Tennessee, hosts a book fair that is quickly becoming a big attraction for bibliophiles. The 2011 fair--coming up this weekend--features more than fifty booksellers (some listed here), and our own Nick Basbanes will give the keynote speech. According to the press release, “Dealers specializing in children’s literature, art, religion, fine bindings, and books about books will also be exhibiting at the fair. Book prices will range from $10 to $20,000, so there are sure to be interesting books for the leisure reader as well as the most avid collector.”

Take a tour of last year’s fair, and see what awaits...

Jerry Morris, a collector with the Florida Bibliophile Society and longtime blogger at My Sentimental Library, launched today a new blog called Biblio-Connecting. As he writes in the first entry: “that’s what this piece is all about: how a bibliophile connects with other people in the book world, corresponds with them, and even meets some of them. It is also about how one person evolves from being an avid reader to becoming an enthusiastic book collector and then to becoming a raving bibliomaniac.” Follow along with Morris as he travels to Hay-on Wye, collects Samuel Johnson, corresponds with Anne Fadiman, and writes an essay for the Caxton Club’s recent book, Other People’s Books. Enjoy!
Barbara Werner van Bentham interviews ILAB president Arnoud Gerits -- an excellent read, full of quotes like this, “Since the rare bookseller never closes his shop in his mind, these are also my business interests. When I read a new book for example about Leibniz or Spinoza, I am even more excited to sell the old books by the great philosophers during the business hours. You sell what you read. Once a bookseller, always a bookseller.” ... 
I heard about this project over the weekend and thought ye lovers of type and letterpress would be interested. Lead Graffiti is a letterpress shop in Newark, Delaware, that has posted a project on Kickstarter--the web-based funding platform for creative projects. They’re hoping to raise a total of $3,400 before July 3rd, and if they do, this is their plan:

We like spontaneous projects, the Tour de France, and excuses to put ink on paper.
Pitting our print race against their bike race, we intend to produce a minimum of 25 portfolios of 23 posters (about 15” x 22”) via letterpress, one for each stage of the upcoming Tour de France (Saturday, July 2 through Sunday, July 24) plus its two rest days (they can rest, but we won’t). ... 

Want to learn more? Watch this.

The epic book celebrates its 75th this month. Ellen F. Brown, longtime FB&C columnist and co-author of the recently published Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood, was interviewed on CBS News today about the anniversary as well as the manuscript she found during her research. Congratulations, Ellen!

 Watch it here:

To read our review of the book & an exclusive excerpt, turn back to our February issue.
Recollections of a Providential Bibliohaven

Guest Blog by FB&C reader, Martin J. Murphy of Richmond, Virginia

    Nick Mamatas’ recent article in Fine Books Magazine about H.P. Lovecraft and Providence, Rhode Island, struck many chords with me. Both the city and the writer figure prominently in my life as a reader, book collector, and incurable biblioromantic.

    While I was a student at Brown University in the early 1970’s, I shared Lovecraft’s fascination with the peculiar character of College Hill, which remains today a remarkable time capsule of New England architecture and ambience, spanning three centuries. I was introduced to his writing while I was there, and promptly fused his atmospheric storytelling with my own experiences of that singular, mysterious, and slightly haunted neighborhood. Lovecraft loved the character of old Providence and wove it deeply into his stories, where detailed descriptions of the neighborhood streets, buildings, odors, and atmosphere run throughout. That, in turn, allows one to walk those streets, still very much as described in tales such as “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, and pass directly into the stories themselves. Strolling along Benefit Street on a moonlit night is engaging enough; gazing up at The Shunned House at midnight, imagining its dark and sepulchral cellar secrets, bumps the experience up to a whole new level.

    Providence has further claims to a bookishly gothic character, having briefly been host to Edgar Allen Poe. Local lore says that Poe courted poet Sarah Whitman in amongst the headstones of St John’s Church, just below Benefit Street, next door to Sarah’s family home.  True or not, that legend has been enough to make the graveyard a regular haunt for like-minded readers of Lovecraft and Poe such as myself. (It is perhaps not altogether unfitting that the very first poem I memorized - in fourth grade - was “The Raven”.)

    Poe also pursued his courtship of Mrs Whitman within the august environs of the Providence Atheneum. One can hear the librarian now: “Mr Poe! Either the whispering stops or I’m going to have to ask you and Mrs Whitman to leave!”

    During my college days there was a used bookstore in Providence called Dana’s Old Corner Bookshop, downtown in an old commercial building, that had been in business for several decades. The shop was on the ground floor of the building, entered from street level down a few steps. It wasn’t very big but had an eclectic collection including volumes that, for me at the time, were very old and arcane. That stoked my nascent book collecting instincts and I became a regular visitor.

    One day a nineteenth century set of DeQuincey’s Works appeared in the shop - ten volumes bound in old half calf. It was fifteen dollars - almost a week’s rent.  I had to have it, even though the pages were marred by a tide mark of waterstaining along the bottom. The proprietor (I’ve forgotten her name, but not her kindness) apologized for the waterstain and explained:  the set had been in the shop, up on a high shelf, when the great hurricane of 1938 flooded downtown Providence. It escaped, but just barely, as the floodwaters lapped at its bottom edges. The surviving stock had then been moved up to a storeroom on an upper floor, where the DeQuincey dried out and then rested quietly for nearly forty years before returning to the downstairs shop. Such were those days, when a bookseller’s inventory moved at a more leisurely pace.

    The next time I was in the shop the proprietor mentioned that periodically she went up to the storeroom to replenish the stock in the shop and asked: Would I like to go up and look at it? “Absolutely!”, although I expected to find only a closet with a few boxes of books. We went up in an old iron cage elevator, she unlocked an innocuous-looking door in a dusty hallway and ushered me into ... an enormous warehouse-like room filled with thousands of books, all neatly categorized and shelved, just as in an open bookstore. My jaw dropped at the sight - for me it was like stumbling into King Tut’s tomb, or Ali Baba’s cave. Although my memory fades, it seems to me that there must have been several times as many books up there as were in the actual shop. How many customers, I wondered, had any clue of this? I felt genuinely privileged. Off the main storeroom was a smaller room, filled with antiquarian books from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the likes of which I had never before seen. I bought one of them, a 1621 edition of Plautus, for what was then the cost of two weeks’ groceries. (I don’t imagine I went hungry afterwards, but the extravagance probably led to a long stretch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.)

    In a conversation once with a distinguished rare book dealer I mentioned that I was thinking of selling those earliest antiquarian acquisitions, as they weren’t particularly good copies of especially great books, and he said: No, you should keep your first rare books - they’re worth more to you than anyone else. So I still have DeQuincey and Plautus. The groceries I would have eaten.  (It is told of the essayist Thomas Young that one time his wife sent him out with money to buy a goose for dinner; he returned home with a book instead. In reply to her remonstrations he said that by tomorrow the goose would have been gone, but they will have the book forever.)

    I saw that upstairs storeroom only one time, leaving Providence soon thereafter, so my lingering impression is vague and insubstantial, but the general feeling of a great, silent chamber of sleeping books remains. Sadly, the building housing Dana’s burned just a few years later and the bookstore, with nearly all of its stock, was destroyed. Ironically, the books in the ground floor shop itself didn’t burn, but were lost to water damage, once again. As for the storeroom upstairs, no mention is made of it in accounts of the fire. I wonder how many other customers might have been invited up to browse through that hidden trove before it disappeared in flames?

    Many of Lovecraft’s stories involve shuttered rooms, hidden labyrinths, and mysterious inner sanctums harboring unexpected things that are lost in some cataclysmic event before their secrets can be revealed, so it is perhaps fitting that in 1945 Dana’s acquired H.P. Lovecraft’s personal library, some of which might still have been tucked away in that sequestered loft when fire consumed its contents. (Incidentally, word that the collection was for sale attracted two men - Donald Grant and Thomas Hadley - whose chance meeting in the bookstore led to the founding of a small publishing house for Lovecraftian science fiction titles. That won’t happen at the ABEbooks website.)

    Fire and rain - twin enemies of books, and probably among the forces driving open bookshops to extinction. Internet shopping is great - it’s convenient, effortless, and efficient, provided you already know what you’re looking for. But no Internet experience will ever even remotely approximate that serendipitous moment of dumbstruck awe as I entered a hidden bibliohaven high above the streets of Providence and wandered among its ancient bookcases, lit by dusty beams of late-afternoon sunlight, unknown to the outside world. Sometimes I wonder if I just dreamed it all.

    Providence hands you these stories without your asking, which is one of the things I love about the city.

Many thanks to Martin for this wonderful essay, a perfect complement to our Lovecraftmania this month!
Rulon-Miller Books’ latest catalogue bears the dedication “to young booksellers everywhere” and the following on the front cover:

LO AND BEHOLD, LO AND...Oh never mind. You are looking at yet another catalogue, extensively illustrated with words [...] being number 142 in the sequence. The books herein are priced under $500, and have been recently checked against others on line (where there were others on line) and the prices reduced, often comically. Yet, the books remain as good (or even fine) as they ever were, and the knowledge and learning they impart seem, in this turbulent era, even more alive and true than they might have seemed last century.

This is not a catalogue review (though there are many excellent items, over 1000 [!]; the catalogue -- and the cover -- can be viewed here). Rather, the mixture of market realism and bibliographic optimism expressed in the above paragraph simply struck me as particularly emblematic of this particular moment in bookselling. For both the “young bookseller” and the collector, the balance Rulon-Miller describes suggests (at least to me) the proper path forward: with an understanding of how the internet (and e-readers, and...) are influencing the trade, but also with a vision of and appreciation for the book’s continued vitality.
Nigel Beale is a writer and broadcaster who specializes in literary journalism. He hosts a radio program called The Biblio File, in which he interviews authors, publishers, booksellers, editors, and others in the book trade. This week Beale launched Literary Tourist, a web-based community where book lovers can plan trips to bookshops, festivals, libraries, etc., and also exchange their experiences with other biblio-travelers. This sounded amazing to me, and I wanted to learn more, so I asked Beale a few questions about his new project. Here is our Q&A.

RRB: Literary Tourist is such a fabulous idea but also quite a large undertaking. How and when did you decide to pursue it?

NB: I’ll start with the HOW: The idea took hold about a year and a half ago, when I first learned that the Book Hunter Press (BHP) was for sale. Since 1993 owners Susan and David Siegel had been producing their Book Lovers Regional Guides which listed all of the used/antiquarian bookstores in North America.

This, I thought, might fit very nicely with what I was doing at the time, namely pursuing an interest in books, collecting, hosting a radio program, and traveling around visiting and photographing bookstores - sort of a mid-life folly I called it.  I’d been working, quite successfully, in the media/public relations business for  more than 15 years, and had decided that it was time to follow my passion full-time, for as long as the money held out that is!

I soon came to realize that this wasn’t a folly, it was something very important to me.  I loved doing it, and the idea of making money at something you love is very appealing; wedding passion with business. And besides, BHP sort of retroactively explained to me why I was fanatically taking all of these photos! So I went down to visit the Siegels one day in December 2009, and we came to an agreement.

As for the WHY... Partly the same answer: the appeal of getting paid to do what you love, but, on a more fundamental level, I was concerned about the alarming number of used bookstore closures, and saw BHP as an opportunity to help slow the trend.

RRB: Is the ABAA or ILAB involved? Have any booksellers offered feedback?

NB: Funny you should mention ABAA. Susan Benne, its executive director,  was the person who initially put me in touch with Brendan Sherar at He was the one who told me that BHP was for sale. Biblio, incidentally, is partnering with Literary Tourist to help bookstores promote themselves.

While there is nothing formal in place with ABAA yet, they are supportive, and we are currently talking about ways we might jointly work to increase open bookstore traffic. As for ILAB, I haven’t formally approached them, however, they have been keen on the radio work I’ve been doing, promoting my Biblio File interviews. I’m hopeful, once we move into other parts of the world (we’re currently covering North America with plans to open the U.K. later on this year), that we’ll do something together.

As for feedback, we’ve had positive response from everyone we’ve spoken to so far; not surprising I suppose, given the fact that our goal is to generate more business for used bookstores. The test will come in the next few weeks when we launch the site; we’ll be emailing thousands of booksellers inviting them to claim and update their listings.

RRB: As I’ve read on your ‘About Us’ page, you began updating the BHP database in 2009. Had it been nine years since the previous update? What did you notice in that process?

NB: BHP put its data online in 2000. In fact, they were updating their databases right up until I took over in 2010. Still, it is a challenge to keep up with all the closings and start-ups. This is why we are inviting all used booksellers to visit to claim, add, update and maintain their listings.

What I’ve noticed in the process is that although there have been quite a few closures, the information we have on existing stores is surprisingly accurate.

RRB: The site offers collectors a place to plan a trip to book shops, landmarks, festivals, libraries, and other places of bibliophilic interest. Members will have the opportunity to ‘review’ these things, such as we see on typical travel websites, is that right? That’s an interesting aspect to this.

NB: Yes, we’ve provided space on the site not just for members, but for all visitors to review bookstores and other destinations. This, in addition to our own in-house reviews and comments, is I think a strength of the site: accurate, useful assessments that will help book lovers to spend their time most profitably.

As things progress, we want to create a community of traveling book lovers where participants can exchange thoughts about their experiences. The idea is that this input, along with an ‘events and sales’ feature, will make literary trips that much more fruitful.

RRB: I’m interested to read that a new set of printed regional Book Lover’s Guides will also be published. What are your plans there?

NB: Although the Internet, ebooks, iphones, and similar innovations, provide all sorts of convenience and benefits, I like the idea of providing book lovers with something tangible and tactile; to use or abuse as they see fit as they travel along literary highways and bi-ways. So, two things: one, we will be introducing downloadable pdf State Reports for $.99 (members), $4.99 (non-members) which will include state maps and listings of all in-state destinations; and, as you say, we’ll be re-introducing the seven printed regional guides which, in addition to all the bookstores, will also now include all kinds of other literary destinations, events and activities. These will be printed on demand.

I should mention too, before closing, that we plan to offer a discount program where participating dealers will offer a percentage off their books to customers who present one of our Guides or State Reports. Again, the idea behind this is to get more people into the physical bookstore in hopes that this will help keep more of them open.

Our thanks to Nigel Beale. Best of luck with the new endeavor!

Get some “insight into the collecting mind” with this three-part web documentary, The Curators,  created by the Museum of Online Museums to showcase little known collectors and collections across the country. Below is Part One. Each part is between five and seven minutes, so you can watch everything in about twenty minutes. Enjoy!

The Museum of Online Museums’ “The Curators” (Part One) from Coudal Partners on Vimeo.

Screen shot 2011-04-11 at 9.02.54 PM.pngFor those of you who enjoyed reading about Greg Boehm’s collection of bartending and cocktail books in our spring issue (or those of you who are still in a New York state of mind), here’s a great video tour of Greg’s Cocktail Kingdom. He shows off the oldest book in his collection, discusses jacket art, and talks about how his books are shelved and why.

Has it really been ten years since Nicholson Baker shook up the cozy world inhabited by librarians and conservators with publication of Double Fold, his National Book Critics Circle Award-winning examination of the way materials on paper--most notably newspapers--were being displaced by surrogate copies in other, more easily stored media? Not only has it been a decade since Baker made the word “microfilm” a synonym for “leprosy”--and not undeserved, I should add--it has been an eventful decade in the book world to boot, as our own Rebecca Rego Barry reminds us in a splendid overview of Double Fold and its continuing impact. It is featured in the current issue of The Millions, the superb--dare we say indispensable?--online magazine offering comprehensive coverage of books and the arts. Here’s a link. Nice going, Rebecca, very well done.

Sad news today in the antiquarian book world. Peter B. Howard of Serendipity Books has died. I was lucky enough to meet him, however briefly, at the California book fair in San Francisco this past February. In tribute, I am posting an essay Nicholas Basbanes wrote for this blog in August of last year, when a number of booksellers banded together to pay tribute to Howard, who had been ill for some time.

For the last couple of weeks, the Booktryst blog has been running a series of moving tributes to a legendary California bookseller under the collective heading, “A Wake for the Still Alive: Peter B. Howard.” People who either don’t know Peter or who have never been to Serendipity Books might reasonably regard this as audacious at best, but since everything about Peter is completely honest and candid, it is very much in character. For a case in point, just take a look at his no-nonsense website. “If you’re in Berkeley, California, feel free to come in and browse,” he writes. “We are usually friendly.”

It is no secret in the book world that Peter has been gravely ill for some time now. Indeed, the details of his illness were reported several months ago in several media outlets, one of which used the occasion to speculate on the future of his extraordinary bookstore. Always open and always willing to share his considered impressions on just about anything--I have never met a more forthcoming or more unassuming person in my life, and that is something to say for a person who has spent more than forty years as a professional journalist--Peter readily acknowledged the nature of his illness with the reporter, and offered the additional assessment that he was custodian of the “greatest bookstore in the world,” and used a descriptive adjective for emphasis to make his point--as only he can do...

...For myself, I am eternally grateful to Peter for being there twenty years ago when we met for the first time to talk about a range of matters. I had no earthly idea before we met how knowledgeable he would be about everyone and everything in the book world, or the depth, for that matter, of his piercing intellect. Especially memorable was his willingness to respond, on the record, to every reasonable question I put to him, regardless of the potential fallout. I can’t imagine writing A Gentle Madness without the benefit of his many insights, and when it came time to include a section on scholarly booksellers in Patience & Fortitude, he was the first person I chose to profile. All I can say, Peter, is thank you for sharing your wisdom with me, thank you for your friendship, and thank you for being such a remarkable bookman. You are truly one of a kind. -- Nicholas Basbanes
Richard Minsky is on a roll -- in the last year alone he published a deluxe and trade edition of The Art of American Book Covers, produced three editions of the catalogue that accompanied a Yale Library retrospective of his work, and now we find out that he has been hard at work on yet another volume titled The Book Art of Richard Minsky. By the by, he also became our magazine’s Book Art columnist.

It’s enough to make the most productive person feel quite lazy!

bookartrmsover1.jpgMinsky’s newest book is a look at his most influential pieces (including those from private collections) together with a first-person narrative in which he discusses his influences, his methodology, and the principles that shape his work. It also features a foreword by book art scholar and curator Betty Bright.

From now through Thursday, March 31, a pre-publication discount will apply for the deluxe slipcase edition, which means it can be purchased for $100 instead of $175. The edition is limited to 150 signed and numbered copies. 

A trade edition of this book will be be published in June by George Braziller, Inc., the same company that produced Minsky’s The Art of American Book Covers last year. (I raved about that one, so it’s an understatement to say that I’m looking forward to the new one.)

To read more about Richard’s work, click over to this interview I did with him last June just before Yale opened its exhibit, “Material Meets Metaphor: A Half Century of Book Art by Richard Minsky.”
At the upcoming Heritage auction in New York City on April 7-9, rare Charles Dickens manuscript material, serialized parts, first editions, theatrical broadsides, and period photographs will find new owners (of course, if you want to get a head start or won’t be in NYC, you can place bids online). Ten years in the making, this is an amazing collection, and I’ve taken the opportunity to talk with the collector, Victor Gulotta, about how he built the collection and why it’s time to divest.

All the first edition original parts of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859), in original blue wrappers by publishers Chapman and Hall. Protected in a quarter dark green morocco clamshell case. Opening bid $3,500. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

RRB: Victor, I know from your work with Nicholas Basbanes that you have a literary profession. Tell us about yourself and how you came to be a collector.

VG: My background is in book publishing. After studying literature in college, I landed a position with a small, scholarly publisher, where I edited manuscripts and promoted books. As a promotion specialist, I went on, over the course of sixteen years, to head publicity departments at several trade and scholarly publishing houses. Later, I started my own company, Gulotta Communications, Inc., a full-service PR firm for authors and publishers. As a literary publicist, I continue to represent fiction and nonfiction authors.
While the authors I represent are very much alive, the ones I collect are decidedly dead. Looking back at the genesis of my collecting, I’d have to say that it was in grade school when I began a systematic effort to acquire books. I loved our local library in Brooklyn, but found returning books a bit frustrating: I wanted to keep the books I’d read, so I could refer back to them at my convenience. The solution was in the copies of Scholastic and Tab books I would order through my school. Each month, our teachers, most of whom were nuns, would announce to their respective classes that a shipment had arrived. Then they would bring in the boxes of books and dispense them to the beaming students who had placed orders. I always felt sorry for the kids who emerged empty-handed.
I chose books from different genres, including American and English lit (which included Dickens novels), history, biographies, science, and science fiction. Now I had books I could read, reread, and cherish. I began to assemble a nice collection of paperbacks, eventually supplementing or replacing them with hardcover editions. Much later on, I discovered the joy of first editions. Thus began my collecting.
RRB: Your focus has been Dickens, and that’s the collection up for auction in April by Heritage. Why Dickens, and how long did it take you to put this collection together?

VG: Dickens has long been my favorite English novelist. I suppose it’s his treatment of social injustice that I find most compelling. Then there are all the other reasons to love Dickens--too numerous to go into here. Suffice it to say that I never grow tired of his fiction, nor of accounts of his life.

I began collecting Dickens in earnest in 2001, shortly after selling my Longfellow collection, a fourteen-year project, to Harvard. The connection between Longfellow and Dickens, who were trans-Atlantic friends, was in the back of my mind when I shifted gears. I’ve saved a letter in which Longfellow reflects on his 1842 visit with Dickens in England.

It took me ten years to build my Dickens collection. It reflects my deep appreciation for the life, not just the works, of this great novelist.

RRB: What are your buying methods -- visiting shops, perusing catalogues, attending fairs, searching online? Has one dealer been especially helpful?

VG: When I collected Longfellow, there were several dealers--people like Jim Randall at Ahab Rare Books in Cambridge and David O’Neal in Boston--who always kept me in mind for special material. In the early stages of collecting Dickens, I relied in part on Heritage Book Shop in Los Angeles (not to be confused with Heritage Auctions in Dallas). They were legendary Dickens specialists, and I acquired a number of parts issues from them. As I advanced in my collecting, I drew from a multitude of sources.

I continue to buy from diverse sources, in particular because my interests are more varied these days (in addition to nineteenth-century literary material, I collect early printed volumes and medieval manuscripts). When I can, I visit shops, but I buy primarily from auctions and online listings, fairs when they’re in town, catalogues, and occasionally from individuals.

RRB: For many book collectors, the best part of collecting is the chase. Which of these items was the most fun to “find”?

VG: Undoubtedly, the most satisfying find was the Autographed Quotation Signed (AQS) of Little Nell’s death scene in The Old Curiosity Shop. Dickens penned this piece while in Boston during his first American tour, in 1842. Dickens AQsS rarely come on the market; I acquired this piece some years ago at a small local auction. It had not seen the light of day for decades before.

RRB: Why have you decided to sell the collection?

VG: Collections are fun-filled, intellectually stimulating projects. I collect a lot of historical--mostly literary--material. Collecting fuels my interest in, and knowledge of, a particular subject, whether it’s an author, a genre, or a period. When I reach the stage of accomplishing what I’ve set out to achieve--and that usually means a collection has been formed to my satisfaction--I move on. In the case of Longfellow, that meant finding an appropriate institution to house the collection.  With Dickens, I’ve chosen to go the auction route, in part because he was more of a public figure--it seems appropriate that his letters, portraits, first editions, and other material should be made available to his many fans, especially on the eve of the bicentenary celebration of his birth (2012).

RRB: Do you have a favorite piece, one that’s most difficult to part with? (I just love the red wax seal with Dickens’ crest -- it seems so personal.)

VG: Besides the aforementioned Little Nell manuscript item, I’d have to say that I will most miss the photographs. Comprising several lots, there are two dozen cartes de visite, a couple of cabinet cards, and a large albumen photo, each a contemporary image of Dickens. Like the autograph material--and the wax seal you mention--these images provide a personal connection to Dickens. Yes, you can read a Penguin paperback copy--or better yet, a first edition--of David Copperfield, his most autobiographical novel; or treat yourself to the meticulously detailed 1952 biography of Dickens by Edgar Johnson, and you’ll make a deeply personal connection with the great novelist, but spend some time with these photos, taken from life, and you’ll add a new dimension to your appreciation for Dickens.

To read more about the Gulotta Collection, read this article written by HA’s rare books manager Joe Fay in the company’s January newsletter. Our thanks to Mr. Gulotta for spending some time with us.
LOF rgb 72 3D 012011.jpgIn just a few days, The Leaves of Fate, the third volume in an historical trilogy written by Massachusetts bookseller George Robert Minkoff will be published. He follows up The Weight of Smoke and The Dragons of the Storm with this final volume on Capt. John Smith and Sir Francis Drake.

Several years ago when the first book was published, I had the pleasure of interviewing Minkoff about his literary pursuits. He told me about researching a novel. Here’s a snippet from that article, in the May/June 2007 issue:

Although Minkoff acknowledged he is “not a historian,” he took his research very seriously. He utilized his bibliographic experience to study the history of tobacco - a significant part of the story - by examining sixteenth-century books and pamphlets that provided divergent views on long-held beliefs and myths. He also delved into the history of alchemy, geography, disease and piracy to recreate Smith’s world and that of Smith’s Elizabethan-age hero and father figure, Sir Francis Drake.

The details in the original sources, he said, lend flavor to the narrative, especially to its language, which was very important to him. “Language is a character. I didn’t want it to sound like it was written last Wednesday,” he quipped.

No less a writer than Paul Auster has praised Minkoff, saying, “George Minkoff is one of the bravest men alive. He has gambled that a three-part epic novel about 17th century Colonial America -- written in a language that mimics the speech of the time -- can hold the interest of 21st century readers and bring satisfactions and delights as a work of contemporary fiction. Remarkably enough, he has won his bet.”

All three volumes are available in trade editions and in signed limited editions. Read a sample chapter at McPherson & Co.’s website.

RP.jpgReynolds Price, a true southern gentleman and one of the outstanding American writers of his generation, died yesterday at 77, in Durham, North Carolina, of heart failure. While known best for his thirteen novels, Price was a magnificent stylist adept in many genres, with volumes of poetry, essays, plays, short stories, memoirs, and translations from the Bible among his other credits. His first book, A Long and Happy Life, was greeted on its release in 1962 with immediate acclaim and honors, including a coveted William Faulkner Award that set the stage for the many literary triumphs that followed, A Generous Man (1966), Kate Vaiden (1986) and The Three Gospels (1996) notable among them. His third memoir, An American Writer, Coming of Age in Oxford (2009), recalled the three years he spent as a Rhodes Scholar in the late 1950s; upon his return to the United States, he taught at Duke University, his alma mater, for more than fifty years, a favorite course among students the one on his lifelong hero, John Milton. A splendid obituary of Price’s life--with some lovely comments from such admirers as Allan Gurganus and Ann Tyler--appears in today’s New York Times.

Top.jpgLet it also be said that in addition to his remarkable body of work--thirty-eight published books, by my count--Reynolds Price was a dedicated bibliophile who had a genuine appreciation for books as artifacts. I spoke with him several times back in the 1990s for my newspaper columns, the most memorable get-together coming on May 15, 1992, when we met for lunch at a small cafe just off Harvard Square to talk about his novel Blue Calhoun, which had just been released. As much as I treasure the inscription he wrote in my copy of the book, pictured here--how could I not love being referred to by Reynolds Price as a “fellow bibliomaniac”?--the unqualified highlight of the interview came when we were discussing his courageous battle with spinal cancer, and his will to continue writing despite being confined to a wheelchair as a paraplegic. It was during this exchange that Price told me about a special book he owned, and why it meant so much to him. A phrase he used--“touching the hand”--inspired me sufficiently to use it three years later as the title for the opening chapter in A Gentle Madness.

“Milton wrote his best books after he lost his sight,” he had told me back then. “I have written eleven books since I had cancer, and it represents some of the very best work I have ever done. My copy of Paradise Lost once belonged to Deborah Milton Clarke, the daughter who took Milton’s dictation after he went blind. For me, it was like the apostolic succession. I was touching the hand that touched the hand that touched the Hand.”

When I contacted Price two years later to go over the quote once again--he was delighted to learn that I was going to use it in my book--he reminded me to make sure that the ‘h’ in the final usage of the word ‘hand’ be capitalized. “This is the Hand of God we are talking about here, Nicholas,” he said in his wonderful drawl. I get chills to this day thinking about it.

It was announced yesterday that Ellis Gene Smith, the Utah native who had the largest collection of Tibetan books (outside of Tibet), died in New York City. Smith was also the executive director of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center. Here’s his obituary from the New York Times and another from the Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this week, we were also saddened to learn of the death of professor Denis Dutton, who had been running the Arts & Letters Daily website for twelve years.
fitzgerald.jpgFew writers understood better the limit of their talents than F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In the marvelous new HBO documentary, “Public Speaking,” the writer and professional “famous-person” Fran Lebowitz is interviewed by the Nobel-laureate, Toni Morrison. When the subject of the conversation comes to Fitzgerald’s work, Lebowitz mentions that his talent pretty much ended with “The Great Gatsby.”

Morrison slips in a mention of “The Crack-Up.”  Lebowitz ignores the interruption and is already onto her next bon-mot.

Morrison was right to mention “The Crack-Up,” as it is perhaps the most honest cri de coeur any writer has ever issued about the panic he felt when his talent had failed him.

Fitzgerald was in Hollywood, struggling with alcoholism and his inability to understand how one wrote a screenplay. He was fairly desperate, because his wife was in a mental institution in Asheville, NC,  and he had a child to support.  The light at the end of the dock was real, and haunting, to him.

How many writers have simply stopped writing? (Eventually, all of them.) We never hear why they stop creatively.

Fitzgerald tried to to continue. “The Last Tycoon” is considered his final work, although it was never finished.

“The Crack-Up” is actually his last great work. He explains, in the most searing self-indictment possible, how he failed - as a writer and a human being.  

He already knew it was time to stop typing.

And yet he beat on ....

Bill Self.jpgThe passing last week of the Hollywood film and television producer William E. Self was noted by prominent obituaries published in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, both of which I recommend for their appreciative reflections of this multi-talented man’s many contributions to the entertainment world over the past half-century, though neither makes mention of his remarkable acumen as a book collector, or for the two sales of his beloved library last year in New York at Christie’s that for a while were the talk of the antiquarian book world.

Self’s television credits in various executive capacities during the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s included The Twilight Zone, Peyton Place, Daniel Boone, Batman, MASH, some forty-four series alone during a fifteen-year tenure at 20th Century Fox Television, a good number of them as president of the company. Feature length productions included John Wayne’s final film, The Shootist, and Sarah, Plain and Tall, starring Glenn Close, for the Hallmark Hall of Fame.
A few reports from this weekend’s 34th Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair

Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis - begin here and work forward.

Chris Lowenstein at Book Hunter’s Holiday - Chris wasn’t at the fair this year, but has a dispatch from Mr. Z, here.

Marie at Boston Bibliophile - report here.

Dracula.jpg Today is the birthday of Bram Stoker, born in 1847. The Irish writer is best known for his gothic novel, Dracula, and in celebration of that, here’s a snippet from one of Ian McKay’s recent auction reports on an inscribed first edition of Stoker’s classic that sold for $77,770:

Not only is this copy clean and bright, but it is inscribed by the author to Mrs. W. S. Gilbert--wife of the chap who wrote the librettos to the Savoy Operas of Gilbert & Sullivan.

At the time, some mild controversy attached to the nature and extent of the friendship between the Stoker and Gilbert households, or--to be more direct--a certain curiosity regarding the frequent meetings between Gilbert and Stoker’s young wife, Florence, the Dublin beauty who had once been courted by Oscar Wilde, whilst Stoker, a theatre manager, was busy at work. [see full report here]

Dying for more Dracula? Check out his homepage.
DSCN3053.JPG The Little Rock Public Library—known since 1975 as the Central Library of Arkansas System, or CALS—is observing it’s hundredth birthday this year, an ongoing celebration that I was pleased to participate in last week with a talk at the main library, a bustling operation that last year accommodated close to 2 million customers, some 37,400 visitors a week, and on track now to exceed that number for 2010. The figures for book circulation, 2.3 million volumes, 44,300 a week, are also up 11 percent from 2008, yet another indicator of just how essential the public library remains as a cultural institution in our daily lives.

What really knocked me off my feet on this trip, though, was the fantastic second-hand bookstore owned by CALS in downtown Little Rock, the first such public library initiative of its kind to my experience, and operated since 2001 in support of the library. Called River Market Books & Gifts, the store occupies three floors in the Cox Building, a beautifully restored machinery warehouse that dates to 1906, and includes a chic cafe, art gallery and creative center for various library programs. The variety of used books is spectacular, I must say, and because all are donated, they are offered for sale at exceedingly fair prices (and in remarkably decent condition as well.)

In the current issue of Fine Books & Collections, Ellen F. Brown interviewed television writer Tom Heyes about his vintage Hollywood collection (“How I Got Started,” page 68). He has an amazing collection devoted to film producer David O. Selznick. We couldn’t fit all of the interview on the printed page (score one for the Internet), so here’s what you missed. More about Tom’s collection...

Number of items in your collection: Maybe two thousand.

First important Selznick item you collected: A “loan out” agreement signed by Selznick and his father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer. It granted Selznick permission to hire MGM’s Freddie Bartholomew for the film Little Lord Fauntleroy. Selznick had just resigned from MGM to start his own business and had to go back to his father-in-law to borrow the star.

Most recent item you bought for your collection: A neat little letter from Selznick to Hollywood columnist Walter Winchell.

Washington D.C. lost a literary monument today when Politics and Prose bookstore co-founder Carla Cohen died of bile duct cancer. Family members are asking for people to express their condolences by donating to her favorite charities -- Jews United for Justice, Washington Literary Council and Community Hospice. You can also read about her passing in The Washington Post’s obituary

Every book lover who lives here has great memories born at her store and we all mourn her passing.

May her passion for the written word and the joy of books live forever.

Anthony Marx, the president of Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, has confirmed to Bloomberg News that he will become the new president of the New York Public Library next year, succeeding Paul LeClerc, who has been at the helm since 1993. LeClerc announced his retirement last November, prompting a nationwide search to find a replacement.

The appointment of Marx follows a long-standing precedent at the NYPL of turning to academe for its top leadership. LeClerc, a noted scholar of 18th-century French literature--and an enthusiastic collector of Voltaire in his own right--came to the job from the presidency of Hunter College, the largest institution of public learning in New York City. He succeeded the Reverend Timothy S. Healy, a native New Yorker who had previously been president of Georgetown University in Washington; Healy, in turn, had succeeded the historian Vartan Gregorian, former provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and later the president of Brown University.

Given the increasing reliance on electronic resources, along with the evolving role of libraries as institutions in American cultural life, the selection of Marx to this premier position is particularly interesting, especially for the NYPL, which has assumed such an important role in public education in New York, not only through its 87 neighborhood branches, but at the extraordinary research centers it maintains in Manhattan. In an email to Bloomberg News confirming his appointment--which must still be approved by the library’s board--Marx wrote that the NYPL is “New York City’s preeminent education institution that is free and open to all.”

Also a New York native, Marx, 51, initiated a no-loan financial aid policy at Amherst that allows graduates to pursue careers without worrying about debt. Before assuming the presidency of the college eight years ago, he was a professor of political science at Columbia University, where he helped found Khanya College, a prep school in South Africa, and started the Columbia Urban Educators Program, which recruits and trains teachers.

The New York Public Library budget exceeds $500 million a year, and last year had more than 18 million visitors. We wish Marx success in his new position, and LeClerc well in his retirement.

We at FB&C are excited to see our very own Nick Basbanes featured as an ‘Athenaeum Author’ on the homepage of the Boston Athenaeum! They have a great bio and bibliography of Nick, who has been a member of the Athenaeum for twenty years.
Guest Blog by Lillian Cole, Twelfth St. Booksellers

In less than a year, I’ve lost two of my favorite bookseller colleagues. Jean Marie Parmer of Parmer Books, San Diego, California, passed away November 27, 2009 at age 72, much too young at heart to leave us so soon.

She was a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), the San Diego Booksellers Association, and founding member of TomFolio, an international co-op of independent dealers. She was often seen at antiquarian book fairs, buying and selling, frequently triumphant with a mountain of rare first editions in hand, she wrote articles for various bibliophilic websites, and participated as panel member of the Antiquarian Book Seminar in Denver.

Jean started her own rare book business, Parmer Books, which husband Jerry and later, Robin Nosan, joined full time within a few years. Her interest in polar books was ignited by a visit to the Old Globe Theatre where she saw Ted Tally’s play, Terra Nova, the tragic story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Parmer Books specialized in polar, travel and exploration, nautical, and Americana.

Early on, Jean and Jerry embraced the rapidly developing technology, the computer and the Internet and created Book Stacks, an inventory software for the Macintosh. Because my mind was stubbornly closed to the encroaching powers of the Internet, they offered to help me find books and are responsible for opening me up to the great possibilities of finding the huge variety of gem and jewelry books that I have since accumulated for my own business. This selfless act of friendship is just a hint of the deeply generous spirit that I was so privileged to know.

Jean’s warm and gracious spirit nurtured her garden, her family, and her friends with her very big, loving heart. She was a bookseller’s bookseller, fair, knowledgeable, honest, and brought that same gift to her creation, Parmer Books.

Henry Polissack, antiquarian bookseller and antique jewelry seller and specialist, in Northampton, Massachusetts, died May 5, 2010, just short of his 71st birthday, too young, too soon.

He was a member of the Massachusetts & Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers and the British Society of Jewellery Historians. His passion for collecting beautiful things started with his early collection of antique pens, and within ten years, built one of the largest collections in the United States, which when completed was sold, en bloc. While searching for these beautiful pens, he became fascinated with antique jewelry, which he ultimately turned into a business where he was well known and loved as evidenced by the moving tribute by Diane Singer in the Newsletter of the American Society of Jewelry Historians. His passion for the jewels led him to build a library on the subject and his book business was a natural result of his soon overflowing collection of books on jewelry, gems and related topics. Henry pursued books with a passion, and found me listed in a book trade directory as a specialist in books on gems and jewelry, and was usually the first caller when my yearly catalog was mailed out.

He formed the La Prima Jewelry-Book Collectors’ Club specializing in books about jewelry, gems, history of jewelry, engraved gems, crown jewels, noted jewelers and goldsmiths, travel and adventures related to them, and created twelve catalogs between 1999-2007. During our many long telephone conversations about our books of our special interest, he confided his decision to build the finest, most comprehensive collection of books in the field in the United States and vigorously pursued them nationally and internationally, building a collection of over four thousand volumes. He loved building collections, and when satisfied that he had the best, the scarcest, the rarest, the most significant and important books in the field, he offered them at auction with Swann. They advised him that because of its size, there should be two auctions, and so there were, the first on March 20, 2003, and the second scheduled for May 27, 2004. The first took place the day after the United States bombed Iraq; nevertheless, though sparsely attended, there was much phone bidding activity and the auction was successful. The two catalogues of Books on Gems and Jewelry, The Henry Polissack Library are a great source of reference and are in my own reference library, together with all twelve catalogues issued between 1999-2007.

Another remembrance of Henry written by Mary Murphy Hammid in the Journal of the Geo-Literary Society tells of her visit with him at his home in Northampton, where she saw the enormous volume of books in his private collection as well as the inventory for his book business, evidence of the overflow of his obsession, his “splendid addiction,” his “gentle madness.” Henry was honest, knowledgeable, a lovely man, a wonderful friend and colleague who I admired and respected with deep affection.

--Thanks to Lillian Cole for this homage to two great bibliophiles. 

Today is the birthday of our great dictionary maker, Samuel Johnson, born 1709. In honor of this, I pass along this fun tidbit: At an August sale from Leslie Hindman, a first edition, first printing in full tree calf of Mr. Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755) went for $7,500. Another one of these beauties (in original boards) is coming up for auction later this fall -- details in the autumn issue of FB&C, in your mailboxes in less than two weeks!

I am delighted to report the publication of two books that I have been eager for some time to see appear between hard covers, having had the opportunity to know a bit about them beforehand, and to have had communication with each of the authors as they were works-in-progress. Happily, they are everything I expected they would be, gracefully written in both instances, wisely reasoned, and a genuine pleasure to read.

BlackBerry.JPGHamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers; Harper, 267 pages, $24.99.

A former staff writer and media critic for the Washington Post, William Powers
has written extensively on every manner of communications technology, developing the premise of this book--and coming up with the splendid title--while a Fellow at Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press in 2006. Powers is exceedingly savvy when it comes to navigating his way about the digital world, and while he is not about to abandon its wondrous applications in any way, shape, or form, he has chosen to step back a bit, take a deep breath, and pay attention to the wisdom of our cultural forebears. “The interior struggle” of “information overload,” he writes--the phrase was presciently coined in the 1970s by Alvin Toffler--“is having a dramatic impact in our personal and family relationships.” Constant connectivity with the entire world--text messages, cellphones, video streams--leads him to ask the fundamental question: “What is the point anyway?” This is neither a preachy polemic nor a boring diatribe, and while he calls on Plato, Shakespeare, Thoreau, and others for guidance, he does so with style, humility and elan. “Every space is what you make it,” he concludes. “But in the end, building a good life isn’t about where you are. It’s about how you decide to think and live. Place your index finger on your temple and tap twice. It’s all in there.” Links to various reviews and broadcast interviews are available on Powers’ website.

The Groaning Shelf and Other Instances of Book Love, by Pradeep Sebastian; Hachette India, 295 pages, 12.99 GBP ($20 US).

A well-known literary columnist in India whose many pieces for major publications are available on the Internet, Pradeep Sebastian has entered the books about books genre in impressive fashion, with a very nice collection of his erudite pieces on a striking variety of subjects, many of them previously published in different form, though a few--including a generous profile of yours truly he calls “The Collector of Collectors”--appearing here for the first time. How can a reader of the Fine Books blog not be simpatico with someone who makes this admission: “Holding a book but not actually reading it gave me time (and put me in the mood) to reflect on the act of reading and the physicality of the book; the book as material object.” Or someone whose favorite Sunday afternoon ritual is take volumes off his groaning shelves and rearrange them in a new order? “Should I abandon the by-author arrangement and categorize them by subject matter?” Very heavy concerns, indeed. The book has just been released by the India division of Hachette, parent company of Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt. It should be available in U.S. outlets shortly; for now it can be ordered through Amazon.UK.

Of the dozens of titles on my bookshelves that deal with great book collectors of the past, not one deals exclusively with great women book collectors. 

I find this puzzling.  Certainly there is no lack of great femmes bibliophiles about which an author could write.  Aside from the well-known aristocratic and royal women book collectors of centuries past (Margaret of FlandersJeanne de Laval, Catherine de’ Medici, Frances Egerton, etc.), there are any number of other women who also have been great book collectors.  Within our own day, Estelle Doheny and Mary Eccles come immediately to mind.  As does Carol Fitzgerald.

And Olive Percival.


Few modern book collectors are likely to be familiar with Olive Percival, even though her collection of children’s books is one of the foundation collections of UCLA’s own notable collection of such books.  In truth, it is only through a serendipitous encounter with Ingrid Johnson’s MA thesis about Percival that your correspondent became acquainted with this extraordinary woman.

Olive May Graves Percival was born in a log cabin in 1868 in Sheffield, Illinois.  In 1887, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles, where Olive later became prominent (as a “writer, photographer, gardener, artist, and bibliophile”) in the so-called Arroyo Culture, a southern California branch of the Arts & Crafts movement.  Although employed as a lowly insurance clerk for over three decades, her income--supplemented by the occasional published article or book--was sufficient for her to amass a private library in excess of 10,000 volumes.

Lawrence Clark Powell, no mean collector himself, commented that [i]n spite of an income limited to her clerk’s earnings and from the occasional sale of articles, this woman...collected beautiful things so assiduously that, after her death, it took an appraiser two weeks to inventory the contents of her cottage.... What a pity that she lacked the wealth and the leisure of a Huntington or a Morgan.

An even greater pity was the lack of respect accorded Percival’s collection after her death in 1945.  Her entire library was sold for an outrageously paltry sum.  Because the bookseller who bought the collection thought its children’s books (527 volumes) would make a nice benefaction for his son’s alma mater, UCLA wound up with a truly remarkable foundational collection.  (Some 20% of the titles--the publication dates range from 1707-1914--are chapbooks.)

Percival did not collect only books on her insurance clerk’s income.  She also collected “hats, dolls, daguerreotypes, silver, textiles, quilts, fans, bookplates, Lalique, and Oriental art.”  In many ways, she very much lived the credo of the Arts and Crafts movement, as she herself noted in a diary entry: [s]ometime we shall perceive the need of a fitting background for everyday life and be willing to devote as much time to the intelligent arrangement and management of the place we call home as is given without a protest to bridge or the last best-seller or embroidery or the planning of some self adornment....

I have been able to locate only two books that Percival published during her lifetime--Mexico City: An Idler’s Notebook (1901) and Leaf shadows and rose-drift: being little songs from a Los Angeles garden (1911).  (Two more books were published posthumously--Yellowing Ivy [1946] and Our Old-Fashioned Flowers [1947].  Most of Percival’s published works were articles for periodicals, although she also occasionally penned stories for books like From the Old Pueblo and Other Tales.)

In 2005, Percival’s manuscript The Children’s Garden Book (depicted above) was published as part of The Huntington Library Garden Series.  The Huntington Library holds “Percival’s diaries, more than 700 of her photographs, and three book manuscripts....”

For the last couple of weeks, the booktryst blog has been running a series of moving tributes to a legendary California bookseller under the collective heading, “A Wake for the Still Alive: Peter B. Howard.” People who either don’t know Peter or who have never been to Serendipity Books might reasonably regard this as audacious at best, but since everything about Peter is completely honest and candid, it is very much in character. For a case in point, just take a look at his no-nonsense website. “If you’re in Berkeley, California, feel free to come in and browse,” he writes. “We are usually friendly.”

POTUS Seen Buying Books

POTUS, otherwise known as the President of the United States, is vacationing in Vineyard Haven on Nantucket Island and made his first public appearance today. Emerging from Blue Heron Farm at precisely 11:40 a.m., the President and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, made a bee-line by motorcade to a locally-renowned bookstore, Bunch of Grapes. His selections? Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and, for himself, Johnathan Franzen’s “Freedom.”
It is unclear how POTUS obtained the latter, since it is not scheduled to be officially published until August 31st. Perhaps a Congressional investigation will be required.<gr>

On the 4th of July in 2008, the bookstore, a village icon, was decimated by a fire.

This bookstore was also a favorite of Bill Clinton, for whom the bookstore was closed with whatever customers were inside unable to leave or any new customers permitted to enter by the Secret Service. We must presume that a similar protocol was observed today with the current POTUS.
Golden Legend Inc. of Beverly Hills, California, has just published a limited edition of John Ward and His Magnificent Collection, which looks at Ward as an educator, collector, and curator. Ward devoted his life to collecting rare music scores and original editions, all of which are now at Harvard.

From the book’s introduction: “The purpose of John Ward and His Magnificent Collection, call it another festschrift, is to examine and celebrate John Ward’s labors since his retirement. In these twenty five years, his second career continues the first and expands his work as a collector and curator of a vast and internationally important collection of original music and dance material for the Harvard University libraries.”

Edited by bookseller Gordon Hollis, the 168-page book contains an introduction by Hollis and a transcription of an engaging interview between Hollis and Ward. It also contains chapters by noted antiquarian music dealers John and Jude Lubrano (“La Chasse et Le Professeur; or, Reminiscences of Four Decades on the Prowl”), Sir Curtis Price (“Origins of the King’s Theatre Collection”), and Professor D.W. Krummel (“Lutebooks on the Loose”), among other curators and librarians.

The edition of 200 in hardcover costs $75 and may be ordered directly from Golden Legend. All profits will go to the Harvard Theatre Collection.

To read more about antiquarian music collecting, check out the feature written by Joel Silver from FB&C’s May issue.  
Ralph Sipper, of Ralph Sipper Books in Santa Barbara, CA, has just launched his first (yes, you read that right) website. Welcome! Being an “old school” antiquarian bookseller for 40 years, Sipper finally agreed to bring his shop online. He said of the decision: “Old-fashioned as I am, and motivated by the enthusiasm of my daughter and son-in-law, I am moving onto the Information Super Highway in as positive way as I can muster.”

His daughter, Cory, and her husband built the very attractive site. She said her father is “quite happy to have his website. Possibly, even excited. As long as it doesn’t take time from handwriting and snail-mailing his business letters.” Take a browse through the inventory, check out their Book of the Month, and read a fascinating interview Matthew Bruccoli did with Sipper for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, which is posted in PDF.

Ralph Sipper Books is an ABAA member that specializes in literary first editions and manuscripts.

Thumbnail image for TobyHoltzman.jpgOne of the most extraordinary bibliophiles I have ever met, Irwin T. “Toby” Holtzman, passed away in Detroit this past week at 82, leaving behind his lovely wife Shirley, three children, three grandchildren, and a legacy of tenacious commitment to books and libraries that is unequaled in my experience. Truth be told, I never met anyone quite like Toby, and expect I will not again anytime soon. As a collector, his interests were generally centered on twentieth century and contemporary fiction. At the height of his activity, he collected the works of some 350 authors, and he did it with a remarkable degree of thoroughness. I first learned about Toby in the late 1980s when I was in the early stages of researching A Gentle Madness, and looking for suitable people to profile. When I told Peter Howard, the owner of Serendipity Books in Berkeley, Calif., the premise of my book--the title pretty much says it all--he suggested I spend some time in Detroit with Toby. “He has a native feeling for books that you really have to experience first hand to appreciate,” Howard said.

What Peter was saying in a delicate way is that Toby, for want of a more precise description, had a certain intensity about him when it came to books. “Toby can definitely wear you down,” he offered, and pretty much left it at that. When I asked Toby about this apparent single-mindedness of his, he offered no apologies, acknowledging that yes, he was an “in your face kind of guy” when it came to books, but that the cause was literature and reading, after all, and what could be more important than that. Indeed, when we first got together in August of 1991, he was already finding suitable homes for his books. Today, his various collections can be found in no fewer than fifteen major libraries around the world, his William Faulkner collection at the University of Michigan, his Russian writers collection at the Hoover Institution in California, his John Osborne collection at the British Library, his American Indian collection at the University of Illinois, his gift to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem of five thousand Israeli books, manuscripts, and inscribed copies, most notable among them.

As a collector of modern firsts, Toby always favored the living and the hopeful, and he took special pride in “discovering” new talent. To get a leg up on the competition, he regularly read the forecasts in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and he took great pride in being able to say that fully 40 percent of the collectible books he had acquired were bought at their jacket prices. And as much as he loved his books, he had no separation anxiety whatsoever about parting with them--so long as they went to the right places. “You reach a point in your life where you begin to collect by subtraction, not addition,” he said.

Following the publication of AGM fifteen years ago this month, Toby and I kept in touch. We ran into each other often, at the New York Book Fair, the California Book Fair, in the basement of the Strand Book Store, wherever book people gather. A few months ago, I gave a talk at the Clements Library in Ann Arbor, and we had dinner together with a group from the University of Michigan. It was great fun, and Toby gave me a photo of himself--the one pictured above--seated in a nifty “book chair” he had bought during a recent trip he had made to Italy with Shirley. Yes, that is my book he is holding. Pretty cool, I thought, and so typically Toby.

Totally in character, too, is the request Toby’s family made this week of friends and colleagues following private funeral services in Michigan: “Please honor the memory of Toby Holtzman and the values of his life by supporting a library, buying books at your local bookstores and reading to your children and grandchildren.”

What an epitaph. And what a bookman.

Patrick McEnroe 1 signing.jpgWASHINGTON -- I’ve got to hand it to new author Patrick McEnroe, a former Grand Slam doubles champion, Davis Cup coach, and engaging commentator on ESPN. He is a celebrity who understands that without ticket, book and gear-buying fans, he would have no career: The good life he enjoys is a direct result of what people buy and watch they watch on TV.

I like to see people who get that connection, who understand that that it would be audacious of them to treat those very same folks as a nuisance. 

In town this week for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic that concludes Sunday, he sat down for a signing session to promote his book, “Hardcourt Confidential -- Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches. He made it clear he’d be willing to stay as long as the now famous John Isner match at Wimbledon if that’s what it took to accommodate the crowd. 

I watched him shake hands and genuinely engage the people who came up to him. He actually asked them questions while also answering theirs. 

I didn’t tell him I still do a little journalism when I approached with my copy. I bought passes for the whole tournament so I could take it in as a fan rather than a reporter. I didn’t want any special treatment or false kindness even in a brief encounter.

McEnroe looked me in the eyes and asked me how I would like him to inscribe the book. I respectfully asked to keep it short and simple because of the line behind me. “Great forehand,” I said, smiling at the thought of showing the words to all my tennis friends. He asked me a few questions about my game while he wrote, handed the book back to me, and posed for a few photos my girlfriend shot.

I thanked him for the signature and what he does for the game. I’ve long respected McEnroe for his work to promote the sport I’ve spent a lifetime loving.

Then I looked down at what he wrote, which was longer than what I had asked him to consider.

“To Chris: Great forehand -- work on that backhand.”

I laughed, shook his hand and stepped aside. The book looks promising and I’ll crack it open like a new can of tennis balls the moment the tournament ends. 

[Photo courtesy of Won-ok Kim.]

I am forever fascinated by bibliophiles who go beyond focusing their energy and resources on the collected works of one author to acquiring as many different copies as they can of a single book, oftentimes to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. In A Splendor of Letters I wrote about a collection at the University of Virginia of 400 copies of Lucile, a romantic novel in verse published between 1860 and 1927 in numerous editions, many of them illustrated, and wildly popular in its day, but now virtually forgotten, and the author, Owen Meredith (pseudonym of the poet and statesman Edward Robert Bulwer), a mere footnote in literary history. 

The collection had been assembled by Terry Belanger, recently retired as the founding director of Rare Book School at UVA, as a teaching tool to study various formats used over the years for a single book. I later learned of an even larger Lucile collection at the University of Iowa--almost three times as large, in fact--assembled by Sid Huttner, director there of special collections, and the subject of a dedicated web site known as the Lucile Project. I had the pleasure soon thereafter to meet with Huttner, and to see the collection.

There are some fabulous single-book collections of other titles, too, the late Jock Elliott’s superb Christmas Carol editions coming immediately to mind, and a truly remarkable private collection of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I have had the privilege of seeing on several occasions, but few collectors have the patience (and dare I say the fortitude) to see such a commitment through to these extremes. So it was with uncommon interest that I received a Google news alert yesterday (my name is mentioned parenthetically, thus the heads up) directing me to a piece that had just run in the Sacramento Bee about a collector whose library is brimming with 700 copies of Richard Henry Dana’s 1840 novel, Two Years Before the Mast. Six paragraphs into the story, the reporter, Sam McManis, describes what he saw when he walked into the library of Bill Ewald, a 67-year-old retired firefighter:

At first, it’s just a handsome room: nearly 700 books on oak shelves and display tables, and in cardboard boxes tucked in corners. You smell the mustiness of antiquity. Your eyes catch the glint of gilt spines, the sad fraying of aging cloth covers contrasting with shiny, happy paperbacks.

Then it hits you. These are all the same book.

A proud Californian, Ewald tells McManis he chose to concentrate on Two Years Before the Mast because it is set during the years of the great California gold rush, and because it is one of what veteran collectors know as the Zamorano 80--one of the eighty books determined to be seminal to the history and culture of the Golden State. (The book thief Stephen Blumberg was particularly keen on acquiring all eighty, incidentally, going so far as the steal the Zamorano Club’s own collection of the books, which I wrote about in Chapter 13 of A Gentle Madness.)

Ewald discusses at length his unusual passion in McManis’s piece, and offers some general insights on collecting. There is a sidebar there, too, for beginners looking for pointers, though I have to say I was a bit dismayed by the readers comments posted thus far. one bemusedly calling such an obsession “freaky,” several others fixated on what is obviously a minor error on the part of a headline writer and not the reporter, as anyone who has ever worked for a newspaper will instantly recognize to be the case.

Anyway, give this most entertaining article a look; very nicely done indee
One room was abandoned when the piles neared the ceiling, and at some point a subsidence of books blocked the door from the inside, sealing the room off.  He established an annex in the garage, where piles of loose books mingled with unopened purchases from local shops and parcels from overseas....

Unless you are (or used to be) a bookseller in Los Angeles, or you were an especially close reader of Nicholas Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness, the name Michael Hurley is unlikely to mean much to you.  But to more than one generation of booksellers in Los Angeles, Michael Hurley was something of a legend.  

In Basbanes’ Gentle Madness interview with renowned Los Angeles bookseller Glen Dawson, Dawson observed that Hurley “never married...never owned a car...wore the same suit year in and year out...lived in a small house that he rented, and the only furniture he had was bookcases.”  Reading this, one might be inclined to imagine rooms piled high with dog-eared copies of National Geographic, stack upon stack of yellowing newspapers, with perhaps an occasional great tottering mound of paperbacks thrown in for good measure.

But when Hurley passed away in 1984, what folks discovered was...

  • Shakespeare’s Second Folio
  • the 2-volume First Edition of The Life of Samuel Johnson
  • the First Edition of Shelley’s Queen Mab
  • an inscribed First Edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • the First Edition of Winnie the Pooh, signed by Milne and illustrator E. H. Shephard, one of only 20 copies bound in vellum....
among many, many other wondrous items.  All of which had been collected on the salary of a postal clerk over a 50-year period.  Some 35,000 volumes.

Because Hurley died intestate, posterity treated this wonderful collection very, very poorly.  Not only was Hurley’s collection scattered to the winds, but an astounding number of rare and important books were sold for a mere pittance by order of the Los Angeles County Public Administrator . 

We should perhaps be grateful that Dawson’s, which had learned of Hurley’s death from Hurley’s sisters, was able to select some 800 items for more respectful treatment.  These were cataloged by Stephen Tabor in two sales that Dawson’s conducted in August 1984 (catalog # 477, 206 items) and May 1985 (catalog # 479, 554 items).  It is from Tabor’s introduction to these catalogs that we have what little is known about Hurley.  Even with this more respectful treatment of his books, the Prices Realized will make you weep.

Even in death, though, new life arises.  And from the ashes of a great but now obscure book collection arose not only a new generation of book collectors...but booksellers as well.  Lillian Cole, for example....

12thStreet30.jpgThe respected Santa Monica bookseller, a well-known specialist in gemology, was just getting into the bookselling business when Michael Hurley passed away.  She cites Hurley’s death as one of the 3 major influences on her career as a bookseller:

[i]t was [then] that I experienced my very first auction, as well as the acquisition of hundreds of books that became my starter inventory. They were wonderful books on all subjects: travel, poetry, literature, children’s and one gemological book - The Book of the Pearl by Kunz and Stevenson, published 1908. While I recognized it as a very special and unique book, I didn’t have a specialty of any kind at that time, and so tucked it away very carefully for some future time.

Twenty-five years later (July 2009), Cole issued a very special anniversary catalog (depicted above left).  This catalog, along with the two Dawson catalogs and Basbanes’ brief mention of the collector, will likely be Hurley’s only legacy.  For a collection that Roger Gozdecki has estimated was likely worth several million dollars at the time of Hurley’s death, this has to be accounted a major blow to bibliophilia....

What better way for bibliophiles to observe the Fourth of July than to reflect a bit on the legendary passion the author of the Declaration of Independence had for his books, and for the care he took not only in selecting them, but in one amusing instance, expressing his regrets to a hopeful bookseller trying to make a sale.

Thomas Jefferson’s best known comment on the subject--“I cannot live without books”--was confided in a letter to John Adams in 1815, and has been celebrated on everything from coffee mugs to T-shirts. (I used it myself fifteen years ago as one of four epigraphs for A Gentle Madness.) But in another letter written four years earlier Jefferson made clear that while books certainly were essential to his sanity and well-being, he was not about to read everything that might come his way.

Responding to a query submitted to him by his friend Thomas Law to subscribe his name for a translation of a French atlas of the world then in preparation, Jefferson wrote a lengthy letter of considerable wit that expressed why such a purchase made little sense for him. It begins thusly:

“I am now entered on my 69th year. The tables of mortality tell me I have 7 years to live. My bibliomany has possessed me of perhaps 20,000 volumes. Of these there are probably 1000 which I would read, of choice, before I should the historical, genealogical, chronological, & geographical Atlas of M. Le Sage. But it is also probable I shall decamp before I get through 50. of them,.Why then add an unit to the 19,950 which I shall never read? To encourage the work?”

The full text of Jefferson’s wonderful response has been edited and published online by The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Retirement Series, based in Monticello, Virginia, and embarked on creating a definitive edition of Jefferson’s  papers for the period from 1809 to 1826. 

Editor of the series is J. Jefferson Looney, who my wife and I had the good fortune to meet a few weeks ago at the Horatio Alger Society annual meeting. Jeff kindly sent this letter along, which I saved for use today. He advises me too that this letter is previously unpublished, so it should be of considerable interest to admirers of Jefferson, especially as it relates to his “bibliomany.” Indeed, two-thirds of Jefferson’s outgoing correspondence--and 80 percent of what he received--edited by the Retirement Series thus far has not been published before.

So check out the Retirement Series site, it’s great fun.

Earlier this week, I posted a press release on our website about the upcoming Yale Library exhibit of Richard Minsky’s book art. Although Richard has been featured on the pages of FB&C before, and many of you are well aware of his work, I wanted to ask Richard a few more questions about the exhibit and his recent projects. Enjoy our e-interview below.

This is also the perfect opportunity to announce that Richard has agreed to be our new book arts columnist, beginning in our fall issue. We’re thrilled to have him join our esteemed group of columnists!


1984-1st-400a.jpgFB&C: The earliest piece in the exhibit is a sample book you used when you started tinkering with letterpress at the age of 13. How did you become interested in printing and book arts at such an early age?

RM: I was fortunate to have Mr. (Joseph) Caputo as Graphic Arts Shop teacher at Russell Sage Jr. High in Forest Hills, Queens in 1959. He was of the generation of inspirational teachers who came into the public school system during the Depression. That was where I learned hand type composition, lockup, makeready, and platen press operation, on both Pilot (hand) presses and the motorized 10x15 Chandler & Price.

The following year my mother died of cancer. My father had died two years earlier of a heart attack. Living with my grandmother on Social Security did not provide enough income, and I realized then, at age 13, that I’d best do what I love with my life, and that was printing. So I bought a 5x8 Kelsey hand press and 6 cases of used foundry type. With that I started a job printing business, and hired my homeroom class as a 15%-commission sales team.

sp-ltd-400.jpgFB&C: Your Self-Portrait is also included. This is an oil-on-canvas self-portrait, but the painting itself then became the subject of a limited edition book you printed about the evolution of a piece of art. Which idea came first, or did you always think of it as one large project?

RM: Richard Roth was curating an exhibition titled Local Self Portraits for the Hudson Opera House, here in Hudson, NY, and asked me for one. At first I thought of providing one of my autobiographical books, Minsky in London or Minsky in Bed, but that would involve either borrowing an existing copy from a collection, making one for the show, or framing a page or chapter to hang on the wall. I had not been drawing or painting recently, but had been thinking about getting back to it, so instead I bought a pre-stretched 16 x 20 canvas and started drawing in pencil. The first sketch was nice, and had a good feeling, but didn’t really look enough like me, so I took a snapshot, erased much of it and re-drew. After doing that several times the likeness was close enough and I switched to oils. About then I started seeing it as a book. In the end, it is the book that is the work of art, and that is what is in the exhibition.

FB&C: The 50 years covered in this exhibit (1960-2010) witnessed substantial change in printing technologies. You have embraced this in your work -- using letterpress on some projects, inkjet on others -- while others tend to ‘choose a side’ in this debate. Tell me about that.

RM: Sometimes I use several processes on the same surface. Whatever works best. The cover of my second volume on American Decorated Publishers’ Bindings 1872-1929 has an inkjet print on canvas done on an Epson R1800 that is then die-stamped in 22K gold on a 10-ton Kensol hot press. There’s more. I’ve worked with mimeograph, Rexograph (spirit duplicator), Xerox, laser printers, and offset presses. In the 1970s I taught printmaking at The School of Visual Arts, which involved etching, screenprinting, and stone lithography. This fall I’ll be teaching a course at SUNY’s Purchase College titled Experimental Book. Here’s the description:

Experimental Book
VDE 4600 / 4 credits / Fall
Students are encouraged to reconsider what a book is and expand the boundaries of the traditional codex book through workshops in experimental formats, integration of word and image, form and content, sequencing, and physical structure. This may include a variety of projects and the study of video and film structure, historical and contemporary artists’ books, and innovative trade books.

FB&C: Yale acquired the Minsky archive in 2004. Is this the first major exhibition of the material since then?

RM: Yes, they have just finished cataloging it.

freedom-front-400.jpgFB&C: Is it possible, as an artist, to have a favorite piece of one’s own work? (If so, what it is?)

RM: I love them all. Doing it is what excites me--seeing a metaphor materialize in my hands. That said, right now the most captivating is Freedom of Choice: Three Poems of Love and Death by Lucie Brock-Broido. Two poems are about shotgun suicide and one is about an electrocution. The printing is inkjet on handmade paper, in a goatskin binding chained to an oak electric chair. On the back of the chair is a cabinet containing a 20 gauge shotgun, a Manila hangman’s noose, a wakizashi sword, razor blades, poison, and a hypodermic syringe. An MP3 player on the head restraint plays my reading of the poems. You can see how it was constructed at

Images, top to bottom: Minsky’s binding of Nineteen Eighty-Four (2003) on exhibit at Yale; the limited edition of Minsky’s Self-Portrait (2010); Minsky’s Freedom of Choice (2009). Courtesy of Richard Minsky. 

TomSwift.jpgOne of the great stories in the annals of American juvenile publishing was the creation a century ago by Edward Stratemayer, founder of the Stratemayer Syndicate, a book-packaging firm, of Tom Swift, the boy inventor who appeared in 105 books written by various authors in five separate series over the years, and whose sales totaled in the many millions. His adventures coveted by collectors--none more desirable than the gee-whiz kid’s first appearance, “Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle,” 1910, at right--the iconic character has his own fan club, which will be mounting a centennial convention next month in San Diego that promises to be quite the bash.

Organizer of the event is James D. Keeline, for many years a bookseller with Prince and the Pauper Collectible Children’s Books in San Diego, and now, with his wife Kim, crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s for what is being billed as the 100th Anniversary Tom Swift Convention (TS100), an ambitious get-together of kindred spirits scheduled for Friday, July 16, through Sunday, July 18, at the Sheraton Mission Valley Hotel in San Diego.

TomSwift100.pngActivities include several tours that should be of particular interest to Tom Swift fans, the San Diego Automotive Museum and the San Diego Air & Space Museum. In conjunction with the convention, there will be what sounds like a terrific exhibition of books and artifacts at the Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego; programs at the fair include presentations on such topics as “How Tom Swift Invented Everything,” “Tom Swift on the Silver Screen,” “Tom Swift Science Vs. Real World Science,” and “Artists of Tom Swift.” There will be  round-table discussions for collectors, plus lots more--Tom Swift themed doo-dads and many books for sale, and great things on display--including a wood model of the Aeroship designed for an unproduced Tom Swift film that Twentieth Century Fox had worked on in the mid-’60s.

All in all, sounds like a great take-in. The convention’s motto says it all: “100 Years of Making Science and Invention Cool.”

The Writers Room at 740 Broadway in New York advertises itself as “the nation’s largest and oldest urban writers’ colony,” a vibrant little oasis of creative energy “located in a bright and airy loft at the crossroads of Greenwich Village and the East Village.”  Sounds utterly charming, no? A welcoming haven where kindred spirits driven to commit words to paper--excuse me, words to screen--come to realize their full potential as writers.

That is unless, of course, you happen to do your writing on a typewriter, in which case you will be told to pack your gear and leave--and don’t let the door whack you on the backside on the way out, either, heaven forbid it might disturb one of the fragile geniuses toiling away in tortured silence in a little carrel nearby. That’s what has happened, at least, to a children’s book author by the name of Skye Ferrante, who was told to gather up his 1929 Royal and vacate the premises, his incessant tapping of the keys was bothering the other writers.

Back in the old days--and by the old days, like just a few months ago--there was a sign in the Writers Room advising all members that “in the event there are no desks available, laptop users must make room for typists.” When Ferrante showed up recently to work--and the dues are $1,400 a year, by the way, so he wasn’t there hat in hand--the sign was gone, and he was told he had to either use a laptop, or get out, and that the remainder of his membership fee would be refunded.

“I was told I was the unintended beneficiary of a policy to placate the elderly members who have all since died off,” Ferrante, 37, told the New York Daily News. He refused; like a lot of us, he likes working with paper, and he likes the feel of old typewriters. “Some people like to listen to vinyl,” he said. “Some people prefer to drive a stick shift.”

Writers Room Executive Director Donna Brodie confirmed the ban, explaining that Ferrante’s typing was, indeed, a distraction. Allowing him to type, she said, “would mean that everybody else who wanted to work in that room would have to flee. No one wants to work around the clacking of a typewriter. That’s why the room had been established.”


Tell that to Cormac McCarthy, or David McCullough, just two writers I can think of off the top of my head who swear by their typewriters, and I guess that would have dealt out the late Robert B. Parker and George V. Higgins as well. I wonder if any of these abused writers ever spent any time in a newsroom--a real newsroom, where the ever-present clatter of typewriters was intoxicating, like the sound of waves rolling up on a beach. And I wonder what the attitude there would be toward someone who might have the temerity to write with a Number 2 pencil. Might the scratching there be a bit too obtrusive as well?

A bright and airy loft, indeed.
The Horatio Alger Society is a group of collectors committed not only to gathering the books and preserving the legacy of a single author, but also to channeling their passion into worthwhile scholarship. Established in 1961, the affable group had its annual meeting this past weekend in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, hosted by long-time member Arthur Young, and his wife Pat. Young recently retired as the dean of libraries at Northern Illinois University, and is now living in the Granite State.

The busy program included presentations from three members, an auction, a book sale, a reception at the Young home, and a farewell dinner, where a thousand dollar “Strive and Succeed” scholarship was presented to a worthy recipient. I gave the keynote address, my third presentation to the H.A.S. over the past fifteen years, a personal record for me with one group. I was pleasantly surprised by the gift of a lovely plaque noting this milestone, and wish to express my gratitude in this space to the membership.

Single-author societies, as I wrote in Among the Gently Mad, are quite the phenomenon among book collectors, with one of the better known groups being the Baker Street Irregulars, whose passion for everything Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes knows no bounds. There are many confederations of collectors brought together by the pursuit of one writer’s works, and collectors just getting started should be alert to their existence. Another that comes immediately to mind is the Thomas Wolfe Society, whose annual meeting I had the pleasure of addressing a few years back,

The Horatio Alger oeuvre is considerable--119 published books, according to Young--a number of the titles so scarce that no single individual, so far as anyone knows, has a complete collection. Art Young has 112, about as many as anyone else.

The H.A.S, I have to say, is a really squared-away group that does much more than pursue elusive titles. In recent years, the focus has expanded beyond Alger to include collectors and enthusiasts of all juvenile literature, including boys’ and girls’ series books, pulps, and dime novels. Next year they will celebrate their 50th anniversary. Check out their web site, linked above.
staley_275.jpgThe news out of the Southwest this week is that after twenty-two years at the helm of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin, Thomas F. Staley will be retiring as director at the end of August. An internationally renowned James Joyce scholar, Staley has had quite a run at what is indisputably one of the outstanding research libraries in the world, and in the field of twentieth-century British and American literary manuscripts and archives, pretty much in a class by itself.

Staley was appointed in 1988 at a time when the HRC was at a crossroads, having been vaulted into the top tier of institutional collections by the late provost Harry Huntt Ransom, who had declared in 1957 his intention to create what he called a “Biliotheque Nationale” in the “only state that started out as an independent nation.” The decidedly unconventional approach Ransom pursued to achieve this goal became the stuff of legend--it was what I came to describe as a form of institutional bibliomania that transformed what was then a very good library into a great one--and was at the core of a chapter I wrote for A Gentle Madness that I called “Instant Ivy.”

When Staley came to Austin, the massive repository was already filled to bursting with millions of pages of documents, the pace of acquisition so frenetic that many thousands of them were not even catalogued yet. One person familiar with the meteoric growth, the English bookseller Colin Franklin, told me at the time that what the HRC needed to get itself on a steady course “and settle down a bit” was a person like Staley, who, as it turns out, did measurably more than act as caretaker. What he did in essence was to build on greatness and create his own distinctive identity, in much the same way that Mickey Mantle followed Joe Dimaggio into center field for the New York Yankees (or, for Red Sox fans, having Yaz take over left field in Fenway Park for Ted Williams.)

As an administrator, Staley raised $100 million for the center’s programs; in collection development, he added a succession of remarkable literary archives, Norman Mailer, Don DeLillo, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Doris Lessing, Julian Barnes, Elizabeth Hardwick, Penelope Fitzgerald, Stella Adler, and Bernard Malamud among them, and he made headlines around the world when he acquired the Watergate files of Washington Post investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Just as significant, in my view, was a new policy of openness and accessibility that Staley introduced at the HRC, making materials much easier for scholars to use. William Powers, president of the university, summed up his contributions with these words: “We owe a great debt of gratitude and deepest appreciation to Tom Staley.”

A search will be conducted to name his replacement.
While books about book collecting abound, have you ever wished you had a comprehensive collection of internet resources about books and book collecting at your fingertips? Wouldn’t it be great to have list of literary and specialized book terms, a list of bookish organizations, bibliographic resources, bookish blogs and podcasts, and regional centers for the book all available at the click of your mouse?

Wouldn’t it be even better for those who still have more to learn about book collecting (and that’s most of us) to learn about the various types of books and collecting strategies with real-life examples.

Wish no more. 

The Private Library is your go-to resource for all of the above. Written by book collector and librarian, L.D. Mitchell, this blog offers comprehensive and comprehensible bookish information at your fingertips. Best of all, the author of the blog welcomes comments and interaction. Bookish discussion is encouraged by leaving comments. Check it out.
Karl Jacoby 1 with book Shadows at Dawn.jpgI admit it: I failed you. As a Fine Books & Collections correspondent embedded in Washington D.C., it’s my duty to let you know about great opportunities taking place in our nation’s capital. After attending my first-ever annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians this month, however, I realize I should have encouraged all of our history book-loving readers to come along.

In my defense, I had only recently joined the organization (it’s open to anyone, though geared toward professional historians). And I certainly didn’t realize that the event would feature a huge vendor area filled almost exclusively by publishers of all kinds of history books. Some like Penguin Books even brought special guests to their booths -- which gave me the chance to meet Shadows at Dawn author Karl Jacoby. The Brown University professor tells the story of an April 1871 massacre of Apache Indians at Camp Grant in Arizona. They were killed by a group of Americans, Mexicans and Tohono O’odham Indians.

Jacoby picked up the trail of the story because of his interest in issues relating to the U.S. border with Mexico.

“I realized there was history missing here,” he told me. “The story of the Apache at Camp Grant is one wish I had on my bookshelves so that I could better understand the world but it didn’t exist. That’s why I wrote it ... because it was a book I wish I had.”

Potomac Books was there, too. You might remember it published one of my favorite finds of the past few years -- Following the Drum, which examines the lives of the women at Valley Forge. I made a mental note to pick up another one of Potomac’s intriguing titles: Fruits of Victory: The Women’s Land Army of America in the Great War.

The only down side for me during the four days I spent at the OAH meeting was the lack of sufficient time to spend in the books area. I didn’t want to miss any of the sessions so I had to patrol the books area through multiple shifts. At Random House, I flipped through the pages of a biography on the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt and thought it looked like a real winner. The First Tycoon promptly won a Pulitzer Prize the next day.

I don’t know how many publishers I visited but I knew where my last stops would be. As someone who specializes most of my magazine article and book research on the American Revolution, I returned to Basic Books to pick up a copy of Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of the American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War by Pulitzer winner Edwin G. Burrows. 

Then it was time for some weight lifting: The University of Virginia Press had so many fascinating books on the Revolution that I filled up an entire backpack and shopping bag. My hottest grab was the fresh-from-the-press first volume of The Selected Papers of John Jay. I completed my transaction, shook editor Richard Holway’s hand, and headed for the Metro: I couldn’t support any more weight without tipping over.

My history euphoria lasted for several days, as did the guilt of not making you aware of the event. Next year’s Organization of American Historians’ meeting takes place March 17-20 in Houston. Make your travel reservations today, and bring an empty suitcase for books.

Now we’re even.

Fourteen “exceptional creative writers, independent scholars and academics” have been named as the New York Public Library’s 2010 Cullman Center Fellows. The group will get to spend a year in residence in September at the library’s famous building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, where they will work on a variety of projects.

“I’m hugely looking forward to introducing this extraordinary group of writers and scholars to the center and the lbrary -- and to each other -- next fall,” said Jean Strouse, the Cullman Center’s director. “It’s thrilling to see what personal and intellectual magic sets in here each year.”

The 2010 class includes some very well known names and less heralded writers. They include:

  • Fiction writers David Bezmozgis, Maile Chapman, Mary Gaitskill and Wells Tower.
  • Poet Geoffrey Brock
  • New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar
  • 2009 National Humanities Medal recipient Annette Gordon-Reed, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.
“This exceptional class of Fellows will serve as a wonderful tribute to the great generosity and wisdom of Dorothy and Lewis Cullman,” said the library’s president, Paul LeClerc. “Once they arrive, the Fellows are sure to take full advantage of the library’s unparalleled holdings in this, the building’s centennial year.”

Check out Robert Darnton’s engaging piece on pre-cursors to blogs over at the New York Review of Books’ Blog.

He points our, for example, how 18th century newspaper reporting little varied from modern day gossip blogs:

“Here, for example, is a recent post on The Superficial:

RadarOnline reports “traditional marriage” crusader and former Miss California Carrie Prejean is living in sin with her fiancé Kyle Boller of the St. Louis Rams where they’re no doubt eating shellfish. BURN THEM!

And here is a typical entry from Le Gazetier cuirassé ou anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France (1771):

Mlle. Romans is soon to marry M. de Croismare, Governor of the Ecole Militaire, who will use six aides de camp to take his place in performing the conjugal service.”

Casanova.jpgThe news this week that the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris had acquired the manuscript memoirs of the great eighteenth-century Venetian lothario known to one and all as Casanova--Tiger Woods can only dream of walking in this guy’s remarkable footsteps--brought to mind a very nice book published a decade ago by Louisiana State University Press, Casanova Was a Book Lover: And Other Naked Truths and Provocative Curiosities about the Writing, Selling, and Reading of Books. This smart collection of bibliophilic essays was written by John Maxwell Hamilton, an occasional commentator on NPR and dean of LSU’s School of Mass Communications; you have to love a book that is dedicated to “all reviewers,” and includes the explanation that “only ungrateful asses would pan a book after having it dedicated to them.”  

Hamilton’s title piece took irreverent note of the fact that Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt (1725-1798) spent the final years of his eventful life as a librarian in the household of Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein of Bohemia, and it was in that dreary castle that he took pen to paper and wrote Histoire de ma vie, the racy memoirs for which he became famous, and which an anonymous benefactor acquired on behalf of the French National Library (BNF). Though the actual purchase price was not disclosed, the figure was widely reported to be five million euros, about $9 million, which, if correct, would qualify it as the costliest manuscript transaction on record. The papers--comprising 3,700 pages of yellowing sheets--were transfered Monday to the BNF in thirteen boxes, and represent the complete, uncensored account of Casanova’s amorous adventures. The material had been owned since 1821 by the Brauckhuas publishing company in Germany, and was once thought to have been destroyed in World War II; it was later found safely stored in a bank vault.

Overdue.JPGFor those truly interested in the role of librarians, especially those coping with so many seismic changes brought on by the twenty-first century, I heartily recommend a new release from HarperCollins, This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, $24.99, by Marilyn Johnson. A staff writer for Life magazine. Johnson says that she first became interested in the subject while doing research for her first book, a well received examination of obituaries wryly titled The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries. “With the exception of a few showy eccentrics, like the former solder in Hitler’s army who had a sex change and took up professional whistling, the most engaging obit subjects were librarians.”

Before long she was fully involved in the world of these wonderful professionals whose sole goal in life, it seems, is to provide knowledge and information to others. Johnson’s coinage of the word “cybarian” takes note of the changing nature of the business, and of the many ways the people she proceeded to spend so much time with have adapted to the new technologies. She describes the modern librarian as a person whose job is to “create order out of the confusion of the past, even as she enables us to blast into the future.”

The result is a most enthusiastic book that is great fun to read (and one which, I feel bound to disclose, makes generous mention of several books that I have written.) Its greatest contribution, I think, is that it pays tribute to an essential public service that so many government officials blithely feel can be cut at will during budgetary crises, reductions made especially easy for them to impose since these temples of wisdom have no well-heeled lobbyists throwing corporate money around to champion their cause. The epigraph to one of Johnson’s chapters says it best: “In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.”
For our Valentine’s Day special, I’m sending you off to the blog of Joel Kimmel, a Canadian illustrator who runs Papillon Press. His essay, “My Illustrated Book Marriage Proposal,” relates how he re-purposed an 1883 Collier’s Cyclopedia into what has to be the most romantic proposal ever.

Kimmel writes: “For the final touch to the book I decided to cut a hole inside to hide the ring. When the story ends there is one final illustration with a fold up flap that opens to reveal the ring hidden inside (that’s my cue to propose). I cut down about an inch into the book after gluing the pages together with an acrylic painting medium. It worked perfectly and from the side you’d never know there was a ring hidden inside.”
IMG_0994.jpgAs if independent bookshop owners aren’t getting run over by enough trains already, a planned light rail line may spell the end of the line for Thomas Stransky in St. Paul, Minn. 

“We’ll probably have to go out of business,” Stransky says from behind the cash register of Midway Used & Rare Books on University Avenue, where a series of recent developments make it all the more likely construction will eventually start on a transportation project aimed at moving commuters between downtown St. Paul and its twin city Minneapolis on the other side of the Mississippi River. Stransky and an array of light rail opponents ranging from civil rights activists to government waste watchdog groups see the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Project as a some $1 billion government boondoggle aimed at wasting taxpayer dollars and closing the book on local businesses.

To borrow a sentiment of a previous president, I can’t help but feel Stransky’s pain. I’ve seen plenty of mom-and-pop shops get pummeled by government transportation projects that claim to alleviate congestion and improve quality of life -- only to make both worse. 

I visited Midway Used & Rare Books during a trip to Minnesota in January. I was drawn in not only by the words “rare books” on his sign but words of protest written on his shop’s windows. How often do you see a storefront that raises the question, “Who is John Galt?” 

I was also attracted to the store by the supply of on-street parking. I won’t often make the effort to patronize a store if I can’t park there. Not even a rare book store. I tend to buy heavy books or sets of books that are too bulky to lug around. 

Stransky knows I’m not alone. 

He is one of the business owners who has fought the project for more than two decades. If the Metropolitan Council gets its way, and it appears that’s likely, the regional transit and planning agency will complete its $135 million-per-mile project by 2014. The Metropolitan Council will permanently eliminate all on-street parking and, if history around the country is a gauge, traffic will be a nightmare during the years of construction.

“It’s tough to get people to walk anywhere in a Minnesota winter,” Stransky says. “They’re not going to walk from a transit station to get here. People aren’t going to stop here when they drive by during construction, either. Traffic is going to be horrendous. They’re just going to want to get home and they’re not going to stop at a bookstore.” 

The project continues to face strong opposition from people who will be hurt by the light rail project. Minnesota Public Radio is the latest entity to file a lawsuit against the project. Meanwhile, a coalition of civil rights activists, business owners and Rondo neighborhood residents have also filed a lawsuit to stop the project in its tracks. Stransky wishes them well and plans to do what he can to stop the light rail line from destroying his business. 

“I’ll also keep putting up signs as close to obscene as I can,” the frustrated entrepreneur says.

His feisty side turns to sadness when he reflects on the blow the Central Corridor will deliver to book lovers.

“A lot of customers tell us they remember coming here as a kid,” he says. “They say, ‘You brought the world of books to us.’ They tell us that we show them there’s something besides the Internet and chain stores. They find surprises here. Serendipity. You never know what you’re going to find each time you walk in. That’s the essence of what we bring to the community.”

Well, we’ve had some pretty interesting responses to my open request earlier this week for movies that have had something to do with paper, the only stipulation being that they have some basis in fact. For those who need to be brought up to speed on what’s going on, here’s the link to my column. I will present the films in the order that they arrived.

I heard first from Pradeep Sebastian, a literary columnist in India, who offered the following dozen--count ‘em, twelve--first-rate suggestions:

The Hoax (2006), a film about Clifford Irving, and the fake Howard Hughes biography; F For Fake (1974), written, directed, and starring Orson Welles, and based in part on the forgeries of Irving, and others, and available in DVD; Selling Hitler (1991) a made for TV movie based on Robert Harris’ book about the faking of a Hitler diary; The Last Station (2009), about Leo Tolstoy’s manuscripts and will, and recipient this week of an Academy Award nomination for Christopher Plummer for best actor. Also from Sebastian: Creation (2009), a dramatization of the life of Charles Darwin, featuring his diaries and notebooks as he developed his theory of evolution; Sylvia (2003), starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the tortured poet Sylvia Plath, seen often scribbling in notebooks, tearing up and burning pages; Naked Lunch (1991) William Burroughs, hallucinating over a clattering typewriter, with reams and reams of paper around him; Factotum (2005, based on the life of the hard-living, hard-drinking poet Charles Bukowski; Shattered Glass (2003), based on the fabrications of writer Stephen Glass, published unwittingly in The New Republic; and The Whole Wide World (1995), about pulp fiction writer Robert E.Howard, and the writing of Conan the Barbarian.

As a bonus, Sebastian offered a pair of documentaries: BookWars (2000), about New York City pavement book sellers, and Paperback Dreams (2008), profiling the struggle to survive among independent bookstores.

Arriving about a half-hour after that dazzling list came a terrific suggestion from Benjamin L. Clark in Oklahoma--he has a pretty nifty book blog of his own called exilebibliophile, which I highly recommend--to wit:

Cimarron (1931), winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, based on a novel by Edna Ferber (and winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1929), which was partly inspired by the life of T.B. Ferguson, a cursading Oklahoma newspaper editor, and his wife, Elva.

Next came an email from Eleni Collins, an assistant editor for the Martha’s Vineyard Times, who wondered if a couple of movies based on outstanding children’s books, Harriet the Spy (1996) and The Mixed Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968), might not create a category in their own right. I love the idea--maybe we can do that next (think Maurice Sendak and Where the Wild Things Are)--but more on point for this particular exercise was her third suggestion, Between the Folds (2009), a television documentary about the world-wide mania for origami that aired in December on PBS, and has just been released in DVD.

A suggestion from reader Mike Gindling advised that a key scene in his favorite movie, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), has Lawrence writing out an IOU to a shiek in return for help in the taking of an important city. I like that--an IOU is an example of a piece of paper whose value is only as good as the word of the person who gives it.

Just this morning, Joe Fay, manager of rare books at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, offered these beauties:

The Whole Wide World (1996) starring Renee Zellweger and Vincent D’Onofrio, a biographical account of the relationship between pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price Ellis; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), based on the life of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson; The Rum Diary, to be released this year, also inspired by life and career of Thompson.

Fay mentioned a 1988 mini-series starring Stacey Keach as Ernest Hemingway, titled Hemingway, and cited one documentary in particular as outstanding, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown  (2008), about the science fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft.

Finally, from daughter Nicole, who is weathering out the blizzard in Washington, D.C., a news flash about the release of a documentary with the improbable title of Miracle Banana, a Japanese film with English subtitles, “based on an actual project to make paper from banana trees in Haiti.” To prove that this was no joke, she furnished this link.

Honestly, I am lost for words (that never happens with me).  But I do thank one and all for these fabulous films. I promise you, they will be used.
New York Times today has a nice profile of National Enquirer editor Barry Levin and his exceptional Ernest Hemingway collection:
Mr. Levine’s collection includes bullfighting programs Hemingway used for his research, check stubs for routine things like car repairs, and letters by Mary Hemingway, the author’s widow. Among those: a carbon copy of a typed note to the sheriff in Ketchum, Idaho, where Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, asking that the shotgun he used be returned.
It’s a nice look at the creative approach smart book buyers use to assemble their collections. My one quibble is this line:
Glenn Horowitz, a rare-book dealer and friend of Mr. Levine’s, said that while Mr. Levine lacks the ‘deep Champagne pockets’ of some collectors, his reportorial skills have helped him identify interesting items to put together an ‘imaginative, elastic collection,’ one in which each piece offers a little anecdote -- and some work together to tell a story.
The article bears out the second half of that statement very well. But the first -- that Levine lacks “deep Champagne pockets” -- may be tough for collectors on more modest budgets to swallow, especially when the article describes how Levine once “spent several thousand dollars at a Christie’s auction on another first edition of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ -- this one a brilliant copy that Hemingway signed and that includes the author’s calling card.” 

While it’s true that such judgements are relative, in a small way the piece perpetuates the sometimes popular myth that book collecting is an activity only for the wealthy. I would love to see the Times profile a collection that was truly put together without the help of “deep Champagne pockets.” There are plenty out there.
07photo-philippe-matsas.jpgAlberto Manguel, known to us for his wonderful A History of Reading and The Library at Night, has a new collection of essays out this month, A Reader on Reading (which I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing for our upcoming February issue). He’s in the states for a few days, for reading events at Yale University on Wednesday, Feb. 3 and City University of NY on Friday, Feb. 5. Manguel is a reader’s reader, and the list of his 100 favorite books on his site is breathtaking. From The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland (of course), to Flaubert, Goethe, and Sophocles. 

Photo by Philippe Matsas, from Alberto Manguel’s website.
BobParker.jpgThe Dean of American Crime writers, the prolific Massachusetts novelist Robert B. Parker, died unexpectedly at his home in Cambridge today, reportedly at his desk, presumably working on another Spenser novel; he was 77, and one of the really great ones.

Bob Parker was about as squared-away an author as I have ever had the privilege to interview. I will have to check my files, but I am guessing we got together no fewer that eight times over a twenty year period to talk about his latest release, which more often than not was a Spenser novel, but on one occasion, I remember, we met to discuss the Jesse Stone series he had just introduced, another time to talk about his female detective, Sunny Randall, and yet another get-together to talk about Poodle Spring, an unfinished Raymond Chandler novel he had completed.
BroadwayUnderSnow.jpgOnly in New York is something so totally bookish like Bibliography Week possible, certainly on the scale of this event, which is mounted each year during the last week of January when the major national organizations devoted to book history have their annual meetings in the Big Apple, and get together at a number of related events, many of which are free and open to the public. (Image at right: Broadway Under Snow, by Rudolph Ruzicka, The Grolier Club, 1915.)

The week kicks off on Tuesday, January 26, with the Sixteenth Annual Bibliography Week Lecture, to be given this year by Michael Suarez, SJ, noted book historian and recently appointed director of Rare Book School, at Columbia University. His talk, scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Faculty Room of Low Library (116th St. at Broadway), is titled “Learned Virtuosity, Virtuously Displayed: Cultural Elits and Deep Purses in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Illustrated Books.”

A talk at the Grolier Club (47 East 60th St.) on Wednesday, January 27 by Milton McC. Gatch titled “Bibliotheca Parisina 1791: A Tale of Two Cities, or An Auction in Revolutionary Times,” 2 p.m., is free, and public. A reception later that evening to mark the opening of an exhibition at the Grolier, “Mary Webb: Neglected Genius,” featuring materials from the collection of Mary Crawford, is for members, but the show is open the public from January 12 to March 12.

Thursday, January 28: In Brooklyn, the latest works of book artists will be on display at the Open Salon, 37 Greenpoint Avenue, 4th floor, hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shop, founded in 1999, describes itself as an “artist-run, non-profit, consensus-governed, artist and bookmakers organization located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Geenpoint.” Sounds like fun, and very definitely worth checking out.

On Friday, January 29, again at the Grolier Club, the Bibliographical Society of America holds its annual meeting, with papers being presented by new scholars. Eric Holzenberg, director of the Grolier Club, will speak on “The Bibliophile as Bibliographer.” The event is open to the public.

Saturday, January 30: The annual meeting of the American Printing History Association, to be held at the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street), 2 p.m. For those who have never visited the Center for the Book Arts (28 West 27th St., 3rd floor), a Winter Open House is on from 2 to 5 p.m. Demonstrations, tours, exhibits are on tap. All in all, a great week for bibliophiles, and a nice warm-up for those planning to attend the 43rd annual California International Book Fair in Los Angeles, Feb. 12-14.
The University of Texas at Austin’s famed Harry Ransom Center (surprisingly?) has an excellent YouTube channel I just stumbled across. They’ve been posting a few short videos a month for about a year, and the results are - for bibliophiles at least - eminently watchable. As expected, many of the videos highlight important or interesting collections, such as the Robert DeNiro or Harry Houdini Collections, or focus on the history of the Center itself. But my favorite clips are the brief interviews with scholars who have actually used the collections at the Ransom. From academics studying 80’s blockbuster script doctors to others working with Samuel Beckett’s manuscripts, these shorts are a testament to the enduring importance of the book as object.

Here’s one of my favorites, Christine Ferguson enthusiastically discussing the Spiritualism movement and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

EverymanEco.jpgToday is Italian writer/professor Umberto Eco’s birthday. He was born in 1932. I’m not sure you can call yourself a bibliophile if you haven’t read Eco’s 1980 novel, The Name of the Rose. It is a mystery set in a monastery, with William of Baskerville as the main character. Need I say more?

If you haven’t had the pleasure, I urge you to read it (millions of others have!); a lovely jacketed hardcover edition is published by Everyman’s Library.

p.s. Do not see the movie adaptation starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater -- it is awful. 

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