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When Caleb Carr’s historical thriller, The Alienist, was published in 1994, it quickly became one of my favorite contemporary novels. Set on the dark, gritty streets of fin-de-siècle New York, the novel follows a group of amateur detectives, led by forensic psychiatrist (or, “alienist”) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, as they search for a serial killer. It has, inevitably, been compared to the Sherlock Holmes books.

It seemed certain that The Alienist would be adapted to the big screen. According to the New York Times, “movie rights were sold for half a million dollars before the book was even published.” But it’s a dense book with many characters, and no producer could get it right. “It’s been 25 years of battling against really bad interpretations of this book,” Carr told the New York Times.

Alienist.jpgUntil now. On January 22, when the TNT network debuts a ten-episode series that takes the book from beginning to end, starring Daniel Brühl as Kreizler; Luke Evans as newspaper reporter John Moore; and Dakota Fanning as NYPD secretary Sara Howard (pictured above). The Times reported that it is the “most expensive series in TNT’s history,” which appears to have paid off. The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the first episodes, calling them “full of solid performances and gorgeous, creepy visuals.” Watch the official trailer here.

The good news continues. While Carr followed up with a sequel, The Angel of Darkness, in 1997, and has written several other books since, he hasn’t returned to the world of Dr. Kreizler and his crime-fighting cohorts. That changes this fall, when a new novel, The Alienist at Armageddon, is scheduled to arrive.

If you’re just getting caught up on Carr, a TNT tie-in paperback was just published by Random House that has a pretty cool cover (pictured below).

9780525510277 copy.jpgImages via IMDB and Penguin Random House

Bibliography Week 2018

Bibliography Week is coming back to New York later this month. Here are the day-to-day highlights: 


Festivities kick off on Tuesday, January 23, when the American Antiquarian Society opens a special viewing of the exhibition, Radiant with Color and Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858-1920, on Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Grolier Club. Later, Georgia State University professor John McMillian speaks at 6 p.m. at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library about the underground press and the rise of alternative media in America in the 1960s.


Wednesday is another busy day, also at the Grolier Club, with a conference dedicated to the disposition of collections. Collectors, librarians, legal experts, and other members of the book trade will discuss all aspects of collections dispersal from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.


Thursday’s events are led by the ABAA at the French Institute Alliance Françoise (FIAF), directly across the street from the Grolier Club. Over 30 ABAA members--including Rabelais, Bromer Booksellers, Les Enluminures, William Reese, Abby Schoolman, and others--and will be showcasing their specialties to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Next, check out an assortment of fine press books from around the world at Brooklyn’s Fine Press Salon at 37 Greenpoint Avenue. (Contact Felice Teebe at for further details.)


The Cosmopolitan Club hosts the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America on Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the New York Academy of Medicine (1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street) hosts its annual bibliographical lecture on Saturday, January 27 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. This year’s speaker is Amherst College’s head curator Michael Kelly, who will be discussing medicine and scientific racism.

                                                                                                                                                                               Finally, the week concludes at the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Trustees’ Room), with the annual meeting of the American Printing History Association from 2 to 5:30 p.m. 


The whole bookish enterprise will be, as in years past, a fitting warm-up (pun intended) for the California International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Pasadena Convention Center, February 9-11. 

New Year’s Eve for Booklovers in Pittsburgh

Though not necessarily known for being a bookish time of year, literary-minded Pittsburgh residents have compelling reasons to brave the elements this New Year’s Eve: Amazing Books & Records is hosting the 3rd annual Booklovers Bash at its three stores throughout the city. Blues band Chillent will perform at the Carson Street location, and the Squirrel Hill stores will serve free libations and spin the turntable. The store will also open its new cafe to customers as well. Festivities start at 8:30 p.m. on December 31. RSVP here.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Will you be ringing in 2018 with a beloved book in your lap or at a lit-themed soirée? Let us know on Twitter @finebooks

                                                                                                                                                                                           Happy New Year to all, and may it contain many great books. 

In a few days, we’ll be raising a glass to bid farewell to 2017 and toast the arrival of the new year, which will certainly bring all sorts of bibliocentric events with it. One Philadelphia-based soirée to put on your calendar in 2018 is the Rosenbach Library’s Bibliococktail hour. The event on Friday, January 12, will honor the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (Be sure to check out Jonathan Shipley’s cover story in the winter issue dedicated to the bicentennial.)

Held on the second Friday of each month, the Bibliococktail series is dedicated to celebrating great literature while quaffing light libations created especially for the occasion by local distiller and distributor Quaker City Mercantile.

This 21+ event is free for Delancey Society members, and tickets (available here) start at $15 for Rosenbach members, $30 for general admission. 

“Home” For The Holidays

For many of us, the next few weeks will be a flurry of holiday parties, last-minute gift runs, and the chance to see family and friends. In a bid to remember why we go through so much trouble to be with loved ones this time of year, consider picking up the third literary anthology in the Freeman’s collection entitled Home (Grove, $16). Thirty-seven writers from around the world focused on the idea of home, each bringing a new perspective and interpretation.


In the narrative nonfiction piece “Vacationland,” author Kerri Arsenault returns to her hometown of Mexico, Maine, which sits on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Now a derelict relic of a bygone era, the townspeople’s former prosperity came from toiling in the paper mill in nearby Rumford. “That’s money coming out of those smokestacks,” Arsenault’s father used to say, but there was plenty else coming out of those stacks, too--dioxin, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and other by-products of contemporary mass-produced papermaking, slowly poisoning the surrounding environment and its inhabitants. (Read “At the Crossroads” in On Paper for a look inside the modern commercial papermaking experience.)

                                                                                                                                                                  By 1970, oxygen levels in the Androscoggin were zero, choking out the fish, while the toxic brew spewed from the plant plastered the riverbanks with rainbow-colored foam. Esophageal cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia cases skyrocketed in Rumford and Mexico, yet the mill kept churning out the high glossy paper demanded by its customers, ironically like the National Geographic Society. Though a boon for the town’s coffers, a century of mismanagement had its price.


As she deals with her father’s slow demise from asbestosis of the lungs cultivated from forty-three years of work in the paper mill, Arsenault contemplates the contradictions between how the rest of the country sees Maine--as a pristine wilderness filled with pine trees--and the one she experienced growing up in a town that smelled like eggs and where the tap water made her gag. Indeed, she wonders whether the Maine so beloved by E.B. White and Henry Thoreau has even existed since the Abenaki Native Americans managed the land as their own.


“When we leave home, we leave behind our past and encounter a version of home when we return, built of legends true and false,” Arsenault concludes. Perhaps the contradictions ring louder for her than for others, but “Vacationland” is a clear-eyed meditation on what happens when the place you grew up is suddenly unrecognizable. At once unsentimental yet surprisingly nostalgic, “Vacationland” and other stories in Home refuse to be forgotten.



Mitchell, Henry (1876) The State Arms of the UnionBostonL. Prang & Co.

The big news at Sotheby’s forthcoming Judaica sale on December 20 may be the 14th-century illuminated Hebrew Bible from Spain, estimated to sell in excess of $3.5 million, but there are some other sterling (pun intended) lots in the sale, including more than two dozen silver (and gold) bookbindings, from the 17th-19th centuries, mostly of Italian or German make. Almost all come from the collection of Jack Lunzer, the late diamond merchant and creator/custodian of the Valmadonna Trust Library. Here are a few highlights:  

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 9.48.49 AM.pngLot 83: A German silver small bookbinding from the late 17th century by Christiana and Magdalena Küslin (the granddaughters of Mathias Merian, whose engravings were the basis of the famous Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695), and fitted with a book of prints from the Old Testament. The estimate is $7,000-10,000.

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 9.45.17 AM.pngLot 90: A rare gold binding, c. 1780-1800, of either Dutch or German make, fitted with Sefer Keritut, printed by Francesco Rossi, Verona, 1647. The estimate is $12,000-18,000.

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 9.25.00 AM.pngLot 92: An ornate mid-18th-century Italian silver binding, crafted by either Giovanni or Bendeto Teoli and fitted with a 1742 Venetian prayer book containing the bookplate of the late Iowa book collector Oliver Henry Perkins. The estimate is $20,000-30,000.  

Images courtesy of Sotheby’s

A rare, complete “museum set” comprising 75 gelatin silver prints of Ansel Adams’ iconic images, signed by the photographer, is slated for auction at Doyle in New York on December 14. Being sold on behalf of the College of New Rochelle, which received the set as a donation in 2012, the set “is among the most comprehensive known to exist,” according to the auction house. It features the photographer’s most famous pictures, including Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico; Winter Sunrise, the Sierra Nevada; and Bridal Veil Fall, Yosemite Valley, California.  

Ansel_Adams_04 copy.jpgThe set will be sold in seventy individual lots, all priced in the four-to-five-figure range, plus one group lot featuring the five-image Surf Sequence. The original wooden shipping case is available, too. Pictured here is The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942. It is estimated at $30,000-50,000.

Image courtesy of Doyle

Earlier this month, the CODEX Foundation announced a new and forthcoming publication focused on contemporary book arts called The CODEX Papers. According to the announcement posted by bookseller Gerald W. Cloud:

    Our editorial brief is to publish papers that promote a clear understanding of the enormously complex and historically rich field of the book arts, including:
    -Scholarly, bibliographical, and historical perspectives
    -Research, reports, and critical articles on contemporary book arts
    -On the future development of the codex
    -Photo essays documenting studios, ateliers, and libraries
    -Interviews and profiles
    -Book and exhibition reviews and publishing perspectives
    -Collecting contemporary book arts
    -Letters to the editors, opinion, and travel
    -Dispatches from the global perspective
    -Codex Antipodes
    -Codex Mexico
    -Codex Nordica

With its biennial book fair and symposium, the California-based CODEX Foundation promotes the art of the book. The Foundation has also published two books, Book Art Object and Book Art Object 2, as well as a series of monographs. The CODEX Papers will be a welcome addition to its list of publications.

The inaugural issue will be published in the fall of 2018. Interested writers may submit proposals including title and subject to by December 15, 2017. Copy deadline is February 1, 2018.

A research visit to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale last week afforded me the opportunity to see its current, magnificent exhibition, Making the Medieval English Manuscript: The Takamiya Collection. Drawn from the Beinecke’s collection of manuscripts, as well as from the collection of Japanese collector Toshiyuki Takamiya, on deposit at the university since 2013. “With a rare combination of scholarly and antiquarian expertise, Professor Emeritus Takamiya of Keio University in Tokyo assembled an unrivaled collection of medieval manuscripts over four decades,” said curator Raymond Clemens in a press release earlier this year.

IMG_0107.JPGTakamiya’s Chaucer manuscripts have starring roles in this exhibition, including the beautiful deluxe Devonshire Chaucer and the “unprepossessing” Sion College copy of the Canterbury Tales, written as early as 1460 and relatively unadorned. But my personal favorite from the Takamiya collection was the fifteenth-century English prayer roll. According to the exhibition notes, the long, narrow scroll was intended as a “birth girdle,” to be worn by a woman during childbirth. Containing illustrations of the Passion and a series of prayer texts, it was meant to provide “heavenly aid” when worn prayer-side in. Illuminated manuscript as physic; who knew? Another favorite was the Beinecke’s Latin-English illustrated vocabulary manuscript, made in England between 1400-1500 (pictured above).  

The exhibition remains on view through December 10.

Image credit: Rebecca Rego Barry

Next weekend it’s Boston’s turn to host rare book collectors, dealers, and librarians. These bibliophiles will have their choice of two book fairs -- the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (Nov. 10-12) and the Boston Book & Ephemera Show (Nov. 11) -- one auction, and numerous exhibitions. On the blog this week, we’ll be previewing some highlights.

Capping off this ‘year of Thoreau,’ today we feature three manuscript survey maps by Henry D. Thoreau, all of which head to auction at Skinner on November 12.

Skinner 113.jpgHere is Thoreau’s “Plan of a Woodlot in Lincoln and Concord Mass.,” from April 30, 1857. In brown ink on heavy wove paper, this survey marks out a three-acre piece of land and is docketed on the verso in Thoreau’s hand. The estimate is $3,000-5,000.

Thoreau 114.jpgThoreau executed this “Plan of Robert D. Gilson’s Mill in Littleton, Mass.,” on May 9, 1857. In red and brown ink on heavy wove paper, this signed survey shows sketches of stone walls, the buildings, dam flume, and curb wheel. The estimate is $4,000-6,000.

thoreau-henry-david-1817-1862-plan-of-that-part-of-thomas-brooks-woodlot-in-lincoln-mass-which-was-burned-over-in-the-fall-of-1.jpgThe third and most colorful of the lot is this “Plan of that Part of Thomas Brooks’ Woodlot, in Lincoln, Mass, which was burned over in the fall of 1857,” completed on June 5, 1858. This large survey is also done in brown ink, but finished in green and red watercolors. The estimate is $5,000-7,000.

Images via Skinner


Three Women Playing Instruments, by Katsushika Ōi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

                                                                                                                                                                                                  A few months ago, a curator at the Honolulu Museum of Art stumbled upon a rare 19th-century manual on Japanese art that he didn’t even know existed in the museum archives. Stephen Salel had been searching for materials for an exhibition devoted to female Japanese manga artists. Recognized today as a subgenre of graphic novels, manga as an artform dates to the nineteenth century, and Salel was looking specifically for work created by Katsushika Oi (1800-1866), considered by many experts to be the first female manga artist. If the name sounds familiar, that’s probably because she was the daughter of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), whose 1823 woodblock print, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, has been reproduced countless times around the world.

Finding illustrations by the younger Katsushika proved challenging for Salel, yet he was relentless in his pursuit. Her work is at the Tokyo National Museum and at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art, but he wanted to confirm whether the Honolulu Museum had any material lurking in its archives. “I felt very confident that I could find one of her books in our own collection,” said Salel recently.

Salel scoured the Honolulu Museum of Art’s holdings until he came across the Illustrated Handbook for Daily Life for Women, published in 1847--the missing link for his show. The publication date and accompanying illustrations led Salel to conclude that this was an example by his elusive artist. “It was one of those times I felt like I might have made the right career choice,” he said.

The book was acquired by the museum in 2003 as part of the 20,000 piece Richard Lane Collection, which includes Japanese, Chinese, and Korean prints, books, and paintings from the Edo Period (1615-1868). 

Salel’s manga exhibition is slated for 2021--plenty of time to continue sleuthing for more forgotten treasures.

MM Prayers.jpgWas Marilyn Monroe the praying type? The blonde bombshell converted to Judaism in 1956, hours before the July 1 wedding ceremony uniting her with playwright Arthur Miller (they had married in a courthouse two days prior). Under the direction of Rabbi Robert E. Goldburg, Monroe had been studying the faith for months in preparation for her conversion. This book, The Form of Daily Prayers, According to the custom of the German and Polish Jews (1922), was her “somewhat worn” personal copy that contains a “few notations in the text in pencil, apparently in her hand,” according to Doyle, which will offer the book at auction on November 7. It last sold at Christie’s in 1999 within the ‘Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe’ sale alongside other books from her library and retains a book label from that auction. It is expected to make $4,000-6,000 this time around.

Image courtesy of Doyle

Guest post by Mark. S. Weiner, co-curator of the current Grolier Club exhibition, Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection.

                                                                                                                                                                                               Museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions today are making sophisticated use of video as a tool for public education. But how should those institutions use film when their subject is books? The answer isn’t obvious.

As a scholar and filmmaker, I recently had the pleasure of collaborating on a well-received exhibition for the Grolier Club with Mike Widener, the rare book librarian at Yale Law Library. Four years in the making, the exhibit was titled Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection (September 13-November 18, 2017), and it examined Yale’s unique collection of illustrated law books, which includes over fifteen hundred items, spanning eight centuries and six continents.

As a rare book librarian, Mike has robust public outreach goals. With that in mind, he and I decided that we would supplement our exhibit with a suite of films displayed on a kiosk in the exhibition gallery, as well as available online. Our conviction was that we could use the special aesthetic resources of film to highlight qualities about books that would be far more difficult to reveal through the text of exhibition labels alone.

Law 1.png“Law’s Picture Books” in the Grolier Club Exhibition Gallery, video kiosk indicated.

And therein lay a challenge!

On the face of it, books are about the least cinematic subject imaginable. For one thing, they don’t move--and the ability to depict motion over time lies at the heart of film as a medium. They also don’t emit much sound. It’s no surprise that in Hollywood, books are often important props. But how can they be the stars?

Our collaboration revealed some principles. They won’t be applicable to everyone, but they’ve come to be guiding principles for the production company that’s grown from our work together, Hidden Cabinet Films, which is dedicated especially to making films about books for the growing field of public humanities.

Law 2.png                           Depict books in their materiality, but with ideas in mind.

Books have a physical presence in human life. They are three-dimensional objects calling out to be touched and handled. Films about books should use the essential elements of cinematography to highlight these tactile qualities.

The use of shallow depth of field in still shots, for instance, can underscore how books reside in space. Likewise, close-ups and macrophotography can highlight a book’s details and imperfections--stressing the uniqueness of each volume--and they can point to its history of human use by showcasing scuffing and marginalia.

Law 3.pngThe use of a shallow depth of field renders the foreground subtly out of focus. From “A Philosophical Question”

Law 4.png                                           From “A Philosophical Question”

Yet films shouldn’t aestheticize books without cause. The depiction of physicality should be in the service of some argument about the book’s meaning or importance. In the case of law’s picture books, Mike and I sought to stress that the books we put on display were practical tools used by lawyers in the resolution of human conflicts. They possess a worldly particularity that stands in stark contrast to the abstraction of legal rules.

Films about books should be driven by ideas.

Set books in motion.

Law 5.png        A shot that opens with a satisfying crackle. From “A Philosophical Question.”

When possible, films about books should show books being opened and their pages turned. Doing so underscores another aspect of a book’s physicality, and it also indicates that books exist in time--and thus have a history.

One way to suggest that a book’s motion is motivated by an idea--and to give books an immediacy of presence--is to film them against a green screen for later compositing. The shot needs to be in close up, and it requires careful lighting, especially with older books whose fore edges are rough.

When capturing images of books in motion, films also should capture their sound. The sound a book makes may be subtle, but it’s essential to how human beings experience it. Failing to capture a book’s sound represents a major missed opportunity to use film’s special power as a medium.

Capture interiority.

At the same time, the absence of sound where expected can be used to suggest the kind of interior experience of aesthetic absorption that’s at the heart of reading.

Law 6.pngAn extended shot of a book dealer shaking his head as he flips through a book’s pages, set only to music. From “Love & Surprise.”

Show that books represent something larger than individual human beings.

Even something as small as a telling camera angle in a consciously composed shot can suggest how book collecting involves collectors in a field much bigger than themselves. Films about books should evoke reverence for the publishing tradition.

Law 7.png                                              From “Two Ways to Work”

Depict human relationships.

People not only interact with books, they interact with each other through books. Films about books should capture the various ways in which books form a third term in a relationship between two or more people.

Law 8.png                                                From “Love & Surprise”

Law 9.png                                                 From “Love & Surprise”

Use visual effects, but not for their own sake.

Films about books can use special visual effects to depict ideas, supplementing or replacing the use of talking heads. Visual effects shouldn’t be used simply for the sake of entertaining--instead, they should be motivated by and harmonious with the underlying argument of the film.

In “A Philosophical Question,” for instance, we show a hand digging into the text of a book with a shovel to reveal an image of Justitia underneath as a way to depict our argument that the western legal tradition contains ideas about visual culture that belie its surface focus on language.

Law 10.png                                          From “A Philosophical Question”

Tell stories, but resist journalistic treatment.  

Films about books should be humanistic documents in themselves. Rather than seeking to depict books in the spirit of journalistic documentaries, filmmakers should strive to have their work be placed alongside the books they depict as permanent companions in the interpretive tradition they initiate.

They should take as their model not journalism so much as literary criticism.

Law 11.png              Offering a strong interpretive frame, from “A Philosophical Question.”

For the first time, English students at Southeastern University (SEU) in Lakeland, Florida, have the opportunity to examine various editions and manuscripts while reading and analyzing John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton (1608-1694). English professor Cameron McNabb, happens to be a collector of rare and antiquarian manuscripts, and this semester has opened her personal Milton archives to students to provide fresh context and nuance to Milton’s desire to “justify the ways of God to men.”                                                                     
Professor McNabb spoke with us recently about catching the collecting bug, why Milton has remained a formidable influence in her life and work, and what she hopes her students will learn from working with primary sources.                                          
I understand Milton was your first love--discovered while you were an undergraduate English student at the University of Maryland. Could you talk about what you find so compelling about him and his work? 
                                                                                                                                                                    I actually first encountered Milton in high school. I read Paradise Lost “for fun” and I was hooked. I was already interested in Christian theology, but I had not encountered a writer who was willing to ask the tough questions like Milton was. He introduced me to questions I didn’t even know I should be asking, and he did so in the most beautiful poetry I had ever read. He has been the most formative thinker and writer in my own life and faith.                                                                                                              
What would you say is the highlight of your Milton collection? 
                                                                                                                                                                 My 1738 edition of Paradise Lost was my first purchase, and it is still the highlight to me, even though I now have older and rarer editions. I bought it from G. David’s while studying one summer in Cambridge during grad school. My program provided tuition and accommodations, as well as breakfast and dinner, so I had only brought along enough money for several weeks’ worth of lunches and a little spending money for the weekends. On my second or third day in Cambridge, I found G. David’s and the 1738 edition. I bought it immediately, spending almost all of my summer’s lunch money on it. I skipped lunches for the rest of the term, but Milton was definitely worth it.   
                                                                                                                                                                                Is this the first time students are working with rare books in your classes? If not, what has been student reaction to this kind of work? 
                                                                                                                                                                This is the first time students are getting such a hands-on experience with my books. In previous classes, I’ve brought some items in and used them as examples of printing conventions or book history, and students have always been really drawn to looking at authentic examples. I find that what they’re learning is much more meaningful to them when they can see real examples. Students this semester are very excited to get to work with so many items from my collection. For example, in some of our classes so far, I’ve handed out copies of engravings by Gustave Doré for us to discuss, but I remind them that they will be working with an actual edition of Doré’s Paradise Lost as well!                                                                                                                                                                            
What is the culminating activity for the class? What are the students expected to learn at the end of reading Paradise Lost
Paradise_Lost_13.jpg                                                                                                                                                                                   One of the things I stress with my students is that there are many ways to approach and respond to any text, and the way my Milton class is structured highlights that approach well. Over the course of the semester, we are analyzing not only the text of the poem but also visual representations of it (such as by Doré and William Blake), musical adaptions of it (such as Haydn’s “The Creation”), and the textual and production histories of it (such as those found in my collection). Each of these approaches allows for students to explore the poem through a new lens. Students will be writing short essays on each of the facets I just mentioned, and then they will produce a final essay that combines all of these lenses and produces an original argument about the poem. In particular, there hasn’t been much scholarly interest in the 18th-century editions of Milton, which my collection contains and which are part of the poem’s tradition that extends to the visual and musical artists discussed, so I hope my students’ analyses will begin to fill in a gap in the scholarship. 
                                                                                                                                                                       Image: illustration by Gustave Doré, via Wikimedia Commons

Considering the Nobel Bump

KazuoIshiguro_TheRemainsOfTheDay.jpgWhen I moved to London a year and a half ago, I determined that I would enjoy the novelty of being able to bet on the Nobel Prize for Literature. It has always been one of my favorite times on the literary calendar -- the season is changing to autumn, and there is a fresh bite to the air, and it feels hopeful that people are betting on literature and watching it as if it were a sporting event. It seems so unlikely to me, as an American, that there is any kind of way to bet on books besides to take a risk and buy and read them.

                                                                                                                                                                            So last year I ran two miles in the rain after dropping off my son at nursery to a Ladbrokes betting site and risked everything on the odds-on favorite, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. I would have bet on several more people, but there was trouble processing my payment and the betting closed. I lost; Bob Dylan won. I didn’t feel bad about spending money on a form of frivolity even after losing, I continued to feel a form of glee that such a thing could be done. I also had heard Dylan was a contender for years, and had even considered him in my early choices. 

                                                                                                                                                                             I had very little time this week to consider my betting, and like last year I barely made it to the betting parlour on time after bringing my son to school. I bet a spread of authors after reading a few predictions and decided that Margaret Atwood would be my favorite, followed by Thiong’o again, Korean poet Ko Un, and Spain’s Javier Marias. I also thought about Kazuo Ishiguro, but he hadn’t been given a chance in the press, and he seemed too young to me to be a likely contender. Ishiguro is one of my favorite writers. Remains of the Day is one of my favorite contemporary novels, it also happens to have been inspired by a song by Tom Waits, one of my favorite singers. And though I lost today, I was thrilled for the news. 

                                                                                                                                                                              I have worked at several bookstores over the years, and watched with fascination what happens when an author dies, or an author wins a major award. There is an immediate interest and refocusing on the writer’s work and a sales bump. And now that I am a new to the trade as a rare book dealer, I wonder how the Nobel impacts sales of first editions. I have most of Ishiguro’s firsts, plucked over the years from used bookstores, and I know there is a healthy price at book fairs put on firsts of Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go -- he is already popularly collected. It may seem cynical to care about the price of modern first editions, but I see it as establishing and investing in the idea of an author’s having value in a world that makes very little room for the importance of writing. Today, signed first editions available online of Remains of the Day range from $200-600. I suspect by the end of the week that range will have doubled, and copies will be scarce for a while.


Thumbnail image for 11037259_10153359541674453_1153914791771361987_n.jpg

Images: (Top) Remains of the Day first edition via Wikipedia; (Bottom) Kazuo Ishiguro and A.N. Devers at a book signing. Courtesy of A.N. Devers.

Surveyor DVD front cover 300.jpgThis is undoubtedly the year of Thoreau, and to that end, filmmaker Huey Coleman has released Surveyor of the Soul, a 114-minute documentary about the Walden author. Thirteen years in the making, Huey amassed dozens of interviews with scholars, activists, students, and tourists, all passionate to discuss “Thoreau, his legacy, and the impact his writings have on our time.” Featured therein are authors Laura Dassow Walls, Bill McKibben, Howard Zinn, Robert Sullivan, Megan Marshall, and many more. Huey has made a number of films on art and nature, including another Thoreau-themed documentary, Wilderness and Spirit: A Mountain Called Katahdin.

Surveyor of the Soul premiered at the Maine International Film Festival this past July, just days after the official bicentennial of Thoreau’s birth, and it has since been screened at the Thoreau Society Annual Gathering and the Morgan Library, among other venues. Upcoming screenings include:

-October 11 at 7:00 p.m., IMRC Center, Room 104, University of Maine, Orono, ME
-October 16 at 5:30 p.m, University of New England, Biddeford, ME
-October 22 at 2:00 p.m., 51 Walden Theater, Concord, MA, sponsored by Concord Museum
-October 26 at 7:00 p.m., Talbot Hall, Luther Bonney Hall, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
-November 2, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, Idaho

The DVD is available for $29.95 on the Maine-based filmmaker’s website. Check out the trailer embedded below.

Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul, TRAILER (3 minutes), A Film by Huey, 2017, from Films by Huey on Vimeo.

Image courtesy of Films By Huey


                                                                                                                                               In 2011, French comic book artist Bastien Vivès wrote Polina, a graphic novel about a young Russian girl whose dreams of becoming a ballerina bring to her to the celebrated choreographer Professor Bojinksy. His tyrannical ways take Polina to the top of her profession, but not without consequences. Vivès’s exploration of finding a balance between self-sacrifice and self-awareness for the sake of art was well-received in Europe, and has been adapted into a feature film starring Academy-Award winning actress Juliette Binoche and Mariinsky Theather-based Russian ballerina Anastasia Shevtsova



                                                                                                                                                      Screened at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, Polina makes its North American debut in New York on Friday, August 25 at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema, followed by a national roll-out in September.                                                                                                                                                            

Directed by Valérie Müller and French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, Polina was shot on location in Russia, France, and Belgium. If the trailer is any indication, Polina will be an exquisite, tantalizing glipmse into the demanding world of professional dance. 

Polina. Running time: 112 minutes. Not rated. In Russian and French with English subtitles.

Trump’s Summer Reading

“I cannot live without books,” Thomas Jefferson famously declared, whose library at Monticello (now at the Libary of Congress) is an enduring testament to one of America’s best-read presidents.

For the past few decades, right around this time, presidents taking a few days of well-earned respite have released their summer reading lists. Former president Obama famously shared his copious and wide-ranging selections  and was often photographed at independent bookstores like Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard carefully choosing from among the stacks.

Back in 2006, George W. Bush read for pleasure all year, having made a New Year’s resolution to read one book a week, which eventually led to a spirited reading duel with Karl Rove to see who could rack up the most reads.  Rove barely squeezed out a victory, with 110 books to Bush’s 95. During his summer vacation at his home in Crawford, Texas, Bush was spotted reading The Stranger by Albert Camus between ranch-related duties.

An avowed anti-intellectual, president Nixon proclaimed in his farewell speech to the nation that, “As you know, I kind of like to read books. I am not educated, but I do read books.” Tolstoy was a favorite author.

Lincoln often quoted Shakespeare in his personal correspondence and among friends, showing a preference for Macbeth. He also enjoyed reading and writing poetry--the Gettysburg Address contains many poetic elements no doubt pulled from his reading. 

Of course, this all leads up to what our current president reads for pleasure. When asked in March by television host Tucker Carlson what he likes to read, president Trump responded, among other things, that “I love to read. Actually, I’m looking at a book--I’m reading a book-I’m trying to get started.” Trump went on to say that he doesn’t read much because he’s always facing global emergencies. Yet, a profile in the Washington Post from July 2016 highlighted a presidential candidate who didn’t read, and didn’t much care for it--“I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” 

USA Today recently reported that Trump will not be releasing a reading list for his current seventeen-day vacation at one of his New Jersey golf clubs because he’s too busy for such pursuits. 

So, what’s the point here? Trump’s reading habits don’t place him among the top ten in the pantheon of presidential readers. Does a president’s reading habits impact whether he will effectively govern?

It’s a safe assumption that a wide-ranging and prolific reader will have a greater breadth of knowledge for any subject at hand, whether that’s policy making or political ideology.

To wit, last summer, the Vineyard Gazette hosted a roundtable with presidential scholars David McCullough and Evan Thomas just after the Republican National Convention. “The idea that the party of Abraham Lincoln has nominated this totally unhinged man, Donald Trump: Unacceptable, unqualified and uninterested in knowing more than he already knows, which is virtually nothing. I find that one of the most maddening qualities about the man,” said McCullough. “When he was asked if he’d ever read a book about the presidency, or a presidential biography, he said no. And he didn’t seem the least bit bothered by that, or understand why he would be asked that question.” Thomas offered that a president who reads is “reminded that however bad things seem now, they were pretty bad in other times.” 

Lifting the veil on a president’s personal reading habits is humanizing as well--we, the public, get a better sense of who the leader of the free world is, and perhaps even share in the joys of having read the same books. It’s not often the average American can look to a president and share something in common.

Trump doesn’t read, which speaks volumes.

Lawrence of Arabia Exhibit at Maggs Bros.

On July 6, 1917, the disparate Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula joined forces against the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Aqaba, made famous by the 1962 motion picture Lawrence of Arabia. Seeing a strategic opportunity to break open the war against the Ottomans, the British military sent T.E. Lawrence to advise Emir Faisal I, king of Greater Syria. But Lawrence did more than just provide counsel: he was an active leader in the attack. The battle represented a turning point in the war in the Middle East, and the story and images of Lawrence on camelback with Bedouin cavalry charging across the desert have captivated the public imagination ever since.



image credit: Lowell Thomas. Public domain. 

Thursday marked the centennial of the Battle of Aqaba, and antiquarian bookseller Maggs Bros. Ltd. is exhibiting material relating to Lawrence and his exploits while also celebrating the firm’s move to 48 Bedford Square, a stone’s throw away from the British Museum.

“Lawrence is a fascinating target for the book collector,” said Ed Maggs, managing director for the company. “To have written two books, translated a few extra, and to have a bibliography of some 8000 items, is remarkable.” Admirers and collectors are drawn to the romantic wartime figure, whose “dash, brio, and unconventionality of the Arab Revolt was in stark contrast to the clumsy mechanised brutalities of the Western Front,” said Maggs. “He was painfully aware that the dream of complete independence for the Arab nation or nations that he was pitching to the Arabs was not deliverable because of the existence of the Sykes-Picot treaty, but he went to great lengths after the war to compensate for this.”

Others connect with Lawrence because of his ability to keep cool under pressure. “He consciously kept his emotional core closely guarded, while subjecting himself to pretty scorching self-examination of his motives and his being,” Maggs explained. “There are few people of his period who were so self-aware and so eloquent on the subject of their own failings: as a model for the postmodern male, he led from the front.”

Entitled To Aqaba, the exhibition features items from various moments of Lawrence’s life. Highlights include a 1919 pencil portrait of Lawrence by Welsh artist Augustus John and the bloodstained map Lawrence carried with him on his walking tour of Syria in 1909. A unique proof copy of Lawrence’s best-selling Seven Pillars of Wisdom includes an inscription from Lawrence to his literary agent, Raymond Savage. Notes prepared by Winston Churchill, who addressed mourners at Lawrence’s funeral in 1935, reads, “What a tragedy it is that we have not got Lawrence with us to settle up Palestine. He alone could have done it and everybody would have taken his decision.”



image credit: Maggs Bros. Ltd.

Maggs also reports that he and his team have adjusted perfectly to the new location. “We’re loving our new digs, and it’s been a very easy transition to the more bookish milieu of Bloomsbury, where we’re surrounded by publishers, agents and academics: on one side we have Bloomsbury Publishing, on the other we have Yale University Press. Our first walk in customer, just a few minutes after we opened for the first time, was a charming man whose wife, a successful novelist, was having a meeting at Bloomsbury,” enthused Maggs. “The building itself is magnificent and we’ve done (in all humility) a first rate job of restoration of a first rate building. It is something of a palace of rare books, and I encourage people to come and visit.” The firm is retaining its impeccable shop in London’s Mayfair for the time being.

                                                                                                                                                                       We all wish Maggs Bros. many happy years in Bloomsbury. To Aqaba will be open to the public through July 14th. For more information, contact Maggs Bros. Ltd. here.

Potter & Potter, the Chicago auction house that has until now focused mainly on magic, is officially entering the book biz, with its inaugural books and manuscripts auction on July 8. With a few notable exceptions--e.g., this Lovecraft-Houdini typescript--Potter & Potter has previously focused its efforts on music and movie memorabilia, posters, circus ephemera, and other collectibles. This first books and manuscripts sale will, according to Potter & Potter, “feature high spots in a number of collecting categories, including printed and manuscript Americana, modern first editions, travel and exploration, natural history, fine bindings and continental books from the 16th century to present day.”

There’s a lot of ground to cover in this 564-lot sale. Here are a few highlights:

Screen Shot 2017-07-04 at 8.32.47 AM.pngA complete run of Street & Smith’s The Shadow (1931-1944), in forty-eight bound volumes, from the library of Walter B. Gibson, creator of “The Shadow” character. The estimate is $8,000-12,000.

A Peter Force engraving of the Declaration of Independence on rice paper, from Force’s 1837-53 series of books, “American Archives.” The estimate is $15,000-20,000.

A first edition of Andy Warhol’s Children’s Book (1983), signed five times by Warhol. The estimate is $5,000-7,000.

A signed check from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to his brother, Orion, in the amount of $82 on July 26, 1875. A related letter at the Bancroft Library tells us that the money was to rent a church pew, which didn’t sit well with Twain. “I am willing to lend you money to procure the needs of life, but not to procure so useless a luxury as a church pew.” The estimate is $1,200-1,800.

Image via Potter & Potter Auctions

On Saturday, July 24, at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Boston-based RR Auction held a robst sale of memorabilia relating to notorious mobsters and outlaws like Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger.



High spots included Capone’s ritzy platinum watch made by the Illinois Watch company. The timepiece exceeded its $25,000 pre-sale estimate, fetching a hammer price of $84,375.00. Manufactured between 1928 and 1929, the watch contains seventy-two cut diamonds, a platinum face, and an original 12 inch watch chain made of 14k white gold. The reverse of the case reveals the initials “AC,” itself consisting of twenty-three cut diamonds and surrounded by twenty-six others. The watch was accompanied by an affidavit from Capone’s great-grandson, Eric Griese, detailing its provenance.

A signed demurrer (a legal document objecting to an opponent’s point) relating to a case between Capone and the State of Florida failed to meet its pre-sale estimate of $30,000, realising $19,375.00. The document probably related to a raid on Capone’s Palm Island mansion in 1930 and highlights Capone’s constant run-ins with the law.

Two life-size reproductions of John Dillinger’s death masks realized $406.25. Four plaster masks were believed to have been made of the outlaw, with two remaining in existence. The day after Dillinger was shot and killed by Chicago police, his remains were visited by over one thousand visitors at the Chicago morgue.

Crime may not pay, but it sure makes for exciting auctions--check out all the results at

                                                                                                                                                                          Mugshot of Al Capone: Public Domain

DSC_0064 copy.jpgThe Bentley Rare Book Museum, housed within the department of museums, archives, and rare books at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, made its debut this past weekend. Formerly known as the Bentley Rare Book Gallery, established on campus in 1986, this re-branded space provides a free and open-to-the-public place to celebrate the written and printed word--the first ‘rare book museum’ in metro Atlanta.

As Kennesaw’s rare books curator Julia Skinner put it, “Our main goal with the museum is to reach new audiences and make our materials more accessible. The gallery operates as an appointment-only space, and because of this we focused on using the space to teach classes or host researchers rather than as an exhibition space. The museum model allows for self-guided, drop-in tours during open hours, and also gives us the flexibility to do more outreach in the community.”

DSC_7705 copy.jpgThe Bentley Rare Book Museum holds a collection of about 10,000 items, with particular strengths in culinary history, Georgia authors, fine press books, Cherokee language materials, medieval manuscript leaves, and early printed books. Some of the highlights from the collection that you might see on exhibit in the future include Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio (pictured above), Dickens’ Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby in their original serialized parts, and an Apollo 14 Lunar Bible, a microform Bible taken to the moon by Edgar Mitchell.

A regularly rotating schedule of exhibitions is planned. The first and current set includes exhibitions on the history of the cookbook and on handmade artists’ books, plus an interactive exhibition of medieval manuscripts that encourages museumgoers to try out book-making tools. A micro-exhibition on the history of the Bentley Rare Book Gallery, originally designed to represent a middle-class English library c. 1760-1820, is also on view.

The museum, located on the ground and second floors of Kennesaw’s Sturgis Library, is open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Images courtesy of the Bentley Rare Book Museum.


Since 1942, Harvard’s Houghton Library has focused on preserving a trove of collections that together represent almost the full scope of the history of the written word. Yesterday evening, over one hundred professors, librarians, and friends gathered at Houghton to commemorate the library’s seventy-five years of existence. Festivities opened with a lecture held at the stately Loeb House by Carl Pforzheimer University professor Ann Blair, who discussed the importance of preserving and using primary materials while highlighting the enduring need for libraries to transmit knowledge to posterity, especially in the digital age. Afterwards, participants made the quick walk past trees unfurling their fragrant blossoms to Houghton Library, where a book launch party and exhibition awaited in the ground-level Edison and Newman Room.

Entitled Houghton Library at 75 ($25, Harvard University Press) and edited by assistant curator of modern books and manuscripts Heather Cole and Hyde collection curator John T. Overholt, the publication offers a glimpse of the myriad holdings that fill the library’s shelves. From third century Greek papyri and European incunables to the Gutenberg Bible and drawings by John James Audubon, how do you choose the cream of the crop? The curators gamely rose to the challenge of selecting seventy-five items that they felt represent the breadth of the library’s holdings. The Bullard portrait of Emily Dickinson and her siblings, William Blake’s hand-colored Europe a Prophecy, and Shakespeare’s First Folio are three examples included in the book.

Meanwhile, HIST 75: A Masterclass on Houghton Library, is the first in a series of year-long exhibitions, lectures, movie screenings, tours, and other events celebrating these precious pieces and the place that keeps them safe. Forty-six of Houghton’s treasures were selected for display by faculty members who based their criteria for inclusion on whether the item had been useful for research, teaching, or provided inspiration somewhere along the line. Blair chose an English writing tablet from 1581 with pages in the middle treated with a chemical to harden them, creating a reusable writing surface (portable stylus included), while fellow Pforzheimer University professor Robert Darnton selected a volume of Emerson’s Essays with Herman Melville’s lively annotations scribbled in the margins. 

The festivites also aimed to raise awareness that the Houghton’s collections are not intended to gather dust and be forgotten; rather, these items are meant to help fulfill the core mission of Harvard--to educate through a commitment to the “transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.” Though access was restricted in the library’s early years, today many of the collections are available for up-close examination, either by visiting the library or by consulting Harvard’s vast and freely accessible digitized archives. The push to invite a new generation to Houghton is working: last year no less than 283 classes were held in the library, hailing from nearly every discipline.

After a tour of the exhibition and enjoying a spread of wine and cheese, partygoers departed, hopefully inspired to return and spend more time among the materials that define our shared human experience.

Learn more about Houghton’s 75th celebrations, including forthcoming events, here

Guest Post by Catherine Batac Walder

                                                                                                                                                             The event with Dame Hilary Mantel and renowned historian and broadcaster, Professor Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch, at the Oxford Literary Festival on April 1 was probably one of the most enriching conversations I’ve heard in my nine years of attending the festival. The pair discussed their different perspectives on the sixteenth-century lawyer and statesman Thomas Cromwell. Mantel is working on volume III of her Cromwell trilogy. MacCulloch is writing an historical biography on Cromwell--he said he admires the man: “my book covers up to 1532 when he hasn’t killed anybody yet.” There is a huge archive on the controversial historical figure and to have these two experts give us a glimpse of their research and writing processes was like listening to a private chat that wasn’t short of a steady flow of ideas.

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I specifically enjoyed their exchange about the challenges of going through Tudor correspondence wherein it wasn’t a practice for the authors of the letters to write the year so it could be confusing for scholars. Mantel talked about how she recently came across a letter that was written at midnight and that she could just sense the weariness of the writer. These documents are fascinating as they are a testimony to the circumstances and the urgency in which these letters were written (or in relation to the study of Cromwell, how leaders overworked their employees). An archive is obviously an in-tray, but MacCulloch noted that you would at least expect there was an out-tray kept as well, drafts of outgoing correspondence, but there was none. He surmised that in 1540, the household, warned of their master’s arrest, sat up all night burning the out-tray, as it was much less easy to be convicted on the contents of your in-tray than what you write to others (not that it had saved Cromwell’s life).


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I applaud Mantel’s comments on her stance as an historical novelist, commenting on the practice of affixing a bibliography to a work of fiction: “[I]n my view [it] is a complete misdirection of the reader and misdirection of what research is. Research is not taking bits out of one text to put into another text ... You have legitimacy, you have the authority of the imagination.” She urged her contemporaries not to spend their lives apologizing, cringing because “you think you are some inferior form of historian. The trades are complementary but they are different.” I believe these comments may also apply to other authors who don’t want their works labeled (e.g., as scifi or fantasy, for fear of not being taken seriously) when dragons or witches give the game away.

                                                                                                                                                    There was a space of three years between Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, both of which won Mantel the Booker Prize. It’s been five years since the last book, and her reading from the upcoming The Mirror and the Light, enthralled the audience and gave us our Cromwell fix, at least for the time being.

                                                                                                                                                              --Catherine Batac Walder is a freelance writer living in England. She blogs at The Gaslight House.

                                                                                                                                                                   Images, above: Hilary Mantel signing books at the Oxford Literary Festival; below: the festival marquee outside the Sheldonian Theatre. Credit: Catherine Batac Walder

A Book-Lover’s Guide to St. Patrick’s Day

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, meaning Irish pubs from Boston to Dublin will be busier than usual and just about everyone will be sporting some sort of good luck charm. However, if the idea of day-drinking and parade-hopping turns you green, there’s still a few ways to let your inner Irish spirit free, even from the comfort of your own library. Behold, a bibliophile’s guide to St. Patrick’s Day:


Credit John Vernon Lord for Folio Society

1. Ready to meet your goal of finally reading James Joyce’s Ulysses? Consider picking up the edition recently published by the Folio Society, which refers to the original 1922 publication. Joyce scholars John O’ Hanlon and Danis Rose provide a note regarding the present iteration, and Stacey Herbert discusses the history of Ulysses in print. Award-winning artist John Vernon Lord created 18 color illustrations capturing various episodes in the book, helpfully guiding readers through this 752-page day in the life of Leopold Bloom. Complete with a Gaelic-green slipcase depicting the waves of Dublin Bay, there is perhaps no better way to say Éire go Brách for bibliophiles today. Available for $195.95 from the Folio Society.


Plunkett with the flag (University of South Florida) 

2. Over 150,000 Irish Americans fought for the Union in the Civil War, and many of their stories of loyalty and bravery are chronicled in Susannah Ural’s The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 (NYU Press, 2006). Thomas Plunkett was one of these combattants, serving as a color bearer for the Worcester-based 21st Massachusetts Regiment Volunteer Infantry. During the Battle of Fredericksburg a fellow flag-bearer was shot down, so Plunkett picked up the colors and led his unit until cannon fire ripped away his arms. Despite the injury, Plunkett pressed the flag to his chest with the remains of his limbs and held fast until relieved by a fellow soldier. Plunkett survived the war and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in battle, and the blood-stained flag is now at the Massachusetts State House. 

3. Across the Atlantic, the National Library of Ireland is closed for the holiday, but its permanent exhibition dedicated to poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is free and open to the public during regular business hours and accessible online



Portrait of young William Butler Yeats by his father, John Butler Yeats (Photo: Wikipedia).



 Oscar Wilde, photographic print on card mount: albumen. (Photo: Wikimedia                                                                                                                         

4. In case you missed “L’impertinent absolu” (“Insolence Incarnate”), the first major French exhibition dedicated to Oscar Wilde at the Petit Palais that closed in January, fear not; now you can own a piece of Wilde’s childhood. A hotel built by Wilde’s parents is for sale in Ireland. The ten-bedroom oceanfront property in the coastal resort town of Bray was constructed in 1850 by Wilde’s parents as a seaside retreat. Upon their death, Wilde inherited the property, but sold it in 1878. Recently converted into a hotel, this piece of literary history could be yours for €2.2 million. 

The official first day of spring is less than a month away, and many gardeners have spent the cold, dark days of winter leafing through seed catalogs, plotting their outdoor spaces when the earth thaws. And seed catalogs remain blue-ribbon earners; the National Gardening Market Research Company found that American gardeners spent $3.6 billion dollars growing fruits and vegetables in their backyards, patios, and rooftops.


Burpees.jpegFor those interested in the history of seed selling, the seed catalog collection maintained by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries includes more than 10,000 historical seed and nursery catalogs, many donated by Mrs. David Burpee in 1982--such as the one pictured here at left, Burpee’s Farm Annual (1887). A quick glance through the holdings highlights the cornucopia of catalogs for all sorts of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and how ripe the American public has been for this sort of advertising for nearly two centuries. Seed selling germinated in America in the early 1700s when gardeners with particularly robust crops would advertise their offerings in newspaper advertisements and through word of mouth. Catalogs wholly devoted to selling seeds bloomed by the mid 1800s, when succulent, hyperpigmented images (often chromolithographic prints) of watermelons, tomatoes, and other lavishly illustrated produce enticed snow-bound urbanites to send in their requests and hope for an early spring. The Biodiversity Heritage Library also maintains a web-friendly catalog of heritage seed catalogs, and much of the Smithsonian Seed Collection is also accessible online


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Roses in bloom. Credit: USDA

                                                                                                                                                                Instagram has proved fertile territory for vintage seed catalogs--Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds tantalizes visitors with photographs of magenta-hued sweet potatoes, wax apples,
even black beauty tomatoes, while cover art for Territorial Seed Company’s catalog remains a bright celebration of the bounty beneath our feet. 

The Joy of Reading


“The Joy of Reading” by Will Barnet. Photo: B.B. Richter.                                                                         

Like many well-intentioned parents, mine bring stuff whenever they come to visit. A recent trip yielded a dozen prints and posters carefully sealed in cardboard tubes. All had probably seen the light of day at least once, but one print in particular probably spent three decades rolled up: an elegant, highly stylized portrait of a young boy sitting on a swing by the sea reading an oversize book to his mother, created by legendary artist and printmaker Will Barnet. (The New York Times ran a fascinating profile on him in 2010, when, at age 99 and unable to use his left hand or stand, Barnet continued to spend up to four hours a day at his easel.) Commemorating sixty years of the Book of the Month Club, my “Joy of Reading” print was issued in 1986, and simple math led to the startling conclusion that this would mark the ninetieth year that the Book of the Month Club has sent select volumes to subscribers across America. (Tempus fugit.) Truthfully, I didn’t know whether the Club still existed, and if so, I wondered how a company wholly dedicated to printed books that relied on the postal service would fare in this new era of print-on-demand and e-books.

The answer is: surprisingly well. Founded by economist-turned-publisher Harry Scherman in New York in 1926, the Club’s founding mission was to introduce readers to new and noteworthy books like Gone with the Wind and Catcher in the Rye. The last fifteen years have been something of a roller-coaster for the Club; it was purchased in 2000 by Bookspan LLC, an online and direct-mail venture created by Time Warner and Bertelsmann, which was itself swallowed up by Bertelsmann in 2008. Bookspan was then quietly sold to private-equity investor Najafi Companies, which in turn unloaded the company onto Pride Tree Holdings, a Delaware-based corporation established in 2012, the year it acquired Bookspan. Now, Book of the Month Club operates as one of over a dozen book-centric subscription entities under Bookspan’s aegis.

After a three-year hiatus, the Club was relaunched in 2015 as an e-commerce site. Here’s how it works: Subscribers create a profile and select a membership plan. A one-month subscription costs $16.99, whereas a 12-month subscription totals $144.88. Subscribers are notified on the first of each month of the Club’s five selections, curated by a panel of judges including book bloggers, journalists, authors, and monthly guest judges like Whoopi Goldberg and David Sedaris. Subscribers then have five days to make their picks, and the selections ship out by the seventh. (Caveat emptor: Other than gift plans, all memberships renew automatically, so read the fine print before diving in.) Bookspan’s Head of Development Jennifer Dwork likened the latest incarnation of the Club to “Birchbox [a makeup subscription service] for books.”

“Our judges receive the books three months in advance,” said Dwork. “The only criteria we provide is that their selections be a shining example of its form.” As in years past, the books are bound and designed to highlight their Club provenance. These days, books boast a stylish circular crest on the front boards. For authors, being selected for Book of the Month can mean the difference between feast or famine, reaching hundreds of thousands of additional readers who many not otherwise think to pick up their title.

                                                                                                                                                                  “At relaunch, we focused on social media,” continued Dwork. “Our Instagram page is robust [boasting over eighty-six thousand followers], and we encourage community members to share images of their books.” Lucky participants are rewarded with free memberships, tote bags, and monthly book credits.

From a collecting standpoint, few serious book hunters covet book club editions, or BCEs, though some publishers are more desirable than others--read Biblio’s excellent 2010 treatise on how to spot BCEs here.

                                                                                                                                                                    Though the company won’t release any sales figures, Dwork said that since its relaunch, the Club’s customer base has grown steadily. “We’re excited because we’re reaching a growing demographic: young women between the ages of twenty to thirty-five, and they prefer reading physical books over reading on a tablet,” Dwork explained. The Club may be onto something: a recent Pew study demonstrated that 65 percent Americans get their literary pleasure in print rather than in digital format. 

This current iteration of Book of the Month Club is tapping into a growing trend of subscription-based services while reaffirming that people still read and derive joy from physical books in the modern age. “Every book isn’t going to be for everyone, but we offer a great selection of established and emerging authors,” Dwork said. “We’re like your well read friend who recommends books and stands by them.” 



Monthly gifts. Image used with permission from Book of the Month Club.



Eat Your Vegetables, Antiquarian-Style

In more civilized times, proponents of a meatless regime adhered to the “Pythagorean diet” championed by that Greek sixth century B.C. philosopher, who, in addition to figuring out the square of the hypotenuse, believed that all living beings had souls, and it was wrong to eat them. Pythagoras wasn’t big on beans, either, convinced that legumes were created from the same material as humans.

                                                                                                                                                                         And since ancient times, people have codified both what to eat and why in cookbooks, pamphlets, and treatises. Now, visitors to the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington, may examine the fascinating and sometimes eccentric printed history of vegetarianism in the exhibition Eat Your Vegetables! Five Centuries of Vegetarianism and the Printed Word. While surveying the history of the movement, the show also celebrates the meatless ethos in print from the sixteenth century through the 1960s.



Reproduced with permission of the Lilly Library. Photo Credit: Zachary T. Downey


Head librarian Joel Silver curated the exhibit, drawing primarily from the collection of antiquarian bookseller (and Indiana native) William Dailey. “The university acquired Bill’s material a few years ago--we’re still working on a full-scale catalog--but in the meantime we wanted to do an exhibition of a selection of pieces from his collection, which is close to 1,000 unique items,” Silver said.

                                                                                                                                                                “I started collecting in 1970,” Dailey explained. “I made 1967 the cutoff date for my collection because that was the year I stopped eating meat. I loved that there wasn’t a lot of competition for this kind of material, and I think the scope of my collection is pretty rare in the book world.” Though a pescatarian these days, Dailey remains well known in antiquarian book circles for his no-meat lifestyle, and at one point his car could be identified on the road by the vanity plate “LEGUME.” Dailey’s material complements the library’s already formidable gastronomic collection, assembled largely by Hoosier benefactors Dr. and Mrs. John Talbot Gernon.



Reproduced with permission of the Lilly Library. Photo Credit: Zachary T. Downey

Vegetarianism has had a long cultural, historical, and literary influence. “Frankenstein was a vegetarian,” Silver reminded me, and many writers like Mary Shelley, Franz Kafka, and George Bernard Shaw abstained from meat.



Reproduced with permission from the Lilly Library. Photo Credit: Zachary T. Downey

One of the show’s high spots includes a printed first edition of the earliest published treatise on vegetarianism, De Abstinentia ab esu Animalium, Libri Quatuor (On Abstinence from Animal Food), by Porphyry (234-305). The show also highlights material by American vegetarians and food reformers like Upton Sinclair, whose papers are housed at the Lilly, John Harvey Kellogg, and Sylvester Graham.

                                                                                                                                                                          Silver, a lifelong vegetarian himself, noted the health benefits of a life without meat: “Sinclair experimented with many diets and lived to be ninety years old, and Kellogg lived to be ninety-one. They must have been on to something.”

Eat Your Vegetables! Five Centuries of Vegetarianism and the Printed Word runs from now until September 10 at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. More information may be found at




Printing a Child’s World

From Alice in Wonderland’s 150th anniversary celebration to Mo Willems’ New York retrospective, children’s picture books and their creators are enjoying something of a moment in Manhattan’s cultural and literary circles. Now, the Met is hosting an installation of printed works celebrating the world of children as depicted on canvas and paper.

Through October 16, visitors to the show entitled “Printing a Child’s World” in the American Wing at the Met Fifth Avenue will be greeted by over two dozen works dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rarely displayed children’s books, illustrations, and prints by artists such as Randolph Caldecott, George Bellows, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Nast explore how art and advertising at the turn of the last century became ever more focused on the experience of childhood. Then as now, idyllic scenes of children at play, rest, or reading were commercially successful and played with the heartstrings (and purse-strings) of viewers.



Cover image for The House That Jack Built. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Highlights include nine original Caldecott watercolors for The House That Jack Built; Nast’s iconic, cherry-cheeked, jovial rendering of Santa Claus from A Visit from Saint Nicholas; and an illustration by Winslow Homer that appeared in an 1858 edition of Eventful History of Three Blind Mice. Writers and reformers of the time saw the world’s youth as the living embodiment of all that was new and modern during an era of sweeping social change, while working in mass-market mediums cemented the legacies of illustrators like Homer and Caldecott, whose art remains celebrated by collectors and artists today.

Material for the installation comes from the Met archives, the New-York Historical Society, and from a private collection.

“Printing a Child’s World” is on view at the Met through October 16. More information may be found here.

Olympians Descend on Manhattan

On Tuesday, ISIS suicide bombers carried out attacks that killed over 30 people and wounded more than 300 in Brussels. The next day, as members of the press gathered at the Manhattan Onassis Cultural Center in advance of an archaeology exhibition, Greek Minister of Culture Aristides Baltas wondered how this exhibit could provide meaning in the wake of such horrific events, suggesting that “culture and education may be the best weapon against terrorism of all kinds.” “Gods and Mortals at Olympus” certainly offers hope that an understanding of Hellenic culture may civilize ruthless extremists, though it is something of an uphill battle: Terrorist groups, and ISIS in particular, routinely plunder ancient sites to fund their operations. However, for the rest of us, there’s much to be learned from this show, on view now through June 18th.


Spectacle-Shaped Brooch with Fabric Remains Early Iron Age (1000-700 BC). Copper alloy, iron, and textile. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.


Nestled in the slopes of Mount Olympus, Dion was the religious center of Macedon for centuries, with sanctuaries dedicated to Zeus, Artemis and the Egyptian goddess Isis. Over ninety artifacts excavated from unearthed temples, baths, and private homes are on display in the Onassis Foundation’s recently renovated gallery space.  Brooches from the Iron Age, copper lamps, gold bracelets and stunning Roman-era mosaics evoke the importance of Dion as a sacred site, and how the constant influx of outside cultures influenced local art and architecture.


Mosaic of the Epiphany of Dionysus Late 2nd-early 3rd century AD. Stone tesserae. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Dion was also a major theater hub dating back to 400 BC, when Euripides wrote The Bacchae under the patronage of Macedon’s King Archelaus and was believed to have visited the city seeking inspiration. A suite of mosaics depicting theatrical masks surround the imposing “Epiphany of Dionysus,” a 5 foot by 7 foot mosaic dating from the late 2nd century CE which shows the god of wine and theater bursting out of the sea on a jaguar-drawn chariot. Pulled from a luxurious villa, the piece suggests that the homeowner had embraced Roman customs while still retaining various Greek religious traditions. (Many of the stelae on display have inscriptions written in both Greek and Latin, offering further evidence of life in the city under Roman rule.)


Slab with the Imprint of Two Feet and Dedicatory Inscription Late 2nd-3rd century AD. Marble. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Equally impressive is a diminutive 3rd century BC gold bracelet with lion’s head finials, which was discovered in a Macedonian tomb outside the city. Massive marble statues, table supports, and stelae depicting various gods, all offer tantalizing glimpses of this special place.


Bracelet with Lion’s Head Finials Late 3rd century BC. Gold. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Shepherding the exhibit into the 21st century are installations by contemporary Greek artists Maria Zervos and Kostas Ioannidis. Zervos’ video combines imagery shot at Mount Olympus with her translations of poetry by the ancient female poet Telesilla (510 BC), exploring how contemporary viewers perceive ancient notions of perfection and immortality. Ioannidis created sound installations which can be heard in the gallery foyer, playing on the idea of a “mountain language.” An onsite video game called “Secrets of the Past--Excavating the City of Zeus” invites players to pretend they’re directing the excavation work at Dion and decide the best way to unearth and examine the artifacts.

The Greeks at Dion demonstrated an ability to adapt as religious beliefs changed, even in the midst of war and natural disasters, and these artifacts offer opportunities to discover similarities between an ancient culture and our own. That’s something to be hopeful about.

GODS AND MORTALS AT OLYMPUS: ANCIENT DION, CITY OF ZEUS is free to the public. Visit the Onassis Foundation’s website for information on guided tours and additional programming.

Archie Andrews: Looking Good at 75

After seventy-five years, Riverdale’s perennial heartbreaker Archie Andrews got a major makeover. Archie Comics tapped Eisner Award winner Mark Waid (“Daredevil” series) and “Saga” illustrator Fiona Staples to revamp characters who have remained virtually unchanged since their appearance in 1941. The updated look debuted at ComicCon in July, and there’s no mistaking it, Archie is a hot dude. The cover shows young Mr. Andrews stepping out of his (slightly messy) car, looking happily off scene, hair perfectly coiffed, jean jacket tousled just so. Put him in a suit and swap the jalopy for a limo, and you can almost hear the squeals of delight from girls waiting behind velvet ropes for their favorite teen heartthrob to arrive at his movie premiere. Everything screams sexy all-American dreamboat. And why not? He’s been dangling poor Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge along for almost a century, he ought to look the part of handsome stud. It’s not just Archie; everyone is really, really, ridiculously good-looking in the update. (The second issue cover shows a particularly forlorn but beautiful Betty, trying to decide which rebound outfit to wear.) This first issue is an origin tale of sorts, where Archie and Betty have been longtime sweethearts until the mysterious “lipstick event” tears them apart. While the lovebirds are separated, the billionaire Lodges move into town, and though we don’t meet Veronica in issue 1, she’s sure to turn heads shortly.
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Looking good, my man. (Photo credit: Barbara Richter)
Archie and cast: The Adventures of Archie Andr...

You’ve come a long way, Archie. Archie and cast: The Adventures of Archie Andrews, 1947. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As with most makeovers of major brands, there are significant financial reasons behind Archie’s stronger chin and dreamy eyes. In a Publisher’s Weekly  interview last year, Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater said that the new look keeps the characters relevant and also feeds Archie book sales, which account for a major portion of the company’s revenue. Goldwater noted in the article that bookstore sales of Archie titles have increased 736% since 2008, reflecting the publisher’s introduction of over fifty new titles from 2010-2014.  The company has big plans for 2016, with a TV special, a musical, and more book events to celebrate 75 years and over 2 billion issues sold. Not bad for a freckle-faced teenaged Casanova.

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Book Smell for the 21st Century

Ask an antiquarian book collector what a room full of books smells like, and responses will probably include the familiar scents of glue, ink, various types of paper, even mold. “Old Book Smell” even attracted the attention of The Smithsonian Magazine, which ran a story on its blog in 2013 exploring the chemical breakdown of a book’s odeur. (Scientists behind the study deduced that old books emit a “combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.” 

E-books can’t compete with that unmistakable aromatic, but technology has advanced to the point where new digital books can be infused with scent. Think of the Smell-O-Vision, (a 1960 invention intended to perfume movie theaters) but on a mobile device.  Last year, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup Vapor Communications announced the creation of the oPhone, an app capable of emitting scent that corresponds to digitally written material. Here’s how it works: type an oNote using email or SMS. When the message shows up in the oNotes app, a scent wafts from a Bluetooth-enabled oPhone, which looks like two miniature steel chimneys affixed atop a white and stainless-steel platter. Now that same technology, generally called oMedia, exists for a range of products - oSongs, oClothing, and oBooks made with ‘scent-tagged’ images. 

Right now, there’s only one oBook, a collaborative effort with Melcher Media called Goldilocks and the Three Bears: The Smelly Version. Infused with fruit scents, Goldilocks is designed to encourage children to select healthy snacks like apricots and oranges. 

Goldilocks 3.jpg
image courtesy of Vapor Communications 

None of the various oMedia products are available in stores yet, and attempts to download the oNotes app from the company website were unsuccessful. However, on Saturday, April 18, curious parties can test the Goldilocks oBook at Museum of the Moving Image in New York, where it’s part of an installation called Sensory Stories: An Exhibition of New Narrative Experiences.  Another olfactory exhibit, Memory | Witness of the Unimaginable, opens today at Le Laboratoire in Cambridge, MA. Created by music composer Dániel Péter Biró, master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel, and oMedia creators David Edwards and Rachel Field, installations examine how the combination of scent and sound can transform a sensory experience.

At this rate, oMedia is eerily close to fulfilling Anne of Green Gable’s author L.M. Montgomery’s desire: “I wish we could see perfumes as well as smell them. I’m sure they would be very beautiful.” 

Sensory Stories: An Exhibition of New Narrative Experiences runs from April 18 through July 26 at the Museum of the Moving Image 36-01 35 Ave, Astoria, NY 11106 718 777 6888. More information is at: 

Memory | Witness of the Unimaginable is at Le Laboratoire Cambridge from April 18 through August 26. 650 East Kendall St. Cambridge, MA 02142 Tel: 617-945-7515!exhibitions/c5jx

A Very Gorey Halloween

Halloween is still two weeks away, yet goblins, witches and faux headstones already claim valuable lawn space across the country. While the kids celebrate with silly tricks and sticky treats, why not indulge grown-ups this season with work by the marvelously gloomy Edward Gorey.

Located in the Flatiron neighborhood in Manhattan, B&B Rare Books is featuring three Gorey first editions; The Doubtful Guest, ($275) The Blue Aspic ($150) and The Loathsome Couple($100).  All three are in fine to very good condition and none will break the bank. 


Although these books aren’t for the faint of heart - unwelcome visitors, death and destruction feature prominently throughout - perhaps the most ghoulish tale is The Loathsome Couple.  It is considered a cult classic among Gorey collectors and tells such a shocking story that even the author acknowledged it as his most appalling. The murderous husband and wife couple is based on a real duo that perpetrated the chilling Moors Murders in England in the 1960’s.  Unlike in most Gorey tales, the characters in this book are caught and suitably punished. 

Another way to celebrate Halloween would be to visit the Gorey House in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod. Since the author’s death in 2000, the home has been converted into a delightfully unique museum that chronicles the life, work and charitable endeavors of the master of macabre. 


The Gorey House hasn’t planned anything special for Halloween this year. (The House co-hosted a Dracula Blood Drive with the Cape Cod Hospital in 2006, but hasn’t since then.) It is currently exhibiting original artwork from The Vinegar Works, Three Volumes of Moral Instruction.

Currently featured in the gift shop is a toy theater based on Gorey’s drawings and sets for his award-winning Broadway production of Dracula. It retails at a reasonable $25.00.

Sadly, Ombledroom, the twenty-eight pound white cat who ruled the House and delighted visitors for twelve years, passed away last summer at the age of twelve. Visitors can pay tribute at to the feline’s final resting place, which is situated under a Southern magnolia tree on a patch of lawn by the house.   Happy Haunting!


 If you saw the Fine Books Facebook page on Monday you may have been enticed to guess who will grace the magazine’s summer cover.  A hint to seek out that day’s Google Doodle (see below) would have led you to Maurice Sendak, arguably the twentieth century’s preeminent illustrator of children’s books.   Google created the Doodle because Sendak would have celebrated his 85th birthday on Monday.  (Sendak died last May.)

 Leonard Marcus, a leading authority on children’s books and illustrations, has written a story for the summer issue discussing Sendak and his work. Marcus is also the author of Show me a Story! Why Picture Books Matter (Candlewick 2012) and recently edited a catalogue in conjunction with an exhibition of over 200 of Sendak’s previously unpublished art and sponsored by the New York Society of Illustrators.

Bill Clinton dubbed Sendak “The King of Dreams” when he awarded him the National Medal of Art in 1996.  The Brooklyn native wrote and illustrated close to 100 titles, including perhaps most notably Where the Wild Things Are. He was awarded a Caldecott Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, among many others throughout his sixty-year career. 

Children of all ages can cite their favorite book. Mine is Dear Mili, an unpublished Wilhelm Grimm tale rediscovered in 1983 and published with Sendak’s illustrations in 1988.  The images of death and miracles are wild - abnormally vivid forests, little girls with very large feet, and psychedelic landscapes. I remember reading it as a child, and while the story itself frightened me, I could not stop gazing at those wonderful images and following Mili on her unflinching quest.  In Show me a Story! Marcus asks Sendak about Mili. His response illustrates his complete understanding of children: “...she has the same kind of trudging, hard-working quality that I love in children. They’re trudging children; they go and do what they must do.”

A little Father’s Day tribute regarding Dear Mili: as a prized possession, I have a poster for the book, signed by Sendak, that my father stood in a long line to get at an ABA Convention the year of publication. It’s the only time he ever queued up at any book convention to get a poster signed. And since Sendak was only autographing one poster per customer, my doting dad got right back in line and procured another so that my sister and I might each have one.   

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first eight short stories, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, are out in a new edition (print or digital), complete with the original illustrations, cover art, reproductions of the Post pages, and an introduction by the Post’s historian, Jeff Nilsson. 

On sale May 7, Gatsby Girls is a collection of Fitzgerald’s ‘flapper stories,’ e.g., “Myrna Meets His Family,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” and “Popular Girl I.” All were published between 1920 and 1922, before his Great Gatsby appeared in 1925.  

“By the time he published The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald was already one of the best known authors in America thanks to The Saturday Evening Post,” said  Nilsson. “Through a span of 17 years the magazine published 68 of his short stories, and with 2.5 million subscribers, the Post brought Fitzgerald into the living rooms of Americans who might never have encountered his novels.”  

The new edition of Fitzgerald’s early stories is a collaboration between The Saturday Evening Post, SD Entertainment, and BroadLit. With the much-anticipated film of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, about to smash the box office, what better time to turn your gimlet eye on the stories and the art that not only preceded it but offers literary and cultural context for the novel that is considered Fitzgerald’s most famous. 

Have Popup, Will Travel

Rome : A 3-D Keepsake Cityscape, by Kristyna Litten, Paper Engineering by Gus Clarke ; Candlewick Press,  $8.99, 15 pages, all ages.

ROME: A 3D KEEPSAKE CITYSCAPE. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Kristyna Litten. Text copyright © 2012 by Walker Books Ltd. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

The Keepsake Cityscape series began in 2011 with a miniature foldout guidebook to New York City. The series has since expanded to include popular destinations such as Paris, London, and Washington, D.C. Each volume is presented in a lovely little slipcase.

The most recent publication shares the pleasures of strolling through Rome, from visiting the Villa Borghese to exploring the inner workings of the Colliseum. Author-illustrator Kristyna Litten skillfully renders twelve of the Eternal City’s attractions with lively and bright mixed media illustrations. 

Although these books are marketed to children, I’ve been collecting them from the start. They are a unique travel companion, and are small enough to tuck away in a luggage side pocket.  Most volumes have been written and illustrated by different authors, which makes these more interesting than the average mass-produced tourist novelty.  And for less than ten dollars, each of these pleated jewels can share their global tales on the same stretch of shelf.   

The fifty-third annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair welcomed booksellers from all over America, and many came from across the Atlantic as well.  French sellers presented their treasures with typical Gallic flair, charm and grace. Below I share three of my favorite bouquinistes at the Fair and some of their eye-catching wares.

book fair.jpg

Children’s and Juvenile

            More than two dozen dealers at the Fair specialized in children’s books, and two were from Paris.  Michèle Noret, whose shop is nestled in the tony sixteenth arrondissement, brought lovely examples of children’s literature from around the globe. Her most intriguing items were Soviet-era volumes printed for budding Communists.  One choice example was a second edition 1927 primer called Lenin for Children. Available for two thousand dollars, the book includes thirty-one full-page illustrations by Russian painter Boris Mikhailovitch Kustodiev, whose paintings had previously shown at the 1906 Paris Salon.  



            Hailing from near Montmartre in the eighteenth arrondissement, Chez les Librairies Associés brought books covering a wide thematic selection (such as calligraphy and moveable books). They also enticed passers-by with beautiful children’s collectibles. Among their wares were seven titles illustrated by acclaimed Russian artist Ivan Bilbin, known for his renderings of Russian folk tales. One of those volumes, from the 1937 Père Castor series, was a fine first-edition of H.A. Andersen’s La Petite sirène for $350.


 Parties and Celebrations

            Libraries Benoît Forgeot (you’ll find them on rue de l’Odéon in the sixth) brought an outstanding collection of illustrated books celebrating holidays and festivals spanning the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.  Available for a tidy $80,000, one particularly sumptuous volume was a perfectly conserved depiction of a 1688 regatta. The boating event was organized in honor of the marriage of Ferdinand de Médicis, Grand Prince of Tuscany and Yolande-Béatrice.  Fourteen gorgeously illustrated in-folio plates by Alessandro Della Via portray the extravagant festivities. An image from the book also graced the bookseller’s most recent catalogue. (see below) 


Later this week New Orleans Auction Galleries will offer a very special copy of Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans (1926) by William Spratling with introductory text by occasional New Orleans resident William Faulkner. The book was  published by the Pelican Bookshop Press in New Orleans in an edition of 250 and contains drawings of the author, Faulkner, and 41 of their French Quarter acquaintances--artists, musicians, academics, preservationists, socialites--with their uptown patrons. It was once described as “one of the great literary curiosities in the city’s history.” 

266-Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles High Res.jpg

Forty-one of the 43 persons featured in the book--all except Faulkner and artist Ronald Hargrave--signed this copy, which originally belonged  to Stella Lengsfield Lazard (Mrs. Henry Calme Lazard), who was herself on the fringes of the literary/bohemian circle. “Forty-one signatures is a record unlikely to be surpassed: the highest number I’d encountered before was 31, in a copy now missing,” writes John Shelton Reed. Reed used the book as a source for his recently published history, Dixie Bohemians: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s.

A long post on the intricacies of this copy, those featured in the book, and speculation on why Faulkner didn’t sign it, is here

New Orleans Auction Gallery estimates that the book will fetch $2,500-4,000. Proceeds will benefit The Ogden Museum of Southern Art. And, as an added bonus, the winning bidder will also take home a signed copy of Reed’s Dixie Bohemians

Theodore Roosevelt’s family photography album depicting the president and his children c. 1980-1910 is one of the standout items in the Peter Scanlan collection, on the block at Swann Galleries on April 16. The album contains 71 photographs mounted on 27 scrapbook pages. One of three images of the president himself is shown below -- he is standing proud in riding books in front of the White House. The Roosevelt children -- Teddy Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin -- are the the primary featured faces in the album, and it is believed to have been compiled by the First Lady. The estimate is $4,000-6,000. A second family photo album is also on offer, this one consisting mainly of the president’s grandson, Theodore Roosevelt III. 


Other highlights from the Roosevelt collection include the rare 1884 booklet In Memory of My Darling Wife Alice Hathaway Roosevelt and of My Beloved Mother Martha Bulloch Roosevelt. There is also a group of letters and documents signed by Roosevelt, including a 1918 autograph letter signed to a girl who lost a cousin in the war.

Another interesting New York collection is a lot of architectural/excavating diagrams, maps, and contracts related to major buildings in the city. Covering the years 1891-97 and 1901-1905, the pair of project logs belonged to prominent contractor John Daniel Crimmins, who worked on some incredible spaces, such as the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Schaefer brewery, the Tiffany lamp factory-studio, the Metropolitan Club building, and the New York Athletic Club. The estimate is $2,000-3,000. Blueprints of Coney Island, Niagara Falls guidebooks, and an early Dutch manuscript discussing the invasion of New Amsterdam are a few of the other NY items for sale. 

For some, the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is all about the book fair weekend (beginning tomorrow night). But as I’ve mentioned in the last few blogs, there are several other browsing and buying opportunities. This auction is undoubtedly one of them. 


It’s not often that a Noble Prize is offered at auction, but collectors will have two opportunities this spring. One, in fact, this very week. On Thursday, April 11, Heritage Auctions will offer Dr. Francis Crick’s Nobel Prize medal and hand-illuminated Nobel diploma at its Manuscripts auction in New York. According to Heritage, “The auction of the medal is a historic moment, marking the first time in decades that a Nobel Prize has been sold at auction.”

And while we wouldn’t call it a trend just yet, in late March Sotheby’s announced that it will offer William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize medal in June. Part of a larger and incredibly impressive archive, the prize medallion is lotted with an early handwritten draft of Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech--written on Algonquin Hotel letterhead!--and the Nobel diploma. It is expected to realize $500,000. 

Heritage has similar hopes for Crick’s 23-carat-gold Nobel. Bidding has already opened online--it’s currently at $280,000--to be followed by a live floor session. 

News of the Crick Nobel at auction prompted the the San Diego Union-Tribune to poll readers about whether they would “bid on a Nobel Prize at auction.” A surprising 40 percent said “It just feels wrong to auction off the medal,” while the yes and no votes were split evenly, and 13 percent asked, “Who has that kind of money?”

The Matchbox Diary

“The Matchbox Diary,” by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline; Candlewick Press, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 5-9. 


MATCHBOX DIARY. Text copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Newbery Medal winner Paul Fleischman (Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices) and acclaimed illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline (Thumbelina; The Nightengale) have crafted a tale about an Italian immigrant’s journey to America that also incorporates a love of collecting.

The book begins with an elderly gentleman meeting his great-grand daughter. As a way to get to know each other, the man tells the girl to choose a book, antique, or other collectible, and he will share the story behind that item’s existence. Tucked away in the midst of these beloved curios, the child chooses a weathered cigar-box.  Much like  a Russian matryoshka, the box opens to reveal dozens of matchboxes.  They, in turn, hold a small souvenir - an olive pit, a fishbone, pieces of lead type - that recall pivotal moments in the man’s life.  This diary is full of tangible objects that recall memories from long ago, while also encouraging the two characters to get to know each other. 


MATCHBOX DIARY. Text copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Using acrylic gouache, Ibatoulline creates an impeccable portrait of a collector’s controlled chaos, with old books, artwork, antique clocks and other bric-a-brac filling every shelf, corner and wall. The images of the past are skillfully  rendered in black and white.

Told entirely through dialogue, The Matchbox Diary is an ode to collectors and diarists of all ages, and certainly stokes the flame of bibliomania. As the story concludes, the worldly grandfather offers this reflection, one that will no doubt resonate with the readers of this blog: “Books are like newspapers. They show you where you’ve been.” 

Next week Les Enluminures gallery in New York City will open a new exhibit. Owner Sandra Hindman wrote in to tell us more about it: 

In April there will be a month-long major exhibition at Les Enluminures called “Paths to Reform,” illustrating the importance of reform in the history of the medieval and early modern church. It includes manuscripts that illustrate important texts from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries. About forty manuscripts and a few printed books begin with texts and manuscripts associated with the religious orders of the Middle Ages -- Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bridget of Sweden, and St. Francis de Paola -- and then explores in greater detail texts associated with the Devotio Moderna, and parallel movements in France and Italy, leading up to manuscripts associated with the Protestant Reformation.

LES ENLUMINURES Miniature Annunciation 2.Book of Hours (Use of Windesheim) BOH 85 -BOH 85 - ff20v-21 Master Otto van Moerdrecht susan@susanpr.jpg

Previously unknown Book of Hours in the Dutch translation by Geert Grote with the earliest recorded copy of the mystic Henry Suso’s 100 Meditations and 7 miniatures by the Master of Otto van Mordrecht.Courtesy of Les Enluminures. 


The exhibit opens on April 4, 6-9 pm (RSVP necessary) at the New York gallery, 23 East 73rd Street, 7th floor, New York, NY (and will be open from 10-6, Monday-Saturday until May 4). The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-color published catalogue by Sandra Hindman and Laura Light, with an introduction by David Lyle Jeffrey, Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities, Honors College, and Distinguished Senior Fellow and Director of Manuscript Research in Scripture and Tradition, Institute for Studies in Religion, Baylor University. This catalogue will be the third in our Text Manuscripts series (the first, Binding and the Archeology of the Medieval and Renaissance Book, by Sandra and Ariane Bergeron-Foote, and the second, Before the King James Bible, by Sandra Hindman and Laura Light are still available. Information on the show and catalogues is available at and

For more information, read the full press release here.

Julian Barnes at the Oxford Literary Festival

Guest Blog by Catherine Batac Walder

On Friday, March 22, Julian Barnes received the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence at the University of Oxford Sheldonian Theatre from the newspaper’s literary editor, Andrew Holgate. Barnes sat with acclaimed biographer and literary scholar Hermione Lee for an hour-long discussion of his life and work.

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Lee noted that the word “novel” has become a hugely elastic and unrestricted category partly because of Barnes, who is one of those authors who stretched, squeezed, and manipulated the form. Barnes said that it wasn’t what he set out to do when he first started writing. His only thought was that he was going to write a novel, experimenting on points of view whenever he started a new work. He believes that the novel is informal and is fascinated with the daring form, as when the hero and his sidekick hear themselves being discussed by minor characters through thin walls (e.g., that scene from Don Quixote). There are similarities in the structures of his works, as Lee pointed out; he doesn’t proceed chronologically and sometimes holds three stages or versions of a story alongside one another. She asked if this is a structure that appeals to him. He agreed, deep in thought, as though realizing it only at that moment, “I guess it must, as you’ve noticed it.” He added that one of the things you learn as a novelist over the years is how to move through time, citing Alice Munro as one who deals with whole lives in 20 or 30 pages.

In reply to Lee’s comment that he creates a pattern of images that recur and moments that come back within the book, such as the river running upstream in The Sense of an Ending, Barnes said that it comes with writing and rewriting. 

Lee also observed that “rewriting history” or “lying to ourselves” is a subject that he returns to in different ways in his books. Asking why this is interesting to him, Barnes replied that it might have come out while researching his book Nothing to Be Frightened of, which is partly about death and partly a family memoir. The process of writing and researching involved an exchange of e-mails with his philosopher brother. They discovered that they have a case of incompatibility in memory on things from their childhood, such as the method their grandfather used to kill chickens (this topic reminds me of Speak, Memory by Oliver Sacks). On the whole, he said, “we like improving stories.”

Lee asked about one common theme in two of Barnes’ books--being a boy at school--and wondered if there was something in his memory of what it felt like at school that has stayed with him. He attributed this recurrence to the fact that it was around this age when he started to read serious books. Another recurring theme, as Lee observed, is a narrator or central figure who is somehow inhibited, self-protective, hasn’t lived life to the full--a very English character, such as Chris in Metroland, and Tony Webster in The Sense of an Ending, among others. Personally I find that most authors have more fun creating these characters, as Barnes himself said something like he could explore a character more when they have these qualities.  


Barnes didn’t stay to sign books at the end but signed copies of his latest book, Levels of Life, to be released in April 2013, were available for purchase. Its themes of life, love, death, and grief made me weep. Barnes’ wife of 30 years, Pat Kavanagh, died in 2008. This book is like his love letter to her in the most informal form he could muster. There were thoughts of suicide (not unlike how one of his fictional characters had gone) after her death. There were words and actions he loathed from acquaintances and friends alike, his feelings all written here, in words I suspect he wouldn’t tell them face to face.

Barnes is the author of 20 books including novels, essays, and stories that have been translated into more than 30 languages. His most recent novel, The Sense of an Ending, won the Booker Prize in 2011.

Many thanks to Catherine Batac Walder, a writer living in the UK, for this post. She has previously written for us about Sherlock Holmes and ex-library books. She also reported on last year’s Oxford Literary Festival. Images credit: Catherine Batac Walder. 

Interview at the Waldorf Astoria NYC

Introduction to “Pinocchio” by Umberto Eco, ”’s not even a fairy tale, since it lacks the fairy tale’s indifference to everyday reality and doesn’t limit itself to one simple basic moral, but rather deals with many.” 

Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, Reproduced by permission of the publisher, the New York Review of Books, New York. 

       On Veteran’s Day, the internationally acclaimed children’s book illustrator Fulvio Testa sat down with me over tea in the Peacock Bar at the Waldorf Astoria to talk about his ground-breaking work for Geoffrey Bock’s new translation of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio.  The wide-ranging conversation inevitably led to a discussion of his artistic philosophy regarding children’s book illustration in general, and how he can’t get New York out of his mind.  

Focus and Rhythm

         For this project, Testa told me how he created a special storyboard that allowed him to keep constant track of the visual and literary levels he was trying to maintain. During the process, he constantly asked himself, “How can I get readers to understand the story simply by creating an image? There are two ways that I might create an image, either one image with two stories, or one large edited image.” To choose the right scenes for Pinocchio, Testa outlined places where he felt the images would best compliment the text, and read the book repeatedly in order to completely grasp the flow of action.  Perhaps equally important to the actual artwork itself, he added, is the pacing and the precise location of where an image is placed in a printed book. “There are fifty-two images in this book, and they are relatively close together. I try to create a rhythm to the illustrations,” meaning that each picture represents a pivotal moment in the story, and in Pinocchio most chapters either end or begin with an illustration. The flowing imagery allows the reader to maintain a steady pace, while creating pauses in the storyline and breaking the text into manageable parts. 

Action and movement

         At first glance the art for Pinocchio appears lighthearted and buoyant, however Testa’s work is in reality quite dynamic.  To show where the action lies in what appears to be a passive image, Testa pointed to an illustration in the book. In it, Pinocchio stands at Geppetto’s worktable and argues with the Cricket. “Some images are deceptive. They look approachable and friendly, but an older reader will see some of the darker aspects at work here. Look at the table. Pinocchio’s hand is very close to the mallet, which he will pick up shortly and throw at the Cricket, killing him. This is a triangle of violence here.”  This  is not simply a picture of a quarrel, but a violent avant scène, and yet is still an image that is appropriate for children.  “Children need action to convey a story of experience through repetition,” which may be why, in Pinocchio,Testa has filled the pages with the scurrilous puppet in all manner of situations, from skipping school to facing a fearsome serpent. Testa also believes that in order to be successful at his craft, a part of him must retain a childlike understanding and appreciation for the world.  “To illustrate, an illustrator needs to have a part of himself that hasn’t grown up yet,” Testa explained. “I have to be willing to re-experience pain, rejection, joy, and other emotions, as if for the first time.”


         Just as parents once used Pinocchio as a way to teach social and moral values, fables are equally important today in constructing a moral compass for children. Testa illustrated an edition of Aesop’s Fables, and finds their universal qualities a captivating way to educate young minds. “Through these stories there is a possibility to acquire a social sensibility.” He views his illustrations as an educational tool because they show how to deal with society from a children’s point of view, which is often more effective than an adult telling a child what is right and what is wrong. There is historical precedent to this approach going back to the nineteenth century, when Pinocchio was first published.  Before there was mandatory schooling, children’s books were crucial teaching tools. Carlo Collodi originally published Pinocchio in installments and he initially intended to end the book with the death of the unfortunate puppet.  Indeed, the illustration that closes chapter fifteen shows Pinocchio strung up and hanging from a large oak tree.  The puppet survives the hanging, and continues on his adventures. 


Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The New York Review of Books, New York. 

Read the rest at 

There seem to be fewer articles about the death of the printed book, bookshop, bookseller, book lover, book collector, etc. and more about their resurrection lately. If not truly a pessimist, I consider myself dreadfully realistic. But a few weeks ago, I gave a talk at Drew University Library that turned into a discussion about why I’m optimistic about the future of the physical book. Here are some of the things I came up with:

10. The Nook is dead. To paraphrase Twain, the “the reports of [its] death are greatly exaggerated.” Still, in late February, Barnes & Noble reported a big loss in its e-reader division. B&N claims it will not discontinue the Nook, but I see it as a chink in the e-book armor.

9. Because indies aren’t dead. A report from the Christian Science Monitor this week says the “buy local” movement has caused sales at independent bookstores to rise about 8 percent in the past year.

8. Young booksellers are also alive and well. We started a series on our website profiling what we call “Bright Young Things”--i.e., booksellers under 40 who are making a living in the rare book trade. We’ve done about 35 of these profiles over the past year, and we’re still going strong.

7. Craftsmanship has made a comeback. Whether learning (Center for Book Arts, American Academy of Bookbinding, North Bennet St. School) or buying (Etsy, Artfire, Renegade Craft Fairs), people have become more interested in handmade wares over the past few years.

6. College kids prefer print. You read that right! And not only do they prefer reading printed books for class, some of them are competition-level book collectors.

5. Vinyl returns. Some dislike the comparison, but vinyl--seen by many as an outmoded medium for the past twenty-five years--is hip again. Vinyl sales rose 36% last year. The lesson: a great product is impossible to beat.

4. Rare Book School flourishes. Last fall, the Rare Book School at The University of Virginia received a Mellon Grant of nearly $1 million to “reinvigorate bibliographical studies within the humanities.”

3. Books are worth millions. Not the majority, of course, but institutions and collectors invest in book culture and want to pass the torch, to the tune of $11.5 million, if necessary.

2. The Codex Book Fair succeeds. This year the Codex Book Fair in California had 175 exhibitors for its book fair and a sold-out symposium on book arts and papermaking. The New York Art Book Fair and the new LA Art Book Fair also rocked.

1. The Monkey’s Paw survives, thrives, and gets profiled in the New York Times. The Toronto antiquarian bookstore that received so much attention a couple of weeks ago is known for its quirky curation and its old-book vending machine. It is the bookshop of the future--a future full of super cool readers.


Last week Toppan Printing Co. of Japan announced its creation of the world’s tiniest book, measuring 0.75 by 0.75 mm. The images and lettering in this 22-page book on flowers are nearly microscopic, which is why a magnifying glass comes with the book for the purchase price of ¥29,400 ($308). 

Toppan has been making miniature books since 1964, but this lilliputian book was made using high-tech currency printing techniques. It is currently on display at the Toppan Printing Museum in Tokyo.  

The company plans to apply to Guinness World Records for official recognition. The current record is held by a Russian book that measures 0.9 by 0.9 mm. 

Draw your own alphabet

“Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own,” by Tony Seddon; Princeton Architectural Press, $19.95, 160 pages, ages 12-up.

(Available April 9, 2013)


Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY. 

This book takes the art of custom-drawn fonts, - lively, hand-drawn letters often perfected by middle school adepts - to an extraordinary level of sophistication. British graphic designer Tony Seddon opens the manual with a primer on the history of hand-lettering, including tips for perfecting one’s craft, the pros and cons of tracing, and understanding the basic structure of letterforms. Seddon teaches the proper techniques to create funky, personalized fonts in this very hands-on workbook.

The thirty alphabet fonts all are custom drawn by a team of young designers and illustrators who each reveal a little about themselves and the inspiration for their fonts. For example, artist Michelle Tilly discovered the origins for her “Spotty Fairground” font by observing antique signs on a Bristol pier.


Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own  Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY. 

There is a style here to suit any mood and personality, ranging from the Pacman-inspired “Butterman,” to “Topiary” where the letters resemble leafy bushes. My favorite font is the “Octobet.” This intricately detailed font is influenced by the Norse legend of the fearsome sea-monster, the Kraken.  

Seddon concludes with a useful section on how to use one’s fonts by digitizing them.  A glossary of terms as well as an anatomy of principal font features rounds out the book. This isn’t necessarily a book geared towards children, but placed in the right hands it would no doubt be lovingly received and perhaps nurture grains of artistic creativity.  A perceptive child might also enjoy reading the included designers’ biographies.


Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own  Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY. 

To continue reading, visit me at Literary Features Syndicate

The Olive Fairy Book

“The Olive Fairy Book,” by Andrew Lang, illustrated by Kate Baylay; The Folio Society, $84.95, 296 pages. 

 In late January, author Jane Yolen - considered by many to be the ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ of her generation  - spoke with me about the introduction she wrote to theFolio Society’s The Olive Fairy Book, a new edition of fairy tales originally published in 1907 by Scottish author Andrew Lang. We also talked about heroes, magic, and discovering hope through storytelling.image

THE OLIVE FAIRY BOOK Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London. 

The Folio Society & Andrew Lang

There are twelve Fairy books, and the Olive Fairy is the eleventh in the series. As a child Yolen read many, if not all, of the Rainbow Fairy series. In the introduction to the Folio Society’s edition she highlights three of her favorite stories- ‘Jackal or Tiger,’ ‘Samba the Coward,’ and ‘Kupti and Imani.’

“I’m pretty sure I read them all as a child. I was one of those childhood readers who, once I found something that I loved, I would seek out everything that was related to it.” The Olive Fairy Book includes all the elements necessary for riveting reading - heroic princes, wise fairies, talking animals, evil trolls, and witches. While being a prolific writer of children’s novels and poetry, Lang was recognized as a leading authority on world folklore and mythology.

Bound elegantly in olive green cloth, this edition of The Olive Fairy is itself a work of art, featuring an Art Deco frontispiece and bright gold illustrations by British artist Kate Baylay. Inside, readers will find more visual feasts- twelve full-color illustrations and thirteen black and white drawings.

Yolen discussed the era that inspired the artwork, and why it is wholly appropriate for this edition. “This book was published originally in 1907, which is when arts and crafts, art nouveau and art deco all come together.” 

Yet as beautiful as these pictures are, this edition is perhaps most appropriate for older readers.  “I think the pictures in this book are exquisite. But they’re also not for children. They’re very sexy, very dark; some are quite violent. It’s exquisite bookmaking and of course the Folio Society is known for that. And the price reflects that; it’s for collectors. You can get the edition in paperback for very little money, but the point of this kind of book is that it’s an art object.” If a collector wishes to acquire the entireRainbow Fairy series, The Folio Society is issuing all twelve of the books, each similarly designed and illustrated by a contemporary artist. The Olive Fairy Book is the tenth to be published.


THE OLIVE FAIRY BOOK Copyright © 2013 by Kate Baylay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London. 

At least once a summer for the past twenty years Yolen has visited the gravesite of Andrew Lang in St. Andrews, Scotland, partly because his work played a significant role in her development as a writer. “He was one of the most important ones [to me.] And I happen to have a house there. When writers visit, I’ll take them to the grave. Or if I’m on my own I’ll go. It isn’t that I’m genuflecting at his grave, it just happens to be a lovely grave with a beautiful Celtic cross on it.”

In a classic example of serendipity, Yolen was unaware of the writer’s presence in the town before settling there with her late husband, David Stemple. “I didn’t even know about the connection when I first moved there. My husband was a professor of computer science, and took his second sabbatical at St. Andrews.” (Now she spends her summers there, and returns to her home in western Massachusetts each winter.) After some poking around, Yolen found a chapel with a plaque dedicated to Andrew Lang. “I discovered that Lang was buried on the cathedral grounds. It was a hunt.”

In November 2012, Yolen was the 22nd person and the first woman to deliver the annual Andrew Lang Lecture at the university, which was also celebrating the centennial of Lang’s death. “Every academic in Cambridge has lectured here. The month after I was born, in March 1939, an Oxford professor named J.R.R Tolkien gave the lecture, which became the iconic essay on fairy stories - and really changed my life as a writer.  So St. Andrews asked me, and I said, ‘How can I follow in these footsteps?’ As I said to the audience, ‘Here I am, walking in Tolkien’s shoes, who walked in Lang’s shoes -- why not give me a ring and point me towards Modor?’”

To continue reading about The Olive Fairy Book, read my full review at Literary Features Syndicate! 

The last emerging archive highlight was the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, whose headquarters is entirely digital, so it only makes sense to consider now some of the latest tools that can shape digital archives, and how they are made and used. This is especially true with new media that combines reading with social networking, because each platform usually aggregates and archives its own content, as with Twitter (although Twitter could do better).

Two great examples of two-in-one digital tools and archives come from Betaworks, the folks behind Digg among other things. Both take to the digital extreme a scholarly goal several centuries old: how to best organise and store information for easy recall and use later on.


Findings provides an interface to clip extracts from your online reading. Simply highlight the text you wish to save, and use the bookmarklet to ‘clip’ it to your Findings account. From there it will become part of a universal collection of other clippings, which you can also access and use, organizing each into personal ‘collections’, making headings such as ‘politics’, ‘technology’, as you need them.

In other words, Erasmus is dancing dancing dancing in his grave: Findings provides a quick way to save the most important bits of your reading, full citations preserved, organized under topical headings. It’s a digital commonplace book - and one that operates on both a personal and communal level. It follows suit with the projects like Erasmus in De Copia (1512), distilling from the copious amount of books a few noteworthy ideas and phrases. But collecting all that is worth knowing takes up space, and lots of it.
And print alone stretches such compilations of knowledge into the hundreds of volumes, thousands of pages - since each collection of information also must be accompanied by an index with with to search it. Later 17th century projects sought to overcome the problem of replacing books with boxes: slips of paper containing information and a descriptive keyword could be kept in little boxes (like the one pictured above). This allowed topics or subject headings to multiply exponentially, but with alphabetical order preserved for the search to remain efficient.

One of the earliest inventions of this sort came from Thomas Harrison (b. 1595), upstart royalist to the end of his days (1662), who created “The Ark of Studies: or, a repository, by means of which it is proposed that all the things one has read, heard, or thought can be more speedily arranged, and more readily used.” Unlike earlier systems which averaged in the hundreds of topics, Harrison’s boasted use of 3,300 keywords and growing - he claimed to have added 10,000 extracts on a few hundred topics in 1648 while he was in prison for accusing a Court Justice of treason. Samuel Hartlib wrote of his project what resonates for just about any endeavor to compile knowledge, on paper or in pixel:  “One perfection of it is that it can never be perfect.” 

Betaworks’ most recent release is Tapestry, a publication platform that emphasizes shorter form writing through an imposed method of reading: ‘tapping’ (or clicking) the computer screen to propel the narrative forward rather than scrolling or page-turning. Here is an example: Don Saltero’s Coffeehouse: Or the Secret History of the Museum

Other authors who have written using Tapestry include Robin Sloan, of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore fame, with his short essays Fish and The Italics, and Craig Mod, who has adapted his amazing longer essay on Subcompact Publishing into an appropriately compact form.

The beauty of Tapestry is that it slows you down, calling attention (and proposing a solution) to habits like skimming that skimp on focus. As Francis Bacon wrote:

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” 

What is so exciting about Tapestry is that it applies to a very specific area of Bacon’s world of books: the small bite of important information that merits diligent reading. 

When retro-fitted to longer form essays, Tapestry also helps to tighten organization and flow. My tapestry was distilled from a longer work of 5,000 words, and the exercise made editing those 5,000 words easier, and more enjoyable.

As Bill Sherman recently said at the Permissive Archive conference at UCL in London: “The digital is finally beginning to catch up with the complex interface of the early book.” This is true for endeavors like Annotated Books Online, to which he was referring to at the time, or the Archimedes Palimpsest. But it’s also true that in the course of playing catch-up with early reading and annotating practices, the digital has begun to fine-tune awareness of our own diverse ways of reading.

Projects like Findings and Tapestry heighten the attention we pay to the endless array of variables that affect what happens when we read, what we remember of it, and how we use it. They emphasize the very different routes by which we come to remember something. As Edmund Wilson said, “No two persons ever read the same book”. Equally true, is that no one person reads everything with the same technique. 

Title Image Credit: Vincent Placcius, De arte excerpendi (1689). From the Max Planck Institut. An illustration, with suggested improvemens, of Harrison’s Ark.

Further Reading: Noel Malcolm’s excellent essay, “Thomas Harrison and his `Ark of Studies’: An Episode in the History of the Organization of Knowledge,” The Seventeenth Century 19 (2004), pp. 196-232

Thornwillow, a New York-based private press, and Montblanc, the European maker of writing instruments and timepieces, have joined forces to celebrate the forthcoming presidential inauguration. A pop-up shop featuring their wares will open January 18 in the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C., where visitors can put fine pen to fine paper: use a Montblanc to write a letter on Thornwillow stationery to President Obama, and the St. Regis butlers will deliver it to the White House for you. 

Of course, you may also choose to shop. As part of the inauguration celebration, Thornwillow has issued A Presidential Miscellany, a limited edition, letterpress-printed compendium of anecdotes, facts, and figures relating to presidential history, edited by Lewis Lapham. They’ll also sell a special edition of President Obama’s first inaugural address and American-themed letterpress stationery. Montblanc will showcase limited edition fountain pens from its “America’s Signatures for Freedom” collection, a series that pays tribute to America’s founding fathers, as well as leather goods and accessories. 

The Presidential Miscellany is available online for pre-order in both a standard edition in wrapper for $40 and a half-leather edition signed by Lapham and limited to 150 copies for $400. It will also be available at Thornwillow’s Library Gallery at the St. Regis in New York City. 

Maybe it’s just that I have Downton Abbey on the brain (season three having premiered here in the States last night), but PBA Galleries is in a good position to capitalize on our manor house fascination. At its January 10 auction later this week, PBA is offering architecture books and folios, many consigned by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, Northern California chapter. Among the lots are these early twentieth-century books on English and American country homes and gardens. You don’t need to be a lord to afford them, either.

CountryResidences.jpg Country Residences in Europe and America by Louis Valcoulon Le Moyne (New York, 1908). A first edition, illustrated throughout, showing country residences in Italy, France, England and America. Estimated at $300-500. 

GardensNew.jpg Gardens Old & New: The Country House & its Garden Environment (London, c. 1925). A fourth edition, but an attractive three-volume set featuring the great houses of England. Estimated at $300-500.

AmericanCountryHouses.jpg  American Country Houses of To-day ... 1912 & 1913 (New York, 1912, 1913). These are two annual volumes (both first editions), profusely illustrated with photos and plans of American country homes. Estimated at $200-300.

InEnglishHomes.jpg In English Homes: The Internal Character, Furniture & Adornments of Some of the Most Notable Houses of England... by Charles Latham (London, 1904-09). England’s stately homes and estates in three illustrated volumes, all bound in pretty blue cloth with pictorial gilt. Estimated at $200-300.

AnAmerican.jpgAn American Country House: The Property of Arthur E. Newbold Jr. by Arthur J. Meigs (New York, 1925). A first edition in dust jacket that surveys the suburban Philadelphia banker’s estate. Estimated at $150-250.

Images Courtesy of PBA Galleries.
English: Thomas Bodley, the founder of Bodleia...

English: Thomas Bodley, the founder of Bodleian Library of Oxford. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week a first edition (1605) of the Bodleian Library Catalogue sold for a whopping £19,000 (£23,750 including premium) at an auction of Early Printing and English Books to 1640 held at Bonhams, London. Auctions exclusively offering books printed before the English Civil War not only show the vitality of interest in early books, but their relative immunity to the E-Book Blues threatening younger books today. The dusty little Bodleian catalogue, bound in contemporary limp vellum, unwashed and looking just as it ought to for its age, was among the high earners in a sale that made over £1 million.

What is this book about, this volume which made more money than Boccaccio, Lucian, Cicero? Unlike other highlights from the auction, several of them illuminated manuscripts, it’s reference work, an early book on books, the earliest in print to describe the holdings of an institutional library in Europe. 

It includes nearly 7,000 books purchased for and donated to the Library, which Bodley had first undertaken to furnish in 1598 but which had not officially opened until 1602. The books first are divided into four typical fields: “Divinity”, “Medicine”, “Jurisprudence”, and the catch-all “Arts”. Some sense of their spatial arrangement is preserved by listing the size, shelf, and row number of each. Shelves are organized alphabetically. The combination of subject and numbers comprise the call number, and 17th century acquisitions have by and large the same call numbers then as now.

Technically the Bodeian Catalogus librorum bibliothecae publicae should not be as rare as it is. It was printed in large runs because visitors to the Duke Humfrey library had to buy a copy of their own to consult. For instance, Library records from 1620-22 show that 558 copies were sold at a price of 2 shillings eight pence to private persons, 2 shillings sixpence to booksellers. Today, requests are made online (and sometimes they can go horribly wrong). 

In addition to being one of the most expensive book lists going, the first edition catalogue is also inaccurate. Its publication was a fiasco from the very beginning for the Bodleian’s first librarian, Thomas James. Bodley had the idea to print and circulate a catalogue as early as 1603 to aid visiting patrons, but also to advertise the library’s great success to critics and potential donors alike. The basis for the printed catalogue would be the manuscript records James kept, but Bodley was unhappy these even before the library was open to the public, according to his correspondence with James: 

“Sir, as touching your Catalogue, which you writ for me in London, I should have little reason to think to find it in perfection, considering then your troubles. But my desire is only now, than in making anew, you would take the pains to do it by the books themselves, and that very exactly and deliberately. For I do find every day many errors in the former, of sundry sorts.” (Feb 5 1602)

Not only that, but he had trouble with James’ handwriting: “For it chanceth many times, that your writing is both ill to be read, and understood” (Sept 1 1602). The project was stalled until 1604 by the trouble of fixing so many earlier mistakes, and by the constant and overwhelming influx of new books Bodley acquired through donation and the assistance of the printer and bookseller John Bill, who went on a book buying trip through Europe.

By the time the catalogue was in its proof stages, new problems had arisen. As one of the great Hebrew scholars of the day Bodley avidly collected Judaica for his library but bemoaned his librarian’s difficulty with the language: “You have almost failed in every one of your Hebrew books which were printed with Hebrew letters,” he wrote to an overworked James (Aug 8 1604). Moreover he found fault with the catalogue’s printer: “It doth somewhat move me, to see a work of this expectation, and charge unto me, to be so much disgraced through the Printer’s carelessness considering what warning I gave him...” (Aug 24 1604). 

Bodley worried that so many mistakes would diminish the catalogue’s credibility, and hurt sale of future editions and appendices James might compile, not to mention that it would harm the international reputation he had worked to acquire:

“The very first impression, that men shall have had upon the sight of your Catalogue, will be it that shall give credit or discredit to the Library: because the Appendix perhaps will either not be bought, or not perused after. The general conceit as well of other nations, as of our own at home, of the Library store, is so great, that they imagine in a manner, there is nothing wanting in it: wherein when they find their expectation greatly frustrated, I doubt the credit of the place will be hardly recovered, with many after Appendixes. And hereof I pray you consider very thoroughly. I am further to tell you from Mr. Norton [King’s printer and bookseller], that there are many books forgotten to be put in the Catalogue, which are in the Library, of which I willed him to send me some for example, which I have here enclosed, and know most assuredly they are in the Library.” (Oct 26 1604)

While an appendix of some 200 books was then added to the end of the Catalogue before its final publication in the New Year, Bodley’s letters of dissatisfaction continued across the years. The difficulty in accurate record keeping exponentially increased for James when the library became the first for the legal deposit of all books printed by the Stationer’s Company in 1610. 

What is it that makes this catalogue, inaccurate and bearing little evidence of the intellectual labor that produced it, worth so much? The book was popular in the auction room, provoking a four-way bidding war among those in attendance, and ultimately acquired by a telephone bidder. If the Bonhams sale was proof positive for interest in early printed books in general, the sale of the Bodleian library catalogue was a about the sustained interest in the history of libraries in particular. Even geekier, and more exciting, its commanding figure shows a strong interest in the history of information science. As the earliest catalogue of its kind, the decisions Bodley and James made about what books to acquire, how they were to be arranged, and even the errors in their arrangement, were decisions that impacted literally generations of scholars and students. The book is as important in its flaws as it is a record of cultural accumulation. James’ struggle to keep up with the incoming titles and authors isn’t an individual story of information overload, but one that shaped the experience of anyone that walked into the library. As James wrote in an earlier manuscript catalogue he compiled, taking from St. Paul: Non quaero quod mihi utile est, sed quod multis, “I seek not what is good for myself, but for many” (1 Cor. 10.24). 

If catalogues are about recovering works for use by many, market confidence in the value of old catalogues and what they have to tell us about our intellectual heritage can only be good news.

Further Reading:
The catalogue has been printed in facsimile with a useful introduction:

The letters of Thomas Bodley to Thomas James have been collected and edited by G.W. Wheeler.


North_American_Indian_fullset2.jpgSwann Galleries will offer a rare, complete set of Edward S. Curtis’ The North American Indian during its Fine Photographs & Photobooks sale on October 4. Considering that the estimate is $1,250,000 - $1,750,000, this has the potential to be big news in the rare book world (a copy from the Kenneth Nebenzahl library made a record $2.9 million at Christie’s earlier this year over a similar estimate).

This set is consigned by Detroit bookseller John King, and, says the auction house, it “appears to be the only complete version in which a treasure trove of photogravures with Curtis’ stylized signature exists.” This unique suite includes 722 large-format photogravures on Japan tissue, with 111 signed plates in Folios I, IV and V. The accompanying 20 text volumes contain an additional 1,505 photogravures, 4 maps and 2 diagrams, and were produced by Lauriat from Curtis’ original copper plates.

We asked John King about his experience with Curtis’ work.

RRB: You’ve been in the book trade for more than forty years -- is this the most beautiful photobook you’ve ever handled?

JK: We’ve handled Brett Weston portfolios, original Ansel Adams, Fox Talbots, Albums of Civil War carte-de-visite views, but this is by far the most important piece.

RRB: Do you collect personally (apart from your business interests)?

JK: I collect some modern American poetry but just reading editions only. Plus, I collect images and other representations of people reading and/or selling books. I try not to compete with our customers, though. I do enjoy handling fine and important items, and while owning them is fleeting it still satisfies my soul.

RRB: How long have you owned this set?

JK: The Curtis set was a multi-year project for me, and I feel fortunate to be its owner.

RRB: Why is now the time to part with it?

JK: Though I was mesmerized with each and every photogravure, and if I could I would have kept this to the end of my life, my job is bookselling and that’s what I’ve done for over 4 decades. I need to pass this one on to someone who can bestow on it the care and love it deserves.

RRB: Will you come to NY to attend the auction in person?

JK: I’d like to go but I can’t commit to it. Being an active bookseller, there might be a library to purchase that might get in the way. There is often a fine line between buying and selling great books.

RRB: Edward Curtis is a fascinating character -- a man obsessed by the multi-year, multi-volume project to document the ‘vanishing’ race of Native Americans. What do you think of the fact that he died virtually unknown and penniless?

JK: Just like a great many accomplished artists of the past, their work preceded their deserved compensation after death. Curtis deserved accolades while he was still alive, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.

To read more about this auction, or to register to bid go to:
Yesterday, issued its annual report on books that are “out-of-print and in demand,” i.e. the top one hundred old books that remain popular among book buyers.

Unsurprisingly, Madonna’s 1992 book, Sex, topped the charts once again. Stephen King (as himself and as Richard Bachman) and Nora Roberts are the other leaders. Thereafter follows quite an eclectic group of authors/books who are apparently “sought after:” Lynne Cheney’s 1981 novel, Sisters, which the author refuses to reprint (she also denies that it contains lesbian content) is #15; Marie Simmons’ Pancakes A to Z, a 1997 cookbook, is #71; and Edward Matunas’ Practical Gunsmithing is #59. (Strangely the latter is not the only gunsmithing title on the list; James Virgil Howe’s The Modern Gunsmith is #78.)

One of the questions this list evokes is why some of these titles are out-of-print. Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (#11) would be awesome re-issued. Surely a reprint of Cecil Beaton’s The Glass of Fashion (#52) would be heartily embraced by a certain milieu. Johnny Cash’s Man in Black (#7) was in Bookfinder’s top ten last year, too. The 1983 Zondervan edition of Man in Black shown on’s page says “More Than 700,000 Copies in Print.” Where the heck are they all?! Bookfinder’s report makes it clear that the market wants more.

Bookfinder has issued this annual report for ten years. See the whole list here:
Next month Sotheby’s New York will sell property from the Estate of Brooke Astor. Nine hundred items from her Park Avenue duplex and her Westchester country home, Holly Hill, will go under the hammer during the two-day auction.

Astor was a legendary figure in New York society until her death in 2007. She was primarily a collector of decorative arts, furniture, and jewelry, a piece of which is a jewel-encrusted lion brooch (estimate $20,000-30,000) that evokes the iconography of the NYPL, an institution the Astors have supported for more than a century.

Astor Lib small.jpgBut was she a book collector? Holly Hill boasts this lovely library (above), and yet there appears to be only one lot (#67) consisting of “A Very Good Reading Library of Standard Authors Mostly 19th Century.” There are approximately 711 volumes in the lot, and the asking price is $3,500-5,000. Not bad. A pre-fab library of classics mostly bound in morocco or calf with a charming provenance. Later in the auction, fifteen lots of miscellaneous books sorted by subject (Reference, Cooking, Dogs, New York, etc.) turn up, with low estimates of $100-500 for lots of one hundred-plus books each.

BookVase.pngThere are some book objects of interest. A French earthenware vase in the form of a stack of books (seen here at left; estimate $1,000-1,500) and a painted book box (estimate $100-200) and a few historical documents crop up too, but the evidence suggests that Brooke was not much of a book collector even if she had a beautiful library. Still, for the right antiquarian bookseller or book collector, her books might yield surprising opportunities -- association copies from society artists, or tucked-in treasures related to this Old New York family... 
Guest blog by Brandon Kennedy

A few hours before dusk last Thursday in Archer City’s town square, the parking spaces lining the courthouse and the perimeter of shops were at near capacity, yet there was no one in sight. I made a beeline for Building Four of Booked Up--the site of Friday’s auction--and inquired about registration and the meet-and-greet. I introduced myself to the auctioneer, and he suggested I head over to the screening of The Last Picture Show that was already well underway; registration would have to wait until the following morning. After fumbling my way into the darkened theater, I grabbed a plate of picked-over BBQ, assorted fixins, a beer, and proceeded to prop up the back wall of the Royal Theater.

Photo-poster.jpgAs the familiar images flickered past, thoughts of the screening as a bookend for a celebratory yet difficult weekend for Larry McMurtry and his guests entered my mind. I imagined three of the four buildings empty, the perplexed townspeople and their relationship with the author, and all the complexities within his own work and its perception out in the world.

Not that I hadn’t come without my own baggage as well. I had been a seasonal regular at Booked Up for well over ten years, and I was disheartened to see the entirety of the stock broken up, though I could certainly understand McMurtry’s reasons for doing so. I had simply grown accustomed to my habits and thoughts about and within the shop, looking forward to future trips and reflecting back on good finds, and frankly, I was a little torn-up about the whole darn thing.

photo-auction.jpgThe next morning, Building Two trumped a cup of coffee in order to get registered for bidding. Outside the auction venue, a line of about twenty-five people had begun to curl outside the door with about fifteen minutes to go. Soon the appointed time came, and McMurtry appeared to make a short opening statement. In a matter of quick sentences, he managed to express the tenacity of the attendees with regards to the Texas heat, comparing them to the fish population in southern rivers adjusting to the current rise of temperatures. He then thanked his staff, the local businesses, and the residents of this small town, and we were soon underway.

The sixty or seventy chairs filling the main space were full, with additional onlookers standing in the aisles or sitting on the low shelves at the front of the store. The crowd’s enthusiasm boosted the start of the 1,400 shelf lots to be sold over the next two days, with many opening in the low hundreds and selling thereabouts. But soon enough they dipped down to a hundred or just below. Most lots had between 200-250 books each, some comprising parts of sections, with others being a hodgepodge of titles.

Photo-Autographed.jpgI began to pace about the building as shelves were steadily emptied and eventually wandered down the street to Building One, the main store that was--and will still be--open for business. McMurtry had returned and was seated at his usual outpost at the front table, holding court with a small group of devotees and journalists. It was difficult not to notice that there was a new assortment of swag positioned about: t-shirts with quotes from Lonesome Dove or Terms of Endearment, bumper stickers, and bags with the Booked Up pig, and a whole shelf of signed McMurtry books for sale; the likes of which hadn’t been welcome in these parts for years.   

I headed into the garage beyond and combed through the monolithic stacks that flank the sorting tables, realizing that it had been an area I had neglected in past visits. Not being an air-conditioned space, it can take some stamina to effectively work the room. After a good hour or more, I resurfaced with three quality finds and headed to the register.

When I returned to the auction, they were heading into the hand-picked single book lots of “The McMurtry 100,” and a renewed sense of purpose and excitement filled the room. Every few lots, the bidding would ratchet up into the mid-hundreds and then settle down again. I waited for the last-minute additional added lot to come up: a 1,139-page ledger full of original manuscript erotic stories commissioned by a wealthy Oklahoma oilman with an apparent daily appetite for the sordid. Rather quickly, the bidding surpassed my self-imposed limit, and I didn’t raise my hand once, watching the lot go to bookseller Tom Congalton of Between the Covers.

After lunch, the walk-through for the upcoming lots in Building Three was the next order of business. I had spent many hours alone in these aisles, mostly poring over translated literature and fiction. Now, I really had no interest in ineffective browsing or bringing several shelves home whose individual volumes I had previously left behind. I left the building and headed to my car, retrieving three McMurtry books I had brought along should I find the courage to ask the daunting question with pen in hand. I prefaced my asking with an apology of sorts, using the notable day’s events as an excuse. He signed them all while I thanked him heartily and then beat a somewhat hasty retreat.

Photo-van.jpgThe Abracadabra Books van 

Returning to the auction for a spell, I decided I was about done. Successful bidders were packing up their winnings, filling boxes, and overloading their cars. Some bought a few hundred books as a keepsake, while a few hatched future bookstore plans with what they had acquired. The most successful bidders of the day were either those who had the logistics in place to deal with sheer quantity or the space to store thousands of books.

The heat had defeated my enthusiasm and the repetition my curiosity. I headed to the American Legion with some friends to escape for the remainder of the afternoon. After signing in as guests, we ordered some beers and played a few rounds of pool in the back room. Soon enough, other writers started to filter into the cool, dark space, wanting to share stories and opinions of the day’s events. Everyone offered their take, and toasts went around the table.

The bookstore and community within this small town had brought this group together years ago, kick-starting their writing lives with local stories, self-imposed isolation, and a knowing guide. I couldn’t help but think that McMurtry himself had started much the same long before with the backdrop of Archer City as his subject and muse. Where there once had been a notable absence of books but plenty of space, the sudden release of hundreds of thousands of volumes that had taken years to assemble has created rivulets of books, ideas, and people. We can now only hope for tide pools to gather elsewhere.

Photos and essay by Brandon Kennedy, an occasional artist, former bookseller, and currently works in the modern and contemporary art department at Heritage Auctions. Kennedy wrote our spring issue’s cover feature on Larry McMurtry. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and son.

Two Postcards from Maeve Binchy
Guest blog by Catherine Batac Walder

I haven’t composed a handwritten fan letter in a while. I wrote two to author Maeve Binchy, and she replied to both. I was much younger when I wrote my first letter, and I must have commented that she wrote mainly about women and whined that I was disillusioned with her portrayal of men. One of her postcards is in an album back home in the Philippines. I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something along the lines of “this is real life.”

Walder_Binchy Postcard.JPGThe second time I wrote to her was a few months after I first came to Europe in 2005. I wanted to visit Ireland. I wrote to Binchy about my trip, and I was bold enough to ask if I could visit her. It was a long shot (she didn’t know me, it was before Christmas, and I was visiting only for a few days), so I didn’t expect that it would happen. That she replied at all in the new year was something to be grateful for. She wrote, in part, “I am not able to meet all the people who come through Dublin. But I do send you warm wishes for 2006.”

I’ve always had trouble classifying her works. They’re not quite romance novels. In Circle of Friends, for example, good-looking Jack falls for the plain girl but still gets seduced by the beautiful woman in the end. The professor in The Evening Class has a troubled marriage. His wife is unbearable, and it should be rather romantic for him to find Sigñora, who is very understanding. But there is something about Binchy’s writing that makes you question the happy ending and instead mull over issues of morality and guilt, even as you turn the last page. Sometimes you fall in love (Light a Penny Candle) with her characters or hate (Firefly Summer) them with a passion. Binchy’s humor and study of the human character are a constant in her novels, as are universal themes. Even though I lived in a different country, it was as if she had written about my next-door neighbor.

At a time when I shifted from classics to contemporary authors, I found myself collecting Binchy. I was selective about reading female authors at that time but anything about my beloved Ireland was an exception. Binchy was a guilty pleasure to an extent but one I would readily share with others. I had introduced her to a few female friends who still read her up to now. She wrote of what she knew, so her stories were real and for someone who wanted to go beyond the thick forests, glass lakes, and lush countryside of Ireland; she was my free ticket. I’m one of her millions of readers who are saddened to see the last of these books. Maeve Binchy died after a short illness on July 30. She was 72.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a UK-based freelance writer. She has previously written about Ex-Libris copies, the Oxford Literary Festival, and Sherlock Holmes for FB&C.
Elvis.jpgElvis Presley’s signed high school library check-out card is coming to auction next week at Heritage Auctions’ August 14 Elvis memorabilia sale. Among some other of the King’s artifacts--concert posters, jewelry, autographs, photographs--the library card from 1948 holds Elvis’ early autograph; he was only thirteen when he signed it. His family had recently moved from Memphis, Tennessee, to Tupelo, Mississippi, where Elvis attended Humes High School and checked out The Courageous Heart: A Life of Andrew Jackson For Young Readers from the school’s library.

The card with the surprising signature was discovered by a Humes HS librarian while weeding the collection years later. Heritage is offering the card along with a copy of the book. The current bid is $2,400, but the auction house believes it will reach $4,000 at least.

Elvis-book.jpgThis item reminded me of the library slip signed by J.D. Salinger that realized $1,314 at Heritage last year. A fun find in both cases, and the kind of evidence of readership and reading habits (of the rich & famous, or otherwise) that won’t exist for future scholars or collectors. 
earp.jpgOn August 17-18, Holabird-Kagin, the Nevada auction house that specializes in Western Americana, will offer this unique photograph of Wyatt Earp and his family, taken in Dodge City in 1875. Shown here are the legendary lawman with his father, Nicholas, and brothers Morgan, Virgil, James, Warren, and a half brother, Newton. It is, according to the auctioneers, “the only [photographic] record of the male portion of the Earp clan known to exist.” The auction estimate is $200,000-300,000.

renobrewing.jpgHolabird-Kagin’s 2-day, 1700-lot auction--dubbed the “Hot August Auction”--will be held at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nevada. It will be heavy on Nevada history, Old West items, saloon and brothel-related material, railroadiana, mineral and gold samples, coins, and a selection of printed broadsides. One of the particularly handsome broadsides is a full-color sign advertising Reno Brewing Company’s Sierra Lager. The lithographic broadside, seen above, depicts the Reno brewery that remained open until 1948. It is estimated to sell for $15,000-25,000.

ShakespareFF.jpgThe Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford has just announced its intention to digitize its first collected edition of the works of William Shakespeare, “to publish our First Folio online for the benefit of everyone.” (Since most of us can’t afford the $5 million price tag for our very own FF.) The Sprint for Shakespeare Campaign--Olympic language pun surely intended--hopes to go for the gold, i.e., hopes to raise £20,000 ($31,000) for this project. For more information, or to make a donation, check out the Sprint for Shakespeare site
lf.jpgHeritage Auctions snagged a world record for comic art at a Beverly Hills auction last night. Todd McFarlane’s 1990 Spider-Man #328 original cover art brought in $657,250 at the vintage comics & comic art sale, beating McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1--thought to be the auction’s frontrunner--by nearly double.

The signed illustration shows Spider-man sparring with the Hulk. It was formerly part of the Shamus Modern Masterworks Collection. Martin Shamus owned a popular comics shop and had the opportunity to obtain many pieces of original comic book art directly from the artists soon after publication in the late eighties and early nineties.

As we’ve reported here (and here), Larry McMurtry is gearing up for the book auction of the century. Next month book collectors of all stripes will descend on Archer City, Texas, for the two-day event, where festivities include 1,400 shelf-lot sales, a BBQ, a movie screening, and the sale of the McMurtry 100, a hand-selected collection of titles chosen by McMurtry to “prep the bidders.” Not all are rare or expensive, some are just favorites.

In that special group are: a signed 1933 illustrated edition of Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; an 1810 edition of Robert Southey’s Curse of Kehama; a London edition of Thomas Wolfe’s The Web and the Rock; Rulka Langer’s 1942 book, The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt; and Elmore Leonard’s The Bounty Hunters, in dust-wrapper. Swinburne, Trollope, and James appear more than once, but it is certainly an eclectic catalogue.  

In describing how the McMurtry 100 took shape, auctioneer Michael Addison has written that McMurtry offered to select the titles to get bidders interested in the larger auction:

“Why don’t I just pick out around 100 books to sell individually just as a sampling for the bidders of the types of books we have in the shelf-lots” McMurtry says.

Nodding in agreement, I reply, “Well, you’ve been a book-scout for 50 years, so people will know that any books that you pick out are rare or unusual....”

“I’ll pick out few for you to play with” he says with a grin.

Thirty minutes later, I see a stack of books on the table of building #2, and I begin to lot them individually. After numbering them, I walk over to Booked Up building #1 where I find Mr. McMurtry and say, “Well, there are 90 books there. I’m going to call them ‘The McMurtry 90’ -- how about that?”

“You want me to find 10 more? Let me find 10 more and make it an even 100,” McMurtry says.

I reply, “Even better. A nice round number.”

It only took him a few moments to put another 10 books on the table in the other building, and the “McMurtry 100” was complete. 
I have long lamented the fact that as an undergraduate, I stepped foot into the special collections area of the university’s library only once and that was to interview the director about a budget issue for the student paper. When I later worked in a university library’s special collections/archives, I reached out to history professors to promote the use of primary sources among undergrads -- give them a chance to decipher that nineteenth-century handwriting and sift through photos of early campus beauty pageants. It not only enriches the learning process but some of those students are going to walk away with a newfound desire to collect or preserve or perhaps help their alma mater do so at a later date.

Richard J. Ring, head curator and librarian of the Watkinson Library at Trinity College, has taken this idea to a whole new level. Last year, he implemented creative fellowships in special collections for undergraduates. Five students receive a $1,500 stipend for one semester, in which they produce a creative project based on or inspired by materials held in the Watkinson Library. The project can be art, writing, performance, film -- virtually any medium.  

As Ring says in the promotional video they produced to promote the fellowship, “My hope is to set a trend nationally of special collections encouraging their undergraduates to use the collections in creative ways rather than academic ways.”

One of last year’s fellows composed a piece of original music based on a French manuscript from 1833 that contains songs and hand-drawn illustrations. Another fellow printed a chapbook of poetry, having carved the font out of linoleum blocks.

Take a look at the video -- you’ll be inspired by higher education (for once)!
Independent booksellers are still reacting to the news that they can no longer accept credit card payments directly through their own websites. As of June 22, booksellers who rely on the Missouri-based ChrisLands Inc. to host their web shops were no longer able to process credit card payments online. In a decision handed down by ChrisLands’ parent company, AbeBooks, ChrisLands stores are now limited to Google Checkout and PayPal. According to the statement issued by ChrisLands, it is “reviewing what other payment processing options we may be able to include in the future.”

That isn’t happening fast enough for some dealers. Catherine Petruccione of Old Scrolls Book Shop in Stanley, NY, said, “It seems odd that they are way behind the mark in ‘trying’ to come up with an alternate solution.” She said she also worries that this is a precursor to raising the monthly web-hosting rates. “As it stood, ChrisLands was a pretty good bargain. But with the credit card option disabled, not so much of one anymore.” ChrisLands has been touted as an affordable e-commerce solution for indie booksellers.

Carla Wykoff of Bent River Books & Music in Cottonwood, AZ, said, “We are looking into alternatives--there are several--tomfolio, bibliopolis, and our personal favorite, forseeingsolutions.” She said the ChrisLands decision sparked an extensive discussion on booksellers’ listservs and that “quite a few” booksellers have switched to a new online host.

A California-based bookseller said, “In the first heat of the moment, a LOT of people (including me) threatened to close our ChrisLands sites, but of course that means either giving up our own site or spending quite a lot of money establishing an alternative.”

Some booksellers have also raised the idea that this move essentially channels most sales through the AbeBooks marketplace. Ever since AbeBooks acquired ChrisLands in 2008, booksellers have measured the “inherent conflict of interest between ABE’s genuine desire to aid independent booksellers and ABE’s corporate self-interest in channeling as many transactions as possible through the ABE site,” as one dealer put it.

When asked if the new restriction was prompted by Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance regulations, Richard Davies of AbeBooks said he was “unable to comment.” He added, “However, the change was not made to channel sales through AbeBooks. ChrisLands continues to operate as an independent subsidiary of AbeBooks.”
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.

I don’t often go to the movies, but last night offered that rare chance, and I went to see Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. I’m a big fan of Anderson’s films (Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, etc.), and this film had that same ‘dollhouse’ quality, quirky plot, and amazing cast of characters.

large.jpgThe film is set in 1965, and one of the main characters, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), is a twelve-year-old runaway. She meets up with her boyfriend, an orphaned ‘Khaki Scout,’ and they hit the trail and set up camp. Suzy has packed her suitcase with six books that she stole from the library, with titles like The Girl From Jupiter, The Francine Odysseys, and Disappearance of the 6th Grade. Throughout the film, she reads excerpts from some of the books. The books are fake -- props written by Anderson-- but it was great to see books with such a leading role. And, in what must be a first for modern film, the book jacket designers got a huge credit at the end.

When I got home, I did a little quick research on the books, and it turns out that Anderson had considered animating the reading scenes and so commissioned animations of all six books, later used separately in a supplementary video to promote the film. You can view them here.

Image: Focus Features.
You can experience fin-de-siecle Paris by visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) this summer. Its exhibit, Posters of Paris: Toulouse-Lautrec and His Contemporaries, celebrates the brightly colored advertisements by Pierre Bonnard, Jules Cheret, Edouard Vuillard, and Alphonse Mucha that graced the city at the turn of the twentieth century.

Bonnard-FranceChampagne.jpgPierre Bonnard, (French, 1867-1947), France-Champagne, 1889-1891. Color lithograph. Restricted gift of Dr. and Mrs. Martin L. Gecht, 1991.218, The Art Institute of Chicago. Image courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Paris was plastered with paper -- creating what MAM refers to as an outdoor museum for the masses. The posters themselves were “objects of intense fascination, even mania, and a new term was invented to describe it: affichomanie (poster mania). They were so popular that collectors stole them from billboards almost as soon as they were pasted up...” The posters remain popular to collectors today, filling vintage poster auctions at Swann Galleries and Christie’s and cropping up at Heritage Auctions too.

Cheret-LHorloge.jpgJules Chéret, (French, 1836-1932), L’Horloge: Les Girard, 1875/1878 or 1880/1881. Color lithograph. Collection of Jim and Sue Wiechmann. Photo by John R. Glembin.

The exhibit runs through September 9, 2012 and then heads to the Dallas Museum of Art from Oct. 14, 2012-Jan. 20, 2013.
powellyoungsevere.jpgThe Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last week that the complete diaries of novelist, playwright, and short story writer, Dawn Powell, spanning the years 1915-1965, are for sale. Not with Christie’s, Sotheby’s, or another of the major auctions houses or antiquarian booksellers -- the 43 volumes are being privately auctioned by the owner, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and biographer Tim Page, as a single lot. The required opening bid is $500,000.

According to the FAQs on the auction’s informational website,, Page states, “The advancement of social media now permits a seller to bypass the auction houses and reach an interested audience without incurring prohibitive commission fees. Moreover, I like the fact that I can control the sale of these documents and make sure that they find a proper and respectful home.” Page has owned the diaries for almost twenty years. He told the Plain Dealer that he purchased “her entire papers for about the price of an automobile” from Powell’s cousin and literary executor.

Cover-1931-Diary-P01-16-400x600.jpgPowell’s 1931 diary, referred to as “The first of Powell’s great diaries” because it is meatier than her previous appointment-book like diaries.

Powell was born in Ohio but relocated to New York’s Greenwich Village, where she spent the rest of her life. She wrote hundreds of short stories and more than a dozen novels in the mid-twentieth century. A revival of her work occurred in the 1990s, when Page edited and published her diaries and letters wrote a biography about her.

Terms of the forthcoming sale include ensuring that a full copy of all manuscripts “is available to scholars and to the public, through a library or research center.” The diaries are currently housed at the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where interested buyers can view them by appointment. The buyer will not own the copyright to the material; that will be retained by the Estate of Dawn Powell.

Cover-1947-Diary-P03-08-400x600.jpgPowell’s 1947 diary records her visit to John Dos Passos and a hospital stay.

Interested bidders who can agree to Page’s terms and initial bid level are asked to contact him directly through his website. A legal process will narrow bidders by July 1, and final bids will be accepted until July 15, 6:00 P.M., EST. One final caveat: “The highest bid will not necessarily claim the Diaries: the owner reserves the right to place them in what he considers the most appropriate hands.”

Images courtesy of Tim Page.
Thanks to Jeremy Dibbell/Philobiblos for the tip. 
Catalogue Review: Between the Covers, #176

As I considered catalogues to review today, I was thinking about a comment I read on Twitter yesterday. I’ve been following tweets from the 53rd Annual Preconference of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Sections of the Association of College and Research Libraries in San Diego, CA, this week. The three most prominent voices I’ve heard are Molly Schwartzburg @bibliomolly of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia; Ian Kahn @luxmentis of Lux Mentis Rare Books; and John Overholt @john_overholt of Harvard University Library. (The hashtag for the conference is: #rbms12)

Yesterday one of them remarked that booksellers’ catalogues have to be more varied to attract buyers, and he cited the most recent Between the Covers catalogue as an example. I checked my desk for the most recent BTC and found #176. I wanted to see for myself what the tweeter was referring to, and I did. BTC routinely produces excellent catalogues, and what they offer is variety: books, art, ephemera, manuscripts. From an illustrated broadside, “One Day Marriage Certificate” of Richard Brautigan ($3,500; sold) to original dust jacket art for Carl Van Vechten’s novel, Spider Boy ($12,500) to an uncorrected long galley of the first American edition of Sylvia Plath’s Crossing the Water ($2,000) to the more traditional first editions of modern literature. There are also fabulously fun ‘book’ finds like Confessions of a Lesbian Prostitute from 1965 ($225) and a first edition, limited issue, of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love ($1,200).

Not only does this make for fun reading, but the bookseller reaches a wide audience of collectors, with a broad set of interests.

(Previously reviewed: BTC #169)

Palatium_Paradisi_Libro.jpgPaul Johnson’s vivid pop-up, Palatium Paradisi Libro.
Photo credit: Charles Byrne.

The San Francisco Center for the Book is hosting an ambitious summer exhibition, featuring the work of more than forty book artists from the collection of the organization’s co-founder Mary Austin. The name of the exhibition is apt: Exploding the Codex “explores the theater of the book and storytelling through structure.” Which is to say, many of these books aren’t contained within the physical form we often associate with books--folios, quartos, octavos.

Horse_Soul_Book.jpgJudy Serebrin’s Horse Soul Book. Photo credit: Charles Byrne.

Curated by Daisy Carlson, the exhibit allows viewers to appreciate the size, shape, and dimension of each book, and ask themselves how that form adds meaning to the information being presented. Each piece celebrates the drama of book art: the wild, the abstract, the secretive.

Silverberg-Black_Torah.jpgRobbin Silverberg’s Black Torah brings us back to the pre-codex scroll.
Photo credit: Charles Byrne.

Exploding the Codex runs through August 31, at the Austin/Burch Gallery at the San Francisco Center for the Book, 300 De Haro Street, Suite 334, San Francisco, CA.

Images courtesy of the SFCB.  
In 1935 a reader of the Times Literary Supplement wrote in to address a ‘revolution’ in libraries: “Perhaps the greatest change which has taken place has been in the conception of what a library really is. It is no longer regarded merely as a place where books are kept, nor as a collection of books remaining in such a place.” The correspondent had not read Borges. The piece did not conclude at the indefinite Library of Babel and its endless possibilities. Instead, it was about bookmobiles:
To address the problem of access, local libraries had equipped trucks with a rotating selection of books, extending their services to the outer reaches of their communities. The system was an effective deterrent to dust settling, and the cold hard statistics of borrowing from village to village could make claims for a library’s place in the world, its relevance, its use. This was especially critical during the war: as Percy Muir put it in a 1940 TLS column “The war gave...obscurantists a splendid opportunity to popularise their anti-literary bias under a patriotic camouflage” and close down libraries. But for the bookmobiles on the front lines, among other factors.

Even if it is shocking to think that libraries are still under threat, it’s nothing new, and neither is the success of a little creative advocacy on their behalf: in this case what began as a lone man pushing books in a wheelbarrow through Cumberland in 1857, then a horse-drawn cart by the turn of the century, and finally a fully tax-funded scheme complete with branded vans that continues to this day. There are bookmobiles serving villages across England from Staffordshire to Cambridgeshire (UK residents, find your local bookmobile’s route here). 

Traveling libraries have their place in the US as well (see above image, Rolling Prairie Library Book Mobile, Illinois, 1966): the first ‘Perambulating Library’ was driven by a librarian named Mary Titcomb in 1905 around the backroads of Washington County, “a cross between a grocer’s delivery wagon and the tin peddler’s car of bygone New England days” (Source). The American Library Association celebrates National Bookmobile Day on April 11th each year. Which brings us to 2012, where the itinerant library of the 21st century still has a lot to teach about the outer limits of reading:

There is Always More Space to Fill, because states of disuse are in constant flux. In the town of Westbury-sub-Mendip, population 800, people have teamed up with British Telecom to adopt disused red telephone booths across the countryside for conversion into mini-libraries, an idea that has caught on around the rest of the country. On the opposite end of the spectrum, even New York isn’t too crowded for the same kind of real-estate recycling: the Department of Urban Betterment has set up libraries in a few locations (Source):

Traveling Libraries Can Fight Injustice, the old fashioned way. For instance, in Tucson, Arizona this March the ‘Librotraficante’ (‘Booktrafficker’) movement was born, a caravan of cars carrying books throughout the area’s school districts that had been banned by the Governor. The caravan handed out copies of the books that were banned, most pertaining to Mexican-American history, The Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History, Rethinking Columbus, but also other works such as bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everyone and Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. If libraries exist to provide free services to those least likely to have access to information, traveling libraries have the unique ability to reach audiences whose resources have been cut off. 

Not Everyone Has Computer Access, let alone the luxury of travel by car. Luis Soriano Borges takes his “bibliodonkeys” Alfa and Beto through the mountain villages of Columbia to bring books to children. In Kenya, the mobile library is powered by Camels.
Unconventional Approaches Have Lasting Effects. The itinerant library is something of a spiritual reminder that the library as a communal space can lead anywhere, as long as it leads to anyone. But its dependence on petrol makes it a little easier to comprehend than Borges’ limitless library “whose circumference is inaccessible”. The future is a little more concrete. In Argentina Raul Lemesoff’s “Weapon of Mass Instruction”, a mobile library that looks like a tank with space for 900 books provide free reads - with a pacifist message - to anyone he meets. Some kids pick up a love of reading early in life when they find a story that really grabs their attention...others will be lifelong readers after a run-in with a tank on the streets of Buenos Aries.
Ditto Tom Corwin’s refurbishment and revival of an old American bookmobile. Chasing a bookmobile down the street rather than an Ice Cream truck could raise the next generation of book collectors as well as keep us well in touch with the history of access in all its aspects, positive and negative. Corwin has already reconnected with the history of his truck’s influence, according to an article in the Smithsonian: “As Corwin navigated his new ride through the streets of Chicago, he was approached by an African-American man who asked if it was possible to peak inside. Bookmobiles, he said, had been a fundamental inspiration while growing up in rural Mississippi in the mid-1960s. The public library had been closed to blacks - but the bookmobile stopped right on his street, a portal into the world of literature. The man was W. Ralph Eubanks: today an acclaimed author, and director of publishing for the Library of Congress.”

The Museum of Printing in North Andover, Massachusetts, will hold its ninth annual printing arts fair this Sunday. This free event has live demonstrations of letterpress, intaglio, papermaking, and typemaking, and it’s perfect for families. If you’re in the area, check it out!
Screen shot 2012-06-13 at 11.05.02 AM.png

DANCING CHANCELLOR_PAGE3-4.jpgWith Queen Elizabeth II on our minds these days (even over here in the U.S.), a newly published fine press book captures the moment. Alice Simpson, a California-based artist who makes sculpture and artist’s books inspired by dance, has designed and illustrated Queen Elizabeth I & Sir Christopher Hatton, The Dancing Chancellor.

DANCING CHANCELLOR_Open-2.jpgThe twelve-page, accordion-style book is set in 17th Century Print typeface and illustrated with original pieces by Simpson as well as sixteenth-century historical prints. The edition of sixty was printed on a Vandercook on Rives BFK Tan mouldmade paper by Dee Cutrona and hand-bound in gold-stamped clamshell boxes in Asahi silk by Bruce Kavin. The “Bronze Diamond” pastepaper endpapers were done by Claire Maziarczyk.

A book fit for royalty with a whimsical spirit, for $350. 
I have periodically written about my time at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, including on this blog. But the further along I get in my bookselling career, the more I recognize the enormous part attending played in whatever success I’ve managed to have. As this year’s seminar approaches, I have expanded on my earlier praises for the seminar:

I doubt I would have been satisfied continuing to sell five and ten dollar books, and doubt even more I ever could have made any kind of living doing that [...] I certainly wouldn’t have had the confidence to buy a bookstore without the seminar. Or to know what to do with a catalogue once it was printed, even assuming I finished one. And being, like many booksellers, predisposed to shyness and independence, I doubt I would have found a foot in the door to meeting other dealers that CABS provided. It is probably not too much to say that CABS provided me the vocation I am now pursuing.
I have posted these (lengthy) thoughts, along with some thoughts on the future of the book trade, on my blog. I hope anyone considering attending will take a few minutes to read and then go and register. With Bradford Morrow and Adam Davis as guest faculty, it promises to be a banner year.
The Bowler Press of North Vancouver, Canada, is about to undertake a huge printing project (with your help): a hand-printed, letterpress edition of Pride & Prejudice in three volumes. Jarrett Morrison, proprietor of Bowler Press, will hand-set the text in Fournier typeface, with the accompanying italic. It will be cast from English Monotype matrices at the Bixler Letterfoundry in Skaneateles, NY. The paper--all 5,600 sheets of it--will be Zerkall mould made paper. A dozen of Morrison’s wood engravings will illustrate each volume. They intend to produce 138 copies, to be bound by Alanna Simenson, of the Mad Hatter Bookbinding Co., in both standard and deluxe editions.

Here’s where the “help” comes in: the Bowler Press is using the crowd-funding site Indiegogo to reach out to subscribers and other lovers of good print. Currently, donations amount to just over $8,300 of their $20,000 goal. There are “perks” for donations of $10 and up, so if you’re an Austen fan without the $1,500 needed to purchase the standard edition, you can still help the press achieve its goal and come away with a letterpress-printed invitation to the Netherfield Ball.

To see and hear more about this project, watch as Morrison explains:

Where-Wild-Things-Sendak.jpgDoes the death of an author have an immediate impact on his or her “collectability”? The question came to mind when AbeBooks announced last week that its second most-expensive sale for May was a signed 1963 first edition of Where the Wild Things Are, which sold for $25,000. Sendak passed away on May 8. Other notable Sendak sales at Abe last month included a signed copy of the same book, published in 1964, for $4,195, and five other editions, all selling for more than $500 each.

Helen Younger of Aleph-Bet Books, who specializes in antiquarian children’s literature, told me she sold twelve Sendak books and prints the week he died. “That’s never happened before,” she said. “The reaction to Sendak’s death was definitely out of the ordinary.”

At Between the Covers, a general antiquarian bookshop, Dan Gregory reported that they sold three “low priced” Sendak books immediately following his death, but that didn’t beat the four “moderately priced” books they sold back in January. Gregory explained, “Author deaths usually do create a sales bump of one kind or another (as can media mentions while the author is still alive), but the bump usually is greater for figures who’ve been somewhat neglected or overlooked for some time.”

So book collectors could gamble on octagenarian or nonagenarian authors, particularly those who experienced some critical acclaim or won an award at some point in their careers. But, as Gregory noted, you shouldn’t bank on the bump. It isn’t usually large, and “doing so would be pretty creepy, sleazy, and somehow disrespectful.”  
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is a cult classic, and its many devotees will be interested to know about a scarce letter and archive that goes under the hammer on June 15. Sotheby’s New York is offering a letter written on January 7, 1963 by Toole to close friends Pat (Patricia), Rick (Milton), and Gordon Rickels. Upon her death in 2009, Dr. Patricia Rickels willed the letter to a friend, who has now consigned it to auction. It is, said Sotheby’s, the first Toole letter at auction in thirty years.

SothebysTooleLetter.jpgThe letter’s current owner, a Louisiana resident and himself an avid collector of historical and political materials related to Louisiana who wishes to remain anonymous, said he believes that Dr. Rickels had absolutely no concept of the monetary value of the items, and that she would not have cared about that anyway, as the real value to her lay in the memories that the items represented. “I don’t even think that she knew that the letter still existed. It was tucked amongst a lifetime of other collected correspondence with items from the same era. By the time A Confederacy of Dunces was published I am sure that she had forgotten about the letter and that it had never even been removed from the drawer were it was placed in 1963.”

TooleBooks.jpgThe lot at Sotheby’s, estimated at $10,000-15,000, contains not only the autograph signed letter but a first edition of Confederacy in its dust jacket, Patricia Rickels’ copy of The New Orleans Review from 1978 containing the first published excerpt of the novel, and a “compliments slip” from Toole’s mother. There are also ten children’s books previously owned by Toole (seen above), including three with inscriptions. Said the current owner, “These were very important to Dr. Rickels because Toole gave these to her son Gordon in 1960. Gordon was killed in an auto accident in 1983, just as Confederacy was at its apex. So the books were both a blessing - a reminder of a special time - but also painful because of the tragically early deaths of her friend Toole and son Gordon.” He added, “I simply do not have the same sentimental attachment to the Toole items ... Ultimately it was a very difficult decision to sell the items, but one that is easier knowing that the items will be appreciated and valued.”

Since the novel won the Pulitzer in 1981, and given the scarcity of Toole material, that auction estimate may prove conservative. There is hope that Hollywood types, some of whom have been trying to make a film adaptation of Confederacy for years, might join the bidding. Just last week, actor Zach Galifianakis was reported as trying to jumpstart a Confederacy movie.

The current owner plans to follow the auction from Louisiana.

Letter image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Books image courtesy of a private collector. 

RubensImage.jpgWe’d like to turn your attention to this excellent essay on Peter Paul Rubens by Maureen Mulvihill, a scholar who has published several essays of interest to us in the past (e.g., on Jane Austen, or Virginia Woolf). In it, she reviews an exhibition on Rubens currently at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. The ILAB website provides this fine introduction (and a link directly to the essay in a PDF):

Specialists on 17th century books and book arts may enjoy viewing Maureen E. Mulvihill’s illustrated exhibition review of the Rubens show at the Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida (February 17th-June 3rd, 2012). The review (12 pp, with a Gallery of Images from the installation) is published in Seventeenth-Century News (Spring-Summer, 2012). The Ringling’s permanent collection includes five Rubens canvases (the Louvre, two). The show presents selections from Ringling’s Rubens collection and many fine prints of the master’s work (engravings, woodcuts) on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Art, Antwerp.

In addition to the show’s spectacular installation (4 large galleries) and its creative multimedia approach (visual art, printed books, electronic exhibit, original ‘didactic’ constructions), the show wisely brings attention to the painter’s successful collaboration with book publishers in seventeenth-century Holland, most especially the Plantin Press at Antwerp, for which Rubens produced frontispieces, ornate title-pages, printers’ devices, and other book arts. (Dr Mulvihill’s essay includes embedded links on these subjects.) Likewise, the show highlights Rubens’s (prescient) advocacy of intellectual property rights: he established a copyright for prints of his paintings which circulated in Holland, England, France, and Spain.
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.
GrolierProspectus.pngThe Grolier Club of New York is planning one of its landmark “One Hundred” exhibitions, this time with its eye on children’s literature. Showcasing the best known and most admired children’s books of the past 400 years, it is sure to be a hit with collectors, book trade professionals, and the general public. A 300-page exhibition catalogue is also in production, featuring essays by American bookseller Justin Schiller, Canadian scholar Jill Shefrin, British scholar Brian Alderson, Eric Carle Museum Curator Nick Clark, and American scholar and Cotsen Children’s Library Curator Andrea Immel.

An exhibition of this breadth and depth is no slapdash affair. I asked the exhibition’s curator, Chris Loker, a few questions about this multi-year undertaking.

RRB: Tell me about your career in children’s books.

CL: As a long time rare book enthusiast, I began working in the antiquarian book world in 2002 in San Francisco, when I joined my husband, John Windle, in his business, John Windle Antiquarian Books. After a 25-year career in the corporate world in Human Resources, I was energized by the dramatic change of working full-time with rare books. In 2004 we decided to expand John’s business into a new area ~ children’s literature ~ and my bookshop, Children’s Book Gallery, was born in 2006.

Although I’m now on hiatus from my business to devote my full efforts to the Grolier Club’s inspirational children’s book exhibition project, my shop’s focus has been on antiquarian children’s books from 1750 to 1950 that represent the best of the marketplace, both in rarity and condition. I’ve focused primarily on books of charm, character and color for young children and adolescents. This has included alphabets, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, pop-up and movable books, grammar books, books of education and virtue, as well as traditional picture books and storybooks.

RRB: How and when did this project get started?

CL: We got started on this landmark project two years ago, in 2010. One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature is an exhibition of one hundred renowned children’s books published from 1600 to 2000. This exhibition will be mounted in New York City at the Grolier Club, America’s oldest bibliophile society, in late 2014. To give you a frame of reference, The Grolier Club has organized just four “Grolier 100” book exhibitions in its 130-year history. One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature is the fifth in this canon of exhibitions.

The Grolier Club had planned for some years to organize this children’s “Grolier 100” exhibition. In 2010 I proposed curating a children’s book exhibition at the Club, and was asked if I would take on this broader-scope event. Since that time I’ve worked with an international advisory committee of ten children’s book scholars and collectors to select the exhibition’s “one hundred famous books,” and to borrow those books (along with historically important ephemeral items and related objects) from twenty lending institutions and collectors. The tasks that remain before the show goes up in December, 2014 are to write and publish the 300-page exhibition catalogue, and to organize the display of the one hundred celebrated books and beautiful related objects that we hope will bring joy to all exhibition viewers and catalogue readers. I also will continue my fundraising activities to support this important exhibition event.

RRB: Are you still working on the exhibition catalogue, and how is that proceeding?
CL: Yes, the exhibition catalogue is being written “as I type.” This exciting and exacting process began in January of this year, and is proceeding very well. I expect to have a draft of the catalogue finished by December of this year. Then members of our advisory team and I will edit the draft, and send the catalogue manuscript to be designed and printed by the well-known New York book designer, Jerry Kelly, in 2013. The catalogue, which will have a full-page bibliographic entry and a full-page, color photograph of each of the one hundred books, will be printed in 2014 to be ready when the exhibition is unveiled on December 10th of that year.

RRB: As Joel Silver pointed out in one of our recent issues, The Grolier Club “One Hundred” exhibitions have become overnight checklists for any great collections in a particular area. How do you expect the list will affect the market?

CL: This is hard to comment on, Rebecca, since the marketplace is always so tough to anticipate. Certainly we hope that One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature will be well received by the collecting community. And I agree with Joel Silver that the previous four “Grolier 100” exhibitions have become classic checklists for collectors, as well as key bibliographic references in their fields. My belief is that a major exhibition of this kind usually has an energizing effect on the collecting marketplace. And in this case, I hope it becomes a stimulus for collectors to consider literature for children with the same excitement and commitment that we see in the collection of literature for adults. It would be wonderful, as well, if this exhibition inspires new collectors to enter the field to experience the joy of collecting fine works for children.

The exhibit is scheduled to open in December of 2014. We’ll be following along till then, checking back in with Chris every now and again to watch this major exhibition and catalogue take shape. 
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.

Related articles
Yesterday’s New York Times ran an article about novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s new museum. The Istanbul museum, which opened on Saturday, is based on Pamuk’s 2008 novel, The Museum of Innocence. The display cases contain nearly one thousand objects--cigarette butts, earrings, ceramic dogs--described in the novel; the protagonist is a collector, of course. Here’s a neat quote from the novelist about the project:

“As far as I know this is the first museum based on a novel,” [Pamuk] said. “But it’s not that I wrote a novel that turned out to be successful and then I thought of a museum. No, I conceived the novel and the museum together.”

Don’t miss the slideshow of images from the NYT.
Earlier this week Christie’s unveiled an extraordinary fifteenth-century Jewish festival prayerbook--an illuminated Mahzor containing 442 vellum leaves. I had the pleasure of seeing this book in New York last week, and the illustrations seem as bold and bright as they day they were created, c. 1490, near Florence, Italy.

Illumination.jpgIn the image seen here, a full-page border incorporates medallions with profile heads, landscape vignettes, and a coat of arms. The illumination is thought to be the work of Florentine artist Giovanni di Giuliano Boccardi, known as Boccardino il vecchio (1460-1529), or of his followers.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 11.29.14 AM.pngThe chunky Hebrew manuscript is bound in a mid sixteenth-century gold-tooled goatskin binding (seen above), featuring a coat of arms, a unicorn, and a rabbit. The text--in black, red, blue, and gold--is comprised of prayers for everyday rituals, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkoth.

The Mahzor was purchased in Frankfurt before 1908 and subsequently owned by Edmond Bicart-See and his family in Paris. It has never been publicly exhibited. The manuscript goes to auction on May 11 in Paris and is expected to bring $540,000-800,000.

Photos © Christie’s Images Limited 2012
At the rare evening sale of the Kenneth Nebenzahl library at Christie’s tonight, a full set of Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian, on the very desirable Japan vellum, in exceptional condition took in $2.9 million, including buyer’s premium. Hammered down by Francis Wahlgren, international head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s, it seems to be a world record for the Curtis work. The estimate was $1 - $1.5 million (a complete set sold for $1.4 million seven years ago).

You can read more about the fascinating history of The North American Indian--and how it plunged its creator into debt and obscurity--in a feature we ran last year.
With so much focus on New York this week, I did not want to miss taking a look at Dominic Winter’s (South Cerney, England) auction of medical books, coming up on April 18. The first of two sales occurs that day to disseminate the collection of the Birmingham Medical Institute, founded in 1875. For collectors of rare and antiquarian medical books (myself included), this is a major opportunity: 5,000 volumes in 1,000 lots, dating from 1502 to 1920.

G110-small.jpgPart I of the sale includes printed books up to 1800. Among the highlights are a second edition of Andreas Vesalius’ Fabrica (1555), the first edition of Hippocrates’ Works (1525), and John of Gaddesden’s Rosa Anglica (1502), pictured above and below. It is the first printed medical book written by an Englishman and the oldest book in the collection.

G109-small.jpgPart II of the BMI sale will occur on July 26 and will contain the remaining printed books, bound pamphlets, and manuscripts dating from 1670-1920, as well as medical artifacts and surgical instruments.

You can view the catalogue for Part I here.

Related articles
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.
For those of you with our spring issue in hand, one of our longer features is about Queen Victoria and the opening of Victoria Revealed, a major exhibit at Kensington Palace about the queen’s childhood (“I was only a child and a lonely one indeed.”)

A few months ago, in preparation for this exhibition, filmmaker Chiara Ambrosio created a series of five short animated films about Victoria’s life with her prince. The visuals are very cool -- animated clay figures, paper dolls, original drawings -- with a clear narration of the queen’s diary for each event in her life with Albert: the first meeting, time apart, courtship, proposal, and marriage. Each film runs 4-5 minutes. The first can be seen here:

When you think of literary cities you might visit in the U.S., what comes to mind? New York City; Concord or Amherst, Massachusetts; Hannibal, Missouri; Monterey, California--you get the drift. But Rochester, New York? According to’s recent ‘literary audit,’ Rochester has a rating of 93 due to its rare book collections at the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Eastman House, and the Strong Museum; plus two literary landmarks; and six (!) used bookstores. (Also, Yesterday’s Muse in Webster, NY, is just east of town.)

Did anyone else know that calligrapher and type designer Hermann Zapf held a professorship at RIT from 1977 to 1987? Or that the Strong Museum holds “the largest and most comprehensive public collection of video and electronic games (35,000 and counting), and game-related historical materials in the United States”?

I was also excited to see/hear this interview with Curator Steven K. Galbraith and Assistant Curator Amelia Hugill-Fontanel of RIT’s Cary Collection of graphic arts. It just so happens that in our current issue of FB&C, we have a short piece on printers’ medals, and the Cary Collection houses one of the largest collections of them in the country.

It’s wonderful to see some overlooked bookish sites get their due. Where to next? According to a press release, Literary Tourist intends to undertake other Literary Tourist City Audits™ that can help local tourism officials attract “a new,  unexplored consumer market:” book lovers.
Can people be romantically linked by the books they read? The Canada-based bookselling site,, thinks so. Today Abebooks launched BiblioCupid, a dating service that “uses a specially designed love algorithm” to match mates based on their shared literary tastes.

According to Abe’s Richard Davies, a pilot project with 600 Misses (and Mssrs.) Lonelyhearts has been running for the past six months. “Ideal for lonesome librarians, avid readers who don’t get out much, and bibliophiles devoted to their book collections,” proclaims the website.

The results: Two couples already married! Yes, Mr. Defoe, a garbageman from Cleveland, hooked up with Ms. Spillane, a sausage factory accountant from Brooklyn. A Ms. Michener from Seattle found a book-loving partner in Mr. Blyton, a Los Angeles-based puppet designer.

If only Abe had thought to launch this program for Valentine’s Day! But no, April Fool’s Day seems much more appropriate...
Having read Nigel Beale’s recent, disturbing account of Canada’s national library and archives--large, empty exhibition rooms, slashed acquisition budgets, possible de-accessioning of collections--I asked our Fine Maps columnist, Jeffrey Murray, what he knew about the situation. Murray retired from Library & Archives Canada a few years back. He said he met with some former colleagues recently and “was quite taken aback by how demoralized they were.” He also pointed me toward a Save Library & Archives Canada website, which I hope readers will take a moment to look at.

Here’s a video posted to that site, in which Liam McGahern, president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Canada, explains his organization’s opposition to changes underway at Library and Archives Canada.

Today in The Millions, author Cory MacLaughlin shares a wonderful tale of literary sleuthing. In the seven-year process of researching and writing about A Confederacy of Dunces and its author, John Kennedy Toole, MacLaughlin heard about an original manuscript -- a dream come true! Or, another dead? Here’s a snippet.

I had nearly given up on the question of the original manuscript until a year ago when I interviewed Lynda Martin, the sister of Toole’s best friend in high school. “The manuscript?” she said in a soft southern accent. “Yes, well I have it in my closet here at home.” I nearly dropped the phone as she explained Toole’s mother had given it as a gift to her brother after the novel was published. When her brother passed away in 2008, she acquired it. It had a few penned-in edits, she explained, but not drastic revisions. “I don’t know what to do with it, really” she said. “I considered selling it at auction.” Christie’s estimated its value up to $20,000, if deemed authentic. She hadn’t called Sotheby’s yet. “Please” I begged, “just hold on to it. I’m on my way down.” ...[Read more at The Millions.]

Safford Image.jpgTake a jaunt to the Grolier Club for a peek into old-school Scribner, when the publishing company founded by Charles Scribner could boast its own bookstore and a rare book operation with a serious bookman at its helm, Ray Safford. Safford worked for Scribner’s from the 1880s until his retirement in 1928. Along the way he met and worked with various authors and artists including Joseph Conrad, Eugene Field, and Maxfield Parrish.

The current exhibit at the Grolier Club, Ray Safford: Rare Bookman, is a collection of Safford’s business correspondence and photographs, as well his personal collection of bookplates and English and American literature (Carroll, Twain, Stevenson). It is the collection of Grolier member Mark D. Tomasko of New York City. When asked how he became interested in Safford, Tomasko said, “I met Ray Safford’s daughter in the 1970s, and over a period of years purchased his papers and most of his remaining books. Ray Safford was my introduction to the rare book world.” Tomasko added, “In his collection, and in the exhibit, are various books inscribed (or with drawings) by Scribner authors and illustrators he knew, as well as letters, and some, such as Oliver Herford and A. B. Frost, were good friends.”

Emilie_Grigsby_b.jpgOne of the more intriguing bits of Safford’s story--relayed in the exhibit and the exhibit catalogue--was his sale of a perfect Shakespeare First Folio (now at the Huntington Library) to the beautiful Miss Emilie Grigsby for $12,500 in 1903. Grigsby, pictured here at left, was the mistress of transit tycoon and art collector Charles Tyson Yerkes. A friend of Belle da Costa Greene and a secret admirer of Grolier founder William Loring Andrews, Grigby was, according to the exhibit catalogue, “most capable of playing in the man’s world of rare books.” The lady even had a bookplate designed by Lalique!   

Ray Safford: Rare Bookman is a fascinating look at the world of publishing and bookselling in fin-de-siecle New York. It’s up through April 13 at the Grolier Club, 47 E. 60th Street, a mere twelve blocks and a couple cross-streets away from the current Scribner headquarters. 

VesaliusPic.jpgIn 1543, Andreas Vesalius, the founder of modern human anatomy, published De Humani Corporis Fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body), what is now considered the most famous and beautifully illustrated of all early printed medical books. Later today, Professor Vivian Nutton of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, will present the discovery of an annotated copy of the later 1555 edition that includes hundreds of Vesalius’ manuscript notes and corrections to the printer plates. It seems the Flemish anatomist was working on a third edition of his magnum opus!

Needless to say, this is an amazing find, sure to interest scholars in many fields, particularly those in the history of science. And, as one collector put it, “The discovery of a copy annotated by Vesalius for another edition that was never published is about as good as it gets for rare medical book collectors!”

The book is now on deposit at the Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto. A full description of the discovery and research done by Canadian pathologist Gerard Vogrincic and Professor Nutton will appear in the journal, Medical History, in October. More information is available at My Science

Jack Kerouac was born ninety years ago today. Did he ever think this would be his legacy? Apparently, Kerouac wanted Marlon Brando to play Dean Moriarty...

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!

Coming up this week at Swann Galleries of New York, a large auction of prints, drawings, and lives d’artiste. A major selection of prints and illustrated books of Jean-Emile Laboureur will start the 786-lot sale, followed by all the names you would expect in an auction of prints and drawings: Chagall, Picasso, Manet, Whistler, Pissarro, Renoir, Lautrec, Tissot, Grant Wood, and more. John Steuart Curry’s infamous lithograph of John Brown is one to note, not so much for its price (est. $4,000-6,000) as for its beauty. And with so much attention on Edvard Munch these days, surely his Selbstbildnis mit Weinflasche, or, Self-portrait with Wine Glass, 1930 (est. $40,000-60,000) will command a high bid.

But a peruse through the catalogue reveals a handful of lovely literary-minded images worth sharing as well. The first of these is perfect for FB&C readers -- its title is Book Auction.

mabel.jpgMabel Dwight’s Book Auction. Lithograph, 1931. Signed and dated in pencil. Its estimate is $1,000-1,500.

sloan.jpgOn the same theme, this one is called Connoisseurs of Prints by John Sloan, depicting an exhibition of prints to be auctioned at Manhattan’s old American Art Gallery. Etching, 1905. Signed, titled and inscribed in pencil. Its estimate is $2,000-3,000.

sloan1.jpgAlso from John Sloan, this etching it titled Reading in the Subway, from 1926. Signed, titled and inscribed. Its estimate is $1,500-2,500.

Ilsted.jpgAnother female reader (more serious perhaps) can be seen here in Peter Ilsted’s color mezzotint, Woman Reading, from 1925. Signed and numbered in pencil. Its estimate is $2,000-3,000.

Benton.jpgYet another reader turns up in Thomas Hart Benton’s Old Man Reading, a lithograph published by Associated American Artists in 1939. Signed in pencil. Its estimate is $2,000-3,000.
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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OFFICIAL PHOTO - 2012 AD Greenroom at Academy Awards®.JPG
Architectural Digest’s 10th Annual Signature Greenroom at the 84th Academy Awards®. Credit: Roger Davies for Architectural Digest

Every year Architectural Digest designs an exclusive backstage lounge for Oscar presenters and honorees. This year, that greenroom has a designer library, too.

Thatcher Wine of Juniper Books in Boulder, Colorado, was called on by this year’s AD Greenroom designer, Waldo Fernandez, to fill the room’s empty bookshelves. Fernandez’s overall design evokes the Hollywood of the 1930s and 40s, with references to the glamorous parties of director George Cukor. Wine ran with that idea, imagining shelves of books that look like vintage film reels.

Juniper Books Oscars Green Room Library.jpg
A portion of the library prior to installation. Courtesy of Thatcher Wine. 

“The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gave me access to their archives,” he said. “I picked out classic film scenes, then printed them on book jackets.” All of the photographs he chose are recognizable, fit to a new medium. As anyone who has seen Wine’s custom dust jackets (FB&C profiled his work last fall) can attest, the effect is incredible. “There is no one else in the world who does what I do with the book jackets, so this was the perfect project for me to come up with a never-before-seen idea ... I am so honored to be a part of it,” he said.

Wine flew out to Los Angeles earlier this week to personally install the library backstage at the Kodak Theatre in anticipation of Sunday’s 84th annual Academy Awards.

While it’s not the first library in an AD Greenroom, it is certainly one in which the books don’t just blend into the background. “The idea being that books are relaxing and help calm the presenters before going on stage. My library calms and also inspires with a dose of film history and nostalgia,” Wine said.

What’s underneath the jackets? A selection of entertainment biographies and books about film, he said. When Wine works on a project like this, he leaves it up to the client whether they want a curated collection or just props behind the art.

Auction Guide