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William Addison Dwiggins, ca. 1941. Photograph by Robert Yarnall Richie.
Collection of the Boston Public Library.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Thank twentieth-century American polymath William Addison Dwiggins (1880-1956) for coining the term “graphic design” back in 1922 which he used to describe his contributions in the fields of book design, typography, lettering, and even puppetry, and the term has stuck to the profession ever since. Now, San-Francisco-based nonprofit Letterform Archive and author-designer Bruce Kennett have put the final touches on a forthcoming biography of Dwiggins and his career. This book is the first of many projected design-focused publications for Letterform which hopes such endeavors will help promote the history and beauty of letterforms in graphic design. To fund publication, Letterform launched a Kickstarter campaign on March 27, 2017, and within two days had surpassed its $50,000 goal, though fundraising continues in order to raise further awareness about Dwiggins and his work.        


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W. A. Dwiggins, detail. (Boston: W. A. Dwiggins and L. B Siegfried, 1919). Collection of Letterform Archive.

                                                                                                                                                    W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design focuses on Dwiggins’ contributions to graphic design while also exploring his mastery of seemingly disparate art forms--in addition to designing roughly 300 book covers for publisher Alfred A. Knopf and creating Electra and Caledonia, two widely used typefaces, Dwiggins was a puppet master. His collection of marionettes--along with Dwiggins-designed books, broadsides, and furniture--were donated to the Boston Public Library in 1967 and represent his zealous attention to detail while crafting whimsical wooden playthings.



Bruce Kennett. Used with permission from Letterform Archives.                                                                                                                                     

Surprisingly, despite his wide-ranging influence that continues to resonate in the graphic design community, Dwiggins has not been the subject of a comprehensive biographical treatment until now. Good things take time: in an effort to remedy the omission, Kennett has spent decades studying Dwiggins, and in his treatment explores the success of a designer in both the artistic and commercial fields of printmaking and design who didn’t sacrifice his unique aesthetic.


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W. A. Dwiggins, detail of stencil illustration from H. G. Wells, The Treasure of
the Forest (New York: Press of the Woolly Whale, 1936). Collection of Letterform Archive.

The Kickstarter campaign ends on April 28, and like most publicly funded endeavors, there’s swag involved: backers at the $25 level or more receive goodies ranging from Dwiggins-designed postcards, a commercial license for digital versions of Electra fonts, while $95 gets you a copy of the book. High rollers ($5,000 and up) can expect a book, Linotype slugs used to print the letterpress portfolio, and a private dinner at Letterform’s San Francisco headquarters (transportation not included).

Learn more at:

‘Tis the season for award ceremonies, and on Monday the American Library Association (ALA) announced the top books for children and young adults at its Midwinter Meeting, held this year in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Kelly Barnhill received the Newbery Medal (awarded for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature) for The Girl Who Drank the Moon, published by Algonquin Young Readers.


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                                                                                                                                                      Three authors were recognized with a Newbery Honor: Ashley Bryan for Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (Atheneum Books for Young Readers); Adam Gidwitz for The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Dutton); and Lauren Wolk for Wolf Hollow (Dutton).


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                                                                                                                                                                 The Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book for children went to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little Brown and Company).


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                                                                                                                                                                   The ALA named four Caldecott Honor Books: Leave Me Alone! written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook Press); Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Little Bee Books); Du Iz Tak? written and illustrated by Carson Ellis (Candlewick Press); and They All Saw a Cat, written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books.)


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                                                                                                                                                                  The Coretta Scott King Book Award goes to an African-American author and illustrator for outstanding contribution to children’s literature. This year’s award recognized March: Book Three by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Andrew Aydin (Top Shelf Productions). Javaka Steptoe also received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award for Radiant Child.


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                                                                                                                                                               Several other prestigious awards were also announced--check out the complete list here. Winning books covered themes of overcoming adversity, breaking through barriers, and making a difference in the world. 

                                                                                                                                                                   Congratulations to all this year’s winners! 

                                                                                                                                                                      All images courtesy of 

Inauguration Day, 1861

No matter how you feel about today’s inauguration, take heart and consider the first swearing-in ceremony of America’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. On March 4, 1861, the country was a scant six weeks from entering the Civil War, seven states had already seceded from the Union, and rumors of plots to assassinate Lincoln were already swirling in the air. In addition to taking the helm of an ideologically divided country, Lincoln was the first president to be photographed at his inauguration.                                         

One image that survives the day is a salt-print photograph attributed to Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), a photographer in Mathew Brady’s Washington studio who would later earn fame for his photo-documentation of the bloddy battlegrounds of the Civil War. Gardner’s image of Lincoln taking the oath of office was made into an engraving published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and circulated throughout the country. The black and white photograph shows Lincoln on the steps of the Capitol, a tall, dark speck standing above a crowd of 25,000 attendees. Scaffolding in the background reveals that the Capitol was still undergoing construction.                                                                                                           

Only three known copies of the photograph remain in existence: one is stored at the Library of Congress, another at the Smithsonian Institution, and a third was recently acquired at auction by Bowdoin College. The image has significant connections to the state of Maine; vice-president Hannibal Hamlin was a native of Paris, Maine, and longtime resident Winslow Homer was also in attendance, whose double-page engraving of the inauguration appeared in Harper’s Bazaar (Frank Lee’s competitor) later that year. Bowdoin College Museum of Art unveiled its acquisition to the public on January 12 alongside its copy of the Homer engraving.                                                                                                                                                                                                Lincoln-nauguration-photo.jpg                                              

 Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861, salt print, by Alexander Gardner, American 1821-1882. Courtesy Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Lincoln called for unity that day, hoping to keep war at bay. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.”

On the first of the year, AB-1570 Collectibles: Sale of Autographed Memorabilia went into effect in the state of California, requiring all dealers of any autographed material worth more than five dollars to fill out a certificate of authenticity (COA) specifying date of sale, the dealer’s name and street address, and the name and address of the person from whom the autographed item was acquired if the item was not signed in the presence of a dealer. While AB-1570’s goals are to prevent the distribution of forged autographs, many booksellers feel they’ve been swept up by a vague law with onerous requirements and that portions constitute an invasion of privacy, citing possible violations of California’s Reader Privacy Act of 2011. 

AB-1570 is an updated version of a law passed in 1992 that applied to sports memorabilia in an effort to stem the tide of a multi-billion dollar forgery industry. Sponsored by former Assemblywoman Ling-Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar), the bill received vocal support from actor Mark Hamill, better known to fans as Luke Skywalker of the “Star Wars” films. Hamill had become increasingly frustrated with seeing movie memorabilia for sale with his faked signature.

Now, any autographed item sold for five dollars or more, including books, is subject to the law.

Though Chang later wrote on her Facebook page that booksellers were not the intended targets of the law, she was voted out of office in November, and it’s unclear who will take up her cause. 


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Above: A screenshot image of part of Chang’s Facebook letter stating AB-1570 doesn’t mean to target booksellers. (image: Barbara Richter) 

“We don’t tolerate fake signatures,” said California-based bookseller John Howell. “Booksellers don’t want forgeries undermining the market. AB-1570 is not needed for us to continue practices already in place that keep fake signatures off the market.” Booksellers registered as members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America are bound by ethics regulations to offer full refunds to dissatisfied customers no matter what state they work in.

California resident and bookseller Brad Johnson is circulating a petition on to repeal AB-1570. “The unknowns concerning the law are forcing many booksellers to proceed with an abundance of caution, which generally translates into a decision to no longer offer autographed materials to consumers in California,” Johnson said.

Indeed, some booksellers, like Malcolm Kottler of Scientia Books in Massachusetts, have withdrawn from the 50th annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair in February. California Book Fair Committee Chair Michael Hackenberg said that his team has notified all exhibitors with the text of the law and suggested best practices in dealing with it. They are also providing generic COAs for dealers selling signed materials and will post public signage of the law.                                                          

Kottler signed up for the fair the week after the bill was signed into law, then spent the next three months deciding whether he should stay. “I decided to withdraw from the book fair after I examined the list of items I had at the 2016 fair, and 75 percent was autographed material. I would have brought similar items this year,” Kottler explained. Though he could have easily replaced his wares with non-autographed items, Kottler felt the swap wouldn’t justify the trip. Still, “I don’t need a repeal of the law,” he continued. “If the Legislature removes the COA requirement of providing names and addresses of sources, I could live with the rest of it. To me, it’s more of an inconvenience.”

The state has not provided guidelines on how it plans to enforce the law, yet those caught violating AB-1570 are subject to “civil penalties equaling 10 times the actual damages incurred.”

“There is considerable confusion as to who the law applies to, whether it is retroactive, and so forth,” Johnson continued. He also said that California booksellers who initiated the repeal petition are in conversation with “key” members of the California Senate and Assembly.

For the moment, out-of-state booksellers are interpreting the law in two ways: Connecticut-based Easton Press deals largely in signed, limited-edition items and will no longer ship books to California, asserting prohibitive COA costs. Kottler, however, is not sure whether the law applies to out-of-state dealers. “I believe I am not bound by AB-1570 if I send a purchased, signed copy from Massachusetts to California, but the law is unclear,” he said.

Susan Benne of the ABAA says her organization hopes members will educate themselves on the new regulations. “Our goal is to inform our members that this new law is on the books in California, and to make sure they understand how it may impact their businesses,” she said. (The ABAA does not provide legal counsel; members are encouraged to seek out California legal representation to understand how the law applies.) “In terms of protecting the consumer, we don’t oppose the rationale behind the law, but the way it was written impinges on the privacy of booksellers. And the requirements may be unnecessarily onerous for small businesses.”

Supporters of repealing or amending AB-1570 are encouraged to sign the online petition and write to California legislators explaining why they feel law needs to be changed.


Coconut cake at the Emily Dickinson Museum. Photo Credit: Nicholas A. Basbanes 


On Saturday December 10 the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, celebrated what would have been its namesake’s 186th birthday with cake, guided tours, and of course, poetry readings. Last year the museum welcomed visitors to partake in crowdsourced poetry creation and to tour the recently completed renovation of Dickinson’s bedroom.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Roughly 260 visitors braved bitter temperatures to attend this year’s bash, which coincided with the restoration of the property’s conservatory. Built by the Dickinson patriarch Edward in 1855, the tiny, south-facing, six-foot by 17-foot glass-enclosed greenhouse served as a year-round link to the natural world so beloved by Emily, where she tended to nearly two dozen native and exotic plants like orchids, ferns, carnations, and gardenias.                       

Dickinson’s interest in plants was far from casual; consider her Herbarium, a collection of over 400 plants she collected, pressed, and identified by their Latin names while a precocious fourteen-year old student at Amherst Academy. A facsimile of the impressive volume is at the museum, while Harvard’s Houghton Library houses the original. (The entire book has been digitized and is accessible online.) 

The conservatory was dismantled in 1916, but many of the original building materials remained on the property, undisturbed, for one hundred years. Now, the museum plans to use those existing pieces to rebuild the greenhouse as accurately as possible, as well as replant the various flowers that both inspired the poet and, as she grew more reclusive, served as her representatives to the outside world.

“The restoration of the conservatory is still a work in progress,” said Brooke Steinhauser, the museum’s program director. “We’ve got another month before completion--but there’s a roof and a floor, and already you get a feel for the size of the space and how important this room was to this poet who was a gardener at heart.”

Throughout the afternoon, volunteers invited children and adults to fill miniature pots with marigold or foxglove seeds from the garden. At 2:30 p.m. sharp a crowd assembled on the main floor around a table supporting two massive coconut cakes prepared according to a recipe sent to the poet by a woman known as Mrs. Carmichael. (Find the recipe here and in Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as a Cook.) Taste-testers agreed that the confection was appropriately sweet and dense--a pleasing remedy to wintery doldrums and a lovely tribute to a woman who distilled “amazing sense From Ordinary Meanings.”



The poet’s bedroom reproduced to appear as it did when Dickinson inhabited it. Photo: Nicholas A. Basbanes


The Emily Dickinson Museum closes later this month for the rest of the winter and will reopen in March. 

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Entrance to Emberley exhibition. Image reproduced with permission from Worcester Art Museum. 

A comprehensive exhibition for award-winning children’s picture book author and illustrator Ed Emberley opened November 16 at the Worcester Art Museum (WAM) in Massachusetts that examines Emberley’s enduring 60-year influence on budding artists and authors.

Over 100 artworks from Emberley’s own archive are on display--woodblocks, hand-drawn mock-ups, even a 90” by 30” print of Paul Bunyan--along with another 100 books written and illustrated by the prolific author. 

The career of the 85-year old Massachusetts native began in 1962 when The Wing on a Flea: A Book About Shapes made that year’s New York Times top-10 list of illustrated books. Since then, Emberley has create books stylistically diverse and endlessly creative, with some seeing greater commercial success than others, and many achieving beloved, almost cult-like following. For example, the 1975 out-of-print The Wizard of Op remains a coveted item by collectors, available online at a base price of $50 in acceptable condition. Prices rise to over $200 for copies in mint condition.

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Paul Bunyan’s Bunk House with plenty of space to cozy up and read. Reproduced with permission from Worcester Art Museum. 

Why host a retrospective now? Guest curator and fellow artist Caleb Neelon collaborated on a book about Emberley in 2014 with designer Todd Oldham (Ed Emberley/AMMO Books) and has been nursing the idea for a full-scale examination since then. “Putting together a show has been in the back of my mind since our book came out, and it turned out Adam Rozan [Director of Audience Engagement at WAM] and I were on the same page,” Neelon said.

“Emberley’s books stand the test of time in that they teach you something--whether you’re the kid or the grownup with the kid, you learn how to draw a simple lion or something else, and you feel good because you did it, and you can do it again, returning to that good feeling,” Neelon continued. “Ed’s whole goal is to get kids to look at something and say, ‘I can do that!’ When children turn seven or eight, some start to feel self-conscious about their drawing abilities and many stop drawing. These books take kids through that awkward stage and lets them have fun while they’re at it.”

“We hope our visitors will appreciate that Ed Emberley is an artist that must be seen and shown in art museums,” reiterated WAM’s Rozan. “His is the work that will be viewed in institutions now and in the future. Emberley’s work reminds us to innovate, dream, and wonder about the importance of the visual image and its relationship to the written word.”

WAM’s associate curator Katrina Stacy sees Emberley’s work as emblematic of a story with deep intergenerational Massachusetts roots, “and surprisingly, has never been the focus of a museum retrospective.” To ensure people of all ages can fully appreciate the breadth of the show, the curators included elements like easy-to-read labels and plenty of areas to rest, read, play, and of course, draw. WAM will be hosting regular drop-in workshops during the exhibition where visitors of all ages can try their hand at Emberley’s own artistic techniques. (See website for details on dates and times.)

“There are a lot of sad moods flying around our world right now,” concluded Neelon. “This is a good show to see if you are feeling low and need a lift.”

KAHBAHBLOOM: The Art and Storytelling of Ed Emberley runs through April 9, 2017 at the Worcester Art Museum 55 Sailsbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609


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                                                                                                                                                                          Forty-nine original printing blocks for the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (London: R. Clay, Son, and Taylor for Macmillan and Co., 1865), and for the first edition of Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice found there (London: R. Clay, Son, and Taylor for Macmillan and Co., 1871). Image courtesy of Christie’s.

John Tenniel judged the images produced from electrotype printing plates of his illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to be so poorly rendered that he convinced the book’s author, Lewis Carroll, to recall entire first edition. Carroll’s diary entry for July 20, 1865 states as much: “Called on [publisher] Macmillan, and showed him Tenniel’s letter about the fairy-tale -- he is entirely dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures, and I suppose we shall have to do it all again.” (R.L. Green, ed., The Diaries (London: 1953), p.234). As a result, only twenty copies of that first edition are known to remain in existence, making it something of a black tulip among collectors. Now, the original printing blocks are heading to auction on December 1 at Christie’s London with pre-sale estimates of $43,000-56,000.

Of the forty-nine copper-plated lead printing blocks, thirty-eight were created for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), and eleven for the first edition of Through Looking Glass (1871). The plates last appeared at auction at Christie’s in November 2001, when they sold for £30,550 ($43,259) from the estate of Donald William Barber, a former employee of R. Clay, Son, and Taylor, the printers who handled the second first published edition after The Clarendon Press production was deemed unacceptable. 

In 1865, electrotyping was a relatively new method of duplicating printing forms--the process had only been invented twenty-seven years earlier--but had already become the new standard for creating exact copies of a master image. Electrotype blocks are created by pressing a waxy mold into an original piece of type (or illustrated block), after which the mold is dusted with graphite and bathed in a copper-sulfite solution. An electric charge is applied, and the chemical reaction creates a copper wall on the mold. Once removed from the mold, the copper block is ready to be pressed into service. The process yields long-lasting, reusable plates suitable for large print runs. (The Met filmed an informative video explaining the process.)

Tenniel’s exacting standards were finally met, and in a November 1865 journal entry Carroll enthused that the new impression was “far superior to the old, and in fact a perfect piece of artistic printing.” (R.L. Green, ed., op. cit., p. 236). See the difference between the suppressed first edition and fine press reprints here

While the Boston area gears up for an ambitious, multi-venue examination of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books with the Beyond Words exhibition, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is hosting two overlapping shows: one dedicated to medieval illumination, and a second focusing on the chemical legacy of alchemy. The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts explores the creation of various vivid pigments traditionally used in medieval manuscript painting. Gold, for example, was used for its incorruptibility--that is, it doesn’t tarnish or oxidize with time--and was employed to convey great spiritual importance. Verdigris, on the other hand, was infamous for its destructive, reactive properties. Produced by corroding copper strips with vinegar, the mixture yielded a greenish-blue hue that varied depending on the initial chemical ratios. Meanwhile, The Art of Alchemy explores the influence the practice had on artistic expression in sculpture, glassmaking, and manuscript illumination. 


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                                                                                                                                                              Saint Mark, about 1325-1345. Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment. Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

                                                                                                                                                            Now through February 2017, the Getty’s concurrent exhibitions examine the origins of alchemy--from Greco-Egyptian antiquity through its transformation into chemical study--as well as alchemist’s integral role in medieval illumination and how these “ancestors of modern chemistry” endeavored to do more than just transmute lead into gold. Without alchemists, many of the brilliant hues we associate with illumination would be less radiant. Though alchemists were largely dismissed as crackpots during the Renaissance, recent studies have shown that their work in chemical compounding influenced the work of Sir Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle. 

The exhibitions draw from the Getty’s archives at the Research Institute and Museum, and while exploring the importance of The Great Art in medieval society, The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts also explores that era’s shifting perceptions and interpretations of art and science.

As further proof that medieval alchemy lives on in today’s artistic world, the Getty invited Tim Ely, an alchemist of our own time, to host a two-day workshop examining the materials and methods necessary to produce contemporary manuscript illumination. Artist and historian Sylvana Barrett will host gold-leaf demonstrations at the museum through January. Other demonstrations include a culinary workshop highlighting the connections between food, color, and science, and Derek Jarman’s avant-garde production Blue (1993) will be screened this evening on the Garden Terrace, with sweeping vistas of Los Angeles serving as the film’s inky backdrop.

The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts runs through Jaunary 1, 2017 at the Getty Center and the Art of Alchemy is on view at the Getty Research Institute through February 12, 2017. More information may be found at

On Wednesday, September 28 the Austin Book Arts Center (ABAC) celebrated its first year of operation with printing demonstrations, music, champagne, cupcakes, and a silent auction which raised roughly $4,000 which will enable workshops and outreach programs to inspire a new generation of book artisans.

Founded in 2015, the ABAC picked up the mantle of the Austin Book Workers group, an organization created in 1986 that met itinerantly at school auditoriums, libraries and even private homes to make books. The Austin Book Workers merged with the ABAC in 2013, and spent the next two years raising funds and securing a permanent home for the city’s book arts program. Steering the ABAC are Amanda Stevenson, formerly of New York City’s Center for Book Arts, and Mary Baughman, a book conservator at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Now located at 2832 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the ABAC has been able to install larger pieces of equipment like letterpresses and other bookmaking materials to further the group’s vision of “advancing the book as a vital contemporary art form, [to] preserve the traditional and robust crafts related to making books, and [to] engage the community in creative, interpretative, and educational experiences, including the improvement of literacy for people of all ages.”

Workshops include creating letterpress business cards, an introduction to do-it-yourself publishing, mixing methyl cellulose to create colorful endpapers, and even hosts a happy hour bookbinding class to help k-12 teachers set up their own bookbinding classroom projects. Costs range from $45 to $270 per workshop, and ABAC members enjoy a 10% discount off tuition. (Annual memberships start at $40 for students, $50 per individual, and include access to the studio during open hours.) Class sizes are kept small to ensure individual attention and instruction.

Happy Birthday, ABAC; you’ve joined a small but robust group of nonprofits throughout the country dedicated to providing hands-on programs that foster creativity and encourage self-expression through the creation of books. Here’s to many more years illuminating the way. 


Image Courtesy of ABAC.

Lewis Carroll Notebook Goes to Auction

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Lewis Carroll fans, take note: on October 20, Sotheby’s London will be auctioning a brown exercise notebook that provides an unexpected glimpse at the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author’s network of confidantes towards the end of his life.

As part of the Library of the English Bibliophile auction series, Carroll’s notebook last appeared on the block in 1946, when it was purchased by a private collector at Manhattan’s Parke-Bernet Galleries.                                                                                                                       

Parke-Bernet became part of the Sotheby’s empire in 1964.      

                                                                                                                                                Sotheby’s representatives declined to comment on the notebook’s current owner, saying only that the book hails from a private collection.

Dating from the summer of 1889, the 40-page notebook is significant because it includes Carroll’s handwritten list of 121 intended recipients of The Nursery Alice, an 1890 adaptation of Alice for the diaper set. 

The Nursery Alice was published 25 years after Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and remarkably, both titles have remained in print to this day. (Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.)

Carroll’s purple-ink notations reveal a detailed hierarchy of gift recipients; Carroll’s sisters top the list, while Mrs. Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the inspiration for the Alice books, appears at number 34. Carroll also highlighted which friends he wished to recive special copies bound in white morocco leather. (Though similarly bound presentation copies were made for other Carroll works, none were ever produced for The Nursery Alice.) Alice Hargreaves was slated to receive one such volume, but not John Tenniel, who illustrated both works.

Pre-sale estimates place The Nursery Alice 40-page exercise notebook, with one page of algebra questions (in black ink and not in Carroll’s handwriting) and 18 pages presenting 121 names and addresses, in purple ink with original paper wrappers and collector’s chemise and red morocco pull-off box, at £25,000-35,000 ($33,000-46,000).


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Pages from Lewis Carroll’s notebook. Images Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Curated Lists of Collectibles Now on AbeBooks, a subsidiary of, launched a new search element to its website earlier this week. Dubbed Collections, this section focuses on antiquarian books, prints, and ephemera. What makes this different from the rest of AbeBooks is the interface. 

                                                                                                                   abecollections.JPGFamous for helping people find specific, obscure but often necessary books, the newest component to AbeBooks addresses the way people shop for everything nowadays: the Collections platform is organized thematically, mimicking a Pinterest board with its visual bookmarks.

                                                                                                                                                                   Unlike traditional functions on AbeBooks, users won’t be typing in the name of a specific title; the Collections section is geared towards potential customers who have a general idea of what they like, and by browsing thematically will develop a more nuanced appreciation for their likes and dislikes.

                                                                                                                                                               “Anyone who enjoys hunting through used bookstores, antique shops and art galleries for obscure treasures will relish Collections,” said Arkady Vitrouk, CEO of AbeBooks. “Collections allows sellers to define the topics and offer an innovative discovery experience.”

                                                                                                                                                                                  Though online shopping will never quite be the same as browsing the dusty stacks of a bookstore--though brick-and-mortar shops were organized thematically--there was always an element of serendipity, difficult to replicate in the digital world. Still, this is stack-browsing in the digital era, and Collections is the latest foray into the tech sphere for antiquarians. (To wit, see last month’s story about Collectival’s game-changing software for book dealers. )


md6667734861.jpg“Collections” are created when sellers upload items to AbeBooks and curate each one into a list. Customers can then browse lists--some extending into thousands of items--and as they click through, the website’s software updates its personalized recommendations. In addition, AbeBooks’ editors highlight particularly noteworthy lists for their breadth and beauty.

Current “curators” include the usual suspects--New York’s Strand Bookstore, Powell’s Books in Portland, Royal Books from Baltimore, Hennessey + Ingalls from Los Angeles--as well as smaller, more specialized shops like Hungarian seller Földvári Books and Dutch seller Librarium of The Hague. Donald A. Heald hosts “Pocket Maps,” one of which is seen here.

Have you visited the Collections marketplace on yet? Tweet us your experiences @finebooks.

                                                                                                                                                      Images Courtesy of

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Dust jacket for Madeline and the Bad Hat. photo credit: Wikimedia

The cosmos must be sending out veggie vibes to bibliophiles these days--after last week’s story on Bill Dailey’s collection of antiquarian vegetarian cookbooks comes another, slightly mischievous argument to go meat-free: on August 25 PBA Galleries in San Francisco will auction an original illustration from Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline and the Bad Hat. This charming signed ink and watercolor painting dates from 1956 and is the original illustration that Bemelmans reproduced for the third volume of his beloved Madeline series.

The illustration “He Built Himself a Guillotine ” depicts Madeline’s recently arrived neighbor Pepito--the “bad hat” of the tale--about to commit poultricide in the name of gastronomy. Pepito and his chef are preparing the family chickens for that day’s meal while Madeline and her friends tearfully witness the imminent carnage from their window perch next door. To put it bluntly, this kid is a total brat, and his shenanigans test the limits of Madeline’s patience. Pepito continues to torture helpless creatures until one of his plans backfires. While Pepito convalesces, Madeline convinces him to change course, and the reformed animal bully becomes a vegetarian. Some readers consider Madeline and the Bad Hat controversial--depictions of animal cruelty aren’t so hip these days--but like many bad boys before him, Pepito sees the error of his ways and vows to become a better person.

Lightly worn with evidence of prior framing, this lot is accompanied by a signed copy of the first trade edition of the book. Bids will open at $20,000.

For more information and to view images of the painting, visit


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Chicken for every pot. photo credit: BB Richter

The Summer of Hamilton

Has the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton reached its zenith? After a twelve-month run that grossed $90 million dollars in ticket sales, the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, made his final appearance onstage in June. Now, doorbuster ticket prices are dipping below $500 per seat. Still, if that’s too rich for your blood, check out the New-York Historical Society’s museum-wide celebration of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury and his influence shaping the U.S. government.

Replicas of the dueling pistols used by Hamilton and Burr on view at the New-York Historical Society, on loan from the JPMorgan Chase Historical Collection. Photo credit: New-York Historical Society, Courtesy of the JPMorgan Chase Historical Collection.

The Summer of Hamilton exhibit includes some of the items from the museum’s 2015 installation that also showcased the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, but there are new items as well: Life-size bronze statues depicting Hamilton and Burr in their deadly duel; Hamilton’s 1797 gift of a tall case clock to the Bank of New York; and his writing desk, on loan from the Museum of the City of New York.

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Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, October 5, 1780 (The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GL C00773) Photo Credit: New-York Historical Society

In addition, the NYHS will display nine documents written by Hamilton, including his touching love letter to fiancée Elizabeth Schuyler; his infamous letter to mistress Maria Reynolds; and his proposal for the federal government that he presented at the Constitutional Convention.


In a letter (also on display) where Hamilton supports Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr as president, his complaints sound remarkably prescient when read against the backdrop of today’s riotous political bickering: “In a choice of Evils let them take the least--Jefferson is in every view less dangerous than Burr.”

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Kim Crowley, Alexander Hamilton, bronze, 2004, New-York Historical Society (photo: Don Pollard)

And back by popular demand, the NYHS will recreate the infamous Hamilton-Burr duel on Sunday, August 7 with actors from American Historical Theatre.

                                                                                                                                               Visit The New-York Historical Society’s website for a complete list of programming and hours.

Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children

The Rare Book Room in Philadelphia’s Free Library is running an exhibition on children’s books where “happily ever after” is not always the end goal. “Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children” examines 250 years of the evolution of danger and morality in children’s literature, exploring early Calvinist beliefs on moralism and later works that provide room for humor and laughter in tandem with moral guidance.

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                                                                                                                                                         The show starts with material from the 18th century because until then “children read the same books as adults,” said curator Caitlin Goodman. The show’s inflection point--when books started to be written exclusively for the education of children--comes with Henrich Hoffmann’s gruesome Struwwlpeter (Slovenly Peter). “Hoffmann’s book was a different species of cautionary tale because it was didactic and entertaining,” said Goodman. Hoffmann’s stories were meant to frighten children into behaving, and paved the way for modern classics like Where the Wild Things Are and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “Though Slovenly Peter demonstrates a turning point in children’s literature, it’s still a far cry from Maurice Sendak’s Pierre. Most of the kids in the Slovenly Peter series die.” (In Sendak’s dark classic, Pierre is swallowed by a lion because he “doesn’t care,” but is rescued.) 

Over 100 items from the Free Library and the Rosenbach collections are on display, including Isaac Watts’ Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language For the Use of Children, William Blake’s radical poems on childhood (which were never intended for children in the first place), Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers.

A reading nook set up especially for young visitors also doubles as a board game area, with a duplicate of a Victorian-era morality race game called “The Mansion of Bliss.” It is similar to “Shoots and Ladders,” except that the goal is to get to heaven, and the game is hard to win. “No one has succesfully played through during the exhibition,” Goodman said. “People get frustrated and think the game is unfair, but our modern standards of fairness are very different from Victorian beliefs.” The reading corner is also stocked with modern favorites, like Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. “These books are extremely popular, yet manage to be instructive,” Goodman explained, and they continue the tradition of cautionary tales into the 21st century.



“The Mansion of Bliss: A New Game for the Amusement of Youth.”  1822. Reproduced with permission from the Free Library.


The Rare Book Department is open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Saturday. “Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children” is on display through July 23. If you can’t make it to Philadelphia before the show closes, all of the materials in the exhibition have been scanned and may be viewed here. For more information, visit


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.

Babar Comes to Houghton Library

Harvard’s Houghton Library recently acquired the complete archive of Jean de Brunhoff’s preparatory materials for his 1934 alphabet book, ABC de Babar. Over one hundred sketches, hand-colored proofs, and other items were gifted to the library by Laurent de Brunhoff and Laurent’s wife, Phyllis Rose.

Jean de Brunhoff published the first Babar book in 1931, and by his death in 1937 wrote and illustrated seven stories about Babar, the orphan elephant who eventually becomes king of the pachyderms. In 1945, Laurent de Brunhoff, Jean’s oldest son, resumed the Babar series, and has written and illustrated more than thirty additional titles.

“The ABC de Babar was the fourth book of Jean’s series and differed from its predecessors in that it did not tell a story but was an alphabet book,” explained Hope Mayo, the Houghton Library’s curator of printing and graphic arts. “It’s charming, and it suits the Houghton very well, because the collection demonstrates how a commercially successful children’s book was produced in the 1930s,” she continued.

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How good is your French? Can you spot all 28 words that start with “T”? Original art work by Jean de Brunhoff for ABC de Babar (MS Typ 1186, Houghton Library, Harvard University).

Now through August 31, eighteen of the items donated by the couple will be on display in the Amy Lowell Room. “This selection of sketches and proofs from the preparatory stages demonstrates the sequence of creating a children’s book,” said Mayo. An original drawing by Laurent de Brunhoff and commissioned by the Houghton is also on display, with Babar walking up the library steps with his abcedaire in hand.


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Babar Brings His ABC to Houghton Library. Original watercolor and gouache drawing by Laurent de Brunhoff (TypDr 2070.B240.16b, Houghton Library, Harvard University)


The ABC de Babar used characters and settings from de Brunhoff’s earlier books to illustrate each letter of the alphabet. For example, a page for the letter “T” (pictured at top) shows Babar and his family sitting on a terrasse, drinking tea, and enjoying a view of the Tour Eiffel and tulips. On this page alone are 28 words in French that begin with the letter “T,” a tour de force that further demonstrates why Babar has remained a global icon for eight decades.

                                                                                                                                                           Babar Comes to the Houghton runs from June 9 through August 31 in the Amy Lowell Room at Harvard University’s Houghton Library.

The Carnavalet museum, the archaeological crypt located under the parvis of Nôtre-Dame, and the Petit Palais are just three of the 14 institutions that comprise the municipal museums of Paris. Together, the consortium (also known as Paris Musées) welcomed over 3 million visitors in 2015. In that same period, 9.3 million people visited the Louvre. In a bid to generate greater interest and public awareness in the city’s museums, Paris Musées recently launched a website where nearly 200,000 images from the various instutions are accessible online. As part of the kick-off, Paris Musées curators teamed up with ten well-known Instagramers--artists, photographers, fashion bloggers, and comedians--to reinterpret ten different works of art found in the municipal collections.

Instagram artists like @audrey.pirault and @rafaelmantesso selected paintings and photographs and gave them a funky, chic overhaul in tune with the social media generation. For example, an oil painting of the illustrious Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) by Georges Clairin (1843-1919) shows the comédienne draped luxuriously over a satiny divan. Instagrammer @miss_etc remade the portrait into a sumptuous selfie, showing the artist lounging on a beige sofa in pricey sneakers and flowy gown, holding her iPhone just right to capture the moment.


Georges CLAIRIN (1843-1919). Portrait de Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923). 1876. Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais. ©Petit Palais.


The Instagram exhibition is targeting a specific audience: People who do not go to museums. By inviting social-media darlings (each with hundreds of thousands of followers) to reimagine classic works of art, Paris Musées is battling the perception that museums are stuffy, irrelevant, out-of-touch cabinets of curiosity, and are in fact culturally relevant and hip.


Portrait de Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) reinterpreted by @miss_etc. Reproduced with permission from Paris Musées.


The Instagram exhibition is being held at the Gare Saint-Lazare. While a train station seems an odd choice for an art installation, the goal is to promote the city’s museums to the greater, non-museum-going public, and thousands of commuters hustle through the massive station daily. Passers-by will also be invited to propose their own remakes and share them online using the #ParallèleParisMusées hashtag, the whole endeavor highlighting how technology can bridge the gap between art and audience.

Art, inaccessible? Not in Paris.

Check out the Paris Musées Instagram account at

                                                                                                                                                               The Instagram art will be on view at the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris through July 31. More information is available here.

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


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


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

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

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

Last year, the world celebrated 150 consecutive years of Alice in Wonderland in print with seminars, conferences, readings and film screenings. 2016 has another tantalizing event on the horizon: At high noon on June 16, in a stand-alone sale at Christie’s New York, an extremely rare first edition copy of Lewis Carroll’s landmark publication will be on the auction block, still in its original red cloth binding and with unparalleled provenance. Sometimes referred to as the “Suppressed Alice,” the first edition was published on July 4, 1865, only to be withdrawn by Carroll days later because the book’s illustrator, John Tenniel, had declared the quality of the printed illustrations subpar. All 2,000 copies were recalled, though Carroll retained 50 advance copies in his possession.


Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge (‘Lewis Carroll’), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London: [The Clarendon Press for] Macmillan, 1865. 42 wood-engraved illustrations by the Dalziel brothers after John Tenniel. Original publisher’s red cloth decorated in gilt, original endpapers with Burn bindery ticket on rear pastedown. Estimate: $2,000,000-3,000,000. Credit: Christie’s Images LTD.

As a result, surviving copies are rare. “With only twenty-two extant copies, this first edition is rarer than Shakespeare’s First Folio,” said Jon A. Lindseth, the book’s current owner. “Of these, sixteen are held by institutions, and six remain in private hands. Of the editions held privately, two are in their original cloth--always my objective as a collector--with one of these described as heavily worn.” Lindseth, a passionate collector of Lewis Carroll for over a quarter century and general editor of the recently published three-volume Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece (Oak Knoll Press), acquired his copy in 1997 from legendary television and film producer Bill Self (1921-2010). Prior to Self, it was owned by Chicago book collector Harriet Borland (1905-1997), financier-turned-bibliophile Carl H. Pforzheimer (1879-1957), Carroll’s child friend Alexandra Kitchin (1864-1925), and her father George Kitchin (1827-1912), Carroll’s Oxford colleague who acquired the book from the author.



One of the images Tenniel declared entirely dissatistactory, leading to the recall of the entire first edition. Credit: Christie’s Images LTD.

“No other copy in this condition, with this provenance, exists in private hands,” Lindseth said. “Today, all significant Lewis Carroll collections are held by private institutions. The lack of Lewis Carroll collections in Great Britain led me to gift my own collection to the British Library.” Since the British Library already has a copy of the 1865 Alice, Lindseth is putting his edition up for sale.

Pre-sale estimates for the 1865 Alice in Wonderland are $2,000,000-3,000,000. Christie’s will host this sale on Thursday, June 16 at noon, at Rockefeller Plaza. For more information, visit

The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide

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Devil’s Claw ©2016 Paul Mirocha. Reproduced with permission from University of Arizona Press.


This year the National Park Service turns 100, and while plenty of new books on the topic clamor for attention, one standout will surely interest readers of this blog. The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, published by the University of Arizona Press takes an innovative approach to natural history by combining words and image in a most striking way. A delightful hybrid of scientific exploration and creative writing, the book is a unique match for the desert topography, which is itself a study in paradoxes: Encompassing over 120,000 miles between Arizona and Mexico, North America’s hottest region is also the world’s “lushest” desert, and claims five distinct seasons, allowing for a surprising array of life.

To capture the biodiversity of the desert, editors Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos included material from fifty writers and poets based in the American West. The writers and their styles are just as varied as the plants and animals discussed: Alison Hawthorne Deming’s odes to the Saguaro cactus, “What the Desert is Thinking” and “Questions for a Saguaro,” mimic the long arms of the desert’s keystone flora, while Wendy Burk’s spare, methodical composition matches its subject, the desert tortoise. These, and other entries represent a sampling of what the editors charmingly coined a “literary biomimicry.” Plenty of creatures are included whose names alone demand further inspection, such as the desert globemallow, the fairy duster, and the Arizona walkingstick. Sketches by award-winning illustrator Paul Mirocha are crisp, bright, and lively. (Readers may recognize Mirocha’s handiwork; he has illustrated over 20 children’s books and pop-ups, including Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder.)

Each creative contribution is accompanied by the subject’s physical description and habitat, and these scientific entries are entertaining as well: the desert tortoise is called “the Oreo of the desert” for their prevalence on predator menus, and inebriated young men are frequent victims of rattlesnake bites. The diversity of the text and the species of the Sonoran offer up a rich resource that celebrates the beauty of this extraordinary biome.


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Cactus Wren ©2016 Paul Mirocha, reproduced with permission from University of Arizona Press

The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, edited by Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos with illustrations by Paul Mirocha; University of Arizona Press, $19.95, 216 pages, 2016.

If the 1984 Academy-Award winning film Amadeus is to be believed, Italian court composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) played bitter rival to petulant boy-genius Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791), so consumed by jealousy that he even conspired to poison the young prodigy. In reality, the men were more than cordial--Salieri tutored Mozart’s son in piano, and surviving letters between the two suggest a professional working relationship. Now, curators at the Czech Museum of Music in Prague have unearthed a composition set to music by Salieri and Mozart in honor of a mutually beloved singer.


Posthumous painting by Barbara Krafft in 1819. Source: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                                                                                                         Entitled Per la Ricuperata Salute di Offelia, the libretto was written in 1785 by Viennese court poet Lorenzo da Ponte and set to music by Salieri and Mozart for Nancy Storace (1765-1818), a popular British operatic soprano living in Vienna. All three composers admired the diva, who, in addition to appearing in twenty operas, premiered as Offelia in Salieri’s La Grotta di Trofinia and as Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Unfortunately, a voice ailment sidelined the prima donna for months. Salieri, Mozart, and da Ponte crafted this jaunty cantata in celebration of her return to the stage. The score itself includes da Ponte’s pseudonym, Coretti; the year of publication, the name of the printer, Joseph von Kurzböck, and the first letters of each composer’s last name.

Portrait of Salieri by Joseph Willibrord Mähler. Source: Wikimedia Commons

After 1785, the libretto was only mentioned again in Austrian musician Ludwig Ritter von Köchel’s chronological catalog of Mozart’s music, but that the work had been lost to time. The Museum of Music acquired the libretto in the 1950s as ‘confiscated property,’ but the piece wasn’t catalogued until 1976. At the time, museum curators were unable to determine the authenticity of the famous authors, and so it was classified in the museum’s records using only the letters M, S, and C as the creators. In 2015, the music librarian re-cataloged the libretto collection and was able to authenticate Salieri and Mozart as the co- authors. The composition was performed by harpsichoridst Lukas Vendl for the first time in at least 200 years at a recent press conference at the museum, which can be heard here.

                                                                                                                                                        That’s quite an impressive paper trail.

Sci-Fi Epic DUNE Turns 50

An early cover of Frank Herbert’s epic intergalactic adventure. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Before Star Wars, there was Dune. (Certainly, before Dune there was The Blazing World, a 1666 utopian romance by British aristocrat Margaret Cavendish, but let’s stick to the 20th century.) It’s all part of the science-fiction genre, and readers have long been enthralled with what author Isaac Asimov coined in 1953 as “that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings.”

Frank Herbert’s Dune particularly reshaped the world of modern science fiction. This epic tale of a warring feudal society in search of a precious natural resource called spice melange, set 21,000 years in the future on a faraway sandworm-infested planet, addresses, among other things, how man-made technology affects our surrounding ecology. The book was groundbreaking, and in addition to becoming the bestselling science fiction novel ever, Dune is also credited with laying the groundwork for the Earth Day movement. The book eventually won the inaugural Nebula award as well as a Hugo, and remains in the public eye with numerous sequels, movies, and other associated tie-ins.

Marking the fiftieth anniversary of Dune’s publication, the Pollak Library at California State University, Fullerton, which acquired the Dune manuscripts in the 1960s (as well as Herbert’s articles, correspondence, and research materials), is exploring the book’s contribution to popular science fiction with a speaker series called Dune: From Print to Cinema and Beyond.” Through November 6, Fullerton faculty and guest speakers will discuss the book’s legacy and how its political and environmental messages remains relevant.

Fans looking for some spice of own might consider the Folio Society’s recently published $125 commemorative edition of the book, with illustrations by Brooklyn-based artist Sam Weber. Weber, you may recall, was commissioned by the United States Post Office to create stamps honoring the life and work of American writer Flannery O’Connor. The artist’s 11 haunting photorealistic oil on board portraits of futuristic men and women are far from being cheesy throwbacks and evoke people whose dark struggles aren’t all that different from our own. The Washington Post’s longtime Book World editor (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Michael Dirda wrote the book’s new introduction, calling it “more than a futuristic swashbuckler or a science-fiction ‘coming-of-age’ novel....It is a serious moral fable about the unforeseen consequences of the choices we make.”

Sam Weber’s Sandworm from Dune. Reproduced with permission from The Folio Society.

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Dedicated to rare books and manuscripts, Yale University’s Beinecke Library also houses a massive collection of videocassettes and is currently in the process of digitizing the tapes to preserve them and make them accessible online. Library preservationists are currently working with decades-old recordings of “Sesame Street” from the archives of screenwriter and song writer Tony Geiss (1924-2011).

AnAmericanTailPoster.jpgGeiss spent a lifetime creating programming for children. He co-wrote the animated feature films “An American Tail” and “The Land Before Time” and spent almost 40 years writing for public television’s “Sesame Street,” where he created characters like the Muppet Monsters, Abby Cadabby, and the Honkers. Geiss’ work earned him 22 Emmys, and the adoration of children worldwide. 

Digitizing videocassettes has become a priority for the University, which has nearly 2,000 cassettes in various formats, including VHS, U-matic, Betacam, and 8mm. Cassettes degrade over time, according to Frank Clifford, the library’s video digitization project manager, “It’s a matter of time before a lot of these tapes are not going to be playable at all,” he said in a press release. Another challenge is maintaining the equipment necessary to play these tapes, which also break down. One digitized, the material will be easier to maintain, even if the videos are no longer accessible in their original form.

Since starting the digitization process in January, Clifford has digitized over 600 tapes. Of the archives containing videocassettes, Geiss’ is one of the largest, followed closely by poet Ira Cohen’s papers and the archive of Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky. 

Image: “An AmericanTail” Poster via Wikipedia.

That Great Book Which is Ever Before Our Eyes

After ten years of hurtling through space, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft approached Pluto and its moons this week, sending home stunning photographs of the icy dwarf planet. Over the next six months the vessel will continue accumulating data that astronomers hope will reveal some of the secrets concealed by this rocky world at the limits of our solar system. Before the spacecraft began its 3 billion-mile trek in January 2006, NASA scientists maintained that this mission - the exploration of the Kuiper Belt (the farthest, oldest portion of the solar system where Pluto resides) - as the highest priority in space travel.

IImage of Pluto from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. The bright feature in the bottom portion of the planet has been coined “the heart”.
Image Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

Much what we knew about Pluto (and hundreds of asteroids) is due to Clyde Tombaugh. As a 24 year-old at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the farmer-turned-astronomer discovered Pluto in 1930 and sparked what could be considered the modern push to planetary exploration. Tombaugh spent his entire life gazing towards the heavens, and built over thirty telescopes to better understand the cosmos. (His first telescope, a store-bought Sears model, proved insufficient rather quickly.) He died in 1997, just shy of his 91st birthday. Tombaugh was the first American to discover a planet in our solar system, and was honored for his work by becoming the first person whose remains, included in the New Horizons craft, were launched into the stars beyond our corner of the universe. After getting a close-up look at Pluto, he will continue charting new worlds beyond our galactic neighborhood.

Clyde Tombaugh: Discoverer of Pluto (1906-1997) Image Credit: NASA

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. 

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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

McEwanI_Uncat_3_001_300dpi copy.jpegIan McEwan’s first draft of “On Chesil Beach.” Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin purchased the archive of British novelist Ian McEwan for $2m last week. The archive includes early drafts of his classic novels, unfinished or abandoned stories, letters to McEwan from other literary luminaries like Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie, and 17 years of e-mail correspondence.

Stephen Enniss, Director of the Harry Ransom Center said the “acquisition represents a rare opportunity to share the work of a living, internationally-acclaimed author whose works are of strong interest to readers everywhere.”

McEwan said of the value of the archive, “The writer tends to forget rapidly the routes he or she discarded along the way. Sometimes the path towards a finished novel takes surprising twists. It’s rarely an even development. For example, my novel Atonement started out as a science fiction story set two or three centuries into future.”

McEwan continued, “I was recently awarded the (Oxford) Bodleian medal. After accepting it, I was shown some of the items in their extensive historical archives. It was deeply moving, to hold in my hand a notebook of the 17-year-old Jane Austen. And then, to turn the pages of Kafka’s first draft of Metamorphosis. An archive takes you right to the heart of the literary creation; it makes for an emotional connection that anyone who loves literature will understand. The experience is almost sensual. Beyond that, of course, critical and biographical work on writers is completely dependent on the resources of a world-class archive collection like the Ransom Centre.”
colonial document keno auctions.jpg
On Sunday Keno Auctions in New York City sold an important piece of early Americana for a startling $912,500. The document, entitled Letter from the Twelve United States Colonies by their Delegates in Congress to the Inhabitants of Great Britain, was a final plea from the Continental Congress to avoid an armed uprising. The document - long thought lost - invited fierce competition from two phone bidders who quickly blew through its $100,000 - $400,000 estimate. The winning bid came from a private collector via manuscripts specialist Seth Kaller. The final price, at $912,500, took the prize for highest price paid during Americana Week 2014 in New York City.

The letter itself was written by the jurist Robert R. Livingston (of Declaration of Independence fame) in 1775 and was printed in July of that year. This draft of the document offers an invaluable perspective into the final printed document as it includes excised paragraphs and marginal notes. Until the discovery of this letter, only the final printed document was known to scholars.

The letter was found in July of this year by Emilie Gruchow, an archivist with the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan. (The mansion served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War). Gruchow found the letter in a folder of 18th century doctor’s bills tucked away in the drawer of a desk in the mansion’s attic. After its discovery and verification, the Morris-Jumel Mansion decided to sell the letter to raise funds for the long-term survival of the museum.

With a winning bid just shy of $1m, the Museum’s nest-egg received an impressive boost.

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.   

1922 - Gatsby, Newbery and Melcher

The release of a new film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s classic novel has reignited a mania for all things Gatsby. And why not? The story illustrates a prosperous, glamorous, yet sometimes garish, period in American society. On Monday Rebecca wrote about a new edition of Fitzgerald’s first eight short stories.   Today, we look at the creation of the first award for children’s literature, which was the same year in which Fitzgerald set The Great Gatbsy. 

While Fitzgerald described the cosmopolitan world of flapper culture set to decadent jazz music, American publisher and renowned admirer of children’s books Frederic Melcher commissioned the first Newbery Medal. Melcher named the award after the eighteenth-century British bookseller and printer Jon Newbery because he is regarded as the first dedicated printer and publisher of children’s literature.  

Newbery felt that making beautiful and accessible books for children was essential to their development. When he published Pretty Poems for Children Three Feet High he added the following inscription: “To all those who are good this book is dedicated by their best friend.”[1]

The first Newbery medal winner went to a non-fiction history book called The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (Liveright). In the 1920’s this book was considered the authoritative children’s resource on 5,000 years of history.  


Like The Great Gatsby, the Newbery Award is a uniquely American institution, since only authors contributing to American children’s literature and published in the United States by an American publisher are considered for the prize.

Source: Hazard, Paul. Books, Children & Men. (M. Mitchell, Trans.).Boston: The Horn Book Co., 1944. 


If you’re in London, you have until 13th January to see some of the materials making up the Women’s Liberation Music Archive at Space Station 65. Luckily, since May 2011 the archive itself has been completely available online, a DIY initiative built from scans and stories, some of them contributed via e-mail. 

Started by Deborah Withers and Frankie Green in October 2010, the archive is organised alphabetically by band name, with songs, lyric sheets, photos, posters, ephemera, and recollections about each in its place in the music scene of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s and 80s UK. It’s a good example of multi-media collecting, since it includes audio and video files which have been uploaded to digital formats, and the world of posters, photos, and other press clippings that any comprehensive music archive draws to itself. Most importantly, it’s a great example of an emergent archive at its best: continuously growing and actively filling a gap in the existing historical record. As the founders write:

“Fusing music with politics to develop and express feminist ideas, women musicians and bands were a major part of the WLM [Women’s Liberation Movement]. However, there is scant permanent record of their ground-breaking activity during this era, much of which is not widely known about. Many groups never made recordings and operated outside the commercial, mainstream or alternative circuits - or indeed were oppositional to them. They were self-funded and worked on a shoestring and thus unable to create lasting material. Despite being a vital and integral part of the movement, they are often omitted from or marginalised by media reportage and feminist histories.”

The Women’s Liberation Music Archive emphasizes one of the great services the internet allows collectors to provide: free and comprehensive access to collections which otherwise might not survive by their own means. There are at least two kinds of materials that make up collections: works that are self-evidently collectible like fine press books, and those works for whom it takes an outcry or two to bring to our notice. Since many of the bands and their associated paper-and-song trails archived here were created in opposition to commercial culture, it’s hard to imagine their place in an archive by their own means. It’s emerging archives like this that turn historical deficits into surpluses, and that’s important work in any field.

Image Credit: From the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, under C for Clapperclaw.

A semi-regular series profiling new archives.

jc_peckham_peace_wall_003_0.jpgThis past August marked the anniversary of the London riots, the anniversary of a terrible time that saw pockets of the city razed, pillaged and plundered for reasons that still have not been adequately identified.

In the South-East district of Peckham, the damage was devastating and iconic: images of a flaming double-decker bus on the local high street became emblems of the destruction the rest of the city had sustained. 

The worst in a few brought out the best in the rest of communities all over London: the streets were cleaned, the broken glass and skeletal remains of burned out cars were cleared away early in early the morning after the riots, a massive effort organized almost entirely over Twitter. In Peckham, the boarded-up windows of a looted Poundland (the UK equivalent of a Dollar Store), went a step beyond utility: they became a public archive. Members of the local theatre, the Peckham Shed, started to stick post-it notes on the boards, decorating what they called the ‘Why We Love Peckham Wall’:

There was so much fear, anger and distress in the area in the aftermath of the rioting that we wanted to do something to remind people that lots of people really care about Peckham; that there are incredibly talented young people here and a vibrant and proud community which wants to come together to try to address the problems here. (Source)
Neighbors and passersby joined in, and soon the covered wall was featured as a zoomable, interactive images on The BBC: “Peckham isHome”; “CHANGE!”; “I feel at home here”; “PECKHAM LIVES”, and “I love Peckham”.

Luckily, the Peckham Shed also had it in mind to preserve the testimonies of locals with more than images - and thus an archive of just about the most ephemeral materials you can think of, Post-It Notes, was born.

Last month in remembrance of the riots the boards containing the post-its were exhibited outside the library in an area known as the Peckham Space.  And now, the Peckham Peace Wall has been installed, according to the Creative Review, it is based on 4,000 originals that have been digitally hand-traced and added to tiles for permanent display, designed by the local creative collective Garudio Studiage.

jc_peckham_peace_wall_009_0.jpgArchives are awfully elastic things: it’s great that something like the Peckham Peace Wall, an archive from the ashes, serves all three purposes of serious commemoration, positive reinforcement, and the literal preservation of local color and local involvement. Let’s hope to see more like it. 

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a press release issued last Thursday, 13 September, Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that the state archives would close due to budget cuts. “After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.” As of yesterday, 7 of the 10 staff members were given notice that they would lose their jobs at that time.

The Friends of Georgia’s Archives and History are the best resource for updates but also the central HQ for activism & elegance on the subject. Their ‘ACTION ALERT’  for advocating on behalf of archival access makes a clear case against Kemp’s decision. Conveniently, ironically, we can organize the three main points of the Action Alert under Georgia’s State Motto:

  1. WISDOM: Access to records now avoids even more expensive legal fees later.  It upsets the due process of law, since easy access to the documents held in the archive are a basic component of land claims, boundary disputes, utility right-of-way, claims against state agencies. On top of that the Secretary of State himself has noted that even limited access to the archives will still cost millions a year to rent.
  2. JUSTICE: According to State Law (Georgia Records Act, Title 50 Chapter 18 Article 4 section 70(b), whew) it is a legal right for individuals to have access to public records. Restricting hours to appointment only is completely “contrary to the practice of government transparency”.
  3. MODERATION: The Secretary was required to decrease his annual spending by 3%. That 3% is the entirety of the Archives budget rather than a combination of cuts. There are many gruesome ways of visualizing this kind of economics: lopping off limbs rather than trimming the fat is one of them.

There has been an outcry from archivists and librarians from blog to shining blog, and the American Libraries Association has issued a press release condemning the closure:

“The Georgia Archives is a treasure trove of unique documents and official records. As one of the original 13 colonies, Georgia has a rich and colorful history. Events of historic importance continue to occur. The State of Georgia established the Archives to preserve the history of Georgia, and access to that resource is vitally important to the future of Georgia and its citizens.”

There is a large spectrum of scholars who suffer from such a drastic action: historians of the South from Professor James C. Cobb of the University of Georgia, to local genealogy researches, historical re-enactment societies, and families interested in their own history. And lest we forget, 21 September is the Civil War Sesquicetennial.

Archives are an important component of civic life, counting forward from the records of Colonial American days which enrich our understanding of the past, to the present need for easy access to legal documents, court rulings, marriage certificates, mortgages and deeds. Between the two, this archive is in constant use.

The outer limits of the need for access to are no less vital. Rachel Maddow recently reported, for instance, on Jeff Thigpen’s use of local archives in Greensboro, North Carolina to challenge potentially fraudulent signatures filed by banks and mortgage companies and used to take away homes from families during the housing crisis. Thigpen: “Public recording offices are part of our democracy in rule of law and the laws that govern them need to be respected”. These are exactly the same documents that closing the Georgia archives would place under lock and key. Each document has a role to play in local culture and local administration, and in the extreme case of Greensboro and many other counties across the United States, in preserving local dignity.

Georgia would be the first state to close its archives, but seen in a more threatening light, it would be the first state to set the precedent that it is okay to close the archives, to deny citizens access to historical and legal documents. For this reason a petition at to the Governor of the state has collected over 13,000 signatures so far, and you can add yours here. You can also contact the Governor by e-mail.

UPDATE (20 September 2012):

The Clayton News Daily has reported that Governor Deal announced Wednesday evening that the archives would remain open for now, without providing further details as to how. The news was a surprise to protestors who had confronted the Governor with a print-out of the 13,000 strong petition against closure, as well as the Secretary of State himself:

Making a promise to keep the archives open is different from actually fulfilling that promise, however. Kemp said the funding issue still has to be addressed. He added the governor did not tell him about his pledge before it was made. Kemp’s office oversees the archives operations.

“If he funds it to keep it open, that’d be great,” said Kemp.

The secretary explained Deal would have to “tell me we weren’t going to have to come up with a $733,000 cut” in order to fulfill the promise to keep the archives’ doors open.

Nothing has been guaranteed. Watch this space for more information.

Earlier this week Michael Moynihan ran an article in Tablet Magazine that exposed several glaring problems in a new book by Johan Leher: Imagine: How Creativity Works.

The author had completely made up six quotes and attributed them to Bob Dylan, for example, regarding his song lyrics:
Bob-Dylan-jpg(The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan indeed, via Buzzfeed)

The media-driven outrage that erupted shortly after the article was published, whether or not commensurate with the crime, resulted in Lehrer’s resignation from his post at The New Yorker and a letter of apology: “When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said”.

What happened next is something which I think has a long history in the making of rare books: Lehrer’s publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, began posting ads telling booksellers to stop selling copies of Imagine and to return them to the publisher, full shipping costs covered. Today they updated the message to include individual readers who own the book. Imagine is the latest among books whose errors have lead to scandal, recall, or destruction: for the most extreme cases, just look at the history of errata in the Bible. On the one hand Lehrer is going to have trouble moving forward in his career, but on the other hand surviving copies of his book will only gain rarity with age now that they’ve joined the ranks of recalled books like A Million Little Pieces and How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.

It’s true that putting your money on preserving these books, each of which were bestsellers, is a long-term game with many hits and misses, the certainty of which may not even be confirmed in our lifetime. How Opal Mehta Got Kissed... is on both available for around a dollar on, but also safely preserved in at least one special collections library. The coin is in the air and will probably be suspended there for at least a few decades.

The added benefit of this final frontier of collecting, which I’ll call biblio-prognosticating to add a little pomp to what is otherwise the bookish equivalent of ambulance chasing, is that it’s cheap. Unlike tried-and-true incunabula, Kelmscott Press, or even to an increasing extent punk fanzines, you can start a collection of books inflated by hype and scandal on a relatively small budget.

I would be surprised if the instincts of the book collector didn’t lead him or her to do just that every now and then. According to twitter, I’m not half-wrong. As lovers of books our instincts are sharpened, primed even, for opportunities like this:
twitter-1.jpgIt’s not a bad choice: especially given what a landmark the Harry Potter Series is in the history of publishing, both in the sheer numbers of production, but also the uniquely high level of security surrounding the publication and sale of each installment (you can find an excellent chapter about the amazing lengths Bloomsbury went to, including GPS tracking devices and on-call militia to take down stolen vans of Book 7 of Harry Potter before his official release in Ted Striphas’ Late of Print).

twitter-2.jpgAgain, a smart move given the author’s legacy and the general greatness of the work.

All of this begs the question: Which contemporary books do you buy in hopes that they’ll obtain value later? Post your answers in the contents!

Readers may recall our spring column on Kim Rhode, a 33-year-old Olympian with a penchant for children’s books. The California native won a gold medal in skeet shooting at the London Olympics this past weekend, becoming the first US athlete to medal in five consecutive Olympic games.

Her passion for sport is akin to her passion for books. She told us, “I’ll definitely continue collecting until the day I die. I think books are becoming obsolete, so I see what I’m doing as preserving history, the heritage of parents reading to their kids. I don’t see myself ever getting bored. Collecting is something that’s constantly changing. I’m always updating and growing and getting better.”

We wonder if Rhode has had a chance to go hunting for her ‘holy grail,’ a first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit in dust jacket, while she’s been in London.
In March, London Metropolitan University’s Board of Governors announced plans to find a new sponsor for The Women’s Library. In real terms this threatens the UNESCO-recognized collection, the largest to document women’s history in Europe, with all but closure. If new space isn’t found for the collection of over 60,000 printed works (not to mention hundreds of discrete archives, ephemera, posters, journals, and objects), opening hours will be reduced to one day a week by December 2012, making it difficult for locals to access the collections, and nearly impossible for anybody else. In historic terms this takes on a greater quality of horror: the library was founded in 1926 from a converted pub in Westminster, that is, we’re talking about closing the library women could go two years before Virginia Woolf ever thought to demand A Room of One’s Own. 

Funny enough, it was rejection from a library that provoked Woolf to write in the first place: “Never will I wake those echoes, never will I ask for that hospitality again, I vowed as I descended the steps in anger.” Imagine the angry look on her face, unforgiving and ultimately iconic, distilled into the pages of A Room of One’s Own. How do we relate to that anger today?

There are several ways: the petition in protest of such an upheaval to the Library has reached over 11,000 signatures already: you can sign it here. If you are a UK resident you can lobby your local MP to take action here. Finally, there is a campaign website that accepts testimonies about the library here . In other words the bad has brought out the good, and praise for the library has poured in from all sides, which has sparked a large-scale consideration of what it means to have a space uniquely dedicated to Women’s history: from UNISON to The Guardian, from historians historians to lesbians, and even Private Eye has covered the endangered library...twice. What is the measure of a library’s cultural impact? One non-theoretical answer lies in who it incites to action, and it is a credit to the Women’s Library that the public outcry has been so strong, the testimonies across Facebook so numerous. Indy Bhullar, Information Librarian at the Women’s Library, put it best when I asked the question many others have been answering: what does the library mean to you?

“The Library means a good deal of things to me and perhaps the best way of focusing a response would be within the 3 goals of the Save The Women’s Library campaign, thus: The collection which holds so much history and through which so many stories can be revealed, with narratives interweaving and adjoining constantly (many of which are still yet to be uncovered or re-read) but all of which reflect the lives of a plethora of women and organisations and which are still relevant to so many people.  I love that it is still a growing collection and continues to reflect new ideas and perspectives, so we’ve room on our shelves for boxes of zines as well as suffrage banners or a first edition of Adam Bede. The building which arose like an anti-phoenix (that is out of flood-water rather than fire...) and was purpose-built to house the materials which we have but also enabled the expansion of the Library, enabling us to attract and host other groups, organisations, events and exhibitions and which has given the Library more than just a room of its own; The staff who are all committed to seeing this unique institution flourish through the expertise and knowledge that they’ve amassed over the years and who have helped develop and operate a world class institution.  They are also to be commended for putting up with my woeful sense of humour.”

The cornerstone of the collection is the archives of the Fawcett Society, dating back to 1866. This is the group currently campaigning hardest for women, especially women affected by austerity measures in the UK; this is the group who has made claims based on the latest budget figures that the path to gender equality is moving in reverse. So the irony that closing the Women’s Library threatens access to Fawcett’s history as far back as the bluestockings can’t only be symbolic. 


Nor is the damage done distantly historic: this isn’t just Virginia Woolf who’s fuming all over again, because this decision disrupts the Library’s endeavours to archive the experience of women in the 21st century, including personal blogs, DIY publishing, and zines. The Women’s Library is so committed to the idea of the active, living archive, that it documents its new materials as they are catalogued and digitized and keeps up a robust rotation of exhibitions free to the public (the latest is “All Work and Low Pay: The Story of Women and Work”), as well as online exhibitions for events passed. It’s this level of energy that makes the thought of slowing the momentum the Library maintains five days a week down to one day a week all the more painful, and the need to act all the more vital.

Keep up with the Campaign to Save the Women’s Library through its blog (, or twitter account (!/SaveTWL).

Image sources courtesy of the Women’s Library Online Archive, “We Will Have It!” and “Protest and Survive!” Badge

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

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

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

So why push them out?

Because we believe that in the book world migration is healthy: old pages await new eyes. Yesterday in Lubbock, Texas I found a copy of Sons and Lovers in the oil-cloth Modern Library with my bookplate in it. Twenty eight thousand volumes have my bookplate in them;  they reside in my big house in Archer City, and yet this one strayed. How it got to Lubbock I’ll likely never know. It’s home again now; but three hundred and fifty thousand of it’s cousins will be flooding into the great river of books that delights and refreshes. Good reading and good luck!
The Index on Censorship has announced that in celebration of their 40th Anniversary, their complete back catalog will be free and available to download for the next 40 days - now with 20 days to go.

For 40 years the Index has provided a platform for those whose freedom of expression has been threatened. The publication combines the eloquence of prominent writers (Harold Pinter, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera) with active campaigning against free speech abuse.

The Index is also an amazing resource for collectors, chronicling banned books the world over: in the June 1972 issue there is news of 40 titles and 6 periodicals banned in Greece, such as Brecht’s “Life of Galileo”, printed alongside newspaper clippings in which the government denies such a ‘black list’; a year later an article lists hundreds of books banned in Czechoslovakia; in the 90s the lists shift focus to South America, and the Middle East, for instance in Mohammed Abd al-Jubar’s “Iraq: More Books Banned than Read” (April 1991). Sometimes the articles focus on censorship policy, sometimes they catalogue the specific books themselves, and sometimes they will focus on a single text, the strangest example coming from 1975, The White Book by Yugoslavian journalist Milivoje Pavlovic, consisting of 305 blank pages. “The author has announced that his ‘work’ is none other than an ‘open, innocent book, silent before the flood of devalued words.’” It was printed in small numbers, a “bibliophile edition” and, perhaps, the sassiest artist’s book to challenge the Yugoslavian government yet.

Listing endangered books is only one of the functions of the Index: sometimes it is the primary publisher of works. As a publisher of dissent, it holds a crucial place in completing the historical record. For instance, there is a poem by Saeed Soltampour published in 1982 that he had only recited in public: “On this shore of fear”, a memorial to the poet and playwright executed only the previous year, and reminder of why the work of the Index is so important:
I chose defiance
The way of those poets of the past
The way of Eshghi, the way of Farrokhi.
So hear my voice
As it sings in the slaughter-house.

In the 1984 issue - was such an iconic year for free speech activists met with hysteria? resignation? a grim “I told you so”? - there is the first publication of Samuel Beckett’s short play “Catastrophe”, performed two years earlier in solidarity with Vaclav Havel. Immediately after comes Havel’s response: “Mistake”, the first work he wrote after his release from prison in 1983, published for the first time.

Not only are literary relations spread out across cultures in the pages of the Index, but across time, showing something of a selected reception history of English classcis. In the same 1984 issue, Milan Simecka (an amazing, often overlooked writer of the Velvet Revolution) writes “A Czech Winston Smith” : an autobiographical comparison between his own experiences and those of the protagonist of Orwell’s 1984, where the writing on the wall for Simecka in the build up to his imprisonment matches Orwell nearly scene for scene: “The similarity with our everyday life comes as a physical shock, neither pleasant nor amusing.”

The “inconspicuous red Penguin paperback” where Simecka comes to this conclusion has further significance in textual history: it is the copy given to him by his wife, Eva, who would produce the first Czech translation of the work. All within the space of one issue, there is a cultural context for the books we read, re-read, and collect, books that have meant different things to different people, in different degrees of distress.

Some would argue that censorship almost guarantees the survival of a book at this point, so often has it proven the case for prohibited books over the past 500 years. Fear of loss has certainly contributed to what we find worthy of preservation: from Petrarch’s Sonnets and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, to James Joyce’s Ulysses, and on and on. The Index contributes much to that lineage: as a publisher of the unpublished, and as an index of books banned, burned, and begging to be saved, it’s one of the most haunting bibliographies of the late 20th century.

If you haven’t had the chance yet, now’s the time to see The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which just won the Oscar for Best Animated Short.

In an e-newsletter received last week, the Boston Athenaeum announced a spectacular $2 million gift from “Anne and David Bromer to create the Anne C. and David J. Bromer Fund at the Boston Athenaeum.” The Bromers, who have owned and operated Bromer Booksellers in Boston for decades, are longtime supporters of the Athenaeum. In the e-newsletter, Athenaeum director and librarian Paula D. Matthews wrote, “Their love, nurtured since their student days, has included a wide-eyed appreciation of the joys of books as physical objects and a deep empathy for the sensuous beauty books possess at their finest.”

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

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

FB&C is saddened to learn of the accidental death of rare books and art dealer John McWhinnie, aged 43. McWhinnie managed Glenn Horowitz’s East Hampton bookstore for eight years before opening his own stores with Horowitz as a partner in 2005. The East Hampton Patch and The Gallerist have more details on this tragedy. A longer piece published before his death about his incredible and all-too-short career is here.
How familiar are you with the literature of Christmas?

Below are snippets from five Christmas “classics.” Can you identify the book or short story from which each is excerpted? Can you identify each work’s author? What about each work’s original date of publication?

Answers will be found at the end of this post. Have a safe and joyous holiday!

The Challenge:

(a) “Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took every present!
Pop guns! And bicycles! Roller skates! Drums!
Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums!”

(b) “[T]he butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the Squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the Squire himself; for it was a beverage in the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself, alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; being composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.”
Tradition has it that eighty-six years ago today, on 28 November 1925, 78-year-old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson went into the 5th-floor radio studio of the National Life & Accident Insurance Company in Nashville, TN, to help launch a new radio program, the WSM Barn Dance. (The station’s call letters, WSM, were an acronym of the insurance company’s logo, “We Shield Millions.”)

Other acts followed in short order: George D. Wilkerson & His Fruit Jar Drinkers ... Dr. Humphrey Bate & His Possum Hunters ... the Binkley Brothers’ Dixie Clodhoppers. But it was not until a couple of years had passed that this radio show got the name by which it is known today.

On 27 December 1927, the WSM Barn Dance followed a radio program devoted to classical music. To contrast this program with what was to follow, WSM program director and announcer George D. “Judge” Hay told his listeners that [f]or the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on, we will present the ‘Grand Ole Opry.’

Thus was born one of America’s most iconic cultural institutions.
Two hundred years ago today, on 30 October 1811, the London publisher Thomas Egerton released to the public a three-decker which, its title page noted, had been authored “By a Lady.” The novel, originally titled Elinor and Marianne, had been penned while its author was but a lass. (Actually, the book’s author had penned an even earlier novel, but that novel would not see publication in its author’s lifetime.)

Our three-decker, which cost its anonymous author over a third of her annual income to publish, sold out its initial print run (750 copies) within 19 months, giving the author a modest return of about 30% on her original investment. (The author’s brother, who acted as her literary agent, had no small part in the success of our author’s debut novel, as well as in the success of her subsequent publications.)
Judith Krug founded Banned Books Week in 1982 to honor and promote Americans’ right to read whatever we choose, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. (For an alternative view of Banned Books Week, click here.)

But why set aside the last week of September for this purpose? Was it to honor the Bill of Rights, proposed to “the Legislatures of the several States” by the First Federal Congress on September 25, 1789? (A resolution urging ratification of such a proposal had been passed on March 4, 1789, although only ten of the original twelve amendments were eventually ratified by the states.)

Krug was a very smart woman. While I can offer no proof whatsoever, I like to think she might also have had something else in mind--for the last week of September is also the week that America’s very first multi-page newspaper was published ...

... and banned.

ABAA security chair John Waite has forwarded this Gilkey update/request from Inspector Jeff Levin of the SFPD. Please feel free to forward and/or repost.

Earlier this month convicted fraudster and thief John Charles Gilkey of California was arrested for a parole violation stemming from a series of incidents in San Francisco late last year. Now that he has been re-apprehended, he will be brought up again on charges either later this month or next in San Francisco.

A career criminal, Mr. Gilkey has a long record of defrauding rare book and autograph dealers and dealers in other collectibles, with the use of stolen credit card numbers or with bad checks. His first arrest goes back more than a decade to the 1990s when he was brought up on charges for passing bad checks. He was arrested and jailed for credit card fraud in 2003, then released on parole less than two years later. In autumn 2010 he was arrested again after threatening to burn down a San Francisco print gallery after the manager declined a sale. Mr. Gilkey posted a bail bond for $75,000.00 and subsequently disappeared.

There is ample evidence that between last November and his arrest this month, John Charles Gilkey continued to defraud a number of dealers in collectibles, including a Maryland comic book dealer. San Francisco Police have asked members of the collectibles trade to please forward to them any new information concerning fraudulent activity by Mr. Gilkey. His new bail and eventual sentencing largely will be influenced by the number of new crimes that can proved he has committed since he skipped bail.

Mr. Gilkey is reported to have a storage unit containing rare books, autographs, prints, maps, stamps, comic books, Hollywood and film memorabilia, and coins. Many of these objects may have been obtained through fraud. However, police cannot obtain a search warrant of the storage unit until they provide a judge with a list of items that they are seeking. For that reason, it is imperative for dealers in all fields to come forward and provide police with information about any losses since the beginning of 2011, especially if John Charles Gilkey is known to have been the involved in the transaction. If the collectibles trades can provide police with a targeted list of stolen goods, then police will have a legal basis on which to execute a search warrant. 

If you have information or questions, please contact:

Inspector Jeff Levin

SFPD Arson Unit


If no answer, please leave a message.

For those of you who have been reading our summer issue, you might be as surprised as I was to learn about a folk artist named Clementine Hunter. This story actually started out as a bookish travel piece about Melrose Plantation in Louisiana, once home to an interesting woman named Cammie Henry, who turned it into a colony for writers and artists, creating her own little Southern Renaissance. But we couldn’t help but feel that Hunter, a field hand and plantation cook who was encouraged to put paint on canvas by some of the visiting artists (and whose work is now quite collectible), was a bigger part of the picture.

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

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

Related articles
There was news last week that a “lost” Leonardo has been identified in an American collection and will go on exhibit this November at the National Gallery in London. One of only fifteen surviving oil paintings by Da Vinci, the re-discovered Salvator Mundi is a half-length figure of Christ that was painted around 1500. The painting was presumed destroyed, until a buyer with a great eye acquired it from an estate in 2005. It was then brought to New York art historian and dealer Robert Simon, and after a lengthy conservation treatment, several scholars concluded that it is indeed the lost Salvator Mundi.

artdetectivecover.jpgI found this bit of news wonderfully coincidental, as I have just finished reading The Art Detective: Adventures of an Antiques Roadshow Appraiser by Philip Mould (the paperback came out this past spring). Mould has a thoroughly enjoyable voice, and he wins over his readers time and again with tales of a forged Norman Rockwell, a Rembrandt in disguise, and a long-lost Gainsborough that he found misidentified at a Los Angeles auction. The zeal of collector Earle Newton--who hoarded an immense collection of masters in a Vermont church that Mould was called in to catalogue--is something we all recognize.

I learned much from this book about the process of “overpainting”--in which a later artist actually paints over the piece at hand to hide wear and tear, to remove offensive items, or merely to freshen it up--and how important and effective conservation treatments can be in finding the masterpiece underneath. Not to mention superb research skills, such as those employed by Mould and his colleague Bendor Grosvenor as they pieced together the amazing provenance of a Queen Elizabeth I portrait.

After all--as I myself have learned with my own minor (but thrilling) art “discovery” last year--art collectors aren’t so different from book collectors. We’re all in it for the chase, and we all love making a discovery. 
Late last year I posted a brief warning that infamous book thief John Gilkey was again active. ABAA Security Chair John Waite just circulated this update on Gilkey:

Please be aware that convicted fraudster and thief John Gilkey is operating once again, likely out of northern California.  A comic book dealer in New York state is his latest victim.  Besides defrauding book dealers, Gilkey has also left his dubious mark in the print, stamp, and comics trades.  He was arrested late last year in San Francisco following a parole violation, but was released after he (or someone) posted $75,000.00 bail.  He then disappeared, but is active once again. He is a serious criminal who continually looks for new opportunities and deceptions.  An investigation by the SFPD is ongoing; there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

A comment left for the post linked above by Peter of First Used Books in Vancouver suggests Gilkey may also be working in consort with a couple of other men in Canada. 

Be on the lookout for this man:


In addition to occasionally posting here for FB&C, I recently assumed the editorship of The Standard, the online newsletter of The Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA). I am pleased to announce that the first issue in more than two years has recently been posted, along with a revamped design:

New issues will appear quarterly. Though primarily aimed at booksellers, likely to be much there of interest to other readers of FB&C as well. Hope you’ll drop by. And those interested in being notified via email when new issues are published can sign up here. RSS is also available.
Illustrated First Edition of Mark Twain Abroad.JPGLambuth University, a small liberal arts college located between Memphis and Nashville, is closing after several years of economic struggle. Without much notice, the 168-year-old school is auctioning off its property this weekend in preparation for its closure. Stevens Auction Company of Mississippi will conduct the auction in the Wilder Student Union Building (705 Lambuth Boulevard in Jackson, TN) on Saturday. Alas, no Internet bidding is available, but telephone and absentee bids will be accepted.

Several treasures will be on the block, including a first edition of Mark Twain’s Abroad (seen here at left) and about a thousand other books; artwork, including a piece attributed to Samuel Halpert; an 1832 bronze bell; several pianos, antique bookcases and furniture; Persian rugs; an entire collection of vintage wedding dresses; and a map of Tennessee that dates to 1796.

To read more about this sale, see the university’s press release. The Antique Trader also has more information & images from the auction.

Good news from the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries this week: Donnie Curtis, Head of Special Collections, has announced that Special Collections will not be closing, as recommended in the university’s proposed budget cuts announced earlier this year.

Kathlin Ray, Interim Dean of Libraries, said in a statement to the Friends of the Library: “On March 7 the university announced proposed budget cuts of $26 million, and a further $13.8 on April 4 to address a potential budget reduction of $59 million by July 2012 as required by Nevada Governor Sandoval. These cuts are campuswide. While initial recommendations included Special Collections, the library provided an alternative plan to meet the budget reductions. Therefore, Special Collections has been removed from the list of closures, and we are hard at work on a long-term plan to ensure its continuing health and vitality. As we move forward, we welcome your continuing contributions of historically significant Nevada materials and support for fundraising initiatives.”

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

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

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

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

...For myself, I am eternally grateful to Peter for being there twenty years ago when we met for the first time to talk about a range of matters. I had no earthly idea before we met how knowledgeable he would be about everyone and everything in the book world, or the depth, for that matter, of his piercing intellect. Especially memorable was his willingness to respond, on the record, to every reasonable question I put to him, regardless of the potential fallout. I can’t imagine writing A Gentle Madness without the benefit of his many insights, and when it came time to include a section on scholarly booksellers in Patience & Fortitude, he was the first person I chose to profile. All I can say, Peter, is thank you for sharing your wisdom with me, thank you for your friendship, and thank you for being such a remarkable bookman. You are truly one of a kind. -- Nicholas Basbanes
Rest easy, Washington -- one of our favorite bookstores has been saved. Politics & Prose owners Barbara Meade and David Cohen announced today that they have selected a pair of journalists and politicos as the new owners: Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine, who met while they were reporters with the Washington Post, expect to close the deal in about 45 days.

“Graham and Muscatine have the passion and wisdom to further strengthen Politics & Prose as a community institution that disseminates ideas and stands as a respected and revered public space,” Meade and Cohen said in a statement released on the Politics & Prose Web site. “We are confident that they have the wherewithal and vision to sustain Politics & Prose for many years.” 

The new owners agreed.

“We understand that Politics and Prose is much more than a bookstore,” Graham told store staff, according to a Washington Post report. “It is an integral part of the Washington community, a community that Lissa and I have served for much of our careers already as journalists, authors and, in Lissa’s case, a senior government staff member. It is a very special culture here, a culture we want to see survive.”

Book lovers across the District couldn’t agree more.
Earlier this week the University of Nevada, Reno proposed $26 million in budget cuts, reductions that would lead to closure of some programs and departments including the Special Collections Department of the University Libraries. The university’s press release of March 7, announcing the proposed cuts in response to a budget shortfall projected to be as high as $59 million by July 2012, is available in a story from the Reno Gazette-Journal

A university spokesperson confirmed on March 10 that if the budget proposal moves forward following the university’s academic planning process, closure of Special Collections would be implemented in fiscal year 2012. The closure would also affect the University Archives, which is part of the same department. Staff positions in Special Collections would be eliminated. Existing collections would be maintained, with materials retrieved on an as-needed basis by other library staff. Digital resources would remain online.

The University of Nevada, Reno Special Collections holdings include more than 20,000 books and 200,000 photographs. 
Graphic designer John Bonadies has teamed up with programmer Jeff Adams to develop LetterMpress, a letterpress app for the iPad. The virtual letterpress will allow users to drag and drop their type, lock it into place, ink it, and ultimately print the design. (As a demo, Bonadies set “Fine Books” for us.) The virtual print shop will come into being through high-res photos and scans of type and impressions. Currently in development, the project is raising funds for acquiring type and creating images through Kickstarter, a fundraising platform that enables individual pledges of support for as little as $1.

Bonadies, who is based in Champaign, Illinois, is also establishing a complementary real-world letterpress co-op, Living Letter Press, which will house the physical type collection that the iPad app offers virtually. In a phone interview, Bonadies told me that he surveyed interest in letterpress among the 400-500 members of Champaign-Urbana Design Org (CUDO) and received an enthusiastic response. For more information, see the project description on Kickstarter.

In case you missed the news today, AbeBooks Europe GmbH, the German subsidiary of the Amazon-owned Abebooks, announced today that it has purchased, the online marketplace of German rare antiquarian books with over 3,000 professional antiquarians in 27 countries that offers customers an inventory of over 35 million used, antiquarian, and out-of-print books in many languages (i.e, its biggest German competitor). From the release: “With its great selection of rare and antiquarian books, is an excellent complement to AbeBooks’ German used and antiquarian books offering,” said Hannes Blum, CEO of AbeBooks. “We are looking forward to working with to make sure our customers can find and buy any book provided by and AbeBooks sellers fast and conveniently.”

One bookseller already lamented the merger. Bruce Tober, of Books at Star Dot Star in the UK, wrote to a listserv this morning, “Choosebooks/ZVAB has just announced it’s been bought by ABE. Initially - according to their announcement - all looks well. No one will notice any changes almost at all. Choosebooks will close down but will remain, etc. But we all know what problems and changes such takeovers really mean in the not so long run.”
Today George Washington University announced a gift of $5 million and a collection related to the history of Washington, D.C. Small’s collection includes seven hundred rare documents, maps, drawings, and ephemera; a 1790 George Washington letter that outlines the ten square-mile area that would become the capital is one of the many high points. The 85-year-old Small told the Washington Post that he has been building this collection for more than fifty years.

As the university’s press release points out, Small is no stranger to collecting or philanthropy:

Mr. Small’s donation to George Washington University builds on a long and distinguished personal history of preserving and sharing America’s heritage. In 2005, he donated the earliest known image of the White House--a watercolor done in 1801 by J. Benford--to the White House, where it now hangs. The University of Virginia was the recipient in 2004 of Mr. Small’s remarkable collection on the Declaration of Independence, where it is housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. 

More at the Washington Post.

bostonlinotype.jpgCall it bittersweet, if you like, but the sale next week of the entire contents of the City of Boston’s Graphic Arts Printing Plant at 174 North St., is yet another passing of the torch, and proof positive that the times surely-are-a-changing. Some 175 lots will be hammered down, according to Stanley J. Paine, the auctioneer retained by the city to clear out every vestige of a printing operation that closed last year after 78 years of service, and everything, in his words, is not only old, but downright antediluvian. “We’re selling the room,” he told the Boston Globe. “It’s all antique. All of it. Everything has its own particulars and story.”

Letter Press.JPGAnyone want a Vandercook Letter Press? Or a Linotype Model 31 Typesetting Machine (there are two of them)? A Heidelberg Sheet-Fed Printing Press? A Miehle Vertical Letter Press? Saddle stitchers, folders, paper cutters, collators? Drawer after drawer filled with wonderful metal type? A Super Portland Paper Punching machine? Some splendid oak filing cabinets from the 1930s and ’40s? The sale will start at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24, on-site, and for those who can’t make it, bids can be submitted online via Bidspotter, where a complete list and description of the lots--with photos--is listed. (Bids, in fact, are already being accepted.) I am particularly charmed, I must say, by Lot 154, pictured here at right, identified only as Antique Letter Press S/N 28546. I don’t have room in my cellar--and I don’t imagine my wife would be much too pleased in any case--but I sure am tempted.

800px-PowellsBookstore.jpgBad news today out of Portland. Powell’s Books has cut 31 jobs, citing the need to scale back in the face of slow sales. The Portland Mercury has posted the full text of the press release, along with the following: “DON’T DIE, POWELLS! DON’T DIE! (please).”

Just about two years ago, the store shelved its plans for expansion.
Archivist of the United States David Ferriero announced today that Thomas Lowry, a long-time researcher and Lincoln expert, confessed to altering a Lincoln document owned by the Archives. According to the press release, about a dozen years ago, Lowry brought in a fountain pen containing pigment-based ink and changed the year on a presidential pardon from 1864 to 1865. “Lowry was then able to claim that this pardon was of significant historical relevance because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.”

Close up of the Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army, showing the
date change. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives.

Conservators at the National Archives will now assess whether the original date can be restored.

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

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

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

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

Washington.jpgThe New Jersey Historical Society in Newark is catching heat this week as it has consigned another twenty items to Christie’s, to be sold at two New York sales on Thursday and Friday (and in another sale in February). The items will include a portrait of George Washington attributed to NJ artist Charles B. Lawrence (seen here at right), several tall-case clocks, some furniture, and a lovely dinner service once owned by early NJ Govenor Mahlon Dickerson. The NJHS stands to make something in the range of $80,000-$150,000.

px 65-108-sc578830.jpgMarking the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration this month, Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, and David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, announced yesterday “the nation’s largest online digitized presidential archive.” This allows unprecedented, global access to the documents, photographs, records, and audio/video recordings (including phone calls) of Kennedy’s short presidency and its major themes -- the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, the Peace Corps., and civil rights. It’s all now available at

“As the largest, most advanced digital archive created by a Presidential Library not ‘born digital,’ the project can serve as a model for other presidential libraries and national and international archival institutions,” stated the press release. Twelve other presidential libraries have their work cut out for them.

MarkTwain[1].jpgIf Michiko Kakutani’s column in today’s New York Times is not the best read and most emailed piece in the paper, then not enough people are paying attention. Her take on the announcement that a new edition of Huckleberry Finn is being released with more than 200 uses of the ‘n’ word from the original text--yes, it is “nigger,” and I will use it here just this once--being summarily changed to “slave” is exquisitely reasoned and beautifully supported with historical parallels. (There is the absurdity, for instance, of a British theater group changing the title of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 2002 to The Bellringer of Notre Dame for a new production of the play.)

The editor of the new Huckleberry Finn edition, Alan Gribben, is a professor of English at Auburn University in Alabama. His explanation for changing the word in each usage--and thus bowdlerizing what we can all agree is one of the most consequential works of fiction in the American literary canon--is to make the book more appealing to high school and college teachers who might otherwise excise it from their curricula. It is, he argues, “a racial slur that never seems to lose its vitriol,” and thus, with one simple stroke of a search-and-replace key, voila, Mark Twain is rendered suitable for modern eyes to read without fear of being unduly bruised by the sunlight.

Instead of explaining to students that the reprehensible word has a history that goes back four hundred years, and that the slur as used in the novel was totally in character for the time and the place and the people being profiled, teachers using this sanitized text are now free to ignore unpleasantness altogether. Let’s hope they will be few and far between. If leery instructors need a little help along these lines--it is called teaching, after all--they should take a look at The ‘N’ Word, (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) by Washington Post cultural columnist Jabari Asim. We don’t accomplish a whole lot by denying the past. And we certainly don’t introduce literature to young readers by grooming it to suit our delicate sensibilities.

Kudos to Ms. Kakutani for making the point so eloquently. Meanwhile, Mr. Gribben’s defense of the action (which also changes “injun” to “Indian”)--and that of his publisher, NewSouth Books--can be read at this link.

As some of you may remember, William Scott, a Drew University student, was accused of stealing rare Methodist and presidential letters from the United Methodist Archives Center in March of last year. Yesterday, he pleaded guilty in a United States District Court, and sentencing will occur on April 15. 

Scott was working part-time in the archives, when he was tempted to bring some of the treasures back to his dorm room, and from there, sell them to book dealers here and abroad. My original post on this case expressed utter shock, because of the crime, of course, but also because Drew is my graduate alma mater, and I worked in the library and university archives there for several years. 

CharlesWesleyletter-257x300.jpgWhen I was on campus again last month, I did ask about the state of the case and was told that things were still in the works, and no news was being shared. I learned that all but one stolen document had been recovered, and the press release issued today states that that document is the second page of a Charles Wesley letter from 1755 (they do have a scan, seen here at left).

The silver lining in this story is that Drew has implemented security changes that will hopefully ensure no further incidents. But that doesn’t mean restricting access to originals -- Dr. Andrew Scrimgeour, dean of the library, makes a point worth sharing, “...The care of special material is an essential trust, but it should not preclude the singular delight that only comes in working with the special volume--seeing its size, feeling its heft, turning the pages, smelling its aroma, inspecting the watermarks, reveling in the binding, illustrations, and illumination, and enjoying the perfection of ink on paper. That experience should remain the hallmark of special collections of Drew University.” 
So reported the New York Times today, the London-based auction house that bills itself as the leading auctioneer of books and manuscripts is in limbo. From the short article:

Rupert Powell, the company’s deputy chairman, said in an interview that the branch was not closing. “We’re just having a strategic review about what we decide to do,” he said, adding, “I can’t really give you any more clues.” [Read More]
No upcoming sales are listed on Bloomsbury’s online calendar.
It’s no secret that the state of many small-town and county archives (and even many small colleges) is dire. The Society of American Archivists made lemonade of out lemons when it announced on Wednesday the winner of its “Worst Archives” contest: The Houston County Archives in Tennessee. According to an email sent out by the SAA, “The entries were judged on current storage conditions, funding needs and the urgent action required to preserve the collection.” The winner received a $250 gift certificate from Gaylord, an archival supply company, to make-over its archives.

Runners-up included the Gooding County Historical Society and the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum.
This is the infamous John Gilkey, convicted book thief and subject of last year’s book THE MAN WHO LOVED BOOKS TOO MUCH. According to colleagues Gilkey has been spotted in several shops in the San Francisco Bay area.

800px-PowellsBookstore.jpgTo celebrate the indie bookshops that are still alive, today the Huffington Post posted its readers’ twelve favorite bookstores. Powell’s made the list. So did City Lights and the Strand. Admittedly, I have not been to all twelve of these locations, but I’m surprised not to see the Harvard Bookstore here; it’s one of my all-time favorites. Take a look at the top picks and tell us what YOU think, dear readers!
First editions are the word today in the Wall Street Journal, with our very own Nick Basbanes being featured. It’s a good basic history, noting the ups and downs of first editions at auction, with great interviews. Here’s a snippet:

But while Shakespeare, Audubon and the Gutenberg Bible, which in 1987 netted around $5.4 million, are the top highlights of the trade, prices for most other books are performing reasonably. This may be because “collectors tend to buy the books because they love them, not so much with an eye to investment,” Mr. Sellsey says. “Compared to works of art, which can be displayed, books tend to be a solitary pleasure.” [Read more]

In addition to knowing what titles you’d like to purchase at auction, reading and understanding the auctioneer’s descriptions of the books, and deciding what will be your maximum bid, you’d be well served to understand the terminology of auctions. Formed in 1949, The National Auctioneers Association (NAA) promotes the professionalism of auctioneers and auctions and has a comprehensive glossary here.

For example, if you’re new to buying books at auction, you’ll want to make sure you understand the difference between the hammer price and the buyer’s premium. Go to their site and read it all. It only takes a few minutes and you’ll have a better understanding of some of the vocabulary you’ll hear when you participate in a live auction.

See you in the stacks!

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

Self’s television credits in various executive capacities during the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s included The Twilight Zone, Peyton Place, Daniel Boone, Batman, MASH, some forty-four series alone during a fifteen-year tenure at 20th Century Fox Television, a good number of them as president of the company. Feature length productions included John Wayne’s final film, The Shootist, and Sarah, Plain and Tall, starring Glenn Close, for the Hallmark Hall of Fame.
Click on the links to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series about understanding antiquarian book auctions.

One of the things I always wondered about book auctions is how the auction process works--from a seller who is consigning books to auction to cataloguing and photographing the books, from publicizing the auction to selling the books at the actual auction. Bonhams has created a wonderful series of four videos entitled Anatomy of an Auction related to the December 2 The American Experience: 1630-1890 sale. The videos do an excellent job showing the journey on which an auction house embarks when it receives a consigned collection of books. Each video is approximately seven to ten minutes long and explains what happens when an auction house prepares a collection for sale. Bruce McKinney, the seller of the collection offered on December 2, is interviewed in the fourth video.

If, like me, you also wonder about how the auction process works, I highly recommend watching each of the four videos. Bonus: There are also fascinating glimpses into the history of some of the books that will be offered at the auction.

Click here to watch the videos.

See you in the stacks!
You can read Part 1 of this post here.

I’m writing this series of posts on antiquarian book auctions primarily for those who haven’t spent much time at antiquarian book auctions, including myself. The best way to learn is to do, and, once you’ve done, be willing to share it with others. That’s what I’m trying to do here. If any of you more experienced book collectors or booksellers have some observations to add about auctions, please do so in the comment box below. I’m going to learn what I can from a very transparent auction: the upcoming The American Experience: 1630-1890 auction at Bonhams in New York on December 2. Even if you’re a very experienced collector or bookseller, there’s much to be learned in this auction, where all of the acquisition information, including price originally paid by the collection’s current owner, Bruce McKinney, is included in the auction catalogue.

If you haven’t already done so, you can access the online version of the catalogue here. One of the many high-spots offered for sale include landmarks of history, such as the first printing (1783) of the Treaty of Paris, when the United States is finally acknowledged as a free and independent nation. Other treasures offered for sale feature exquisite illustrations of the American environment and people: Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America, Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, and several works about the American Indians by George Catlin.
Turn down your volume and buckle your seat belt. FocusFeatures just released the official trailer for one action-packed version of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. But I’ll be waiting with ticket in hand, March 2011.

BookdealerMagCover.pngAs some of you may already be painfully aware, the UK book collector’s magazine, Bookdealer, announced that it is suspending publication for the near future. Coming fast on the heels of the closure of Book and Magazine Collector last month, and Rare before that, it seems Britain is bereft of bibliophiles.

Stephen Maughan, who writes regularly for Bookdealer and also contributes to FB&C, told me Monday that he doesn’t think that’s the case. He wrote, “As far as book collecting in the UK, I would say it was in a pretty healthy state.The internet is a challenge for magazines and collectors tend to go to Abebooks rather than the listed dealers in these mags. But, saying that, the “news” was often far better and up to date in Bookdealer than online.”

Bookdealer changed hands in the past year, and Richard Sawyer is now the editor there. He has expressed to his writers that he is trying to find a way to move forward and resume publication in early 2011. On the magazine’s website, a posted message from Sawyer asserted, “Talks are already taking place with another publishing concern and it is hoped that the above will be only a temporary measure. A letter will be sent to our subscribers and regular advertisers later in the month.”

I love a well-illustrated book.

Judging from the prices that well-illustrated books often fetch at auction, I am not alone.

0142302260.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg Is it not curious, then, that there are so few museums devoted to the art of illustration? Sure, lots of museums mount the occasional exhibition, but you can count on one hand the museums that are devoted specifically and exclusively to the art of illustration. There’s the National Museum of American Illustration (Newport, RI). There’s the Museum of American Illustration affiliated with the Society of Illustrators (New York City). There’s the Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge, MA). There’s The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (Amherst, MA). And coming in 2012 ... finally! ... the House of Illustration in London.

Did I overlook any...?

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

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

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

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal posted an article on the five best books about book collecting. I think FB&C readers can easily guess who’s at the top? Nick Basbanes, for A Gentle Madness! The article was written by Allison Hoover Bartlett, author of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. She also chose titles by Larry McMurtry and Rick Gekoski. Check it out!

Nick has written several amazing books since then -- see them here, and here.

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

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

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

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

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

Climate control, computer chips, and closed-circuit cameras: The Vatican Apostolic Library reopened today after a three-year renovation. Before (pictured here the Sistine Hall, courtesy of Wikipedia), and After -- click to see a slideshow of some breathtaking photos of the library’s interiors and treasures, though the captions are terrible (“Old Books are displayed in the reading room,” yes but what is it?!). 
Pat Saine of Blue Plate Books in Winchester, Virginia, got more than he bargained for when a missionary with a box of old books walked into his shop. In the box was a 1881 edition of Jefferson Davis’ history of the confederacy and an 1832 life of George Washington by John Marshall. The books, however, were also stamped as property of the Department of Justice’s Library. After some back and forth with the librarian at the DOJ, it turned out that these books had been missing for so long they weren’t even in the new catalog system, but an older inventory showed that they had never been withdrawn. Where did they come from? The seller, Robert Cole, had been given them by a widow whose husband told her he found them in the trash sometime in the mid-sixties.

Amazing finds in the trash -- it’s a story that gets recycled every so often. I asked Pat to tell me more about his adventure with these books and how he helped reunite them with the DOJ Library. Here’s what he wrote:

In general, people come to my store store with their books to sell. Often people are moving, cleaning off their shelves to make room for more books, or finding a good home for books from a relative who passed away. Sometimes there is a story involved: with this batch of books the gentleman was selling them to raise money for a church mission trip to Romania.

In general, as a used book dealer I don’t deal in ex-library books. The reason I turn library books away, besides the poor condition, is that I don’t want to encourage people removing items from libraries as a moneymaking venture. In this particular instance, I recognized these books as from a rare book room, from the Department of Justice Library, and not withdrawn or deaccessioned. I researched the Department of Justice Library - who was not publicly accessible on the web. So I contacted the Library of Congress and briefly described the issue and they steered me to a contact in the Department of Justice Library. They did a significant amount of research, checking previous catalogs and asking me to describe specifically how the articles were stamped and marked so that they could determine when and how the books could have left the library. Many conversations and e-mails later, they determined that these particular books were indeed missing from the library.

Is it plausible that the books were found in the trash? I do believe the story of the person in possession of the books: he says that he obtained them from a widow, who in turn was left them by her husband. How did her husband get ahold of them? He’s passed away, so I’ll leave it to thriller writers to conjecture.

Good idea! To read more, see “Justice Served” from Saine’s local paper, the Winchester Star.  

Yesterday Sotheby’s London announced some of the high spots of its December sale of Lord Hesketh’s high spots. Audubon’s Birds of America, the first folio of Shakespeare, William Caxton’s Polychronicon, letters signed by Queen Elizabeth I, and original drawings from Redoute’s Les Roses. From the press release: “The majority of the works in the sale were acquired by Frederick, 2nd Baron Hesketh (1916-1955), who bought them in a golden age of book collecting, when, paradoxically, great rarities seemed almost commonplace.” There’s also a nice write-up in the Guardian (“World’s most expensive book comes up for sale”) in which it is estimated that the sale will bring in a total of 8 million-10 million pounds ($12-15 million).  
oed.jpgLast week, Oxford University Press announced that the upcoming third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will only go to press “if there is enough demand for the printed volume when it becomes ready,” reported the AP. Otherwise, it shall dwell somewhere in the Internet ether. Lest you think that I’m going to write its obit. here (there’s a lovely one on the New Yorker blog already), I’m merely positing a question: is the OED now a collectible? Dictionaries are quite desirable -- in our current summer quarterly, we interview author Ammon Shea about his lexicography collection (he found a 1933 OED set for $200 at a used bookstore), and several years back, Nick Basbanes wrote a profile of dictionary collector Breon Mitchell. 
Andrew_Haswell_Green.jpgThe Boston Globe ran a great preview of a big auction coming up this week in Worcester, Massachusetts. The four-day sale, beginning on Sept. 9, will disperse the collection of Andrew H. Green (pictured here), born in Worcester in 1820, but who became known as the “father of greater New York” for his achievements as a city planner and civic leader. Among the 2,000+ lots containing dolls, games, silver, paper money, stamps, coins, and paintings, are early presidential letters and a copy of Washington’s will printed by Isaiah Thomas in 1800. Auctioneer R.W. Oliver has all of the catalogues online for perusal. As the article in the Globe points out, “From Green’s death in 1903 until 2009, virtually none of the items had ever been uncrated and examined. Packing boxes sealed more than a century ago were opened only after the death last summer of Julia Green, his great-great-grandniece and distant heiress.” So these items are on the block for the first time in more than a century, if ever. It certainly fuels the fantasy that great books, documents, and collectibles are still hidden in attics, waiting for us to find them. 
For the last couple of weeks, the booktryst blog has been running a series of moving tributes to a legendary California bookseller under the collective heading, “A Wake for the Still Alive: Peter B. Howard.” People who either don’t know Peter or who have never been to Serendipity Books might reasonably regard this as audacious at best, but since everything about Peter is completely honest and candid, it is very much in character. For a case in point, just take a look at his no-nonsense website. “If you’re in Berkeley, California, feel free to come in and browse,” he writes. “We are usually friendly.”
The highly-respected English novelist A.S. Byatt says that women who write industrial-strength fiction are treated by critics as oddities, “like a dog standing on its hind legs.”

Byatt said this while firmly standing on the only two legs she has as she addressed the Edinburgh international book festival this week, accepting the James Tait Black memorial prize for her novel, “The Children’s Book.” Previous recipients of this literary award, Britain’s oldest, include D.H. Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.

POTUS Seen Buying Books

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

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

This bookstore was also a favorite of Bill Clinton, for whom the bookstore was closed with whatever customers were inside unable to leave or any new customers permitted to enter by the Secret Service. We must presume that a similar protocol was observed today with the current POTUS.
A few days ago, this story popped up in the AP about a trove of nineteenth-century architectural drawings of Central Park features and other public spaces in New York City. It seems that a New Jersey real estate broker named Sam Buckley, who inherited the documents from his father, recently placed many of them with Christie’s for an upcoming sale. Buckley said his father told him he found them in a city dumpster sometime before 1960. Now seen as priceless city archives, “The city asked a court to order the drawings turned over or award at least $1 million in damages” reported the AP. My reaction to that is, “What?!” I would love to hear what our readers think.

Bethesda Fountain and Terrace in NYC’s Central Park. Drawings of these features by
architect Jacob Wrey Mould are the subject of legal wrangling. Credit: Alonso Javier Torres. 

Incidentally, in this month’s digital edition, I reviewed David Howard’s new book, Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic which touches upon the same issues. How can anyone determine how an historic document was acquired 50 or 150 years ago? How much time can pass before cities, states, or governments are no longer able to make ownership claims? Particularly if they never attempted to get to back (e.g. in North Carolina), or never even knew it existed (e.g. in New York), or discarded it back in the days when ‘institutional archives’ were attics and basements with poor security and little professionalism.  

You may soon have an opportunity to purchase America’s largest collection of books. The asking price will be steep and you will have to compete with one of Forbes’ “400 Richest Americans.”

Barnes and Noble announced on August 3rd that it is thinking of selling itself. Why? The push may be coming from billionaire Ron Burkle, who likes to buy and sell supermarket chains and is part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s been acquiring stock in Barnes and Noble since 2008, although he is not a majority shareholder.

Most discussions about bookstores eventually head down one conversational aisle: e-books. Burkle is convinced that Barnes and Noble should become - wait for it - a consumer electronics company.  He doesn’t just mean that Barnes and Noble’s e-book reader, NOOK, should compete more heavily with Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, he feels that Barnes and Noble stores should go all out and become a retailing hydra: selling books, e-book readers and consumer electronics products from Hewlett-Packard. (Think Apple Stores with “Twilight” and Dan Brown novels over near the restroom.)

Burkle has been involved in a nasty proxy lawsuit with the Barnes and Noble board. The Delaware judge overseeing the fight, Vice Chancellor Leo Strine, struck down Burkle’s suit, writing in his ruling, “At bottom, Yucaipa is simply positioning an absurd scenario at best fit for a discussion by a Red Bull fueled group of nerdy second year law school corporate law junkies, who find themselves dateless (big surprise) on yet another Saturday night.”

Ouch.  Talk about being kicked in the nook.

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

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

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

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

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

What an epitaph. And what a bookman.

_48571321_44824056.jpgThe BBC reports today that Raymond Scott, who stole a first folio from Durham University in 1998, has been sentenced to eight years in prison. Said Judge Richard Lowden to Scott: “It would be regarded by many as priceless but to you it was definitely at a very big price and you went to very great lengths for that price. Your motivation was for financial gain. You wanted to fund an extremely ludicrous playboy lifestyle in order to impress a woman you met in Cuba.” Two years were tacked onto the six-year sentence for taking the stolen property out of Britain.

In this strange case, it’s not so much the theft that galls, book theft has been going on for centuries and is not likely to subside. It’s the fact that Scott mutilated the volume. The BBC reported the damage last month. Scott had removed the goat binding and cut the cords on the spine in an effort to disguise the book’s provenance. Some pages are also missing, including the frontispiece engraving of the Bard. 
I am forever fascinated by bibliophiles who go beyond focusing their energy and resources on the collected works of one author to acquiring as many different copies as they can of a single book, oftentimes to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. In A Splendor of Letters I wrote about a collection at the University of Virginia of 400 copies of Lucile, a romantic novel in verse published between 1860 and 1927 in numerous editions, many of them illustrated, and wildly popular in its day, but now virtually forgotten, and the author, Owen Meredith (pseudonym of the poet and statesman Edward Robert Bulwer), a mere footnote in literary history. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, give this most entertaining article a look; very nicely done indee

Safety deposit boxes in Switzerland.  The crushing weight of bureuacracy.  A long disputed will.  The makings of a Kafka story?  No, just all part of the ongoing saga to release a huge chunk of Kafka’s unpublished writings to the public.

Ten safety deposit boxes full of never-before-seen Kafka manuscripts are trapped in an ongoing trial over disputed ownership.  On one side are two elderly Israeli women who claim to have inherited the manuscripts from their mother.  On the other side is the Israeli National Library who claim the manuscripts should have passed to them.  And in the middle lies a treasure trove of Kafka writings, of untold cultural and monetary value.

A quick summary of the dispute: Kafka dies in 1924.  In his will, he bequeaths his writings to his friend and publisher, Max Brod, instructing him to burn everything unread.  Brod ignores this wish and publishes most of Kafka’s manuscripts anyway, including “The Castle” and “The Trial.”  Brod flees the Nazis and smuggles the remainder of the manuscripts with him into pre-state Israel.  There he dies in 1968, passing on his literary estate to his personal secretary, Esther Hoffe, and instructing her to leave Kafka’s writings to an institution.  Hoffe ignores Brod’s wishes; sells off a few of Kafka’s writings including the original of “The Trial” which sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby’s in 1988.  Hoffe died three years later, leaving the remainder of the papers to her daughters Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler.  The Israeli National Library files an injunction against the execution of Hoffe’s will, claiming the collection should have gone to them.  Finally, a year ago, the Tel Aviv court orders the papers to be examined before making its decision about the case.  And here we are today, with literary experts in two cities examining the contents and a court ruling only a few weeks away.

Kafkaesque indeed.

For more of the story, see the AP article.

Today, the University of South Carolina dedicated its new $18-million, 50,000-square-foot Hollings Library, which will house the university’s S.C. Political Collections, as well as the Irwin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and Digital Collections. Senator Ernest F. Hollings helped the university secure $14 million in federal funds for the LEED Gold building. What’s inside? A vault containing a rare 1699 state charter and numerous first editions. It also contains a Zeutschal scanner -- the only one in the U.S., according to the USC Office of Media Relations. The Zeutschal is a large format scanner that allows library staff to scan folios, maps, and other oversized material. To read more about the state-of-the-art library, see The State. Vice-President Joe Biden (personal friend of Sen. Hollings) was on hand at today’s dedication.

Take a peek inside the new library:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cabs1984.jpgI’ve recently had occasion to gather and read several decades of old AB Bookman’s Weekly’s and AB Yearbooks (more on this in another post). But last night I came across the ad to the left (click for full view) from 1984’s AB Yearbook and was reminded that in only about five weeks, dozens of booksellers (with the occasional collector and librarian) will gather again in Colorado Springs for the annual Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, also known colloquially as “bootcamp for booksellers.” The Seminar has been held continuously for the past 32 years and provides “an opportunity for leading specialists to share their expertise and experience [...] in a comprehensive survey of the rare book market, both antiquarian and modern.” For those wanting more details, a list of highlights as well as a schedule of this year’s events and topics can be found on the Seminar’s (recently redesigned) website. Perhaps even better however, of the Seminar’s more than 2000 graduates, many over the last few years have shared their experiences online. From fellow FB&C blogger Chris Lowenstein’s ringing endorsements to day-by-day wraps-ups of the last two years, there are numerous accounts of Seminar experiences from many points-of-view, and as far as I can tell, all overwhelmingly positive.

I attended in 2006, and as I have written several times in different places, it was quite simply the best thing I ever did for my business:

It is no exaggeration to say that the Seminar easily saved me two or three years of effort and learning on my own. Between the advice given, information bestowed, contacts made, and inspiration received it is an investment in time and money well worth making. Indeed, in the years since I attended I have made back what I spent on my trip many times over simply through the books I’ve sold to people whom I met via the Seminars. 

In other words, the Seminar is well worth the expense of attending. And then some.

But while it’s true the Seminar was the best thing I ever did for my business, it is perhaps even more true that it was quite simply one of the most enjoyable week’s of my life. I have rarely laughed harder or had a better time than I did in Colorado. I made close friends I have kept to this day. And it was a joy to be among so many people who share the same -- rather esoteric -- passion.

So go. It’s not too late to register. Go to make more money (if you’re a bookseller). Go to deepen your knowledge and appreciation of books and their history. Go to make friends with people who love books as much as you do. Go to learn from some of the best in the business. Seriously, just go.
About two weeks ago I received a mailer from Bonhams to promote its June 23rd Fine Books & Manuscripts sale. I was intrigued to see Dard Hunter’s Papermaking by Hand in America (1950) as a featured item, with an estimate of $5,000-8,000. The sale also included a number of other Dard Hunter titles. Dard is a fascinating figure in the history of American printing, and FB&C readers may recall an excellent piece Karen Edwards wrote for us back in March (text online).

erez.jpgWhen the results came in today, I was blown away by the numbers. Papermaking by Hand... (1950) went for a paltry $854 -- what a steal! On the other hand, one of his more obscure titles, Chinese Ceremonial Papers, printed at the Mountain House in 1937, brought in $4,575. Old Papermaking (1923) also did well, for $4,270. But Dard’s first solo printing/publishing project, The Etching of Figures, (on which Edwards wrote, “Although Hunter didn’t write the book--William Bradley was the author--it’s still recognized today as the world’s first one-man book.”) left Bonhams for $244. That stings. Some lots went unsold, including this lovely signed limited edition put together by Dard Hunter II: The Life Work of Dard Hunter: A Progressive Illustrated Assemblage of his Works as Artist, Craftsman, Author, Papermaker, and Printer. Chillicothe, Ohio: Mountain House Press, 1981-83. It had an estimate of $6,000-9,000.
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