Eagle-eyed readers may recall our story back in April about a Kickstarter-funded biography on William Addison Dwiggins, that twentieth-century book designer who coined the term “graphic design” back in the 1920s.                                                                                                                                                                   

The inaugural project for Letterform Archive ultimately received $171,574, sailing past its fundraising goal of $50,000. As of November 21, the book was in its final proofing stage and will be on the press before the year is out. Proofing the book is no small task: over 1,000 images pepper the book, but author-designer Bruce Kennett and his team are dedicated to “producing a printed image that comes as close as the real thing,” with a secondary goal of setting a new bar for subsequent Archive publications.


                                                                                                                                                                                       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.

Of the 1,059 backers, a lucky few pledged enough to earn a deluxe edition of the biography, bound with a leather spine and gold foil-stamped lettering by master calligrapher Richard Lipton. Order fulfillment of the regular edition is slated for early January, which may disappoint backers who hoped to have their copy in time for the holidays, but fear not, Kennett and the Letterform Archive team are sure you will find the results worth the wait.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Image courtesy of the Letterform Archive

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

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

Image courtesy of Doyle

Guest Post by Catherine Batac Walder

Nearly a month since its opening, we finally got to see Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library in London. I’ve seen some of the items on the internet before (e.g., J.K. Rowling’s original sketches on Pottermore) and heard the quotes from past interviews with the author, but it was of course extraordinary to see the objects from her collection in person. This is the first major exhibition that explores the rich and diverse qualities of her stories, in relation to traditions of folklore and magic. There was a video of Rowling shown in which she said that that she invented 90-95% of the magic in the Potter books; the exhibit gives us an idea of the kind of research she would have done in creating Harry’s world.

harry-potter-ripley-scroll copy.jpgA room with books that looked as though they were suspended in the air was a fitting entrance to the exhibition that was divided into the following sections: The Journey, Potions, Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Past, Present, Future. The Harry Potter Studio Tour in London explores the films, but this BL exhibit is for the fans of the books and is definitely geared towards older fans. My seven-year-old kept herself busy jotting down answers in the Family Trail booklet (why she’s interested in “how to make potions to gain admirers” is beyond me), but I couldn’t make her marvel at Rowling’s original sketches or the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” manuscript annotated by the author and her editor. Typed pages, unedited, of different early versions of the books didn’t excite her, either. I showed her Rowling’s detailed map of Hogwarts with the giant squid that lives in the lake and this was at least met with a little bit of interest. But I have a feeling that those notes and drawings on table napkins and crumpled scraps of paper left a mark on my daughter, of how there’s no limit to our creativity and how important it is to record our thoughts the moment they strike us, before we lose them. Together we looked at Rowling’s drawing of the “opening to Diagon Alley in six stages”--the author draws rather well, I realized, and this served her well in bringing to life her imagination through visual images. “I try to be meticulous and make sure that everything operates according to laws, however odd, so that everyone understands exactly how and why,” she once said in an interview.

One item that I found interesting was an apothecary’s sign featuring a handsome unicorn that would have stood outside a shop in the 1700s. Then there was Bald’s Leechbook, “an attempt to incorporate everything that is known about medicine from the Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean world.” Another big, conspicuous item on display is the Battersea Cauldron found in the Thames at Battersea in 1861 (pictured below). There is also the “Oldest Atlas of the Night Sky” (China, c. AD 700) and the “Ripley Scroll,” a 16th-century alchemical manuscript that describes how to make the Philosopher’s Stone (pictured above). I had to check carefully to see if that was the authentic 15th-century tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, and indeed it was, on loan from Musée de Cluny in Paris. There were also playing cards, crystal balls, Chinese oracle bones, a fortune telling teacup, a broomstick, tea leaves, and the list goes on and on: a history of magic all in one place.

harry-potter-battersea-cauldron copy.jpgJim Kay’s paintings and sketches were a joy to behold. He had this intricate drawing of a greenhouse and clearly, he drew that not just as an artist but also as someone who once worked at Kew Gardens. There was a five-minute film showing him at work at his small studio in the back of his house. He’s got a small garden but he gets inspired by anything in it, a line or a color, and he goes back to the studio thinking that might work and he has a go at it. He would sometimes call upon personal experience when completing a work, such as he did for his drawings of the shops along Diagon Alley.

harry-potter-mandrake-being-pulled-out-by-a-dog copy.jpgBefore visiting, my only advice is to make sure you’ve eaten as you could easily stay for three hours, and there is just a lot of things to digest. Blame it on my headache (due to lack of proper food), but there was just so much information that, in the end, I couldn’t distinguish reality from fantasy anymore. Consider this text about a mandrake, “The best way to obtain the plant safely was to unearth its roots with an ivory stake, attaching one end of a cord to the mandrake and the other to a dog. The dog could be encouraged to move forward by blowing a horn, dragging the mandrake with it. The sound of the horn would also serve to drown out the plant’s terrible shriek,” from Giovanni Cadamosto’s Illustrated Herbal (Italy or Germany, 15th century). If this information is from a nonfiction book, surely it must be real, right? And in one glass case, the Invisibility Cloak from a “Private Lender” was on display, too, so I couldn’t have been the only one dreaming this up.

The last room in the exhibit, “Past, Present, Future,” showed several pieces including an annotated first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone auctioned for charity and the Harry Potter and The Cursed Child Model Box that was used by the creative team of the West End production. I liked this room as it’s a testimony to the growing world of Harry Potter, and to us fans it is such comfort that there will be books within books, and that the stories will never end, even after all fantastic beasts are found.

We concluded our Harry Potter day out by visiting St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel just across the road from the British Library, the impressive building seen in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and Ron missed their train to Hogwarts and took the flying Ford Anglia. Nearby is King’s Cross Station where the trolley and Platform 9 ¾ could be found.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a writer who lives in the UK. She has contributed several posts from abroad over the years, most recently: “Q & A with Harry Potter Anniversary Edition Illustrator Levi Pinfold,” and “Sitting With Jane: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Life in Hampshire.” Find her at: http://gaslighthouse.blogspot.com.

Image credits: The Ripley Scroll, England, 16th century (c) British Library Board; Battersea Cauldron, on loan from Trustees of the British Museum.©Trustees of the British Museum; A mandrake being pulled out by a dog, in Giovanni Cadamosto, Herbal (c) British Library Board.

Lincoln Letter and Mallet Go to Auction

Lincoln_autograph letter.jpg

With the holiday season comes the winter auctions, and Christie’s December 5 books and manuscripts sale in New York is full of exquisite stocking stuffers for the collectors on your list. Among the items up for bid is a letter written in 1858 by Abraham Lincoln, at the time the Republican candidate for the United States Senate. Lincoln composed the letter in preparation for seven forthcoming debates with Democratic incumbent Stephen Douglas. (In 1858, senators were elected by state legislatures and these debates helped sway the Illinois General Assembly.) Addressed to fellow attorney Henry Asbury,
the letter outlines how Lincoln intended to debate whether a territory had the right to exclude slavery even in the wake of the Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court case stating that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in U.S. territories. 

A recent convert to the Republican party after the collapse of the Whigs, Asbury had previously written to Lincoln on July 28 with suggestions for the second of seven debates with Douglas. “Do not let him [Douglas] dodge here,” exhorted Douglas. Lincoln’s response, dated July 31, agrees with Asbury’s tactic to force Douglas to clarify his position on slavery, which in turn alienated Douglas from southern voters.

Though Lincoln lost his senate bid, the debates catapulted him into the national political consciousness. The resulting splintering of the Democratic Party gave Lincoln the necessary majority votes to become America’s sixteenth president in 1860.

Pre-sale estimates on this document fall between $500,000-700,000.

Offered in the same auction: a wooden bench mallet bearing the initials “A.L.” that is believed to be the earliest artifact belonging to Lincoln in a private collection. Fashioned from a broken rail-splitting maul, Lincoln used the mallet when he lived in Pigeon Creek, Indiana, from 1816 through 1830. The maul is crafted from a cherry wood burl with a hickory handle. The mallet came into possession of Lincoln’s Pigeon Creek neighbor, Barnabas Carter, Jr. in 1829 or 1830, and has remained in the family until now. Pre-sale estimates range from $300,000-500,000.Lincoln_mallet_v1.jpg

Images courtesy of Christie’s

FBC2018winterCV1-no-barcode.jpgMost subscribers have already received--or will very soon receive--our winter issue, which, you can tell from the spine-chilling cover, celebrates the forthcoming 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published in January 1818. Our feature focuses on a fascinating aspect of the book’s bicentennial--how universities and museums are looking at the novel through various scientific, technological, and medical lenses. Examples include Arizona State University’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, Stanford University’s Frankenstein@200, and the Rosenbach’s current exhibition, Frankenstein & Dracula: Gothic Monsters/Modern Science.  

It was this last one, on view in Philadelphia through February 11, that came to mind when I noticed that both the 1831 Frankenstein (the first one-volume edition, first illustrated, and first to carry Shelley’s name) and a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) were among the top lots at Swann Galleries’ literature auction on November 14.

249_1 copy.jpgIt seems that both “monsterpieces” are alive and well, at least in book collecting circles. Both sold to collectors--the Shelley (pictured above) for $5,000, and the Stoker (below) for $12,500.

268_1 copy.jpgThere are sure to be many more events and opportunities for revisiting the wrenching story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster throughout 2018. Notably, the theme of this year’s California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena will be--you guessed it--Frankenstein!

Book images: Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries  

National Book Award Winners 2017

Happy after-Thanksgiving! Looking for something to read? Why not choose from the recently minted National Book Award winners. Jesmyn Ward took home the ficion award for Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner/Simon & Schuster). This is the second time Ward’s writing has been recognzied by the National Book Foundation; her Salvage the Bones won in 2011. Sing, Unburied, Sing explores the life if a young boy raised by his grandparents in Mississippi and how he navigates the gritty path into adulthood.                                                

Masha Gessen won the nonfiction prize for The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House). A Russian-American journalist, Gessen explores how the return of totalitarinism impacts the lives of four Russians.                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                                                                   Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart won for poetry (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux), and Robin Benway’s Far from the Tree was recognized as the winner for young people’s literature.                           

                                                                                                                                                                                              Recoginzed for her contribution to American letters, Annie Proulx said in her acceptance speech that though we may live in troubled times, it’s great books like those recognized by the National Book Foundation that give us hope for the future.                                                                                                                     

A complete list of winners and finalists may be found here

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

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

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

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

If your travels take you to Massachusetts now through the new year, be sure to add the Concord Museum to your itinerary and check out the 22nd annual Family Trees: A Celebration of Children’s Literature. Thirty-seven decorated trees fill the museum, each inspired by classic and contemporary children’s literature.


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Moving Books Press founder and children’s book author D. B. Johnson is serving as this year’s honorary chairperson. Johnson’s first book, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, was inspired by fellow Concord resident Henry David Thoreau.

Family Trees is an all-volunteer effort and routinely attracts families from throughout the Boston area. Admission is $8 for children over five, $10 for adults. Additional programming includes crafts, photos with Santa, and readalouds with D. B. Johnson and Dragons Love Tacos author Adam Rubin. Full details may be found here.

Image courtesy of the Concord Museum

With the holiday season fast upon us, we have already posted our shortlist of bookish gift ideas, which includes five recently published books about books worthy of your attention. Today, we’re going to add five just-released titles to our list, any one of which would make a terrific holiday gift for you or some bibliophile you love.

Illustrated DJ.jpgThe Illustrated Dust Jacket: 1920-1970 (Thames & Hudson, $39.95) by Martin Salisbury is a history of dust jackets, certainly a favorite topic among book collectors of modern first editions. Lushly illustrated (371 illustrations, according to the publisher), Salisbury’s exciting visual history showcases the work of Edward Gorey, Vanessa Bell, Alvin Lustig, and many others. A selection of favorites can be seen here.

Bookshops-cover.jpgBookshops: A Reader’s History (Biblioasis, $24.95) by Jorge Carrión welcomes the reader into the world’s bookshops in a series of meditative essays based on his travels; Carrión was a bibliotourist before that was a thing. Recalling a 2002 trip to Antiquos Libros Modernos in Buenos Aires, he writes, “Touching old books is one of the few tactile experiences that can connect you to a distant past.” This is the ideal read for a cozy weekend trip.    

Purcell.jpgThe Country House Library (Yale University Press, $55) by Mark Purcell is a beautiful volume, sumptuously illustrated with photos of private library interiors as well as close-ups of the books, manuscripts, and objects they contain. Purcell, the deputy director of Cambridge University Library, provides erudite commentary as he takes us into these grand rooms. If you combined Downton Abbey with books about books, this would be the delightful result.    

Joseph Banks' Florilegium 9780500519363.jpgJoseph Banks’ Florilegium (Thames & Hudson, $85), with texts by Mel Gooding, David Mabberley, and Joe Studholme, is impressive: a folio-sized, full-color publication of eighteenth-century botanical prints initially commissioned by Banks upon his return from Captain Cook’s first sail around the world. If you have a penchant for botany, voyages, and travel, this is your perfect storm.  

Steffens F17 Unpacking.jpgUnpacking My Library: Artists and Their Books (Yale University Press, $20), edited by Jo Steffens and Matthias Neumann, follows on the heels of two others in the Unpacking series: Architects and Their Books, and Writers and Their Books. The photos--wide shots and shelfies--offer a peek into the libraries of ten contemporary artists and are accompanied by engaging interviews. Personal favorites: the pic of Theaster Gates’ library, and reading about Ed Ruscha’s collection of fore-edge paintings.

Images courtesy of the publishers


Digital publishing has made enormous strides in recent years, upending the traditional book industry while also democratizing the process of book creation. According to an Amazon representative interviewed by New York Times reporter Alexandra Alter, nearly one third of all bestselling e-books on Amazon are self-published (though what “bestselling” means these days is nebulous and doesn’t necessarily translate into authors striking it rich).

In any event, the digital medium is here and has forever changed the way readers consume books. Until now, the domain of art books has remained relatively unscathed by the revolution. That appears to be changing: London-based startup Volume recently partnered up with independent UK publisher Thames & Hudson to create the first online publishing platform for high-quality illustrated physical books. Volume’s co-founder, Lucas Dietrich, is also the international editorial director at Thames & Hudson.

To fund each project, Volume hosts campaigns similar to Kickstarter. If the pledge goal is met on time, the project moves forward, and pledges are refunded if the project does not meet its fundraising target. Like other crowdsourcing ventures, Volume is offering rewards for backers at various monetary levels.

Appropriately, Volume’s inaugural title, a journey through the world of printed matter, is Look & See by master designer and letterpress expert Anthony Burrill. As of today, the project has 103 backers who have raised nearly $5,000 towards their ultimate goal of $50,000. A minimum pledge of $20 nets the investor a copy of the book, while $650 gets you a day in the studio with Burrill, plus other typographic goodies.

Considering that many art books on Thames & Hudson’s website range from $25 and up, crowdfunding an art book is not exactly a bargain, though that doesn’t seem to be Volume’s intention, either. Co-founder Darren Wall says that, “The flexibility and reach Volume will offer authors is unprecedented, from interaction with communities established around single book projects to exciting new production methods that would simply be beyond the capacity of most publishers.” Future projects include a reissue of an art book on Brutalism, work by designers John Maeda and Takenobu Igarashi, and a retrospective on video games.



Auction Guide