Another very busy week in the book-auction world:


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


Image credit: Sotheby’s

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

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


Matthew Raptis.jpg


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


How many books are in your collection?

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


What was the first book you bought for your collection?

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


How about the most recent book?

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


And your favorite book in your collection?

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


Best bargain you’ve found?

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


How about The One that Got Away?

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


What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

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


Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite a busy auction week coming up:


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


Image credit: Sotheby’s

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




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

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




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


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


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


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


Photo credit: Nile Scott Shots

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


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


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


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


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


Image credit: Swann Galleries

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


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


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


2. What do you study at University?


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


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


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


4. How many books are in your collection?


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


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


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


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


6. How about the most recent book?


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


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


7. And your favorite book in your collection?


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


8. Best bargain you’ve found?


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


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


9. How about The One that Got Away?


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


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


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


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


11. Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?


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


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


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

[Image provided by Jessica Jordan]


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

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

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

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

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

In fiction, we have two suggestions:

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

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

Images courtesy of the publishers

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