Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Sherese Francis, of Queens, NYC, who collects literary material from southeast Queens and makes her collection available to others through the J. Expressions mobile library. Francis recently won an honorable mention for her collection in the Honey & Wax book collecting contest.
Where are you from / where do you live? 

I live in Hollis, Queens in New York City.

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

I created my own major at Baruch College, which is part of the City University of New York. It was a combined major of music and journalism/creative writing. I believe I called it Words and Music: From Songwriting to Journalism. I originally was interested in music journalism and possibly being a song lyricist. 

I am currently a freelance writer, author, blogger, workshop facilitator, and literary curator. I know that a lot! Haha! My blog is Futuristically Ancient, which is an afrofuturism-inspired blog, exploring the arts and cultures of the African Diaspora through that lens. I recently published my first chapbook of poetry called Lucy’s Bone Scrolls and I facilitate workshops throughout the city. And of course, I run my J. Expressions popup bookshop/mobile library project.

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

My book collection, which is the J. Expressions mobile library, is books and other literary materials from authors and writers who either currently live or use to live in Southeast Queens, NYC area, where I was raised and live now. I have fiction, poetry, non-fiction, zines, letterpress, and handmade books in the collection. 

How many books are in your collection? 

I have 24 “official” books (which includes zines and a magazine) and about 15 of my own handmade books. 

What was the first book you bought for your collection? 

I’ve had some of the books before I officially started the collection. I believe the first book I bought that is in the collection is artist Danny Simmons’ book of poetry and art called, “I Dreamed My People Were Calling But I Couldn’t Find My Way Home.”

How about the most recent book? 

The most recent is Cheryl Boyce Taylor’s collection of poetry, “Arrival.”

And your favorite book in your collection? 

I would say my favorites are Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s two books, “Dear Continuum” and “Karma’s Footsteps” because she inspires me as a fellow poet and writer.

Best bargain you’ve found? 

When I found out that my friend and artist Damali Abrams had her own poetry book and zine, and she kindly donated them to me to add to my collection.
How about The One that Got Away? 

I had wanted to get a copy of Desiree C. Bailey’s chapbook In Dirt or Saltwater, which was published by O’Clock Press, but by the time I got around to being able to purchase it, it was already sold out. That was a bummer. 

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection? 

The Holy Grail for my collection would be for me to have an official organization and space to house and showcase this collection in my neighborhood, and use it as a launching pad to grow the community here in Southeast Queens. Places like the Schomburg Center inspire me because it’s a library and cultural center where you can learn so much about black history through the diaspora and history of the Harlem neighborhood. I want something similar for my community. 

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore? 

Sadly there’s not any bookstores in my local community and few in the borough of Queens. There use to be a Barnes and Noble that I would go to in Forest Hills but that closed. So, I travel to various bookstores throughout the city. I would say a couple of my favorites are Bluestockings in the Lower East Side and Sisters Uptown Bookstore in Washington Heights. I like grassroots, community-centered spaces like these and they inspire me to possibly one day create my own. 

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

Since I love music, especially older music styles, like funk music, I would probably start a record album collection. I love the artistry on a lot of the older album covers and as a writer who does ekphrastic writing (writing inspired by visual art and objects), they would be inspiring to have around. 

Images courtesy of Sherese Francis

Bookseller Martin Stone, regarded as one of the best book hunters (and guitar players) in modern memory, died nearly a year ago now, but his legend clearly lives on.

                                                                                                                                                              Last week, Booktryst announced its publication of a fine press festschrift, The Remarkable Martin Stone, published in an edition of 150 with contributions from the likes of Iain Sinclair, Marianne Faithful, and Sylvia Beach Whitman. It is being sold by subscription, to ship in December, and expected to sell out.   

And now, debuting tonight at Ink Fair London is a catalogue of Stone’s French books, 1873-1925 (download the PDF here) offered by UK bookseller Justin Croft. Unlike most book scouts, Stone kept a large stock of books and never offered them on the Internet; much of what he left is, therefore, fresh to the market, unseen since who knows when.  

According to Croft, “These books are the fruit of several decades of Martin Stone’s book hunting through the bookshops, markets, bookfairs and basements of Paris and beyond.”

Needless to say, the books are gorgeous. Here are a few of my favorites:

5822a.jpgA first edition of Edmond Haraucourt’s L’Effort. La Madone. L’Antéchrist. L’Immortalité. La Fin du monde (Paris, 1894). Copy #118 of 180 on papier velin, with elaborate decorative borders and red silk endpapers. Notes the catalogue: “An elaborate bibliophilic project direct by Octave Uzanne in iconic symbolist style: a collection of four stories, each with a different illustrative scheme.” £2,200 ($2,920)

5929.jpgA first edition of Jean Rameau’s first collection, Poèmes fantasques (Paris, 1883), illustrated by A. Gambard. One of 100 copies on japon and signed. £500 ($665).

6164.jpgEdgar Allan Poe’s Une Descente dans le maelstrom, illustrated by Marc Roux (Paris, 1920). An unnumbered copy, one of 450, illustrated with woodcuts printed in color. The endpaper bears an inscription by the artist. £200 ($265)

Images courtesy of Justin Croft Antiquarian Books

Left Bank Books is Back, Online

logostacked.png                                                                                                                                             Left Bank Books is back, but without the brick and mortar setup. Erik DuRon and artist Jess Kuronen recently relaunched the Greenwich Village book hub as an online shop with a curated inventory of vintage, collectible and rare materials. Both worked briefly at the old Left Bank Books before it shuttered in 2016. They kindly answered a few questions recently about the relaunch and what it’s been like to transition to a digital bookstore.                                                                                                                             

Best of luck to the latest incarnation of Left Bank Books--be sure to visit their website here!

                                                                                                                                                                         What made you decide to relaunch online?

Mostly it was a pragmatic decision. We just don’t have the resources yet to open as a brick-and-mortar shop, whereas a website was a scale we could work within creatively at relatively low cost. That said, we want to make the most of it. It’s been an interesting experiment, trying to recreate the experience of browsing in a well-appointed used bookshop. Obviously the tactile element is just irreproducible, but hopefully the moment of serendipity when you discover something really cool you didn’t know you were looking for but then just have to have is there.



What kind of books do you specialize in?

Broadly speaking, books in literature and the arts - antiquarian, modern and contemporary. Jess is an artist and I’m a writer and we’re both interested in process. Our inventory reflects that and is geared towards people in creative professions, for whom books are a resource, personally and professionally. The old Left Bank was very much a hybrid used-and-rare bookshop and we want to maintain that, but for all the well-known reasons the sad reality is there’s just less of a viable space these days for the kind of general used bookshop I grew up frequenting in the city. Still, it’s important to us to be accessible to people who maybe don’t necessarily identify themselves as rare book collectors, in terms of price, but also in terms of selection, and how we present our books. Hopefully the material is fresh, in that it’s not what you expect to find in a rare bookseller’s catalog, or we have something new and insightful to say about it. We want our books to bypass the rational mind that says I don’t have room for one more book and speak directly to your reptilian brain.

How’s business been since the relaunch?

I won’t lie, it’s been slow. When the old shop closed in spring 2016 there was a big outpouring of grief and frustration in the neighborhood, so we were pleased when we announced the relaunch at the show of love we got. But at any given point in the day fewer people are likely to “stop by” a website to see what’s new, and of course you miss the crucial element of handselling that takes place in-person in a real environment. We’ve tried to recreate that online, and do a lot of individualized outreach and personal attention to our customers, but there’s no substitute for street level contact in a neighborhood like the Village, with all its characters and denizens.

You’ve been selling books for two decades, were you ever involved with the old LBB?

Yes, both Jess and I each worked at the old Left Bank for a year, under its third and final owner. I had been working independently from home while attending grad school, after having recently left Bauman Rare Books, where I had been a manager and worked for 14 years. Left Bank had been in existence by that point for 24 years, first as Book Leaves on W. 4th St. under its original owner, then as Left Bank on 8th Avenue under its second owner. It had always struggled, but the city was a kinder if not gentler place then and it managed to get by. By the time we got there, though, the challenges were many. In a sense we were brought in to help with a turnaround, and things were improving, but in the end we ran out of time. That’s why we want to be deliberate now that we’ve revived things under our own steam, and try to get it right. It may be next to impossible, but we want to give it a shot because we think a good used and rare bookshop has an important role to play in the cultural life of a city.

What else should our readers know?

Until we can scrape together financing for an open shop, we’re planning to do pop-ups, bookfairs, digital catalogs, Instagram, etc. People should visit us for updates and keep a lookout.

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

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

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

Looks like this is one that got away!  

Image courtesy of Raab Collection

au revoir.JPGIn 2013, Au revoir là-haut (éditions Albin Michel) by Pierre Lamaitre appeared in French bookstores, a sweeping epic chronicling the lives of two surviving combattants of World War I that enthralled readers and critics alike. The book sold 490,000 copies in 2013, earning Lemaitre the prestigious Prix Goncourt and the Prix Femina. In 2015, it was turned into a graphic novel. (Non-French speakers interested in discovering the book will find it translated as The Great Swindle.) On October 25, the film version hits French theaters. If it’s anything like the book, it’ll be worth seeking out.                                              

Known primarily for his thrillers, Lemaitre took a vastly different literary approach with Au revoir là-haut, choosing instead to examine life in the wake of war while also exploring the sometimes inexplicable bonds of friendship forged during traumatizing events. The story centers around Albert and Edouard, two poilus--the informal term for World War I infantrymen--who soon discover that postwar France can offer nothing to soothe veterans returning from the battlefields with unimaginable physical and emotional traumas. Rejected and excluded by the country they put their lives on the line to save, the unlikely duo turn their bitterness into an audacious scam that exacts sweet, cynical revenge on the country they sacrificed so much to protect.   

                                                                                                                                                                                 “I tried to serve as a sincere and honest intermediary between my contemporaries and those I describe in the book,” Lemaitre said during a 2013 interview with RTL. L’Express book reviewer François Busnel called it a “major existential work, a somber and burning requiem that serves up splendidly effective writing like a punch straight in the face.”                                                                       
The film’s producer Albert Dupontel was a huge fan of the book and envisioned this project along the lines of “a well-executed HBO movie.” (In fact, the $22-million dollar budget for Dupontel’s movie cost roughly the same as the pilot episode of Martin Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire.) 

Though the trailer is not subtitled, it is a tantalizing morsel for what is sure to be a monumental film. A fascinating exploration of a tumultuous moment in history, Au revoir là-haut may very well hit the literary jackpot of being a success both in print and on screen.

Long before Salem’s notorious witch trials in 1692, England experienced its own witchcraft scandal. In 1622, English literary translator Edward Fairfax (c.1580-c.1635) brought to trial six local women following the unexplained and strange illnesses of his three daughters who “spoke of visions and named names” before the youngest died in October 1621. Fairfax wrote up his case in a manuscript titled A Discourse of Witchcrafte as it was Acted in the Family of Mr. Edward Fairfax of Fuistone.    

Witch.jpeg“I present the Xtian Reader a narration of Witchcraft of which I am a Woeful Witness, & so I can best report it, read this without vindicatory passion, & in reading let thy descretion proceed thy judgement.”

A copy of the accusatory manuscript made by eighteenth-century painter and antiquarian Thomas Beckwith will be on exhibit and for sale at INK Fair London next week, offered by Tom Lintern-Mole of Antiquates Fine & Rare Books. It is priced at £7,500 ($10,000). The perfect Halloween treat, you say?  
Fairfax’s legal case (and a second) ultimately collapsed. His manuscript was published under the title Daemonologia in 1882.

Image courtesy of Antiquates.

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

IMG_2609 2.JPGFor the past year and a half I have lived in Hampstead, a village in North London rich in literary history. My local pub, the King William IV has plastered its walls with large framed portraits of living and dead writers and artists it claims as local, from current resident John Le Carré to Agatha Christie, from T. S. Eliot to Katherine Mansfield, all who supposedly for one reason of the other, can be tied to the area. I chose my Hampstead remembering a short visit years ago, when I was touring literary houses all over London, where I had wandered up from the overground train station into Daunt Books, walked into John Keats’s house on Valentine’s Day, and then up Hampstead Heath, London’s wild, uncultivated park, and into the Vale of Health, where I was bombarded by blue plaques denoting the literary houses of D. H. Lawrence and of Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

                                                                                                                                                                                          Last week I invited the women of London’s rare book trade to Hampstead for a tour similar to the one I initially made on accident. We saw many writers’ houses, including that of Wilkie Collins, H. G. Wells, Katherine Mansfield, and Daphne du Maurier’s Cannon Hall, before we enjoyed an evening in good company. There are many lesser known writers without plaques in Hampstead, something I learned from publisher Nicola Beauman, who spoke at length at my local bookstore about dozens of women of Hampstead who had produced compelling novels, like May Sinclair and Amber Reeves and Elizabeth Jenkins, many out-of-print, several who she had brought back into print herself. It was a beautiful, romantic night, but on our tour, I wish I had been able to point out to the women I was hosting some of these under-recognized writers’ houses too. I wished they also had blue plaques. Perhaps next year I can host an Overlooked Women Writers of Hampstead tour -- and perhaps someday their books will be coveted and collected and they, too, will have blue plaques.

                                                                                                                                                                                Image: Women in the rare book trade gaze up at Daphne du Maurier’s Canon House. It sold for £28 million pounds in 2015. Courtesy of A.N. Devers.


                                                                                                                                                                            Readers may recall our story back in March highlighing the TEFAF Maastricht art and antiquarian fair. Next week TEFAF lands in Manhattan, where it will hold court at the Park Avenue Armory from October 28 through November 1 and welcome nearly one hundred dealers from around the world. Held three times a year in North America and in Europe, TEFAF is widely considered one of the world’s premier art and antiques fair, offering museum-quality pieces to the general public.                                          

                                                                                                                                                                              Among the dealers at this year’s show include Heribert Tenschert, a Switzerland-based German bookseller who, in his words, specializes in “the finest manuscripts and printed books available in the book market.” For the past 40 years, Tenschert has easily met that challenge--his catalogues themselves are collectable in their own right and sell for hundreds of dollars. The former professor of Romance Languages marks this milestone year with a particularly fetching two-volume catalogue entitled Paris mon Amour featuring “25 important illuminated manuscripts made in Paris between 1380 and 1460,” to be followed next year by another two-volume catalogue highlighting 35 books from 1460 through 1540. Tenschert’s stall at TEFAF will be almost entirely devoted to illuminated manuscripts, showcasing over fifty Books of Hours, including the 530-page illuminated Hours of Jacquette de Luxembourg and the Hours of Catherine of Aragon, whose gold leaf borders and 60 full-page miniatures is considered one of the most exquisite examples of its era.

                                                                                                                                                                            In 1997, Nick Basbanes visited Tenschert’s converted 18th-century mill picturesquely located on the banks of the Biber (a tributary of the Rhine) near Basel while researching his 2001 book, Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture. Though he grosses eight-figure sales annually, Tenschert’s clients number in the double digits--his offerings are reserved for the wealthiest people in the world. “I like to sell to private individuals because then I can buy them back at some point in the future,” Tenschert explains in Basbanes’ chapter entitled “Hunters and Gatherers.” He goes on to explain how he acquires his treasures, prices them, and whether super-selective collectors are endangered. It seems safe to say that in the seventeen years since Patience & Fortitude was published that business remains good. See for yourself at Stand 23 at TEFAF.                                                                                                                                                                                 Head over to our just-launched sister site Art & Object for more on illuminated manuscripts, including my story that ran last year in Fine Books about the Boston area’s ambitious multi-venue project dedicated to these beautiful books.                                                                        

Image credit: Heribert Tenschert Paris mon amour. 

Johnson-Back Up Our Americans Now poster #1 300 dpi copy.jpgIn terms of the Vietnam War, what’s past is definitely present. Not only has the monumental, 18-hour Ken Burns documentary been airing on PBS these past few weeks, but the New-York Historical Society has just opened its expansive new exhibit, The Vietnam War: 1945-1975. As our readers will recall, we published a feature story on Vietnam collector Stuart Lutz in our winter issue. Lutz, both a collector and a dealer in historical documents, loaned about thirty items to the N-YHS exhibit. He will also be holding a live webinar on October 24 about Vietnam War artifacts, like the vintage LBJ poster pictured here, through the Appraisers Association. “Lutz will discuss various Vietnam War collecting categories, what is rare and what is not, pricing, important items, and much more.” Details can be found here.   

Image: Vintage LBJ poster, courtesy of Stuart Lutz Historic Documents.

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