IMG_0764.JPGI was eager to get to the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair last weekend to check out its new digs in the heart of downtown D.C. A change of venues is fraught with risk any time a long-established cultural event moves to a new location. I hoped the new spot at the luxurious Sphinx Club and a date change from often bitterly cold March to sunny spring would give the beloved fair a chance to grow even more popular. Old fashioned lovers of old fashioned books like me want the best for 42-year-old WABF. We want events like this to mint ever-bigger numbers of bibliophiles.

                                                                                                                                                                                          My fears evaporated the second the elevator doors to the showroom opened and I saw that the locale gave the book fair not only a new look but a new dynamic. A buzz. The electricity in the air felt much more like a rocking book festival than a book fair. The place was stuffed with shoppers carrying carefully wrapped packages of books under their arms as they strolled through a much more open layout that was easier to peruse than the event’s previous site. The old place was divided into many walled up rooms; the new one features two floors that enable people to soak in the wonder of the event and easily find their way back to anything catching their eyes.

                                                                                                                                                                            The Sphinx Club also attracted new kinds of visitors because it sits in a bustling pedestrian-friendly area filled with offices, restaurants, housing and the Metro.

                                                                                                                                                                                      IMG_0770.JPGDealers from all over the country raved about the preliminary results. They swapped stories about their joy at selling big ticket items ($4,000 here, $6,000 there) on the first night instead of not being able to make such sales until day two. “The Sphinx Club at 13th and K is a place people know,” Paul Collinge of Heartwood Books told me. “I was concerned about attendance because of the move but we’ve had a good turnout on both days.”

                                                                                                                                                                                     “As opposed to being in sort-of the suburbs in the past, this is in the heart of the city,” another dealer told me as he passed by. “Yesterday (Friday, the first day of WABF), we had a lot of folks who got out of work and came here. The after-work effect was very strong.”

                                                                                                                                                                                      Dealers also noted that pushing the event from March to the end of April also paid dividends. It’s often hard to get people to drive to a tricky location in winter with the Mother Nature’s bad habit of dumping snow on the District during or close to the book fair.

                                                                                                                                                                             Shopper Zina Bleck from Hyattsville, Maryland loved the new-look WABF, too.

                                                                                                                                                                             “I wanted to come here because this is a place you come to find things you can’t find anywhere else,” she said, while ringing up a heathy tab at the Old Editions Book Shop booth. “It’s very friendly here. I don’t know everything about rare books and this is a place where dealers explain things.”

                                                                                                                                                                          New fans like Bleck and old-hound collectors found plenty to get excited about over the course of the weekend. Gilann Books offered an early draft of Roots by Alex Haley. Bill Hutchinson displayed an eye-grabbing stack of the National Journal editions from the 1820s published by the famed Peter Force. Autographs abounded, from the Founding Fathers to men on the moon. Antique children’s books, beautiful old maps, fine bindings - you name it, WABF had it.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I was also thrilled to see that WABF continued to incubate the love of fine books and collections in ways that extend well beyond the actual event. I was a bit shocked to discover that I had lived in the area for a decade and not stumbled across the Washington Rare Book Group. Volunteer Amanda Zimmerman, a librarian at the Library of Congress, happily added names of new people who signed up for announcements about its events.

                                                                                                                                                                                 “We bring book lovers together from all walks of life,” she said. “We have monthly events, curator-lead tours and do as much as we can to promote the love of books in this region.”

                                                                                                                                                                        That will generate even more enthusiastic buyers for WABF in 2018 and beyond. WABF Director Beth Campbell hopes the logistics work out for the event to stay in its shiny new downtown home.

                                                                                                                                                                               “I think this has gone over very well,” she shared with me. “It has been a lot busier than last year’s fair. The visibility in the city is great. We attracted a lot of impulse buyers, which is something we never really had before.”

                                                                                                                                                                               Campbell was particularly heartened to see that The Sphinx Club made it easier for the District’s young work force to attend.

                                                                                                                                                                                        “We saw a lot of younger people,” she said. “These lovely Millennials are the generation that’s going to take care of all this stuff. We’re turning the corner getting the next generation involved and it renews my faith to see them getting interested.”

                                                                                                                                                                            Images Credit: Chris Lancette.


A screenshot of the AAS Adopt-a-Book online catalog. Credit: BBRichter

                                                                                                                                                                  On April 6th in Worcester, Massachusetts, the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) announced that its tenth annual Adopt-a-Book fundraiser hit its goal of raising $10,000. In years past, donations went towards acquisition support, but this year the AAS decided to use the funds to co-curate an exhibition dubbed Radiant with Color and Art, slated for December 2017 to be held at the Grolier Club in New York.

The exhibition will be an exploration and celebration of the work of children’s book publisher McLoughlin Brothers, which operated in New York between 1828 and 1920 and pioneered the use of color printing technology with chromolithographs and photo engravings while also introducing Americans to illustrators like Thomas Nast, Palmer Cox, and Ida Wox. The AAS is home to 1,700 unique pieces of McLoughlin Brothers, and 150 games, books, toys, prints, and watercolors from its archives in support of the show, and the fundraiser helped defray some of the costs associated with packaging and shipping the delicate items.

The Adopt-a-Book event listed items up for “adoption,” that is, books and other materials slated for the Grolier exhibition that needed help getting to New York. AAS curators had fun creating witty donation captions--the catalog entry for The Prodigal Son (Henry Dulyken, McLoughlin Bros., 1882) includes the heading, “He just wants to go home!” Each catalog entry was accompanied by a short explanation of the item up for adoption and why it was selected for the show. Suggested donations started at $50 to over $200 per piece. The hard work paid off: every item slated for adoption found a home, and will be traveling to New York in the fall.

If you missed the event, don’t fret: the AAS Adopt-a-Book fundraiser would greatly appreciate funds for packing tape, bubble wrap, and book cradles. See the online catalog here:


Obadiah in vancouver.jpgOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Obadiah Baird of The Book Bin with locations in Salem and Corvallis, Oregon:

How did you get started in rare books?

My parents opened The Book Bin location in Corvallis, OR approximately 35 years ago and I have spent my whole life, with the exception of a decade spent in Portland, around books. My father for most of his career has specialized in books on the Pacific Islands while also running open general interest shops. When I came back into the business after a hiatus for college I worked at our buying counter, learning the trade and it became clear to me fairly quickly that rare and collectible books are far more fun to work with than common paperbacks. About eight years ago an opportunity came along to buy a truly stunning collection of rare Science Fiction, I used that as a springboard to begin specializing in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror and I have been building my knowledge and customer base ever since.

What is your role at The Book Bin?

My parents have just retired and my wife, my sister, and myself all split the duties of running the business. Along with rare and antiquarian books we have two large open shops which sell new and used books and we employ roughly thirty five people. I deal mostly with the bill paying, HR, used book buying and fortunately for my sanity the online and rare book selling. I try to balance the stressful aspects of running a business with the enjoyable aspects of buying and selling rare books but it can be quite a balancing act and there are definitely tasks that fall by the wayside at times. Fortunately we have amazing managers and a great staff who help keep everything running as smoothly as can be reasonably expected.

What do you love about the book trade?

As someone who grew up in our bookstore in the community of Corvallis, OR I have had the opportunity to see first hand what an independent bookstore can be. Friends and strangers have told me what our bookstore meant to them and how reading the books they bought from us helped shape their lives. It is a unique vantage point from which to watch both individuals and our communities grow and it affords me an opportunity to help guide that growth. On the rare book side of things, I am absolutely in love with the sense of connection that books as objects can give us. I sell mainly signed modern firsts of SF, Fantasy and Horror, and that moment when a reader picks up a book that they love and sees that it is signed by the author - that spark of understanding and excitement, that moment when a passionate reader becomes a collector makes my day every time.

Describe a typical day for you:

I’m not sure I have any typical days anymore. My week is broken up into days for dealing with various aspects of the business but even that much organization usually gets torpedoed by circumstance. I travel a lot for book fairs and trade shows, there is almost always at least one emergency to be dealt with and my attempts to plan often meet with mixed results. It is not uncommon for my work with the rare books and ephemera to occur at home in the evening and I have an excellent cataloger who requires minimal management. I always try to devote Thursdays to our rare book and online sales, contacting customers, buying stock and chasing down collections. Most of my research happens in the evening and on weekends, as I am passionate about the genres I sell and would be learning as much as I can about it even if I wasn’t a dealer.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Not long ago I got and sold a first edition of The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers with a signed letter from Chambers relating to the work laid in. The King in Yellow is an extremely important pre-Lovecraftian work of weird fiction and has been extremely influential not only on Lovecraft himself but also on the genre today as a whole. To have the chance to handle a one of a kind association copy of this title has been a high point of my career thus far. Of all the books I have sold that one was the hardest to let go.

What do you collect?

I collect a lot of signed first editions of contemporary SF, Fantasy and Horror authors. Along with dealing in the genre I read it extensively and go to author events and conventions when I have the opportunity. I tend to collect books by authors whose work I enjoy as they are released and am building a collection that I hope will be significant in fifty years. As far as older authors go I really pick my spots. I have a small and growing collection of books by the poet and weird fiction author Clark Ashton Smith, including a couple of rare signed books and two pieces of original art by him. I also have a small but growing collection of works by Lord Dunsany who was another important influence on H.P. Lovecraft along with being a fine fantasist in his own right.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I publish a magazine called The Audient Void: A Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy in my spare time and have a great time doing it. We publish fiction and poetry in a weird or horrific vein. We have published three issues so far and it feels great to create a venue for some talented writers, poets and artists who may not have been published elsewhere. I read a lot and spend time studying the history of Science Fiction. I also try to leave my house occasionally to have dinner or drinks with friends.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

To be honest, I am a bit bothered by the lack of diversity in the rare book trade. I have had colleagues claim that it is due to lack of interest or the business not being lucrative enough but the rare book community seems to lag behind even the bookselling world at large and I don’t believe for a minute that it is because minority groups are simply not interested in bookselling. I would love to see scholarships aimed at supporting rare book education for minorities and mentorship programs aimed at building minority membership in the ABAA. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Our next fair will be the Rose City Book and Paper Fair June 16-17 and after that we do not have another until Seattle in the fall. I send out a monthly new arrivals list that ends up being bi-monthly most of the time. Anyone who would like to be added to our mailing list can contact us at

[Image courtesy of Obadiah Baird]

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

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy of the Bentley Rare Book Museum.

Pirsig2005.jpgPhilosophical novelist Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, passed away on Monday at age 88.

Pirsig only published two novels in his lifetime, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and its sequel Lila: an Inquiry into Values, but both works were deeply influential, particularly with the counterculture movement of the second half of the 20th century.

Born in Minneapolis in 1928, Pirsig was a precocious child with a high IQ. He graduated high school at the age of 15, going on to earn a degree in philosophy. He taught philosophy for a brief time at Montana State College in Bozeman and worked as a technical writer before being hospitalized for schizophrenia and depression in the early 1960s. 

Pirsig wrote the loosely autobiographical Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance after a motorcycle road trip from Minneapolis to San Francisco that he undertook with his son Christopher in 1968. After being rejected by over 100 publishers, Zen was finally published by William Morrow in 1974, quickly becoming a bestseller.  Pirsig said of the novel that he “set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road.”

A Guggenheim fellowship allowed him to finally complete a sequel, Lila, which was published in 1991. In the novel, Pirsig expounds upon the value-based metaphysics he first established in Zen

Pirsig lived the last thirty years of his life in South Berwick, Maine. He is survived by his wife Wendy, as well as two children and three grandchildren. His son Christopher, who features heavily in Zen, died in a mugging in San Francisco in 1979.

[Image from Wikipedia]

Pardon our French, but a bizarre manuscript heading to auction at Christie’s London this week might provide a chuckle for your Monday. If, that is, you have a slightly scatological sense of humor, because this nineteenth-century Italian manuscript is about ... well ... excrement, scat, poo--and not of the Winnie variety. Titled Merda est salus hominis..., the 28-page manuscript is, according to Christie’s, a “discourse in the form of a mock-address to a learned society, retracing the ancient and noble origins of defecation, its cultural associations and health-giving benefits.” The handwriting is beautifully elaborate, which makes the prank all the better. Bound in black roan, the manuscript also contains an engraved frontispiece that is, shall we say, on theme.

Lot 17 copy.jpgThe auction estimate for this feces-focused volume is £500-800 ($650-1,000), inexpensive enough to be a terrific conversation piece. Perhaps Italy’s own Museo della Merda would make a perfect home for it?

Image: Christie’s Images LTD. 2017.


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

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

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

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

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

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

knifeslipped.jpgCharles Ardai, founder and editor of the much-lauded Hard Case Crime, spoke to us over email about their recent publication of a lost Erle Stanley Gardner novel entitled The Knife Slipped:

Erle Stanley Gardner will be a familiar name to many of our readers for creating the Perry Mason series of detective novels. Could you introduce us to his Cool and Lam series as well?

While he’s better known for the Perry Mason books, which he began publishing in 1933, Erle Stanley Gardner was a writer of ferocious productivity - supposedly writing up to 10,000 words in one day, at which pace he could write a novel in a week or two - and in 1939 he kicked off a second series, somewhat more hardboiled than Perry Mason, about a pair of private eyes name Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. He published 29 books about the pair, between 1939 and his death in 1970, all of them under the pen name “A.A. Fair.” At first, the fact that Fair was really Gardner was a big secret, even within the publishing company that put the books out, but eventually critics caught on to the similarity of writing style and the secret identity was revealed. But even after that Gardner kept using the A.A. Fair name for the Cool & Lam mysteries, perhaps to keep some separation between the more staid and proper Mason novels and the slightly more tawdry, profane, and risqué Cool & Lam titles. Bertha Cool, in particular, the proudly obese, gluttonous owner of the detective agency, was a tough-talking, vulgar character, a far cry from the female characters you generally met in the pages of detective novels in the 30s and 40s. And Donald Lam, her junior partner, was a disbarred former lawyer some distance from Perry Mason in the area of ethics, having once tutored a client on how to commit murder and get away with it. The characters are delicious, and it’s easy to see how much fun Gardner had writing about them. They inspired radio and TV adaptations (starring Frank Sinatra and Art Carney, respectively) and have a passionate fan base to this day.

 The Knife Slipped was intended to be the second installment in the Cool and Lam series, originally slated for publication in 1939. Why was it never released?

The correspondence we found with the manuscript among Gardner’s papers revealed that Gardner’s publisher, Thayer Hobson at William Morrow, disliked the book intensely, complaining in particular that Bertha Cool was an unappealing character who spent all her time cursing, smoking cigarettes and trying to gyp people. Apparently, he felt the first book in the series, THE BIGGER THEY COME, had presented her in at least a somewhat more sympathetic light. He told Gardner he’d publish THE KNIFE SLIPPED if Gardner insisted - Gardner was one of their best-selling authors, after all - but said he thought the book would do his reputation no favors. So Gardner did what only a writer as productive as he was could afford to, namely stick the manuscript in a drawer and just write an entirely different book about the characters. That book was TURN ON THE HEAT, perhaps the best book in the series, and Hobson accepted it gladly. And THE KNIFE SLIPPED remained in that drawer for the next 70 years.

How did you find out about The Knife Slipped?  How did you secure the rights for publication?

A writer named Jeffrey Marks, who had been working on a biography of Gardner, came across references to THE KNIFE SLIPPED among Gardner’s papers and brought its existence to our attention. We requested a copy of the manuscript from the university where Gardner’s papers are kept, with the assistance of the author’s grandson, and after a bit of discussion a copy showed up. I read it fearing the worst - that it had been rejected for good reason - and was delighted to find that the book was first-rate, one of my favorites in the entire series. Since we already had a relationship with the Gardner estate, having reissued one of the other Cool and Lam novels a decade earlier, it was simple to put a contract together to do this one.

What can readers look forward to in The Knife Slipped?

THE KNIFE SLIPPED is very much a classic Cool and Lam yarn, with all the intricate plotting and delicious dialogue and wonderful character beats fans of the series would expect. But it’s also out of the ordinary since it was written right after the first book and depicts a point early in the characters’ relationship, when Lam was still more an ex-lawyer than a proper private eye and Bertha Cool had to carry more of the load of the detective work. In this respect it really does fill in a missing chapter in the series and is all the more enjoyable for that reason.

Are there other “lost” Gardner novels waiting out there?

Sadly, as far as we are aware, there are not.

What’s next for Hard Case Crime?

We seem to have made something of a speciality of uncovering lost manuscripts from famous authors, and we have a real rarity coming this summer: FOREVER AND A DEATH by Donald E. Westlake, a novel Westlake wrote but never published around 1999, after being hired by the James Bond movie producers to plot out a film in the Bond series. When the producers opted not to use the storyline Westlake came up with, he turned it into a novel, but for whatever reason didn’t publish it while he was alive.

And for fans of Cool and Lam, we’re going to be reissuing three more of the Cool and Lam books, ones that haven’t been in bookstores for decades and that I especially like - one from the 1940s, one from the 50s, and one from the 60s. We’ll start with TURN ON THE HEAT, the book Gardner wrote to replace THE KNIFE SLIPPED. It only seemed appropriate.

[Image courtesy of Hard Case Crime. For more, see our 2015 interview with Charles Ardai about the publication of Gore Vidal’s Thieves Fall Out]. 

morgan2.jpgLiving in the shadow of her husband, author F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald was a writer and, as evidenced by this incredible set of painted paper dolls, a visual artist too. Zelda had married Fitzgerald in 1920, and their lives were famously wild, unscripted, and discordant. Her biographer Nancy Milford suggests that Zelda began painting in the mid-1920s, perhaps to express her mercurial emotions. She began making paper dolls in 1927, “most likely as a way to engage with her then 6-year-old daughter Frances ‘Scottie’ Fitzgerald,” according to Sotheby’s. “Zelda continued making dolls throughout her life, creating depictions of her family, religious figures, animals, fairy tales such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” King Arthur and his knights, and the court of Louis XIV (like the set reproduced in “The Romantic Egoists”). The figures are all curiously androgynous, with an exaggerated and distinctly modern musculature.”

Zelda 2.jpgThis collection of five dolls plus seven tabbed costumes made by Zelda comes to auction next week at Sotheby’s NY in Part III of the Maurice Neville Collection of Modern Literature. Its estimate is $25,000-35,000. Much of Zelda’s artwork was sadly lost--what was collected and compiled by her granddaughter in Zelda: An Illustrated Life (1996) is quite stunning. The paper dolls form a large part of her remaining artistic output.  

In a Q&A posted by Sotheby’s, Neville’s son, Morgan Neville, talks about his father’s book collecting mania and some of his favorite pieces: “[T]he most personal by far are the Zelda Fitzgerald paper dolls. My mom had those hanging in her dressing room my whole life. They’re beautiful, and when I see them I think of my mom. They make me happy.”

To see more, check out this slideshow of the auction’s top twelve lots.

Images via Sotheby’s.


The British Library has announced plans to extend its iconic London Building, developing a neighboring 2.8 acre site into a major new center for both research and commerce.

Working in conjunction with property developer Stanhope and architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the development will include 100,000 sq ft of new space for exhibitions and research. The new development will also serve as a bespoke headquarters for the Alan Turing Institute, and host commercial space for knowledge-based companies.

“The British Library is one of our finest cultural institutions, housing an unparalleled collection of knowledge. This innovative project will increase access to the Library’s first-class collections, providing new exhibition spaces, learning opportunities and facilities for visitors from Britain and around the world to enjoy,” said Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley in a British Library press release.

The development will fall in line with the British Library’s stated “Living Knowledge” vision, an effort to become more open, creative, and innovative in its delivery of services.

[Image courtesy of the British Library]

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