1LaiFong.jpgThirty original photographs considered masterpieces from the late Qing Dynasty will be exhibited in New York at PRPH Books. The exhibition, presented by the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop, will run as part of Asia Week New York, March 7-20. 

The photographs, from the Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection, will be exhibited together for the first time. They open a window to the lost world of nineteenth-century China, before the country was irrevocably changed by the significant upheavals of the twentieth century. Photographs of China from the late Qing Dynasty are very rare and, as a result, largely unstudied.

The photographs in the exhibition will include both Western and Chinese photographers, such as Lai Fong, Felice Beato, John Thomson, Thomas Child, William Saunders, Pun Lun, and Tung Hing. All are drawn from Loewentheil’s collection of Qing Dynasty photographs, currently the largest in private hands.

2FBeato.jpgThe opening reception is on March 10, 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., with a gallery talk “China’s place in the history of photography,” on March 15, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. 

Images courtesy of Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection

Former antiquarian bookseller and book collector--we profiled his Lewis Carroll collection in our spring 2014 issue--Charlie Lovett launched his fiction writing career with his 2013 debut, The Bookman’s Tale, which became a New York Times bestseller. He followed up with the Austen-inspired First Impressions (2014), and more recently with The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (2016). Now Lovett has a new book to offer, The Lost Book of the Grail, to be published by Viking tomorrow, and it is his best work yet.   

9780399562518.jpgSet in Trollope’s fictional cathedral/university town of Barchester, this bibliomystery immediately enchants those with a weakness for old books and church bells. Arthur Prescott is a 40-year-old literature teacher with serious luddite tendencies and a borderline obsession with King Arthur and Holy Grail mythology. He is most suited to days spent in the rare book room of Barchester Cathedral Library, punctuated by drinks with fellow book collectors and cathedral services (morning prayers, Evensong, compline). His favorite volume is a 1634 William Stansby edition of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, though its “leather binding was badly worn at the joints and corners, and nearly two inches of the lower spine was lacking.”  

Enter Bethany Davis, a loquacious American fourteen years his junior, sent to Barchester to digitize pre-Reformation Christian manuscripts, courtesy of some Midwestern billionaire. Obviously these opposites attract, although suspicions abound. While university officials contemplate the sale of the manuscripts once the scanning is completed, Arthur sets off to uncover a secret he believes can save the books.  

Lovett layers his narrative with quick dips into Barchester’s history, as Arthur and his clever conspirators unravel a mystery spanning more than a millennium. These characters are lively and relatable, and the novel’s pace is spot-on. The Lost Book of the Grail is truly a page-turner for bibliophiles.

And though we’re told to ‘never judge a book by its cover,’ this one is pretty terrific, with its cut-paper, antique map, and manuscript detailing.

Image courtesy of Viking.

Readers may recall the 2012-2013 brouhaha over Jane Austen’s gold and turquoise ring. In short: a ring once owned by Jane Austen was offered at auction. American singer Kelly Clarkson won it for £152,450 ($236,557) but was disallowed from bringing it home to the states after the UK’s culture minister, Ed Vaizey, issued a temporary ban on its export. The Jane Austen House Museum then raised funds to match Clarkson’s bid, thereby safeguarding it for the nation. A happy ending (well, except for Clarkson).

On Monday night, FOX Business Network’s Strange Inheritance, a “primetime series which explores unusual stories of inheritance,” revisits this saga. Host Jamie Colby travels to Oxfordshire to meet Nicky Gottelier, the fifth generation descendant of Jane Austen who inherited the ring. If this sounds like your cup of tea, tune in. The show airs this Monday, the 27th at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
SI320_PRODSTILL_JAMIE MARY1 copy.jpgAbove: Jamie Colby at the Jane Austen’s House Museum looking at the ring. Courtesy of FOX.

                                                                                                                                              Several clips of recent Strange Inheritance episodes are online, featuring all manner of ancestral artifacts, from George Washington’s wallet to a one-of-a-kind penny. Of particular interest is an episode about a man whose father and aunt obsessively collected 80,000 Hollywood autographs, and one about a trove of historical documents owned by a murdered forebear from New York’s Gilded Age.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 1.42.57 PM.pngRare Book Week NYC commences less than two weeks from now, running roughly March 6-13, earlier this year than previously. Aside from slightly chillier weather (or not, it’s about 60 degrees in Manhattan today), Rare Book Week will still dazzle: three antiquarian book fairs, three book and manuscript auctions, more than a dozen “bookish” exhibitions, and everything else that the Big Apple has to offer. 

                                                                                                                                                   For the past few years, Fine Books has produced a Rare Book Week printed supplement in its spring issue and a website dedicated to previewing the book fairs, auctions, exhibitions, and related events. The spring issue will arrive in mailboxes shortly, and the website is now live.  

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Derek Walker, proprietor with his wife Anna, of McNaughtan’s Bookshop in Edinburgh, Scotland.


How did you both get started in rare books?

I’ve been a haunter of secondhand bookshops ever since I outgrew the children’s section at my local library, so when I went looking for a part-time job while working towards a degree in London it was a stroke of luck that Charlie Unsworth of Unsworth’s Booksellers was in need of interested amateurs to help staff his then-new concession in Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I started there doing basic cataloguing of academic secondhand books and discovered the joys of collation and binding description under Leo Cadogan, who was then Charlie’s antiquarian specialist and shop manager. I was studying Greek and Latin and interested in the history of scholarship, so handling the original editions which I had read about in secondary literature was a strong draw towards that side of the trade for me. The completion of my degree happened to coincide with Leo’s decision to set up Leo Cadogan Rare Books, so I stepped into his shoes for Charlie, later moving to Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford when internal developments at Foyles meant Charlie had to close his concession there.

At Blackwell’s I met my wife and business partner Anna. She worked in the new books side of the business, so she’s now learning about rare books as we run McNaughtan’s together. Pretty much my entire history of paid employment has involved cataloguing or archives, but Anna has many other skills, having studied film and worked in radio and journalism as well.

When did you purchase McNaughtan’s and what do you specialize in?

We took over McNaughtan’s in August of 2015. We had been considering a move away from Oxford, which is a beautiful city but we felt after 7 years that we’d experienced most of it - plus it is impossibly expensive to settle down in that part of the UK. We were planning to visit Edinburgh anyway when we heard that Elizabeth Strong was looking to sell McNaughtan’s, and luckily it all worked out.

We have inherited some of the specialties of the shop - secondhand art books, literature, and the obligatory Scottish history and local subjects - and brought with us the interests I developed at Unsworth’s and Blackwell’s - Greek and Latin classics, the history of scholarship, hand-press-era printing, bindings, private press books. The elegance of type and press-work that was achieved in 18th century printing is something that I particularly appreciate, and Scotland has strong representation in that category, particularly the output of the Foulis Press.

How do you divide your roles at McNaughtan’s?

I am the book-buyer, antiquarian specialist, and accountant, while Anna does most other things. That includes pricing secondhand books, processing photographs of stock, handling the shop’s social media accounts and mailing list, and of course overseeing the Gallery, which hosts a new exhibition of original artwork every couple of months. This is something that we inherited from Elizabeth Strong, a keen painter, and it gives us a venue for promoting local and up-and-coming talent, as well as new and interesting things to look at ourselves on a regular basis.

What do you love about the book trade?

First of all the books - holding something really fine is a physical thrill, and there is always more to find and learn about. Having an open shop ensures that things I wouldn’t have thought to look for regularly walk in through the door, and also gives us the opportunity to occasionally introduce someone new and unsuspecting to the joys of rare books.

There is also a special sense of stability and purpose to maintaining the tradition of the trade in rare books: we are lucky to be able to handle the same objects - not just the same type of thing, but often the actual individual artefacts - that had passed through the hands of scholars, collectors, readers, and other booksellers in generations past. As a hobby I used to practice juggling large numbers of objects, in which keeping a pattern going is a constant effort against gravity and entropy, and I sometimes thought this was a good metaphor for human culture and our purpose in the world. Preserving and circulating this knowledge and these artefacts are ways of maintaining patterns of human ideas and achievement, as much as we can, against the inevitable forces of neglect and oblivion.

slack_for_ios_upload_1024.jpgDescribe a typical day for you:

A typical day involves getting to the shop in time to do a little bit of prep (sweeping steps, emptying receptacles) before opening the doors to the public at 11am. There are always emails to be written, often auction or dealers’ catalogues to browse, and then books to research, describe, price, and photograph. We hope for there to be orders to pack and send, and put up with administrative paperwork and accounts. We also keep a stream of secondhand books flowing out onto the shelves, which requires regular efforts in pricing and reshelving, and all of this is punctuated by questions from customers (some interesting, some inevitably silly) and, we hope, sales.

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

Not long after we took over McNaughtan’s we acquired a copy of Barnes’s 1711 edition of Homer - this edition was a masterpiece of its type, compiling the learning of virtually all previous commentators and editors, and printed in ruinously elegant style at the editor’s own expense - in an attractive red leather binding. On closer inspection it turned out to have been the copy of John Urry, an Oxford scholar best known for an edition of Chaucer which represents either the nadir or the zenith of Chaucerian study in the early modern period. Furthermore, it had been given to Urry by Edward Harley, who with his father built one of the finest collections of manuscripts ever seen, including manuscripts of Chaucer that Urry consulted. And then the book was curiously extra-illustrated with several plates which turned out to have come from the first edition of Pope’s translation of Homer - except that they were bound into these volumes some time before Pope’s edition was published. The solution to how that came to be may lie in the fact that Urry was at the time working with the publisher of Pope’s Homer towards printing his edition of Chaucer.

A heady mix of fine 18th-century printing and binding (including elegant Greek typography) and notable provenance, touching on scholarship both at its most learned and most naively mistaken as well as high-end book collecting, with a bibliographical mystery thrown in - one would have a hard time imagining a book more relevant to my interests.

What do you personally collect?

My desire for rare books is largely sated by being able to handle them every day at work. At home, I personally collect a number of authors and subjects that I enjoy reading and reading about - focusing not on ‘collectable’ editions but rather on ‘completeness’. These include Anthony Hecht, Philip Larkin, John Lanchester, Umberto Eco, and A.E. Housman, plus books about books, classical reception, and other topics.

Anna is a film buff and looks out for books on the history of cinema and visual culture.

11703083_10152891551120706_9117854333834492894_n.jpgWhat do you like to do outside of work?

I like to read, keep up with new technology, and explore sweet delicacies (Edinburgh is seeing something of a doughnut renaissance at the present moment). Anna enjoys the rapidly developing vegan food scene in Scotland. But we just had our first baby, so he will be occupying most of our spare time for the foreseeable future.

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

I don’t think the trade is going away. It’s had boom times and lean times, and governmental failure to appreciate the value of libraries, plus the concentration of wealth in the hands of people who think all solutions are technological, will continue to affect it in the short term. But fundamentally, books will never stop having been the major way in which human beings communicated stories, ideas, and discoveries for centuries. Nothing that can happen in the next hundred years (apart from a total collapse of civilisation) will significantly affect the importance, interest, and saleability of objects that are already three hundred years old. And, as we’ve already seen to some extent, the more that people spend parts of their life in digital interactions, the more they value having a real experience - handling a nice book, eating a quality meal, visiting a beautiful place - as a special treat.

Bookstore-smaller.jpgAny upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We plan to begin issuing printed catalogues, once we have been able to build up an appropriate group of books; in the meantime we issue a short list of 25 or 30 items as a PDF every month or two. The next one should appear in March.

Also in March will be the Edinburgh Book Fair, at which we will be exhibiting. This is one of the few events jointly run by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association, so it features a range of dealers and stock that is broader than most fairs. In addition, this year the fair is the centrepiece of a new festival which I have organised dedicated to rare books and book history, called Rare Books Edinburgh. There will be talks, workshops, exhibitions, and other events from most of the city’s major bookish institutions, including the National Library, several departments of the University of Edinburgh and its library, and the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society.

Then at the very beginning of June we will be exhibiting at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair, at Olympia, a fair which needs no introduction.

Images courtesy of Derek and Anna Walker.

The official first day of spring is less than a month away, and many gardeners have spent the cold, dark days of winter leafing through seed catalogs, plotting their outdoor spaces when the earth thaws. And seed catalogs remain blue-ribbon earners; the National Gardening Market Research Company found that American gardeners spent $3.6 billion dollars growing fruits and vegetables in their backyards, patios, and rooftops.


Burpees.jpegFor those interested in the history of seed selling, the seed catalog collection maintained by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries includes more than 10,000 historical seed and nursery catalogs, many donated by Mrs. David Burpee in 1982--such as the one pictured here at left, Burpee’s Farm Annual (1887). A quick glance through the holdings highlights the cornucopia of catalogs for all sorts of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and how ripe the American public has been for this sort of advertising for nearly two centuries. Seed selling germinated in America in the early 1700s when gardeners with particularly robust crops would advertise their offerings in newspaper advertisements and through word of mouth. Catalogs wholly devoted to selling seeds bloomed by the mid 1800s, when succulent, hyperpigmented images (often chromolithographic prints) of watermelons, tomatoes, and other lavishly illustrated produce enticed snow-bound urbanites to send in their requests and hope for an early spring. The Biodiversity Heritage Library also maintains a web-friendly catalog of heritage seed catalogs, and much of the Smithsonian Seed Collection is also accessible online


Allen Seed.JPG

Roses in bloom. Credit: USDA

                                                                                                                                                                Instagram has proved fertile territory for vintage seed catalogs--Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds tantalizes visitors with photographs of magenta-hued sweet potatoes, wax apples,
even black beauty tomatoes, while cover art for Territorial Seed Company’s catalog remains a bright celebration of the bounty beneath our feet. 

Marcel Proust died in 1922 at age 51. While there are many surviving photographs of the author, his voice was never recorded, and he was never captured on film. Or at least that’s what scholars have long thought. But that may just have changed.

A Canadian professor, Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, of Laval University, announced last week that he believes a film of wedding guests in 1904 may contain a brief clip of the elusive author. The film was recently found in the archives of the Centre National du Cinéma in Paris. It documents a wedding celebrated in 1904 between Elaine, the daughter of the Count and Countess Greffulhe, and the Duke Armand Guiche, a wedding which Proust is known to have attended.

The young man thought to be Proust descends the stairs at 0:37 in the above clip, wearing a frock coat and a Derby hat. Proust would have been 34 years old at the time.

Amongst a collection of antique rifles, carved pipes, and Civil War imprints for sale tomorrow at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati is this beautiful late eighteenth-century English rebus Bible. Titled The Hieroglyphick Bible, III Edition by its anonymous creator, the 8 x 12.75” copybook contains selected verses from the King James Bible, illustrated in rebus form, with small watercolors throughout. The auction house believes the illustrator to have been an English seaman--albeit one acquainted with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

Better rebus.jpgThe book comes from the collection of E. Norman Flayderman, a collector and antique arms dealer who founded the militaria outfit, N. Flayderman & Co. According to Cowan’s, “Flayderman apparently acquired this while researching his book, Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders: Whales and Whalemen (New Milford, CT, 1972).” Files found with the rebus Bible indicate that it originally hailed from a New Bedford, Massachusetts, family.
Rebus 2 copy.jpgThis illustrated Bible is, as Cowan’s intimates in its catalogue, sea journal meets Nuremberg Chronicle. It is estimated to reach $15,000-25,000 at auction.

Images via Cowan’s Auctions

Bonhams will hold its Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in London on Wednesday March 1st, and as usual, the accompanying full-color catalog brims with well-appointed material sure to pique the interest of a range of collectors. The theme for the March auction appears to be exploration and scholarly inquiry, with particular emphasis on science, technology, and literature through the ages.

Political documents pepper the catalog as well, such as a 1797 Letters Patent signed by President John Adams confirming the appointment of Thomas Bulkeley as the United States Consul for the port of Lisbon. Included in the lot is a letter rebuking any conflict of interest; Bulkeley sought no monetary favors in the deal because, “he possesses a very large independent fortune.” Estimated bids at $2492.20.

Arguably the highlight of the catalog is the collection of a deceased, unnamed French bibliophile comprising of fantasy and scientific literature from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. The collector assembled his material over the past thirty years, focusing initially on the recent history of aviation and then moving into the annals of the past. Bonhams has arranged this section of the catalog into two sections: one dedicated to the philosophers and scientists whose heavenly observations informed their work, and the second explores the challenges of human flight.

Among the high spots in the deceased French bibliophile’s trove include a first edition, two-volume set of Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World...by Lemuel Gulliver, commonly referred to as Gulliver’s Travels, estimated at twenty-five thousand dollars. A 1634 first edition of Johannes Kepler’s A Dream: or, a Posthumous Work of Lunar Astronomy is also estimated at twenty-five thousand dollars.

Whether flights of fancy or grounded in scientific principles, the material in the forthcoming Bonhams sale has a common goal of making sense of the world beneath our feet and the universe above. The catalog is also available online for further browsing. 

The University of Delaware’s Special Collections Library has received the largest and most valuable donation in its history. The Mark Samuels Lasner collection of British literature and art, worth an estimated $10 million, was officially donated to the library last week.

                                                                                                                                                              Library-Mark_Samuels_Lasner-Portraits-Room-122216-035 copy.jpgSamuels Lasner, legally blind and sometimes labeled the “foremost blind book collector in the world,” began collecting at a young age. His collection, built over 40 years, focuses on British literature and art between 1850 and 1900, with a particular emphasis on the Pre-Raphaelites and writers and illustrators from the 1890s. In total, the collection includes over 9,500 books, letters, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, and art. Lasner has long been attracted to association copies. Notable signatures on items in the collection include those of Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Charles Darwin, Max Beerbohm, William Morris, Henry James, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Aubrey Beardsley. Nearly 1,000 items alone relate to Max Beerbohm.

                                                                                                                                                                             “This is a monumental gift that will be transformational for the University of Delaware,” said UD Provost Domenico Grasso. “There’s no collection quite like it in the world, and the benefit to scholars across disciplines and backgrounds is remarkable. Mr. Samuels Lasner’s generosity will impact UD students and faculty for generations.”

                                                                                                                                                                   Related events include a symposium titled “Celebrating the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection: Rare Books and Manuscripts, Victorian Literature and Art,” to be held March 17-18, featuring keynote speaker Elaine Showalter, and an exhibition, Victorian Passions: Stories from the Mark Samuels Lasner collection, currently on view through June 3.

                                                                                                                                                                     Samuels Lasner is a senior research fellow at the University of Delaware Library in addition to serving on the council of the Grolier Club. He has also written bibliographies on Aubrey Beardsley and William Allingham, amongst a host of other accomplishments.

                                                                                                                                                                      Image Courtesy of the University of Delaware

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