This may be the year of Emily Brontë--her bicentenary, that is, with a major exhibition opening at the Brontë Parsonage Museum on February 1--but Forum Auctions has me dreaming about her brother Branwell. At its forthcoming January 25 sale, Forum is offering Branwell’s own copy of The Odyssey (Pope’s translation, c. 1840). The title page bears an ink inscription: “To P.B.B. from his dear friend J.B.L.” P.B.B. being Patrick Branwell Brontë and J.B.L. thought to be his friend, Joseph Bentley Leyland.

Branwell.jpgBranwell has long been considered “the failure of the family,” although last year (his bicentenary) there was a push to “tone down the Branwell bashing.” He had his flaws and addictions, but, like his sisters, he also had a brilliant mind and a particular talent for art. He is responsible for the only surviving group portrait of his three more famous sisters.       

Branwell 2.jpgIn addition to the inscription noted above, the association copy on offer at Forum also contains an original pen and black ink portrait study on the front pastedown, and a further small portrait sketch on the rear pastedown that bears some similarity to Branwell’s portrait of his friend James Fletcher.

The auction estimate of £600-800 ($792-1,056) seems quite affordable for the legion of Brontë buffs out there.

Images courtesy of Forum Auctions

For the past two years, we have checked in with consumate reader Linda Aragoni of the Great Penformances blog for her appraisal of the bestseller list from a century ago. (See 2015 and 2016 respectively). This year we continue the tradition, finding out about the books that topped the list in 1917.  Here are the 1917 bestsellers according to Publishers Weekly:

  1. Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells
  2. The Light in the Clearing by Irving Bacheller
  3. The Red Planet by William J. Locke
  4. The Road to Understanding by Eleanor H. Porter
  5. Wildfire by Zane Grey
  6. Christine by Alice Cholmondeley
  7. In the Wilderness by Robert S. Hichens
  8. His Family by Ernest Poole
  9. The Definite Object by Jeffrey Farnol
  10. The Hundredth Chance by Ethel M. Dell

What was your favorite book of 1917?

I don’t think I have a favorite, but I do have one that I stretched my understanding of people more than the others: In the Wilderness by Robert Hichens. It’s what I’d call a spiritual autobiography although it’s not about “church religion.”

The main character, Dion Leith, was passionately in love with a woman who, though trained as a singer, believed her vocation lay in a religious order. She accepts Dion under the influence of a powerful sermon on the virtues of marriage. Both Dion and Rosamund think their spouse’s role is to make them happy, which is not a recipe for a happy marriage. When their son is accidentally shot while hunting with Dion -- an outing Rosamund herself had engineered -- Rosamund literally locks Dion out. He goes as far from Rosamund’s Gothic cathedral religion as he can get.

Hichens doesn’t try to force a happy ending, as a lesser writer might. He settles for a hopeful ending, which is all that’s reasonable given the personalities of the marital partners. 

Do you think modern audience would enjoy in particular any of the 1917 bestsellers?
The Red Planet by William J. Locke is probably the most accessible of my picks of the 1917 bestsellers. Although presented as a memoir, it’s really a cozy British mystery. 

The sleuth is a paraplegic who lost his legs in a shell blast in the Boer War, which makes him seem like an old duffer to the local young people, who call him “Uncle.” 

Like Miss Marple, Duncan Meredyth listens to village gossip, observes who is with whom, and puts two and two together.  But unlike Miss Marple, Duncan can be morose and dogmatic depending on how much his injuries are bothering him that day. 

HisFamily.JPGWould you add any of the 1917 bestsellers to your permanent library?

I think I might add Ernest Poole’s novel, His Family, which won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1918.  It’s not as weighty as In the Wilderness nor as light as The Red Planet

Even though it’s set in New York City, His Family reminds me of Trollope’s Barsetshire novels in the way the events of the novel are isolated from world-changing events outside a very small subset of society. His Family’s characters are so ordinary, readers can’t help feeling they are real people.

What was your least favorite novel from 1917?

Probably my least favorite was The Hundredth Chance by Ethel M. Dell. It wasn’t awful, but it was so awfully like every other novel about a marriage of convenience.

Any other comments about the 1917 bestsellers?

Although armies were dug into trenches along miles of Western Europe, the war didn’t feature prominently in any of the 1917 bestsellers with one notable exception: the novel Christine by Alice Cholmondeley (pen name of Elizabeth von Arnim).  

Although the author’s introduction and a publisher’s note try to pass the work off as letters from Cholmondeley’s daughter, the letters are a total fabrication, anti-German propaganda. The work is a lousy novel, but a very instructive study in persuasion. 

Any book you are looking forward to reading in the 1918 list?

I’ve actually already read and reviewed all the 1918 bestsellers at GreatPenformances already (I’m now reviewing bestselling novels of 1970 through 1999). 

Instead of saying what I’m looking forward to, I’ll just say that the 1918 bestseller list houses several novels about The Great War that ended that year. Readers of the Fine Books & Collections blog may be interested in looking at novels about that world-changing conflict.

[Image of the first edition of His Family from Wikipedia]

Avast ye! The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) announced a major find last week: fragments of paper from the wreckage of Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard.

5 QAR1445.019 pg186 Composite_wm.jpgDuring conservation work on the ship’s artifacts, sixteen tiny scraps of paper were discovered “in a mass of wet sludge removed from the chamber for a breech-loading cannon.” Working with specialists from the department’s Division of Archives and Records and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, the DNCR lab conservators carefully removed the fragments and noticed that some contained still legible printed text. According to a press release, “The challenge then became not just to conserve the paper fragments, but also to identify where they were from.”

Incredibly, after several months of research, they now have an answer. The fragments derive from a 1712 first edition of Captain Edward Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711. Well, shiver me timbers!

6 QAR1445.021 Pg178 Composite_wm.jpg“This unique find from the wreckage of Queen Anne’s Revenge provides archaeological evidence for books carried on ships in the early 18th century, and adds to our knowledge of the history of Blackbeard’s flagship and those who sailed her. The historical record has several references to books aboard vessels in Blackbeard’s fleet, but provides no specific titles; this find is the first archaeological evidence for their presence on QAR.”

Images courtesy of the North Carolina DNCR

A fairly quiet auction week coming up, but here are some of the things I’ll be keeping an eye on:

                                                                                                                                                                                        PBA Galleries holds a sale of Fine Literature & Fine Books, Poetry from the Collection of Larry Rafferty, and Miniature Books on Thursday January 11, in a whopping 721 lots. 

                                                                                                                                                                                         Among the top-estimated lots are a first-edition set of Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ($12,000-18,000); a 1687 edition of Don Quixote ($8,000-12,000), six lots (152-157) containing plays from the 1632 Second Folio edition of Shakespeare, a first edition of Thoreau’s Walden ($5,000-8,000), and the Kelmscott Press edition of William Morris’s The Wood Beyond the World ($4,000-6,000).

                                                                                                                                                                                                Larry Rafferty is the founder of Berkeley’s hit & run press, and his collection of poetry includes many signed or inscribed copies of works by important nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets, from John Ashbery to Oscar Wilde. A first edition of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land ($5,000-8,000) and a signed copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s North & South (also estimated at $5,000-8,000) top the presale estimates, but there is much here for the poetry collector. Lots that caught my eye included the publisher’s long galleys for Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Starting from San Francisco” ($400-600), and one lot containing four books, five letters, and an eighteen-page autograph manuscript by Uruguayan poet Jules Superveille (also $400-600).

                                                                                                                                                                                        A whole bunch to choose from for the miniature book collector (Lots 561-675): group lots of books from the Black Cat Press, Dawson’s Book Shop, the Hillside Press, the Kitemaug Press, the Press of Ward Schori, and from Achille St. Onge, among others, plus a lot of seven nineteenth-century American thumb Bibles* ($200-300).


                                                                                                                                                                                                     Lots 637 to 721 are being sold without reserve with bids starting at $10: these include a number of interesting miniature books and reference works relating to miniature books, group lots of Book Club of California publications, and several lots of books published by Arkham House.

                                                                                                                                                                                                 On Friday, January 12, the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society holds its first of six auctions this year of donated rare and out-of-print books, in 433 lots. The catalogue is available as a PDF file. Much local history and genealogy on offer, as well as a hefty number of hymnals and religious texts, but also such potential items of interest as the first twenty-one volumes of the Yale University Press edition of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Lot 25). Anyone with an interest in Pennsylvania history, Mennonite religious texts and hymnals, &c. may want to have a look through the catalogue for this sale; judging by past prices realized, it may be possible to snag a bargain or two.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    *More on “thumb bibles.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                Image credit: PBA Galleries.

Bibliography Week 2018

Bibliography Week is coming back to New York later this month. Here are the day-to-day highlights: 


Festivities kick off on Tuesday, January 23, when the American Antiquarian Society opens a special viewing of the exhibition, Radiant with Color and Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858-1920, on Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Grolier Club. Later, Georgia State University professor John McMillian speaks at 6 p.m. at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library about the underground press and the rise of alternative media in America in the 1960s.


Wednesday is another busy day, also at the Grolier Club, with a conference dedicated to the disposition of collections. Collectors, librarians, legal experts, and other members of the book trade will discuss all aspects of collections dispersal from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.


Thursday’s events are led by the ABAA at the French Institute Alliance Françoise (FIAF), directly across the street from the Grolier Club. Over 30 ABAA members--including Rabelais, Bromer Booksellers, Les Enluminures, William Reese, Abby Schoolman, and others--and will be showcasing their specialties to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Next, check out an assortment of fine press books from around the world at Brooklyn’s Fine Press Salon at 37 Greenpoint Avenue. (Contact Felice Teebe at for further details.)


The Cosmopolitan Club hosts the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America on Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the New York Academy of Medicine (1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street) hosts its annual bibliographical lecture on Saturday, January 27 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. This year’s speaker is Amherst College’s head curator Michael Kelly, who will be discussing medicine and scientific racism.

                                                                                                                                                                               Finally, the week concludes at the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Trustees’ Room), with the annual meeting of the American Printing History Association from 2 to 5:30 p.m. 


The whole bookish enterprise will be, as in years past, a fitting warm-up (pun intended) for the California International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Pasadena Convention Center, February 9-11. 

It feels remiss not to take a moment to memorialize three longtime booksellers that have left us this week. For many, the passing of Fred Bass, 89, of New York City’s Strand Bookstore will seem like the end of an era. Fred’s father, Benjamin, founded the bookshop along New York’s fabled ‘Book Row’ (Fourth Avenue) in 1927, and Fred had been working there since the age of 13. He built it up into the book mecca that it is today. His daughter, Nancy Bass Wyden, who has been his partner for 30+ years, will now take the torch. (An extended profile of Fred appears in Nick Basbanes’ book, Patience and Fortitude.)

The Seattle Review of Books announced the death of Louis Collins, bookseller and co-founder of the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. Collins sold used and antiquarian books for half a century. Writes Paul Constant, “Collins cultivated a hugely impressive collection of titles that couldn’t be found anywhere else online, and he regularly shipped those books to loyal customers around the world.”  

And sad news from England, as well. Charlie Cox of Charles Cox Rare Books has died. In business since the 1970s, Cox was well-liked among his colleagues in the trade. Ed Maggs offered these further details: “There will be a gathering to celebrate the life of this most lovable of men at 48 Bedford Square, London, on May 27, the Sunday after the London book fair. His catalogue 73 was at press as he died, and his family and friends will be putting it in the mails after the dust settles.”  

IncidentsInTheLifeOfASlaveGirl.jpgIncidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, a memoir by Harriet Ann Jacobs about her early life as a slave in North Carolina and subsequent escape to freedom in the North, was first published in Boston in 1861. One hundred and fifty two years later the book was published for the first time in Japanese. It has since gone on to become a “quiet bestseller” in Japan, its success continuing to build each year to a very impressive 25,000 copies sold in its first month in paperback in summer of 2017. (The hardcover, meanwhile, has already made it to its eighth edition).

Jacob’s memoir was originally thought to be fiction, but an extensive investigation in 1981 determined it to be autobiographical. Its Japanese translator, Yuki Horikoshi, first downloaded an English version of the book on her iPhone while commuting on a train in 2011. She was quickly enthralled. She later said in an interview with Forbes, “There is definitely an imbalance in Japanese society. There are many girls who live outside of Tokyo who can only see themselves as becoming a school teacher or a nurse, at best. They face adversity. But this is the story of a woman who was born a slave, who fought against all odds, who learned to read and write and eventually won her freedom. I hope that the girls and boys who read this realize that they can do anything they want, become who they want, if they apply themselves. There are people who’ve faced worse odds. This is a story about triumphing over adversity.”

When the Japanese translation of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was published, it met with critical acclaim, and popular enthusiasm for the book soon followed.

(Meanwhile, the original 1861 American edition of Incidents is quite scarce on the ground; a quick search online at the usual spots turned up no copies currently for sale).

Image from Wikipedia Commons

The new year may be all about fresh starts and future plans, but bibliophiles and history buffs might prefer a backward glance, with a particular focus on the beautiful manuscripts of the past thousand years. Several institutions are currently or will soon feature major exhibitions of illuminated manuscripts for your viewing pleasure. Here’s the scoop on where and when.  

937_medical_recipes_f1 copy.jpgIn New York, three exhibitions rise to the top. At the Morgan Library, Now and Forever: The Art of Medieval Time (January 26-April 29) puts the spotlight on manuscripts from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries in order to explore “how people told time in the Middle Ages and what they thought about it.” Les Enluminures will host two different exhibitions in the early part of the year. The first, Manuscripts of the Middle Ages, runs January 22-27 (in case you’re in town for Bibliography Week). The second, Talking at the Court, on the Street, in the Bedroom: Vernacular Manuscripts of the Middle Ages (February 23-March 16), features thirty-six manuscripts that “provide viewers unique access to the authentic, spontaneous vision of people in medieval France, Italy, Germany, the Low Countries, and Britain.”

Speaking of Les Enluminures, founder Sandra Hindman’s private collection will go on display at the Art Institute of Chicago in an exhibition titled The Medieval World at Our Fingertips: Manuscript Illuminations from the Collection of Sandra Hindman (January 27-May 28). The exhibition covers four hundred years of manuscript illumination in thirty miniatures from choir books, books of hours, and religious texts.

outcasts5_20171218190231992_low.jpgIf on the West Coast, the Getty Museum will showcase Outcasts: Prejudice and Persecution in the Medieval World (January 30-April 8), an exhibition that aims to “provide glimpses of the marginalized and powerless” in medieval manuscripts. 

Later in the year, two more exhibitions will be unveiled. The University of Michigan Museum of Art will host In Focus: Illuminated Manuscript (April 17-August 19), while the British Library plans to roll out a star-studded exhibition on Anglo Saxon Kingdoms on October 19 that will bring together the Codex Amiatinus, the St. Cuthbert Gospel, and the Lindisfarne Gospels.   

                                                                                                                                                      Be sure to check our exhibits calendar for further updates and additions.

Images: Top: Collection of Medical Recipes and Health Regimens, including Receptes de plusieurs expers medecins consernantes diverse malladies (Recipes of Several Great Physicians Concerning Various Maladies), compiled by FRANÇOIS II DE ROHAN; et alia. In French and Latin (with additions in Italian), illuminated manuscript on parchment. France (Lyon?), c. 1515-1525. Courtesy of Les Enluminures. Bottom: “The Crucifixion,” probably 1170s, creator unknown. German. Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 64, fol. 86.

New Year’s Eve for Booklovers in Pittsburgh

Though not necessarily known for being a bookish time of year, literary-minded Pittsburgh residents have compelling reasons to brave the elements this New Year’s Eve: Amazing Books & Records is hosting the 3rd annual Booklovers Bash at its three stores throughout the city. Blues band Chillent will perform at the Carson Street location, and the Squirrel Hill stores will serve free libations and spin the turntable. The store will also open its new cafe to customers as well. Festivities start at 8:30 p.m. on December 31. RSVP here.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Will you be ringing in 2018 with a beloved book in your lap or at a lit-themed soirée? Let us know on Twitter @finebooks

                                                                                                                                                                                           Happy New Year to all, and may it contain many great books. 

It’s always an enlightening end-of-year undertaking to dig into the data and ascertain which stories were the most popular with our online readers. News items? Auction previews? Interviews with book world folks? Book reviews? Turns out, it’s a little bit of everything. Here’s the rundown:

#1 Thieves Steal Over 160 Rare Books in Major Heist
A summary of the January 30 theft in London (that could have been a James Bond plot).   

#2 Bright Young Booksellers: Rebecca Romney
Author and antiquarian bookseller Rebecca Romney on how she got into the business and her new book, Printer’s Error.

Stallone-1.jpeg#3 Sylvester Stallone, Book Collector
That’s right: the Hollywood hunk’s library of roughly 1,000 volumes was sold at Heritage Auctions last March. His The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman (1902), bound in blazing red morocco (pictured above), sold for $3,000.

#4 Photo Claimed to be Jesse James Surfaces
A man who claims to be a distant cousin of Jesse James took his never-before-seen ambrotype of the notorious outlaw to auction.  

#5 1916 Bestsellers: A Conversation with Linda Aragoni
Which books were booksellers a hundred years ago, and how well did they hold up? We ask Linda Aragoni of the Great Performances blog.

#6 A Library--and a Love--Rediscovered
A trip to the 2017 Washington Antiquarian Book Fair prompted occasional FB&C contributor Chris Lancette to return to book collecting.  

LOC Poster.jpg#7 Bookfinder’s Most Sought Books in 2016
The annual list of most searched for out-of-print books is always ... interesting reading!

#8 New Digs for One of London’s Oldest Antiquarian Bookshops
Maggs Bros. relocated to 48 Bedford Square, having spent eighty years at its previous residence.

#9 Books About Books Holiday Roundup
Five just-released titles that are worthy of attention, particularly if you’re a bibliophile.    

#10 Cartoonist Roz Chast Designs National Book Festival Poster
This year’s whimsical poster (pictured right), created by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, depicts the National Book Festival from the books’ point of view.

Images: Top: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions; Bottom: Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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