New York based rare book dealer and collector Stephan Loewentheil, owner of the largest known collection of Chinese photography in private hands, currently has 120 early Chinese photographs on exhibition at the Tsinghua University Art Museum in Beijing.


The exhibition covers the 1850s, when the first Western photographers arrived in China, through the 1880s, and offers an exceedingly rare glimpse into the daily lives and landscapes of a country previously known to the West only through paintings and travelouges. It includes examples of early photographic technology, such as albumen prints and the “wet plate” process.


“People wanted to bring back great images that they could sell in other places,” said Loewentheil in an interview with CNN. “People who traveled there, everyone from diplomats and businessmen to missionaries, all wanted to bring home a record of this beautiful culture of China that was so unique.”


In addition to photographs taken by visiting Westerners, Loewentheil’s collection and exhibition contain numerous examples of photographs taken by early Chinese photographers who acquired their equipment from departing Westerners or designed their own cameras after observing Western cameras in action.


“Photography is the greatest preserver of history,” Loewentheil said, in the same interview. “For many years, the written word was the way that history was transmitted. But the earliest photography preserves culture in China, and elsewhere, as it had been for many hundreds of years because it was simultaneous with the technological revolutions that were to change everything.”


Lowentheil’s eventual goal is to house his collection, with over 15,000 photographs, in China. In the meantime, the exhibition in on display at Tsinghua University Art Museum in Beijing through the end of March.


Image from Tsinghua University Art Museum


The Winter Show, a fair dedicated to art, antiques, and design, returns to the Park Avenue Armory in New York City on January 18 for its 65th annual run. And this year, Nantucket, the tiny island known as much for its whaling history as for its upscale beaches, is a focal point. One of the fair highlights, for example, is this lithograph from 1881 by Beck & Pauli depicting a bird’s-eye view of Nantucket. It is being exhibited by the well known Philadelphia map and print dealer Graham Arader.

23 Arader Galleries_Birds Eye View of Nantucket copy.jpgThe offering is apropos to the Winter Show’s loan exhibition, Collecting Nantucket, Connecting the World, which celebrates 125 years of collecting by the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA). It will present an array of exceptional paintings, craft, and folk arts related to the beautiful summer vacation spot. On Saturday, January 19 at 2:00, the director of the NHA will speak to this in “Connecting the World: 125 Years of Collecting on Nantucket.” And, relatedly, Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the National Book Award-winning In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, will give a lecture on the enduring power of Moby-Dick on the fair’s final day, Sunday, January 27, at 2:00.

Image courtesy of Third Eye/The Winter Show

A return to action in the auction rooms this week, with two sales on Thursday, January 10:

quixote.pngForum Auctions holds an online sale of Books and Works on Paper, in 174 lots. A complete-to-date set of the definitive edition of the works of Voltaire (121 volumes published between 1969 and 2018) is estimated at £1,500-2,000, while a copy of the 38-volume Centenary Limited Edition of Churchill’s works could fetch £1,000-1,500. A collection of 155 vellum-bound (or at least vellum-spined) volumes is estimated at £600-800. Other items of interest here include a New Jersey manuscript receipt book from the 1820s (£200-300); a large collection of bookseller and auction catalogues (£200-300); and a collection of about 600 20th-century Portuguese bookplates (£200-300; one pictured). There are also several large lots of bibliographies and other bibliographical publications.


At PBA Galleries, Literature of the 19th & 20th Centuries, with the Glenn Todd Collection of Arion Press & Beat Literature, in 433 lots. The top-estimated lot is the Arion Press edition of W. B. Yeats’ Poems (1990), with an additional suite of six etchings by Richard Diebenkorn ($15,000-25,000). Glenn Todd’s copy of the Arion Press Moby-Dick (1979) is estimated at $10,000-15,000. The Arion Press edition of Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste (1994) rates a $7,000-10,000 estimate.


Beyond the impressive Arion Press selection, expected highlights from this sale include a rebacked first printing of Tom Sawyer ($4,000-6,000); a signed first edition of John Williams’ Stoner ($2,000-3,000); a first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with a later laid-in inscription by Stowe ($2,000-3,000). A complete collection of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series, with some related ephemera, is also estimated at $2,000-3,000. Lots 337-443 are being sold without reserve.


Image courtesy of Forum Auctions

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New Orleans has a rich literary history--William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson, Walker Percy, and many others called the Big Easy home or featured it in their work. And now, the city’s National World War II Museum offers veterans a haven for their stories of war and sacrifice.

Over two decades ago, authors and historians Stephen Ambrose and Nick Muller originally envisioned a museum in recognition of New Orleans-based manufacturer Andrew Higgins, whose landing craft, vehicle, personnel (LCVP) boats ferried platoons onto the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The D-Day Museum opened in 2000 but by 2003 had outgrown its original scope, when it was redesignated the official National World War II Museum by Congress. (Note: As an independent non-profit, the museum is unaffected by the current government shutdown.) Today, the six-acre campus sprawls across the city’s Historic Warehouse District and offers sweeping immersive and interactive displays exploring WWII and its aftermath.

And the museum isn’t done growing: by January 2020, the Liberation Pavilion will open to the public: a three-story building encompassing a second-floor library with space for 22,000 volumes.

“Currently, we’ve got approximately 10,000 written and oral histories from WWII veterans that will be housed in the new library,” said Toni Kiser, the museum’s assistant director for collections management. “Some of these histories were originally collected by Ambrose for his books like Band of Brothers and D-Day, while others arrived as part of larger acquisitions.” The testimonials vary by length and scope. Some veterans put pen to paper when the war was still fresh in their minds and had their memoirs printed, bound, and even distributed. Others are more modest and informal, spanning a few pages at best.


Road to Tokyo1.jpg


Some of the memoirs exist only as oral histories committed to film--Ambrose conducted many such interviews for his books, for example. Conversely, some recorded narratives have lost their original visual or aural component. “Interestingly, Ambrose would use the same tape to record his interviews--after transcribing each interview, he would record over the old interview with a new one,” explained Kiser. “Other, older oral histories came to us on VHS. The museum is having them digitized and transcribed so that anyone who comes in can access them.”

Kiser hopes that these memoirs will help future generations to understand this war once open to the public. Though non-lending, the library will be open to scholars and other visitors. “We’re getting to the point where most of the veterans from WWII have passed away. And each story is a unique wartime experience. These memoirs will serve as a beacon for future generations as a reminder of what these brave men fought for and what the war meant for America.”


Images: Courtesy of the National WWII Museum

What were some of the biggest stories in 2018? According to our stats, Fine Books readers love Lovecraft--no kidding--and Robin Williams. You’re also interested in cookbooks, illuminated manuscripts, and rare book theft. Missed out on these hot topics? Read on:

#1 H.P. Lovecraft’s Bible is For Sale
Lovecraft’s legions of fans bid his family’s 1881 bible up to (spoiler alert) $4,750.

Walden.png#2 Robin Williams’ Rare Books at Auction
Fifteen rare books that once belonged to the late, great actor went to auction, among them a first edition of Walden (pictured at left) and an Arion Press edition of Moby-Dick.

#3 New Culinary Bookshop to Open in Brooklyn
A.N. Devers broke the big news that Lizz Young was opening a new bookshop in Brooklyn devoted to “cooking, cocktails, and culture.”

#4 Where to See Illuminated Manuscripts
A round-up of major exhibitions of illuminated manuscripts last year.

#5 New Rare Books Heist Film
The book world was buzzing about American Animals, a film based on a real-life special collections robbery in 2004. (I liked it.)

Looking for more fine Fine Books stories? Check out 2017’s top ten.

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

For the past three 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 20172016, and 2015 respectively). This year we continue the tradition, finding out about the books that topped the list in 1918.  Here are the 1918 bestsellers according to Publishers Weekly:


  1. The U.P. Trail by Zane GreyGrey.jpg
  2. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair
  3. The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  4. Dere Mable by Edward Streeter
  5. Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter
  6. Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell
  7. The Major by Ralph Connor
  8. The Pawns Count by E. Phillips Oppenheim
  9. A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton Porter
  10. Sonia by Stephen McKenna

What was your favorite book of 1918?


I have two books nearly tied for my top spot, each by a famous woman writer of many bestsellers, each usual for the author, and both really rather unusual for their time.


The first is Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton-Porter, known for light romances, the other is The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart, best known for her mysteries. In Daughter of the Land, Stratton-Porter avoids her usual too-good leading characters and too-pat solutions and tells a story that feels true. Kate Bates wants the same opportunities as her brothers. Each of them got a house, stock, and 200 acres when they turned 21.  The best Kate can hope for was what her nine sisters got on their marriages: “a bolt of muslin and a fairly decent dress.” The teenage Kate leaves home to seek her fortune. Kate makes a lot of mistakes, many of which are thoughtless choices made under the physical and emotional stress of being a single woman in a male-dominated world. Some of her other mistakes can’t be so easily excused. But Kate always learns from her mistakes, she works hard, she’s kind to people, and she’s trustworthy. Kate gets a happy ending, but she has to work for it.


The Amazing Interlude is also about a quite ordinary young woman who defies the norms in a low key, non-militant way.


Sara Lee Kennedy is engaged to a dull, boring guy who is all that’s on offer in her small town. When news reaches the town about conditions at the Front, Sara goes off to France to run a soup kitchen for soldiers. While Sara scrubs floors and scrounges for food as shells explode around her, Harvey fumes because she should be at home tending to his wants. Harvey gets the church women, already suffering from compassion fatigue, to stop funding Sara’s work, forcing her to come home. When she arrives home, Sara isn’t the person Harvey knew. She has a totally different perspective on herself and on America’s role in the world.


How about your least favorite novel from 1918?


The Major by Ralph Connor. The subject matter made it a best seller: It was the first real, from-the-battlefield novel, and it was written by a Canadian who enlisted and served on the Western Front as an army chaplain. The Major reminds me of the worst of Stratton-Porter: superficial characters and a too-pat ending.


Do you think modern audience would enjoy in particular any of the 1918 bestsellers?


When I review older fiction, my goal actually is to find what contemporary readers would like and/or profit from reading, so my two top picks would certainly appeal to today’s audience. Both Daughter of the Land and The Amazing Interlude have enthusiastic reviews at Amazon and Good Reads from contemporary readers.


Neither Daughter nor Interlude is great literature, but both are durable stories with a lot more to teach today’s teenage girls and their parents than, for example, Anne of Green Gables. And Sara’s understanding of what it means to be an American is, I think, particularly pertinent in this political climate to people of any age.


Both novels are available in reprints, as well as from used book sellers, and can be found on Project Gutenberg.


Would you add any of the 1918 bestsellers to your permanent library?


My top picks deserve a place there, but something else has to go to make room for them.


Any other comments about the 1918 bestsellers?


Prior to 1918, the only novel about World War I to appear on the bestseller lists was Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells in 1916. Mr. Britling is a semi-autobiographical story about the war as seen by people who didn’t fight in it. 


Starting in 1918, novels by people who had actually been on battlefields began to pop up on the bestseller lists. They keep appearing up through the start of the World War II.


Anything to look forward to from the 1919 list?


Another Rinehart: Dangerous Days. It is a novel about an American family in the steel industry from 1916 through Armistice Day, 1918. It’s definitely worth reading.


Image from Sweet Beagle Books via Abebooks

For 2019: The 42-line Calendar

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New year, new calendar! Sure, we could easily continue plugging events into our smartphones, but where’s the fun in that? Especially when so many stunning desk calendars exist.


One particular beauty that might interest FB&C readers is E. M. Ginger’s annual labor of love, the 42-line calendar. Each iteration showcases digitized images culled from rare books, manuscripts, and photographs, all scrupulously rendered to permit deep contemplation while penning in daily activities. These calendars serve as a sort of calling card for Ginger and her company, 42-line, which specializes in hi-resolution digital photography services for libraries, institutions, and book collectors.


Ginger’s name may be familiar; she was the founding editor of Adobe creator John Warnock’s Octavo Editions, where she developed and directed the publication of rare books like Shakespeare’s Poems and Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius. The great difference between Octavo’s digital editions and e-books comes down to the reproducion values. Through a book published by Octavo, anyone, anywhere with access to a computer could interact with literary treasures otherwise inaccessible to the general public. (More to come on Ginger in a story for the forthcoming print issue.) 42-line builds off of Ginger’s experience at Octavo, but for a more select clientele.


Back to the calendar. During a visit to her Oakland, California, studio, Ginger said she picks themes for her calendars based on what catches her interest at the moment. This year, she plucked images from the University of San Francisco’s Gleeson LIbrary. January opens with a detailed linocut of the Golden Gate Bridge by Mallette Dean, followed by engravings by Gerard de Jode and Albrecht Durer.


The 42-line calendar is $20 and may be purchased here.

A new acquisition at Penn Libraries illustrates why bibliophiles love Tristram Shandy, even if they aren’t fans of author Laurence Sterne or eighteenth-century British fiction in general. Sterne had more than a passing interest in book production and design; every copy of the first edition of volume three of his most famous work, i.e. Tristram Shandy, includes a unique marbled leaf inserted within the printed text. As you can see in the picture below from a London edition in 1780, a blank with instructions to the bookbinder showed exactly where it should go. (The results vary, of course, which is why perusing copies of TS can be so fun.) 

Blank.pngWith the acquisition of the Geoffrey Day Collection, Penn Libraries reports that it “now houses the best collection of material relating to 18th century British novelist Laurence Sterne and his works in the western hemisphere.” According to a Penn Libraries statement, Day amassed an incredible collection that includes three copies of the rare York-printed first edition of volumes one and two of Tristram Shandy and the only known copy of a completely spurious edition of volume nine, published clandestinely in 1767.

This new collection also contains dozens of examples of the famous marbled leaf, of which Penn shared with us a few:

London .pngFrom Tristram Shandy, vol. 3, first edition, London, 1761.

Screen Shot 2018-12-27 at 11.54.14 AM.pngFrom Tristram Shandy, vol. 3, German edition (Hanau), 1776.

Vienna.pngFrom Tristram Shandy, vols. 3-4, Vienna, 1798.

Images courtesy of Penn Libraries

Eloise Went to Bonhams and Fetched $100,000

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Among the items up for auction during Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts Sale on December 5 was an original oil portrait of classic children’s book character Eloise. The painting, which hung in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel (where Eloise made all sorts of mischief in her “pink pink pink” room), was originally a birthday gift from illustrator Hilary Knight to the book’s author, Kay Thompson. This particular portrait had a series of its own adventures before finding its way to Bonhams where it fetched $100,000.

After receiving the gift from Knight in 1956, Thompson appeared on CBS’s Person to Person along with the portrait, after which she lent the piece to the Plaza Hotel. The 59-by-42-inch painting remained in the hotel lobby for four years, until the evening of the Junior League Ball on November 23,1960. When, it is presumed, out-of-control New York debutantes pulled an Eloise-like prank of their own and purloined the portrait. Such was the scandal that even Walter Cronkite announced, “Eloise kidnapped!” on the evening news. Though devastating for Knight, the publicity dedicated to the heist was impressive.

As the story goes, the painting turned up in a dumpster a few years later having only sustained minor damage but missing its frame. By then Knight had already replaced the portrait with another one which can still be seen in the Plaza lobby. In Sam Irvin’s 2010 biography, Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise, Knight was asked why he never had the original rehung. “It’s a little embarrassing,” Knight said. “Because the thieves were after the frame, not my artwork. And frankly, I made the first portrait for Kay, never imagining it would be on permanent display at the Plaza. I never really liked it--I did it in a rush--so I was not unhappy when it disappeared.” (There was even unsubstantiated speculation that perhaps Thompson had orchestrated the painting’s disappearance to generate publicity for the book.) After recovering the painting, Knight rolled it up and stashed it away in his closet, where it remained, forgotten, for fifty years, until he and New York Historical Society curator Jane Curley found it for that museum’s 2017 exhibition dedicated to Eloise. 

The portrait was sold along with a photograph of Evelyn Rudie, a child actress who portrayed Eloise on a 1956 episode of Playhouse 90.


portrait (with rudie).jpg


Images reproduced with permission from Bonhams

The sequel to the 1964 Mary Poppins film that fans have been waiting more than half a century for is finally here, debuting in theaters across the U.S. this week. (I’ve seen it; it’s fabulous.) Even better, it brings author P. L. Travers back into the spotlight. In a CBS Sunday Morning segment this past Sunday, the actress Emily Blunt, who portrays the spappy English nanny in Mary Poppins Returns, takes a trip to the New York Public Library to examine the first American edition of the novel, as well as some of Travers’ mementoes, including her typewriter, a doll, and her parrot-headed umbrella.

Mary Poppins Soth.jpgA first edition also came up for sale very recently. In an online sale of English literature and children’s books at Sotheby’s that closed on December 10, Travers’ Mary Poppins (1934) in its pictorial dust jacket sold for £2,750 ($3,450). Incidentally, a presentation first edition of the sequel, titled Mary Poppins Comes Back (not Mary Poppins Returns), published in 1935, sold for slightly less at £2,500 ($3,140). Travers inscriptions are quite rare.

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

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