Word from London: During the VIP Preview Day yesterday at Frieze Masters, Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books sold an extremely rare, imperial Book of Hours known as “The Wedding Hours” to a private collector for an estimated €3 million ($3.45 million). The Swiss bookseller called it “a highly important work of cultural heritage and is of exceptional historical and art-historical value.”

Hours_Sforza_Milan_1493_68-69_JudgementSolomon-Vesper.jpgThis manuscript on vellum was illuminated by the Master of Anna Sforza in Milan in 1493. It contains 235 leaves, with fifteen full-page miniatures, fourteen of which are accompanied by an elaborately decorated text-page with full, historiated borders. It was created as a wedding gift for Bianca Maria Sforza (1472-1510) upon her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor elect, Maximilian I of Austria-Habsburg. According to the bookseller, “The book was commissioned by the noblewoman’s uncle, Ludovico ‘Il Moro’ Sforza and not only testifies to the high level of Renaissance art made for the Sforza family in Milan, but also shows how art was used to link social, religious, and political life. The famed marriage by proxy between the niece of the Duke of Milan and the Emperor’s son was celebrated with great pomp in Milan on the 30th of November 1493. The entire manuscript is lavishly illuminated with opulent Renaissance motifs in gold and saturated colours.”

Frieze Masters is happening now through Sunday.

Image courtesy of Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Alyssa Carver, archivist with Douglas County Libraries in Colorado.

Stacks-1.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I am an archivist at Douglas County Libraries in the state of Colorado--and, as of a month ago, I am DCL’s first “Head Archivist.” The Archives and Local History department is fairly young, having only existed since 1992 (right around the time the county began its trend toward exponential annual population growth). We collect all sorts of material about Douglas County, which is not unusual, but the fact that we manage closed stacks, reference, and circulating local history collections might be surprising. At least it was for me! I have been with DCL for less than a year, hired on to a small team with lots of autonomy and very little structure. We have since reorganized ourselves into something that looks more like a ‘department’ in order to streamline collection management processes and be more efficient. At this point, a really big part of my job is just figuring out what all this means in the context of the larger institution, and trying to keep us afloat through a weird transition period. Because my background is in cataloging and processing, descriptive strategy and collection control is my top priority: that means everything from shopping for a new CMS to deciding which MARC tags should used in our bib records. Going forward, I’m also really excited about the opportunity to shape our collection development policy and make more deliberate, transparent curatorial decisions. Previously, I think our collecting method was much more passive and intuitive--after all, this was a small, close-knit, agricultural community not long ago. It’s easier in that context to identify what’s significant enough to preserve. Whereas now, we’ve got to figure out what’s meaningful to a population 1,000% larger than it was a century ago and made up almost entirely of highly mobile, suburban-dwelling transplants. It’s actually kind of an exciting problem to have.


How did you get started in rare books?

To preface, I’d like to acknowledge that “rare” books is a slightly problematic term. I usually say something like historic or antiquarian books, or just special collections. And my reason is not just for the sake of being pedantic, but in fact totally related to my first encounter with rare books. My backstory is that I got into the field of librarianship so accidentally that for many years I didn’t even realize that’s what happened. It started during my freshman year of college when I saw a posting for a work-study job at something called the Yiddish Book Center, which was located near campus (in Amherst, Massachusetts). I thought, “Well, I like books,” although I didn’t know anything about Yiddish--like most people on the planet today. But the history of Yiddish literature turns out to be a perfect object lesson in why book history matters and illustrates the role that institutions play in collective memory-making. To summarize briefly: after WWII, the global population of native Yiddish speakers was greatly diminished and geographically displaced. And when that population aged and continued to decrease, there was a point at which it looked like Yiddish was a dying language. When the YBC began collecting Yiddish books in the 1980s, academics estimated that relatively few remained. Instead, the YBC collected more than a million volumes in the first few years. I don’t know why, but for some reason they hired me and taught me Hebrew letters and kept me around for awhile. I was so naive then that it didn’t occur to me that I was doing library-ish work, because I’d never seen special collections before and my idea of a library was a place where you borrow novels.

Now I have come to appreciate the experience of working outside of the traditional academic library environment. It’s important to recognize that value is always subjective and even the concept of scarcity is contextual. And we, professional librarians, archivists, and curators, need to remember that we don’t automatically get it right. This is why I’m passionate about representation and diversity in the historical record, and it’s the foundation of my approach to collection development.  


Where did you earn your MLS?

I got my MLIS degree from Pratt Institute, along with certificates in archives and museum libraries, in New York City. (I also have another MFA I got during that sad interim when I didn’t know that a library degree would help me get a job working with old books.)

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is so difficult! And I feel like this is disloyal, but my favorite items are going to be from Penn State Special Collections (my previous employer), because A) DCL’s collections are smaller and more contemporary, and B) I’m still in the process of getting to know the collections here. I have two favorites from PSU. One is a book of decorative monograms that I became very fond of after using it for a couple of typography classes: A New Book of Cyphers: Containing in General All Names Interwoven, & Revers’d, by Alphabet, by Benjamin Rhodes, 1723. It’s a lovely book, not especially remarkable for an 18th-century specimen, but there’s something so visually arresting about the emblems. Even the students who couldn’t be bothered to look up from their phones for any other fantastic artifact would get excited about this one. And the first thing anyone does with this book is look up their own initials. The other most beautiful thing I’ve ever gotten to play with was this deck of cards designed and illustrated by artist Laura Davidson: all hand printed, painted and gilt, tucked into a handmade wooden box. (“Flora and Fauna,” edition of 20, 2008.) She transformed the card suits into fruits and insects and set them in these dreamy garden scenes. It’s hard for me to explain my love for this, aside from it being lovely and delightful, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it’s reinterpreting something familiar in a contemporary and unabashedly feminine way.

What do you personally collect?

Oh no, this is another hard question. I am such a collector at heart that I really have to keep myself in check to make sure I don’t turn into a full-blown hoarder. One of the rules I force myself to follow is that anything I collect has to be A) cheap and B) small (preferably). This rule is practical for many reasons (like moving around a lot in my student years and not really having money), but I am also generally fond of ephemera and often attracted to things that other people don’t like (meaning, I am specifically interested in something because no one else is). I have been collecting zines and zine-like stuff since I was a teenager: low-budget comics, poetry chapbooks, flyers, religious tracts. I like to collect local ephemera when I travel. And subject-wise my interests are pretty broad, but I’ve noticed they tend towards interesting design elements, illustrations, alphabets, symbols, and anything that consists of listing things in any kind of order: encyclopedias, slang dictionaries, guides to the mystical properties of gems and crystals, descriptions of other collectors collections, etc.  

What do you like to do outside of work?

Someday soon I hope I get the hang of this management stuff, because it’s a lot of work right now. In theory, I’d like to take advantage of the fact that I live in the beautiful state of Colorado but at the moment I reside inside an archival vault. (Okay, I may be exaggerating a little.)

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I think rare books and special collections speak to me because they focus on materiality and specific artifacts. I’m not a Luddite--and I deeply appreciate technology that allows us to communicate and access information all over the world--but I crave the fixity of physical things. Which sounds weird to say, because of course objects deteriorate over time. But at least they are static enough, fixed in time long enough, to examine from different angles, to discuss, to withstand interrogation from different points of view. I guess I am skeptical of information that lacks a defined form.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship, particularly in public libraries?

Because I am new to the public library environment, I’m still trying to figure this out. In a general sense, I think that special collections ARE the future of librarianship (in terms of collection material, not services). As other resources become more universally available and more homogeneous, it’s the unique, local collections that will become more significant, more central to their respective communities. On the other hand, I worry about the financial stability of public libraries in less affluent districts than the one where I work. Special collections are expensive to maintain and complicated to explain, and I think this makes them vulnerable to administrations struggling with budget cuts. (Or the library can’t afford any special collections or archives to begin with.) One of the things that I hope young and/or early career librarians are learning is how to advocate: for themselves, their collections, their patrons’ needs. I cannot stress enough how important this is for any special collections program to succeed. You need to be ready at any moment to explain your budget requests, argue for your value, defend your facilities requirements, and translate your librarian-ese into language an executive director or trustee can understand.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

I’m still discovering what’s hidden in the far corners of the stacks, but there are some wonderful surprises. At my last job, I worked primarily with graphic design collections, and in that context “brand book” has a specific meaning, quite different from the brand books here. These are essentially directories of registered cattle brands for all the ranches in a region or specific area. I have become sort of fascinated by these--they’re like visual dictionaries of alien hieroglyphics! You might have been able to predict by now that this is exactly the kind of thing I would nerd out on, but I surprised myself by being so interested in something related to cattle ranching (which is not my area of expertise, in case that wasn’t clear.)  

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

I’m still figuring out how we do exhibits here! I have exactly one display case and what’s in there right now is a thematic grouping of Visually Interesting Stuff I Found While Cleaning Out The Vault. Working on some ideas about seasonal rotation and the possibility of community involvement (highlighting student research or history projects) so... stay tuned?

[Image provided by Alyssa Carver]

This past weekend and through yesterday, Brooklyn-based book artist Doug Beube offered his neighborhood a look at Dissolve, his latest sculptural bookwork, an “environmentally sensitive” piece that focuses on two books encased in blocks of ice.

Dissolve 01a.jpegHe explained in a statement: “One book is Arab and Jew; Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land by David K. Shipler and the other is The High Walls of Jerusalem by Roland Sanders. The word ABRAHAM is carved into the books--A-B-R on the left side and A-H-A-M, on the other. As the ice melts, the water is captured by two steel plinths that drain into one tank. The water is dispensed into bottles with labels that read dis/SOLUTION.”

Dissolve 02.jpeg“Abraham” references the religious leader, and “Carving ABR/AHAM into the two books that are frozen represents a combative discourse in which one side no longer hears the other--a form of censorship... As the ice dissolves and the water is collected, the knowledge and contents of the authors’ insights are comingled, becoming an unexpurgated dialogue. Water, and metaphorically dialogue, is a precious resource for both peoples in an arid land, which might be sprinkled onto the terrain to nourish a solution for peace and the prosperity.”

Dissolve 04.jpegBeube studied photography at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY, before moving into collage, papermaking, and bookbinding. His bookworks have included Seed Book (1980), made from straw paper, seeded pulp, and hemp twine; Pocket Book (1992), in which two books -- one philosophy, one mystery -- are encased in green leather and sealed with brass zippers; and Facebook (2009), an altered phonebook that can be used as a mask. He has used frozen books in other installations, as well, including 1988’s Chair of Censorship and 2014’s Melt. Beube published a collection of his work in 2011 titled Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex. He was also featured in a column written by fellow book artist Richard Minsky in our winter 2014 issue, as well as on our blog.

Images: Installation of Dissolve by Doug Beube. Altered book, ice, metal stand, glass bottles. 68 x 112 x 16 inches, 2018. Courtesy of Doug Beube.

Lyon & Turnbull sells Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs on Tuesday, October 2, in 419 lots. A complete copy of Baschieri and Gazzadi’s Zoologia Morale (1843-1846; pictured below) is estimated at £5,000-7,000, while a 1565 Venice edition of Mattioli’s Commentarii could fetch £4,000-6,000. At the same estimate is a special copy of J.K. Rowling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard, inscribed by Rowling.



At Dominic Winter Auctioneers on Wednesday, October 3, Printed Books, Maps & Prints, in 536 lots. Saint-Non’s Voyage Pittoresque de Naples et de Sicile (1781-1786), nearly complete, could sell for £5,000-8,000. An album containing forty-three caricatures by Cruikshank, Gillray, Rowlandson and others is estimated at £3,000-5,000. Some other notable lots include a collection of about 150 “Baxter prints” (£600-900), and a copy of the marvelous 1900 satirical political caricature map “John Bull And His Friends” (£2,000-3,000).


There are a few books among the 309 lots in Creating a Stage: The Collection of Marsha and Robin Williams, to be sold at Sotheby’s New York on Thursday, October 4. See Rebecca’s post from last week for an overview.


Also on Thursday, PBA Galleries sells Americana - Travel & Exploration - World History - Cartography, in 517 lots. Note that lots 365-517 are being sold without reserve. A mixed set of the octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America rates the top estimate, at $30,000-50,000. A copy of the first octavo edition of McKenney & Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America is estimated at $10,000-15,000. A couple other interesting lots include a manuscript volume of Gold Rush-era songs and an 1852 Gold Rush diary (both estimated at $3,000-5,000).


And Saturday sees a special, inaugural auction of Music & Dance: Rare Scores, Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Signed Photographs, Prints and Drawings hosted by antiquarian booksellers J & J Lubrano.


Image credit: Lyon & Turnbull


If there’s anything new to learn from Characters, a series of personality portraits written by the ancient Greek Theophrastus (c. 371 - c. 287 BC), it is that gluttons, chatterboxes, drunks, idiots, and others are not unique to any time or place in human history.  This robust little volume of character sketches has been widely published and translated since its first appearance twenty-three centuries ago--Jean de la Bruyère’s Les Caractères (1688), Character Writings of the Seventeenth Century (1891) and the Loeb Classical Library’s edition are a few that come to mind--but each translation is an interpretative undertaking, meaning there is always a renewed need for fresh viewpoints.


On October 1, Characters will be once again published in English, this time by Callaway Arts & Entertainment. Translated by Pamela Mensch with vibrant pen-and-ink illustrations by acclaimed caricature artist André Carrillo, this edition includes insightful annotations by Bard College classics professor and Guggenheim recipient James Romm.

Part the enduring appeal of Characters is that bad behavior, however caustic, is, whether we like it or not, universal; who doesn’t know a busybody who “stands up and promises what he can’t deliver,” a slovenly fellow “afflicted with dull-white eczema and black fingernails, go[ing] about saying that these illnesses are hereditary,” and the friend of scoundrels who “fraternizes with men who have been defeated in court and convicted in public trials; he assumes that if he’s friendly with them, he’ll become more worldly and formidable.”


“These are flesh-and-blood people, with very familiar flaws and foibles,” Romm explained. “They remind us that ancient Greeks were actual human beings, not marble busts. The past no longer feels like a foreign country. It’s a true gift to be able to ‘feel’ the reality of the classical world.” As Romm points out in his introduction, some previous translators could not square with the lack of judgement in Theophrastus’s sketches and inserted their own. This edition strips away those addendums, allowing the original descriptions to be read on their own merit.


And yet, English-speakers don’t suffer for lack options: Penguin released a paperback version as recently as 2015, so why a new translation now? “There’s a very practical reason,” Romm said. “The Greek text of Characters is rather messy, with lots of sentences in dispute (or simply unintelligible) due to copyists’ errors in the transmission process. Only a few years ago, a new edition of the Greek text by James Diggle sorted out many of these problems. This new English version by Pamela Mensch takes advantage of that cleaned-up Greek text.”


Contemporary readers may be familiar with Theophrastus’s exhaustive Inquiry into Plants and Causes of Plants. However, Characters reveals more of the author’s natural verve and wit, which has led some scholars to dispute whether Theophrastus deserves the attribution. “The contrast between Characters and the botanical works is indeed sharp,” Romm said. “Assuming Theophrastus wrote both, he seems to have wanted to take an occasional break from science to compose light satire, and perhaps, like all good teachers, sought a way to bring some levity to his ‘classroom’ -- in his case, the Lyceum, founded by Aristotle.”


We may see a bit of ourselves, our friends, and our political leaders in these portraits, but how might have an ancient Athenian reacted? After all, these were sketches based on actual people Theophrastus encountered on a daily basis. Romm believes the Greeks would have taken it in stride-- “With a laugh and a nod of recognition, and probably a bit of embarrassment!”

Society needs writers who document human behavior, even if that behavior never seems to change. But those records needn’t always be gloomy. “Thucydides famously wrote that human nature is constant over time, so that the deeds he recorded in the Peloponnesian War would be seen again,” Romm said. “In his case, that’s a tragic message, since he mostly records atrocities. Theophrastus supplies the comic side of the same equation.”   

Theophrastus’ Characters: An Ancient Take on Bad Behavior, by James Romm, André Carrilho, and Pamela Mensch. Callaway Arts and Entertainment; $24.95, 119 pages.

On Her Own in the Room

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-27 at 7.43.04 PM.jpeg

When Elizabeth Crawford became a rare book dealer, setting up her first stand at a monthly fair in London in 1984, she was not the only woman in the room, but she was, she recalls, “on her own in the room” -- women booksellers were, and still are, often accompanied by their spouses or partners in bookselling.
She took up the rare book business in part because of her interest in women writers, women’s history, and in part because of the flexible schedule it provided her. She had young children at home and could still make a business out of her interest in the the lives and work of women, a subject that had been completely ignored in her studies in history and politics at Exeter University. The book trade afforded her access to her curiosity, provided her the opporutnity to research what she loved, and allowed her flexible hours she set herself, and she would take her children to book fairs when necessary.


WhatsApp Image 2018-09-27 at 7.43.04 PM (1).jpeg    

In her 34 years as a bookseller since Crawford published her first catalogue, which was called, “Admirable Novels By Intelligent Englishwomen,” Crawford has issued a tremendous and celebration-worthy 197 catalogues devoted to what is not a niche subject but treated like one in the book trade -- the lives, work, and contributions of women.
Her rare book trade also led her to a robust career as an independent scholar, particularly of suffrage. Her latest book is Art and Suffrage: a biographical dictionary of suffrage artists. Over email she shared a brief recollection of getting started:
   “My work as an independent scholar around the women’s suffrage movement and women’s lives in the 19th and 20th century stemmed directly from my ‘trade’ in second-hand books by and about women. From the outset these were the books I sold, inspired, to some degree by, for fiction, Nicola Beauman, A Very Great Profession, and, for non-fiction, Janet Horowitz Murray, Strong-minded Women: and other lost voices from 19th-century England. I had read both not long before the idea came to me of taking a stand at a Bloomsbury book fair and was enthused with the idea of finding copies of the original editions of the books these authors mentioned. Although I have a university degree in history and politics ‘women’, as such, were never discussed in the courses I followed back in the 1960s and ‘women’s studies’ had barely entered the curriculum when I became a bookseller in 1984 - so I was venturing into terra incognita.”

Exploring terra incognita was a smart career move for Elizabeth Crawford and her work as a bookwoman is a benefit not only to the trade, but to our history. Reflecting on her duel-armed business, she added, “There is no doubt that I have benefitted greatly from the opportunity to study so much material relating to the suffrage movement at first hand, from series of bound volumes of suffrage newspapers to suffragette cups and saucers, and that my book business has fuelled my parallel career as an historian. As one makes no money writing books, it is just as well I have my book and ephemera business in order to buy me the time to research and write. And, conversely, I hope that my reputation as an historian gives reassurance to customers buying my catalogued suffrage material.”


Images courtesy of Elizabeth Crawford


Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Whitney Buccicone, Special Collections Cataloging Librarian at the University of Washington in Seattle.

85A_7761.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I am the Special Collections Cataloging Librarian at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. I am responsible for cataloging all the amazing materials, both print and archival, that are housed in UW’s Special Collections. I also create and modify authority records and subject headings for NACO and SACO. Beyond that, I do my best to help diminish backlogs, document procedures, and make sure workflows are efficient.


How did you get started in rare books?

I began as a page at the Lilly Library (Indiana University Libraries rare books and special collections library) when I was 20 and a junior at Indiana University. Pages retrieve materials from the Lilly’s closed stacks for patron and staff use then reshelf them after (along with other duties). My first boss there called me “the Robot” because I never misshelved a book and understood the Library of Congress classification system quickly. I continued doing well enough that I eventually was convinced by my boss at the time to go to library school.  I began cataloging during that time and was hired in a full-time temporary cataloger position after graduation. From there, I was promoted to permanent paraprofessional positions and worked there for almost 9.5 years before coming to UW in a librarian position.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I received both my MLS and Master’s in Arts Administration from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I have too many favorites to name but the most recent is a commonplace book purchased by our Curator of History of Science and Medicine, Lisa Oberg. The original book was a text on chemistry (First lines of the practice of physic, for the use of students in the University of Edinburgh by William Cullen, M.D., printed in 1777). That text was annotated by someone previously before a ship’s doctor from the British Navy pasted articles about agriculture and gardening from magazines and included his own annotations about those throughout. Before all of that though, the book was unbound and newspaper from France was used to reinforce the spine of each gathering. The book was then rebound. What makes this my favorite item is just the obvious impact that owners on their books. That’s what has always excited me about working in special collections -- we preserve and provide access to humans’ impacts on books and vice versa.


What do you personally collect?

In regards to books, I collect sci-fi/fantasy and poetry written by women of color. I also have a robust comic book collection where I focus on comics from the early 1990s as well as a vinyl collection that highlights all my favorite artists from my childhood.


What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to thrift shop to find art, jewelry, and old ceramics to plant succulents in. I garden (which is rather difficult in Seattle), knit, and read.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Collaborating with my colleagues -- whether that is a curator here at UW or with another cataloger at a different institution. The more we share knowledge, the better we serve our users by creating accurate and detailed catalog records, finding aids, and exhibits. I see so much of that at conferences, on Twitter, and other places -- I am grateful to be surrounded by colleagues who want to share knowledge freely and warmly, not horde it away.


Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

Being an older “Bright Young” librarian, I am excited about the colleagues I see coming up after me. I trained multiple catalogers who are now off doing amazing work across the country and that makes me feel that the future of our field is in great hands. I’m happy to be working alongside them and hope to continue to collaborate with them.


Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

We have so many great collections at UW Special Collections. Our Jewish Archives has oral histories from Holocaust survivors and preserving that history of a marginalized community is very important to our mission here. We also have some amazing ephemera: butcher knives from the local butchers union; scientific instruments going back to the early 19th century in our History of Science and Medicine collection; and some of the earliest maps detailing the Washington Territory.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

 In fall 2019, our exhibit will be “The Seattle General Strike and Centralia Tragedy of 1919: the legacy of the Industrial Workers of the World in the Pacific Northwest” curated by Conor Casey, our Labor Archivist. Our Labor Archives is a wonderful resource for those researching the labor movement and other social justice issues and this exhibit will focus on a transformative time for the labor movement in the PNW.

Photo Credit: Sung Park Photography

Next week the eclectic collection of the late Robin Williams and his wife, Marsha, goes to auction in New York. The offerings range from artworks by Banksy (five of them!) to film props; fancy watches to toy figurines. And, like fellow actors Charlton Heston and Sylvester Stallone, Williams accumulated a handful of rare books, too. Fifteen are included in this sale, some with neat backstories.  

Godot.pngThe most poignant might be the lot containing three first editions (the true first from Paris, a first UK, and a first American) of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, estimated at $1,500-2,500). In 1988, Williams starred in a production of the play at Lincoln Center, alongside Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham, directed by Mike Nichols. According to the auction house, “It was this role that helped expose Williams’ performative breadth and established his place as a serious actor capable of moving beyond the comedic and into more dramatic roles.”

Stanis.pngAlong the same lines is this inscribed, presentation copy of Konstantin Stanislavski’s 1936 book, An Actor Prepares, bound in half purple morocco over floral cloth boards. It is estimated at $2,000-3,000.

Tenny.pngCould it be that this collection of illustrations from Tennyson’s Idylls was a keepsake from his Dead Poets Society days? This “book” is really an album containing eight illuminated vellum leaves, c. 1862. According to the catalogue, “A note accompanying the volume suggests that these leaves were used for making color-lithograph plates, and that they were later mounted and bound into this album, which was then presented to Tennyson as a memento.” It is estimated at $4,000-6,000. (Of related interest: Williams’ own Dead Poets Society vest!)

Walden.pngNo, there’s no Whitman (“O Captain! My Captain!”) here for DPS fans, but there is a first edition of Walden. As the Sotheby’s cataloguer reminds us, “In Dead Poet[s] Society (Touchstone, 1989), Thoreau was one of the writers that Williams’ character, Mr. Keating, quoted to his students as he inspired them to lead lives marked by individualism and self-reliance, tenets at the heart of the transcendentalist movement.” The volume shows some wear. Its estimate is $10,000-15,000.

Twain Inscript.pngIt’s no surprise to find Mark Twain among Williams’ special books, and here is a pirated Canadian edition of his Sketches with a fantastic contemporary inscription on the endpaper that reads, “This book was published in 1880--one year before entered so it says--see title page--It means that the thieves never entered it at all does it not?” Under that, in Twain’s own hand, is an addendum: “Pirate edition, I suppose. Mark Twain.” It is estimated at $2,000-3,000. The next lot is 25-volume autograph edition of Twain’s works, bound in maroon morocco, and estimated at $3,000-5,000.

Moby.pngAnd then there’s the Arion Press edition of Moby-Dick (1979), with woodcuts by Barry Moser, printed on handmade paper. The San Francisco-based Arion Press sets the standard for fine press books in America, and this folio is estimated at $6,000-8,000. According to Sotheby’s, “Robin and Marsha were avid supporters of the Arion Press and Grabhorn Institute.”

But that’s not all -- the remainder include a first edition Oxford English Dictionary, a W. Heath Robinson-illustrated Shakespeare, and the 1847 edition of Euclid’s works.   

Images via Sotheby’s

A pretty full calendar of sales this week. Here are a few highlights:


On Tuesday, September 25 at Bonhams New York, Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, in 305 lots. A rare copy of Aurora Australis, the first book printed in Antarctica (“at the Sign of ‘The Penguins’”) during Shackleton’s 1908-1909 Nimrod expedition and bound in boards made from packing crates, is estimated at $70,000-100,000. The same estimate is given for a first edition of Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625-1626). A later manuscript copy of Don Alonso de Arellano’s 1565 account of an east-west crossing of the Pacific, from the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps, could fetch $50,000-80,000. A spectacular 1881 Mark Twain letter to aspiring author Bruce Munro about writing is estimated at $30,000-50,000. (More on the sale here in our autumn Auction Guide.)


University Archives sells Autographed Documents, Manuscripts, Books & Relics on Wednesday, September 26, in 288 lots. A 1784 letter from James Watt about the first grist mill to employ Watt’s steam engine could sell for $18,000-20,000, while an odd volume from Thomas Jefferson’s library, with his ownership marks, is estimated at $16,000-18,000. A 1790 document signed by Washington as president and also by Declaration signer William Ellery could fetch $12,000-14,000.


Forum Auctions in London will hold two sales this week: Editions and Works on Paper on Wednesday and Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper on Thursday--the latter offering the William Morris-owned quill pen highlighted on our blog earlier this month. 



On Thursday, September 27, Swann Galleries hosts a sale of Printed & Manuscript Americana, in 516 lots, with the Harold Holzer Collection of Lincolniana comprising the first 176 lots. A 1577 Mexico City imprint, the first edition of the first book of sermons in the Nahuatl language, is estimated at $30,000-40,000 (pictured above). A copy of the first number of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis, printed at Fishkill, New York in early 1777, could fetch $25,000-35,000. A near-complete copy of the Aitken Bible is estimated at $20,000-30,000. (Again, more on the sale here.)


Also on Thursday, Freeman’s sells Books & Manuscripts, in 479 lots. Top lots are expected to include a twenty-four volume set of Voyages Pittoresques et Romantiques dans l’ancienne France (1820-1878), containing nearly 3,000 plates and estimated at $10,000-15,000, and an eighteenth-century composite atlas at the same estimate range. A copy of the octavo edition of Audubon’s Quadrupeds is estimated at $8,000-12,000.


Image credit: Swann Galleries

Having seen (and enjoyed) American Animals, a film about four college students attempting to steal a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America from a university library, and still pining to see The Bookshop, adapted from Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel about a widow who opens a bookshop in a coastal English town in 1959, I’m excited, if slightly worried, to hear about yet another book-themed blockbuster this year. After all, I can’t get to the theater that often!

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the juicy 2008 book by celebrity biographer-turned-forger Lee Israel in which she describes how she falsified letters of famous authors for profit. It may feel a little ‘too close to home’ for the book dealers and collectors out there, but with Melissa McCarthy playing Lee ... it is apt to be fantastic. Take a look at the trailer:

Auction Guide