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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Jean Grolier’s copy of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Einstein’s autographed draft of his General Theory of Relativity are among the notable buys this summer

Gold Rush Days

Frank Marryat, Mountains and Molehills, or Recollections of a Burnt Journal, $1,140 at PBA Galleries in San Francisco on July 22.

One of the eight vibrant chromolithographs in Frank Marryat’s Gold Rush journal, Mountains and Molehills. Courtesy of PBA Galleries.

Illustrated with eight chromolithographed plates from the author’s own drawings, this is one of the most sought-after books on the California Gold Rush, being valued both for the vibrant plates and an entertaining text. Carl Wheat, in Books of the California Gold Rush, declared it an “excellent narrative of experiences in the diggings,” while Gary Kurutz in his more recent Gold Rush bibliography, quotes the celebrated San Francisco dealer, John Howell, who called the book one of the best descriptions of life in the mines. Kurutz lauds both the graphic excellence of the plates as well as their revelation of the author’s wry sense of humor. “The Winter of 1849,” seen here, is a good example.

For some reason, a New York edition omitted the plates. Though there is some occasionally heavy foxing present, they are all to be found, still under tissue guards, in this 1855 London first.

The son of Captain Frederick Marryat (the English naval officer, traveler, and writer whose best known novels are Midshipman Easy and Masterman Ready), the newly married Frank Marryat contracted yellow fever during his last visit to the Americas, and though he managed to complete his journal on his return to England, he died shortly after the book was published.

Relativity Speaking

Albert Einstein, autograph draft for a lecture on “The Origin of the General Theory of Relativity,” $578,500 at Christie’s New York on June 22.

A corrected working draft of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Courtesy of Christie’s.

A corrected and amended working draft for a lecture that Einstein delivered at Glasgow University in June 1933, this autograph manuscript [in German] is an account of the difficult path that Einstein followed from his Special Theory of Relativity of 1905 to the General Theory, which he finally published in 1916.

Dr. Robert Schulman, a former editor of the Einstein papers, has pointed out that in its importance as a review of those momentous years of discovery, it can only be compared with the Kyoto lecture of 1922, for which only Japanese shorthand notes (and a translation back into German) survive, and the definitive Einstein Edition itself draws on this 1933 account of his struggle “for a canonical reconstruction of the path to General relativity.” The lecture was delivered in the year that Einstein left Germany, following the Nazi seizure of power, and before he traveled later that same year to the United States.

At the end of his account, Einstein recalls his sense of elation when the theory was confirmed:

“Once the validity of this mode of thought has been recognised, the final results appear almost simple; any intelligent undergraduate can understand them.” But, he adds, “the years of searching in the dark, for a truth that one feels, but cannot express; the intense desire and the alternations of confidence and misgiving, until one breaks through to clarity and understanding, are only known to him who has himself experienced them.”

Maternal Fears and the Bristol Wonder

Daniel Turner, The Force of Mother’s Imagination upon her Foetus in Utero, £517 ($790) and The Bristol Wonder, a broadside, £1,175 ($1,800) at Dominic Winter of South Cerney on July 21.

A 1788 broadside announcing the birth of a rare form of conjoined twins in Bristol, England. Courtesy of Dominic Winter.

Daniel Turner, a man later recognized as the founder of British dermatological studies, had become engaged in a dispute with James Blundell on maternal powers of imagination. Turner upheld a long-standing belief that a pregnant woman’s imagination could be transferred to the unborn child with resulting marks and deformities, but Blundell had challenged these views on a more rational and anatomical basis and this book was Turner’s response.

The 1788 broadside deals with a thankfully rare form of conjoined twins known now as synecephalus, in which the twins share a head and face but have four ears and two bodies. Stillborn to Elizabeth Holdingbrook, the wife of a Bristol millwright, this “Wonderfull Production of Human nature is now preserved fit for the inspection of the Curious,” the locally printed broadside tells us, and then passes on the learned opinion that this cruel birth, one of the wonderful works of God, resulted “from the Redundance of the Seed but there not being enough for Twins, Nature formed what she could, and so made the most of it.”

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