Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Revisiting the Haggadah, A Couple of New Books Available and a truly rare collection is looking for a home

I wrote about collecting The Haggadah during Passover recently.  Within that post I wrote about The Szyk Haggadah.  Unknown to me at that time, Abrams was releasing a wonderful new, trade edition.  My copy arrived today and it is indeed, a lovely edition and cheap compared to the limited editions I wrote about previously.

Additionally, I learned of a new Yale University Press title that would compliment any growing collection of Haggadah editions.  Released May 9, The Medieval Haggadah:  Art, Narrative and Religious Imagination appears to be a wonderful new book!

I also would like to note that Anne decided that it was now okay, to acquire one of the Assouline Haggadah that I linked to in my earlier post.  We scored a true bargain, the book is outstanding and will be a wonderful pre-Bat Mitzvah gift for a special youngster preparing for her coming of age in 2012.

I stumbled upon a fascinating story of a rare library of seriously rare and important Judaica books, the Valmadonna Trust Library,  which went unsold at auction in December is now awaiting that special buyer.  For the minimum asking price of $25 million USD, a collection of over  300 hand written Hebrew documents, some nearly 1000 years old and over 13,000 printed works can be yours!  Rare book libraries simply don't have the budget and this collection must be kept together so until some deep pocketed individual endows a University, Museum or Religious Library, the collection will languish in the Sotheby's office in New York! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Collecting China Miéville, Novels across the spectrum, a future high spot?

Collecting books is rarely straightforward and simple.  How to begin?  Start with a favorite author, genre, type, age, class of books?  What if collecting, as it generally is in my case, is closely associated more with reading and learning?  Sure, I collect books but I also love to continue adding to my private library.  I also read and sometimes buy books to experience a new author, the collecting follows. 

China Miéville is an author I am contemplating collecting.  He is at the beginning of what appears to be a long career writing contemporary novels that are difficult to classify.  He is more a traditionally defined "literary" author than a pulp writer.  He experiments with various genres and refuses to be pigeon-holed into one or another style.  He appears to be a character with a wide range of interests, voice and powerful pen. 

My first Miéville title was acquired sometime last year, a first edition, first printing of his 2010 novel, Kraken, Ballantine Books, Del Rey imprint, New York, 2010 (Tor UK, Pan Macmillan, London, 2010).  I was following some blog or other and recall reading very positive review of Kraken, a tale of magic, cults, police, wizards and a giant squid set in a London of Mieville's imagination.  When it arrived, I did some additional research and decided that Miéville would be an author I kept my eye on and I decided to read at least three of his novels before making a decision to collect or not. 

Unfortunately, Kraken remains in my stack of unread acquisitions and now, his next novel Embassytown, will publish this month and I have a copy on preorder.  Ursula K. LeGuin, who deserves a collecting post herself, reviewed Embassytown for The Guardian and declares it a true, science fiction novel, worthy of potential classic status.  A Miéville collection is underway and now, I decided that I should probably start acquiring, at least his first 7 published novels starting with his first.  If I read the three title I will own, and like them, I'll carry and build a complete collection!

Miéville's first novel, a fantasy noir, was King Rat, 1998, Pan Macmillan, London, in paperback with wraps. There are very few true, first edition, first printings available and I admit to be taking a risk acquiring one before having read any of his novels but I am going to anyway.  An example of collecting on the edge, since in this case, the reasonably priced copies are far away and will cost much to ship!  The first American Edition was published by Tor Books, New York in 1999, a hardcover with dust jacket.  In 2005, Earthling Publications of Northampton, Massachusetts released a limited edition 400 copies, hardcover in slipcase, illustrated by Richard Kirk and signed by the author.  Over time, the Earthling Publication limited edition will be near impossible to acquire so the time to act is now!

Perdido Street Station, Macmillan, London, 2000, the first novel of a three book hard edged fantasy series, New Corbazon was Miéville's, second novel.  Available copies are expensive ranging from $120-$350!  There is a chance that some Amazon sellers have copies for under $100 but the descriptions are terrible and I would not order a copy unless I could verify that it was a first edition, first printing and whether it was UK or USA. 

The second book of the New Corbazon series was, The Scar, Macmillan, London, 2001.  Only a few copies are currently available but at least they are all under $100. The Scar was again given limited edition treatment with the release of an Easton Press, leather bound edition of 1000 copies, in 2002 copies are available priced round $250 and that seems a bit much!  

The final novel of the New Corbazon series was Iron Council, Macmillan, London, 2004 (Del Ray, Maryland, USA, 2004), complete the New Corbazon trilogy.  There are 29 copies of the Macmillan edition available and all are under $100 including the 100 copy, slipcase limited edition, Macmillan, signed by the author.   The Macmillan limited edition seems a steal at $88 and makes me question the pricing of Perdido Street Station, which seems overall, high.  The Del Ray, Ballantine US first edition is also available for reasonable prices.     Scar was again given limited edition treatment with the release of an Easton Press, leather bound edition of 1000 copies, in 2002 copies are available priced round $250 and that seems a bit much!  

In 2007, Un Lun Dun, Macmillan, London (Del Rey, Ballantine, USA) was published, Miéville's fourth novel and first children's book.  Surprisingly there are numerous copies available of both editions and the prices are very reasonable.      

In 2009, with the publication of The City and the City, Macmillan, London (Del Rey Ballantine, USA) marked Miéville's returned to adult fiction and the absurd.  The supply of Macmillan and De Rey, first edition first printing is solid and generally reasonably priced.  If there is upward price pressure it is due to two factors.  First, Subterranean Press released a limited edition of 26 lettered copies, signed by the author and bound in blue leather.  Second, as sometimes happens during the manufacturing process, a copy of the first edition, first printing was bound upside down and that copy, paired with a correct copy, signed by the author is being sold for $1700!  I bet that pricing algorithms are setting the price for the first edition, first printing based on these two high spot anomalies.  I guess, if you have the cash, splurge!

Miéville is an author that will become more and more collectible over time.  He is testing his writing skill by experimenting with various genres and he also has publications in the non fiction and graphic novel arena.  If you get hooked on Miéville, the novelist, you may desire a complete collection of all his writing.  I'm starting now and hopefully, will at least, develop a complete collection of his novels before the prices get out of hand.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Must See Bookish Exhibit in Boston at the Gardner: Illuminating the Serenissima: Books of the Republic of Venice

Commissione of Doge Francesco Donato to Vincenzo Gritti as Lieutenant of Udine, 1546. leone andante, St. Vincent Ferrer, Latin inscription reading ‘I Francesco Donato, by the grace of God, Doge of Venice, etc’, putti raising the Gritti family arms, antique armor and trophies. Paint and gold paint on vellum, height 24 cm by width 17 cm by depth 4 cm (closed).

Visits to rare book rooms at libraries, browsing the displays at book fairs and tours of museum exhibits of rare books are some of my favorite activities.  I was thrilled to learn if this all too brief exhibit of 7 rare books, complete books, in their original bindings to be on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, May 3-June 19, 2011, Illuminating the Serenissima:  Books of the Republic of Venice.  The seven books on display are truly one of a kind books created via commission to honor the election/appointment of the Doge, the ruler of Venice. 

The books, called, commissioni, were commissioned by the newly elected noble who would rule the Venetian Republic for a period of 16 months or to serve as lifelong administrators of the city of Venice.  The commissioni were lavishly illustrated and represent a unique class of book, the Venetian Book.  There are very few surviving complete examples of commissioni as most have been parted out for page by page profit. 

I'll report more on these once I visit the Museum, for now, only a head's up to all in or close to Boston, get thee to the Gardner! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Collecting Joseph Cambell on Mythology, A Quartet for Every Library

Like many, I discovered Joseph Campbell during my college years and began reading his then, 20 year old classic, The Masks of God:  Primitive Mythology, The Viking Press, New York, 1959 and over the next few year, the other three title in The Masks of God quartet.  About 20 years later I was finally able to pass along my torn and tattered trade paperback editions and proudly shelve the first edition, first printing collection of The Masks of God in my library.  I do tend to collect what I love(d) to read, especially classics in the history of ideas.

The Masks of God quartet
Shelved out of order
Joseph Campbell, 1904-1987, was a very rare individual who was able to pursue mastery of self while constantly making progress professionally, personally and intellectually.  His life story is a fascinating example of the power and promise of following serendipity.  A vagabond, perpetual student, teacher, editor, author, and gifted public speaker, he achieved scholarly notoriety and genuine mass market popularity for his study and teaching of world mythology.  Collecting Campbell provides and opportunity to acquire a classic library of important books on world mythology, generally available and generally affordable.

Campbell was involved in the launch of the now-famous Bollingen Series sponsored by the philanthropist couple, Paul and Mary Mellon.  Sometime in 1943, Campbell was invited to write and Introduction and Commentary for the 1st Bollingen Series title, Where the Two Came to their Father:  A Navaho War Ceremonial, text and paintings recorded by Maud Oake, given by Jeff King, Bollingen Series, I,  Pantheon Books, Princeton, New Jersey, 1943.  Three copies are currently available between $1750 and $2000 and it is well worth the effort to read the catalog descriptions as this must be a stunning book!

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949
The copy for sale from Hang Fire Books
In 1949, Campbell published his first book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell, Bollingen Series, XVII, Pantheon Books, Princeton, NJ, 1949.  Four copies are available all reasonably priced between $120 and $350.  Sadly this is a book that remains on my want list still today!

After The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell's next major writing project evolved in to the classic 4 volume, The Masks of God, series.  This classic general audience set belongs in the collection and/or library of anyone interested in the study of world mythology, culture and creativity.  While I imagine that scholars actively debate Campbell's writing and legacy, his prose and grasp stand outside current scholarly debate and have lasting value for the history and ideas presented.

The Masks of God:  Primitive Mythology, 1959
The Masks of God:  Primitive Mythology, Joseph Campbell, The Viking Press, New York, 1959 is book one in the series.  From the cover copy, "A new approach to mythology, in which the oldest truths of man's inner life - the sources of his beliefs and aspirations - are seen in the light of a new science in the making, a science to which psychology, anthropology, archaeology, and many others contribute.  With excitement and wonder, the reader watches the unfolding of a unified view of the spiritual roots of mankind."   Currently, there are 15 copies for sale ranging in price from $18.00 to $125.00, a bargain!  When choosing the perfect copy, focus on condition and acquire the best condition within your budget.
The Masks of God:  Oriental Mythology, 1962
The Masks of God:  Oriental Mythology, Joseph Campbell, The Viking Press, New York, 1962 is book two in the series. From the cover copy, "Whenever men have looked for something solid on which to found their lives, they have chosen not the facts in which the world abounds, but the myths of an immemorial imagination.Currently, there are 17 copies available ranging in price from $8.00 to $78.00 which makes me wonder about the state of the world!

The Masks of God:  Occidental Mythology, 1964
The Masks of God:  Occidental Mythology, The Viking Press, New York, 1964 is book three in the series.  From the cover copy, "In the long view of the history of mankind, four essential functions of mythology can be discerned.  The first is to elicit a sense of awe; the second, to render a cosmology; the third, to support the social order; and the fourth, to initiate the individual into the realities of his own psyche, guiding him toward spiritual enrichment and realization."  Six copies of the first edition, first printing are available with prices ranging from $18.00 to $45.00.

The Masks of God:  Creative Mythology, 1968
The Masks of God:  Creative Mythology, Joseph Campbell, The Viking Press, New York, 1968 is the final book in the series.  In this volume, Campbell brings together the story of mythology presented in books 1-3 and focused on the impact of mythology on the history of human creativity.  This is one of my favorite reads of all time!  Only 4 copies of the first edition, first printing are available with prices ranging from $40 to $250 as would be expected for the probably, the most popular volume of the series.

Campbell went on to publish more books on mythology between 1968 and his death in 1987.  The place to start collecting Campbell is The Masks of God series.  Unfortunately, after learning about Bollingen Series, I, I fear I will become obsessed with at least viewing a copy and probably acquiring a copy, someday.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Another Book featuring Brassai, Listed at Auction, Comparing Editions and Prices

More often than not, I simply pine after a book and never take the plunge and acquire a copy.  Today's email alerted me that Christie's identified 6 lots which might interest me from the auction, Importants Livres Anciens, Livres d'Artistes et Manuscrits, May 11, 2011.   Actually, there were many more lots in this auction that I am interested in but I restrained myself when initially registering with Christie's, keeping my interests on the short side! 
The original cover

As I was browsing through the list of 6 lots, my attention turned to Lot 0214, [PICASSO] -- KAHNWEILER, Daniel Henry (1884-1979). Les Sculptures de Picasso. Photographies de Brassaï. Paris: Éditions du chêne, janvier 1949. In-4 (310 x 234 mm). 218 photographies en héliogravure d'après les originales de Brassaï et de Dora Maar. Cartonnage original de l'éditeur, plat supérieur orné d'un moulage de la main de Picasso, dos en toile noire (petites égratignures). ÉDITION ORIGINALE. Très belle publication sur les sculptures de Picasso, luxueusement imprimée. Très bon exemplaire avec la reliure en bon état de conservation. 

After an annoying email verification and required telephone number entry, I accessed the condition report which states:  "Lavishly illustrated documentation with gravure plates after Brassaï and Dora Maar.  Original cloth-backed decorated boards in good condition (only a few scratches)."  There were no photographs of the book available and the estimated selling price was listed as $292-$439.  Assuming shipping and applicable buyer's premium I imagine the complete cost to acquire this copy would be between $400 and $600.  I'm not planning to bid but I did decide to do a little research on this Picasso-Brassaï collaboration.  Here is a listing of 4 other copies currently for sale listed between $125 (very very very tempting) and $279 plus shipping

Brassaï photographed Picasso's sculpture between 1932 and by 1946.  They developed not only a close professional relationship between artist and photographer but also a close friendship.  Daniel Henry Kahnweiler was Picasso's art dealer and wrote the text accompanying this book.  Dora Maar, a favored muse, lover and ultimately, tragic figure from Picasso's life, was a trained artist who ventured into photography during the 1930's and contributed photos to this collection.  I would certainly love to add Les Sculptures de Picasso. Photographies de Brassaï. Paris: Éditions du chêne, janvier 1949 but I wonder about the projected cost of this particular edition and what other editions of this work might be more appropriate for me, one who can not read French.
1st English Edition showing what's left of the original tissue dust jacket
From Roe and Moore Booksellers, London

The first English edition of  Les Sculptures de Picasso. Photographies de Brassaï, translated from the French by A. C. B. Sylvester, published by Rodney Phillips, London, 1949 (printed in Paris, France, by Theo Brugiere) with the title The Sculptures of Picasso is a more likely candidate for my library.  I would like to actually read Kahnweiler's essay so this seems a better fit.  It is interesting to note that the Éditions du chêne and Rodney Phillips editions were both published in 1949 and is a potential source of confusion concerning which edition appeared first, in this case the French.   There are 9 copies listed for sale.  A few copies are ex-library and probably in poor condition.  I personally don't think there is any need to pay a premium for a copy which includes the original tissue wrapper.
2005 Assouline Edition

Recently, Assouline, New York,  published a new edition with the title The Sculptures of Picasso, by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Photography by Brassai, Portfolio format with loose photo prints, 2005, $120, direct from the publisher.  I am disappointed with the web page from Assouline because there is no mention of Dora Maar or if this is a new translation of Kahnweiler's text.  I expect that it is the original English translation and the Dora Maar photographs are included and both should be mentioned on the catalog page for the book!  At any rate, I would expect that the publication is high quality and for anyone interested in a complete collection of this work, a necessary acquisition.  Copies are available on the secondary marketplace priced between $61 and $139 plus shipping, but since the publisher still has copies for sale, I'd prefer a brand-spanking new, copy!

This is a simple illustration of the basic and quick research that will help a collector or innocent book junkie avoid overpaying for a want via auction.  Always do the research if only to make an inquiry with the auction house prior to bidding.  Verify, comparison shop, comparison price and then, only if the price is right, make a bid.   

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Inspired Collecting, Holy Week focus, Collecting Apocalypse Manuscripts, More Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts

As I was thinking about book collecting during Holy Week, 2011 and writing about Book of Hours, my thoughts naturally turned to Apocalypse Manuscripts another example of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts.  Along with Book of Hours, Psalters, and Bestiaries, Apocalypse Manuscripts are generally considered a worthy target for book collecting and since these beautifully illustrated books rarely survived as a whole, the few that did, are sometimes reproduced in facsimile editions.  Collecting Apocalypse Manuscripts in facsimile is the most likely route to building a collection of illuminated Apocalypse Manuscripts.

Icon of St. John the Theologian
author of the New Testament Book of Revelation
In modern usage, apocalypse is the cataclysmic end of times, ponder worldwide destruction, plagues, beasts, the war to end all war and the final judgement.  Apocalypse is Greek in origin and traditionally translated into English as revelation.  The final book of the New Testament is the Revelation to John and tradition holds that the book was written on the island of Patmos in the 1st century AD.  Reading The Revelation to John is a worthwhile activity for anyone interested in Western religion and mythology and acquiring illuminated editions is a great way to experience the visions of the revelation.  Apocalypse:  Visions from the Revelation in Western Art, by Frederick Van Der Meer, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, Alpine Fine Arts Collection Ltd, New York, 1978 and Mercatorfonds, Antwerp, 1978 is a fine, affordable, overview with numerous illustrations from medieval illuminated manuscripts. 

The most famous of the Medieval Apocalypse Manuscripts is associated with the 8th century AD monk, Beatus of  Liébana , who created a Commentary on the Apocalypse in the 8th century AD in Spain.  Between the 8th and 13th centuries, many Apocalypse manuscripts were created in Spain, England and France.   There are 35 copies of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of  Liébana  know to exist, 27 are illustrated.  The most complete and stunning illustrated example is held by the Morgan Library in New York City, Morgan Manuscript 622, the Las Huelgas Apocalypse.  Every Apocalypse Manuscript collection needs a copy of A Spanish Apocalypse:  The Morgan Beatus Manuscript, Introduction and Commentaries by John Williams, Codicological Analysis by Barbara A. Shailor, George Braziller, Inc., in association with The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1991.  This is a fabulous book and an affordable first step in developing an Apocalypse Manuscript collection.

Angel Of The Eternal Gospel, Worshipers, And The Fall Of Babylon
Beatus of Liébana
Las Huelgas Apocalypse

The Cloisters Apocalypse, held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also available in a reasonably priced facsimile edition.  The Cloisters Apocalypse:  An early fourteenth-century manuscript in facsimile, two Volumes (Volume 2, Commentaries on an early fourteenth-century manuscript, by Florens Deuchler, Jeffrey M. Hoffeld and Helmut Nickel), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1971 is a great companion to the Beatus Apocalypse and with both, a collection is started!

The Trinity Apocalypse in facsimile
The original is held by Trinity College, Cambridge
There are numerous fine, limited edition, facsimile Apocalypse Manuscripts available but many are very expensive.  A fine list of potential acquisition targets may be found here and here.  One example that qualifies as rare, collectible and breathtaking is Die Trinity-Apokalypse Kommentar (The Trinity Apocalypse and Commentary), Faksimile Verlag, Luzern, 2004, 2 Volumes, Volume 1 full color facsimile, Volume 2, Commentary by David McKitterick.  While you may still be able to buy directly from the publisher, a copy is available here for around $2200.

Perhaps, someday, the Revelation of John will come to pass, perhaps before then, we will add an Apocalypse celebration to our annual holiday observances and commit one day a year to universal contemplation of the end of time!  Until then, I plan to continue building a small collection of Apocalypse Manuscripts, they simply are amazing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

During Holy Week-Collecting Book of Hours- One of A Kind, Facsimile, High Spot and Reasonably Priced

Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
St. Gregory composing a text with 3 scribes copying
Ivory Book Cover , 10th Century

During this Holy Week, I started visiting the various Book of Hours I have acquired over the years.  My small set of these precious examples of Medieval Manuscript Illumination are treasures I love to display and hope to continue acquiring for my library.  A Book of Hours is simply a prayer book used to guide the faithful in their daily prayers throughout the year.  Book of Hours were created in scriptorium of Monasteries and commissioned by the wealthy for their private use.  Between the 5th century and the 15th century, each Book of Hours was a one of a kind, hand printed and painted example of Medieval art.  While I am not religious in any way, shape or form, I believe that the illumination to be found in a Book of Hours represents Medieval art better than almost any other form. 

Collecting Book of Hours is a multi-faceted pursuit.  An original, complete Book of Hours is a priceless acquisition that is available to only the most well funded private collector or institution.  Since a complete Book of Hours is priceless, some may choose to acquire a single vellum page as a representative example of Medieval illuminated manuscript production.  Another approach is to acquire exquisitely reproduced, facsimile, limited editions of complete Book of Hours.  The approach that fits my collecting budget more appropriately is the collection of carefully designed and manufactured Book of Hours intended for wider distribution and acquisition.  While someday, I hope to acquire an exquisitely reproduced facsimile, printed on vellum with actual gold gilding, produced for the very few, I enjoy every example of Book of Hours I have the pleasure of holding in my library.  For a comprehensive introduction to Medieval book illumination there is no better source than A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, Christopher De Hamel, Phaidon Press, Limited, London, 1986 or David R. Godine, Boston, 1986 (link to first edition here, beware of book club editions from 1986, current paperback, here).

Book of Hours, Use of Geneva, c 1515
See here for detailed images
A fine example of an original Book of Hours was sold at auction at Christies on June 4, 2008.  Book of Hours, use of Geneva, in Latin, Illuminated Manuscript on Vellum, France or Switzerland, c.1515, 198 x 140mm. i + 202 leaves: 1-26, 38, 46(of 8, final two blanks cancelled), 5-268, complete.  The catalog description of the illumination and binding is detailed and fascinating, "one- and two-line initials of burnished gold on grounds and infills of pink and blue with white decoration, line-fillers of the same colours, three-line initials of blue or pink patterned staves against burnished gold grounds with trefoil leaf sprays in the infills, TWENTY-FOUR SMALL MINIATURES IN THE FULL-PAGE BORDERS OF THE CALENDAR with occupations of the month on the rectos and zodiac signs on the versos, FIFTY-FOUR LARGE MINIATURES ACCOMPANIED BY FULL-PAGE BORDERS with divided grounds with fields of liquid gold with naturalistic sprays of fruit and flowers between areas with acanthus sprays on the vellum ground, occasional birds, grotesques or beasts (some rubbing, spotting and smudging). Panelled brown morocco gilt by Rivière, silver clasps and catches (upper joint split at foot, spine rebacked at head and upper cover restored at head, lacking one clasp).  The winning bid, at auction, was $213,584 and a visit to the Christie's page provides more detail and information on provenance.

The Bedford Master, Faksimile Verlag, Luzern, 2005
A fabulous publisher of limited edition, fine press, facsimile reproductions of Medieval manuscripts is Faksimile Verlag, originally of Luzern, now headquartered in Munich.  A fine example of a Book of Hours from Faksimile Verlag is the Bedford Book of Hours, Faksimile Verlag Luzern, 2005, 578 pages, 263 x 184 mm, 1288 images, gold on every page, 1250 elaborate medallions, 38 large-format miniatures, gold leaf, brush gold and silver, historical initials.  The manuscript includes splendid scrollwork, with hundreds of tiny golden vine or acanthus leaves, colourful flowers and small animals covering the pages. The Latin text is embellished with numerous gold initials and imaginative line-fillers, while French explanations of the miniatures appear in red, blue, and gold writing at the bottom of each page.  The Bedford Hours circa, 15th century, created by the unnamed master scribe now known only as the Bedford Master, is owned by the British Library.  This is a masterpiece of facsimile publishing and one copy is available for sale for a mere, $18, 480 plus shipping!

Noah from the Bedford Book of Hours

While perhaps not as breathtaking as owning an original or a fine, limited edition facsimile, it is possible and affordable to acquire facsimile editions intended for the general book loving audience on a budget!  Perhaps the most extraordinary Book of Hours ever created was, The Trés Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, owned by Musée Condé, Chantilly, France, Translated from the French by Victoria Benedict, Introduction and Legends by Jean Longman, Honorary Curator, Library, Institut de France and Raymond Cazelles, Librarian, Musée Condé, Preface by Millard Meiss, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, George Braziller, New York, 1969, 139 illustrations, slipcase.  There are 73 copies currently for sale with prices ranging from $12.00 to $180.00 for a copy in fine condition.  This is a masterpiece of Medieval illumination and certainly merits a place in every library with an interest in Medieval manuscripts or simply, the greatest books of all time!  There are numerous facsimile editions available, higher priced and representing finer production standard, but for a new collector, acquiring a copy of the 1969 edition is a great starting place!
From the Trés Riches Heurs
\Braziller, 1969, image on slipcase

A page from the Trés Riches Heurs

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Acquiring The Haggadah, A Special Book for the Home, A Special Gift for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

The Family Seder from the Szyk Haggadah
Check out the image in detail here

The 2011(5771) Jewish Passover holiday began at sundown on April 18 and continues until sundown on April 26.  The Passover holiday honors the exodus of the Jews from Egyptian slavery under the leadership of Moses.  Personally, I consider the exodus story a core part of Western mythology and a story everyone, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist, contrarian...ought to honor!  Last year we attended the Bar Mitzvah celebrating the coming of age of one of our favorite youngsters.  I lobbied to acquire a fine edition Haggadah as the perfect gift, but my suggestion was overruled due to cost, at the time.  The Haggadah is a necessary part of every Jewish household and it is where the story of the exodus is told and sacred text of the Passover holiday is found. 

With Passover this week and a Bat Mitzvah on the horizon for us, I decided to re-visit the special edition Haggadah I favored last year and look into the general marketplace of fine edition, illustrated Haggadah.  A quick search provides a list of 4030 copies of the Haggadah for sale in the used and collectible marketplace with prices ranging from $1.00 to $56,900!

Baby Moses from the Szyk Haggadah
Check out the image in detail here
The top spot on the list is held by the Szyk Haggadah, illustrated by Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), a Polish Jew who luckily escaped the madness of the Holocaust and World War II, was a master book illustrator who, through his illustrations, fought tirelessly against Hitler and the Nazis and for universal religious tolerance and racial equality.  The Szyk Haggadah was first published in England, 1940, by Beaconsfield Press in a limited edition of 250 copies and $56,900 is the asking price for the only copy currently for sale.  In 2008, the rare book dealer, Historicana, Burlingame, California, brought out two facsimile editions of The Szyk HaggadahThe Deluxe and the Premiere Edition of the Szyk Haggadah are wonderful limited edition publications with a price to match.  The Deluxe, 250 copies were orginally printed, retails for $8,800 and the Premiere Edition, limited to only 85 copies, retails for $18,000!

For a more reasonable amount I created a list of 485 copies of the Haggadah priced between $95 and $600.  While I have not browsed all of the copies available within that price range, I did browse enough to know that some fine, collectible, gift-worthy copies, are included.  There are numerous facsimile editions on the list and while they may not be practical, fine facsimile editions of famous old manuscripts are a treasure!  In fact, Harvard University Press has just released The Washington Haggadah, a facsimile of the Haggadah created during the 15th century by scribe and illustrator,  Joel ben Simeon, which now resides at The Library Of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The copy of the Haggadah I was eyeing last year was a new edition published by Assouline Press in 2008.  Haggadah, Special Edition, by Marc-Alain Ouaknin, illustrated by Gerard Garouste, in a Cloth-covered presentation box, 10.75 x 15.5", 11lbs, 280 pages, 150 illustrations, seems like a wonderful new edition.  Do visit the Assouline page for the book where you can take a tour which isn't possible to display here!  Assouline is asking $550 for this edition but it is possible to find lower prices for at either Amazon or here

It seems to me that a fine copy of the Haggadah would grace any library and I do expect to acquire one or two myself.  To all, Happy Passover.
Haggadah: A Celebration of the Seder Ceremony
Assouline Haggadag

Monday, April 18, 2011

Justice as Fairness, Collecting John Rawls, Reading Political Philosophy

I've been surprised not to hear mention of John Rawls' famous theory of justice during the current news emphasis on the budget debates in Washington DC.  While I have no standing to comment on the particulars of any theory of justice, I do hold a special place in my heart and soul for the the justice as fairness doctrine put forth by Harvard Philosopher, John Rawls, 1921-2002.   I first became interested in Rawls as a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University when a research scholar I was working for suggested that we could read Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, 1971, together and he would tutor me on how to read and study philosophy.  I think we took three weeks to simply discuss the Table of Contents and what that would suggest about the content to follow!  I still have my paperback copy from that year to remind me how to read philosophy.  After my experience with Rawls, I was drawn into the world of Kantian moral and political philosophy and remain confused to this day!

Collecting contemporary political philosophy is a wonderful pursuit.  To get started I suggest the following acquisition targets, all originally written in English and all important contributions to the study of justice.

There are 2 copies of John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Belnap Press (Harvard University Press), 1971 currently available at either $230 or $1000.  A $500 investment can score the collector a pristine condition, 2nd printing!  I imagine that over the next 5 years as more scholars of Rawls' time retire and expire, additional copies of the first printing will enter the market.  If you simply want to read the 1971 edition the book lives on in paperback.  A revised edition was released in 1999 and is the definitive theory of justice although citations to the 1971 edition make it impossible for scholars to ignore the original edition.  The 1971 edition is the collectible one!

When collecting Rawls, acquiring a copy of John Rawls, Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press, 1993 is a good idea as well.  There are only two copies available at this time.  One is an association copy, inscribed by Rawls to the wife of his his long time colleague, critic and friend, Burton Dreben (1927-1999).  I have my doubts that an association copy is actually worth $1000 but  I have seen association copies of A Theory of Justice priced over $3000 and they are no longer available.

A foundational book of political philosophy that should be in every serious collection is Henry Sidgwick, The Method of Ethics.  Rawls carefully studied Sidgwick and makes reference to his masterpiece in A Theory of Justice .  Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, Macmillan, London, 1884 has been revised at least 7 times and while there are no 1884 copies available, there are what I consider, collectible copies for sale (see the University of Chicago Press edition from 1962 via the link above). 

Understanding the political philosophy of Justice requires understanding basic philosophy and a huge amount of economic and game theory.  A defining work that provides great insight into the economic and game theory of justice was written by Richard Posner, a legal scholar and current Federal Judge.  The Economics of Justice, Richard Posner, Harvard University Press, 1983 is a comprehensive introduction to the application of economic analysis to theories of justice, the law and public policy.  There is one copy of the first edition, first printing hardcover available today but for those wanting simply a reading copy, paperback remains in print.

If you collect to read and learn, I suggest balancing Rawls with this masterpiece by Brian Barry, Political Argument, Routledge and Kegan, Paul, London, 1965 (Humanities Press, New York, 1965).  Brian Barry was a lion of political philosophy in the last part of the 20th century and merits a place in every collection of political theory. Political Argument is a revised version of Barry's Oxford Doctoral thesis and provides a great introduction to the application of game theory to the study of political theory.  Barry also wrote the first book length critique of Rawls, A Theory of Justice, written over a three month period while he was crossing the Atlantic on a steamship!   Brian Barry, Liberal Theory of Justice:  Critical Examination of the Principal Doctrines of "Theory of Justice" by John Rawls, Oxford University Press, 1973 is very rare to find in collectible condition but well worth the effort!

In his last years, Brian Barry also published two volumes of a projected, three volume series entitled, Theories of Justice,  only Volume 1- A Treatise on Social Justice and Volume 2- Justice as Impartiality were completed before his passing.  Volume 1-A Treatise on Social Justice, University of California Press, 1989 was published as an original paperback and Volume 2-Justice As Impartiality, Oxford University Press, 1995 was published in a hardcover with dust jacket edition.  Both of these volumes are considered important contributions to political theory and do present the state of the art philosophical work concerning justice in the late 20th century.

Finally, no collection of contemporary political philosophy can be considered serious unless Sir Isaiah Berlin is represented.  While Berlin is not known for original ideas, he has had a great impact on contemporary debates, especially from his writings on the history of ideas and the concept of freedom.  Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty,  Inaugural Lecture as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory (Oxford, 1958: Clarendon Press), 55 pp., is a high priority acquisition target for my library.  It was with these essays that Berlin introduced positive and negative liberty and I have never seen a copy for sale but hope to run across one someday!  Berlin has a rich bibliography with a long list of published books and essays and a host of collecting targets to enjoy finding and adding to a collection.     

Collecting political philosophy, especially post 1880, is a wonderful pursuit.  Many of the foundational books are hard to find but reasonably priced, making the search challenging but in the end rewarding!  I have considered learning fine bookbinding and acquiring more contemporary political philosophy, often published in original paperback, and re-binding them in leather.  I will get around to writing about collecting political philosophy from the 17th, 18th and early 19th century over time.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Shahnameh Of Ferdowsi, Revisited Part 4

I apologize for missing a couple of comments on earlier Shahnameh posts.  The comments alerted me to breaking news and an additional facsimile edition that merits attention.  The Economist recently reported on the results of the Stuart Carey Welch Auction of Islamic Art at Sotheby's.  Welch, who died 2008, was a famed collector of Indian and Islamic Art, a Professor at Harvard and a co-editor of the Houghton Shahanameh (see my post here).  The highlight of the auction was the sale of this page from The Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp for $34 MILLION!

Another comment alerted me to a publication I am simply not familiar with, a facsimile of The Shâhnâmeh (Book of Kings), the Bayasanghori Shâhnâmeh made in 1430 for Prince Bayasanghor (1399-1433), the grandson of the legendary Central Asian leader Timur (1336-1405) published to coincide with the 2500th Anniversary of the founding of Persepolis, held in 1971.  There are a few copies of this facsimile for sale.  It was up for auction on February 10, 2011 at Bloomsbury as part of the Bibliophile Sale and had an estimated price of $250-$300 but was unsold.  Two other copies are available for $300 and $549 if anyone is interested!  

A battle-scene from the Baysonqori MS of the Shahnameh