Monday, January 31, 2011

Books About Libraries

Collecting books often leads to a fascination with libraries.  Sure, there are famous examples of book collectors who consider libraries a source of materials and end up stealing rare books and manuscripts, but it is more likely that libraries are considered sacred places by bibliophiles. 

My experience with libraries began in Des Plaines, Illinois as a youngster visiting the Des Plaines Public Library, then, a charming neo-classical building, now a rather imposing large contemporary structure.  I have fond memories of spending hours browsing the book stacks for new discoveries and additional hours reading current issues of newspapers and magazines (well before the advent of the World Wide Web eliminated the need to visit a library for such access).  During high school, I discovered the immense holdings of a major Big Ten campus library, spending many weekends researching for forensic debate at the main Northwestern University Library.  I was lucky to attend two Universities with easy access to world class libraries, first at Carnegie Mellon University where I split my time between the campus library and the the Carnegie Library Pittsburgh, in the Oakland neighborhood down the hill from CMU and later at the University of Chicago at the Regenstein Library

Carnegie Library Pittsburgh

My experience and memories of these libraries included extensive scholarly research, serious exploration of the stacks browsing the collections and frustration that I did not have unlimited, free and unfettered access to the rare book and manuscript collections.  Now, I tend to seek out libraries that are part of history and I can spend hours visiting and contemplating current collections, rare books collections and the history and architecture of the place itself.

Over the past few years I have started collecting books about libraries, the history of libraries and illustrated books showcasing beautiful libraries.  It is natural for bibliophiles to collect books about books but I have found that collecting books about libraries is rewarding as well.  In fact, my research suggests that now is the right time to start a book collection focusing on the history and evolution of the library.  Over a series of posts I will begin writing about great libraries today, the great libraries of the past and the most beautiful libraries of the world. 

Libraries in the Ancient World by the late Lionel Casson, Yale University Press, 2001, is a fine starting place for collecting books about libraries.  This short book is both a wonderful introduction to the library and a title heralded as the first serious study of libraries in the ancient world. Casson, Professor Emeritus of  Classics at New York University, begins his study of the library in the ancient Near East with the origin of writing and the collections of clay tablets detailing business transactions, treaties, and contracts.  He then focuses on the beginnings of the library as we know it today in Greece and the discovery of paper from papyrus around 3000 BC.  The tradition of learning and literature that arose in Greece was adopted by Rome and to Rome and the evolution of the library is where Casson heads next.  We learn that around 39 BC, a supporter of Julius Caesar, Asinius Pollio, was able to fulfill one of Caesar's unrealized goals and established a public library in Rome.  Augustus, after consolidating power in the aftermath of Caesar's assassination built two other libraries in Rome.  The Roman era was a great time for early library development.  The tale continues with the transition, beginning probably around 100 AD from papyrus rolls to the form we know today, the codex.  By 500 AD the codex is the primary format for books.  Casson completes his study of the library in the ancient world during the early Middle Ages and the rise of the monastic life and associated libraries.  If this indeed is, the first book to focus solely on the library in the ancient world, it should be a cornerstone for a collection of books about libraries.  The hardcover first edition first printing is available and the link above should provide access to copies available via marketplace. 


Friday, January 28, 2011

Fine Books and Collections Magazine Winter 2011 now available

Just a simple announcement that the winter 2011 issue of Fine Books and Collections Magazine is now available.  This is a wonderful old school print magazine focused on all things rare and collectible books.

The winter issue includes the 2011 Book Collector's Resource Guide.  For the first time, I have a listing for The Books In My Life:  Rare Books and Private Library Consulting.  A brief advertisement in the Service Companies listing that alerts all and sundry that I specialize in appraisal, cataloging, acquisition guides, collection and library development, management, and disposition.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Don't judge a book by size alone. Concept, content and design combine to make a book collectible. Tema & Variazioni

I'm constantly amazed by books that are oddities.  For most of my life I was drawn to a small book that my Uncle kept in his bedroom.  Measuring 2.5" by 6.5", this softcover gem is a collection of 144 tiny illustrations of woman, Tema & Variazioni, by Piero Fornasetti, accompanied by a single sentence quotation by famous authors in their own language and with an Introduction by Alberto Moravia.  The quality of the publication is first rate and the illustrations beautiful, creative and haunting.

After my Uncle's' passing in 1994, this book was living in a closet at my Mom's house and after years of making sure it was still there, I finally decided to take it home, catalog it for my library and find out whatever I could concerning the illustrator and the publication itself (I was granted the responsibility of taking care of my Uncle's library after his death).

Discovery is what keeps my young!  Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) was a Milanese artist, sculptor, interior designer, engraver of books and is credited with creating over 11,000  products.  He is considered one of the most creative talents of the 20th century and this little book is one of his most unique and powerful products, in my humble opinion.

The site, has a wonderful section concerning Fornasetti and his designs along with this insight into Fronasetti and the woman featured in Tema & Variazioni, "what inspired me to create more than 500 variations on the face of a woman?  I don't know.  I began to make them and I never stopped.  fornasetti used the same image (the portrait of lina cavelieri, he had found in a magazine from the 1800's) on a variety of other objects, until it became virtually his trademark." The 144 images in Tema & Variazioni represent the variety of images he created using this one portrait.  Today, one can still buy Fornasetti designed plates, clothing and even lamps with the image of Lina Cavelieri!  There arebooks about Fornasetti and I've seen sellers on eBay hawking individual pages of Tema & Variazioni framed for $60+.  I prefer to keep my copy intact, safe and accessible so I can visit the illustrations whenever I want and I can think of the joy my Uncle had in acquiring this tiny book. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Collecting and the Social Calendar--The 44th California International Antiquarian Book Fair

Mark your calendars for the 44th Annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair, February 11-13 at the Concourse Exhibition Center, San Francisco.  I've attended a few times when business travel coincided with this annual event.  My memory suggests that the fair is a bit smaller and more intimate than the November Boston fair but the browsing and discovery of new books to covet just as fabulous.

From  the fair website:

"The Fair will have a special focus on music this year, including a stunning exhibit of rare musical books and manuscripts, dating back as far as the 1300’s, from the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library of the University of California at Berkeley."

The site has a very interesting slide show of rare musical manuscripts that will be on display.

[The Berkeley Theory Manuscript], (Jan 12, 1375)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A treasure from my library: Peasant Art In Italy

Over the years I have collected a small number of books I consider true treasures.  These books represent the rare book and manuscript subset of my private library.  Some of my treasures were acquired after careful study of the market and exhaustive search for the right copy at the right price.  Other titles were acquired as impulse buys, books I just had to have!  One such book is Peasant Art In Italy, Text and Original Woodcuts by Eleonora Gallo, English Translation by C. D. Tassinari, published by Giulio Giannini and Son, Florence, Italy, 12" x 18", edition limited to 250 numbered copies, copy number 162, published April 1, 1929 (114 l. incl. col. illus., XXXIII col. pl. 31 x 45 cm)I acquired my copy in October of 1996 while on my honeymoon with Anne at a rare book shop in Florence, Italy.  Somewhere, we still have the receipt of the purchase.

The discovery and acquisition of this book was an unplanned and memorable event.  Anne and I were wandering the streets of Florence after four days in Rome and I had yet to buy a book.  One of my traditions while traveling is to always buy a book, new or used, collectible or simply desirable.  Exploring Florence is a book lover's paradise.  We had visited the Laurentian Library and the Library of San Marco along with the numerous outdoor stalls hawking the various specialities of Florence.  On this day we had visited a proper Florentine tile shop and were seriously considering the possibility of buying a lot of antique ceramic tiles for a planned remodel of our downstairs, including the floor of the library.  The calculation of cost and shipping expenses made that decision easy to make, a simple no go.  At that point our hearts and soul were sold on acquiring some special item in Florence and we entered the rare book shop.  Neither Anne nor I read Italian but browsing antiquarian books sometimes requires simply a sense of adventure and a willingness to experience the true wonder of rare and finely crafted books.  As we were browsing we both saw the title, in English, Peasant Art In Italy.  The shear size of book first caught our attention and the linen cover finely decorated with an obvious peasant design invited us to browse.  We quickly fell in love with the content, a tour of peasant art wonderfully illustrated and reproduced in numerous woodcuts covering all the regions of Italy, including my mother's ancestral region, Abruzzo-Molise (since the 1960's Abruzzo and Molise separated).  We agreed in an instant that we needed to add this book to our library.

This is a treasure for many reasons.  First and foremost it is always a reminder of the joy we experienced on our honeymoon in Italy, my first trip and Anne's 3rd.  Second, this is an amazing book based on content and design.  The large page size supports the woodcut illustrations of the peasant art traditional throughout Italy and the examples are perfect for creating stencils for home decoration or embroidery projects.  My Italian heritage dominates my personality and this book offers a unique history of the regions of Italy and how each region approached and pursued the arts.  After yet another Church and/or museum, exploring Italy through the eyes of the peasant is a breathe of fresh air.

In 2010 I was doing some research on this title and made a secondary discovery that is as amazing as the book itself.  While searching for available copies in order to place a value on my copy, I discovered that a bookseller in Ohio was selling the actual sales brochure from 1929 for this book, a 10" x 7", 12 page folio with facsimile reproductions from the master work.  For a few dollars in 2010, I now own both the sales brochure and the book.

Today there are 15 known copies held by libraries participating in World and 5 copies for sale in the rare book marketplace.  The asking price ranges from $180 to $550 and there are two copies available that include the original illustrated box.  I am missing the box and the wooden clasps, mentioned in the brochure.  The linen cover is in great shape.  While this is not priceless it is, nonetheless, a treasure.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Collecting Iris Murdoch. An example of book collecting strategy

How do you start a book collection?  There are so many variables at play this simple question is very difficult to answer.  The most basic starting point would seem to be author, topic, genre, and/or era.  Most collections begin because something about the author, topic, genre and/or era seems to demand more.  I love this book and want to read more by that author or I love this topic so much I need to collect everything written about it!  The basic starting point should always be collecting what you love most.  Once you decide to build a collection a strategy is both necessary and sometimes, a serious challenge.

To illustrate some fundamental issues I will offer a basic strategy for collecting the works of Iris Murdoch (1919-1999), a British novelist and Professor of Philosophy at Oxford.  I currently own three works of Murdoch but have always planned to build a Murdoch collection.  Murdoch, who died in 1999 from Alzheimer's disease is best known for her psychological novels. 

This excerpt from offers a nice overview of Murdoch's writing:

"Murdoch's novels typically have convoluted plots in which innumerable characters representing different philosophical positions undergo kaleidoscopic changes in their relations with each other. Realistic observations of 20th-century life among middle-class professionals are interwoven with extraordinary incidents that partake of the macabre, the grotesque, and the wildly comic. The novels illustrate Murdoch's conviction that although human beings think they are free to exercise rational control over their lives and behaviour, they are actually at the mercy of the unconscious mind, the determining effects of society at large, and other, more inhuman, forces. In addition to producing novels, Murdoch wrote plays, verse, and works of philosophy and literary criticism".

During her life, Murdoch published 38 books including 26 novels, 4 plays, 6 works of non-fiction (philosophy) 1 collection of short stories and 1 book of poems. For a complete listing of the titles visit her author page at the impressive Fantastic Fiction website

I own two of her novels,The Italian Girl (with a signed note from the author) and The Green Knight and 1 of her non-fiction books, Existentialists and Mystics:  Writing on Philosophy and Literature.  To build a proper Murdoch collection I will first focus on collecting her novels and non-fiction titles.  I will complete the collection by acquiring her other publications and whatever ephemera I stumble upon, for example, Woman Ask Why?  An Intelligent Woman's Guide to Nuclear Disarmament, three essays by Irish Murdoch, Anne McLaren, and Jacquetta Hopkins Hawkes, published by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, London, 1962.

A basic motivation for collecting Murdoch guides me in making decisions on what to buy and how much to pay.  My motivation is that I want to read all of Murdoch's novels and some of her non-fiction.  Reading and shelving a complete Murdoch collection in my private library is my goal, not collecting for future value.  While I am motivated to read Murdoch, I don't want to just read a paperback edition or electronic edition, both easily acquired, but the actual books as they were originally published.  Today, while Murdoch is collectible and some of her books achieve valuations of $20,000, most of her novels and non-fiction can be acquired for less than $100.  I would like to pay no more than $50.00 for any book and would like to see if I can acquire as many novels as possible for the $20 I paid for The Italian Girl two years ago.

Before I start seriously starting to search and create a master want list I have to make a few decisions:  Should I only acquire first editions published in England, first editions published in North America, or both?  Should I try to acquire as many signed copies as possible?  How do I start?  With a varied collecting focus I have traditionally acquired first North American publication and signed, only if they happened to be signed by the author and within my budget.  Since my main motivation is to read these books I will try to acquire the first editions published in England but if that requires spending more than I would like, I will be happy to acquire the first editions published in America and I will not pay extra for additional signed copies.

Where to start is always a challenge!  In this case, I will start with her first novel, Under the Net, Chatto and Windus, London, 1954 (Viking Press, New York, 1954) and then move on to her Booker Prize winning novel, The Sea, The Sea, Chatto and Windus, London, 1978 (Viking Press, New York, 1978), Booker Longlist, A Fairly Honourable Defeat,1970, and Booker Shortlist novels, The Nice and The Good, 1969, Bruno's Dream, 1970, The Black Prince, 1973, The Good Apprentice, 1985 and The Book and The Brotherhood, 1987.  After that, I will take a step back from novels and acquire her first published book, Sartre:  Romantic Rationalist, Bowes and Bowes, Cambridge, UK., 1953 (Yale University Press, New Haven, USA, 1953). 

I expect that acquiring this first set of titles will take me a year or two since I will take my time, hope for random discoveries while visiting rare and used bookstores, and fitting in this project along with my other book acquisition activities.  My priorities are set by the fact that first-books are increasingly hard to find in fine condition and Booker Award associated books tend to rise in value more quickly over time.  Many people collect Booker Award associated titles and they compete for scarce titles with collector's of individual authors.  If I knock these out first I will then simply complete the collection with the less sought after books, those just associated with Murdoch herself.  A fine plan and one I will enjoy completing!

This is simply an illustration of how to start a collection.  If you are interested in starting a collection whether it be of an individual author or a genre of books, or...., let me know and I will offer a basic strategy, expected budget and staring point.


Friday, January 21, 2011

OuBaPo--The French bleeding edge comic book group

Comics, especially in France and Belgium, are sometimes considered the Ninth Art behind painting, sculpture, music, architecture, literature, dance, theatre, and the cinema. OuBaPo (Ouvroir de la Bande Dessinée Potentielle, or Workshop for Potential Comics) refers to a group, originating in France as part of the Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Workshop for Potential Literature), pursuing the frontiers of comics, as art.  They approach their craft with predetermined constraints following the Oulipo movement.  For a very current overview of the OuBaPo group complete with internal disputes now public, see this fine overview from the WSJ.  I think of the OuBaPo movement as testing the theoretical limits of the comic as the Ninth Art.

Since this movement is still quite young and they have sponsored a series of books arising from their constraint based creative approach, it may well be the time to acquire these early publications as they are certainly not mainstream, published in huge numbers, easily available and will certainly become rare within a few years!  Titles are sequential, Oupus T1, Oupus T2, Oupus T3, and Oupus T4 with authorship of OuBaPo.  Each publication focuses on a single aspect of the OuBaPos movement with T1 oferring a range of styles that arise from the various experimental constraints.  These titles are scarce but worth the effort to discover.  If you are interested in actually finding copies for sale, fee free to write to me directly for help.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

CODEX Symposium San Francisco Center for the Book

For anyone who will be in San Francisco or motivated to visit between February 7 and February 9 check out the CODEX Symposium sponsored by the San Francisco Center for the Book at the Berkeley Art Museum Theatre. 

Sure, digital books are dominating the news today as the ease of digital access to reading materials continues to expand.  I love the idea of digital information transfer and believe that in many areas such as scholarly publishing, scientific, medical, technical, professional and educational markets, digital will quickly surpass traditional print materials.  This may be a worry to old school publishers who still believe it is better to manufacture a traditional book and sell 500 copies but the economics of digital dissemination will win out over time. 

The rise of the digital is not the end of books!  Digital information transfer will lead to a renaissance in book publishing and allow for fine press editions of the classics, the best of today's fiction and non-fiction authors, and books created by talented designers.  The next era for books will be an era where books will be cherished and displayed for both content and design.  A good place to learn about fine press publishing and the true art of the book is Codex.  I can't go this year but I will do everything I can to be there in 2013.  

A brief overview from the organization's website follows:

Monday, February 7 – Wednesday, February 9; 8:30 to 11:30 am. Berkeley Art Museum Theater

CODEX is gathering together a congress of the world’s finest private presses, book artisans, artists, curators, collectors and scholars in the spirit of an Old West rendezvous.

In keeping with the mission of the Codex Foundation, to preserve and promote the art and craft of the book, every two years, the foundation hosts, in conjunction with the book fair, a symposium.

CODEX'S mission is educational and, in the broadest possible context, to bring to public recognition the artisanship and the rich history of the civilizations of the book.

The art and craft of the book depends upon the knowledge of traditional forms, design, and hand-manufacture; as well as familiarity with the latest technologies, imaging sciences, and automated printing machines. The knowledge essential to the continued life of traditional forms of hand-manufacture and the transmission of that knowledge is seriously endangered in our age of electro-mechanical reproduction and digital information. Now, more than ever, the fine arts of the book need patronage and strategic support in order to thrive.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Landmark Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon, and Arrian and first principles of collecting

An overview and insightful review of books concerning Alexander the Great, published in the Wall Street Journal, reminded me that I have yet to collect and read, The Landmark Series, which now includes Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon and Arrian, all classic histories of the ancient world.

This all started because upon publication of The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, Edited by Robert B. Strassler, Introduction by Victor Davis Hanson, Free Press, 1996, I did not immediately buy a first printing of this edition.  I hesitated and kept thinking, "I'll get one."  After a period of time I had neither the easy access nor the inclination to pay the asking price for a first edition first printing.  As new titles were released in the Landmark Series, I simply failed to get that first printing of Thucydides along with the newest release.  Now I am behind the eight ball and slowly need to acquire all four titles.

This simple story illustrates a serious issue for any collector, setting first principles of collecting.  In my case collecting involves two fundamental principles.  First, I only buy first edition first printings of recently published books.  A simple rule which I never break.  If I miss the first printing of a new(ish) book, I simply add the book to my memory bank of wants and if that memory rises to the top and gnaws away, I eventually acquire a copy.  Second, I am in no hurry to acquire traditionally defined rare books in the areas I collect.  I have varied interests in truly rare books and beloved authors and my collecting in these areas is restrained by fundamental economic issues.  For example, I have a nice collection of Henry Miller but I do not own and can not afford the true first editions of The Tropic of Cancer ($15,000) and The Tropic of Capricorn ($5,000).  Maybe some day I will be able to acquire a copy of each but for now I am happy with what I have and keep my eye open for more affordable additions to my collection.  My two first principles are the basis for my life goals of developing my private library and within that library, my rare book collection.

The issue I face with the Landmark Series is basic, these books would be a wonderful addition to my private library but I have read them all and own other, 20th century editions of these classics of the ancient world.  The editions I own are not comprehensive, annotated and illustrated and I know I would enjoy browsing these new editions when the spirit moved me.  Why I don't just act and acquire the available titles now is a matter of internal debate!

These classics of the ancient world are collectible and truly rare as early printed books in first English translation.  For example, the newest release in the Landmark Series is The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, edited by James Romme, Series Editor, Robert B. Strassler, translated by Pamela Mensch, Introduction by Paul Cartledge, Pantheon, 2010 (November 2).  The first appearance of Arrian's history of Alexander's expeditions in English was the translation by John Rooke, published in two volumes in 1729.  The complete title record from the British Library short title catalog, which counts 54 copies held by libraries around the world, is:

Arrian’s history of Alexander’s expedition. Translated from the Greek. With notes historical, geographical, and critical. By Mr. Rooke. In two volumes. ... To which is prefix’d, Mr. Le Clerc’s criticism upon Quintus Curtius. And some remarks upon Mr. Perizonius’s vindication of that author.  Printed for T. Worrall; J. Gray; L. Gilliver; and R. Willock. In two volumes. ... To which is prefix’d, Mr. Le Clerc’s criticism upon Quintus Curtius. And some remarks upon Mr. Perizonius’s vindication of that author.  London, printed for T. Worrall; J. Gray; L. Gilliver; and R. Willock, 2 volumes, plate, map, 8vo (included Arrian's Indian History).

I can't track down any recent sales of this edition but I do know that early English translations of Xenophon and Thucydides cost somewhere between $3000 to $10,000 each.  This is where my quest to develop a fabulous private library runs headlong into my interest in acquiring rare books.  Why spend a hundred or so now on desired new releases of these classics when over time, I can search, discover and acquire truly rare editions?  Maybe not, but I can still dream!  The internal debate continues.

If you have never read these classics, you should and the Landmark editions are a wonderful starting point.

The Landmark Xenophon  The Landmark Herodotus


(Yet again, the publisher web site for the Landmark Series---does not exist.  Via the Random House web site you can find a page listing Robert B. Strassler(linked above) as an author but not all the Landmark editions are listed.  Really sad.)

***A comment from a reader pointed me to the official Landmark Ancient Histories web page.  A wonderful site which seems to be owned by the Editor of the Series.***

Monday, January 17, 2011

A fascinating obituary for E. Gene Smith, "The man who put Tibetan literature back together"

Reading obituaries is seldom fascinating but this rises to that level, especially for anyone who loves books. Published in the Economist this obituary for E. Gene Smith, a librarian and unique book collector, is worth reading.

Gene Smith spent is professional life from the early 1960's until his passing in late 2010 saving Tibetan literature by collecting over 12,000 books scattered in the aftermath of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against China. A wise collector, Smith, while employed by the Library of Congress as their "book man" in Tibet, searched far and wide to acquire his collection, secure copies of rare titles and eventually create a digital library now being used by Monks and scholars throughout the world. This is perhaps the most ingenious collector's story I have stubmled upon and a great example of the importance of saving rare books and digitizing them for dissemination. Smith founded the Tibetan Resource Center (site does not work with IE only Firefox, Safari, or Chrome)where you can access digital copies of the rescued works of Tibetan literature.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Interior Design and Books

When I moved into my house in May of 1995 I spent the first four weeks building the library.  Nothing else mattered decorating-wise, at that point in time.  With over 1000 books I immediately needed to build sufficient bookshelves to house them and get to the unpacking.  The library room was perfect, large, with a fireplace and rough siding for walls.  I picked a literary tone of grey, named Tolstoy, purchased shelving hardware and about 300 feet of 12" by 1" maple, finished with a stain and polyurethane.  Since that initial push, I've added another 100 feet of shelving with overflow living in the room next to the library.  My library is one of my favorite places and where I spend the majority of my time, now.

Being addicted to books is different than being simply addicted to reading.  Many people read and pass along books to other's.  I read, but once a book becomes cherished, I must have a fine copy to add to my library. 

Why "interior design and books"?  The motivation is simple, the February issue of House Beautiful is featuring bookcases in the section Send Us A Picture.  The section is amusing, a collection of interior designers have submitted a picture of their libraries, and the magazine invites readers to submit their photos.  The section is not available on-line yet but searching the House Beautiful site was worth the effort as they have a series of articles concerning home libraries.  A nice overview is Classic Library Design Ideas with 26 pictures of classic, modern, eclectic and traditional design suggestions.

Here are a couple of pictures of my library.  These were taken in October of 2009 and include an annoying date stamp that I can't erase!  I am in the process of cleaning and staging to take new pictures to submit to House Beautiful.  Who knows, maybe I'll make the cut and be featured in a later issue!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Real Estate and the Private Library

As perhaps the greatest book owning generation of all time begins to downsize, age, and pass away, real estate transactions force a decision on what to do about ALL THOSE BOOKS! 

My first experience with the real estate issue and book collecting was when my Aunt passed away and my Uncle was tasked with clearing her apartment. They thrived over a committed 30+ year relationship, in modern parlance, as life partners, without the need of a legal marriage contract.  They lived two blocks apart in separate residences to retain their independence and sanity.  While her passing was not a surprise, Uncle was in deep mourning and not really thinking about all that needed to be done. 

After the memorial service I stayed in Chicago to help with the apartment, the contents of which were my Uncle's to dispose of.  His idea of disposal was simply to give it all away, he really didn't need more books, furniture, rugs, or art.  I volunteered to go through the books, pick out the first editions, collectible and association copies and box the rest for donation to a local library.  My first attempt to inventory a life time collection of books from a devoted reader and longtime member of the Chicago literary and advertising community was accomplished in about 8 hours.  The result was that I saved from the donation bin first editions of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and signed/inscribed books by Truman Capote and Studs Terkel.  The books reside at my Mother's home and someday, they will live in my library.  My interest was to preserve the memory of my Aunt through her books and almost 20 years later, I remain convinced that was a well spent 8 hour project.

Today the transfer of assets and collections of all sorts from the "baby boomer" generation to the younger, and primarily digital, generation is beginning to ramp up.  From scholars who have amassed full libraries of research materials, professionals (architects, artists, designers, authors, lawyers. Doctors, scientists ....)to life-long readers who enjoyed the modern first editions so valued by collectors today, when they were originally released, a vast treasure trove of books will be changing ownership.  It is my full belief that 99% of these transfers will be completed behind a veil of ignorance so pervasive that many will simply donate valuable collections to the closest book donation bin without ever bothering to find out what they have and potentially what they are worth.  While I am 99% certain that stocks, bonds, real estate holdings, and obvious collections of coins, stamps, and art, will survive the transfer, books are simply too many and too varied to expect that anyone will take the time and expend the effort to determine what has actual monetary value is (let alone, value as a cherished family memory worthy of transfer to future generations).

Today's mild rant and serious warning was motivated by a fascinating and nauseating Wall Street Journal slideshow in the January 10, 2011 Real Estate section, entitled, "A Literary Duplex."  The title and accompanying image caught my attention and I immediately began viewing the slideshow, reading the captions and becoming depressed.  The basics of the offering from Sotheby's International are simply amazing, a 5000 ft. duplex on West 67th Street, New York, New York, with a reduced price of $6.9 million. 

The pitch line for the slide show and the WSJ coverage immediately motivated me to read on, "The owners of this four-bedroom Hotel de Artistes duplex on the Upper West side are ready to sell their collection of  3,000 books to the buyer of their home."  Surprisingly, my initial reaction was, who would give away a book collection at this price and what was in that library?  Reading on I became depressed.  No, this is not a private library of carefully collected books amassed over a lifetime of collecting, rather the books were included in the previous sale of the property in 2007. 

The slide caption for the library image was, "The double-height living area which holds most of their library was kept intact.  They purchased the collection of some 3,000 books from the previous owners.  'I just knew I couldn't fill the bookshelves,' said Mr. Noris of the library, which consists of first editions, signed copies and classics like Shakespeare."  Further along in they slide-show, the owners suggest that they "....would consider selling a substantial portion of the book collection."  I am left to assume that the current owners acquired the books when they first purchased the property for $7 million plus in 2007 and will sell most of the books to the next owners as a separate transaction.  Granting the benefit of doubt, at least they know the books have some value!

Something must be done about this, not the suspect facts written in the captions, but the reality that this, potentially wonderful and valuable library, is being passed around among the wealthy who just need to "fill the shelves."  Further research on the Sotheby's website listing for this amazing property provides no further insight but again features the library. 

My opportunity is obvious.  I need to connect with the owners and/or the real estate agent and sell them on hiring me to catalog and establish a real value for this collection.  I wonder what first edition wonders there are to discover, and Shakespeare, a first folio collection perhaps!

It was not easy sharing the images so I'm sharing them all, hope I don't get into trouble!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Intimacy by Sartre, judging a book by its cover

I confess to not understanding the stated sharing policy concerning articles originating in the Financial Times.  The sharing tools they list are not very helpful and their stated policy suggests that simply posting a link is okay, so post a link I will.

A recurring column in the FT focuses on book covers.  Sure, it is silly to judge a book by its cover but trust me, an ex-publisher with over 300 books published, the cover design process is sometimes the most enjoyable part of publishing a book, covers are collectible in their own right and a pristine dust jacket is what collectors generally pay the big money for.  I generally enjoy each new entry in the FT, book cover series and only wish the series was more active.

The January 10, 2011, article introduced me to a title from Jean-Paul Sartre, published in English translation in 1949 that is intriguing both for the content and the cover.  Intimacy and Other Stories, by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Lloyd Alexander, Peter Neville, London, 1949 with pictorial jacket by Guy Nichols is a new discovery for me.  When published in English translation with this cover, both the content and the cover were scandalous at the time. 

The FT review by Edwin Heathcote is fabulous for its insight into British publishing and how this cover artist, a "hack artist" in Heathcote's description, was revolutionary.  I'm certainly now interested in obtaining a copy and my search suggests that book sellers are not doing themselves any favors in posting sales copy since none feature the cover!

Friday, January 7, 2011

NFL Wildcard Weekend is here. Wondering about collectible football books?

Anne and I traveled to Chicago in December to attend the Bears vs. Patriots game in snowy, windy and very cold, Soldier Field.  We are a mixed marriage and proudly entered the stadium with me in Bears' orange/blue, and Anne in Patriots' red, white and blue.  It was a terrible game to watch for this life-long Bears fan.  Anne was thrilled to witness the complete dominance of her New England Patriots.  Now, we both hope for a rematch in the super bowl. 

The NFL playoff begin this weekend and I decided to compare the Bears and Patriots based on the price of "rare" and/or "collectible" books.  Since the Bears are a founding member of the NFL and the Patriots relative newcomers, arising from that other league (AFL), I was interested in seeing what books associated with each team have achieved some interesting monetary value over time.  Sure, the true NFL collector will be interested in jerseys, signed balls, hats and ticket stubs, but a book collector can also play along.

I decided to just search Advanced Book Exchange and see what happens.  The tale of the tape is 1468 titles include the keyword "Chicago Bears," and 958 include the keyword "New England Patriots".  Bears win!

The most expensive book for sales associated with the Chicago Bears is a 1930 University of Minnesota Yearbook, The Gopher, including a full page photo of Bears legend and charter member of the Hall of Fame, Bronko Nagurski, (offered for $459.00)

The most expensive book for sale associated with the New England Patriots is Any Boy Can, The Archie Moore story, signed for a New England Patriots fan by Brian Holloway($426.80).  Not really a book about the Patriots just signed by a player.  Since this is a stretch, the second most expensive title on the Patriots ledger is Happy to Be Alive by the late, Darryl Stingley with Mark Mulvoy, about the terrible injury that crippled Patriot, Stingley, during an exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders in 1978 ($316.76, signed by Stingley).  Bears win!

Okay, so this is not all that interesting. 

As I browse the list of 29, $100+ books associated with the Bears, the selection is rather bland.  Books that would appear rare and growing in value include, Brian Piccolo:  A Short Season, with 21 signatures from former Bears greats ($326.00), and Sayers:  My Life and Times, by Bears great, Gales Sayers, ($250.00), and Butkus:  Flesh and Blood-How I Played the Game of Football, by a true monster of the Midway, Dick Butkus with Pat Smith.

Of the 13 titles priced over $100 associated with he Patriots, the selection seems even worse.  I guess there are Patriots fans who would want a copy of Final Season:  My Last Year as Head Coach in the NFL, by Bill Parcells with Will McDonough, published in 2000.....and Parcells is still around ($299.95).  Or how about, Touchdown!  The Picture History of the American Football League, Putnam, 1967 ($225.00).  Yawn and Bears win!

It seems that sticking to book search, collecting football related books is a bore!  I do, however, believe that every fan of football should own, The Physics of Football: Discover the Science of Bone-Crushing Hits, Soaring Field Goals, and Awe-Inspiring Passes by Timothy Gay with a Foreword by Bill Belichik, the brains and leadership behind the Patriots dominance in the 21st century.  A first printing first edition hardcover will cost somewhere between $50 and $90. 

Some basic data:

Professional football is founded by George Halas with his Decatur Staleys in 1920, the American Professional Football league, later renamed the National Football League (NFL in 1933), included 13 teams with annual membership dues of $100.

1921 Decatur Staleys relocate to Chicago and play in Wrigley Field. 

1922 Decatur Staleys become the Chicago Bears.

The Bears have won 9 titles, 1921, 1932, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946, and 1963, and 1 Superbowl, the 1985 destruction of the New England Patriots, in the modern era.

There are 26 Bears in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The New England Patriots were founded in 1959 as part of the American Football League in direct competition with the National Football League.

The first super bowl between the NFL and AFL champions was played in 1967.

In 1970 the AFL and the NFL officially merged.

The Patriots have won 3 titles, all in the Superbowl era, 2001, 2003, 2004.

There are 15 Patriots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The NFL and AFL merge in 1970.

I still hope for a Bears v. Patriots rematch soon in the Super Bowl.  Patriots win:-(.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reduce stress, learn bookbinding

For the past few years I've wanted to learn how to bind books.  I have a number of cherished titles that have little monetary value, early printings of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, that I will never part with and would love to have them re-bound in leather.  I need some sort of craft hobby and learning the art and craft of bookbinding seems a solid choice. I really just need to take a class but there always seems to be something else to do.

Now, however, I am more motivated than ever to learn bookbinding!  As I was reading an article reporting on the results of the Best and Worst Jobs for 2011 study released by, bookbinding wins as the least stressful of the 200 jobs surveyed!  While the pay is modest and the industry fading, learning to bind books is a noble skill and anything that reduces stress is good.

From the article (click link above for more:

"The least stressful job, according to the study, was that of a bookbinder--though not all bookbinders would agree.

Jack Fitterer, 58, a bookbinder in Indian Lake, N.Y., says he's able to manage the challenges of his work by making sure he never embarks on a project he can't perform. Mr. Fitterer, who specializes in restoration, says his days typically involve rebuilding the deteriorated bindings of old books, some of which date back to the 15th century. That means if he makes a mistake, the work could be lost forever, he says.

"That is real stressful," says his wife, Taff, who also works in the business. "Every move you make is like 'Oh my God, I might destroy this.'" The Fitterers haven't made a mistake yet that they couldn't correct, they say.

The job won't make you rich. According to the study, the midlevel income of bookbinders is about $31,000. But Mr. Fitterer says he's never at a loss for work."

If you are interested in learning more, visit, a valuable resource.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bookplates: A future release from Yale University Press and a 1999 title I need to acquire

The hangover from the holidays seems to finally have passed and I awoke today feeling fresh and looking forward to the challenges ahead and a more productive, efficient and positive routine.  With a brighter outlook I decided it was high time to start trolling websites of my favorite publishers to see what the next months will bring in terms of new releases.  I visit publisher websites for amusement and ideas and my first stop today was Yale University Press.  Outside of the reality that publisher websites are generally terrible, difficult to browse and as boring as can be, I move quickly to the future releases and start browsing.

A search of my library catalog indicates that of the 1600+ plus books I own, 33 were published by Yale and I always expect to find something of interest when browsing their new releases.  I was not disappointed and in the five or so minutes it took me to browse the future releases three captured my attention and one of those reminded me of a want I almost forgot about!  Five minutes of browsing one must have book, one nice to have, and one for a birthday gift, not bad!

The nice to have book is a history of the book plate.  I don't use book plates and generally find them annoying.  Let's face it, unless the book plate is from the library of someone famous pasting an ownership label on a book is simply vandalism.  There are collectible book plates, however, and I'm pretty certain this future release from Yale would be a nice reference to own.  I may someday get a copy but today, this future release reminds me that I really want a different book on books plates.

As a committed fan and collector of Henry Miller, I have a longstanding interest in erotica.  My library contains many editions concerning erotica from ancient times through Miller's era.  It is not the erotica per se that I am interested in but the tradition of banned books.  I really need to focus a post on this someday but not today.

Viewing the Yale future release reminded me that I've been wanting to "view" and then decide whether or not to purchase a copy of Modern Erotic Bookplates by Luc Van den Breile.  I seem to recall a copy was in stock at a local rare book dealer last year, but it appears that copy is now gone.  Here is a catalog description from Boss Fine Arts, "...Large Octavo. 72 Pages.  A thoughtful essay, by one of the preeminent European collectors, on the modern treatment of the human form in bookplate design by artists of all artistic inclinations from throughout the world. More than fifty bookplates are illustrated, many in color and some very explicit London: Primrose Press, 1999. Casebound with dustjacket. $45 (+ shipping)."  Well, a goal for 2011 is to actually find a copy, view it and then probably buy it!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Admitting an addiction is the first step to perfecting an addiction

I have to admit a problem, my addiction to the contemporary graphic novel is becoming serious.  The graphic novel today is the comic book of yesterday.  Collecting comic books is big business now and prices are rising quickly.  It certainly seems more appropriate to be interested in a graphic novel rather than a comic.  Don't you think?  My interest in the graphic novel is not really new but the growing interest in acquiring more first edition first printing of the graphic novels being published today is.  I used to be simply amused by the graphic novel, now I need to add and own works for my collection.  Perhaps my current interest is a coping mechanism since I know I can't afford to collect Medieval illuminated manuscripts or the modern fine press facsimiles of these rare books.  I've collected many of the affordable facsimile editions but to satisfy my desire for more, I'm finding succor in the healthy supply of newly published graphic novels. 
I do try to control my wants and I have even tried to determine whether or not the graphic novel is best enjoyed electronically.  This seems a natural experiment pitting traditional print publication against electronic publication.   

My experiment began last year by following the fictional biography of Machiavelli being produced and published online by Boston artist Don MacDonald.  He began publishing his biography in February of 2010 with plans for a total of 170 or so pages, a new page appearing every Tuesday and Friday.  MacDonald has covered all the access bases including an easy to follow website, RSS feed, Facebook and Twitter accounts.  I visit the website once a week to read the new pages.  His writing is crisp and enjoyable, includes many links for additional information and his illustration are masterful.  I enjoy his project and only lament the fact that it would simply be better as a print book.

Anyone interested in comparing an online experience with a print experience could do no better than take a close look at The Odyssey: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds, Based on Homer's epic Poem, Candlewick Press, 2010, which I received as a Christmas gift. 
The Odyssey
A stunning publication with lovely illustrations, great story telling and a pleasure to hold and read.  This is a fine addition to my private library.  Comparing the two is not totally fair but compare I do.  I get much more pleasure owning the book and having it become an artifact of my life.  I just can't get that excited about an electronic publication, even one as well crafted as MacDonald's Machiavelli.

Both artists are from Massachusetts and I do hope they continue to prosper and push the frontier.  I will continue to follow Machiavelli by MacDonald online and I will now need to collect Hinds' three previous graphic novels, beginning with Beowulf.  Luckily I just ordered a signed hardcover first edition first printing for $5.49 plus shipping, an easy fix!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Secret of Kells-an animated treasure, should be a graphic novel for kids

New Year's evening, after being forced to cancel a trip to the mountains for skiing due to balmy weather, my beloved and I discovered a wonderful animated film, The Secret of Kells.  We were lamenting the reality that with hundreds of channels, outside of professional football, we have a hard time finding anything to watch.  We generally strike out searching the on demand movie listings and neither of us have the patience or motivation to join NetFlix
A new year upon us, we decided to search again for a movie and while browsing the movie list, the word "Kells" caught my attention.  Annie recalled that her brother recommended The Secret of Kells recently and after a quick preview, we ordered the movie and watched it twice!  This is a perfect animated tale for children and adults with history, intrigue, good vs. evil, Vikings, Monks, fairies, the underworld, visionaries and manuscript illustration.  The animation is wonderful, the artistic style fabulous and the story gripping.  I imagine that the movie animator today was the book illustrator of yesterday.

For the book lover, the reference to Kells is obviously to the great Book of Kells, a masterpiece of Medieval book illustration.  Now on permanent display at Trinity College, Dublin, the Book of Kells, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, is a major attraction for any visitor to Dublin.

From the Book of Kells

The Secret of Kells tells the tale of Brenden, a young, aspiring Monk, living in an Abbey under the direction of his Uncle, a stern taskmaster focused on completing the walls of the Abbey to protect against certain invasion by marauding Vikings.  Brenden's life changes when the Monk, Aidan, a master book scribe and illustrator, arrives.  Driven from his home on the Island of Iona, Aidan arrives with an unfinished and magical manuscript, the History of Iona.  Aidan, too old to finish his masterpiece, discovers Brenden is a developing master of manuscript illumination and convinces the young man to risk his safety, disobey his Uncle and leave the Abbey to enter the magical forest in search of special oak berries for ink and a magical crystal necessary for the completion of the book.  Brenden rises to the occasion and with the aid of a magical fairy white-wolf/young girl, Aisling, he finds the oak berries and the crystal.  What happens after to the History of Iona and how this all relates to the Book of Kells, is best discovered by watching the movie!

A wonderful animated film and certainly worthy of the 2010 nomination for an Academy Award.  I am amazed I missed this last year but thrilled that my 2011 began with a viewing.  Against the rising tide of animated toys, cars, crazies, and classic Disney characters, The Secret Of Kells is a touching tale that will generate many questions and introduce both young and old to the history of a world masterpiece, The Books of Kells.  A five star review and a great way to spend 75 minutes.   

For an introduction to the Book of Kells and Medieval manuscript illustration generally, a nice paperback edition is available here.   I find it remarkable than no print edition of The Secret of Kells has been published.  The rise of the graphic novel continues and some wise publisher should take a risk and develop a print version.