Sunday, October 6, 2019

Museum and Books : Nathaniel Hawthorne at the Peabody Essex Museum

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The Peabody Essex Museum 2019. 
20th century addition (far left), original,19th century East India Marine Hall. New addition
(same source of granite) to the far right

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem,  Essex County, Massachusetts opened a much awaited new building recently, expanding the gallery space, and allowing better display of the vast and important holdings.   The museum, which originated in 1799 as the East India Marine Society, required that every ship returning from travels bring something back to contribute to the Society in the tradition of cabinets of curiosity dominant at the time.  In 1825 the Society and a growing collection of objects became headquartered in the newly constructed East India Marine Hall.  The Hall, still in use today, retains some of the original display cases and is a direct link to the museum's earliest days.   Tracing the evolution from a Marine Society to a modern museum is a bit complex but a continuity in purpose and practice is possible to trace.

In 1821 the Essex Historical Society was established and Salem was supported by two active cultural and collecting institutions.  In 1833 a third organization formed, the Essex County Natural History Society focused on local natural wonders.  In 1848 the two societies merged to form the Essex Institute which would eventually become part of the modern museum.  Sometime after the East India Marine Society was established in the East India Marine Hall, the society adopted a new name, The Peabody Academy of Science.  Sometime during the 1960's the Essex Institute revised its mission to focus on regional art, history and architecture and divested holdings of natural science and archaeology to the Peabody Academy of Science, which transferred its holdings of historical materials to the Essex Institute.   A further name change was done in the early 20th century when the Peabody Academy of Science was renamed, the Peabody Museum of Salem and continued to focus on international art objects and culture arising from the earliest days of returning ships with objects to contribute associated with diverse and distant cultures.   The Essex Institute pursued a decidedly historic Salem focus and continued to acquire properties of great architectural value and developed historical interpretation for the Salem community.   By the late 20th century the two local cultural and collecting institutions were connected by not only proximity but also collections and in 1992 merged to form the current Peabody Essex Museum (PEM).    {All preceding sourced from}. 

 Since the 1992 merger, PEM has experienced evolution of capacity, collections, and exhibition opportunities.  A community museum free to all Salem residents PEM is a dynamic cultural conglomerate with varied collections spanning, art, architecture, books, historical records and is poised to take a leadership role for museums in the 21st Century.   This trajectory is best illustrated by PEM and the noted designer and cultural maven, Iris Apfel who essentially brought the Peabody Museum in to the contemporary era with a donation to the museum of objects from her personal collection of textiles and fashion.  Apfel became enamored with the Peabody Essex a few years ago, when her traveling exhibition was so warmly received and supported by this ever evolving museum.  The new addition and the past 25 years or so of mergers and expansion are celebrated with the recent opening of the new wing to the museum and supported by wide ranging exhibitions and new galleries displaying items from the permanent collection.  I so love the original East India Marine Hall that I am more excited to re-visit the Hall, since it is now again an active gallery and was much missed, after years of diverse use while construction of the new addition was completed.  I do plan to explore the new addition but my first stop will be the classic Marine Hall.

One noted benefit of the museum expansion is that now, PEM has a dedicated gallery to exhibit items drawn from the vast Phillips Library collections.  The Library collections are a great source for genealogical research and documentary history of the area along with collections focused on the rich literary tradition of New England and specifically local authors from the Salem geographic area.  To celebrate the opening of the new PEM and to illustrate the new range and space for exhibitions, the PEM expansion launch includes a special exhibition from the permanent collection focused on Nathaniel Hawthorn of House of Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter fame.   

Museum and books is a favorite focus and I am excited to visit and experience the collections associated with Salem's (and New England's, America's and world's),own Nathaniel Hawthorn.  Coinciding with the opening of the new museum building the Phillips Library, the research/library collection of PEM,  has put together an exhibition of highlights of their Nathaniel Hawthorn collection of published and archival holdings.

Sadly PEM has not done a very good job with creating a digital exhibition in support of the physical space.  I'll need to verify this once I visit but the web presence is just not that compelling!  While it is most likely the real goal of the museum is to attract visitors during the opening of a new space, it is a missed opportunity when the associated web coverage of the exhibition is a disappointment.  Interest in Nathaniel Hawthorn is not geographically limited and there are many who would be interested in viewing virtually, the exhibition, which I imagine includes many fine examples of editions rare, illustrated and displayed in a new dedicated book gallery.  While I can dream of what is on display I sadly, just do not know what to expect as PEM's website is basically devoid of details on the exhibition.  If you are interested in a brief biography of Hawthorn, I urge you to visit his page at the American National Biography site.

The spirit of the exhibition is clearly and cleverly designed to focus on Hawthorn's creative legacy.  Since there is little to go one all I can share are the facts mentioned in the digital exhibition and a bit of detail on a recent artist's treatment of a Hawthorn short story, The Minotaur,  from his Tanglewood Tales, recently acquired by the museum and featured in this exhibition.  I imagine and hope that the exhibition displays numerous examples from Hawthorn's published and documentary past along with illustrated editions, of which there are many outstanding examples, and I assume all are part of the permanent Hawthorn collection.

Book artist, Mindy Belloff recently reinterpreted Hawthorn's The Minotaur in a beautifully crafted new edition of this tale.  Produced by Intima Press the artist book is sure to delight visitors to the PEM and the Hawthorn exhibition!


The details of this artist edition follows:

A Golden Thread: The Minotaur – A Contemporary Illumination
Mindy Belloff, artist, designer, printer, and publisher.
Text The Minotaur short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne from Tanglewood Tales, 1853. Additional text includes quotes of Carl Jung and text from Lorem Ipsum.
Edition of 32 standard in quarter leather and 8 deluxe design bindings, all with 23-karat gilt edges, one hundred original drawings and two hundred press runs; 14.75 x 11 inches; 2018.
(Please email IntimaPress at for current price.)

At least one copy is available in the rare book market at $6,500USD via the ever impressive Lux Mentis Books.  While I am interested in seeing this edition in person I also really want to experience the new book gallery at the PEM.  If you are in the Boston area this is a must attend exhibition.  This seems an awfully depressing post and certainly not what I intended as I waited for the opening of the new addition and the launch of supporting promotional and website coverage of the new exhibitions, especially the books.  Perhaps I'm still waylaid by a bout of September depression that visited me and the anticipation of this exhibition as I waited for the material to go live.  It looks like I won't be able to visit the new PEM until the day after Thanksgiving but I will be there, then.  Hopefully with a wee bit less malaise.   

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Possible Futures for the BOOK!

A very enjoyable read with some surprising suggestions, acceptable history, and future possibilities.  I am "all in" that books will remain important but I do tend to lean towards the book as an object to collect, preserve and protect!  I'm not motivated by novelty APPS and novelty technology to engage with traditional printed books but I can support the spirit behind the ideas.  I'm still trying to decide whether re-posting blog posts that capture my attention is the right way to engage but it certainly is an efficient manner of sharing in our modern world.  Sharing is important!  Hope you enjoy the pointer to a valuable read.  (Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for featuring).  I do like the idea mentioned below, the LitCity App, but I know I'd never use it!  Of course, I dream of the day when I can stroll Paris and get notified whenever I pass a structure mentioned in The Dwellings of the Philosophers by Fulcanelli with a copy in hand to refer to and all linked to a GPS walking APP to find all the mentioned dwellings.

From the Paris Review (always a great source!)

Books Won’t Die
 September 17, 2019


Increasingly, people of the book are also people of the cloud. At the Codex Hackathon, a convention whose participants spend a frenetic weekend designing electronic reading tools, I watch developers line up onstage to pitch book-related projects to potential collaborators and funders. “Uber for books”: a same-day service that would deliver library volumes to your door. “Fitbit for books”: an app that blocks incoming calls and buzzes your phone with reminders to get back to a book. That literary pedometer meets its real-world counterpart in LitCity: “Imagine walking down a city street and feeling that familiar buzz of a push notification. But instead of it being a notification on Twitter or a restaurant recommendation, it’s a beautiful passage from a work of literature with a tie to that place.” I thought back to the nineteenth-century guidebooks that inserted a snippet of Shelley next to their map of the Alps; the book has always been about bringing worlds together.  (More here)

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Museums and Books: A Colonial Library at the Boston Athenæum

If you are a Bostonian or close to the Boston area, this is an exhibition to put on your "to visit" list, Required Reading:  Reimagining a Colonial Library, September 17-March 20, 2020.

Promotional Image for the exhibition

The Boston Athenæum is a private library holding not only books but also objects from paintings to sculpture and is a cultural landmark in Boston.  Located by the Statehouse and the Beacon Hill neighborhood, the museum is expanding and is sure to remain healthy as a private research library and arts collection.

The focus of this exhibition is the transport and makeup of a library shipped from England in 1698 intended to support the Kings Chapel Anglican Church.  The 221 titles included in this essential collection to seed the library range from religion to science to philosophy and was packaged in a special traveling case that has been recreated for the exhibition.

Building the travelling bookcase.  Note the design similarity to the promotional image above

The companion catalog of books transported to Kings Chapel

The list of titles represents what a library should posses in lat seventeenth century and sets up a wonderful technology feature where visitors to the exhibition are invited to consider what such a book set would include today, 300 years later.  Visitors will be able to add there choice of titles to a database.  When I visit I know what I will suggest, Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, the Cambridge University Press edition (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant) Edited by Paul Guyer and Allen w. Wood, translated by Alan Wood and published in 1999.

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This is a book which is often considered the starting guide to modern philosophy and is and essential holding for any every library.  My alternative would be Einstein's Special and General Theory of Gravity. ideally a facsimile of the original English Edition of the work which continues to be the cornerstone of our understanding of the physical laws regulating our universe.  I have this edition in my library, Albert Einstein, Einstein's 1912 Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity: A Facsimile, New York, George Braziller Inc., 2000Feel free to suggest a book you would include, in a comment, and I will compare my list to the Boston Athenæum, once the exhibition closes and the list is published!

Einstein's 1912 Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity
Cover of Facsimile-Hardcover edition

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Collecting Vathek by William Beckford. 4 Special Editions In My Library

Cover Illustration Vathek. Centipede Press, David Whitlam

I often collect clusters of books.  While I do accidentally purchase duplicates, for example, an impulse purchase at a Book Fair where the joy of handling a desired book object overwhelms my rationality and, instead of quickly checking my LibraryThing catalog, I just do the deal and once home I discover I had a copy, now two!  While that is a frustrating start of a cluster, I generally put more thought into clusters.  Over time, I fine tuned my acquisition practices and now tend to focus on a specific title and cluster acquisition around First Edition/First Printing, First Illustrated, First Edition/First Printing Trade edition, and Fine Press editions of a beloved title.  Sometimes I go down a rabbit hole that combines interest in a specific title and the possibility of expanding my collection to include examples from specific publishing houses. My cluster of Vathek by William Beckford was a purposefully acquired collection of four editions, Nonesuch Press (1929), The Limited Editions Club (1945), The Folio Society (1958) and Centipede Press (2015).  I discovered Vathek while researching the catalog of The Limited Editions Club around the same time I noticed a new edition announced by Centipede Press.  Once those two editions were in my library I decided to acquire the 1958 Folio Society Edition and the 1929 Nonesuch Press Edition.   

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Cover Design.  Leather with tooled gold gilding

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Chapter opening with full page illustration.  Note the gold gilding is visible in the star in the lower center of the illustration

My first acquisition of Vathek was the Limited Editions Club edition of 1945, signed by the illustrator/decorator of the edition, Valenti Angelo.  The citation for this edition is Beckford, William. Vathek, An Arabian Tale, Limited Editions Club, 1945. It was released in an edition of 1500 copies gold gilded by hand by Valenti Angelo.  Gilding is the act of decorating book pages (or paper edges) with actual gold foil and is traditionally a feature of illuminated manuscripts.  It was the gilding that first caught my attention  and motivated my acquisition.  I am certain I will never have the resources necessary to acquire an actual, gilded illuminated edition (or even a single page) and when I discovered this work and the reality that copies could be obtained for less than $100.00 I jumped at the chance to add a true gilded edition to my library! My copy has a fine slipcase and the orginal book sleeve.  The leather cover and illumination is in perfect condition and the interior is clean and bright with all the gold gilding, subtle as it is, also perfect.  There appears to be a slight lightening of the ink of the page decorations generally in the upper left corner of the edition but it in no way distracts from the beauty of this small format edition.

While awaiting delivery of the Limited Editions Club edition I pre-ordered a newly announced edition of this classic Gothic tale from Centipede Press.  I have casually followed Centipede Press for many years but never purchased a title for my collection.  Generally, what I desired was beyond my means and Centipede Press titles never made it to a "buy now" position in my infinite want list.  It was the right time, right title and right price point to add Centipede Press to my library and the new edition seemed a natural purchase.  Released in a small edition of 250 copies, an early purchase was the smart move and would partner with my Limited Editions Club Edition.  The catalog page for Vathek offers the following:

William Beckford was a novelist, travel writer, art critic and politician best known for his novel Vathek, a story with elaborate imagery, sardonic humour and an unforgettable gallery of grotesques, which describes a journey to the halls of Eblis, or Hell, in the pursuit of knowledge.
      This edition features a new introduction by noted historian and poet Donald Sidney-Fryer, a striking color dustjacket by British artist David Whitlam, and the complete line drawings by Mahlon Blaine.

       William Beckford (1760-1844) inherited a large fortune and, at the age of nineteen, went on a tour of Holland, Germany, Belgium, France and Italy. He was a Member of Parliament and a traveller who spent large sums of money collecting rare books, curiosities and paintings for the embellishment of his Gothic Extravaganza, Fonthill Abbey, where he lived in opulent seclusion until forced by bankruptcy to sell it in 1822. 

While the Centipede Press edition is lovely and a joy to read, I prefer the feel and illustration package of the Limited Editions Club, much better.  This acquisition did serve as my introduction to Centipede and I now actively keep my eyes out for other, affordable editions.  This small printing has been sold out since shortly after publication in 2015.  A complete citation, Vathek, by William Beckford, Introduction by Donald Sidney-Fryer, Cover and Frontispiece artwork by David Whitlam, Interior artwork by Mahlon Blaine, Centipede Press 2015 (purchased directly from Centipede Press on pre-publication sale for $50.00, copy number 222 of 250, signed by Donald Sydney-Fryer and David Whitlam).   This is a reprinting of a 1928 edition, BECKFORD, WILLIAM. Vathek. New York: John Day, 1928. First Edition Thus. Illustrated by Mahlon Blaine, with an introduction by Ben Ray Redman with a new intoduction by Donald Sidney-Fryer.

Line Illustration by Mahlon Blaine 

My third copy of Vathek is from Nonesuch Press.  Over the years I handled many Nonesuch Press editions when visiting bookshops and shows but never acquired an edition for my library.  I had great interest in this British Press but usually connected to the Nonesuch Press complete works of Shakespeare, a celebrated 7 volume edition costing around $3500.00 and a bit too expensive for me.  Vathek is much more realistic and since I had the Limited Edition Club edition and the Centipede Press Edition I decided to add the Nonesuch Press so that I had, at least, one example in my collection.  The history of the Nonesuch Press is fascinating and worthy of a separate post.  A fine example of fine press publishing for a wider reading audience.  I love the paper stock and the illustrations by Marion V. Dorn are wonderful. 

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Cover of Vathek Nonesuch Press
Paper over Boards Off-white Vellum at Spine

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Frontispiece Illustration and Title Page
William Beckford, 1929,  Vathek, A New translation by Herbert B. Grimsditch, Copy 1061 of 1550, 10 Color Illustrations by Marion V. Dorn. 

My final fine press edition of Vathek is from the Folio Society, often a controversial fine press but one that I love collecting and support as I believe that they continue to produce fine editions for the general reader and I do replace many old and beloved reads with Folio Society Editions!

The Folio Society Edition of 1958 is from the 1929 Nonesuch Press edition by Herbert B. Grimsditch and has an original cover design and interior illustrations by Edward Baldwin.  A more formal citation is Beckworth, William, Vathek, Translated with an Introduction by Herbert B. Grimsditch, Illustrated with Lithogrpahs by Edward Bawden, London, The Folio Society, 1958.  The cover design is geometric and the interior illustrations are interesting but not to my taste.  Since I have many other Folio Editions I acquired this to complete this cluster and am happy I did but it is not one of my favorites!  It is pleasant to read as the size and printing is very supportive of old school, physical, book reading. 

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Cover Design Folio Society Edition
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Illustration from Folio Society Edition

I would love to acquire early and varied editions of this peculiar tale.  Often included as one of the earliest examples of Gothic Fiction, this tale compliments my shared addiction with Beckford for the Arabian Nights!  At least I have a cluster that brings me joy.