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Blog posts by John Schulman

John Schulman is a former member of the ABAA and co-owner of Caliban Book Shop along with his wife Emily Hetzel, operating a general used and rare bookstore in Pittsburgh since 1991.


Bernard M. Rosenthal was born in 1920 in Munich. Most of his immediate family left Munich for Florence in 1933, left Italy for France in 1938, and arrived in the US in 1939, each move in response to the problem of being Jewish. Both sides of his family, the Rosenthals and on his mother's side, the Olschkis of Italy, were heavily involved in the book trade going back generations as antiquarians, printers, publishers and authors. An extensive interview with Rosenthal was conducted by Dan Slive (head of Special Collections of the Bridwell Library at SMU) and appeared in the RBM Journal in 2003; in it, Rosenthal gives a fulsome account of his early days in the trade, starting in 1949 as an apprentice bookseller in Zurich under a bibliographical “tyrant,” Herr Frauendorfer, then later under the tutelage of Arthur Swann at Parke-Bernet, and... [more]

This election is unlike any other in terms of the candidates, the frequent emotional rollercoasters, the influence of the wealthy, the corporations and the media, and the volatile and complex nature of the issues – guns, race, religion, nationalism, foreign policy, poverty, immigration, nuclear arms, pestilence, famine, ecology, the Supreme Court, etc., etc.. How to make sense of it all? Most antiquarian booksellers feel that the books of the past can illuminate the present, and so, in that spirit, knowing that we cannot get you to unplug the telly, log off from Facebook or stop obsessing over FiveThirtyEight, we recommend the following books to supplement your daily media intake. These texts will give you The Long View, supply historical context, make you the life of the cocktail party, and perhaps even provide you with a modicum of ho... [more]


An Antiquarian Pesach

By John Schulman

Each April, when Passover occurs, Jews all over the world join with family and friends to celebrate the occasion (this year from April 22-30) with a seder, a ritual meal that marks the beginning of the holiday and which involves retelling the story of the Jews' liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt, a story taken from The Book of Exodus. The instructional guide to the stages of the feast (besides reciting the narrative of Jewish liberation there are also prayers, songs, and commentary) is called the Haggadah (plural: haggadot). There is some dispute as to when the first haggadot were compiled, but most scholars agree that it was somewhere between 150 and 350 CE and that it achieved a fairly standardized form by the time of Maimonides in the 12th century (Maimonides included a version of the Haggadah in his Mishneh Torah (Jewish laws), ... [more]

Cheryl Needle, an antiquarian bookseller from Pepperell, MA, died in January. Born in 1948, she is survived by children and grandchildren, her partner of 25+ years, Frank Infante, her former husband and sometime business partner, Matthew Needle of Newburyport, MA, and her many friends and colleagues in the trade. Although she was not a member of the ABAA, she had all the qualities one looks for in a great antiquarian dealer: a fine eye for unusual material, reasonable prices, the highest ethical standards, and on top of that, she was friendly, decent, and caring. Greg Gibson of Ten Pound Island Books remembered Cheryl in his Bookman's Log blog. Below are excerpts from that, followed by contributions by some of her other friends and admirers. Greg Gibson: A veteran of more than four decades as a used book dealer, Cheryl was an active parti... [more]

Previously, John Schulman offered some tips on giving antiquarian books as gifts and using the ABAA website to find what you're looking for. Today, he focuses on choosing antiquarian books specoifically for children. Giving children's books to children requires just as much thought and insight as giving books to grownups. Children are generally just as aware as adults when it comes to assessing the degree of thoughtfulness and consideration that went into the gifts they receive. Thinking about the child's interests and personality is key. Much as you love the N. C. Wyeth illustrated edition of Treasure Island, don't give it to a six year old girl into race cars and robots. But we all have favorite books from our childhood, and many of us hope (myself included) that our children will read those books and get the same kind of pleasure, comf... [more]

Few people know that the most famous pop artist in the world, Andy Warhol, began his career in New York as a commercial artist and book illustrator. Born in Pittsburgh in 1928 to immigrants from present-day Slovakia, he majored in Commercial Art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now CMU), graduating in 1949 and quickly moving to New York after that. There he found work as a freelance illustrator for magazines and trade publications, and also designed dust jackets for several publishers. By the late 1950s, he had made a name for himself as a hardworking, dependable artist who could work in a variety of media. Now, there is a new exhibit of Warhol's work as a book artist and illustrator, currently on display at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and running through January 10, 2016. After that, there are plans for the exhibit to tr... [more]


2018 RBMS Conference

By John Schulman

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) is a division of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), which itself is part of the American Library Association (ALA). As the RBMS website states, “RBMS strives to represent and promote the interests of librarians who work with rare books, manuscripts, and other types of special collections.” Each year, the RBMS holds a conference in a different city: dinners are organized; there are plenary sessions on topics of interest to special collections librarians, and there is also a “showcase” in which ABAA members who sign up can exhibit some of their items. This represents a rare opportunity for ABAA members to connect with special collections librarians, have conversations, gain some understanding of how librarians think, operate, make decisions, acquire items, etc. It ... [more]

ABAA members and book lovers the world over mourn the loss of William Reese, antiquarian bookseller of New Haven, CT, and founder of the William Reese Company. He was universally acknowledged to be the greatest American antiquarian bookseller of his generation, known for his expertise in Americana, color plate books, natural history, exploration, literature, and the history of the book, and also widely celebrated as a man of uncommon graciousness, generosity, humor, and decency. William Reese was born on July 29, 1955 in Havre de Grace, Maryland, son of William Blain Reese and Katherine (Jackson) Reese, and died early in the morning of June 4, 2018 at his family's farm, Seven Springs Farm, in Havre de Grace after a long illness. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy Hurt, his sister, Barbara Reese, and his nieces, Sarah Dyer and Tessa Curri... [more]


First State Notes

By John Schulman

What's the difference between a first edition, first printing, first issue, and first state? Pay attention, there will be a quiz! Sometimes the most simple questions have the most complicated answers. Does God exist? What is love? Who wrote Shakespeare's plays? And what IS the difference between a first edition, a first printing, a first issue, and a first state? If you already know the difference, scroll to the bottom of this blog and take a quiz to test your knowledge of the first state or issue points for various famous works. For those of you still curious about our convoluted answer, we have thankfully secured permission from Terry Belanger, one of the greatest scholars of bibliography and printing history, to quote his definitions of these terms from the Bibliographical Society of America website. Thanks also to bookseller Cynthia G... [more]


Buying Rare Books as Gifts

By John Schulman

ABAA member John Schulman of Caliban Book Shop has some advice for anyone considering buying antiquarian or rare books as gifts, and explains how to use the ABAA's website and how to work with ABAA dealers to your best advantage. So it's crunch time and you need a gift for a booklover. When people come into our store asking us to find the perfect item, the first questions we have are about the recipient. We ask the standard questions: how old is the recipient? What does he or she like to read? Has the person already started collecting books in a focused way? Then, as we think about what we have in stock, we ask a few more questions: what is the price range? Would the recipient like a first printing or something in a handsome binding? Once we have an idea about the recipient, we can get to work. A Word of Caution! Giving a book to a person... [more]