On Collecting Books

This fascinating blog post about the history of vellum and parchment is written by Richard Norman, an experienced British bookbinder now living in France, where he runs Eden Wookshops with his wife and fellow bookbinder, Margaret, specializing in Family Bibles and liturgical books. The article originally appeared on www.edenworkshops.com, and is reprinted below with the author's permission. --Editor According to the Roman Varro and Pliny's Natural History, vellum and parchment were invented under the patronage of Eumenes of Pergamum, as a substitute for papyrus, which was temporarily not being exported from Alexandria, its only source. Herodotus mentions writing on skins as common in his time, the 5th century BC; and in his Histories (v.58) he states that the Ionians of Asia Minor had been accustomed to give the name of skins (diphtherai) to books; this word was adapted by Hellenized Jews to describe scrolls. Parchment (pergamenum in Latin), however, derives its name from Pergamon, the city where it was perfected (via the French parchemin). In the 2nd century B.C. a great library was set up in Pergamon that rivalled the famous Library of Alexandria. As prices rose for papyrus and the reed used for making it was over-harvested towards local extinction in the two nomes of the Nile delta that produced it, Pergamon adapted by increasing use of vellum and parchment. Writing on prepared animal skins had a long history, however. Some Egyptian Fourth Dynasty texts were written on vel... [more]

Happy 20th anniversary of Harry Potter! It's hard to believe it has only been twenty years as the characters have become such a large part of popular culture, but the first Harry Potter book was published twenty years ago, today! A lot of people now collect J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. In fact, the major book collectors of tomorrow will likely bond over their memories of midnight-release parties and argue the merits of Mary GrandPré versus Thomas Taylor's cover illustrations. My own book shelves host two complete sets, one American (hardcover) and one British (paperback), and one set-in-progress (the illustrated editions). My children are lobbying for the addition of a set of the new American paperbacks, illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi, because the spines of each form an image of Hogwarts Castle when displayed in sequence (known as a "linked-spine binding"). Naturally, the hardcovers are no longer in great shape, having been read by every family member multiple times, but replacing them with pristine copies is stangely unappealing. It's in-part their hard-earned imperfections that make these books so beloved by us. The Harry Potter phenomen is credited with many things, such as making reading cool again, but I believe it also introduced a generation to the idea of collecting books. The curious thing is, these young collectors may not use the word collector to describe themselves. These days people refer to themselves as fans of X, Y, or Z. They express their allegiance in... [more]

There have been many authors over the past century that have been considered forerunners in the art of the Modern Novel. As a matter of fact, we have written about quite a few of them in the past. Some tell-tale signs of modernist literature are a few literary techniques like a stream-of-consciousness voice or interior monologue, and even numerous points-of-view within one work. These techniques are used by a great deal of modernist authors, but perhaps none so pointedly as the creator of the complex Mrs. Dalloway, feminist thinker and free spirit Virginia Woolf. Virginia was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25th, 1882 in Kensington, London. She was born into a mixed family – both of her parents having been married previously with sets of children on both sides. The family was extremely literate – both parents being well connected in the artistic and literary worlds. In 1895 when Virginia was only 13 years old her mother died, followed closely by her half-sister, Stella and brother Thoby. At this point Virginia began to suffer from the nervousness and had the first breakdown of many she would suffer from throughout her life. Despite her nervous nature and brief periods of institutionalization, Virginia began to spend a significant amount of time with a group of writers and artists that was known as the Bloomsbury Group. By 1910 they were thick as thieves, and Virginia and her sister Vanessa along with writers, editors, and artists Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, C... [more]

Harper Lee has passed away, but her great novel, To Kill a Mockingbird lives on, accompanied by either a second novel, Go Set a Watchman, or as many have speculated, simply the published version of an early draft that would become TKAM with much input from her editors at Lippincott, who upon reading the manuscript in 1957, asked her to rewrite it and set it twenty years in the past. TKAM was finally published in 1960, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, and sell (to date) over 45 million copies, but whatever Lee had been working on since then remains almost entirely unpublished. She apparently had a couple books in the works in the ensuing decades, but was unhappy with them and they have never come to light. Maybe now they will. She lived in Monroeville, Alabama, with her older sister, Alice, and kept a low profile, refusing interviews, but by no means practicing the kind of hermetic privacy achieved by J. D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. The dozens of signed copies* of To Kill a Mockingbird on the market at any given time attest to her willingness to engage at least at that level, and she is said to have many friends and correspondents. Alice functioned as a kind of watchdog for her, and that the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman was “discovered” only two months after Alice died has caused many to question the motives of the person who claims to have discovered the manuscript and the veracity of her story. To Kill a Mockingbird (Signed, First Edition) Philadelphia: J.B. Lippi... [more]

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Editing Shakespeare

By Rich Rennicks

A look at some of the items currently offered by ABAA members can present a partial, but nonetheless illuminating, history of various editors' attempts to complete, "improve," or make Shakespeare more accessible over the centuries. For a guy who's been dead for 400 years, Shakespeare gets more press than many movie stars. Every week there's another theory about what he looked like or whether he was high while writing his plays. This week, the headlines are driven by British designer Jamie Rector, who created a series of new conceptual covers for several plays by Shakespeare, attempting to summarize the plays in a series of emojis. Although this was a concept design, the images caught the eye of Creative Review magazine, who are now using them for a series of posters aimed at attracting new design talent -- evidence that Shakespeare's work still remains vital today. London daily paper Metro speculated that if Shakespeare were alive today “chances are he would have been writing his plays in emoji.” I'm not sure if I can agree with that statement -- not least because Shakespeare wrote for the stage, not the smartphone screen -- but adapting Shakespeare for modern audiences is hardly a new idea. Nicholas Rowe got the ball rolling with his critical editions in 1709. While later scholarly editors sought to gloss obscure words and add historical context, Rowe, a poet himself (and evidently not devoid of ego) tried to improve and modernize the text. Alexander Pope took a similar ... [more]

Belle da Costa Greene Scholarship With the goal of actively working to achieve a more diverse and inclusive community of booksellers and librarians, thanks to the generosity of Lisa Unger Baskin, The Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminars (CABS) is pleased to offer a 2017 scholarship for $2,000 to cover the cost of tuition, room and board ($1,646) with the additional $354 intended for travel or incidental expenses. The scholarship is intended for a bookseller or a librarian from an historically underrepresented community. We encourage applications from booksellers and librarians from the African American, Latino/a/x, Asian American/Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+, working class, persons with disabilities, or other self-identified communities of booksellers or librarians who might benefit from this scholarship. Applicants should submit a short 1- or 2-page essay on why they want to attend CABS. They should include in the statement a brief personal and professional history, and something about their relationship to books and the book trade. We also ask for a CV and one letter of support from a member of the book trade, a professional librarian, or another member of the antiquarian book world. This scholarship is named for Belle da Costa Greene, the African-American librarian, bibliographer, and director of the Morgan Library. The deadline to submit your application is May 1, 2017. We will notify the winner by or before May 15, 2017. Submit your application by mail or by email to Garrett S... [more]

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Rare Book News

By Rich Rennicks

While the week after the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is generally a week of rest and recuperation for booksellers and collectors alike, there was still plenty of news happening in the rare book world last week. Bright Young Booksellers: Alexander Akin ABAA-member Alexander Akin of Bolerium Books was interviewed as part of Fine Books & Manuscripts ongoing "Bright Young Booksellers" series. Read more... Lou Reed Archive Goes to the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center Rock and roll legend Lou Reed left a personal archive of unsurpassed detail that will give researchers great insight into both the mundane details of life as a touring musician and Reed's development as an artist. Comprising over 300 linear feet of correspondence and documents as well as over 600 hours of recordings, many unreleased, the archive will be a place of pilgrimage for both musoic scholars and music fans. Read more... ILAB Launches Mentoring Program to Supoport the Next Generation of Booksellers The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (to which the ABAA belongs) has launched an innovative new international mentoring program to assist young booksellers entering the business. Read more... Kevin Young Named Poetry Editor of the New Yorker There was great excitement last week when it was announced that noted poet Kevin Young, who's also the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, has been appointed as the new poetry editor at the New ... [more]

On October 4th, 1862, a children's literature tycoon was born. With his humble beginnings, of course, no one ever would have suspected that a talented writer and publisher was in their midst. Edward L. Stratemeyer was born the youngest of six children in Elizabeth, New Jersey to a young tobacconist and his wife. Both of Edward's parents had immigrated from Hanover, Germany in 1837, and yet Stratemeyer's main language was English growing up. As a child, Stratemeyer read Horatio Alger often, enjoying his rags-to-riches tales immensely. He later was said to have remarked on how much Alger's stories influenced him as a young man, and gave him some of the confidence he later used to begin his career. It looks as though even as a teenager Stratemeyer had some idea of what he wanted to do as an adult, as he opened his own amateur printing press in the basement of his father's tobacco store. He printed local & homemade flyers and pamphlets, and a few short stories such as The Newsboy's Adventure and The Tale of a Lumberman. After graduating high school, Stratemeyer worked daily in his father's shop, and kept up printing a few items here and there. It wasn't until he turned 26 that he sold his first story to popular children's periodical Golden Days, and received $76 for his contribution (a fact that the helpful internet informs us was over six times the average weekly paycheck for the average U.S. citizen at the time). After experiencing this hint of fame and riches, the young writer... [more]

I've been reading a fascinating book about how humans have exchanged news and views through the centuries, and the changes printing made possible. In Writing on the Wall: Social Media The First 2,000 Years, Tom Standage, the digital editor of The Economist, traces the history of social media through the last 2000 years, highlighting how the last 150 years of broadcast media are in fact an anomaly in human communication. Yes, social media has been around for 2000 years, not a little over a decade as I thought. Far from being the brave new world that Facebook et al. like to claim, online “social media” is, in Standage's view, simply a return to an older style of communication, a style for which humans may be hardwired. Serious book collectors and students of printed history may be the only ones not surprised by this claim, as Standage draws on a great deal of printed history to prove his persuasive thesis. The LETTERS Of MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO To Several of his Friends: with Remarks by William Melmoth, Esq. To Which is Now Added, A General Index. In Three Volumes. Offered by Tavistock Books. Starting with ancient Rome, and the great orator and letter-writer Cicero, Standage discusses how letters were essentially public artifacts, and that writers like Cicero encouraged the recipient to read them to and share them with others. They in turn would often copy a letter, add their own thoughts, and forward it on many others. It's because of this letter-sharing network that Cicero ... [more]

"Celebrating the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection: Rare Books and Manuscripts, Victorian Literature and Art" Symposium at the University of Delaware Library Newark, DE March 17-18, 2017 On March 17 and 18, 2017 the University of Delaware will host a two-day symposium, "Celebrating the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection: Rare Books and Manuscripts, Victorian Literature and Art." The keynote speaker will be Elaine Showalter, Professor Emerita of English, Princeton University, and additional speakers will include Mark Dimunation (Library of Congress), Barbara Heritage (Rare Book School, University of Virginia), Edward Maggs (Maggs Bros. Ltd., London), Joseph Bristow (UCLA), Linda K. Hughes (Texas Christian University), Margaretta S. Frederick (Delaware Art Museum), William S. Peterson (Emeritus, University of Maryland), David Taylor (UK historian and author), and Margaret D. Stetz (University of Delaware). The symposium is free and open to the public, but registration in advance is requested. More information, including online registration, will be available at https://library.udel.edu/msl-symposium-2017/ The symposium is being held in conjunction with the exhibition "Victorian Passions: Stories from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection," curated by Margaret D. Stetz, University of Delaware, on view in the Special Collections Gallery, UD Library, from February 14-June 3, 2017. The Mark Samuels Lasner Collection focuses on British literature and art of the period 1850 to 1900, with an em... [more]