On Collecting Books

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Valentines to the Trenches

By Sandra Stelts

During this month of February, in the second year of observing the centennial of World War I, it is particularly gladdening to know that during the cold winter of the final year of brutal fighting, there were brave, bare-bottomed Cupids who delivered valentines to our soldiers in the trenches. In The Eberly Family Special Collections Library at the Penn State Libraries there is a series of broadsides that were produced for the American Fund for French Wounded, which was founded in 1915 by American women living abroad to purchase medical supplies and provide relief to wounded soldiers in France during World War I. As the war dragged on, the group expanded to help rebuild French homes and buy supplies. The examples shown here were all produced for the Indianapolis Branch under the title French Relief Fund, and they depict scenes from the home front and the battlefront, accompanied by humorous poems. American watercolorist Mrs. Mamie Bybee Milliken originated the idea of these comic valentines with patriotic themes. (Girls were also a popular theme, of course.) Indiana authors and artists like William Gaar cooperated in the project, and Milliken was able to have the broadsides ready for families and sweethearts to send off to the boys “over there” for February 14, 1918. They were issued as a portfolio set of twelve. (Penn State owns only ten. A complete set can be found at the Indiana Historical Society.) The broadside “My Special Delivery” (above), illustrated by Americ... [more]

In the spring of 2016, I set up a Facebook group called 'We Love Endpapers'. My idea behind it was to create a forum where like-minded people—booksellers, librarians, collectors, book designers—could share, or just drool over, pictures of particularly unusual or beautifully patterned endpapers as and when they came across them. I have always enjoyed the surprise of discovering a hidden gem of an endpaper when opening a book, and thought there may well be others out there who might like to join me in such a group. Sure enough, there are now over 2000 members, and I regularly get people coming up to me at book fairs thanking me for setting it up and saying how much they enjoy it! One thing I have realised since setting up the group is how confusing the terminology of decorated paper can be. With that in mind, here's a brief outline of the kinds of decorated papers you might come across when looking at books from the hand-press period. Many of the examples below have been taken from posts in the We Love Endpapers group (which, I should say, features books from all periods, including modern publications); I hope fellow group members don't mind if I share them here. Marbled Paper The technique of marbling paper was developed in Asia (the oldest examples, from Japan, have been dated to the 12th century) before travelling west, to Persia, Turkey, and Europe. The decoration is achieved not directly onto the sheet of paper itself, but on a liquid called the marbling 'size' ('a glu... [more]

Some 35 years ago, Charles Bukowski wrote, “Fante was my god”—and with those four words, he brought John Fante and his great books back out of near-obscurity. The quote is from the preface Bukowski wrote for the 1980 Black Sparrow Press reissue of Fante's 1939 novel Ask the Dust, his semi-autobiographical masterpiece of loneliness and Los Angeles, optimism and passion in the face of destitution and abandon. Bukowski's work owed a debt to Fante, but in bringing Fante back and—with the help of Black Sparrow's John Martin—getting Fante's work back into print, Bukowski gave a generous gift to the literary world at large. Fante died just three years after his return to the limelight, but thanks to Buk, many of Fante's works—including five novels and a short fiction collection (as well as five posthumously released books of fiction and two books of letters)—remain in print today. Ask the Dust (Inscribed First Edition) by John Fante NY: Stackpole. (1939). The second book in his semi-autobiographical "Bandini quartet," based on the author's life and experiences in Depression-era Los Angeles. Made into a film in 2006 by Robert Towne, who reportedly called it the best novel ever written about Los Angeles. The film starred Colin Farrell, Selma Hayek and Donald Sutherland. Inscribed by Fante in the year of publication to the collector (and bibliographer of Christopher Morley) Henry Tatnall Brown, Jr., "with the hope that he likes my book," and dated November 14, 1939, appar... [more]

A first edition of a favorite author is a sure-fire great gift. Even better would be one signed by the author! You'll find a great many first editions and signed books in our literature category, from award-winning classics to contemporary authors. Here are a few examples to what your appetite. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986. First edition. Hardcover. Fine/Near fine. Signed by the author on the title page. 1986, First Edition. Fine in a Near Fine dust jacket that shows the slightest hint of fading along the spine. Original jacket price present. A tight, clean and sparkling copy of Atwood's classic dystopian novel. (Offered by Caliban Books) Search for more books by Margaret Atwood... Men Without Women (First Edition) by Ernest Hemingway New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1927 First edition, first printing, in the first issue jacket with no quotes printed to orange lines on front panel of dust jacket. Publisher's smooth black cloth with gold paper labels stamped in black, top edge stained orange, fore edge untrimmed, yellow endpapers printed with three darker yellow bands and the silhouette of the bull in a circle, in the original unclipped dust jacket. A very good copy with some light soiling to boards, faint toning to page edges, text block otherwise very tight and clean in a sturdy binding; dust jacket in two pieces with split along spine panel, evenly toned with some wear to extremities and chipping to spine ends. Overall, a bright ex... [more]

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Literary Los Angeles

By Brad Johnson

Literary Los Angeles: A Legacy as Diverse as the City Itself The Hollywood sign looms large over Los Angeles. However, despite its close association with the motion picture industry, the enduring promise and dark undercurrents of America's first postmodern city are best understood through its prose and poetry. This literary legacy will be on display in February when the world's leading antiquarian booksellers gather in Los Angeles for the 43rd ILAB Congress, which will lead into the 51st California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena. The following list of 20 defining works of Los Angeles literature is presented in anticipation of these prestigious events: Reminiscences of a Ranger: Early Times in Southern California (1881) by Major Horace Bell Horace Bell (1830-1918) was an incendiary attorney who was fond of the seamier side of life. This true account of his service with the Los Angeles Rangers, a sort of border police, rivals any dime-store western. The first book printed and bound in Los Angeles, it is particularly scarce because the type from the first half of the book was reportedly cannibalized for use in the second. Ramona (1884) by Helen Hunt Jackson Despite its romantic excess, Ramona is perhaps the most significant Southern California novel. In much the same way that Uncle Tom's Cabin helped to arouse public sentiment against slavery, the abuse of California Indians depicted in Ramona brought about reforms in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At the same ti... [more]

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is one of the most-celebrated and most-notorious novels of the twentieth century. Its path to publication did not run smooth, and there are many different editions and translations worthy of the collector's attention. 1955: The Olympia Press Two-Volume First Edition The multi-lingual Nabokov (he grew up speaking Russian, English and French at home) finished Lolita in 1953, but it was rejected by all the major American publishers for fear that its subject matter would prove too controversial. He turned to the Olympia Press in Paris, then notorious for essentially publishing pornography, for the first publication of his famous novel. Lolita (First Edition) Paris: Olympia Press. Very Good. FIRST EDITION of one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. WITH IMPORTANT PROVENANCE: From the Bureau Littéraire Clairouin, Nabokov's literary agency who was instrumental in its publication. "Vladimir Nabokov is an artist of the first rank, a writer in the great tradition ... Lolita is probably the best fiction to come out of this country (so to speak) since Faulkner's burst in the thirties. He may be the most important writer now going in this country. He is already, God help him, a classic" (Critic Conrad Brenner, in 1958). Controversial since its conception, Lolita was rejected by American publishing houses until finally accepted by the avant-garde Olympia Press in Paris and published in a fragile two-volume format. First issue, with 900 Francs on... [more]

A deluxe copy of a children's classic is a favorite gift at almost any point in childhood. As the child grows older and better able to appreciate a care for their books, some seek to introduce the book-collecting bug with a signed copy, a meaningful first edition, or a particularly beautiful volume. We've collected a few beautiful, rare, or signed editions below for inspiration. You can search Children's Books by category here... A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger Natick, MA: Picture Book Studio USA/Neugebauer Press, 1988. Modern illustrated edition of the quintessential Christmas classic. Written in a mere six weeks at a low point in Charles Dickens's career, and published at his own expense in time for Christmas 1843, A Christmas Carol revived Dickens's fortunes, establishing a robust market for holiday gift books that survives to this day. "When this strain of music sounded, all the things that Ghost had shown came upon his mind; he softened more and more." In 1990, illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger won the Hans Christian Andersen medal in recognition of her "lasting contribution to children's literature." A near-fine copy. Tall narrow folio, measuring 13.5 x 8.25 inches, black linen spine, original glossy color pictorial boards, pale yellow endpapers, original unclipped color pictorial dust jacket. Illustrated in color throughout text. Light edgewear to jacket. (Offered by Honey & Wax Booksellers.) Search for other copies of A Christmas Carol..... [more]

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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 who's enthusiastic about a particular subject or author has its pitfalls: the person may already have the book you are thinking about giving, or may have rejected it for some reason. The more you know about the recipient's tastes and collection-thus-far the better. The Edible Woman (First Edition) by Margaret Atwood Toronto, Montreal: McClelland and Stewart Limited, . Octavo, boards. First edition. The author's first novel. Very slight spine lean, a fine copy in very good or better dust jacket with touch of wear at edges, 20 mm closed tear and associated wrinkle at bottom edge of front panel, and small bookstore price sticker at lower fore-e... [more]

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Explore New Arrivals

By Rich Rennicks

ABAA members list newly acquired or catalogued books on almost every day of the year. Keep an eager eye on our "New Arrivals" search page to see what's recently been offered for sale and find the books you need to build your collection! Here are a few highlights from this week's crop of newly listed items: Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald London: Grey Walls Press, 1953 First English edition. Publisher's light blue cloth, lettered in gilt to spine, in original pink pictorial dust jacket. Near fine with a slight lean to spine and a touch of wear to spine ends, light offsetting to endpapers, a few tiny spots to top edge; dust jacket with a few tiny nicks to spine ends and corners, spine faded but front panel extremely bright. Overall, a tight and attractive copy. Originally published by Scribner's in the US in 1932, Save Me the Waltz is the first and only novel by Zelda Fitzgerald, better known as an artist and wife of the renowned author F. Scott Fitzgerald. An extremely autobiographical text, it tells the story of "a young artist to whom success comes very early," and "a Southern girl" who would travel the world, live as an expatriate in Paris, and ultimately "return to the Southern town in which she was born." Similarly, Zelda and F. Scott were married young, lived abroad for several years, and then returned to the American Southeast for health reasons. Increasingly afflicted with mental illness in her adult years, Zelda was admitted to the Sheppard Pratt sanatorium in T... [more]

ABAA-member Charles Roberts (Wonder Book) has published a wonderful meditation on the classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking on his blog at Wonder Books. More than a straight article about the book's creation (although it does cover that) or its critical reception and impact on the wider culture (that, too), Roberts conveys a real bookseller's perspective on the book, both as a cultural artifact and a physical artifact. More interesting still is his consideration of the market forces that affect physical books in unique ways, and how a bookseller can still find utility and value even in old, nondescript cookbooks that are not rare by any stretch of the imagination. Some books tell stories in ways other than their contents. At Wonder Book, we used to rarely get copies of The Joy of Cooking in any condition. It was just a book that people would not give up. Now we are seeing more and more older copies appear in our warehouse. The Joy of Cooking has a sad beginning. Irma Rombauer published it originally in 1931. Her husband had killed himself in 1930. Irma's children convinced her to record her recipes and cooking styles. Why? Maybe they thought it would distract her from her loss and the money problems and personal turmoil it caused. She wrote in the forward, "It was written at the request of my children, who, on leaving home, asked for a record of 'what mother used to cook.'" Somehow she put it all together and published the first Joy privately! She paid for a printer to print an... [more]