On Collecting Books

Bookseller Ed Smith (Ed Smith Books) interviewed Kurt Brokaw, a professor and film critic, who likes to moonlight as a rare bookseller (specializing in noir paperback originals) on the streets of Manhattan. I got to know Kurt Brokaw through a mutual friend. When I was in Manhattan for a movie memorabilia auction at Bonham's that I'd partly consigned, I stopped at his weekend table of 1940s paperbacks and earlier pulp magazines. He often sets up outside Zabars at 80th & Broadway, or further down Broadway in Lincoln Center. He's the only bookman doing high end vintage paper on the street that I've ever met, and he explains an actual New York City book law from the 1890s that gives him the legal right to vend written matter on NYC sidewalks without a license. This 6-minute spontaneous and unrehearsed interview should be of interest to collectors. (Photo by Lynda Bullock/Flickr via cc license) [more]

“The greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe.” -- from “The Answer” by Robinson Jeffers Within his lifetime, the work of Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was at various points revered, deliberately shunned, and generally neglected. In 1932, the poet was featured on the cover of Time magazine; but by 1948 his publisher, Random House, saw fit to add a “Publisher's Note” to his collection The Double Axe in which they expressed their “disagreement over some of the political views pronounced by the poet in the volume.” By the time of his death he had already passed into irrelevance, with younger poets such as Kenneth Rexroth attacking him and his work rarely anthologized. Still, his work was read and studied by other poets such as Gary Snyder (who noted his work showed “a profound respect for the non-human”) and his greatest disciple William Everson, and today, despite his continuing marginalization in some circles as a “California poet,” his work continues to reckoned with. Critic and Poet Laureate of California Dana Gioia, a great modern-day champion of Jeffers, has noted, “I consider Jeffers the most important American poet in the western third of the country—the great poet of the West.” Gioia adds, “He's a titanic if singular figure,” and therein lies some of the difficulty in dealing with Jeffers. Jeffers' theory of “inhumanism,” which the poet described as being “based on a ... [more]

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is a phenomenon, even by the standards of hit Broadway musicals; people who have no hope of getting their paws on a ticket until sometime next year are obsessively listening to the cast recording and watching videos compulsively on YouTube. If the subject matter was anthropomorphic felines or an alternative take on a classic children's book we wouldn't blink an eye, but Miranda's remarkable success is built on the comparatively dry history of the founding fathers that most people day-dreamed their way through in high school. Looking through the items listed by ABAA members, we find many rare books and documents signed or written by the actual people dramatized in the musical. While you're waiting for more tickets to be made available, check out some of these amazing first editions, fine-press reprints, and even some original documents signed or written by or about Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette, James Madison, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. The Federalist: A Collection of Essays BURR: "Alexander joins forces with James Madison and John Jay to write a series of essays defending the new United States Constitution, entitled The Federalist Papers. The plan was to write a total of twenty-five essays. In the end, they wrote eighty-five essays, in the span of six months. John Jay got sick after writing five. James Madison wrote twenty-nine. Hamilton wrote the other fifty-one!" -- lyrics from "Non-Stop" (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton:... [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]

Book Collecting in the United States: A 21st-Century View of Our Collectors, Our Research Libraries, and Our Booksellers While the antiquarian book community is very small worldwide, it has been in the United States, the tiniest of them all, until very recently. Among all the cultures around the world who have written and read manuscripts and printed books in their variety of forms, North American literacy and book production occurred centuries if not millennia after those of predecessors like the Chinese, Greek, Hebrew and Mesopotamian, Indian, Mexican and Central America peoples. 1 As our many settlers came to North America and found homes, books were often left behind, either in the “old country” or before an arduous journey across the land. A bible, sacred book, or a family memento might accompany the traveler, but not a heavy, cumbersome library. Also, in early America, libraries and bookshops were few and far between. Overall, books remained a very minor part of life in this country until the end of the 19th century, when printing technology made the book widely available and accessible due to machine-set type, machine-rolled paper, and a perfected method of binding. As a result, we Americans as a whole have little knowledge of old books or printing history. Until recently, there was only a small group of serious book collectors in America. These collectors acquired antiquarian books and manuscripts, especially on the subjects such as travel and exploration of Ameri... [more]

image description

In Defense of Marginalia

By Leah Dobrinska

When you pick up a book to read, do you also pick up a pencil, ready to mark up the margins with your thoughts and ideas? If so, your written additions are part of a body of writings called marginalia. For many readers, scribbling on the pages of books is a beloved, recreational practice. For others, it's more of a necessity. Whether they are humorous jots and tittles, lessons learned from the story, or more serious notes of textual analysis, marginalia are simply fascinating. System of Chemistry, 5 vols. by THOMSON, T - ASSOCIATION COPY WITH THOMAS COOPER'S NOTES AND DRAWINGS Edinburgh: Bell & Bradfute, 1807. Third Edition.. Full contemporary calf.. Good; bindings broken on all volumes; library bookplates in all volumes; otherwise quite clean and bright throughout.. 8vo, Four printed plates. The J K Mitchell, John Redman, Thomas Cooper copy. Accompanied by hundreds of pages of Cooper's original marginalia and notes with his original ink wash drawings of chemical set-ups and apparatus. The set is signed in volume 1 on a blank portion of the title: "Thomas Cooper, Northumberland ". Below that is the inscription: "Bought by J K Mitchell from Redman" - J K Mitchell has signed all the title pages of the set. What is unique about this set is that Cooper has annotated every volume with his notes and commentary. In addition he has added four original ink wash drawings to the endsheets that illustrate his coal gas apparatus, Accum's hydro-pneumatic table (Cooper eventually edited the... [more]

At a time when some brick and mortar antiquarian bookstores are closing their doors in favor of an internet-only presence, Matthew and Adrienne Raptis, of Raptis Rare Books, have gone against the grain and recently opened a rare bookstore on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. Worth Avenue, like Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive, is synonymous with luxury brands and caters to an island that is home to the rich and famous, including the new President-elect, Donald Trump. Raptis Rare Books had previously operated mainly as a catalog and online business out of a beautiful Italianate villa in Vermont, but Matthew Raptis wanted to have more interaction with his customers and allow people to come into greater contact with “these wonderful written works of art.” The new gallery opened on November 1, but the grand-opening is being held until January 2017, when the holiday rush is past. "We've had an outstanding initial reception to the store,” Matthew commented. “People love the idea of something new and different on the Avenue and when they walk in they often talk about their love of the smell of old books and how a particular book touched their lives. Holding a rare book is like holding a bit of history in your hands.” Almost all of the books in the Raptis Rare Books inventory are first editions and many of them are signed or inscribed by the author. Matthew and Adrienne refer to the new store as a gallery because "like fine art, in a way it is like stepping into a museum." Unlike a ... [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]

Thanks to the ABAA for hosting the first (but not last) networking event for women in the book trade at this year's Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, the inaugural program in the ABAA's Women in Bookselling Initiative. The Boston gathering was inspired by a series of lively events in London this year, the first one organized by the women of Maggs, with later events sponsored by Peter Harrington, Quaritch, and (next up) Daniel Crouch. We were also motivated by ongoing conversations about the place of women in the trade at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) and York Antiquarian Book Seminar (YABS) this summer. Ashley Wildes (Between the Covers), Alanna Miles (Caliban), and Kim Schwenk (Lux Mentis) Our point of departure is this: while individual women have played key roles in the American book trade for at least a century, they remain under-represented at the top. The 2016 ABAA directory lists only 62 women as full members. What can we do to make the trade more inclusive and welcoming, and to encourage women booksellers to aim higher? How can we see more women represented on the ABAA Board of Governors? The recent adoption by the ABAA membership of a Code of Conduct addressing sexual harassment was a necessary start. In the larger picture, we hope to encourage collaboration and mentorship between women at different levels of the trade, all of whom face the daily challenge of “not looking like a rare book dealer” in a profession where the ability to project authority i... [more]

The Antiquarian and Rare Bookseller Today: The Decline of the On-the-street Bookshop and Its Consequence Overheard at a recent book fair, one bookseller to another: “Business used to be a lot more fun.” The role of the old, rare, and antiquarian bookseller has changed greatly in recent decades, from a rich brick and mortar presence in every major city of the U.S. to almost no physical bookshops on the street today. In the 1970s and '80s, there were important bookshops centrally located in every major city of the United States. Many of these shops gathered in “book rows.” In New York, for example, there were dozens of bookshops on 4th Avenue alone. Presently there are, according to the ABAA, two large full-service antiquarian books in New York City: Argosy and the Strand. Of the 39 New York City ABAA booksellers, 29 are open by appointment only; of the 10 remaining who keep open business hours, six have offices, not storefronts. There are, of course, other booksellers, mostly used and out-of-print dealers who are not in the ABAA, but the ratio is undoubtedly similar to the above. At present, there is no large brick and mortar full-service antiquarian or rare bookshop on the streets of Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., downtown Philadelphia, or Dallas. Booksellers now operate from home or office with few or no walk-in clients. The ability to meet potential new clients is limited to exhibiting in the expensive and competitive antiquarian book fair cir... [more]