On Collecting Books

One phrase you might hear at a rare-book fair is mapbacks. No, that's not some sort of tattoo favored by rare map dealers; a "mapback" is the informal name for a series of pulp paperback books published by Dell between 1943 and 1950. Initially, the back cover of these books featured bland art, but starting with the fifth book in the series, Four Frightened Women by George Harmon Coxe, Dell added an illustration showing the locale where the book's events took place. (Note: the previous book in the series, The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen, was later reprinted with a map on the back cover, but it was the fifth book in the series that was the first to feature a map.) The “maps” were not all conventional maps by any means, with cut-away illustrations of buildings being a frequent option the various artists used when the action was largely confined to one house or building. Dell paperbacks were distinguished airbrushed art and a distinctive Keyhole collophon with an eye peering through, a nod to the lurid mysteries they mainly published in the paperback line — although they soon began to add thrillers, romance, western titles, even historical novels and nonfiction as the series grew in popularity. The keyhole logo soon accreted a number of variations to denote genre, and (according to Piet Schreuders in The Book of Paperbacks) in 1949 it ceased to be used on the rear of mapbacks). Curtains for the Copper by Thomas Polsky New York: Dell Publishing Company. First editio... [more Collecting Dell Mapbacks]


Horatio Alger, Jr.

By Rich Rennicks

In his day, Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832-1899) was one of the most-famous authors in America. While his books have largely fallen out of print today, everyone is familiar with his main idea, because Horatio Alger, Jr. popularized the “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” ideal that permeates so much of American life. It's not too much of a stretch to say that Alger gave America its great national myth, that hard work (and clean living) can allow anyone to achieve success — although people often seem to overlook the amount of sheer luck that comes into play in his fiction. A more-jaundiced reading of Alger's oeuvre would assert that success for Alger was usually defined as social advancement or preferment, and it was usually achieved by finding a wealthy patron through performing a selfless deed or some service (returning a lost wallet or proving ones virtue in some way). Of course, the only individuals who could achieve this social advancement were white males, and the agent of this change was invariably an older white male. Nevertheless, his books were popular after the Civil War, and achieved a huge surge in readership in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. It wasn't an easy road to success for Alger, the son of a Unitarian Minister and descendant of Puritan ancestors. After attending Harvard -- where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was part of the faculty -- he published fitfully, and none of his varied early books really found an audience. After a brief attempt to w... [more Horatio Alger, Jr.]

Longtime ABAA member John J. DeMarco of Saratoga Springs, NY passed away on March 26, 2019. He was 70, and was being treated for cancer. His store, Lyrical Ballad — which DeMarco opened after graduating from college in 1971 and ran with his wife Janice — has been a fixture in Saratoga Springs for almost 50 years, and is “hog heaven for a book lover,” according to fellow ABAA member Kevin Mac Donnell. Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly paid tribute to DeMarco's resiliance through decades of economic ups and downs, saying “Lyrical Ballad outlived most of the big box stores and really was the foundation for much of the revitalization of Saratoga Springs. His store survived it all due to the strength of his personality.” DeMarco had a knack for uncovering some truly rare items over the years, such as a cache of Herman Melville material that included letters from Nathaniel Hawthorne and a first draft of Typee, that a local widow had found amid other material in her barn. Several friends and contemporaries remarked on his reputation for supporting every civic-improvement and artistic project in Saratoga Springs; his friend and fellow business owner Gordon Boyd said DeMarco "was just a priceless community leader and an example for all other business leaders." Several regional newspapers have published articles on DeMarco this week, and the Yaddo writers' colony also marked his passing with a tribute on their Facebook page. Schenectady Daily Gazette: “Longtime owner of Ly... [more In Memoriam: John J. DeMarco]


Collecting Harry Potter

By Rich Rennicks

Many 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 (so far), 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 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" in the trade). 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. 20th Anniversary Covers by Brian Selznick To mark the end of Harry Potter's 20th-anniversary celebrations, Scholastic released new paperback editions with covers by Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) on June 26, 2018. Unlike the previous edition, which featured the linked-spine binding by Kazu Kibuishi, the Selznick covers form a mural when shelved in order face-out (see animation below). Another exciting aspect of this edition is the addition of a map of Hogwarts at the beginning of each book! The Harry Potter phenomen is cred... [more Collecting Harry Potter]

It is January 4, 2019. Payroll Friday. This morning I stopped into my accountant's office to pick up the checks. I signed a number of forms and checks for the various taxes and fees and other government necessities that were due. I've been going in to that building almost every other Friday for 35 years. Before that I calculated the taxes for the few employees I had myself. That would be impossible today. The complexity has become legend. I can't imagine starting a business from scratch today—with no experience. In the last couple of weeks, we've been setting up sale tax accounts in over 30 states. Insanity. Payroll Fridays: 35 x 26 weeks per year = 910 visits. Occasionally I've asked someone else to pick up the payroll. But I'm sure with my other visits for various reasons, I have crossed that threshold over a thousand times. I love the people there. They are old friends. But each time I go, it's like a dentist visit. It will be expensive and it will hurt. They connected two neighboring two-story bungalows and made them one building just as I began my relationship with them all those years ago. Otherwise, the building and routine has been virtually unchanged. They mail the forms and the government checks for me. I can't be trusted to do that myself. My life is a paper life. There are so many papers in this place it is easy to lose things. I've dissociated myself from external and internal accounting. There are people there and here that are much better at it than I. The th... [more Dandelion Wine]

The Northern & Southern California Chapters of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America would like to announce The California Young Book-Collector's Prize. UPDATE: Deadline extended until December 15. Submissions should be sent as a .pdf file to Ben Kinmont, Chair of the Northern California Chapter of the ABAA, at bkinmont@gmail.com. Most great collectors started when they were young, and most great collections started with a passion for a particular object or subject. When these objects are books and manuscripts, the collectors are called bibliophiles, or lovers of the book. Curiously, the love of books continues unabated today, despite their increasing rarity and the rapid growth of digital media. Some might even argue that the printed page has taken on a new meaning and cultural resonance in our era of computers and electronic texts. In recognition of the next generation of bibliophiles, we have created The California Young Book-Collector's Prize. The competition is open to collectors aged 35 and under who are living in California. All collections of books, manuscripts, and ephemera are welcome, no matter their monetary value or subject. The collections will be judged on their thoroughness, the approach to their subject, and the seriousness which with the collector has catalogued his or her material. The winner of the competition will be awarded: 1. A gift certificate of $500 to spend at the 2019 California International Antiquarian Book Fair 2. An exhibition of... [more ABAA’s California Chapters Launch Book-Collecting Prize, Deadline Extended!]


What was a Green Book?

By Rich Rennicks

In the Jim Crow era, travel was fraught with difficulty for African Americans. The growing black middle class could afford to buy cars and travel for leisure, and throughout the South, the purchase of a car was an important goal for black families as it allowed them to avoid segregated public transport. However, traveling by car to new towns and cities, African Americans did not know which restaurants would serve them, which gas stations would fill up their car, and where it was safe to spend the night. Enter Victor H. Green, a mail carrier in Harlem, who had the idea for a guide book for African Americans to help them navigate the country without injury or harassment — based, in part, on similar guide books from Jewish publishers. The Negro Motorists Green Book (later renamed The Negro Travelers Green Book, but known colloquially as the “Green Book”) was first published in 1936, and initially focused on the area Green knew best, New York; but he quickly expanded it, drawing on the knowledge of his fellow postal workers, who knew their neighborhoods intimately. The guide covered the obvious essentials of travel — where to stay, where to eat, where to buy gas — as well as the less obvious ones — where to find a doctor, a tailor, or black-owned businesses. As the guide book became established, both white and black business owners would seek out Green hoping to be included. At its peak, the guide sold over 15,000 copies a year, and was sold in Standard Oil (later Ess... [more What was a Green Book?]

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 Decorated Book Papers: a Beginner’s Guide]

The National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest is sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA), the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS), the Grolier Club, and the Center for the Book and the Rare Books and Special Collections Division (the Library of Congress), with major support from the Jay I. Kislak Foundation. The 2018 winners are: First Prize: Samuel Vincent Lemley, University of Virginia: Biblioteca Genealogica: Sicilian Printing, 1704-1893 Second Prize: Paul T. Schwennesen, University of Kansas: Borderlands: A Manifesto on Overlap Third Prize: Hanaa J. Masalmeh, Harvard University: Far From the Eyes, Far From the Heart: My Life as a Syrian-American Muslim Essay. Ena Selimovic, Washington University in St. Louis: Ja, Ben, I, Je: A Book Collection in Translation We asked each some questions about their respective collections and their path to becoming a book collector. ---- First prize-winner Samuel Vincent Lemley of the University of Virginia collects items printed in Sicily between 1704 and 1893. Read his bibliography and essay here: Biblioteca Genealogica: Sicilian Printing, 1704-1893. Q: Could you give us a brief description of your collection? Samuel Vincent Lemley: My collection is an experiment in what might be called 'biblio-genealogy': it tells the story of my Sicilian ancestry in the form of books printed in Sicily during the years for which genealogical records of my ancestors survive. The chronological limits of my... [more Meet the 2018 NCBCC Winners]


Books of the Week

By Rich Rennicks

Books "catch the eye" for many reasons: a colorful cover, a pithy title, or that rare moment of synchronicity that seems to conjure the perfect book at the perfect time. This week, a 1926 biography of Walt Whitman caught our eye for its magnificent title and a rare cut-out book celebrating Walt Disney's Snow White invoked childhood very strongly. Browse these and other items that leaped off the virtual shelves at us below... The Magnificent Idler: The Story of Walt Whitman by Cameron Rogers; illustrated by Edward A. Wilson Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1926. First edition of this earnestly humanizing popular biography of Walt Whitman, which "seeks neither to whitewash its subject nor exhume old scandals." The double-page landscapes by illustrator Edward Wilson, which depict Whitman communing with nature throughout his life, match the contemplative, gently comic prose of Cameron Rogers. Characteristic is the dialogue between the printers at work on the first edition of Leaves of Grass: "'Andy, this is crazy stuff.' 'Mebby.' 'Is this poetry, Andy, do you figure?' 'Mebby.' 'Anybody going to buy this stuff, Andy, do you figure?' 'Mebby.'" A near-fine copy, evidence of a mainstream readership grappling with Whitman's uncategorizable legacy in the decades after his death. Single volume, measuring 8 x 5.5 inches: , 312. Original full green cloth, yellow pictorial pastedowns to front board and spine, yellow pictorial endpapers, original unclipped color pictorial dust jacket... [more Books of the Week]