Monday, December 31, 2012

Year-End Reading Report 2012

I almost can't believe another year of reading has come to an end ... as usual, it fairly flew by.

In 2012 I joined one of the LibraryThing reading groups, the 75 Books Challenge for 2012, which was great fun: I enjoyed the group reads and the neat atmosphere (plus the semi-obsessive stats-keeping). The 2013 group is already getting active, so if you're keen on such things, join the fray!

At least partly due to the gentle competition of the reading challenge, but also since things were at least a bit more settled this year than last, I read 184 books in 2012, for an average of one every 2 days. That's by far the most I've read in a single year since I started keeping track, and the grand total surprised me greatly. It was also, I must say, one of the best reading years I've had in a while: it was difficult to come up with just ten "top" titles this time around.

As per last year's resolution, I did read more books published before the current year: 2012 publications made up just 52% of this year's total, but the vast majority of books read (84%) were published since 2000, so I'll maintain the same resolution for next year and try to continue reading more not-so-recent titles.

The titles broke down into 93 fiction and 91 non-fiction books, running just about even there this year. For the true stats geeks, I read 84 hardcovers, 50.5 paperbacks, 48 ARCs, and 2.5 e-books (the .5s are a book I started in paperback and left behind when I went on a trip, so I finished it in the e-version). For a full breakdown of 2012 reading stats, see Message 11 here).

Since I didn't manage it last winter, I still have to get all my books back into order on the shelves. We'll see if I can make more progress with that goal this year.

And now, my favorite ten fiction and non-fiction reads for 2012 (in no particular order within the lists):


This Very Tree by Josephine Young Case (Houghton Mifflin, 1969). Review.

Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace (Picador, 2011). Review.

PYG: The Memoirs of a Learned Pig by Russell Potter (Canongate, 2011). Review.

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann (Ecco, 2012). Review.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Picador, 2007). Review.

Arcadia by Lauren Groff (Voice, 2012). Review.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Random House, 2011). Review.

Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories (Library of America, 2010). Review.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Henry Holt, 2012). Review.

Galore by Michael Crummey (Other Press, 2010). Review.


Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond their Texts by David Pearson (Oak Knoll Press, revised edition 2011). Review.

The Rector and the Rogue by W.A. Swanberg (Collins Library edition published by McSweeney's, 2011). Review.

The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson (W.W. Norton, 2012). Review.

The Passage of Power by Robert Caro (Knopf, 2012). Review.

The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom by Marcus Rediker (Viking, 2012). Review.

Writings from the New Yorker, 1927-1976 by E.B. White (Harper, 2006). Review.

The Dark Defile: Britain's Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842 by Diana Preston (Walker & Company, 2012). Review.

The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies by Allan Taylor (Knopf, 201). Review.

Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe (Times Books, 2012). Review.

A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change by John Glassie (Riverhead, 2012). Review.

I also want to make a special mention of a literary podcast I discovered this year: A Podcast to the Curious, about the weird fiction of M.R. James. I've enjoyed making my way through all the episodes of this so far, and hope the hosts are able to keep up the great work.

My reading resolutions for 2013: continue reading more books published prior to the current year, and spend more time catching up on scholarly periodicals as they arrive.

Happy New Year, and may your 2013 be filled with good health, good fortune, and good books!

Previous year's reports: 20112010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.

Auction Report: January Preview

Not too much going on in January, but I'll try to remember to update this post with links as some more of the catalogs come online.

- PBA Galleries sells Architecture Books & Folios on 10 January, in 195 lots.

- Lyon & Turnbull sells Rare Books, Maps, Manuscripts & Photographs on 16 January, in 564 lots.

No preview yet for the following sales:

- Bloomsbury holds a Bibliophile Sale on 17 January, sells Antiquarian Books on 24 January, and Maps & Atlases on 31 January.

- Swann holds a Shelf Sale on 17 January, and 20th Century Illustration on 24 January.

- PBA Galleries sells Americana, Asian-American History, Travel, Maps & Views on 24 January.

- Christie's sells Albrecht Durer Masterpieces from a Private Collection on 29 January.

- Dominic Winter sells Printed Books, Maps & Ephemera on 30 January.

Auction Report: December Recap

The final auctions of 2012 are now behind us:

- At Swann Galleries' Fine Photographs and Photobooks sale on 11 December, the top lot was a San Francisco police department album containing more than 700 mugshots, which fetched $36,000.

- Sotheby's sold English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations on 12 December, for a total of £1,987,850. The first edition of Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte containing six manuscript Bronte letters brought the highest price, at £223,250. A collection of Mick Jagger letters came next, at £187,250. The earliest known photo album by Julia Margaret Cameron sold for £121,250, as did the gun used by Sean Connery in James Bond publicity photos. The collection of Virginia Woolf's pocket engagement diaries sold for £73,250, and the imperfect Second Folio made £37,250. The presentation copy of Emma didn't find a buyer.

- The Art of Illustration - From the Collection of Michael Winner, also at Sotheby's on 12 December, resulted in a total of £1,127,296. The top seller was an E.H. Shepard ink drawing of Christopher Robin dragging Pooh down the stairs, which sold for £139,250.

- Results for the Bloomsbury Astronomy and Space Exploration sale on 12 December are here. A first printed edition of Ptolemy's Almagest fetched the top price at £20,000.

- Sotheby's 14 December sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana saw a total of $2,126,632. It was the set of The Pennsylvania Evening Post for 1776, including the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence that brought the highest price, selling for $722,500. An 1814 work on the Lewis and Clark expedition sold for $218,500. The first edition of Newton's Principiafirst edition of Audubon's Quadrupedsand the collection of Charles Schulz drawings and letters all failed to sell.

- PBA Galleries sold Fine Literature, Illustrated and Children's Books, and Books in All Fields on 13 December; results are here. A first printing of To Kill a Mockingbird sold for $10,800. The first edition Ulysses failed to sell.

- Bloomsbury sold Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts on 14 December; results are here.

- There were quite a few bargains to be had at the 20 December PBA Galleries sale of Treasures from Our Warehouse with Books by the Shelf. Results are here.

Links & Reviews

A rather delayed links and reviews, since I took some time away for the holidays. It was very nice to have a full week at home with my family, and I was delighted to be able to meet a couple of the new additions (my cousins are now having children!), enjoy an afternoon of sledding on the hill across from my grandparents' house where we all spent many many winter days when I was younger, and snuggle with my sister's new puppy. And of course there were more delicious meals than I can count, several peaceful days in which I got a great deal of reading done, and some great birding at my mom's feeders, which I had a devil of a time keeping sufficiently filled!

But now, back to business:

- Last week's "On the Media" featured a discussion with Scott Sherman about his Vanity Fair piece "The Long Good-Bye," on the 1962-3 New York City newspaper strike. Both the interview and the article are highly recommended (I don't know about you, but I had no idea how dramatic and important the consequences of this strike were).

- From the Chronicle, Jen Howard's "The Secret Lives of Readers", on scholarly interest in the history of the reading experience, is a must-read.

- Jennifer Schuessler's "The Paper Trail Through History" in the NYTimes is a good look at some of the neat work being done in what Schuessler says might be called "paperwork studies."

- Convicted signature forger Allan Formhals has been sentenced to ten months in prison.

- Steve Ferguson highlights the scrapbooks created by Princeton Librarian Frederic Vinton in the 1870s and 1880s, on such topics as the assassination of President Garfield and the New York City snowstorm of 1888.

- From Wired, a look at how the digital shift has changed the antiquarian book market.

- Andrew Scrimgeour, dean of libraries at Drew University, has a NYTimes essay about the care and handling of scholars' personal libraries after their deaths. If only were treated with as much respect as those Scrimgeour discusses!

- The Dallas Morning News profiles Don Hobbs, a collector of Sherlock Holmesiana in languages other than English (he's got about 11,000 volumes!).

- Sarah Werner recaps the three-day Teaching Book History workshop held at the Folger Library earlier this month. I enjoyed following the discussions on Twitter and Sarah's post is a good summary of the proceedings.

- Quite a surprising auction result for a thirty-volume set of Dickens' works sold at a Virginia auction in early December: the volumes fetched $70,800 (over pre-sale estimates of $2,500-4,000). To be fair, the collection did have a nice association: it was inscribed by Dickens to a friend.

- Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of day the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. The National Archives has posted a short film about the original document.

- In the Guardian, Joe Moran covers the Great Diary Project, a new effort at the Bishopsgate Institute to preserve British diaries.

- Over at The Junto, Seth Parry writes about finding a bible in the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library with an unexpectedly interesting and important provenance. I'm torn about this post: part of me is delighted that he got to experience the book in the way that he did, but the archivist/librarian in me thinks he ought to have taken it to Special Collections immediately upon discovering what it was, heh.


- Kevin Phillips' 1775; review by Jack Rakove in TNR.

- John Glassie's A Man of Misconceptions; review by Jennifer Schuessler in the NYTimes.

- Don M. Hagist's British Soldiers, American War; review by J.L. Bell at Boston 1775.

- B.A. Shapiro's The Art Forger; review by Maxwell Carter in the NYTimes.

- Joyce Chaplin's Round About the Earth; review by Bruce Barcott in the NYTimes.

Friday, December 28, 2012

More on the Bay Psalm Book Sale

A couple additional items of interest relating to the now-probable sale of one of two remaining copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book belonging to Boston's Old South Church.

On 25 December the New York Times ran a report by Jess Bidgood on the decision to sell one of the Old South copies; the article features comments by Rare Book School director Michael Suarez.

And from the "oldie but goodie" department, there's a 22 November 1954 LIFE article on the removal of the other three copies from the Prince Library, headlined "A Very Proper Swindle."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book Review: "The Amistad Rebellion"

In his 2007 book The Slave Ship: A Human HistoryMarcus Rediker explored Atlantic slavery by focusing on the ships which carried enslaved Africans across the Atlantic and the slaves, sailors, and captains who populated those ships. In his new book, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (Viking, 2012), Rediker focuses on the slaves who made the middle passage aboard just one ship, the Teçora, and even then on just a small subset of those: the slaves transferred to the Amistad for what was supposed to be a quick three-day voyage from Havana to another part of Cuba, but which turned into something much more.

As Rediker notes in his introduction, in the story that's come down to us about the Amistad revolt and its legal aftermath, "American actors—abolitionists, attorneys, judges, and politicians—have elbowed aside the African ones whose daring actions set the train of events in motion" (p. 5). So instead of telling the story from an abolitionist perspective, or even by focusing on the political-legal aspects of the case, Rediker has, with this book, provided us, at long last, with a history of the Amistad case "from below," with the Africans themselves as the main characters (as, of course, they were). This is possible because of the great number of articles, letters, illustrations and other sources which the case engendered (Rediker has identified more than 2,500 articles, many of them written by correspondents who personally met with the captives):

"No other makers of a modern slave revolt generated such a vast and deep body of evidence, which in turn makes it possible to know more about the Amistad Africans than perhaps any other group of once-enslaved rebels on record, and to get to know them, individually and collectively, in intimate, multidimensional ways, from their personalities and sense of humor to their specifically West African ways of thinking and acting during their ordeal" (p. 11).

Largely relying on the words of the Africans themselves, Rediker is able to trace their individual stories: how they were enslaved, what their lives were like prior to their enslavement, and their experiences of the Middle Passage aboard the Teçora and later of the harrowing days on the Amistad and following their re-capture and transfer to Connecticut jails. The reader gets a real sense of how they felt about what was happening to them once they arrived in the United States: their continued fear that they would be either killed outright or returned to slavery in Cuba for almost certain execution, their often-expressed desire to go home.

Beyond this, though, Rediker explores much of what was going on around the case, from the way it was portrayed in newspaper articles to the plays it inspired, and how the case was seen and used by the various abolitionist/colonizationist/evangelical activist communities. He explores the efforts made to educate the group, and he provides a really important account of the "tour" the group went on following the Supreme Court's decision in their case, partly to raise money for their return to Africa. Finally, the closing chapters tell us what happened in the end, when the group returned to Africa alongside some American missionaries.

Rediker also brings up an element of this story which I wasn't familiar with before at all: the Poro Society, "an all-male secret society and fundamental governing social institution" (p. 31). All the Amistad Africans would have been familiar, Rediker argues, with the governing codes and hierarchies of the Poro, and the shared experience of Poro culture would have served to help bond the group together, even though they were from different ethnic and language backgrounds. It's a fascinating part to the tale that certainly seems worthy of further study.

Another interesting aspect of the case that Rediker explores is the way funds were raised for the Amistad group (for their board, education, and eventually for their homeward voyage). He notes that the general assumption has been that Lewis Tappan basically paid for the whole shebang, but Rediker found through an examination of the account books of the Amistad Committee that there was instead quite an impressive popular outpouring of funds ($90 from the "Color'd Citizens of Cincinnati," $58.50 from textile mill workers in Lowell, Massachusetts, &c.).

The political and legal elements of the case aren't ignored, but they're not Rediker's main concern, so much of the very complex legal drama is pared down quite a bit. Since I'm also interested in that part of the case, and particularly in the Supreme Court arguments about the case, I would have not have been averse to some deeper discussion and analysis in those areas from Rediker's perspective, but that's just me, and what Rediker has done is to put the Amistad Africans, both as individuals and as a group, back at the center of the story, where they belong.

I'm pretty sure I praised Rediker's footnotes with his last book, and I'll do so again here: they're thorough and useful, as footnotes should be. They, along with Rediker's excellent discussion of how the Amistad case was viewed at the time and how it has been seen and interpreted in the intervening years, add even more to what this book has accomplished. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: "In Pursuit of a Vision"

For the second installment in my review series of the American Antiquarian Society's bicentennial publications (see this post for the previous review) I turned my attentions to In Pursuit of a Vision: Two Centuries of Collecting at the American Antiquarian Society, the sumptuous and thorough catalogue published to accompany this year's exhibition at the Grolier Club.

As Ellen Dunlap notes in her preface, there were many different shapes a bicentennial exhibition for the American Antiquarian Society could have taken. They might have gone the route of displaying some of the many exceedingly rare or unique items in the collections ... but they've done that before, in a 1969 Grolier Club exhibition called "A Society's Chief Joys." They might have shown items from the collections grouped broadly by genre, or highlighted specific time periods where the Society's holdings are particularly strong. They might have curated an exhibit to display fruits of the labors of their many research fellows, accompanied by the primary materials which shaped those projects. Instead, they took a somewhat unconventional path, organizing the exhibit and catalogue "as a celebration of the generosity and farsightedness of a few of the many collectors, dealers, librarians, and others who have, each in his or her own way, contributed to the greatness of the Society's library by sending collections our way" (p. 5).

The majority of this catalogue is, thus, devoted to short essays on various collector/donors (brief biographies and discussions of their collecting interests and their involvement with AAS), followed by a selection of exemplar items from their collections now at AAS, or items related in some way to their donations: Isaiah Thomas' manuscript catalogue of his library, for example, or one of the eighty-seven(!) volumes of the library catalogue of Thomas W. Streeter, or working slips from Charles Evans' American Bibliography.

I think this approach worked extremely well, and the curators did an excellent job of choosing points of emphasis. While the Isaiah Thomases and George Brinleys and Thomas W. Streeters are well represented, with this catalogue you'll also meet Lucy and Sarah Chase, who as teachers at freedmen's schools during the Civil War heeded the call of AAS librarian Samuel Foster Haven for items of contemporary interest and collected all sorts of materials, including Confederate imprints, a slave dealer's account book, and more. Charles Henry Taylor, the publisher of the Boston Globe, gave to the AAS important collections relating to American lithography, the book trade, and journalism. The reader comes to understand the canny strategy employed by longtime AAS librarian Clarence Brigham (and others since) of not competing with collectors in specific areas, but instead working with them, building a relationship and a trust with the hope that their collections would eventually find their way to the Antiquarian Society (Wilbur Macey Stone's collection of Isaac Watts' Divine Songs and Donald McKay Frost's extremely important gift of Western Americana are two that stick in my mind from the catalogue).

The final two sections of the catalogue take a slightly different but complementary approach, focusing on the AAS' key role in the field of American bibliography, current priorities in terms of continued collection growth and development, and the many initiatives in which the Society has engaged in order to preserve, protect, and make accessible their vast and hugely important collections.

Throughout, the tone of the catalogue in both the introductory contextual essays and the item descriptions is pitch-perfect. It is a delight to read, and the extremely wide range of materials selected for inclusion adds a nice variety. The design is nicely done, and the many illustrations, all full-color, complement the text extremely well. While not every item is pictured, so many are that several times I was surprised to come across one that wasn't.

A gem of a catalogue, and the best kind too, in that it both serves its purpose as an exhibition guide and also will remain as a handy reference (not to mention a good read) for decades to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Links & Reviews

- New this week, and already bustling, The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History. I've added a link to the sidebar.

- I rather love this: the signed copy of the seventh edition of A Christmas Carol sold recently at auction was purchased by the people of the town of Malton, the small Yorkshire town where the woman to whom Dickens inscribed the book lived (and which may have partly inspired the story).

- A complete set of Signer autographs was up for auction at New Hampshire's RR Auction yesterday. I haven't seen a result yet; estimates suggested that the collection might fetch $1.2-1.5 million.

- New from Harvard Law School, a digital exhibition on the life and work of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

- The Daily Mail got an early look at the BL's new newspaper storage facility.

- More on the Roger Williams shorthand, from Slate and (discussing the Slate piece in part) on the JCB blog.

- The Folger Library announced this week that they were the buyer of a beautiful copy of Gerard's Herball, with contemporary hand-coloring and the cipher binding of the Earl of Essex. Also from the cool new acquisitions department, the Houghton Library is now the owner of a fantastic sermon manuscript in print-facsimile.

- A good bit of provenance reporting, from the Cardiff University rare books blog.

- Over at The Collation, Sarah Werner considers the wonderful volvelle.

- From the Clements Library blog, a look at a Revolutionary War-era rebus.

- In the Houghton "You've Got Mail" bag this week, a letter from Delia Bacon to Ralph Waldo Emerson in which she lays out some of her theories about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

- It's not entirely clear whether this is an actual surprising discovery, or one of those stories, but an early Hans Christian Andersen tale has been identified.


- David Von Drehle's Rise to Greatness; review by Harold Holzer in the WaPo.

- Victoria Glendenning's Raffles and the Golden Opportunity; review by Ann Chisholm in The Telegraph.

- Alberto Manguel's All Men are Liars; review by Michael Jauchen in the NYTimes.

- Stan Knight's Historical Types from Gutenberg to Ashendene; review by Alastair Johnson at Booktryst.

- David Schoenbaum's The Violin; review by Tim Page in the WaPo.

- Robin Sloan's Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore; review by Roxane Gay in the NYTimes.

- Joyce Chaplin's Round About the Earth; review by A. Roger Ekirch in the WSJ.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Auction Report: December 10-31

Here's what's up for the remainder of 2012:

- Swann Galleries sells Fine Photographs and Photobooks on 11 December, in 417 lots.

- Sotheby's sells English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations on 12 December, in 186 lots. Austen friend Anne Sharp's copy of Emma rates the top estimate, at £150,000-200,000. The earliest known photo album compiled by Julia Margaret Cameron could fetch £100,000-150,000: a gun used by Sean Connery in James Bond publicity photos rates the same estimate, as does a first edition of Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte containing six manuscript Bronte letters. Eight of Virginia Woolf's pocket engagement diaries could fetch £40,000-60,000, while an imperfect Second Folio is estimated at £30,000-50,000.

- Also on 12 December at Sotheby's, The Art of Illustration - From the Collection of Michael Winner, in 157 lots. E.H. Shepard, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, they're all here.

- Bloomsbury sells Astronomy and Space Exploration-related lots on 12 December, in 403 lots.

- At Sotheby's on 14 December, Fine Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana, in 191 lots. A first edition, first issue of Newton's Principia is up for grabs, with a $400,000-600,000 estimate. A set of The Pennsylvania Evening Post for 1776, including the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence (the second printing overall after the Dunlap broadside) rates a $300,000-400,000 estimate. The largest collection of Charles Schulz drawings and letters ever to come to auction, romantic notes and drawings to Tracey Claudius, is estimated at $250,000-350,000. A first edition of Audubon's Quadrupeds could sell for $250,000-350,000.

- PBA Galleries sells Fine Literature, Illustrated and Children's Books, and Books in All Fields on 13 December. A first edition Ulysses rates the top estimate, at $25,000-35,000.

- At Bloomsbury on 14 December, Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts, in 418 lots.

- On 20 December at PBA Galleries, Treasures from Our Warehouse with Books by the Shelf.

And that should be just about it for December! Will have updates as required.

Auction Report: November-Early December Sales

Okay, catch-up as usual. Sales from 13 November-9 December are covered here; a preview of the rest of December is coming later today.

- At the 13 November Bonhams sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Photographs, a first edition of Darwin's Origin sold for £45,650, and a nice copy of the first edition of Walton's Compleat Angler made £37,250.

- Bloomsbury sold Maps & Atlases, Watercolours and Prints on 14-15 November. Results are here.

- Looks like quite a few misses at the 15 November PBA Galleries Important Manuscripts and Archives sale; results are here. The top lot was an Elizabeth Blackwell manuscript letter, which sold for $9,600.

- Sotheby's sold Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History on 15 November, for a total of £2,229,738. Doing better than three times its estimate, John Thomson's Foochow and the River Min (1873) sold for £349,250. The collection of ornithological watercolors did not sell.

- At the 18 November Skinner, Inc. Books & Manuscripts sale, highlights included a delightful John Quincy Adams letter and a Sam Houston letter (both of which fetched $84,000). A full set of Diderot's Encyclopedie did not sell.

- The Sotheby's Paris on 19 November, Livres et Manuscrits brought in 2,092,450 EUR. The Catesby sold for 288,750 EUR, and a set of Theodor de Bry's Historia Americae fetched 228,750 EUR.

- At the 21 November Christie's, Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books, the impressive total amounted to £3,260,525. A collection of letters from poet Marina Ivanova Tsvetaeva to poet Anatolii Shteiger was the surprise top lot, selling for £433,250 (over estimates of just £40,000-60,000). A Beethoven music manuscript made £241,250. The first edition Hypnerotomachia fetched £97,250. Another first edition of Origin in this sale: it went for £51,650. The ~1530 Paris Book of Hours failed to find a buyer.

- Bloomsbury sold Important Books & Manuscripts on 27-28 November; results are here. Yet another Origin first was the top lot; it made £38,000.

- At the 27 November Bonhams sale of Printed Books and Maps, the top lot was a near-complete run of The New Naturalist, which sold for £6,250.

- Christie's 27 November Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts sale brought in £425,650. A signed first edition of Proust's Les plaisirs et les jours (1896) sold for £20,000, while a first impression of The Hobbit fetched £16,250.

- The Music, Continental and Russian Books and Manuscripts on 28 November at Sotheby's realized a total of £3,538,150. The working archive of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky was the star of the show, fetching £1,497,250. A Mozart manuscript sold for £409,250. The first edition Vesalius did not sell.

- The collection of manuscripts, letters, and memorabilia from the family of Alberto Toscanini sold at Sotheby's on 28 November brought in £1,281,402.

- The Christie's 29 November sale of An Important Collection of Russian Books & Manuscripts saw a total of £1,462,675. A 1769 illuminated heraldry manuscript sold for £205,250.

- Results for the 29 November PBA Galleries Fine Americana sale are here. An 1883 directory of Cheyenne, WY looks like the top lot, at $8,400.

- A coded 20 October 1812 letter by Napoleon indicating that he planned to blow up the Kremlin sold at a 2 December auction to a Paris museum, for more than $243,000.

- Bonhams sold the Dictionary Collection of Thomas Malin Rogers on 4 December, and the sale did quite well indeed. The top lot was a late 17th-century Chinese-Spanish manuscript dictionary, which fetched $112,900, but other lots also did very nicely.

- Also on 4 December, Bonhams sold Fine Books, Maps & Manuscripts. A copy of Purchas his Pilgrimes sold for $62,500, while a first octavo edition of Audubon's Birds (from the library of Boston's Samuel Appleton) fetched $47,500.

- The 5 December Western Manuscripts & Miniatures sale at Sotheby's brought in a total of £404,350, with more than half the total from a single lot: The Hours of Isabella d'Este (~1490), which fetched £217,250.

- Bonhams sold Russian Literature and Works on Paper on 5 December: a two-volume autograph album was the top lot, at $230,500.

- Bloomsbury held a Bibliophile Sale on 5 December. A first edition Tom Sawyer in a later binding sold for £2,200.

- Guernsey's New York sold maps, books, and illustrations from Graham Arader's collection on 5 December. I haven't seen a results list for this sale.

- Swann sold Maps, Atlases, Natural History and Ephemera on 6 December.

- The Christie's Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana Sale on 7 December was probably the sale of the month. It realized a total of $7,709,250, and three lots shared the top price of $782,500: a copy of the 1823 Stone engraving of the Declaration of Independence on parchment; Julia Ward Howe's original draft of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (from the Forbes Collection); and Charles Blaskowitz's Revolutionary War manuscript map of New York (another Blaskowitz map, of the Philadelphia campaign of 1777-8, sold for $338,500). A Bien second folio Audubon sold for $422,500. A first edition of Jefferson's Notes sold for $314,500. A Shakespeare Second Folio made $194,500, and yes, yet another first edition of Darwin's Origin was on offer: this copy did the best of the bunch, at $158,500.

- Also at Christie's on 7 December, Derrydale Press Books from the Le Vivier Library, which sold for a total of $346,375.

Preview of the rest of December, coming in a few.

Links & Reviews

- New on the acquisitions table at AAS, the 1860 Bien edition of Audubon's Birds of America.

- The Boston Globe profiled the great Brattle Book Shop this week.

- More on the probable sale of a Bay Psalm Book, from NPR and The Guardian.

- From Editer, a nicely-illustrated primer on collecting rare books, featuring Pom Harrington of Peter Harrington.

- A volume of the quite rare American Woods set has been returned to Penn's Rare Book & Manuscript Library, more than sixty years after it was borrowed by biology professor Ralph Erickson.

- Over at The Little Professor, Miriam Burstein reports on her year in books. I really love some of her categories: "Most unenjoyable contemporary reading experiences," "Neo-Victorian novel not to be read over lunch," and "Oddest Victorian religious novel."

- From McSweeney's this week, "Welcome to my Rare and Antiquarian eBook Shop."

- Sarah Faragher posts on some of her favorite literary figures writing about some of her other favorite literary figures.

- The Getty Museum purchased the illuminated manuscript known as the Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies at Sotheby's this week for almost $6.2 million.

- From the Sydney Morning Herald, Nicky Phillips reports on Auckland Museum librarian Shaun Higgins' efforts to find the first mention on a map of the now-discovered-to-be-fictitious Sandy Island. He's found that it seems to have first appeared on a 1908 map (which indicates that it was discovered in 1876 by the crew of the whaling ship Velocity; an 1879 directory also contains information on the supposed island).

- Booktryst notes that a three-page Emily Dickinson letter will be up for sale at an 18 December Profiles In History auction.

- For your holiday gift list: Wittgenstein's copy of Tristram Shandy is for sale. [h/t David Armitage on Twitter]

- The December crocodile mystery is up at The Collation.

- Also new from the Folger Library, Folger Digital Texts, edited digital versions of Shakespeare's plays.

- From Rick Ring, word that Trinity College has acquired a collection of letters to add to their holdings of the papers of the publishing firm Roberts Brothers.

- At the Justin Croft Antiquarian Books blog, a look at a very attractive Edinburgh relief leather binding, found in Copenhagen and now back in Edinburgh at the National Library of Scotland.

- Heather Wolfe reports on the identification of a third Thomas Trevelyon manuscript, at University College Library.

- Over at the Rare Books @ Princeton blog, Steve Ferguson has found what is, perhaps, the earliest bookplate designed for a specific book collection within a library.


- Digital resource The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe, 1769-1794, edited by Simon Burrows; review by Robert Darnton at Reviews in History.

- Karen Engelmann's The Stockholm Octavo; reviews by Susann Cokal in the NYTimes and Ron Charles in the WaPo.

- Robert Gottlieb's Great Expectations; review by Janet Maslin in the NYTimes.

- Joyce Chaplin's Round About the Earth; review by Carolyn Kellogg in the LATimes.

- Kevin Phillips' 1775: A Good Year for Revolution; review by Joseph Ellis in the NYTimes.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Old South Church to Sell Bay Psalm Book

The members of Boston's Old South Church have voted 271-34 to sell one of the two copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book belonging to the church (on deposit at the Boston Public Library since 1866). The congregation also voted 252-69 to sell the church's collection of colonial silver (currently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

This will be the first time since 1947 that a 1640 Bay Psalm book is sold, and the first time since 1966 that a copy changes hands.

More from WBUR.

For more on the known copies of the Bay Psalm Book, see my post from Friday.

[Update: The Boston Globe has more on today's meeting which resulted in the vote to sell the Psalm Book: they report that the meeting lasted for almost two hours of discussion, and that amendments to the sale proposals limit the window for selling the book and silver to ten years.]

Links & Reviews

- At Antipodean Footnotes, a look at what's been identified as the earliest English binding in New Zealand, an Oxford binding from 1482 (with fragments of Caxton-printed indulgences used as sewing guards).

- The SEA's updated list of recent and forthcoming books on early American topics has been posted.

- The New York Society Library announced the completion of their effort to catalog their Hammond Collection, part of a Newport, RI circulating library. To view the books, search by author for "James Hammond's Circulating Library" here.

- Over at Boston 1775, a trivia contest about early American politics.

- Harvard Book Store marked its eightieth birthday this week. Here's to many, many more.

- The effort to crack the shorthand notations made by Roger Williams in a book now at the John Carter Brown Library is highlighted in a new AP article on the effort.

- Over at Bookplate Junkie, fingerprints on bookplates.

- From The Appendix Blog, Ben Breen writes on "Cabinets of Curiosity: the Web as Wunderkammer." The Appendix journal is now open for subscriptions, too, and it looks like it's going to be a really fascinating publication. I've subscribed.

- At The Collation, Goran Proot uses Powerball fever as a good chance to highlight some early modern lotteries, and Deborah Leslie offers a primer on cataloging at the Folger.

- In the CHE, Jennifer Howard examines the concept of social reading, with some neat examples of recent projects in this area.

- The folks at American Book Collecting have posted some pictures of A.S.W. Rosenbach, including one of him with what is now the Yale copy of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book (more on which here).

- There's an interview with Nick Basbanes on WGBH here.

- A coded letter from Napoleon containing plans to burn the Kremlin is up for auction in France.

- There was quite a kerfuffle this week over news that a former OED editor reportedly "deleted" words from the dictionary (although it seems to be more the case that he didn't include them in later supplements, which does not amount to the same thing). Coverage: Guardian, LATimes, NYTimes, with a nice pushback piece by Jesse Sheidlower in The New Yorker: "[it] was not deletion, it was editing."

- Speaking of kerfuffles at Oxford: Inside Higher Ed reported this week on a series of changes at the Bodleian Libraries that have many fuming.


- Three ongoing exhibitions of Jewish texts (at the Jewish Museum, Columbia, and the Library of Congress); review by Diane Cole in the WSJ.

- Lawrence Principe's The Secrets of Alchemy; review by Colin Dickey in the LARB.

- Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version; review by Marjorie Ingall in the NYTimes.

- Kevin Phillips' 1775: A Good Year for Revolution; review by Gordon S. Wood in the NYRB (mostly being paywall, sadly)

- Larry McMurtry's Custer; review by Timothy Egan in the NYTimes.

- Sheila Hale's Titian; review by Mark Archer in the WSJ.

- Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve; review by Jim Hench in LARB. Don't miss this one, it's a classic.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Book Review: "The American Antiquarian Society, 1812-2012"

The year 2012 marks the bicentennial anniversary of the establishment of the American Antiquarian Society, and this happy milestone has been marked by a series of scholarly lectures and conferences, gifts and acquisitions, a major exhibition at the Grolier Club, a new promotional video, a grand gala, and even some commemorative (and delicious) chocolate coins. The Society also has released three anniversary-related publications as part of the celebrations, and I'll be posting reviews of all three in the coming weeks.

Philip F. Gura's The American Antiquarian Society, 1812–2012:  A Bicentennial History (distributed by Oak Knoll Press) is the first of the trio I'll consider here. Gura, commissioned by the Society for the task back in 2003, has done an admirable job of it: this is a well-researched and thorough account of the Society from its earliest days right through the bicentennial year. The goal of the book, as expressed in the preface, was an "intellectual history that emphasizes the development of the Society as a whole—its library, its institutional structure, its scholarly and bibliographical initiatives—in a constantly changing cultural context" (xii), and that benchmark has been met and exceeded. Gura, whose previous works include a history of American transcendentalism, a biography of Jonathan Edwards, and several books on the history of American music, clearly enjoyed the research and writing process for this history, and that enjoyment is evident throughout.

Following the short preface, the book is divided into eight chapters, each corresponding to a particular leadership period in the Society's history. The AAS has been blessed with a line of energetic, forward-thinking leaders who have understood and embraced the fundamental vision of the Society and worked tirelessly to make that vision into a reality even as the world has changed in ways that are probably beyond even Isaiah Thomas' wildest flights of fancy. To complement those leaders, the AAS has also been fortunate enough to have had the generous support of an active oversight body (currently called the Council). The ways in which the staff and Council have worked together over the decades to shape, protect, and provide for the fulfillment of the Society's mission is a major theme for Gura, and he manages to pull it off without the narrative devolving too far into "inside baseball" arcana.

That said, the most casual of readers may not find themselves entirely interested in some parts of this book, particularly in the final chapters. While I found the details of microform reproduction negotiations, building renovations, and staff comings and goings perfectly fascinating reading, others may not be so inclined. But there are still wonderful nuggets in the final chapters: Gura's treatment of Marcus McCorison's willingness to purchase necessary items regardless of how much of the acquisitions budget had already been spent is a delight (and looking back, is there any second-guessing now of those purchases? Being one of those who subscribes to the notion that you usually only regret the book you didn't buy rather than the one you did, I very much suspect not). And given the difficulties inherent in describing the very recent history of an institution, Gura's done a remarkable job covering the strategies to bring the Society into the digital era and the outreach efforts that have characterized the AAS in recent years.

It is the opening chapters where this book truly shines, though. Isaiah Thomas' efforts to establish, equip, and support the Society through its tenuous early decades, Christopher Columbus Baldwin's ceaseless acquisitiveness and devotion to the place, and Samuel Foster Haven's long service and careful attention, are what enabled the AAS to get off the ground, to successfully make a place for itself as a relevant institutional repository for the stuff of American history, from books to ballad sheets, newspapers to antiquities. Gura captures their stories extremely well, and the section on Baldwin was particularly enjoyable, which makes me all the more excited to read one of the other AAS bicentennial publications, an edition of Baldwin's diaries). As with many similar institutions, the focus has narrowed a bit over the years (most of the artifacts and historical curiosities have found other homes), but the AAS has remained, as Thomas envisioned it, a repository for the print culture of America, broadly conceived and carefully maintained. From the beginning the AAS and its leaders have promulgated an explicit concern for the potential scholarly interests of future generations, and the accompanying attention not just to important books but also to the ephemeral material that so often has not been an important part of institutional collections, is what set (and in many ways continues to distinguish) the Society from its counterparts. As Gura writes in his preface, Thomas and those who have come after him "understood that, to know the past as well as we can, we cannot study just great books by famous people but have to work with any and all the traces that we can find, often in the most ephemeral materials, using our imagination to allow light to fall on the shattered bits of mirror so that they reflect the surrounding age" (xv).

I could go on: there are fascinating sections here about the longstanding, mostly-friendly rivalry between the AAS and the Massachusetts Historical Society (whose president, giving an address at the laying of the cornerstone of the AAS' current home in 1909, used the occasion to urge the AAS, essentially, to back off by narrowing its collecting focus to central Massachusetts), while the accounts of the Society's involvement in the major works of American bibliography (Evans, Sabin, Shaw/Shoemaker, Brigham, Wright, &c.) show just how important a role the institution has played (and continues to play) in the field of American bibliography and, more recently, book history.

A few typographical errors made their way into the book, but thankfully they do little to detract from the text, and are mostly extremely minor (Isaiah Thomas read the Declaration of Independence in Worcester on 14 July, 1776, not 24 July, for example). The book's typeface is one of my favorites, and the many images are well-chosen and integrated into the text. The notes are thorough and the index useful.

Of course times are not always good at institutions like AAS, and the Society has weathered its share of tight budgets, cramped physical spaces, and various other trials and tribulations over its two centuries. They're part of Gura's book too. But through it all, AAS has persevered, and its collections and those responsible for their care, access, and dissemination remain a vital part of the American intellectual community. May it be so for another two hundred years and more.