Friday, February 29, 2008

BPL's Rare Books Turmoil

In the current Boston Magazine, novelist William Martin highlights the dire state of the Boston Public Library's rare books preservation/conservation program. Martin takes us inside the library to the workroom of Stuart Walker, the BPL's conservator, located just off the main rare books display area: "It's the windowless sacristy to this sanctum of books, and also a battlefield where, every day, Walker fights acid, mold, and all the other insidious enemies that the passage of time is using to destroy the library's treasures."

Walker's lack of resources, Martin writes "make for an ironic footnote in the dustup over the ouster of the library's president, Bernard Margolis, who, it was said, lavished too much attention on the central library - on collections like John Adams's - at the expense of the neighborhood branches." Margolis, no quiet lame duck he, says the problem is the BPL has too many books and not enough funds: "It's a lot to maintain, and sometimes we've needed leadership that understands that investing in this resource as a public good produces a direct economic return. But we haven't had the blessing of that."

Walker says his modus operandi has, by necessity, shifted from proactive to reactive, telling Martin "our work is essentially need-driven on an item-by-item level." Not exactly the ideal circumstance for preserving such an important collection, but entirely understandable given the current situation.

Friends of the library, including David McCullough (who has started a Conservation Fund for the BPL's collections) are busy raising money and pushing for more attention, staffing and resources for the preservation of the BPL's rare books collections. They are also thinking, Martin reports, about Doomsday Scenarios - perhaps donating the John Adams collection to the Library of Congress, for example, if resources enough to keep it safe cannot be mustered. Practically unthinkable, in my view, but I agree that steps must be taken to protect and preserve the collection.

Hopefully with a new Library president and a permanent Keeper of Rare Books (Earle Havens is fairly recently out, Susan Glover in as Acting Keeper), the importance of this issue can be expressed more forcefully to the powers that be.

Martin's entire article is well worth a read.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Of Personal Libraries and Bookshelves

David Keeps has an article in today's LATimes Design section about home libraries - or, more specifically about the demand for "faux libraries" (in the form of shelves which look like books, "a 3-foot-wide hand-painted mural that resembles shelves of books in an arched case", or "inexpensive room dividers ... that are painted to resemble rows of bookshelves"). These substitutes, Keeps writes, may give bibliophiles fits, but they "bear a post-modern sense of humor and irony that depart from the 'books by the yard' approach" (which give more severe fits).

The article also touches on the (growing) role of library consultants like Nick Harvil, who for $45 an hour "will appraise books and create extensive bibliographies based on clients' passions. He also can help organize and present a collection." Keeps concludes by profiling some upscale personal libraries in the LA area, including that of bookdealer Victoria Dailey, who told him "'Collectors are idealists, and a library is a way of perfecting and ordering the world,' she says, sitting in a red leather reading chair in one of her libraries. 'Being in here, I feel that this is the way the universe would be if I was in charge.'" Sounds about right (as does the phrase "one of her libraries"- heh). (h/t LISNews)

But which books, exactly, belong in those great personal libraries? Caleb Crain leaps into that discussion over at Steamboats Are Ruining Everything, bouncing off several recent pieces on this subject (beginning with Time blogger Matt Selman's "Unabridged Rules for Library Management," continuing with Ezra Klein's response to Selman, and concluding with an Inside Higher Ed piece by Scott McLemee).

Selman's personal rule, given at the start of his very amusing post, is: "It is unacceptable to display any book in a public space of your home if you have not read it." Klein replies, in an equally amusing post: "No, this is all wrong. Bookshelves are not for displaying books you've read -- those books go in your office, or near your bed, or on your Facebook profile. Rather, the books on your shelves are there to convey the type of person you would like to be. I am the type of person who would read long biographies of Lyndon Johnson, despite not being the type of person who has read any long biographies of Lyndon Johnson. I am the type of person who is very interested in a history of the Reformation, but am not, as it happens, the type of person with the time to read 900 pages on the subject. More importantly, I am the type of person who amasses many books, on all sorts of subjects. I’m pretty sure that’s what a bookshelf is there to prove. The reading of those books is entirely incidental."

McLemee declares Klein's terms "no less categorical – though hardly more sensible" than Selman's; he adds "There is bravery in such candor. The word 'poseur' is still around, after all, even if the people who study consumer behavior, and try to channel it, have coined the kinder and gentler term 'aspirational taste' for this sort of thing." McLemee says Selman and Klein's shared assumption ("that book ownership can, and indeed should, serve as a medium for displaying something important about yourself") is foreign to him. To McLemee, "Bookshelves are storage; that is all. The idea of using them for 'display' seems cute and improbable." And one shouldn't feel guilt about having unread books, he says, because that's life.

Delightfully, McLemee ends his essay by quoting Francis Bacon, who was the first of many to say "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention." McLemee extends the riff: "Likewise for bookshelves. Many items there are staples. Others are ingredients that, like salt, are only good in combination with something else. Some things you keep around are healthy, if not very tasty, while a few might count as junk food. (A couple of scholarly presses are indeed known for their Pop-Tarts.) And it’s hardly a decent pantry if you don’t have a few impulse purchases you later regret, or gourmandizing experiments that didn’t quite pan out. No formal rule can determine what belongs on the shelf and what doesn’t. It is, finally, a matter of taste."

Caleb picks up where McLemee leaves off: "If you are an open-minded reader, you'll end up with books you once intended to read but haven't so far and maybe, now that you know a little more about yourself and about the books in question, shouldn't." Does this mean they should be pitched? Again, a matter of taste, Caleb suggests, having just come out of a fit of, as he puts it, "Throwing Books Out" (by which he means reselling them, not actually throwing them out except in the most necessary of circumstances). As tastes and interests change (with the consequent needs for free shelf space), of course books once of the highest importance can be deaccessioned in favor of newly-important tomes. Caleb ends by noting "I will say, though, that as with Scott, the selection process for me doesn't have that much to do with how I want others to see me. The underlying principle seems to be the kind of work and play I am looking forward to."

I'm with Scott and Caleb more than the original bloggers on this one. First, I've not read probably half of the c. 1,400 books currently in my apartment. Do I feel guilty about that? Nope. Do I wish I had more free time so I could read more of them? Every single day. But I don't want to read them because I feel guilty about having them unread, it's because I acquired them with the goal of someday reading them. No, I'm not quite delusional enough to think that I'll ever have the opportunity to read every book I currently own (even if I didn't ever allow myself to get another one - an utterly laughable proposition if there ever was one - it probably wouldn't be possible), but I know they're there if I want them. Some of those I own now may get traded in or sold before I get to them: again, that's life.

So no, I've no guilt at owning books I haven't read ... but also none of Ezra's, what does Scott call it, "aspirational taste," either. My books (well, the non-rare ones, anyway - those are a different story) are there to be read or referenced, not to make a statement. My library is utilitarian, not flashy. But it gets the job done and keeps the books off the floor (or in my case, out of the brown paper bags they lived in until the shelves arrived this summer).

Sharing one's library with the world is made all the easier these days by LibraryThing, wonderfulThing that it is. A debate similar to that begun by Matt and Ezra's posts has raged there since the site's earliest days: should one catalog only the books currently owned? Or should any book read be included, even if borrowed, since sold, or whatever. My own library on there contains only the books I have in my possession; as soon as a book leaves my shelves, it leaves my LT catalog too. But others disagree heartily, using their catalogs to list the books they've read, or even those they only want to read. That's the beauty of a personal library: tangible or virtual, it is your own, and it can be seasoned to suit any taste.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book Review: "The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs"

Publishers Catheryn Kilgarriff and Rebecca Gillieron (of the independent Marion Boyars Press in London) have written what seems to be the first in-print guide to the ever-growing world of book blogs: The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs. It is of necessity both tremendously selective and quite time-dependent; I suspect someone reading this even six months or a year from now may find its analysis and suggestions outdated.

In fairly short, breezy chapters, the authors discuss various sorts of book blogs (those written by publishers, authors, booksellers, as well as the many types of regular readers in various genres), the role of the Internet in literary criticism and the tension between print reviewers and bloggers. They also briefly discuss the online literary magazine phenomenon (Salon, McSweeney's, N+1), and (in what was one of the most interesting sections for me) examine the debates within the publishing industry about the role, staying power and importance of blogs in the grand scheme of things.

More analysis would have been welcome; the long excerpts from various blogs I didn't so much need. For anyone who's never read a book blog, or is interested in starting one and getting a sense of some of the issues surrounding them, this is a fairly interesting and possibly useful read. The list of mentioned blogs at the back may also be a handy resource (although some of the sites referenced there are already inactive). But for folks who already read blogs regularly, or write their own, it may not be entirely necessary.

Scholars Link da Vinci to Chess Diagrams

Back in January 2007 I wrote about the (re)discovery of an early sixteenth-century treatise on chess, De Ludo Scacchorum ("On the Game of Chess"), by mathematician Luca Pacioli. The 48-page treatise, long thought lost, was found by a bookseller among the books of the last count of Coronini in the library of the Palazzo Coronini Cronberg (Gorizzia), who had apparently acquired the manuscript in the 1960s.

Now, an Italian architect/sculptor who's studied the text says he believes that the distinctive illustrations in De Ludo Scacchorum are the product of Leonardo da Vinci, who was known as a friend of the author and illustrated another of his books: De Divina Proportione, ("On the Golden Mean"). Franco Rocco has linked the symbol used to represent the queen in De Ludo Scacchorum to a da Vinci drawing of a fountain in the Atlantic Codex, and "also discovered that the proportion of the pieces, and especially the pawns, coincides with the Golden Mean."

Scholars at the Armand Hammer Centre for Leonardo Studies (Los Angeles) have been invited to undertake a second, independent analysis of the illustrations, according to British media reports.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More on Lorello Theft

Paul Grondahl's got a double-play in the Albany Times-Union today, with a second article providing some context and updates in the Daniel Lorello case. We learn about one specific eBay transaction in which Lorello met with the buyer of a Winfield Scott Hancock CDV in the parking lot of the State Library to hand over the item, and we get comments from respected Civil War historian Harold Holzer, who co-authored an archival guide with Lorello in the late 1990s. Holzer told Grondahl "It was a terrible thing that he did, a sort of rape of the collection, and there has to be some certainty of punishment along with restitution because he violated a public trust."

We also get quotes from several dealers who purchased items from Lorello at ephemera shows. One, Perry Frohne, told Grondahl "Dan ran under the radar because he picked the (expletive) that could make him money, but it wouldn't raise red flags from dealers."

No word yet, so far as I can tell, about when Lorello's next court date is, or any inkling that federal charges could be coming in the case.

Vulnerable Archives

Hot on the heels of another round of archives thefts, Paul Grondahl has a report in the Albany (NY) Times-Union about the vulnerabilities of archival collections. "The reasons are many: the sheer volume; incomplete inventories; the cost of security; the value of the artifacts amid a growing demand from collectors; and the fact the documents are routinely retrieved by staffers for use by researchers in public reading rooms."

Grondahl's article includes comments by Richard Strassberg, a retired archivist who works with the Society of American Archivists to improve security at archival repositories. Grondahl says Strassberg "advocates spending more on security and tougher sentences for the thieves," both of which are entirely sensible and utterly necessary.

Kathleen Roe, New York's director of archives and records management operations, told Grondahl that various new security measures are being considered at the State Archives in the wake of the Lorello thefts, including mandatory bag checks. As I've noted here before, a panel is currently conducting a top-to-bottom review of the security procedures at the State Archives and Library.

Grondahl includes comments from archivists and special collections heads at local institutions including RPI, Union and Skidmore.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Two Ancient Mysteries

A pair of puzzling stories in the news today:

- The Epoch Times reports that a series of books in an unknown language have been found in a Chinese region "straddling the borders of Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou Province, and Chongqing City." The area is inhabited by the Tujia, an ethnic minority group who have their own spoken language but no known written language. Zhou Yongle, who has found several of the books, said that local experts have been unable to determine what language the books are written in. He added "If we could unravel the mystery of these undecipherable books discovered along the Wu River, and if we could prove they are words used by the Tujia, that would be a great discovery for the Tujia culture. Then the history of ethnic minorities would be revised." (h/t Shelf:Life)

- And in Time, David Van Biema writes that author Tudor Parfitt is about to publish a book which claims that a fourteenth-century replacement version of the Ark of the Covenant is currently sitting on a "dusty bottom shelf in a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe." Parfitt's book, The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500 Year Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark (HarperOne), will be accompanied by a History Channel documentary scheduled to air on 2 March. Parfitt claims that the Lemba, a Southern African clan, have an oral tradition of an object known as the "ngoma lungundu. The ngoma, according to the Lemba, was near-divine, used to store ritual objects, and borne on poles inserted into rings. It was too holy to touch the ground or to be touched by non-priests, and it emitted a 'Fire of God' that killed enemies and, occasionally, Lemba."

Parfitt says he found an object in the Harare Museum of Human Science which resembles the ngoma lungundu: "an old drum with an uncharacteristic burnt-black bottom hole ('As if it had been used like a cannon,' Parfitt notes), the remains of carrying rings on its corners; and a raised relief of crossed reeds that Parfitt thinks reflects an Old Testament detail." He claims that this drum is a later replica of the original Ark ("Lemba legend has it that the original ngoma destroyed itself some 400 years ago and had to be rebuilt on its own 'ruins'"), but concludes "There can be little doubt that what I found is the last thing on earth in direct descent from the Ark of Moses."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Book Review: "The Secret Commonwealth"

One of the most unique books I've read in quite some time is The Secret Commonwealth, a singular treatise written by Scotch minister Robert Kirk (~1644-1692) around 1691. This essay existed only in manuscript until it was published with the support of Sir Walter Scott in 1815 as
An essay of the nature and actions of the subterranean (and for the most part,) invisible people, heretofoir going under the name of elves, faunes, and fairies, or the lyke among the low-country Scots, as they are described by those who have the second sight, and now to occasion further inquiry, collected and compared, by a circumspect inquirer residing among the Scottish-Irish in Scotland. Another edition appeared in 1893 as The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies; this version included an introduction and notes by Andrew Lang (and is available digitally here).

A new edition, produced by the New York Review of Books, was published in 2007 with an introduction by Marina Warner. Warner marvels at the work and its creator, noting that Kirk's "ministry, his learning, and his temperament bore him on the current in a different direction from most of his contemporaries: towards a benign and tolerant delight in the breadth of human understanding, imaginings, and possibility. Here was a minister of the Kirk who threw his arms wide to enfold the beliefs of his parishioners, who collected the lore of the people, who was fascinated by their concept of faery. He did not hold with stringent diagnoses of heresy or with rooting it out, but treated popular custom and opinion - and superstition - as worthy of intellectual interest and genuine respect" (pp. ix-x).

Indeed, Kirk's little book (it runs to about seventy pages) is a compilation of local Scots folklore regarding the society of faery. The subtitle to Kirk's manuscript reads "A Treatise displaying the chief curiosities among the people of Scotland as they are in use to this day; being for the most part singular to that nation; a subject not heretofore discoursed of by any of our writers; done for the satisfaction of his friends by a modest inquirer, living among the Scottish-Irish." It is very difficult to tell in what capacity Kirk is passing along these "curiosities," but whether he viewed himself as anthropological reporter, faery evangelist or something else entirely, Kirk's essay is a remarkable scholarly treatment of faery and its inhabitants.

The fairies (which Kirk says are also called siths or sluagh maithe - Gaelic for 'good people') "are said to be of a middle nature betwixt man and angel ... of intelligent studious spirits, and light, changeable bodies (like those called astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud and best seen in twilight." Some, called brownies, "enter houses after all are at rest and set the kitchens in order, cleansing all the vessels." They live normally in underground cavities, moving every quarter-year to new dwellings. "They are distributed in tribes and orders and have children, nurses, marriages, deaths and burials in appearance even as we," Kirk writes, "(unless they do so for a mock-show or to prognosticate some such thing to be among us)."

Kirk goes on to describe various customs and habits of the fairies: "Their apparel and speech is like that of the people and country under which they live ... they speak but little and and that by way of whistling - clear, not rough." He reports that they live "much longer than we yet die at last, ... 'tis one of their tenets that nothing perisheth, but (as the Sun and year) everything goes in a circle ... and is renewed and refreshed in its revolutions ..." Kirk continues "They are said to have aristocratical rulers and laws, but no discernible religion, love or devotion towards God ... they disappear whenever they hear his name invoked ..."

Some human men (and only rarely women, Kirk suggests) are invested with what Kirk terms "second sight" - the ability to see the fairies. These folk dislike traveling when the fairies shift houses, and report seeing them often at funeral banquets and having great supernatural battles with fairy warriors. Kirk offers many of their remedies for fairy mischief, and recounts tales of "women yet alive who tell they were taken away when in child-bed to nurse fairy children." He also reports the many differing views these men offer about the very nature of the fairy people: are they "departed souls attending awhile in this inferior state," or "only exuvious fumes of the man approaching death, exhaled and congealed into a various likeness"? Or are they instead, as "not a few avouch," "a numerous people by themselves, having their own politics"?

Kirk is careful to distinguish those with second sight from witches, noting "this sight falling to some persons by accident and it being connatural to others from their birth, the derivation of it cannot always be wicked." Pressed to explain the diminishing number of fairy sightings in his own day, Kirk explained that as religion generally and Christianity particularly became more common, our subterranean neighbors began to keep more to themselves ... this is why, he suggests, they have been so rarely in evidence recently.

Kirk devotes the middle portion of his essay to accounts of seers and their predictions, then offers a lengthy justification "to show that [such activity] is not unsuitable to reason nor the Holy Scriptures." He concludes this section this way: "Therefore every age hath some secret left for its discovery, and who knows but this intercourse betwixt the two kinds of rational inhabitants of the same earth may be not only believed shortly but as freely entertained and as well known as now the art of navigation, printing, gunning, riding on saddles with stirrups, and the discoveries of microscopes which were sometimes as great a wonder and as hard to be believed." Who knows indeed.

For fans of the fictions of Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman and other writers of modern fairy tales, Robert Kirk's Secret Commonwealth will surely not disappoint.

Links & Reviews

Some weeks are full of noteworthy biblio-news. This was one.

- Ed Koster, the owner of David's Books (Ann Arbor, MI) has been charged along with three other men in a "book-selling scheme that involved hundreds of stolen textbooks from a nearby store." Police say Koster provided a "shopping list" of medical textbooks to be nabbed from Ulrich's Bookstore and several other local shops near the University of Michigan; the three suspects then allegedly stole the books and sold them to Koster "for cash to feed a heroin habit.""Koster, an Ann Arbor resident, faces up to 10 years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine if convicted. The others face the same potential sentences, along with a possible five-year prison sentence and/or $10,000 fine for the retail fraud charges." (h/t Shelf:Life)

- Travis comments on the charges brought against Mariners' Museum curator Lester Weber and his wife, Lori Child. Two posts: here and here.

- Simon Charles of the EEBO Text Creation Partnership reports that the partnership (between the Universities of Oxford and Michigan) is "is planning to extend its existing work to transcribe another 50,000 texts to add to the 25,000 full, searchable texts that will be online by next year." He writes: " In order to develop funding applications, the Oxford team of the EEBO-TCP is putting together a body of evidence to present to various funding bodies in the UK to demonstrate the importance of the full-text resource to the academic community. If you would like to show your support for these funding applications, please tell us whether you think the availability of additional texts would benefit the research community. Have you found the full texts useful in your work, in teaching or in research? Have you used them for any publications or projects? We are interested in how the EEBO full texts enrich the learning and research experience and would like to hear the views of users of the texts at all stages of study." Statements can be submitted here.

- At long last, Google Books has announced a feature by which users can flag unreadable pages. Dan Abbe reports "You'll now find a link next to all book pages on Google Book Search which allows you to submit an unreadable page to our team for review. There's no need to fill anything out – when you click this link, we'll detect the issue with the page you're looking at and get on the case." (h/t Dan Cohen)

- fade theory reports that Wayne Wiegand has received a fellowship to write A People’s History of the American Public Library, 1850-2000. Excellent news: good works on library history are few and far between.

- The Chicago Tribune notes that a "6-foot-high, 150-pound contemporary sculpture" known as Umanita (which has been in place outside the Newberry Library since 2005) was stolen last weekend. Police are investigating. (h/t NIUSC&RB)

- Scott Brown notes that Tim Toone's collection of 553 Harry Potter books (including translations into 63 languages) will sell in several lots at Bloomsbury on 28 February. More on Toone's collection here. Scott also has some thoughts on Ken Karmiole's shop in Santa Monica, CA, which he got to visit while in LA for the fair there. Ken's one of my favorite dealers to visit with at the Boston fair every year: great to talk to, excellent stock - a credit to the book-world. Scott also requests help in identifying a childrens' book artist, so contact him if you recognize the illustrations here.

- And one more Scott Brown bulletin: he has word that Quill and Brush has released a catalog [PDF] of some of the Rolland Comstock books they acquired after the collector's murder (which remains unsolved). The catalog includes an introduction by Nick Basbanes, who calls Comstock "easily one of the most unforgettable bibliophiles I have ever had the good fortune to meet."

- A copy of the death warrant for Mary, Queen of Scots will remain in England after the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace mustered up £72,485 in grants and donations to prevent its export. A private buyer had applied for permission to export the document in November, but was blocked by the government. Lambeth Palace librarian Richard Palmer said "The library is delighted to have played its part in saving this document for the nation. The warrant is now reunited with the papers with which it belongs and accessible for the benefit of all."

- Fragments of what is believed to be the "earliest dated Christian literary manuscript have been found at Deir al-Surian, an ancient monastery in the Egyptian desert," The Art Newspaper reports. The pieces are from the final page of "a codex written in Syriac (an Eastern Aramaic language) which was acquired by the British Museum library in the 19th century [ADD 12-150]." The document is a list of early Christian martyrs in Persia, and was written by a scribe in Edessa (in what is now Turkey). These new fragments were discovered along with hundreds of others "under a collapsed floor of a ninth-century tower." Much more background here. The Independent also wrote up the find this week, calling the fragments "the world's oldest missing page."

- The Philadelphia Bulletin profiles Katy Rawdon, archivist at the Barnes Foundation, which was founded in 1922 to "promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts."

- Rick Ring made a fabulous find in the stacks this week, discovering some volumes of Romeyn Beck Hough's The American Woods, a thirteen-volume compilation "designed to contain specimens (in transverse, radial, and tangential sections) of all the native and naturalized species of woods in the united States and Canada." He also links to a digital version of Hough's work hosted by North Carolina State University.

- Ian Kahn has a first dispatch and a second dispatch from the Greenwich Village Book Fair ... more to come, surely.

- The Guardian profiles Colin St. John Wilson, the architect of the new British Library building, who died last year. (h/t Iconic Books)

- Edinburgh-based publisher Itchy Coo (how about that for a name?) wants to translate the Harry Potter canon into the Scots dialect, according to a report in The Scotsman. J.K. Rowling "has not yet been approached for the go-ahead."

- The Times prints an extract from Frances Wilson's The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, to be published in the UK by Faber & Faber in March.

- Staff at the the New York Public Library have started a blog. I've added a link. (h/t Jessamyn West)


- In the TLS Kelly Grovier reviews a new edition of an 1821 edition of Goethe's Faust, published anonymously but now attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge by scholars Frederick Burwick and James C. McKusick (building off a case begun by Paul Zall in the 1970s). A fascinating backstory to this one.

- In the Boston Globe, Michael Kenney has a joint review of Edward Lengel's new edition of This Glorious Struggle: George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters and Mark Puls' Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution. J.L. Bell add his comments to Kenney's review here. I'm anxious to read both of these books.

- Richard Cox comments on another new title I'm keen to read as well: Bill Hayes' The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy. Cox writes "Those interested in archives will be interested in the book because of the author’s exploration into the modest amount of material left behind by Gray contrasted with the extraordinary evidence about Gray in the extensive pile of letters and diaries provided by [H.V.] Carter [Gray's illustrator]. As it turns out, Carter’s archives have been little tapped by historians of medicine and other scholars, and Hayes provides considerable commentary on his observations about the nature of diary writing."

- Stacy Schiff reviews Jerome Charyn's Johnny One-Eye for the New York Times, concluding "Charyn hasn’t woven a taut narrative from a lurching plot. What he has done is to create a rollicking tale in which — true to the dictates of the genre [the picaresque] — our hapless rogue makes good."

- In the Washington Post, Thomas Ryan reviews How the South Could Have Won the Civil War, a new alternative history by Bevin Alexander. From the review, this sounds more like a paean to Stonewall Jackson than anything else, and this sentence is enough to keep me away from the book: "Alexander's opinions are firmly stated, but his assertions are not always well documented."

- Also in the Post, Stephen Budiansky reviews Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering, which has become a minor sensation as a scholarly book which seems to be selling well.

- For the Boston Glode, Matthew Price reviews Joseph Wheelan's Mr. Adams' Last Crusade, about JQA's post-presidential career in the House.

- Nick Basbanes' new collection of essays, Editions and Impressions, is reviewed by Martin Rubin in the LATimes. Rubin enjoyed the book: "The essays are radiant with [Basbanes'] joy in discovering and exploring the byways of the book world. And what a world it is, full of fascinating characters and interesting tales, which Basbanes, with his experience covering 'every imaginable kind of story as a newspaper reporter,' is perfectly fitted to evoke."

- In The Scotsman, Emma Crichton-Miller reviews Peter Ackroyd's Poe: A Life Cut Short.

- Marjorie Kehe reviews Thomas DeWolf's Inheriting the Trade for the Christian Science Monitor. DeWolf's relative James was "the head of the most successful slave-trading family in American history," and features prominently in Marcus Rediker's recent The Slave Ship. DeWolf's book complements a recent documentary film, "Tracing the Trade," made by another family member.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

New Blog on the Block

I've added a link to, a brand-new book blog by Laura (a self-described "twenty-something book nerd" who's headed to the University of London in the fall for the Book History masters program there). Her inaugural post discusses this week's lunar eclipse and offers some links to "the moon in antiquarian books." One of those is about Galileo's drawings of an eclipse in his 1610 Sidereus Nuncius (more images here), which were exactly what came to mind when I was watching the eclipse myself.

I'll look forward to more posts.

Dispute over Mitchell Papers Settled

The AP reports this morning that a long legal tussle over a collection of Margaret Mitchell papers has been settled, but that neither side will say where the documents are. The collection was found in a filing cabinet purchased by Philip Battles' father in the 1970s; "[a]fter his parents died, Battles inherited the cabinet and in 2005 sold the documents for an undisclosed price to John Reznikoff, a collector in Wilton, Connecticut, and Glenn Horowitz, a New York rare book dealer. The men offered to sell the trove to the Atlanta Historical Society in 2006. But the deal was scuttled when the estate of Stephens Mitchell, the brother of Margaret, stepped in."

Executors of Stephens Mitchell's estate asked a judge to determine ownership of the collection (most other Mitchell materials were donated to the University of Georgia's rare books library). On 22 January, the factions apparently came to an agreement, "but court papers don't reveal the whereabouts of the documents, and neither will the lawyers involved."

Sort of bizarre, actually. Presumably we'll find out sooner or later where they've ended up, but it is strange (and not particularly helpful for research purposes) that the sides are being so secretive about it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Auction Report: PBA Galleries

Some notes from yesterday's Rare Books & Manuscript sale at PBA Galleries:

- The 1618 French edition of Petrus Betius' Tabularum Geographicarum Contractarum Libri Septem, the 1602 Chaucer, the first edition of A Christmas Carol, and the Isaac Newton manuscript were among the ~55 items which failed to sell (of 169 lots).

- The first edition of Moby-Dick in a decorative
Jack Papuchian decorative binding made $13,200 - below the estimate.

- Hakluyt's Principal Navigations (second edition, 1599-1600) fetched $9,600 (just off the high estimate).

- One of the many AA books in the sale (this a first edition, first printing with a facsimile dust jacket) sold for $10,800.

A "first edition, first issue of the first book on the Chinese language to be published in Europe, and possibly the first book in English on China, with the rare map" (John Webb's An Historical Essay Endeavoring a Probability that the Language of the Empire of China is the Primitive Language, 1669) was one of the sale's high spots; it sold for $18,000.

The Moment You've All Been Waiting For ... has announced its shortlist for the annual Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.

Candidates are:

- I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen by Jasper McCutcheon
- How to Write a How to Write Book by Brian Piddock
- Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues by Catharine MacKinnon
- Cheese Problems Solved, edited by P.L.H. McSweeney
- If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs by Big Boom
- People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Dr Feelgood by Dee Gordon

Last year's winner, you'll recall, was The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification.

Prize coordinator Horace Bent said "I must pay homage to those books that narrowly missed out on a shortlist place. These were, in no particular order: Drawing and Painting the Undead; Stafford Pageant: The Exciting Innovative Years 1901–1952; and Tiles of the Unexpected: A Study of Six Miles of Geometric Tile Patterns on the London Underground. All sound like they are positively thrilling reads, and I do hope that the authors will try again next year. Honourable mention should also go to two titles that were ruled out because they were published too long ago: an unlikely-sounding HR manual called Squid Recruitment Dynamics, and the fascinating anthropological tome Glory Remembered: Wooden Headgear of Alaska Sea Hunters."

The winner will be decided by public vote (poll here) and announced on 28 March.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More Theft News (But a Happy Ending This Time)

MTI reports that eight rare books (worth approximately $8,000) which were stolen from a library in Klastor pod Znievom, Slovakia last December have been recovered in a Bupadest bookshop. "The suspect, a young man, returned to the library in January to steal another two books where he was arrested. An investigation is currently under way. Hungarian police received information through Interpol in early January that the books had been sold in Hungary, said Csaba Mihaly, head of the national bureau of investigation's special cases department."

The Bupadest dealer claimed not to know the books were stolen. They will be returned to Slovakia today, the report notes.

BL Reports Stolen Maps

Shelf:Life notes a bulletin put out by Judith Barnes, Collection Security Coordinator at the British Library: "I very much regret to report that we have discovered the theft of 74 maps from Description de l’Univers, contenant les differentes systemes du monde, les cartes ... de la geographie ancienne et moderne ... et les mÅ“urs ... de chaque nation by MANESSON MALLET, Alain. (Paris, 1683). This is now the subject of a police investigation with the Arts and Antiques Unit. We do not yet know when the maps were stolen, and as soon as I have more information I will be in touch again. The crime number is 230 4414/08. Any information, please, to: Judith Barnes, Collection Security Co-ordinator, 020 7412 7821."

Mallet's Description de l’univers, a five-volume set containing some 677 plates, is a quite rare, quite valuable work (three copies are listed on AddAll today with prices ranging from $24,000 to 30,000). When I checked WorldCat to verify the title I clicked through to Yale's catalog record for this set: their copy was marked "missing" in September 2003.

More as I get it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mariners' Museum Archivist Charged

Way back in May 2007 I noted a $1.35 million civil suit filed by the Mariners' Museum (Newport News, VA) against the museum's former archivist (Lester Weber) and his wife (Lori Childs). Weber and Childs have now been indicted by a federal grand jury, the Virginian-Pilot reports. Weber was charged with "26 counts of mail and wire fraud, theft and filing false tax returns. His wife was charged with 25 similar counts, excluding theft."

Weber and Childs made their first appearance in federal court yesterday after the indictment (made late last week) was unsealed. They were released on $5,000 bond each. "In four years and nine months, the couple sold nearly 1,500 items [on eBay], receiving $162,959 from buyers across the country, according to the indictment. They also are accused of failing to report income from those sales in four years of tax returns."

Among the items Weber is accused of stealing were materials from the museum's collection of Titanic memorabilia, including original photographs.

Weber began working at the museum in 2000, and was the head of the archives for the six months before he was fired on 25 September 2006. "That same day, Weber and his wife terminated all of their eBay auction listings, the indictment says."

The civil suit against Weber and Childs is still pending, authorities said. The museum issued a statement yesterday saying "We will have no comment on this matter while proceedings under the indictment are pending." Weber and Childs told the court yesterday that they are "broke, unemployed and that their house is in default. A federal magistrate granted their request for court-appointed lawyers." They'll be in court next on 27 February for arraignment.

I'm working on finding the indictment text, and will post a link if I do.

Pen is Mightier?

In cataloging tracts from a volume in the Mather Library I came across some interesting verses printed on the last page of Ludlow no lyar, or, A detection of Dr. Hollingworth's disingenuity in his second defence of King Charles I. and a further vindication of the Parliament of the 3d of Novemb. 1640 (Amsterdam: 1692), attributed to Slingsby Bethel. The tract defends Edmund Ludlow, one of the judges of Charles I who signed the king's execution warrant. The very page is available digitally (from a later edition of documents) here.

The two verses below are transcribed exactly as they appear in the pamphlet. The first, in Latin, is most of an epigram by Martial (it's missing two lines, and some of the words are a little off).

Allatres licet usque nos & usque,
Et gannitibus improbis lacessas;

Ignotus pereas Miser, Necesse est.
Non deerunt tamen hac in
Urbe forsan
Unus, vel duo, tresue, quatuorve,
Pellem rodere qui velint Caninam;
Nos hac a scabie tenemus ungues.

One translation of this epigram (Book Five, Epigram LX, in its correct form) runs: "You may attack me as much as you like, but I will not give you the immortality you crave by recording your existence in my verse. Others may be willing to soil their fingers with you, but I keep my hands off such carrion." Several other translations here.

The second verse, written around 1677, is a reply by Sir Carr Scroope to John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and is titled 'Answer by way of epigram.'

Rail on, poor feeble Scribler, speak of me,
In as base Terms as the World speaks of thee;
Sit swelling in thy Hole like a vex'd Toad,
And full of Malice spit thy spleen abroad;
Thou canst blast no man's Fame with thy ill word,
Thy pen is just as harmless as thy Sword.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lincoln Materials Online at U of R

The University of Rochester's Rare Books and Special Collections Department has unveiled a new website - Lincoln and his Circle - "to make available the letters to, from, and about Abraham Lincoln" in their collections. The site includes images and selected transcripts of nearly 300 letters so far, most from the William Seward Papers.

I had cause to use the Seward Papers often during my undergrad years (he's a Union alum and had a lengthy and wonderful correspondence with Eliphalet Nott, Union's longtime president). The staff at U of R were unfailingly courteous and helpful.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Book Review: "The Exchange Artist"

Brandeis historian Jane Kamensky's The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America's First Banking Collapse (Viking, 2008) examines the financial history of the Early Republic through a fascinating and bizarre case study: the rise(s) and fall(s) of Boston's Exchange Coffee House and the man most responsible for making it a flawed reality, Andrew Dexter, Jr.

Dexter planned the Exchange - which at seven stories would tower above Boston - as a grand financial edifice, but his building's foundations "rose upon a pyramid of bank notes," financed by a trail of paper obfuscation stretching from Boston to the nascent Detroit, the wilds of Maine, and rural Rhode Island. It was a complex process, but basically Dexter bought up banks and used paper money issued in their names to fund his projects - his modus operandi was to scatter the money widely enough so as to make it difficult for its holders to exchange for specie (thus 'preserving' its face value even though it was backed by absolutely nothing).

It is difficult, in hindsight, to figure out how Dexter managed to convince so many people, for as long as he did, that his house of cards was a worthwhile venture. And yet it took several years before the complications of his scheme caught up with him and a coterie of Boston merchants and creditors began a campaign to rein in the ubiquitous paper money. A newspaper war - largely anonymous - and the merchants' efforts brought Dexter down and he was forced to flee to Halifax, leaving behind in Boston a huge building with great potential but little allure.

A string of new owners struggled to make a go of the Exchange, and within several years it was a (comparatively) promising venture again (although not primarily as a venue for financial transactions, its original intent). As a hotel/reading room/meeting place it was holding its own - that is, until 3 November 1818, when it was destroyed by a great and long-remembered fire.

Kamensky pulls together the various threads of this story (Dexter's financial shenanigans, an architectural examination of the building, a riveting account of the fire and its aftermath, as well as Dexter's post-Boston life as a founder of Montgomery, AL and erstwhile but unsuccessful pursuer of fortune in the southwest), creating a readable and accessible narrative. While she struggles somewhat with perspectives and tenses, alternating between voices in ways which can be hard to follow, Kamensky manages not to let the style get in the way of the story.

There are some fascinating cameos here, including the portraitist Gilbert Stuart (who painted portraits of Dexter and his wife in their pre-debacle days), and Henry Clay (a patron of the Exchange on the night of the fire who, it was said in the press, assisted in the bucket brigade). Making an appearance as Dexter's father-in-law is Perez Morton, who had in earlier years created a great scandal by seducing Fanny Apthorp, the young sister of his wife. This case, which resulted in Apthorp's suicide, was the inspiration for William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy, one of the first American novels (and Apthorp's poignant suicide note is in our collections at MHS).

Kamensky's reconstruction of the Exchange Coffee House scheme is skillful and backed by significant and well-documented research (the footnotes are quite nice). It is both a fine example of narrative history and an instructive cautionary tale.

Auction Report: Bonhams

Bonhams Rare Books & Manuscripts sale went off yesterday in Los Angeles. Prices generally seemed low. Here are some highlights, with prices not including premium or tax:

- The Ibarra Don Quixote surpassed its estimates, fetching $11,000.

- Cormac McCarthy sold well, with five of seven lots making more than $1,000 and only one not selling.

- The first edition of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations sold for $75,000.

- A scrap from Lincoln's coat worn on the night of his assassination went for $4,250, while the chunk from Samuel Mudd's house didn't sell.

The miniature Bible made $650, not quite hitting its low estimate. The first edition Great Gatsby failed to sell, while The Catcher in the Rye made $1,600. The McKenney & Hall folio also failed to sell.

LAT on Founders' Papers

In today's LATimes, Sarah Wire covers the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the Founding Fathers' Paper editorial projects, which I discussed at some length here. Wire's report centers on the question of the best way to mount the papers online: in annotated form through Rotunda (the University of Virginia Press' digital imprint) or by digitizing the unannotated documents along with the published volumes and making them available via the Library of Congress' website.

[Update: The audio from the 7 February Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on this topic is now available here (RealAudio).]

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Links & Reviews

- I've added sidebar links to Chronicles of William Hone (which includes an interesting weekly podcast),, Free Range Librarian and Cliopatria.

- [Update]: Just after I posted I read Ian's terrific news that he's been voted into the ABAA/ILAB. Many congratulations to him and to the other new members!

- The Victoria Times-Colonist reported this week that a collection of letters written by Queen Victoria, including some composed soon after the death of her friend and servant John Brown, will be sold at auction in Canada. The archive of letters, written to the wife of a former royal chaplain, are expected to fetch up to $20,000.

- On NPR this week, a discussion of the Great Seal of the United States.

- A Lizzie Borden researcher believes she has found a new image of Borden as a young girl, reports. The unlabeled photograph was discovered in the collections of the Swansea (MA) Historical Society.

- Ellen Chason has donated about 100 books from her father's extensive collection to the Mary & Harry L. Dalton Rare Book & Manuscript Reading Room at UNC Charlotte. The donation is valued at $100,000, and includes a 1599 "Breeches Bible."

- Michael Lieberman passes along a really delightful post from Brian Cassidy, who recently celebrated his first anniversary as a bookseller bookstore owner (corrected, see comment).

- Over at The Little Professor, Miriam Burstein has another dispatch from the Google Books trenches. Good, useful commentary as always.

- Rick Ring found a fascinating little book from 1862: Rhymed Tactics (military drills set to verse). The book is available digitally via, aherm, Google Books.

- Folks at Harvard have unveiled Theatrum Catalogorum, an annotated list of European library catalogs (with North American catalogs to follow). [h/t]

- J.L. Bell comments on what I heard was an excellent talk at MHS on Friday (I was on duty, so missed it) by Edward Lengel on the process of editing George Washington's papers. Lengel has just published The Glorious Cause: George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters (HarperCollins).

- Travis has some relevant thoughts on People of the Book, tying one of its messages to an absolutely ridiculous argument made by Spiegelman's defense team (that, "as long as duplicate and photocopies of particular books exist, there is no loss to culture. ... His ignorant remarks were consistently and embarrassingly destroyed by people who actually knew what they were talking about, of course. But Brooks’ book does a great job of demonstrating what a book has to offer us, not just in beauty or sentiment, but actual concrete information, aside from just the words on its page.").

- John Overholt notes progress on the Johnson correspondence digitization project at Houghton. He reports that one of the newly-uploaded letters is one from Johnson to James Macpherson, the fabricator of the Poems of Ossian (which I discussed briefly here). Classic Johnson.

- At Cliopatria, Ralph Luker discusses Historians for Obama, which collects the signatures of more than 160 historians who've endorsed Obama's presidential candidacy. They include Joyce Appleby, David Blight, Robert Dallek, Anthony Grafton, David Hall, James McPherson, Barbara Weinstein and a whole host of others.

- James Oakes' The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics and Elizabeth Brown Pryor's Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters are the winners of this year's Lincoln Prize for Civil War Scholarship. Each author will receive $20,000.

- Tim has some thoughts on the ongoing J.K. Rowling-Harry Potter Lexicon lawsuit and poses an interesting theory.


- The Washington Post has begun a series of reviews covering the umpteen gazillion Lincoln books that are going to appear in the runup to his 200th birthday next year. This week their reviewers tackle Brian McGinty's Lincoln and the Court (reviewed by Charles Lane), William Lee Miller's Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman and Allen Guelzo's Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (reviewed by Michael Bishop).

- Richard Cox comments on Alan Dershowitz's Finding Jefferson, in which the lawyer discusses his collecting habits, his recent acquisition of an 1801 TJ letter, and his new plan to teach a seminar for first-year Harvard law students based entirely around Jefferson letters.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Book Review: "The Anatomy of a Literary Hoax"

NB: I've labeled this a book review, but since Sid is a professor of mine it's not really appropriate for me to be reviewing his books. So consider this a simple recommendation. Normally I wouldn't even write publicly at all in a situation like this, but the book's just too interesting to pass by without comment.

In The Anatomy of a Literary Hoax, (Oak Knoll Press, 1994) Sid Berger recounts a great prank he and some comrades played on Henry Morris, the legendary private pressman and proprietor of Bird & Bull Press of Newton, PA. Morris started the ball rolling by puckishly inserting a false entry into the bibliography of Tim Barrett's Nagashizuki: The Japanese Craft of Hand Papermaking (1979) - tacked on at the end of Barrett's list of resources was Daniel Wilcox's The Invention of Paper (1971), which happened to be a Sesame Street picture book. Morris says he inserted the entry because "I was genuinely curious to see if those I considered the top paper historians ... would notice or question this strange entry. ... [N]o one did, which confirmed my suspicions: nobody pays much attention to long bibliographical book lists."

Morris' prank did bother Barrett, though, and he and Sid decided to get back at Morris. Sid had a typesetter friend set a fake title page for (the entirely made-up) Daniel Wilcox's The Invention of Paper: A History and Handbook (London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1875), and then wrote Morris to let him know that he'd made a typo in Barrett's bibliography (that the date should certainly have been 1875, not 1971). Morris wrote back, astonished, and asked - as Sid knew he would - to see a photocopy of the 1875 title page. Sid was all too happy to oblige; he even "xeroxed the [fake title page] against a real book, so that the edges of the sheets would show. Once again, I mailed it and waited." Henry wrote back admitting his prank and telling Sid that he was now searching widely for a copy of the 1875 title.

Nearly a year later, Barrett and Sid broke the news to Morris: Sid says "I wrote Henry another long letter in which I embedded a paragraph which said something like 'Oh, by the way, I am sure you figured out that the Wilcox book was a hoax.' The rest of the letter was small talk." Morris called as soon as he received Sid's letter to say that he'd sent copies of that title page to dealers all over England and America asking for copies of the book. Sid recounts that several salty phrases were used, but that the call ended in laughter all around.

Henry Morris ended up printing Sid's telling of the story in this book, and in a note at the end writes "I still think Sid's joke was wonderful. I admire the careful planning and attention to detail that made it all so believable. I was entirely taken in and searching all over England for a copy of that 1875 edition. A masterful hoax by an expert. I threatened to get even with Sid, but must wait for the right time and place ... and then, Sid, look out - I'm going to get you, boy."

Anatomy of a Literary Hoax was printed in 300 copies on beautiful Frankfort paper, and includes several photographs, labels and facsimiles pertaining to the hoax. A delightful and amusing tale of a terrific biblio-prank.

Book Review: "Arthur and George"

If you're in search of an excellent piece of historical fiction, I can recommend Julian Barnes' Arthur and George, which won all sorts of awards in 2006 (all, so far as I can tell, well-deserved) and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. A fictionalized joint biography, the book recounts the (separate but briefly intertwined) lives of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji.

Conan Doyle's name you probably know, but Edalji's may be less familiar - in a nutshell, he was a solicitor who was accused and convicted of committing a series of horrific animal mutilations in Staffordshire during the early years of the twentieth century. Edalji served three years in jail, all the while maintaining his innocence. After his release, Conan Doyle became involved in the case and waged a public campaign to clear Edalji's name.

Using a wide range of actual primary sources from newspaper accounts to letters to government reports and trial transcripts, Barnes reconstructs not only the Edalji case and Conan Doyle's involvement in it, but also other aspects of the mens' lives, including Conan Doyle's long infatuation with Jean Leckie (who would become his second wife) and his studies of spiritualism and the occult.

Well-written and thought-provoking the whole way through.

Book Review: "The Book Thief"

Markus Zusack's The Book Thief is the powerful story of a young girl's troubled life in WWII-era Germany. Through the voice of a singularly unconventional narrator - Death - and with the use of a grim, glowering sense of ironic humor, Zusack's book offers a new lens through which to view the horrors of Nazism, war, and intolerance (and, tangentially, the power of reading).

It took me a long time to read this book; I enjoyed it the whole way through, but it didn't really grab me until about the last hundred pages. Then I was hooked, and couldn't put it down. The language is rhythmic and and the story utterly devastating - my hands were shaking as I turned the last few pages. Zusack has crafted a disturbingly beautiful masterwork.

Marketed for young adults but worth reading by anyone.

Apocalyptic Text Displayed in Indiana

One of the oldest known complete manuscript copies of the Book of Enoch - "perhaps the most important of all the apocryphal or pseudapocryphal Biblical writings for the history of religious thought" - is on loan to the Remnant Trust in Jeffersonville, Indiana, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. The manuscript, written in Ge'ez (an ancient Ethiopian language), is believed to date from the 15th-16th centuries.

"Enoch is considered a prime example of apocalyptic literature - Jewish and Christian books that purport to reveal the hidden secrets of a future in which the evil are punished and the righteous rewarded." The text, considered scriptural by Ethiopian Christians, is believed by scholars to have been composed "in Greco-Roman times and attributed ... to Enoch to boost its credibility."

This copy "came on the market in the past couple of years from an American owner, and the trust has been able to establish a chain of ownership dating only to 1924." It was purchased by private collectors who agreed to loan the codex to the Remnant Trust for at least two years.

Anyone interested in viewing the Book of Enoch should make an appointment by calling (812) 280-2222.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Upcoming Auctions

- Bonhams & Butterfields will hold its annual California Rare Books and Manuscripts sale on 17 February. There will be 385 lots, including a miniature Bible from 1780 ($800-1,200), a large selection of William Burroughs and John Steinbeck material, an Ibarra Don Quixote ($4,000-6,000), a first printing of The Great Gatsby with imperfect jacket ($120,000-140,000), a first edition of The Catcher in the Rye ($2,000-3,000), a first edition of Adam Smith's An Inquiry into The Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations ($60,000-80,000), relics relating to the Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley assassinations (including some pieces of Samuel Mudd's house and a scrap of Lincoln's coat) and a folio copy of McKenney and Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America (which I recently discussed here). That's expected to fetch $120,000-140,000.

- PBA Galleries is holding a Rare Books & Manuscripts sale on 21 February. There will be 169 lots, including a 1618 French edition of Petrus Betius' Tabularum Geographicarum Contractarum Libri Septem with 220 of the 221 full-page engraved maps ($20,000-30,000), a 1602 edition of Chaucer ($6,000-8,000), a first issue copy of Dicken's A Christmas Carol ($10,000-15,000), a second edition of Hakluyt's Principal Navigations ($7,000-10,000), a first edition Moby-Dick in a modern Jack Papuchian decorative binding ($15,000-20,000), and an Isaac Newton manuscript page ($25,000-35,000).

- Sotheby's London will hold the eleventh part of the sale of the Earls of Macclesfield's library on 13 March. This portion comprises the English books and manuscripts. There will be 441 lots. Selected items will be on display in New York from 21-23 February. The one lot of most interest to me is John Eliot's Indian Grammar Begun (1666), of which no copy has sold at auction in the last century. The estimate on this one is 70,000-100,000 GBP. This sale also includes a copy of Roger Williams' A Key into the Language of America (1643), the first English-Indian dictionary (15,000-20,000 GBP).

I'll keep an eye on all these and report back with the realized prices when I can.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

(Slight) LT Changes & Updates

Tim's unveiled a new Great Seal of LibraryThing: it's based on the Great Seal of the United States, and includes the mottoes "Annuit Pittaciis" (He approves our tags) and "Novus Ordo Librorum" (A new order of books).

Also, to separate the living LT Authors from the dead, the libraries we've been entering will now get an "LT Legacy" badge on their profile page (see Jefferson's here). The number of those libraries, by the way, continues to climb. Beyond Jefferson's, you can now browse the book collections of:

Danilo Kis (poet and translator)
Tupac Shakur
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Isabella Stewart Gardner
Sylvia Plath
Marie Antoinette
Susan B. Anthony
Alfred Deakin (the second Prime Minister of Australia)

Of those, the only one I don't share any books with is Mozart.

Many others are currently underway, and I've got some even more interesting possibilities waiting in the wings which I hope to get underway soon.

My own current project is the Mather Family Libraries, a large collection (now widely dispersed) accumulated by several generations of the Mather family. We have about sixty of the titles here at MHS, so for the first time I've been able to actually see the books I'm adding to LT (verifying the signatures, finding new and different inscriptions, notes and so forth). When you get to hold the very book in your hand that was once read by Cotton Mather, it makes projects like this even more interesting and exciting than they already are. This collection has a pretty interesting and complicated history, which I've condensed greatly and posted here.

The fun continues!

Fellowships & Seminars

- The Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania have announced "approximately thirty one-month fellowships for research in residence in either or both collections during the academic year 2008-2009." Descriptions, application procedures, &c. can be found here.

- For those across the pond, the University of London's Institute of English Studies has posted a series of five seminars through June 2008, "to encourage further research into all aspects of the subject of library history." Information here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

John White Art on Display at Yale

The Yale Center for British Art's spring exhibit, "A New World: England's First View of America," will feature "nearly one hundred works, including all of [John] White's drawings of the Algonquian Indians; his maps and charts; watercolors of the Inuit; North American and West Indian plants and animals; depictions of ancient Britons; and associated works by his contemporaries. It will also include rare maps, manuscripts, and printed works related to early European voyages of exploration to America from Yale collections and elsewhere, including the Pierpont Morgan Library, the New York Public Library, and a number of private collections."

This exhibit "has been organized by the British Museum, which houses the complete collection of White's work, and curated by Kim Sloan, Francis Finlay Curator of the Enlightenment Gallery and Curator of British Drawings and Watercolours before 1880 at the British Museum. The organizing curator at the Center is Elisabeth Fairman, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts." It will run from 6 March through 1 June.

Many of White's watercolors can be found in digital form here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Recent Book-Lists

- My good friends at Colophon Books just released their List 169 (Part I, Part II) - as usual, many excellent books on books.

- Justin Croft has a list of new arrivals [PDF].

- Rudi Thoemmes has 71 new acquisitions, including a five-volume second (and best) edition in English of Pierre Bayle's Dictionary Historical and Critical (London, 1734-38), along with some other noteworthy philosophy titles.

- J.N. Bartfield Fine & Rare Books has their list for the California International Book Fair up; it includes a Cosway-style Sangorsky-bound Rubaiyat and John Abbot and Sir John Edward Smith's The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia (London: T. Bensley for J. Edwards, Cadell and Davies, and J White, 1797). This two-volume set contains 104 hand-colored plates of butterflies, caterpillars, food sources, &c.

[Updated to add:

- From the Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company, a Valentine's Day catalog of ~45 books relating to "Love, Courtship, Marriage, Sex, & (alas!) the 'Downsides' Thereof."

- Athena Rare Books has their California Fair list up [PDF].]

Monday, February 11, 2008

AHA Releases ArchivesWiki

The American Historical Association has announced the release of ArchivesWiki, which is "intended to be a clearinghouse of information about archival resources throughout the world. While it is primarily designed to be useful to historians and others doing historical research, we hope that researchers in many disciplines will find it useful."

Basic information about more than 100 archival repositories (full list) has already been uploaded to the wiki, which is free and open to anyone (after a short registration process).

If this fleshes out well, I think it has tremendous potential.

Link added to the sidebar.

eBay to Buy Back Stolen Items

Some noteworthy [and precedent-setting?] fallout from the Daniel Lorello thefts: eBay has agreed to buy back the items sold by Lorello and return them to the New York State Library, the AP reports. "The online auction giant has no liability in the sale of the stolen artifacts, but agreed voluntarily to offer buyers the amount that they paid, according to the [NYS] official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because not all details of the investigation have been announced."

Buyers, who will face no criminal charges relating to the items purchased from Lorello, will be contacted by eBay and by NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office.

"The total cost of buying back the documents for which eBay has sales records is estimated at $68,000. The offer by eBay means the state won't have to spend money to buy the records. If there is a conviction, a court could order restitution."

Lorello is supposed to appear in court today.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Editing the Founders

On Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing designated "The Founding Fathers’ Papers: Ensuring Public Access to our National Treasures." Witnesses included historians David McCullough and Ralph Ketcham, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, and Princeton professor Stanley Katz, chairman of the Founding Fathers Papers project (which represents the six ongoing editorial projects for the papers of Washington, Adams, Jefferson (Papers and Retirement Series), Madison and Franklin).

I'm going to write about the hearing and what was said there, but understand that I can't come at this topic from an unbiased standpoint: I work every day with the staff of the Adams Papers and understand the excellent, meaningful research and scholarship that goes into each and every volume of the Papers.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the committee chairman, led off the hearing with a prepared statement, calling for digitization of the papers and making them freely available on the Internet. Not a bad idea if the resources can be arranged, but no replacement for the published volumes.

David McCullough delivered a ringing endorsement of the project, noting that the value of the published papers "is unassailable, immeasurable. They are superbly edited. They are thorough. They are accurate. The footnotes are pure gold - many are masterpieces of close scholarship ... Just this past week, for my current project, I wanted to find out what all was contained in the 80-some crates that Thomas Jefferson shipped back home to Virginia, in the course of his five years of diplomatic service in France - all the books, art and artifacts, the scientific instruments, and the like. The range and variety of the inventory would, of course, reflect much about the mind of the man. So I turned to the Jefferson papers hoping there might be something. And, sure enough, there it was, in Volume 18, the whole sum total in a footnote that runs nearly six pages in small type. I know what work had to have gone into that footnote, the care and attention to detail. There have been times when I’ve spent a whole day on one paragraph just trying to get it right, to be clear and accurate." Many of you probably know how I feel about footnotes (not to mention Jefferson's books) and will understand why this made me happy.

McCullough pushed back against strongly against calls for trying to speed up publication, noting that the editors "are the best in the business and the high quality of the work they do need not, must not be jeopardized or visciated in order to speed up the rate of production. There really should be no argument about that."

Stanley Katz submitted a lengthy document [PDF] containing various important data about the editorial projects, including publication histories, schedules, access notes, and several sample documents before and after the editorial process.

Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian for Library Services at the Library of Congress, suggested in her testimony that the LoC could, with adequate resources, host a digital edition of the Founding Families papers. Rebecca Rimel, CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts (a major funder of the projects), called for additional federal funding for the projects and consequent increased access while not forgetting the "essential steps of research, historical editing and annotating." Weinstein suggested that current volumes of the published papers be made available digitally, along with "unannotated transcripts of the raw materials for future printed volumes."

Ralph Ketcham's prepared statement praised the editorial projects, noting "I do not think that the present rate of publication, with present staff and funding, and providing that the focus of the staff remains on gathering, validating, editing, and preparing for publication of those papers according to the long-established and widely approved standards noted above, can be much hastened. Efficiencies and improvement of technique can, as they have often in the past, probably speed things up some, but the projects already do very well on that score; even new technologies are unlikely to be major factors. ... I would propose, then, that the best way to speed up public access to the treasured documents is to provide increased funding and staff for the existing efficient, highly skilled projects. Any effort to shortcut, bypass, or interfere with the work of the existing projects would, I think, only impede them, and in the long run diminish the useful access to their documents."

Stanley Katz also wrote two dispatches from the hearing for the Chronicle of Higher Education (here and here); he provides some more information about the purposes of the hearing, and adds "I felt yesterday and I feel now that a little sunshine is a very good thing for scholars who have nothing to hide and everything to gain from greater public awareness. ... And yes, Senator Leahy, we could use more federal funding. Thank you, sir, for your interest!"

There are a bunch of other aspects to all this that I won't get into here (at least not now) - I've read within the last few days some serious misconceptions about the editing process and the availability of the materials (both the primary documents on microfilm or the published volumes as they're released), for example - suffice it to say that while the pace of publication may not be frantic, it is deliberate, measured and effective. If the annotated volumes can be supplemented by digital editions without compromising the ongoing editorial projects, excellent.

The major reason these project have taken so long (they were begun in the 1950s) is that there is simply so much material to work with. Many of the Founders lived long lives and wrote voluminously right until the end. The only finished series is The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, published in twenty-seven volumes by Columbia University Press from 1961-1987. As Ketcham noted the other day, the chief editor of that project, Harold "Cy" Syrett, "once remarked that he considered dedicating his work to Aaron Burr, who 'made completion of the task possible.'"

From that angle, we should all be thankful that the other projects still have so many more writings to edit!