Sunday, November 29, 2015

Links & Reviews

- At Spitalfields Life, a peek inside Maggs Brothers Berkeley Square premises before the firm moves to new quarters. Lots of pictures, too.

- The Guardian reports on the upcoming Pierre Bergé library sale (Sotheby's Paris, 11 December).

- Gothamist gets a look inside the NYPL's under-construction Rose Reading Room.

- A University of Aberdeen release highlights manuscript fragments found in a German library which are written in a similar script to the Book of Kells.

- There's a new exhibit up at the National Library of Scotland, "Book Beautiful." It sounds like a good one if you're in that neck of the woods. More from The Scotsman.

- The Kelmscott Chaucer census blog reports on the three (count 'em, three!) copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer coming up for sale in December. Wow, that last one is something.

- There's an essay and slideshow of Judaica broadsides from the Valmadonna Trust collection in Tablet.

- Bloomberg View editorialized on the importance of the next Librarian of Congress, and John Y. Cole has a story in the Library of Congress Magazine about how each librarian has shaped the institution.

- In the NYRB, Bruce Holsinger has a brief piece on the history of writing on parchment.

- Caroline Alexander talks to the WSJ about her new translation of The Iliad.

- Tim Radford reports for the Guardian about a new study into the nature of 13th-century uterine vellum using a new technique.

- The 11th Australasian Rare Books Summer School will be held at the State Library of New South Wales, 1–5 February 2016.

- California bookseller Randall House Rare Books put out a press release on their role in selling the Brontë book with unpublished manuscript material to the Brontë Museum.

- Ann Blair has been named the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor at Harvard, effective 1 January.


- Mary Beard's SPQR; reviews by Dwight Garner in the NYTimes and Peter Lewis in the CSM.

- Stanley L. Quick's Lion in the Bay; review by Philip Kopper in the Washington Times.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: "Bibliotheca Fictiva" & "Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries"

Arthur Freeman, Bibliotheca Fictiva: A Collection of Books & Manuscripts Relating to Literary Forgery, 400 BC–AD 2000. London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 2014.

Earle Havens, ed. Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries: Rare Books and Manuscripts from the Arthur and Janet Freeman Bibliotheca Fictiva Collection. Baltimore: Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University, 2014.

When I am asked what sort of books I collect, I usually lead with "books about books" and "catalogs of peoples' libraries," but it's almost always the next one, "books about literary forgeries and hoaxes" that the questioner proves most interested in talking about. (Only later might I bring up the collection I actually work at the most, of Fenelon's Télémaque). Arthur and Janet Freeman, creators of the magnificent, dare I say well-nigh unsurpassable forgery collection documented in Bibliotheca Fictiva, are surely familiar with the particular reaction that the mention of forgeries not infrequently elicits: a sort of conspiratorial, knowing nod, eyebrows half-raised, as if what you'd actually said was that you make literary forgeries rather than collect and study them.

When I received my copy of Bibliotheca Fictiva, impressively produced by Quaritch, and began reading through it, one of my first thoughts was that I might just as well give up the ghost on my own meagre collection of forgery-related material: the thought of building a collection that could rival this is daunting to the extreme. There can be no contest, but there needn't be; I've neither the time, resources, nor inclination to collect as comprehensively as the Freemans have done, and there's plenty of good material out there to fill the small niche I'm interested in, anyway. Once I'd gotten over that initial, overwhelmed state and really dug into this volume, I found it immensely interesting and useful.

As Arthur Freeman notes in his preface, the collection was more than five decades in the making, eventually with an eye toward the composition of "a comprehensive history of literary and historical forgery, as a genre or tradition from antiquity to the near-present" (xi) which did not come to fruition. In 2011 the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University began to acquire the collection, and this volume covers it to that time, with some of the additions made since. The "intimidating" outlines of the library, Freeman acknowledges, are "to some extent arbitrary and even personal" (xi): it covers "the entire range of literary forgery, that is to say the forgery of texts, whether historical, religious, philological, or 'creatively' artistic, in all languages and countries of the civilized Western world, from c. 400 BC to the end of the twentieth century" (xii). But not just the original texts: also their "first and ongoing exposures (or obstinate endorsements), in whatever printed editions seemed most significant (along with manuscripts and correspondence when applicable), with a special emphasis, inevitable for us, on evocative annotated and association copies" (xii). No small task, indeed.

Freeman introduces the collection with an eighty-page overview, broken into eleven sections (Classical and Judeo-Christian Forgery to the Fall of Rome; Medieval Forgery, Religious and Secular; Renaissance Forgery, to 1600; Seventeenth-Century Forgery; Eighteenth-Century British Forgery; Nineteenth-Century British and American Forgery; France After 1700; German, Austrian, and Dutch Forgery; Italy and Spain; Central Europe, Russia, and Greece; and The Twentieth Century). In each he briefly surveys the collection's holdings in that area, so these eleven sections taken together—given the wide scope of the library and the breadth of its holdings—can fairly effectively serve as a de facto introduction to the genre. While there are a whole lot of names, dates, and titles packed in here, Freeman manages to keep things moving nicely.

The meat of Bibliotheca Fictiva is what Freeman has termed "The Handlist," a catalog of the collection as it stood at the time of acquisition by Johns Hopkins. Items retained by the Freemans are noted (these include, Freeman reports, duplicates, modern reference books, certain association items, and collections related to the Fortsas hoax and the Guglielmo Libri thefts). In the introductory headnote to the Handlist Freeman outlines several areas in which the Bibliotheca Fictiva complements existing holdings at Hopkins (including the Book of Mormon). The Handlist is organized into thirteen sections—roughly corresponding to the eleven above—next by forger or topic, and finally by date (the index will be of great use). Some 1,676 entries follow, often with annotations as to their provenance, some with descriptions of the binding, and most with a short explanation of their significance.

Reading right through these entries, or at least for any particular area you have an interest in, will be well worth it: even setting aside from the scope, the library includes some truly remarkable material. There's the (unique?) single-sheet prospectus for the Irelands' Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments, with Samuel Ireland's manuscript addition offering a subscription refund to doubters; or there's Hugh Trevor-Roper's annotated review copy of Morton Smith's The Secret Gospel; or John Carter's own copy of Enquiry, with a letter from Pollard dated "the day after publication," calling the book "too much of a curate's egg." It takes sixty pages to document the vast sub-collection of materials relating to John Payne Collier's life and works. From the vile (Protocols of the Elders of Zion) to the ridiculous, they're here, and this volume is one anyone with even the slightest interest in the topic will want to have and refer to often.

The Freemans' laudable decision to transfer the Bibliotheca Fictiva collection to Hopkins has prompted the publication of additional, complementary texts. The proceedings of a 2012 conference, "Literary Forgery and Patriotic Mythology in Europe, 1450–1800" will soon be published, and a lovely catalog of a Sheridan Libraries exhibition, Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries was released in 2014. As Winston Tabb notes in his Foreword, it is through "exhibitions and publications like this one, which share the fascinating hidden histories of fakes and forgeries throughout the ages and inspire future generations to explore them further" (iv) that we can acknowledge and thank the Freemans for providing the fruits of their long collecting labors to the scholarly community.

In his introduction, Earle Havens, the catalog's editor, outlines how the decision was taken not only to bring the collection to Baltimore, but also to keep it together, allowing for use, promotion, and study of collection as a whole, not simply as disparate items divorced from their context. He builds a good case for the relevance and usefulness of studying forgeries and their creators as a key component of the historical and cultural record: "to treat forgery as a mode, and at times even an expressive art, of literature" (vii). Along with a checklist of the exhibition, five interpretive essays are included. Earle Havens' "Catastrophe? Species and Genres of Literary and Historical Forgery" offers a broad overview of scholarly treatments of forgeries over time and a gallop through the "species of forgery" to be found in the Bibliotheca Fictiva, while Neil Weijer explores how one might grapple with historical forgeries (that is, forgeries of historical documents) when both "history" and "forgery" are pretty tough terms to pin down, "if all historical writing is essentially fiction?" (43). Walter Stephens provides an excellent overview of Annius of Viterbo's works and their afterlives, and Janet E. Gomez treats the distinction between "literature" and "literary forgery" using the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries, the Alberti Tasso forgeries, and Psalmanazar's Formosa as case studies. Finally, John Hoffmann delves into the nastiness, tackling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well other 19th- and 20th-century racist productions about miscegenation and the like. His conclusion is a fitting one for the whole book and for the topic: "The most important fact for a forger to keep in mind is the prejudice of his audience, and forgers play upon the public's credulity by indulging unquestioned assumptions. ... Forgeries make illusions seem real, but most important, they bring about real effects" (112).

Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries is beautifully designed and produced, with lovely color illustrations throughout. I await its companion volume with anticipation, and I hope that its contents, along with those of Bibliotheca Fictiva, will prompt much future scholarly inquiry. There could be no better monument to the work of the great collectors who built the Bibliotheca Fictiva.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Links & Reviews

Apologies for no post last week: Boston was busy, but as always being there reminded me how much I love that city and its book fair. It was a fantastic time, and the book fair seemed to be a complete success by all accounts. It was great to see so many friends, old and new, and I even came across some pretty neat finds, which I'll be writing about here in due course. But now, a backlog of news:

- Ken Gloss of the Brattle Book Shop talked to Boston Magazine about the history of the Boston Book Fair.

- Convicted artifact/book/&c. thief John Mark Matthew Tillman is being released on day parole. Tillman is serving an eight-year sentence for multiple counts of theft and possession of stolen property.

- There's a great guest post up at The Junto by a couple of the grad students involved with a project analyzing the reading practices of the Winthrop family over several generations.

- An early Shelley poem has been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries as their 12 millionth printed book. More coverage from the Guardian.

- A cache of 17th-century Dutch letters, many unopened, is now being explored by an international team.

- The Beinecke Library has acquired the Otto Ege collection of manuscripts and manuscript fragments.

- Karen Nipps writes for the Houghton blog about printing on the frozen Thames. There was a great example of one of these small handbills at the book fair last weekend.

- Tom Mashberg reports for the NYTimes on the new NYPL stacks being constructed beneath Bryant Park.

- Harvard Libraries have reduced spending by $25 million since 2009 following a massive restructuring process.

- The National Trust has warned that climate change is affecting rare books, gardens, and other properties under the Trust's care.

- Sotheby's will sell twelve selected items from the Valmadonna Trust Library on 22 December.

- The NYPL has acquired the archives of The New York Review of Books.

- Meanwhile, the archives of Time Inc. are going to the New-York Historical Society. More from the NYTimes.

- The WaPo covers this year's DPLA GIF IT UP contest.

- From Dustin Illingworth at The Millions, "Atlas of Interest: On the Hidden Life of Marginalia."

- The Brontë Society has acquired a copy of Robert Southey's Remains of Henry Kirke White containing unpublished writings of a young Charlotte Brontë. The £170,000 purchase was funded with grants various UK cultural institutions.

- The Boston Globe covered Harvard's major digitization project of colonial-period manuscripts. While I was in Boston I had the chance to see the current exhibition up at Pusey Library about the project, and it's entirely worth a visit if you can get there.

- Umberto Eco talked to the Guardian about his new novel, Numero Zero.

- Jennifer Schuessler writes for the NYTimes about an early papyrus fragment that turned up on eBay, and about the snarly ethical issues the market in such fragments can create.

- Keith Houston writes for the BBC Magazine about punctuation marks that failed.

- Writing for the APHA blog, Casey Smith notes a panel at the recent APHA conference about hands-on instruction in printing history, featuring RBS' own Amanda Nelsen, Josef Beery, and Todd Samuelson.

- Over at The Millions, there's an excerpt from Rebecca Rego Barry's new book, Rare Books Uncovered, about the 1580 Baret's Alvearie called's "Shakespeare's Dictionary" by its owners.

- There's a new exhibition about Pepys' diaries up at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

- The director of the Museum of the Aleutians (mentioned in my last) has resigned.

- The Collation got a face-lift.

- Something (perhaps) to keep a weather-eye on to see what happens with it: Stanley Gibbons Investments has launched a "rare book index," designed to "help guide investors and collectors looking to build a rare book portfolio as part of a long-term investment strategy." Hard to see how this could possibly be effective or useful, but we'll see.


- Umberto Eco's Numero Zero; review by Tom Rachman in the NYTimes.

- Michael Broers' Napoleon; review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- Mary Beard's SPQR and Tom Holland's Dynasty; review by Ferdinand Mount in the NYTimes.

- Simon Winchester's Pacific; review by Tom Zoellner in the LATimes.

- Dan Jones' Magna Carta; review by Edmund Fawcett in the NYTimes.

- H.J. Jackson's Those Who Write for Immortality and Leo Damrosch's Eternity's Sunrise; review by Richard Holmes in the NYRB.

- Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States; reviews by Charles S. Pierce in the NYTimes and Peter Lewis in the CSM.

- David Mitchell's Slade House; review by Scarlett Thomas in the NYTimes.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Links & Reviews

- The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair is next weekend (and I look forward to seeing at least some of you there!). The ABAA has posted a few featured items that will be on offer.

- President Obama signed S. 2162 this week, providing for a (renewable) 10-year term for the Librarian of Congress.

- Harvard announced a major project this week: they are digitizing all known archival and manuscript materials in the Harvard Library relating to colonial North America. I'm looking forward to having a good dig-through of these soon!

- Following up on the #EEBOGate flurry last week, Carl Stahmer suggests some ways in which ESTC could play a role in "the development of a community supported corpus to replace EEBO."

- Dustin Kurtz visited Amazon's new brick-and-mortar store and told the tale for TNR.

- For POP's Mystery Monday, a (much-enhanced) look at the washed-out marginalia in Penn's copy of the First Folio.

- Michael Dirda has a good piece in the November/December issue of Humanities on what he sees at the perpetual doomsaying over the future of reading.

- There's a new blog devoted to Maps & Geography at the Library of Congress, Worlds Revealed.

- An Abraham Lincoln manuscript (a copy of the first paragraph of his second inaugural address which he wrote in a young boy's autograph book) sold for $2.2 million at Heritage Auctions on Wednesday.

- Barbara Basbanes Richter writes for the Fine Books Blog on a fabulous new letterpress printing program at RAW Art Works of Lynn, MA.

- Will Fenton writes for Slate on the challenge of preserving digital archives.

- Over at the Lost Art Press blog, a look at an 18th-century journeyman cabinetmaker's letter, hidden for decades within a cabinet now in the collections of the V&A.

- Megan Browndorf reflects on this summer's Library History Seminar XIII for the LHRT blog.


- David Mitchell's Slade House; review by Jess Zimmerman in TNR.

- James Shapiro's The Year of Lear; review by Fintan O'Toole in the NYRB.

- Roberto Calasso's The Art of the Publisher; review by Nick Romeo in the CSM.

- Stacy Schiff's The Witches; review by Arifa Akbar in the Independent.

Recent Reads

It's been an incredibly busy month, but I have found time to get through a few good fictions recently:

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, by George R.R. Martin: For fans of the "Song of Ice and Fire" series, this new edition of the three Dunk & Egg novellas puts them in one convenient place for the first time, and with a suite of effective illustrations by Gary Gianni to boot. These stories, set about a hundred years before the events in A Game of Thrones begin, highlight the exploits of an ordinary hedge knight and his anything-but-ordinary squire, and include a fair bit of useful and interesting backstory to the world of the Seven Kingdoms. Good entertainment all around.

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco. I will read pretty much anything Umberto Eco publishes, and I'm always delighted when a new novel of his appears in English. In this one, much slimmer than his usual offerings, Eco returns to his frequent themes of conspiracy theories, Italian politics, media criticism, and biting satire of journalistic practices and ethics. I suspect those with more knowledge of Italian media and politics may get more out of this one than I did, but the connections to Berlusconi's rise to power are veiled thinly enough even for me to catch. Hilariously funny in many places, and spot-on with much of its evisceration of modern media practices, this is very much worth a read if you're interested in Eco's themes.

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix. Nix writes that his new novel was inspired by the works of Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and Patrick O'Brian, and—not surprisingly—that combination works well. With Nix's fantastical elements added (in this Regency world Napoleon is magically imprisoned in Gibraltar and the crown employs sorcerers), you've got a real page-turner on your hands. I wished for a bit more world-building and explanation here, but on the other hand, it was also neat to get dribs and drabs of background information as the book went on. Good fun, and I hope Nix will invite us back to Newt's world again soon.

More reviews coming soon, with any luck at all ...

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Links & Reviews

- Proquest unleashed a major storm of outrage this week, first canceling and then restoring the Renaissance Society of America's EEBO subscription. Ellen Wexler covered the story for the Chronicle, and her piece contains good comments by Bethany Nowviskie, among others. Wesley Raabe asked librarians or scholars to consider posting their institutional purchase costs, to provide some transparency in EEBO pricing. Mitch Fraas pointed out the Hathi Trust ESTC collection, which currently contains more than 10,000 scanned titles. John Overholt, writing on Medium, argues "Together, we can FrEEBO," maintaining—quite correctly—that even with the walkback, "we ought to take this as a wakeup call. There is literally no reason for these centuries-old books to be the monopoly of a commercial publisher who owns not a single one of them." Let's make it happen.

- In the NYTimes Magazine, Bee Wilson profiles food historian/librarian Barbara Ketcham Wheaton for her work on a database, "'The Cook's Oracle,' in which she intends to log every recipe, ingredient and technique in the vast majority of all the cookbooks published in America and Europe."

- Historian Lisa Jardine died this week at the age of 71. See the Telegraph obituary for a good overview of her life and work. I also recommend Jacqueline Rose's remembrance.

- Kenyon College's The Collegian covers the publication of Travis McDade's new e-book about the David Breithaupt thefts, "Disappearing Ink: The Insider, the FBI, and the Looting of the Kenyon College Library."

- Another tranche of 50+ Rare Book School lectures (most from the early 1980s) are now online, at the RBS Lectures page or through your preferred podcast intake method (search "Rare Book School" in iTunes, Soundcloud, &c.).

- The Library of Congress has acquired 681 photographs of public libraries from the collections of Robert Dawson, who from 1994 to 2015 photographed more than 500 American public libraries.

- UVAToday highlights the digitization of selected volumes from the McGregor Library, housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

- Tim Carmody writes for Slate about the efforts of the NYPL Labs.

- The director of the Moscow Library of Ukrainian Literature has reportedly been detained by Russian authorities on charges that "some of the library's materials are meant to 'incite hatred' toward the Russian people."

- From Jan Marsh in the TLS, "William Morris and the demise of printing."

- Erik Eckholm reported for the NYTimes about the Harvard Law School Library's creation of an open-access database of American case law (by guillotining bound volumes and scanning 40 million pages). Karen Beck pointed out that the books from the library's Historical and Special Collections were scanned separately using a non-destructive method.

- Biographer Claire Harman believes that an 1843 Charlotte Brontë sketch, thought to be of a fellow boarding school student, is actually Charlotte herself, drawn while looking into a mirror. She's included the finding in her new biography of Brontë, out this week in the UK.

- The November Rare Book Monthly is out, and it includes pieces by Bruce McKinney on "Collecting on a Budget," Michael Stillman on the discovery of that Billy the Kid photograph, and Susan Halas on bookseller responses to McKinney's "clearing the backlog" proposal from last month.

- Bookseller Ed Maggs seeks assistance with the identification of a quirky c.1900 library catalogue.

- The 2016 "Blooks Wall Calendar" is now available from About Blooks (exhibition coming up at the Grolier Club in late January).

- An 18th-century German secret society's cipher book has been cracked, revealing the text to be rules and initiation rites.

- Authors Bradford Morrow and Nick Basbanes will talk book collecting and forgery at Swann Auction Galleries on 5 November. Full details here from Rebecca Rego Barry at Fine Books Blog.

- There's a good overview of last week's APHA conference on the Princeton Graphic Arts Collection blog.

- NEDCC has announced the expansion of their audio preservation services.

- Alberto Manguel's NYTimes op/ed "Reinventing the Library" is worth a read, though I don't think it's full on the mark all the way through.

- From the Romantic Textualities blog, a post on methods for teaching James Macpherson's Ossian.

- The Copyright Office has granted limited DRM-breaking rights for additional electronic devices, Cory Doctorow reports for Boing Boing.

- Missed this last time: Susan Glover, former keeper of special collections at the Boston Public Library, has officially been fired, the Boston Globe reported. She was on administrative leave from 20 April through 1 October. Beth Prindle has been appointed acting keeper of special collections.


- Michael Eamon's Imprinting Britain; review by Keith Grant at Early Canadian History.

- Peter Ackroyd's Wilkie Collins; review by Sara Paretsky in the NYTimes.

- Stacy Schiff's The Witches; reviews by Jean Zimmerman for NPR, Jane Kamensky for the NYTimes (if you only read one, read this one), Alexandra Alter for the NYTimes.

- Shirley Jackson's Let Me Tell You; review by Danny Heitman in the CSM.

- Tom Lewis' Washington; review by Scott W. Berg in the WaPo.

- Umberto Eco's Numero Zero; review by David L. Ulin in the LATimes.

- Lisa Morton's Ghosts, Roger Luckhurst's Zombies, and Sharla Hutchinson and Rebecca A. Brown's Monsters and Monstrosities from the Fin de Siècle to the Millenium; review by Jonathan Barnes in the TLS.

- David Mitchell's Slade House; review by Anna Russell in the WSJ.

- Valerie Lester's Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World; review by Barbara Basbanes Richter at Fine Books Blog.

- Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States; review by Ethan Gilsdorf in the Boston Globe.

- John Palfrey's BiblioTech; review by James Gleick in the NYRB.