Monday, April 30, 2007

So Many Goodies, So Little Time

I've discovered a downside to Google Reader - I find far too many things that I want to write posts about. Here are a few from today:

- A new issue of Bonefolder is out, and is available here (pdf). Designed for bookbinders and book artists, this journal always has some very neat articles.

- From the Independent, news that the Archimedes Palimpsest (previously discussed here) has yielded yet another layer: "an essay on Aristotle written approximately 1,800 years ago." The newly-discovered piece is a critique of Aristotle's Categories, believed to have been written by Alexander of Aphriodisias. The article has extensive background on the Palimpsest as well.

- That new Library of Congress blog is going strong: Matt Ryan points out LC's 'Today in History' highlight (Washington's first inaugural address, 1789) and also has some updates from an important ceremony this afternoon in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel presented a 1507 Waldseemüller Map to the American people. This, the only known original copy of the map was purchased for $10 million from a German prince [updated: the webcast is now available here].

- From Book Patrol, comments on the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson libraries and their contrast to the presidential libraries of today. Michael adds "It would be great if they were indeed libraries and did house the books that were in our President's personal library. It would tell us so much about our leaders though leaving it to one's imagination to wonder what books might be in a particular president's library is half the fun. I propose that every candidate have a Shelfari page so we can see what books are in their library. I know it would help me decide who to vote for." My vote would be for LibraryThing, of course, but in principle I agree with Michael's idea. All the candidates are on Facebook, so why not show off their books?

- And a very interesting profile over at ephemera: spirit photograph collectors.

Link Added

I've added a sidebar link to brookline blogsmith, a new blog-effort by one of the new-book buyers at Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner. Booksmith's one of the best bookstores for remainders in Boston, and also has excellent new and used selections. It's always good to see another local biblioblog, and I look forward to the insights Lori will have for us. And today she's even giving away a couple ARCs, so stop on by.

Fire at Georgetown Library

The Georgetown branch of the D.C. Public Library is on fire, according to media reports.

"News 4's Darcy Spencer reported that firefighters are trying to save paintings and historic items from the building. Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the building's entire roof is on fire and parts of the structure are collapsing. There are no reports of injuries. The building is under renovation. The cause of the fire is unknown. The Georgetown branch was opened in 1935. Its Peabody Room contains a special collection of items pertaining to the history of Georgetown. The fire chief told Spencer that they are aware of the location of the room and will try their best to prevent fire and water damage."

I will update as necessary.

[Update 1: Fire personnel have apparently been ordered out of the building.]

[Update 2: Some folks at Wikipedia are posting updates on this event; they originally reported - incorrectly, this being Wikipedia and all - that the fire was at the Georgetown University Law Library. Most recent updates indicate that the fire is now a three-alarm blaze.]

[Update 3: The Washington Post has a new report as of 3:12 p.m. They quote archivist Gerry McCoy, who told the paper "it appeared important documents on the neighborhood [Georgetown] were burning." "This has always been my worst nightmare. I've always feared this would happen. I've always thought if there was a fire, what would I grab first." A fire department spokesman told the paper "The building is in various stages of collapse. From the top of the ladder you can see sections of the roof the size of a [Ford] Crown Vic dropping into the second floor."

Among the materials feared lost are "files on every address in the neighborhood compiled from over '20 years worth of research.' The collection also includes copies of the Maryland Gazette newspaper from 1775 and 1776, which reported the Declaration of Independence as a news story, according to McCoy. Other items include Civil War maps."

Georgetown mayor Adrian Fenty called the building "our historic flagship library."]

Washington Letter Found

The New York Times reported recently that a letter written by George Washington in May, 1787 has been discovered in a scrapbook compiled by a 10-year-old Julia Kean in 1826. The scrapbook, along with many other documents (and a house) was recently bequeathed to Kean University by members of the Kean family.

Washington's letter, written at Philadelphia and sent to Kean's grandfather Jacob Morris, is short but significant; it includes a reference to the Constitutional Convention which got underway late in May: "The happiness of this Country depend much upon the deliberations of the federal Convention which is now sitting. It, however, can only lay the foundation - the community at large must raise the edifice."

Washington also mentions sending along several "enclosures" for General Horatio Gates, which has scholars drooling about what those might have been (the two men were not on the best of terms after Gates had tried to oust GW as commander late in the Revolution).

A very interesting and tantalizing find, to be sure. I wonder what else they'll come across in going through this collection? (one possible indication: "an icehouse is full of documents yet to be read").

[h/t fade theory]

Grafton on Cambridge

In today's Daily Princetonian, professor of history Anthony Grafton checks in from Cambridge University, where he's spending the year. Read the whole column, but here are a few highlights:

- "I'm working hard again, on what I hope will be described in much the same way as Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, legendarily said to the historian of the Roman Empire, 'Another damned thick book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?' Every day I spend long hours in the Rare Book Room of the Cambridge University Library, reading books so obscure that even Firestone doesn't have them."

- "
Faculty, not professional deans, handle admissions. They then work with their students they let in, one on one, sometimes following them from admissions to the Ph.D. Hearing them talk about they way they prepare students for the all-important exams is like listening to the trainers at the Kentucky Derby. They are professionals, and the task engages them deeply."

Some worthwhile insights into the way things work across the Pond.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Few More Goodies

- In today's Washington Post, Michael Dirda reviews a new biography of John Donne; I'm passing this along without reading it, however, since I've got the book to review and don't want to contaminate my own judgement of it.

- Ed's review of The Friendship appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer; he's got a preview here.

- From NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, a neat interview with Colin Woodard, whose new book The Republic of Pirates is another one on my "to read" pile.

- And Paul Collins beats me to the punch about the story in today's Times outlining the potential rejection of Darwin's Origin of Species after an adviser to the publisher urged Murray to reject the book (he wanted Darwin to expand on some earlier work about pigeons, because, well, "everybody is interested in pigeons"). Collins puts the Cambridge Darwin Correspondence database to good use, quoting from Darwin's letter to Murray regarding the adviser's thoughts: "I have done my best. Others might, I have no doubt, done the job better, if they had my materials; but that is no help."

Links & Reviews

- In the NYTimes, William Grimes has an essay on some of the many new Shakespeare-related books that have made their appearance recently (designed to coincide with the author's birthday, 23 April). Over in the Guardian, A.S. Byatt reviews one of these titles, A.D. Nuttall's Shakespeare the Thinker.

- The new Tolkien title, The Children of Húrin, is reviewed in the Telegraph by Philip Hensher (unfavorably: "There are almost too many reasons to detest this new Tolkien confection") and by Ethan Gilsdorf in the Christian Science Monitor. Gilsdorf says this book's for "hard-core devotees," adding "readers may not identify with the characters ... or tolerate the bygone diction, even if they're wowed by the heroic exploits." Gilsdorf also gets the review in the Boston Globe, where he notes "In the final analysis, Tolkien was what he was. He didn't want to write a modern novel like his contemporaries. So one hesitates to criticize the obsolete diction and days-of-yore storytelling voice found in Húrin. Oddly, in anticipating the cultural need for myth and fantasy, Tolkien was ahead of his time. But he was also centuries behind it."

- Christopher Buckley's Boomsday (my review here) gets some ink in the Boston Globe: "Buckley's dyspeptic caricature of politicians and their enablers isn't particularly subtle, but then Washington isn't a particularly subtle place" ... yes, that's the point, actually ...

Judy Budnitz reviews Boomsday in the Washington Post; she writes "[Buckley] has a well-honed talent for quippy dialogue and an insider's familiarity with the way spin doctors manipulate language. It's queasily enjoyable to watch his characters concocting doublespeak to combat every turn of events." But she didn't much like the book either, and also missed the point. Her final paragraph: "Though I was willing for the most part to sit back and enjoy the rollicking ride, one incident in particular strained my credulity to the breaking point: Cassandra advises Sen. Jepperson to use profanity in a televised debate as a way of wooing under-30 voters, and the tactic is a smashing success. If dropping an f-bomb were all it took to win over the young folks, Vice President Cheney would be a rock star by now." What worked about Jepperson's gimmick in the book was the forceful "telling of truth to power" - I think a better analogy than Cheney's "f-bomb" might Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondents' Dinner speech, which fell flat with the "in crowd" but resonated with everyone else.

- Bookride's got some good profiles for us this week: Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet and Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Link Added

I've added a sidebar link to a blog I just discovered (via Paul Collins, who is excellent for such things), Steamboats Are Ruining Everything. Literature, history, politics ... this one's got a little of everything, and I like it. Beyond the blog there are some links to pieces the author (Caleb Crain) has written elsewhere, including a fascinating piece from American Literary History which features a Union alum, the very odd Henry Wikoff.

Financial History Collection on the Market

The Times reports that Christopher Dennistoun, "a stock speculator and general bookseller" is going to sell his collection of "more than 750 first-edition books and pamphlets ... that spans the history of the stock and commodity markets in London, Europe and Wall Street between the 17th and 20th centuries." The books will be sold en bloc for £395,000 (just under $800,000) through London dealer Bernard J. Shapero; from 15-28 May the collection will be on display in Shapero's shop, part of a show titled "Bubbles, Busts and Booms."

Dennistoun's collection includes what is believed to be the earliest broker's sheet, "issued by John Castaing 'at his Office at Jonathan’s Coffeehouse' on May 3, 1698. Castaing’s publication was the first in an unbroken chain of published share prices and the earliest evidence of organised trading in marketable securities in London." Other notable items include Daniel Defoe's 1719 The Anatomy of Exchange-Alley and Charles Mackay's Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841).

Any who've read David Liss' excellent A Conspiracy of Paper will understand the important role of pamphlet literature and printed matter during the nascent years of the 'financial sector.' This sounds like a very carefully-constructed collection, so if you're in London in the next few weeks, consider stopping in to take a look.

Book Review: "The Book of Air and Shadows"

The latest "literary thriller" I've read is Michael Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows, (2007, William Morrow). This one's about a lost Shakespeare manuscript, which can only be discovered by deciphering a series of letters written by a contemporary of Shakespeare's and found hidden within the bindings of set of travel volumes.

Peopled by interesting and decently complex characters and a good number of suitable plot twists, The Book of Air and Shadows managed to keep me guessing right to the end (something I always appreciate when reading a book like this). Gruber's narrative mechanism, which alternates for most of the book between three distinct voices, is useful and serves to add to the suspense. While a few of the plot devices are a little silly, the book manages to hold its own, and was worth reading.

Friday, April 27, 2007

1834 Barbados Slave Registry Online has announced the release of the Barbados Slave Registry for 1834, CNN reports. "In 1819 the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves was established in London and copies of the slave registers kept by the colonies were sent to this office. Registration generally occurred once every three years. The registers continue through to 1834 when slavery was officially abolished."

The database includes information on nearly 100,000 slaves, including their names, place of origin, gender, age, place of residence, and owner. "
Over the course of the next 12 months will publish records from a total of 23 of the UK's dependencies and colonies, which will give details of approximately 3 million slaves from across the British Empire."

Digitization has totally revolutionized the genealogical research field in the past few years, and it's particularly exciting to see materials like this come online which can help people research their slave ancestry. As an spokesman told CNN, "With few relevant collections online, it has not been easy for those with ancestors from former British colonies or territories to research their black family history."

Protecting Potter

From The Scotsman: "Strict security measures are being put in place by Bloomsbury to ensure that the secrets of" Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows "are not leaked." Copies "will be delivered to shops just one day before it is due to go on sale on July 21 and will be carried in crates bound with steel chains. Security guards will also been deployed in printing plants and online bookshop Amazon has agreed to store its copies in warehouses at secret locations."

I'll still be shocked if the surprises of this book stay under wraps until the release (crates and steel chains notwithstanding); thankfully I'll be on vacation the week before and am hoping to avoid hearing the news until I can read the book.

Book Review: "Orchid Fever"

Eric Hansen's Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy is comprised mainly of a series of profiles of some real orchid oddities - book people may be weird, but these guys would give us a run for our money for sure.

Like Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, Hansen's book takes us deep into orchid culture, offering glimpses of well-known orchid growers, competition judges, perfumers, smugglers, scientists, and conservationists (in fact, more than a few of his subjects fall into two or even three or four of those categories at once, which makes them all the more interesting). Over the course of the book, Hansen's own fascination with orchids grows, as does his impatience with what he sees as overly-bureaucratic rules governing orchid export, propagation and trade.

A good read, with some fascinating anecdotes and episodes. Hansen's prose lacks the surreal qualities of Orlean's, but his subjects are almost as mind-bogglingly offbeat.

Bancroft Winners Announced

The 2007 Bancroft Prize winners have been announced: they are Robert D. Richardson for William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (Houghton Mifflin) and Jack Temple Kirby for Mockingbird Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South (University of North Carolina Press).

Columbia University administers the Bancroft Prize, one of the top honors for American books on history, biography and diplomacy. University Librarian James Neal said of this year's crop of nominated titles (more than 200 total) "Once again, we were very impressed by the number of excellent submissions covering a broad range of themes and are proud to honor this year’s winners. The Bancroft Prize is a celebration and affirmation of historical scholarship, the library, the book, the academic press and the reportedly threatened scholarly monograph."

Also announced yesterday was the winner of the Bancroft Dissertation Award: Columbia's own Kim Phillips-Fein took that honor for her work Top-Down Revolution: Businessmen, Intellectuals and Politicians Against the New Deal.

[h/t AHA Today]

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Welcome LoC to the Blogosphere

The Library of Congress announced the creation of a new blog this week, to which I've added a link on the sidebar. AHA Today notes "Matt Raymond, the director of communications at the LOC, will be the main writer on the blog, but some posts will come from James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, along with other curators at the institution."

So far, the posts are quite interesting and relevant, and I look forward to many more.

Ah, Bliss!

I have finally joined the 21st century and set up my Google Reader page to keep track of the blogs and other sites I read often (yes, until now I've been clicking through more than forty different sites a day just for the information I use for this blog). Needless to say, Reader will make it much, much easier to keep up with new posts and get links and content out in a more timely fashion. It's one of those things, I suspect, that now I've got it I'll wonder how I ever got by without it.

Some Mid-Week Must-Sees

Over at Fine Books Blog, Scott's had a number of good posts this week that I wanted to pass along lest they get lost in the shuffle:

- False Issues looks at the question of "faux-points" - aspects of first printings which some dealers play up as variants or different states when in fact they appeared in the entire print run. Scott says he's going to be collecting these, so if you come across any, pass them along.

- In the Real World concerns "a few things that you can't find online," including the new issue of McSweeney's (there are magnets involved), an illustration in the May issue of Harper's, and a reprinted Vonnegut essay in the May Atlantic (which is online for subscribers; let me know if you'd like the e-version [update: actually it's online for everyone, here]).

- Poets House is a short profile written for the magazine that didn't quite make it, but it's nice that Scott's posted it for us all the same. It's about a free "poetry spa" (library, really) in New York, which sounds like a very intriguing place indeed.

Also, Ed at Bibliothecary has added a(nother, he's getting prolific!) section (Author! Author!) to his wonderful site. He'll be posting author interviews there, and if the first of these (with Cordelia Frances Biddle) is any indication, this will be a great addition to the Bibliothecary universe.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Auction Catalog Descriptions, Copyright, and Good Sense

There's quite a good discussion going on today over on the Ex-Libris mailing list about some issues raised by David Hewett's article "Who Owns the Descriptions in Auction Catalogs? Copyright Lawsuit Looms" in the March issue of Maine Antiques Digest. Hewett's piece discusses a lawsuit currently in the works between Heritage Auction Galleries and Superior Galleries Inc. regarding what certainly seem to be examples of blatant plagiarism in several Superior catalogs of coins (Hewett provides a number of the cited examples so I'll refrain). Through its attorneys, Superior claims that the descriptions are not protected by copyright, but even if they could be, "fair use" would apply and allow Superior to use the descriptions as they please (they also offer nineteen other 'defenses').

I can't claim to be versed well enough on the intricacies of copyright law to know whether the descriptions are eligible for protection or not (although I tend to think they would be, given the broad protections that currently exist, for good or ill), but it seems to me just common courtesy that if you're going to use someone else's catalog description, the decent and ethical thing to do would be to cite it as such. Sure, there are going to be times when a prior description is most appropriate (whether it's the same item appearing at a later auction, or simply an identical piece). It really isn't that onerous a burden to provide a citation to another description from which a section is being quoted, is it? Granted, coming from a history background and being inordinately fond of footnotes maybe that's easy for me to say, but I don't see the difficulty there.

Outright use of someone else's work without credit is, if not illegal, certainly unethical and not particularly pleasant. It shouldn't require a lawsuit to teach us that.

Campbell-White Collection on the Block

Annette Campbell-White, the head of a medical venture capital firm, is selling her rare book collection through Sotheby's, Bloomberg reports. The sale, "The Modern Movement: The Annette Campbell-White Collection" will be held in London on 7 June; Bloomberg notes there will be a preview of the highlights in New York before the books go across the pond.

The collection, of modern first editions, has been valued at approximately $3.6 million.

"A New Zealander, Campbell-White studied engineering at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, then worked in London as a researcher for British Oxygen Co. She spent half a month's salary on her first book at a dealer near Kensington High Street. She founded MedVen in 1986 to fund "early stage medical technology" companies.

Asked why she was selling much of her collection, Campbell-White said "They had become quite valuable and I didn't want to be afraid of leaving them at home and I didn't want to put my books in bank vaults. I offered them to a New Zealand university but they didn't seem to understand the value."

I very much doubt that the university didn't "understand" the value; it's much more likely that they simply didn't have the funds to pay whatever astronomical sum Ms. Campbell-White was asking. If she wanted to keep the collection together, why not donate the books to the university? It certainly doesn't sound like she's lacking for funds.

[Update: In comments, Ms. Campbell-White writes "in fact, I offered to DONATE them to three different NZ institutions, none of whom could guarantee to look after the condition of the books over time, nor that they would not just disappear into the bookstacks." Fair conditions both, and I apologize for the speculation indulged in above.]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Book Review: "1607: Jamestown and the New World"

Drawn from the pages of Colonial Williamsburg magazine, the essays that make up 1607: Jamestown and the New World (2007, Rowman & Littlefield) focus on many aspects of the early years at Jamestown and on that colony's precedence as the "first" permanent English settlement in America. There are short biographical sketches here of John Smith, Pocahontas, the first Jamestown minister, James I, and several others, well-known and otherwise. The economic plans and structures of early Jamestown are analyzed, as are widespread reports of cannibalism during the "Starving Time." Other essays examine relations between the colonists and the native peoples, the government of the colony, and the recent archaeological work that has done much to improve our knowledge of the early years.

Extensively illustrated with both contemporary images and photographs of modern reenactments, this is a nice book for browsing while offering some interesting insights into Jamestown's nascent years. It could have been improved by a list of further readings for each topic, but it remains useful and attractive that omission notwithstanding.

Dowse Library Exhibit at MHS

To mark the 150th anniversary of Thomas Dowse's gift of his library to the Massachusetts Historical Society, some of the 'gems' from the collection are currently on display in the Dowse Library room at the Society (1154 Boylston Street, Boston). Dowse's library is also the subject of MHS' "Object of the Month" web highlight, which discusses the life of Mr. Dowse, his library, and how it came to the Historical Society.

The Dowse Library (which I got to spend some time with as we prepared for this exhibit) is a really spectacular collection of books, which range widely in subject, age and rarity. Edward Everett once called it "the most excellent library of English books, for its size, with which I am acquainted." I think that's probably still pretty close to accurate today. Between the astoundingly beautiful natural history books, the early travel accounts (Hakluyt, Martyr, de Bry), the books on books (Dibdin, de Bury) and the vast concentration of Shakespeare titles and criticism (even including the famed forgeries of William Henry Ireland) Dowse collected with an eye toward not just good literature, but also scarce and noteworthy items.

A remarkable collection, and one I'm glad I've gotten the opportunity to know.

Monday, April 23, 2007

"On Crocodiles"

McSweeney's runs an occasional series called "Dispatches from Adjunct Faculty at a Large State University," by Oronte Churm (who also blogs here). Today's installment of "Dispatches" is well worth reading, all the way to the end.

Metuchen's Herbal Sold

One last followup (presumably) to the story of Metuchen, NJ's 1636 edition of Gerard's Herball. Yesterday, the Asbury Park Press reports, about thirty people came to see the book before ownership was transferred to the buyer, described as "a New Jersey man who wished to remain anonymous." He bought the book for "more than $5,000."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Links &c.

- The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art (near Millersburg, PA) has mounted a new exhibit centered around the life and work of John James Audubon. "The Mysteries of John James Audubon" will include not only a copy of Audubon's elephant folios but also "a life mask formed on the face of the man himself to some paintings, drawings, prints and personal possessions, some of which have never before been seen by the public." The exhibit will run through 29 September.

- "Dickens World" (Chatham, Kent) opened this week. Yes, there is a Dickens theme park. More here, at Reading Copy.

- Ed's got a few things for us this week: new Lippard chapters, a gluttonous feast, and some thoughts on Shakespeare's jokes.

- At Book Patrol, Michael posted this week on the re-emergence of a famed plagiarist as cheerleader for the elimination of newspaper book review sections, the reader/collector continuum. He also has comments on the Streeter sale and the developments at Heritage.

- From BibliOdyssey: the art of Sergei Tyukanov, and a spectacular miscellany.

- Bookride profiles the first edition of Frankenstein.

- At Upward Departure, Travis has two posts (here and here) this week on book thief David Breithaupt.

- The Millions offers up a walking tour of New York City's independent bookshops.

- The Book Trout folks have started up a nice annotated list of biblionovels, and also note the upcoming celebrations to mark the 'birthday' of William Shakespeare.

- At BiblioHistoria, a review of Kurzweil's wonderful The Grand Complication.

- Biblio-Technician has discovered a few volumes of Sabin on Google Books; hopefully the whole thing will be up there at some point, but it could take a while.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Discussion on Gerard's Herbal

Back in November I mentioned the discovery of a 1636 edition of Gerard's Herball in the Metuchen, NJ library. On Sunday, 22 April, historian of science Karen Reeds will be giving a talk about the book at the library at 2 p.m. For more information, contact the Metuchen Library at (732) 632-8535.

Reeds notes "This will be the library's 'farewell party' for the volume - the Friends of the Library will announce the book's purchaser on Sunday." You'll recall that they'd decided to sell it after determining that the costs of insurance and conservation were too high.

NYT Profiles New York ABAA Fair

Today's NYTimes has a brief article about the New York ABAA fair, which runs today through Sunday. It highlights a copy of Theodor de Bry's Grand Voyages in German with the John White drawings of Virginia Indians. This fair promises.

Also see Fine Book Blog's one-on-one with Allen Ahearn for some advice about book fairs. And Ian Kahn's checked in with a first dispatch from the floor [at the Carriage House Antiquarian Book Fair, another of the multiple events in NYC this weekend] ... more to come from him and others over the weekend, I'm sure.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Vonnegut in Demand

It seems that AbeBooks' evidence confirms my anecdotal observations about the sharp rise in demand for Kurt Vonnegut books after the author's death last week. On Friday in the shop, I got multiple requests for Vonnegut titles (all of which had been sold the previous afternoon); AbeBooks reports that of their top ten best sellers for the week of 8-15 April, four were by Vonnegut (1, 3, 9, and 10).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gutenberg Goes Digital

The Gutenberg Bible held at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich is now available in digital form. In an announcement, the library's Bettina Wagner notes "The Munich Gutenberg Bible is one of only two copies which contain the table of rubrics, a printed list of headlines which served as a guide to the rubricator. The Bible is printed on paper and contains some illumination and manuscript annotation, the latter can be ascribed to a Benedictine monk from Tegernsee."

Virtual Bookfair

The good folks at Fine Books & Collections have put together a beautiful "virtual book fair": "Nearly 100 dealers from the three fairs this week in New York City sent in descriptions and pictures of an item they are featuring at the shows," Scott Brown notes. An impressive compilation, to say the least.

Streeter Sale Smashes Estimates

I'm not sure yet just how many records were set this week at Christie's with the sale of the Frank S. Streeter Library, but some of the realized prices are little short of staggering. Presale estimates were battered into the ground by what had to have been some very intense bidding battles. I haven't read any firsthand dispatches from the auction yet, and so far the only press story I can find is in the Vancouver Sun (here), so bear with me. That said, I think the prices tell their own story. Since there were so many highlights of this sale, I'm going to focus on the lots which realized upwards of $100,000*:

- Lot 60: William Bourne's A Regiment for the Sea: Conteyning most profitable Rules, Mathematical experiences, and perfect knowledge of Navigation, for all Coastes and Countreys: most needefull and necessarie for all Seafaring men and Travellers, as Pilotes, Mariners, Marchants, &c. London: [1574?]. Called the first printed original treatise on navigation by an Englishman, this was the first copy to appear at auction in more than thirty years. Presale estimate: $50-70K. Sold for $102,000.

- Lot 101: Samuel de Champlain's Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada faits par le Sr Champlain Xainctongeois, Capitaine pour le Roy en la Marine du Ponant, & toutes les Descouvertes qu'il a faites en ce paos depuis l'an 1603. Iusques en l'an 1629. Paris: chez Pierre le Mur, 1632. This copy includes the first map of the "entire Great Lakes network." Presale estimate: $90-120K. Sold for $264,000.

- Lot 109: Louis Choris, Voyage Pittoresque Autour de Monde, avec des portraits de sauvages d'Amérique, d'Asie, d'Afrique, et des iles du Grand Ocean; des Paysages, des Vues Maritimes, et plusieurs objets d'histoire naturelle; Accompagné de Descriptions par M. le Baron Cuvier, et M.A. de Chamisso. Paris: Imprimerie de Firmin Didot, 1822-[?1823] with Choris' Vues et Paysages des Régions Équinoxiales, recueillis dans un voyage autour du monde, avec une introduction et un texte explicatif. Paris: Paul Renouard, 1826. Presale estimate: $50-70K. Sold for $156,000.

- Lot 124: Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium with Rheticus, De libris revolutionum Nicolai Copernici Narratio prima. Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1566. The second edition of Copernicus, this copy with a very interesting provenance (once owned by Henry Briggs, Henry Gellibrand and John Wells, all early English Copernicans). Presale estimate: $60-90K. Sold for $180,000.

- Lot 126: Martin Cortés, The Arte of Navigation, Conteyning a Compendious Description of the Sphere, with the Making of Certayne Instruments and Rules for Navigations: and Exemplified by Many Demonstrations. Translated from Spanish into English by Richard Eden. London: Richard Jugge, 1572. Second edition in English, with a rare map of "The Newe Worlde." Only one copy of another early edition (1584) of this title at auction in the last thirty years. Presale estimate: 70-100K. Sold for $120,000.

- Lot 135: Alexander Dalrymple, A Collection of Charts and Memoirs. London, 1771-72. An atlas of Pacific charts, as well as Dalrymple's writings on Pacific voyages. Presale estimate: $20-30K. Sold for $102,000.

- Lot 148: J.F.W. Des Barres, The Atlantic Neptune, published for the use of the Royal Navy of Great Britain... under the Directions of the Right Honble. the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. London, [1774-1779]. Four volume atlas of the eastern seaboard of America, described as "the most splendid collection of charts, plans and views ever published." Presale estimate: $400-600K. Sold for $779,200.

- Lot 166: Sir Robert Dudley, Arcano del Mare. Florence: Giuseppe Cocchini for Jacopo Bagononi and Antonfrancesco Lucini, 1661. Second edition of this, "the first sea-atlas compiled by an Englishman, the first atlas to show the charts constructed on the Mercator projection, the first to show prevailing winds and currents in the principal harbors, and the first to give magnetic declination." Presale estimate: $250-350K. Sold for $824,000.

- Lot 174: The East-India Pilot, or Oriental Navigator, on One Hundred and Eighteen Plates: Containing a Complete Collection of Charts and Plans, &c., &c. for the Navigation not only of the Indian and China Seas, but of those also between England and the Cape of Good-Hope; Improved and Chiefly Composed from the Last Work of M. D'Apres de Mannevillette; with Considerable Additions, from Private Manuscripts of the Dutch, and from Draughts and Actual Surveys Communicated By Officers of the East-India Company A New Edition, Containing One Hundred and Five Charts. London: Robert Laurie and James Whittle, 1799. A collection of navigation charts "for navigating all the coasts which might be encountered between England and the East Indies. Also included were charts for navigating between England and the Cape of Good Hope." Presale estimate: $25-35K. Sold for $144,000.

- Lot 178: Martín Fernández de Enciso, Suma de geographia que trata de todas las partidas y prouincias del mundo: en especial delasindias. Y trata largemente del arte del marear: juntamente con la espera en romance: con el regimiento del sol y del norte: nueuamente hecha. Seville: Jacob Cromberger, 1519. "The first book printed in Spanish relating to America, the first practical guide to sailing in American waters and the first navigational manual printed in Spain." This copy once owned by Marqués de Caracena, the Spanish Governor-general of the Netherlands. Presale estimate: $60-90K. Sold for 288,000.

- Lot 185: Lewis Evans, Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical and Mechanical Essays. The First, Containing an Analysis of a General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America; And of the Country of the Confederate Indians: A Description of the Face of the Country; the Boundaries of the Confederates; and the Maritime and Inland Navigations of the several Rivers and Lakes contained therein. Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin and D. Hall, 1755. An important pre-independence American map. Presale estimate: $90-120K. Sold for $168,000.

- Lot 197: Luke Foxe, North-West Fox, or, Fox from the North-West Passage... Following with briefe abstracts of the voyages of Cabot, Frobisher... Mr. James Hall's three voyages to Groynland. London: Printed by B. Alsop and Tho. Fawcet, 1635. First edition, with the rare map of Foxe's Arctic explorations which exists in "but one or two copies." Presale estimate: $40-60K. Sold for $132,000.

- Lot 198: Fracanzano da Montalboddo, Itinerarium Portugallensium e Lusitania in Indiam et inde in occidentem et demum ad aquilonem. Translated from Italian into Latin by Archangelo Madrignano. Milan: J.A. Scinzenzeler, 1508. First edition in Latin of "the first printed collection of voyages, and one of the most important collections of voyages ever printed." Presale estimate: $60-80K. Sold for $192,000.

- Lot 217: Galileo, Dialogo... sopre i due massimi sistemi del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano. Florence: Gian Battista Landini, 1632. First edition of Galileo's defense of Copernicanism. Presale estimate: $40-60K. Sold for $102,000.

- Lot 218: Antonio Galvano, The Discoveries of the World from their first originall unto the yeere of our Lord 1555. Edited and translated by Richard Hakluyt. London: G. Bishop, 1601. First edition in English, by Hakluyt. First complete copy sold since 1971. Presale estimate: $40-60K. Sold for $114,000.

- Lot 228: Hieronymus Girava, Dos libros de cosmographia. Milan: G.A. Castiglione and C. Carron, 1556. Includes a world map and a description of Brazil. Only one other copy sold at auction in the last thirty years. Presale estimate: $30-40K. Sold for $102,000.

- Lot 232: Juan Gonzales de Mendoza, The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China, and the situation thereof: Together with the great riches, huge Citties, politike governement, and rare inventions in the same. Translated from Spanish into English by Robert Parke. London: Printed by I. Wolfe for Edward White, 1588. First edition in English of this history of China; this copy inscribed by Thomas Cavendish. Very rare. Presale estimate: $12-18K. Sold for $216,000. The estimate on this one seems off by an order of magnitude, no?

- Lot 243: Richard Hakluyt, The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English nation, made by Sea or over Land, to the most remote and farthest distant Quarters of the earth at any time within the compasse of these 1500 yeeres: Devided into three severall parts, according to the positions of the Regions whereunto they were directed. London: George Bishop and Ralph Newberie, Deputies to Christopher Berber, 1589. First edition of this great collection of English voyages, with the world map. Presale estimate: $40-60K. Sold for $456,000.

- Lot 253: John Harrison, A Narrative of the Proceedings Relative to the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea. London: Printed for the Author and sold by Mr. Sandby, 1765. A pamphlet regarding the second sea trial of Harrison's fourth marine chronometer (Harrison you'll remember from Dava Sobel's delightful book Longitude). Last copy sold was in 1973. Presale estimate: $8-12K. Sold for $114,000.

- Lot 254: Harrison and Maskelyne, The Principles of Mr. Harrison's Time-Keeper, with Plates of the Same. Published by Order of the Commissioners of Longitude. London: W. Richardson and S. Clarke for John Nourse and Mess. Mount and Page, 1767. Includes the ten folding engraved plates. Presale estimate: 25-35K. Sold for $228,000.

- Lot 280: Thomas James, The Strange and Dangerous Voyage of Captaine Thomas James, in his intended Discovery of the Northwest Passage into the South Sea. Wherein the Miseries indured both Going, Wintering, Returning; and the Rarities observed, both Philosophicall and Mathematicall, are related in this Journal of it. London: Printed by John Legatt for John Partridge, 1633. First edition with the map of James' Northwest Passage explorations. Presale estimate: $25-35K. Sold for $102,000.

- Lot 294: Johannes Kepler, Astronomia nova ... seu physica coelestis, tradita commentariis de motibus stellae martis, ex observationibus G. V. Tychonis Brahe. [Heidelberg: E. Vögelin,] 1609. The first edition of Kepler's key work. Presale estimate: $150-200K. Sold for $204,000. One of the few at the high end which is even close to its estimate.

- Lot 295: Kepler, Harmonices mundi libri V. Linz: Johann Planck for Gottfried Tampach, 1619. Another key Kepler work, containing his third law of planetary motion. Presale estimate: $100-150K. Sold for $144,000. The first of the $100K+ items not to surpass the high estimate.

- Lot 297: Kepler, Tabulae Rudolphinae, quibus astronomicae scientiae, temporum longinquitate collapsae restauratio continentur. Ulm: Jonas Saur, 1627. First edition of Kepler's astronomical tables, with the folding world map. Presale estimate: $90-120K. Sold for $120,000. Just something about Kepler, I guess.

- Lot 322: Marc Lescarbot, Nova Francia: Or the Description of that Part of New France, which is one continent with Virginia. Described in the three late Voyages and Plantation made by Monsieur de Monts, Monsieur du Pont-Grané, and Monsieur de Poutrincourt, into three countries called by the French men La Cadie, lying to the Southwest of Cape Breton. Translated from French into English by Pierre Erondelle. London: George Bishop, 1609. First English edition by this Champlain rival. The Boies Penrose copy. Presale estimate: $50-70K. Sold for $144,000.

- Lot 325: Lewis and Clark, History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the Sources of the Missouri, thence across the Rocky Mountains and down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. Performed during the years 1804-5-6. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1814. First edition, with map; in an early binding. Presale estimate: $100-150K. Sold for $288,000.

- Lot 327: Ian Huygen van Linschoten, His Discours of Voyages unto ye Easte & West Indies. Devided into Foure Bookes. Translated from Dutch into English by William Phillip. London: John Wolfe, 1598. First edition in English, this copy extra-illustrated with plates from the original Dutch edition. Presale estimate: $30-40K. Sold for $156,000.

- Lot 349: Peter Martyr, The Decades of the newe worlde or west India, Conteyning the nauigations and conquestes of the Spanyardes, with the particular description of the moste ryche and large landes and Ilandes lately founde in the west Ocean perteynyng to the inheritance of the kinges of Spayne. Edited and translated into English by Richard Eden. London: William Powell, 1555. "First edition in English of the first collection of voyages printed in English, and the first work to contain narratives of English voyages." This copy owned by British explorer Roger North, later Boies Penrose. Presale estimate: $80-120K. Sold for $768,000. This one astounds me.

- Lot 359: Pedro de Medina, Regimento de navegacion. En que contienen las reglas, declaraciones y avisos del libro del arte de navegar. Seville: Juan Canalla, 1552. First edition of Medina's work, with map of the Atlantic. "Medina's work was intended for ship-born pilots rather than study on land and Drake carried a copy during his circumnavigation." Just one copy sold at auction in the last thirty years. Presale estimate: $30-40K. Sold for $192,000.

- Lot 386: Bartolome Garcia and Gonçalo de Nodal, Relacion del viajé par orden de Su. Magd. y Acverdo del Real Consejo de Indias ... al descubrimiento del Estrecho nuevo de S. Vicente. y reconosimio. del de Magallanes. Madrid: Fernando Correa de Montenegro, 1621. First edition, with the extremely rare map. "[F]amously rare work which even in the 1860s was described by Sabin as 'one of the rarest books of its class.'" An account of the first circumnavigation of Tierra del Fuego by the Nodal brothers. Presale estimate: $20-30K. Sold for $108,000.

- Lot 426: Samuel Purchas, Purchas his Pilgrimes. In five bookes. London: William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, 1625, with Purchase his Pilgrimage. London: William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, 1626. Five volumes of Purchas' collected voyages, a continuation of Hakluyt's work. Called "very fine," in a "near contemporary goatskin binding." Presale estimate: $50-70K. Sold for $576,000.

- Lot 462: Johann Schöner, Opera Mathematica. Nuremberg: J. Montanus and U. Neuber, 1551. Includes eleven woodcut volvelles and a "full-page cut of Schöner's terrestial globe." The first edition of Schöner's star catalog. Presale estimate: $20-30K. Sold for $120,000.

- Lot 465: Willem Corneliszoon Schouten, The Relation of a Wonderfull Voiage made by William Cornelison Schouten of Horne. Shewing how South from the Straights of Magelan, in Terra Del-fuogo: he found and discovered a newe passage through the great South Sea, and that way sayled round about the world. Translated from Dutch into English by William Phillip. London: T. D. for Nathanaell Newbery, 1619. First edition in English of this voyage, "the first time Cape Horn was rounded from the East." The Penrose copy. A rarity. Presale estimate: $30-40K. Sold for $168,000.

- Lot 482: Capt. John Stevens (ed.), A New Collection of Voyages and Travels: with Historical Accounts of Discoveries and Conquests In all Parts of the World. None of them ever before Printed in English... For the Month of December, 1708. To be continu'd Monthly. London: printed, and sold by J. Knapton, J. Round, N. Cliffe, E.Sanger, and A. Collins, 1708. A collection of first editions in English of seven key voyages, mostly translated from Spanish or Portuguese. King George II's copy. Uncommon complete. Presale estimate: $20-30K. Sold for $102,000.

- Lot 501: Vicente Tofiño de San Miguel, Coleccion de cartas de America publicadas por la direction de trabajos hidrograficos. Madrid, 1800. A collection of sixteen maps from the Spanish Atlas Maritimo Español. Presale estimate: $25-35K. Sold for $120,000.

- Lot 524: Henry James Warre, Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory. [London:] Lithographed, Printed & Published by Dickinson & Co., [1848]. First edition, with colored plates, of a series of views of the Northwest by a pair of British "observers." Thomas W. Streeter's copy, left to his son Frank (he of this sale). Presale estimate: $100-150K. Sold for $192,000.

- Lot 534: Edward Wright, Certain Errors in Navigation. Detected and Corrected ... With many Additions that were not in the former Editions. London: Joseph Moxon, 1657. Third edition enlarged, with a Mercator world map and two additional maps. Rare early edition. Presale estimate: $40-60K. Sold for 264,000.

I think that's all. If I missed some, or if I made an oops, let me know.

* Note to self: next time check to see how many fall above the arbitrary cutoff point; had I known how many lots realized more than $100K I think I would have raised the bar for inclusion here. But I digress, and this list is interesting anyway. Further note: these prices, as reported by Christie's, include the buyer's premium and have been rounded to the nearest dollar.

Sharpe Snags Heritage Talent

Scott Brown's got the very latest update on what's happening with Heritage Books: he reports today that Michael Sharpe of LA is planning to open Michael Sharpe Rare and Antiquarian Books at 569 South Marengo Ave. in Pasadena by the end of the summer.

"Staffed by former Heritage employees, including Nat Des Marais and Mike Garabedian, initially the shop will boast an inventory worth $10 million. The stock will derive largely from Mr. Sharpe's Heritage-formed personal library, and include holdings in voyages and travels, science and natural history, literature, fine printing, Western Americana, and books from Printing and the Mind of Man."

Brown notes that the shop will be housed in a "beautiful, two-story Craftsman home that was once the residence of Pasadena hotel magnate Colonel G.G. Green" and is listed on the National Historic Register.

Always interesting to eye these developments in the upper stratosphere of the bibliocommunity from afar. Speaking of which, I'll have a full update on the Streeter sale later this morning; I'm running through the lot lists now.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Voynich Manuscript: Hoax?

Joyce has an important update on the Voynich Manuscript, a rather fascinating document written in a thus-far indecipherable code and accompanied by a series of intensely bizarre illustrations (for a bit more background, see my review of The Voynich Manuscript by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill).

Back in 2004, Keele University professor Gordon Rugg concluded that the manuscript could be an elaborate hoax, probably cooked up by English mystic/alchemist Edward Kelley. Now an Austrian physicist, Andreas Schinner, has published an article in Cryptologia in which he concludes "that the manuscript’s statistical properties were consistent with a hoax consisting of meaningless gibberish."

Rugg adds: "This does not prove that the manuscript is a hoax, but it strongly suggests that the hoax theory is correct. If there is meaningful coded material in the manuscript, then either there is only a small amount, surrounded by large amounts of meaningless padding – otherwise the statistics would have come out differently, or if there is a large amount of meaningful coded material, then it must have been encoded using a method which just happens to produce the same statistical properties as a quasi-random gibberish generator."

There are some excellent, detailed articles on the Manuscript and much more background on Rugg's methodology here. There's still much more work to be done in my view (and still some explaining to do - why go to all the trouble?), but it does seem like this might finally be some progress toward solving a longstanding literary mystery.

Holmes Manuscript on the Block

The BBC reports that a manuscript copy of the Sherlock Holmes tale "The Adventure of the Three Gables" will be sold at Sotheby's on 21 June. Presale estimates are $350,000 to $500,000.

Marsha Malinowski of Sotheby's told the BBC "Conan Doyle had extraordinarily clear and beautiful writing. He was the sort of writer who would not put pen to paper until he had thought out clearly what he wanted to write. So, although there are more than 100 amendments, they are usually minor changes such as clarification or emphasis."

The report adds that the copy, bound in vellum, "
was once owned by the Marquis of Donegall and has been in a private collection since the 1970s."

Well I guess there's always a chance I'll win the lotto before then ... right?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Pulitzers Announced

The 2007 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded today:

Fiction: The Road, Cormac McCarthy. Runners-up: After This by Alice McDermott and The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

History: The Race Beat, Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. Runners-up: Middle Passages by James Campbell and Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Biography: The Most Famous Man in America, Debby Applegate. Runners-up: John Wilkes by Arthur Cash and Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw

General Nonfiction: The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright. Runners-up: Crazy by Pete Earley and Fiasco by Thomas Ricks.

Must get a copy of the Wilkes biography and the Campbell book. The Applegate is the only winner I've read so far (review here), along with Philbrick's (review here).

What happens to the people who refuse to read any Oprah choices but also read every Pulitzer winner for fiction? There must be a few out there ...

Book Review: "The Minutemen and Their World"

Sometimes I wonder how I made it through four years of college and now almost two years of grad school without being exposed to certain books at all. Robert Gross' The Minutemen and Their World is one of those. First published first in 1976, and the winner of the Bancroft Prize the following year, it was re-released in 2001 by Hill and Wang with a new foreword by Alan Taylor and an afterword by Gross.

A product of the 'new social history' movement, Minutemen goes far beyond the town-based histories of Demos, Greven and others and, as Taylor writes, melds the traditional methods of new social history with "attention to grand events, biographical detail and literary craft." This book "transcends the limitations" of earlier community-studies "by discarding their sharp distinction between the social and the political." Taylor calls Gross' book "the single most influential work in shaping my sensibility as a historian" - having read Taylor's books (and been utterly fascinated by them) I can testify to the stylistic and methodological continuities that persist in Taylor's excellent writings.

As Taylor's works do, Gross' book examines a town's role in wider events - in this case, Concord, Massachusetts in the years before, during and after the Revolution. By providing minute details about the inner workings of town politics, religion, and society for the period, Gross is able to flesh out important details about Concord and its people that might have gone unnoticed by prior historians or unremarked upon by historians more concerned with strictly parochial matters. He notes how intra-town rivalries and religious fissures occupied the townspeople through the early 1770s and kept Concord largely aloof from the pre-Revolutionary activities of other communities, and then the galvanization/unification process that occurred as conflict grew nearer.

Using demographic analysis and biographical spotlights, Gross is able to carefully draw conclusions about the town's actions and non-actions in the years leading up to 19 April 1775 when Concord found itself the site of the famous 'shot heard round the world.' He continues his analysis through the war and beyond, discussing the role of post-Revolutionary Concord and how it came to be shaped as the home of Transcendentalism in the early decades of the next century.

A meticulous study, with copious and rich footnotes that enhance the narrative without getting in its way. Gross' afterword, placing the book into its context as a product of its time was enlightening as well. A fine read, and highly recommended. I am ashamed that it had escaped my notice for so long; it has stood and will continue to withstand the passage of time.

Air Sampling to Determine Conservation Needs

UK Channel 4 reports that a team of chemists will be taking air samples from the stacks at the Cambridge University libraries in order to gauge the level of decay in books and determine conservation priority.

A university spokesperson told the station "By sampling the air in different parts of the library, researchers hope to identify the areas with a high acid content, so that the books can be treated before handling and damage cause further decay. The aim is to improve the way the books are stored and, if possible, develop an early warning system that will alert the librarians when decaying books begin to produce significant quantities of destructive acids."

Seems like an interesting concept; I'll have to watch for any followup on this one.

[h/t: Shelf:Life]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book Review: "Tea"

Commodity histories are in vogue these days (although nobody's yet written the one I really want to read, about cranberries); tea has been the subject of at least a few recently and also forms the basis for Laura Martin's Tea: The Drink That Changed the World (Tuttle Publishing, 2007).

This was an enjoyable, quick overview of tea's place in world culture, from the advent of its use in early China, Japan and Korea through its rise in popularity as a trading commodity as it came into fashion in Europe and America. Martin also includes information on the processing, brewing and marketing of various sorts of tea and how the beverage has evolved over the centuries into the version we know today.

The lack of citations, an index and a full bibliography bothered me, but as a casual examination of tea this was a worthwhile read. I learned a great deal about tea processing and varities, and the discussion of the current tea-growing industry around the world was enlightening. This is a nice book for a rainy weekend afternoon ... with a nice cup of hot tea at your side.

Links &c.

A few of the exciting posts, news and other miscellany that I didn't get a chance to write more fully about during the week:

- Playbill reports that the New York Public Library will host a one-show-only performance of "The Rosenbach Company," on 20 April (7 p.m., Fifth Ave. and 42nd Street branch). The show, by Ben Katchor and Mark Mulcahy, is described as a "multi-media 'chamber rock opera' about the pleasures and perils of bibliomania." It examines the lives of Abe and Philip Rosenbach, the well-known dealer/collectors.

- Europeana, part of the EU's answer to Google Books, has unveiled an initial installment of approximately 12,000 books digitized from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and other libraries across the Continent. Jack Kessler has a translation of the site, some comments and other background here.

- Speaking of Google Books, Biblio-Technician has compiled a list of some of the bibliographies of bookplate-related books that can be viewed full-text.

- Book Trout recommends Christopher Morley's "bookshop novels," Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop. I heartily agree.

- From BibliOdyssey: flowers from the Karlsruhe Tulpenbuch, and some early etchings.

- Over at FoggyGates, Forrest has some neat illustrations from an 1866 "museum cast" catalog.

- Michael at Book Patrol's got a link and comments about the Plagiarism Museum (just opened in Cologne) as well as some thoughts about recent literary plagiarism controversies.

- Reading Copy notes that the "Bookseller" magazine award for 2006's oddest title went to The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification.

- Ian at Lux Mentis, commenting on the world's smallest book (my post here) says "Finally, something to do with my electron microscope."

- At Campaign for the American Reader, Marshall points us to John Gribbin's list of five scientific works that are also "literature of a high order." Gribbin's newest book is on the top of my pile and I hope to get to it soon.

- Ed offers the fifth chapter of The Quaker City, and also discusses a new movie about Keats and a Wordsworth rap song.

- Paul Collins at Weekend Stubble links us to his new New Scientist article about matematical prodigy Zerah Colborn.

- Joyce at Bibliophile Bullpen led the way to a very interesting "On Point" segment with author Seth Lerer about the evolution of the English language. It's quite a good discussion, but of course now I'll have to read Lerer's book too ... sigh.

Dictionary Anniversaries

Given my recent readings in lexicographical history I cannot let the opportunity pass to note that this weekend marks the anniversary of two important dictionary publications. On 14 April, 1828, Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language was published; the product of two decades' labor, it contained 70,000 entries in two quarto volumes, and included such 'American' words as skunk and squash. Webster also simplified British spelling, giving us color and center rather than colour and centre. Garrison Keillor has some comments on Webster's in Saturday's "Writer's Almanac."

And on this day, 15 April, back in 1755, Samuel Johnson's great Dictionary of the English Language made its debut. It had taken nine years to produce, and appeared in two (or more, depending on the binder) large folio volumes. There were 42,773 word entries in the first edition, explained by some 114,000 literary quotations. Johnson's remained the "dictionary of record" in England until the appearance of the OED. Keillor mentions Johnson's too, but has the date wrong by twenty years.

For more on Webster, Johnson or dictionary-history in general, see my reviews for Jonathon Green's Chasing the Sun and Henry Hitchings' Defining the World.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Book Review: "Puritans in the New World"

Puritans in the New World: A Critical Anthology is a collection of documents, sermons and poems edited by Harvard Divinity School professor David D. Hall (Princeton University Press, 2004). Hall's stated purpose is "to present, in all its richness, the lived experience of being a Puritan in the strange, contested, and hopeful setting of the New World" (p. x). He has woven together a string of the most important Puritan writings (mostly well-known), with useful and accessible introductory essays and suggestions for further readings in many different areas of Puritan culture and life.

What I found most intriguing about the texts as edited by Hall was how brightly the humanity of the Puritans showed through. It's easy for us to envision the Victorian caricature of Puritan religion and society, but from these documents it becomes abundantly clear that things weren't quite so black and white (literally and figuratively). They were a people vastly different from us, in many ways, but they felt and loved and worried and rejoiced over most of the same things we do.

I have concerns about all edited collections, particularly those in which documents are abridged (I cringe at the sight of ellipses), and those concerns remain in the back of my mind whenever I'm reading something like this. Thankfully most of these documents are widely available elsewhere, so we don't have to feel constricted by Hall's excisions. A worthy compilation volume, well selected; Hall's contextual comments top it off admirably.

Book Review: "Red, White, and Black"

Gary Nash's Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America has been around so long it probably doesn't even need a review, but I'll offer some brief thoughts on it anyway. Now in the fifth edition (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006), Nash's book is a classic text on the interactions between white colonists, blacks (slave and free) and American Indians from the time of colonial settlement through the end of the Revolutionary War.

Nash goes to great lengths to point out the difficulties of generalizing the experiences of any group, given the wide diversity that existed within and amongst the various peoples who populated eastern North American in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and this new edition incorporates much recent scholarship while retaining the important historiographical threads. My one quibble is that Nash's footnotes almost always are from the older scholarly treatments - while he's worked the new research into the text, and provides the titles in the "further reading" lists at the end of each chapter, the citations themselves seem rather dated.

On the whole, an excellent study of colonial America and its people.

Book Review: "Looking for Mr. Gilbert"

John Hanson Mitchell's Looking for Mr. Gilbert: The Reimagined Life of an African American (2007, Shoemaker & Hoard) is the sort of book that gives me fits. It's nicely written with some very fascinating details and much potential, but something about it just didn't quite work for me.

After stumbling across some old photographic plates long attributed to Harvard ornithologist William Brewster, Mitchell finds out that the photographer was likely Robert Gilbert, Brewster's longtime assistant. The book is the story of Mitchell's pursuit of knowledge about Gilbert, particularly regarding his role in the ornithological scene of the late 1800s and the aftermath of his time with Mr. Brewster (when he lived in Paris, &c.).

Unfortunately Mitchell decided he needed to move beyond what facts are known about Gilbert's life and offer significant and unwarranted speculations to fill in the gaps. Of course since nothing is footnoted the reader's never sure where fact stops and fiction begins, which is always a troubling state of affairs. If Mitchell wanted to write a novel about Gilbert, he ought to have done so (and easily could have, there's plenty of grist for the mill). Aside from the biographical details - imagined or real - Mitchell's discussion of his own travels in search of information about Gilbert is the more interesting part of the book. He meets some real characters along the way (even if he doesn't ever manage to learn much of relevance from them).

Mitchell's flights of fancy sometimes seem rather overwrought, as when Mitchell 'finds' Gilbert in an F. Scott Fitzgerald character from Tender is the Night and meanders on for pages drawing conclusions about Gilbert's life from Fitzgerald's novel.

Perhaps the most ironic deficiency of this book is the lack of illustrations. Considering that the man he's searching for was, er, may have been, a photographer, the number of photographs in the book is surprisingly meager. Instead, at many points find Mitchell describing photographs to the reader - hardly effective without the visual accompaniment.

Mitchell's prose is clear and pleasant, and his topic is certainly a worthy and interesting one. If you can overcome the difficulties I had with it, I'm sure it would be an enjoyable read.

Book Review: "Boomsday"

Christopher Buckley's first novel since Thank You for Smoking hit the big screen is Boomsday, just out from a new Warner Books imprint, Twelve. In a brilliant satire reminiscent of Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal," the plot of Boomsday revolves around a blogger's idea to provide incentives for Baby Boomers to kill themselves (er, "voluntarily transition") in order to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security. Outrageous, yes ... but wait'll you see what happens to the idea once the "American political system" gets ahold of it (no spoilers here, go read the book).

Buckley's at his best with the creation of characters who seem caricatured almost beyond belief and yet still seem oddly plausible. From bitter blond blogger Cassanda Devine to ambitious Congressman Randolph K. Jepperson IV (MA, of course) to Gideon Payne, self-righteous leader of the Society for the Protection of Every Ribonucleic Molecule (acronymize it, you'll see) and beyond, Buckley's cast fills the bill perfectly. Nobody comes out smelling like roses, but hey, that's politics.

Boomsday's portrayals of the DC media feeding frenzy, the high-level political shenanigans and that bizarre moment when politics, policy and personality all collide to create a perfect storm of utter ridiculousness had me laughing out loud several times. An enjoyable read, and recommended.

Friday, April 13, 2007

New Common-place

The April edition of Common-place is now available; one of my favorite web journals. Their theme this time is "Revolution in Print: Graphics in Nineteenth-Century America," and essay topics include caricatures of the woman suffrage movement, portrait prints, and photography in wood engravings, among others. I look forward to giving these a thorough perusal this weekend.

Just Don't Sneeze!

The Vancouver Sun reports that physicists at Simon Fraser University have created the "world's smallest book" (a fleeting distinction, probably): their Teeny Ted from Turnip Town (by Malcolm Douglas Chaplin) measures just .07 mm x .1 mm (the paper notes, for comparison, that the head of a pin is about 2 mm x 2mm). The 'book' consists of "thirty carved tablets linked side by side," and requires an electron microscope to be read. The team plans to make 100 copies if they can get orders for them, to be sold at $20,000 a pop (or speck).

Asked who she thought would be the market for this book, physicist Karen Kavanaugh said "It's some type of feat, so maybe libraries would be interested in having one. And maybe some book collectors. Because getting access to an electron microscope isn't impossible. There's one at SFU people could use."

I'll stick with the books I can read, I think ... or at least those I can't accidentally inhale.

[h/t Shelf:Life]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Book Review: "Briefe and True Report"

Thomas Hariot's A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia is one of the earliest and most important accounts of Indian life along the coast of what is now North Carolina and Virginia, as well as an interesting compilation of 'commodities' and natural resources of the region.

The University of Virginia Press has just issued a beautiful facsimile of the 1590 Theodor de Bry Latin edition, which includes a modernized English text. The copy used for the facsimile, that of the Mariners' Museum, is one of two known in which the engravings (from John White's famous drawings) were hand-colored at the time of publication. The high-quality facsimile, photographed and printed by the Stinehour Press, is remarkably clean and bright; not only the colors but also the shades of the paper come through sharply (even the small amount of off-setting is replicated).

Alone, the Hariot/de Bry facsimile would be a great book; combined as it is with excellent complementary essays, this is a work which is certain to hold a wide appeal. Karen Ordahl Kupperman's contextual introduction summarizes the expeditions during which Hariot and White did their work, while Peter Stallybrass examines the history of Hariot's manuscript, White's drawings, and de Bry's combination thereof into the 1590 folio editions (English, French and German editions were also printed). He comments on the rationale behind the printing of such an expensive volume (to appeal to the natural history-obsessed European elite), and also analyzes the interesting differences between the White drawings and the de Bry engravings (as well as the Hariot captions).

Of the huge crop of books appearing this spring related to the Jamestown anniversary, this is certainly the best designed and most lavishly illustrated. Kupperman's and Stallybrass' essays complement the facsimile nicely, and Hariot's text manages to remain interesting across the centuries. Highly recommended.

Rare Canadiana Among Streeter Lots

Canadian newspapers are (not surprisingly) taking a particularly Canada-centric perspective on the upcoming Streeter Sale (Christies, NY, 16-17 April). Streeter's library "documents both the history of exploration from the 15th century onwards, and the technological advancements devised to achieve these accomplishments," Christies notes.

The Edmonton Journal notes that the library contains many works of importance to Canadian history, including first editions by Champlain, Mackenzie, and Vancouver. Also included is an illustrated 1846 edition of Sketches in North America, drawn up by two British spies as they traversed the Oregon Territory (the boundaries of which were then much in dispute). This last, "now considered one of the most beautiful books ever published about the Pacific Northwest," has a pre-sale estimate of $100,000-150,000.

A J.W.F. DesBarres atlas, The Atlantic Neptune (4v., 1774-9), with extremely accurate depictions of the eastern seaboard of North America, is expected to fetch $500,000 or more. The catalog description of this alone is spectacular. And these few are only the beginning. Purchas, Lewis & Clark, Peter Martyr ... 552 lots, and all highly valuable and desirable works on travel or exploration.

Frank M. Streeter, (1918-2006) worked in the financial industry after serving in the navy during WWII; he advised New York Tribune publisher John Hay Whitney. This is going to be a tremendously fascinating sale, and one for which I think I might have to get the catalog just to have as a useful reference source.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Book Review: "Edmund Curll, Bookseller"

Paul Baines and Pat Rogers offer up a real bibliographic treat with Edmund Curll, Bookseller - the first monograph-length biography in eighty years of one of the most interesting bookmen of all time, and the first ever to utilize the full range of modern archival sources. Edmund Curll (1683-1747) was known in his day as an unscrupulous and piratical member of the London book trade (Ralph Straus' 1927 biography is titled simply The Unspeakable Curll). Curll's various trangressions against propriety included publishing letters without permission, arranging for the printing and sale of salacious and objectionable material, and engaging in marketing/business practices which can be charitably described as questionable. Curll is best known, perhaps, for his longstanding and bitter feud with Alexander Pope (the bookseller comes in for quite a lambaste in Pope's Dunciad, though over the course of the conflict it's hard to say which combatant emerges more bloodied). He's a fascinating character who deserves much more scholarly and popular attention today, which is why I was delighted to see that Oxford University Press was publishing this new biography; a bibliographical volume is apparently forthcoming, and I'll wait for that with much anticipation as well.

Baines and Rogers sought very explicitly to offer a scholarly treatment of Curll's life and work, and they have certainly accomplished that goal. This is a dense and detailed examination of the publications which emanated from Curll's pen, press and shops over the course of his career, as well as a dispassionate and reasoned account of his relations with his comrades in the book and printing trades, his authors and translators, and his many antagonists (beyond Pope, these included Jonathan Swift and Henry Fielding, just to name the prominences). The authors' aim, as they put it, is to take a sober look at Curll's output with an eye toward the non-controversial items he published and sold (basic works on theology, for example, as well as an extensive list of books pertaining to English antiquities), in order to gain a more complete understanding of the man.

Baines and Rogers conclude that Curll's major innovations in the book trade came through his unorthodox use of promotion and publicity; they point out that while we today view the use of notoriety to sell things as perfectly normal, in the early to mid-eighteenth century it was a "disturbing novelty" (pg. 315). Curll's practices (publishing pamphlets critical of his own prior publications, for example, to drive of sales of both) made him more than a few enemies, but they also unquestionably sold many books. A master of cheek, understatement ("Curll could do more with an et cetera than anybody else in recorded history" - pg. 172), and wit, Edmund Curll built himself a much-deserved reputation in his time as a rascal; and rascals, as we all know, usually make for the most interesting historical subjects. Curll's certainly no exception.

Meticulously-researched and footnoted (albeit with a rather odd combination of footnotes and endnotes which seemed to switch back and forth somewhat idiosyncratically), Edmund Curll, Bookseller must give all bibliophiles and fans of Curll reason to celebrate; this book has been a long time coming.

Renaissance Magic Book Translated

The Guardian reports that a book reputed to be the world's oldest text on magic has been translated into English for the first time. Luca Pacioli's De Viribus Quantitatis (On The Powers Of Numbers) was written between 1496-1508, and contains "the first ever reference to card tricks as well as guidance on how to juggle, eat fire and make coins dance. It is also the first work to note that Da Vinci was left-handed."

De Viribus Quantitatis has until now been secreted away at the University of Bologna, but after an eight-year transcription/translation project will now be available in English. William Kalush, of the Conjuring Arts Research Center (NY), who helped fund the translation, says of the work "Sources of magic methods go back at least to the first century, but this book teaches not only the methods but also gives a glimpse into how one might perform them with an eye to entertaining an audience."

A compendium of tricks, puzzles, and verses, the book includes hints on "how to write a sentence on the petals of a rose, wash your hands in molten lead and make an egg walk across a table." Some of the tricks are included in the Guardian article if you want to start practicing.

The translation will be published next year, according to the paper, in order to coincide with the 500th anniversary of its original completion.

You may remember Pacioli from another discovery back in January: a long-lost study of chess attributed to him was found in the Palazzo Coronini Cronberg.

[h/t The Wit of the Staircase]