An impressive archive of Dwight Eisenhower letters to his wife Mamie, totaling 240 pages, is estimated at $400,000-600,000. A complete copy of the first book edition of The Federalist (New York: 1788) in contemporary boards, could fetch $200,000-300,000. Several other significant archives will be offered: a collection of materials related to John Charles Frémont is estimated at $100,000-150,000, while documents about the 1865 Hampton Roads peace conference could bring $80,000-120,000. Letters and documents about the assassination of President Garfield and the trial of Charles Guiteau are estimated at $50,000-80,000.
Three major single letters for sale include a 21 July 1788 George Washington letter to Nathaniel Gorham celebrating the ratification of the Constitution (est. $80,000-120,000); a letter from Abraham Lincoln to the House of Representatives from May 1864 (being a transcription in his hand of a letter sent to Montgomery Blair on 2 November 1863), estimated at $70,000-100,000; and an August 1808 letter from Thomas Jefferson to NH governor John Langdon (est. $60,000-90,000).
First, a quick note, to partially explain the fewer posts than usual lately: there's much going on, I've been busier than I usually am (and I'm usually pretty busy), and on top of all that, we're thinking about moving up to Portland (ME), so my brain has gotten well filled with the completely draining madness of apartment-hunting (which is hard enough as it is, and harder when you have accumulated as many books as I have). So bear with me - I'm sure things will settle down eventually ...
- The NYPL launched a neat new crowd-sourcing project this week, What's on the Menu? Folks can choose a menu and easily transcribe the dishes listed there (so far, more than 50,000 dishes have been transcribed). I did a few menus myself - it's rather addictive, quite fun, and entirely useful. Good stuff.
- Sarah Werner posts a fantastic binding mystery for us: a copy of John Smith's 1624 Generall historie with what appears to be George Villiers' family arms stamped atop those of James I.
- Swann posts top lots from their 22 April autograph sale.
- Happening this week at Brandeis: Steven Whitfield and Michael Gilmore will discuss the manuscript of Heller's Catch-22, donated to Brandeis by Heller himself. Details here.
- Rick Ring notes the arrival at Trinity's Watkinson Library of a special display case for their copy of Audubon's Birds of America. Having been at Union when the custom-made cases for that copy arrived, I can certainly vouch for the size of the things!
- The British Library has purchased the email archive of author Wendy Cope, paying £32,000 for some 40,000 emails.
- Jill Lepore writes in today's NYTimes about Ben Franklin's sister Jane Mecom, calling her story "a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families."
- Paul Collins pens another letter to the editors of the OED, and tweets about a 1956 plan for heating homes through the wallpaper.
- Arthur Phillips's The Tragedy of Arthur; review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo. By far the best book review I've read in a long time.
- Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters; review by Tom DeHaven in the NYTimes.
- Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life; review by Jonathan Yardley in the WaPo.
- Simon Schama's Scribble, Scribble, Scribble; review by Phillip Lopate in the NYTimes.
- Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes; review by Nicole Cammorata in the Boston Globe.
- Adams Goodheart's The Civil War Awakening; review by Debby Applegate in the NYTimes.
Doyle New York's Books, Photographs and Prints sale was held yesterday, in 506 lots. The big seller, and a surprise one, was a manuscript music album compiled by Arnold Wehner, Director of Music at the University of Gottingen (1846-1855). Presale estimates pegged it at $8,000-12,000, but it was hammered down for $158,500!
Several top-notch items from the library of Ezra Pound's son Omar Shakespear Pound also did very well: a copy of A Draft of the Cantos 17-27 (London: John Rodker, 1928) printed on vellum and accompanied by a collection of proof sheets sold for $59,375, while a copy of A Draft of XVI Cantos (Paris, 1925) inscribed by Pound to his son made $27,500 and a signed copy of A Lume Spento(Venice, 1908) fetched $28,125.
Housekeeping note: Thanks to a timely reminder, I've cleared out the list of links on the right sidebar, more than a few of which had gone kaput since the last time I went through them. There were some there that still contain interesting posts even though they're not being updated currently; I made a note of those as well. And I added a few new links that I've subscribed to in my Google Reader but which had not been listed on the sidebar.
- The Penn Libraries have received a major gift of some 280 medieval and renaissance manuscripts from Lawrence and Barbara Schoenburg; a Schoenburg Institute for Manuscript Studies will be established to highlight the collection.
- In case you missed it, the Berkleyside obituary for Serendipity Books' Peter Howard is a must-read.
- Joshua Kendall's The Forgotten Founding Father; review by Barton Swaim in the WSJ.
- Gary Gallagher's The Union War; review by Jonathan Yardley in the WaPo.
- John Pollack's The Pun Also Rises; review by P.J. O'Rourke in the NYTimes.
- Andrea Wulf's Founding Gardeners; review by Lauren Winner in the WaPo.
Before I even get into my review of Nathan Larson's The Dewey Decimal System(Akashic Press, 2011), let me just simply point out that if you are planning to read it because you think it has something to do with books, or libraries, it doesn't. The main character happens to live in the abandoned main branch of the New York Public Library, for which he has earned the nickname "Dewey Decimal." That's the only connection.
Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, let's get to the book. Our setting is a New York of the near future, but after a series of terrorist attacks have led to the near-abandonment of the city and its takeover by a mix of criminals, government agents, and petty thugs. Dewey Decimal, sometime "fixer" for the D.A., gets orders to rub out a union boss. Naturally, things get complicated, and Dewey finds himself drawn into an increasingly-dangerous plot peopled with war criminals, gun-toting muscle, and one alluring woman who's not at all what she seems.
Quick, dirty, and dark, this one. Dewey's an interesting character, well drawn (and the way Larson has him narrate the book in "real time" adds a certain urgency to the book that keeps it moving very nicely). It reminded me of Jeff Vandermeer's works, and I suspect we'll be seeing more of Mr. Decimal in the future.
Swann held a Fine Books and Manuscripts sale on 7 April, in 136 lots, of which all but 25 found buyers. As expected, the top lot here was indeed the deluxe copy of the Golden Cockerel Press Gospels, one of twelve copies printed on vellum and this copy inscribed by Eric Gill to Virginia Woolf. The hammer price of $132,000 nearly doubled the presale estimates of $60,000-75,000.
Yesterday I had a good but much too short trip to New York for the 51st Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair, held at the Park Avenue Armory. While there was much else going on, including a book auction at Heritage Auction Galleries and the "shadow show" downtown (more on this at the Fine Books blog), I decided I'd better focus on the main event since I had only about five hours on the ground in New York.
Having only been to the Boston ABAA fair before, it was interesting to compare the two shows. There were quite a few more European dealers in New York, including many Italian, French and German dealers we don't see in Boston every year (and who had some pretty amazing things in their booths, too). While it's only anecdotal, I think it very likely that the average price for an item at the New York fair was significantly higher than in Boston (a few dealers were guessing the total retail value of all the stock in the room; all agreed that it was well into the hundreds of millions).
There were wonderful and fascinating things, from a copy of the first recorded English book auction catalog (for the 1676 sale of clergyman Lazarus Seaman's library) to Thomas Jefferson's copy of William Neilson's Greek Exercises to a delightful faux-scholarly treatise on the human turd (from Brian Cassidy). A book from Roger Williams' library, some beautiful early American bindings ... great stuff all around.
It was also lovely to see old friends and meet some longtime correspondents for the first time, including Rebecca Rego Barry (editor of FB&C), as well as the magazine's publisher. Always nice to put faces to email addresses! And of course there was something of a Rare Book School reunion going on all around, since staff, students and faculty were wonderfully (and strongly) represented on the fair floor.
For more on the fair, see the dispatches from Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis, who may be voiceless and broken-toed, but remains utterly indomitable; and Rebecca Rego Barry's reports on the Fine Books Blog. Next year, I'm going to make sure I can make a weekend of it and do more while I'm in town; if you can make it too, please do! It's a wonderful way to meet dealers, see and handle some amazing books, and spend time with like-minded biblio-folks.
- There's now an iPad app for Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.
- A single page from a 16th-century Shanameh sold for £7.4m this week at Sotheby's, setting a new record for an Islamic manuscript.
- In The New Yorker, Laura Miller profiles George R.R. Martin.
- John Chalmers noted this morning on ExLibris-L that the first copyright statute took effect 300 years ago today.
- Borders presented a recovery plan to creditors this week, but the NYTimesreports that publishers described the blueprint as "unrealistic."
- Deborah Harkness talks to the LATimes about the inspiration for her new novel A Discovery of Witches.
- A significant collection of Washingtoniana will be going on the auction block (some sold this weekend in New York, more to sell in late May at Heritage in Dallas). Also, the George Washington Papers team is now on Twitter, @PapersofGW.
Sarah Vowell's newest is Unfamiliar Fishes(Riverhead, 2011), in which she continues her practice of combining history, travelogue, and a healthy dose of snark. Here those ingredients are blended well to create a funny, fascinating, and always enjoyable history of Hawaii from the time of the arrival of the first American missionaries in 1820 to the islands' annexation by the United States in 1898.
Vowell recounts her own experiences visiting natural and historical sites in Hawaii, researching in the archives there, meeting and speaking with descendants of early missionaries and native Hawaiians. Her enthusiasm and interest in the subject are contagious, and as usual she's able to find the quirky in everything. It helps that the cast of characters here includes the ambitious and hardy New England missionary families who settled in Hawaii to convert the islanders, their commercialized descendants who ended up overthrowing the monarchy in a coup, and (most fascinatingly) the Hawaiians themselves.
While the discussions of the machinations which led to the annexation of Hawaii made for great reading, I found myself most drawn to Vowell's focus on the arrival of printing in Hawaii, and the fairly fast acceptance of the written Hawaiian language (developed by the missionaries and promoted by the Hawaiian royal family). She quotes a Hawaiian historian as noting that between 1822 and 1863, the islands went from having no written language to having "seventy-five percent of all Hawaiians learning to read and write" (p. 101).
I like how Vowell's able to mix scholarship and satire, and I am also delighted that she's provided a list of recommended titles for those who want to dig more deeply into Hawaii's past after reading Unfamiliar Fishes. There's certainly much worth digging into.
- Coming up this week on the Fine Books Blog, previews of the book fairs and auctions coming up in New York City next weekend, including the ABAA's New York Antiquarian Book Fair. Very excited to actually be going to the NYC fair this year for the first time!
- Jennifer Howard's at the ACRL meeting in Philadelphia, and reports in on discussions there about the Google Books Settlement, orphan works, and associated topics. Ursula LeGuin posted some thoughts on GBS, copyright and the differences between "out of print" and "out of copyright" on her blog this week, and the NYTimes editorial board weighed in as well. Another good piece on this appeared this week from Ivy Anderson. Robert Darnton posted on the NYRB blog six reasons why the settlement failed and offers some possible ways forward.
- From Jerry Morris, the stories behind two hurt books and their previous owners.
- Another reminder, from David Barnett in the Guardian, of how not to respond to a negative review of your book.
- In Slate, Nathan Heller asks why Simon Winchester's books are so popular.
- A rare book of cloth samples collected by Captain Cook has been sold at auction in Devon, making a whopping £130,000.
It's been languishing on library shelves for more than half a century and was thought lost to scholarship, but now a graduate student has stumbled upon Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's manuscript translation of Dante's Divina Commedia, a find sure to result in world-wide media coverage, along with a publication deal for the scholar.
"I just filled out a form, and they brought it right to my table," said Robert Watkins, a doctoral candidate at St. Mary's University writing his dissertation on 19th-century American translations of Italian verse. "It was an unbelievable feeling, to have right in front of me pages not seen by anyone since Longfellow wrote on them!"
Longfellow's translation of Dante's masterpiece, the first by an American, was published in 1867 and is still in print.
Librarians at Harvard University's Houghton Library were understandably thrilled at Watkins' find. "We're all very proud of Mr. Watkins for this amazing discovery," said James Underhill, curator of modern literary manuscripts, reached via email. "We know just how difficult our online catalog can be for researchers," he explained, noting that searching by author sometimes even requires that the name be entered with the last name first, followed by the first name.
The Longfellow manuscript has been at Houghton since 1954, when the Longfellow House Trust placed it on deposit with the library along with the rest of Longfellow's papers. "We've exhibited it several times, parts of the translation have been digitized and are available online, and of course it's listed in the finding guide to the collection," Underhill said. "But until Mr. Watkins called for it last week, obviously we had no idea that it was important."
Watkins says that while he's in Boston he plans to visit the Boston Public Library. "I read somewhere that they might have a book that John Adams wrote in," he said. "Wouldn't it be amazing to find that?!"