Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Eternal Passion: Nicholas A. Basbanes and the Making of A Gentle Madness. A Video Tour

 


Pandemic or not, there is still room for celebration.  Currently on view by appointment is the exhibition at the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University, “The Eternal Passion: Nicholas A Basbanes and the Making of A Gentle Madness.”  The exhibition was originally planned for a March launch but delayed by the Pandemic.  A much-anticipated opening day event featuring Nick Basbanes himself had to be cancelled.  Nonetheless, curator Kevin O’Sullivan was determined to keep the exhibition available.  The exhibition was rescheduled and is now running from Aug. 3rd – Nov. 30, 2020.

This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books.  Basbanes’ work on bibliophiles and book collecting is now considered a classic.  But it almost didn’t get published.  O’Sullivan does a magnificent job selecting material from the Basbanes archive at the Cushing and other sources to present a well-rounded look at the making of A Gentle Madness.   He also highlights Basbanes’ career generally with material about his later publications.

I contributed a number of items to the exhibition.  I was also scheduled to speak at the opening event.  So, the cancellation affected me personally.  When the exhibition reopened, I arranged a tour for myself and wife Nicole with Kevin O’Sullivan.  Also present were Francesca Marini and Beth Kilmarx of the Cushing Library.  Nicole videoed the tour.  It is not a professional production, but she captures Kevin’s talk and our banter, along with a detailed look at the material on display.  May this serve as an imperfect but entertaining record of an exhibition that faced unprecedented challenges.

Link to video:

Basbanes Exhibition. Cushing Library. Sept. 2020. Kurt & Nicole Zimmerman with Kevin O'Sullivan

Here are details about the exhibition and how to see it in person.

Basbanes Exhibition Information

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A Book I Shouldn't Have Had Yet

Dr. Herbert M. Evans, 1882-1971

The book’s the thing, but sometimes it is more than that.  An acquisition can leave a deep impression or even a scar.  And when you hold the book, you feel life, or death. 
            It is the third month of the 2020 Pandemic, and maybe I have spent too much time with my books.  (Can there be such a problem?).  But the world is not as it should be, and every venture out brings an awkward tension between masked and maskless.  And so it is with this story: excitement and incredulity tempered with fear.  We begin with two doctors and end with a third, all notable book collectors.
            The book is the rare, privately printed catalogue Medical Library Belonging to Herbert M. Evans (Berkeley: 1931).  The bookseller description records 202 mimeographed sheets with additions and deletions using pasted slips, as well as a few scattered holograph corrections.  It is a quarto bound in blue cloth; the paper spine label reads “Evans Library of Medical Classics 1932.”  The pastedown has Evans’ bookplate and the front free endpaper the following inscription, “To my friend Elmer Belt, Herbert M. Evans, Berkeley, March 14, 1936” with Belt’s bookplate below.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

In the Midst of It: A Book Hunter Down the Cataloging Rabbit Hole



The story begins with a drowning, includes a fratricide, a sensational trial, and has no ending yet.  But let us start anyhow.
Prominent book collector C. Fiske Harris and his wife are both recovering from illness in 1881.  They decide to take a recuperative canoe ride with their servant Hedges on Moosehead Lake in Maine.  The canoe capsizes in rough water “and for a time the Harrises clung to the craft.  Hedges heard Mrs. Harris say, ‘If Mr. Harris goes, I will go also.’  She succumbed first, however, and Harris followed her.”  Thus quoted from Roger Stoddard’s authoritative essay, “C. Fiske Harris, Collector of American Poetry and Plays” (1963). 
            This abrupt and tragic demise of a notable collector is not yet on my mind as I prowl the aisles of the recent ABAA Book Show in Pasadena, California.  I am nearing the end of my Saturday all-day scout, my eyes strained and the need for food urgent.  Serendipity comes into play as I browse the booth of Holly Segar and Jeffrey Rovenpor of Caroliniana Books, Aiken, South Carolina.
            Propped up on a shelf in a sleeve is a modest looking pamphlet, plain original wrappers, with a neat ownership signature on the cover.  I almost miss it, but I don’t.  Holly & Jeffrey’s description reads, in part: “Index to American Poetry and Plays in the Collection of C. Fiske Harris.  Providence, RI: Printed for Private Distribution, 1874. . . Finely printed pamphlet listing the major American poetry and play collection belonging to C. Fiske Harris.  The collection today resides at Brown University. . . This copy with the ownership inscription to front wrapper of R. A. Guild.”

Friday, December 20, 2019

Miss Stillwell and F. Richmond: The Recording of Incunabula in America

Margaret Stillwell

Frederick R. Goff

The recent ABAA Boston Book Show at the Hynes Convention Center presented an array of delights to tempt even the most jaded book men and women. The brisk cold outside contrasted with the fervor of the book hunters within.   I looked, I mingled, and when I could resist hunger no longer, I ate a meal at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant nearby.  The calorie count displayed next to the menu items read like the prices in a nicely stocked dealer booth: 2,000, 1,800, 2,400, 1,200.  The friends eating with me—Joe Fay and Bill Allison—paid no heed, and I was on a biblio-vacation so damn the low salt diet. We poured over the extensive menu like one would examine a good bookseller catalogue; with astonishment and delight.  I knew we were done for when we ordered the cheeseburger eggrolls as an appetizer.  The food was surprisingly good but the book talk was even better.  We staggered out after polishing off the obligatory cheesecake dessert.  I wondered if the hotel gym had a Stairmaster. 
            This brief introduction only touches on what was for me a satisfying and varied trip.  I found several biblio items for my collection, particularly from exhibitors Willis Monie and Brattle Bookshop at the main show, and from Peter Masi and Roselund Rare Books at the “shadow fair” held Saturday a few blocks away.  But the most interesting acquisition originated from a bookstore.  It was the result of a serendipitous encounter with a fellow collector who was conversing with ABAA bookseller Michael Laird.  Laird, a long-time friend, texted me at the show from his booth and told me come over pronto.  The collector he was speaking with mentioned he had been visiting New England bookstores.  One of them had a few biblio-association items outside of his collecting area.  He described them to me.  I was indeed interested and grateful for the tip.  I soon after called the store to confirm the basics and with Bill Allison, my wingman for the trip, set out the next day to examine the books in person.  It was a rainy, cold, dreary drive of an hour and half each way—a day most normal people would stay put-- but not a collector in vigorous pursuit.
            This leads us to Margaret Stillwell (1887-1984) and Frederick R. Goff (1916-1982), pre-eminent rare book librarians and bibliographers, most noted for their work with incunabula: books printed before 1501.  Stillwell flourished, not without considerable struggle, in a male-dominated biblio-world.  She records her triumphs and travails in Librarians are Human: Memories In and Out of the Rare-Book Field 1907-1970 (1973) quoted within.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"The Greatest Collector of Books the World has Ever Known"


Henry E. Huntington
Stupendously miraculous things can happen to a book collector without warning. On an unseasonably hot October day the package arrived, signature required, and I wasn’t home.   The mail delivery notice was stuck firmly to the front door and I didn’t recognize the sender’s name from any of my recent book purchases.  My faithful mail lady greeted me the next day.  I said no I hadn’t gone to the post office to pick up the package.  So, we arranged for delivery, talked of her pending retirement in two weeks after thirty-six years of service, and I became a bit wistful.  Would the next mail person be so package friendly?
            But I’m getting ahead of myself and miracles have beginnings.  I first spotted the object of my desire in a Dawson’s catalogue in 1996.  The venerable Los Angeles antiquarian firm had acquired portions of the library of Edwin Carpenter, Jr. (1915-1995), historian, librarian, bibliographer, and notable book collector.  Carpenter was associated with the Huntington Library much of his career.  He collected a wide range of subjects.  His favorite was bibliographic association copies—a kindred spirit!   He had a special affinity for Henry Wagner, Henry Harrisse, and Wilberforce Eames, for example.  Carpenter talks at length about his career and collecting in Ruth Axe’s interview Education of a Bibliophile: Edwin H. Carpenter published by the Oral History Program at UCLA in 1977.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Serendipity to Booked Up: An Associative Mailing Label



For the past seven years the heavy box has held miscellaneous issues of The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America.  The material falls within my collection’s gray area: worth keeping and dipping into for reading / reference but not worth taking up shelf space.  So occasionally the box and others containing similar material get shuffled around for one reason or another.   Today was such a day.  Sweaty, hot work in the attic.  A pause and wipe of the brow and a glance at the label on the box.  Lo, we have something here!
                The mailing label is addressed from Peter B. Howard (d. 2011), iconic rare bookman in Berkley, California to Larry McMurtry at his store Booked Up in Archer City, Texas.   What the box originally contained is unknown.  I utilized the box among others to pack my winnings after the McMurtry auction of stock in 2012.
                This unusual association item brought back memories.   I spent time with the idiosyncratic and brilliant bookseller Peter Howard during several visits to his shop, Serendipity Books. He was a prime driver over four decades of modern literature collecting, both books and archives, issuing catalogues and developing major collections.  Larry McMurtry I know less well but I enjoyed a couple of entertaining discussions with him, particularly at the well-publicized 2012 auction of an estimated 300,000 volumes of stock from his sprawling book emporium in Archer City.  Illness issues and a lack of a book heirs drove his decision to sell.  He continues as a bookseller but in a much more streamlined mode.  McMurtry is most famous as a writer but he has bought and sold used and rare books in huge gulps over an extended career as bookseller and book scout.   I’ve written previously about both men in the essays linked below.
                The mailing label deserves preservation.  It represents two well-known American bookmen plying their trade.  It conjures the imagination of the exchange. It’s ephemeral and displays well.  And if one adds historical perspective, how many similar associative labels from years ago survive?  But I’m not here to provide justification only a few thoughts.  I carefully remove the label and place it in a mylar sleeve, a story to a share.


Peter Howard Post

Larry McMurtry Post

Monday, July 22, 2019

Stoic if Not Muscular: A New Path in Bookseller Descriptions



Often it is best to finish one’s cataloging before  beginning Happy Hour.  A bookseller friend brought these descriptions to my attention.  The dealer is fortunate to possess two copies of W. L. Distant’s A Naturalist in the Transvaal. (London: R. H. Porter, 1892).  Each copy has its own merits and so both have been separately described.  The descriptions utilize verbiage seldom, if ever, encountered in rare book cataloging. Whether this New School will take hold and invigorate the staid descriptive processes of the Classic Model remains to be seen.  Let me share them now for your enjoyment and edification.  Cheers!

Copy One
Hardcover. Condition: Fair. No Jacket. 1st Edition. This enthusiastic, energetic book is generally in fair condition. The colour plates - all complete - are startlingly fresh, detailed and vibrant. The binding is stoic if not muscular. The cloth cover has been age and storage marked and worn. There are many wear marks to the extremities. The back cover is much marked by storage. The spine is also worn and has pull depressions to the head and foot. The front and end papers are much discoloured by age. The seams to the spine are cracked through to the stitching. However, although pliable the binding is holding pages firmly. The paper trim edges are marked by storage and age. The condition of this vigorous and wonderfully entertaining and informative book inside is complete, clear and clean of annotations. Page 127 has a triangular page edge tear. There are aged marks along the binding edges throughout the book. The body of the text though is clean.

Copy Two
Hardcover. Condition: Very Good. No Jacket. First Edition. 277 pages plus five coloured plates (complete). A pleasingly comfortable copy. The boards have some shelving wear about the edges and corners, some scuffing, storage marks. The spine is sunned and rubbed from handling, there is wear to the head and foot. The seams are worn,but have been repaired. The gilt titling is placid. The illustration is clear and evocative. Within, the contents are agreeable. The frontispage (tanned) has a previous owner signature. There are some few age-related marks and spots fore and aft. Otherwise, the contents are clean, clear, certain, confident, congenial, conscientious, fresh-faced, gratifyingly healthy.


Run! The Book Description Police are Here!