Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Book Hunter’s Bibliocatechism: Part One

The general inspiration for this “bibliocatechism” came from John T. Winterich’s Collector’s Choice (1926), a gathering of essays offering advice to book collectors.  He devoted a chapter to his own bibliocatechism of fifty questions.  His was more weighted to general literary topics than this.  I thought a version focusing on rare book hunters would be an appropriate homage.  The questions are wide-ranging within the subject and carry no theme beyond whatever came to mind.  May this entertainment stretch your biblio-knowledge and provide a few moments of pleasant distraction.  Answers are found at the end.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Samuel Hand and the First American Edition of De Bury’s Philobiblon

I got a good book in today and it was pretty darn thrilling.  Not thrilling in the sense of taking your first sky dive or watching your team win the Super Bowl – but more of an internal rush without the involuntary exclamations or high-fives. It’s a feeling difficult to share with others unless they are of a biblio-bent.  So that’s why I’m sharing it with you, because if you are reading this you’re either a bibliophile or a relative. 
            The book that thrilled me is the first American edition of Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon, A Treatise on the Love of Books (Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1861).  The book was published in an edition of 230 copies (30 on large paper) by the noted printer Munsell for Samuel Hand who edited the volume. This intriguing example is one of the 200 regular copies and is inscribed by Hand to a “Mr. Porter.” There is also a bookplate of a “Johann S. Lawrence.”  I had heard of none of these gentlemen when I reeled in the book with little resistance on Ebay.  It is the only presentation copy I’ve encountered.  And those of you who follow me know of my utter incapability to resist a potentially interesting association item.

Monday, December 18, 2017

How Book Collector Rolland Comstock Made His Way to Texas

Rolland Comstock in his Library
Jay Rohfritch, proprietor of Good Books in the Woods, Spring, Texas, recalls the ill-fated tale of book collector Rolland Comstock and the acquisition of part of his library:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Heroic Age: Dibdin, Heber, and Bibliomania

Herein lies a story English bibliophile Thomas Dibdin himself would be proud of telling.  That it involves his book Bibliomania (1811) would certainly make him all the more enthusiastic (a quality he never lacked in abundance).  A primary character in my story is a mighty book collector so famous in Dibdin’s lifetime and beyond that he inhabits the rarified biblio-Pantheon as a legendary figure.  The story also is footnoted with both English and American auction sales, an early 19th-century American book collector in Savannah, Georgia, a Grolier Club member, ex- library markings, and Ohio booksellers. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Hunt for Early American Women Bibliographers

Rare books don’t have a gender.  However, bibliographers do and the overwhelming majority has been male.  I’m a collector drawn to new paths and over the years I’ve gathered material related to early American women bibliographers active in the pre-WWII era before 1941.  My recent research on Henrietta C. Bartlett raised a deceptively simple question.  Who was the first American women bibliographer to compose a bibliography and have her name on the title-page?  The following essay attempts to answer that question and shed light on other pre-WWII practitioners.  I felt like an explorer in an uncharted jungle at times, machete in hand, hacking away but making progress.  I have little doubt I have missed a find or two in my exploration and welcome input. 
The parameters of my search are bibliographies focusing on rare books and / or first editions. These would be of book-length or substantial pamphlets (no separates or offprints) and explicitly credit the woman bibliographer as author / compiler.   The definition of a bibliography demands some leeway as there are many different forms.  A simple checklist for example would not qualify in my hunt but a well-researched short-title catalogue might.
There are cases of biblio-women assisting with bibliographies (including some of the women noted here) who should have garnered a varsity position on the title-page but instead were relegated to an acknowledgement.  But that is another story beyond the present scope.
I contemplated saving the earliest located bibliography for last to heighten the intrigue but that just didn’t seem bibliographical.  So, let’s get to it.  The oldest example I’ve found is Nina E. Browne’s A Bibliography of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1905).  The book was designed by Bruce Rogers and issued in an edition of 550 copies.  The publisher’s prospectus states that “It contains, along with the entry of Hawthorne’s published work, whether in book form or in old magazines or newspapers, everything that can be discovered in print about Hawthorne, in both books and periodicals.  Much pains have been given to the arrangement to make it as helpful as possible, both to the literary worker, and to the collector.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Hunter Bypaths Explored & Exposed

Book Hunters are a focused lot but they do find time for other pursuits.   Even the most dedicated need a break occasionally.  There are numerous examples of rare bookmen who write fiction, mysteries, even poetry with varied success.  But that is too close to the flame.   Rather let’s look at more diverse bypaths that flesh out the following bibliophiles' interests.  Naturally for my purpose these pursuits resulted in something printed.  The examples are from my own collection.  (The fact that I collect them certainly adds a layer of complexity to me which we shall not explore here.)
            Formidable bibliographer Fredson Bowers tormented me early on via his Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949).   The work is as hearty and dense as German dark bread.  I was very much used to peanut butter and jelly on white bread.  So, choking down the Principles while taking a bibliography class in graduate school was healthy but unpleasant.   Negative thoughts of Mr. Bowers crept in.  Then I discovered a biographical essay of Bowers by his student and disciple G. Thomas Tanselle.  Tanselle confirmed Bowers’ intensity of purpose, his willingness to actively defend his scholarly views, his domination of the bibliographical and textual studies of his time.  But he also mentioned that Bowers liked dogs.  He liked them a lot as do I.  Bowers raised and bred them, particularly Irish wolfhounds, and became an expert in the field.  Bowers was so immersed that he wrote The Dog Owner’s Handbook (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1936), his first book, preceding any of his bibliographical publications. Tanselle notes that “The front of the dust jacket was labeled ‘A Guaranteed Dog Book,’ and the flap explained, ‘Any purchaser who is not satisfied with it may return the book within five days for refund’. . . The book had some success, for it was reprinted by the Sun Dial Press in 1940 and was still mentioned in the 1950s in some of the lists of recommended books that appeared in the American Kennel Club's magazine.”
            I have a number of association copies of Bowers’ bibliographic works in my collection.  None gave me quite the thrill as finding a rare presentation copy of the first edition of The Dog Owner’s Handbook, the only example I’ve ever encountered.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Isaac Mendoza's First-Hand Account: "Booksellers of the Early [Eighteen] Eighties"

Mounted photograph from the author's collection
 Relatively few American antiquarian bookseller memoirs relating to the 19th-century trade exist.  I recently acquired a holograph manuscript from Christine & Bob Liska of the Colophon Bookshop.  Written by New York bookseller Isaac Mendoza (1864-1937) it is a brief but entertaining autobiographical fragment entitled “Booksellers of the Early [Eighteen] Eighties.”  The work does not appear to have been published—until now.  My transcription of the text with a few pertinent notes can be found below.