Monday, March 31, 2014

Knowing When to Quit: The 1964 Smoking Report

I really should quit reading haphazardly.  As a collector it is bad for my financial health and shelf space. This habit occasionally sparks a willpower failure and results in the purchase of something totally unexpected.  On reflection, it is not the reading itself that is dangerous but easy access to online book searching while I’m reading.  However, books happen and the postal lady—named Judy, now a close friend--just dropped off this latest addition.  It is I think a great association item and I imagine long after I’m gone it will assume its proper place in the book pantheon, perhaps foundationing a future collection that I would admire but probably couldn’t afford.  I’m just glad I got to it first.  As formidable English collector Michael Sadleir said, ”In nature, the bird who gets up earliest catches the most worms, but in book collecting the prizes fall to birds who know worms when they see them.”
            The catalyst was a glance at the January 11, 2014 news headline, “Historic Smoking Report Marks 50th Anniversary.” 

I read the first few paragraphs of the AP story:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

“Sparks to the Dry Tinder in the Mind” -- A. Edward Newton’s The Amenities of Book-Collecting

Few collectors have ridden the book collecting hobby harder or with more enthusiasm than A[lfred]. Edward Newton (1864-1940).  Indeed, none have been able to infuse into others a virulent contagion for the grand sport like Newton did through his writings.  Even now, almost 100 years later, his wide-ranging biblio-essays continue to provide inspiration and entertainment.  His first and most famous contribution to bibliophilic literature was The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections (1918).  This diverse collection of essays reflects Newton as a man and as a collector.  The book would go through eight printings in his lifetime and be honored with a separate edition in the Modern Library series.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Mighty Biblio-Wallop in a Small Package: Grolier Club Beginnings

This small, modestly printed 19th-century booklet I hold in my hand, entitled Jean Grolier, packs a biblio-wallop in terms of rarity. Only six copies of Jean Grolier are recorded in American libraries via WorldCat. I know of two more, including my own.  Rarity is meaningless, however, without some other distinguishing feature.  In this instance Jean Grolier is possibly the first separate publication of the Grolier Club of New York City, established in 1884, the oldest and mightiest organization of bibliophiles in the United States. The booklet is a biographical sketch of the eminent French bibliophile Jean Grolier and namesake of the Grolier Club.  It lays claim to a genesis from which sprang hundreds of important publications issued by the Club.  Ironically, among such bibliographical redwoods little is known of the booklet’s publication history.  My copy was acquired over a decade ago and since then I’ve gathered bits and pieces related to its production.  The information remains fragmentary but a clearer picture has emerged.  The Jean Grolier booklet is not entirely unknown.  Grolier Club Director, Eric Holzenberg & member George Ong did preliminary digging with the publication of their 'For Jean Grolier & His Friends': 125 Years of Grolier Club Exhibitions & Publications 1884-2008. (2009). We’ll utilize their findings as we go.  For reference, the traditional first publication of the Club, printed in December 1884, is A Decree of the Star Chamber Concerning Printing. 
The Jean Grolier booklet. 16mo. 14 p.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Huntin’ on the Bayou—A Rare Texana Item Surfaces

Douglas Adams—friend, book scout, bibliophile, and collector of literary forgeries—is having a mighty fine lunch break.  We can imagine a burger or burrito hastily consumed to leave plenty of time for a scouting stop.  Priorities in order.  After a quick smoke, he steps into a run-down antique store on Westheimer Avenue in Houston, Texas, for a look around.  It’s hot as hell outside and inside isn’t much better.  You sweat so much in the humid air you think you’ve just been swimming.  The building is older than much of the material within:  furniture, rugs, paintings, household items, and smaller knick-knacks.  An item almost missed in an overflowing display case draws our intrepid book scout. Almost is the key word because Douglas misses very little while on the hunt, and he is always on the hunt.  This display case yields a real beauty—a find so rare and marvelous that the book’s acquisition is the kind of story swapped among bookmen for years to come.  But first it must be bought.  There is no price and a helpful lady at the store, glad to see something go, quotes $50.  Douglas is so excited he forgets to bargain.  He has to tell somebody and I’m lucky enough to get a phone call shortly afterwards.
“I just found something really good,” he says.
“What?  Run of Playboys with centerfolds intact?”
“Nada.  How about the first city directory of Houston, 1866, in original boards, with the map.
            There is a pause on my end as my mind kicks into high gear (I can hear my wife laughing while reading that).  Early directories of major cities are highly sought-after and normally expensive.  They’re also rare because they were thrown away over the years like old phone books.  The information found within such directories—people, businesses, the advertisements, all primary source material for historians and the curious. In this instance, the book itself is a treasured relic from the embryonic beginnings of a burgeoning metropolis now over two million strong.
“Damn,” I reply, “that is a good one.”
“What do you think it’s worth?”
 “More than $50.  How about I double your money right now?  Heck, I’ll even throw in free pick up.”
He ungraciously turns down my offer and emphasizes the rejection with a colorful expletive.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


English bookman John Carter came into my life in early 1990 and has made frequent appearances since.  Our initial introduction was inevitable…  I was a novice book collector eager for guidance when I stumbled across a reprint of his classic guide ABC for Book Collectors, standing fine in jacket on the shelves of a retail bookstore.   I purchased the book for full price-- a rare occurrence then and now.  Today, I hold the book in hand and I see my scattered annotations from that first reading.   The foundation was set.
John Carter
            Before I discuss the origins and publication of ABC for Book Collectors a brief outline of its author is in order.  John Carter (1906-1976), educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, became a bibliophile early on and found himself so keenly interested in the field he made a career of it.  He entered the rare book trade in 1927 with the London branch of Scribner’s New York.  The New York office would be in a few years overseen by notable American bookman, David Randall.  The two men formed a formidable duo.  Carter & Randall’s natural tastes ran to new paths in book collecting and bibliography.  They published, via Scribner’s, a number of innovative bookseller catalogues designed to promote untapped or nascent collecting areas such as Mysteries, Familiar Quotations, Modern First Editions, & Musical Firsts.  However, the rent must be paid and many classically expensive items were also sold with aplomb including a Gutenberg Bible.  Carter became managing director of the London office in 1945 and remained at Scribner’s until 1953. In 1956 Carter joined Sotheby’s auction house and was also a director of Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York.  His wide circle of associates lay at the heart of bookselling and book collecting of his era and included John Hayward, Graham Pollard, Michael Sadleir, and Percy Muir.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Montana Copper Transformed Into California Biblio-Gold

William Andrews Clark, Jr.

It’s a long stretch from 18th century England to early 20th century California but for a bibliophile the journey is an easy one.  A recent serendipitous purchase on Ebay spanned the time and distance in short order.  The book bought was a 1925 edition of Thomas Gray’s An Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard printed by John Henry Nash of San Francisco for collector William Andrews Clark, Jr. of Los Angeles and Butte, Montana.  It is an elegant production limited to 200 copies and designed as a Christmas gift for friends of Clark. Clark fortified his biblio-eggnog with a lengthy foreword tracing the history of the work’s publication.  He writes, “Having in my library the first eleven separate editions of the Elegy, it may be of interest to note herewith the changes in the text as they successively appeared compared with the text of the first edition.”  No light sing-along caroling here for friends—this was a serious bookman at work.  For good measure he provided a separate facsimile of his copy of the first edition of 1751.
            I acquired the book because it was described as having not only the printed presentation slip normally encountered but also a personalized inscription from Clark.  The limitation statement indicated that this was copy no. 1.  Clark inscriptions in the wild are quite uncommon and this example showed promise for my association collection.
Clark inscription in Gray's Elegy

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rosenbach & Huntington: "No Epilogue Nor Sequel"

My book motor runs pretty hard with plenty of gusto.  However, refueling is required from time to time.  I usually do this by re-reading a favorite book about books which rarely fails to rev up my imagination.  No less importantly, the process usually sparks my acquisition mode.  I’m currently a third of the way through Edwin Wolf & John Fleming’s Rosenbach (1960), the best biography of a bookseller, and arguably the best book on the antiquarian book trade ever written.  The subject, Dr. Abraham S. W. Rosenbach (1876-1952) was a complex figure with a book motor that can only be described as supercharged (and apparently fueled by daily infusions of whiskey).  Wolf & Fleming, former employees of Rosenbach, describe him as “an eye-twinkling, hard-selling, hard-drinking, scholarly bookman.”
          This isn’t a book review so I’ll let you discover (or re-discover) the book yourself.  Pertinent to this post is the fact that Rosenbach was instrumental in building the collection of railroad magnate Henry Huntington (1850-1927).  Rosenbach began to sell Huntington books in the early part of the century but things hit full stride from 1920 until Huntington’s death.  Rosenbach facilitated the transfer of millions of dollars of bookish delights to Huntington’s shelves.  The material ranged from Americana to English Literature to Incunabula to Portolan Atlases.  Huntington is remembered for buying entire private libraries in big gulps using a strategy akin to the building of his vast railroad empire.  This large-scale book buying strategy was driven in the 1920s by failing health and his intense desire to form a library of international stature.  Huntington set up a nonprofit educational trust before his death establishing the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Museum.  Today it is a bucket list stop for book lovers.  It mustn’t be forgotten that Huntington was an enthusiastic bookman as well, not just a check-writing philanthropist. (Even Huntington, with almost unlimited wealth, bought so many books he overheated his budget and had to sometimes use railroad bonds and/or short-term payment plans to cover purchases.  I can relate on an infinitesimally smaller scale).  He and Rosenbach when possible would pour over auction catalogues together for hours, talking books, prioritizing individual lots and establishing bids.
          This all leads me to two copies of a book in my library, Rosenbach’s Books and Bidders (1927), a classic collection of somewhat embellished but always entertaining book essays.