Monday, July 15, 2019

With Neither Rhyme Nor Reason?

Recently arrived is Colton Storm's With Neither Rhyme Nor Reason?  (Bloomington, IL: Scarlet Ibis Press, 1974).  The essay was originally delivered as an address before the Friends of the Milner Library On the Occasion of Their Spring Meeting, 7 May, 1973.  The address was published in an edition of 300 copies.  The other copies I've seen for sale or cited were in wrappers.  This example is in hardcover.  What percentage of the 300 examples were hardbound is unknown but apparently small.  But that is a collector talking.  More important is the essay itself.  Storm was a rare bookman for over forty years and had an uncommon command of words.  It is a pity he didn't write more.  His most well-known publications are an Invitation to Book Collecting (1947), co-written with Howard Peckham, and as the compiler of  A Catalogue of the Everett D. Graff Collection of Americana (1968).

His thoughts on book collecting have given me unexpected pleasure this evening.  I'd like to share the end of his address:

"Book collecting, the pursuit of a passion, can be an expensive avocation, or it can be a pleasure enjoyed with no great cost save in human energy.  But whether it is a game played in the grand manner, or as a simple pastime, the collecting of books as treasures is deeply satisfying to the active mind.  The man who is alive to all that moves about him in this complex world cannot complete his day's occupation, remove all thought from his mind, and become quiescent; he must employee his unceasing need for mental & physical activity either in a continuation of the day's business or in the pursuit of a wholly diverse hobby.  The rewards of book collecting are very great.  The uncultivated mind is an asset neither to its owner or to its owner's associates.  Be generous to yourself and your friends--be a book collector."

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Book Hunter's Bibliocatechism: Part Two

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.  For Part One see

26.  This collector claimed 160 acres of government land in Oklahoma based on his mother’s Creek Indian bloodline.  The land turned out to be oil-rich and he was a millionaire before he turned twenty-five.  His collection of art, books and manuscripts on all phases of Indian culture became a well-known museum.

a)  Edward Ayer
b) Thomas Gilcrease
c) Everett DeGolyer
d) Thomas W. Field

Bonus fact:  His wife was the winner of the 1924 Miss America contest.

27.  In 2019, she became the first woman to head the Christie’s NYC book department following in the steps of such prominent bookmen as Stephen Massey, Francis Wahlgren, and Tom Lecky.  She is:

a) A. N. Devers
b) Heather O’Donnell
c) Christina Geiger
d)  Gigi Austin

28.  The infamous Titanic disaster took many lives including a book collecting prodigy who died at age 27.  He was planning to attend the next session of the Robert Hoe auction in NYC.  His grief-stricken mother built a great library at Harvard in his honor.

a)  Harry Widener
b)  Henry Folger
c)  John T. Rockefeller, 3rd.
d)  Pierpont Morgan, Jr.

29.  One of the foundation collections of the Humanities Research Center at UT-Austin was acquired in 1958 (second batch in 1964).  This mighty collector assembled a spectacular library of modern literature including association copies, manuscripts, and letters by James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Beckett, Shaw, and many more.  He is little known because his collection was absorbed into the institution.

a)  Richard Oram
b) T. E. Hanley
c)  Robert Lee Wolff
d)  Thomas Staley

Bonus fact:  His second wife was an exotic dancer who became deeply interested in the collection over time and wrote a racy autobiography late in life.

30.  Called “Lefty” by friends, this charismatic collector immersed himself in eighteenth century English life via Horace Walpole.  For fifty years he gathered all things Walpole including printed works, manuscripts, letters, books from Walpole’s library, portraits, drawings, architectural designs, and artifacts.  He also gathered similar material of Walpole’s contemporaries.  The massive collection is housed in Farmington, Connecticut under the auspices of a major university close by.  It is an essential research stop for anyone researching 18th-century English life and letters.

a)  Robert H. Taylor
b)  James Harden
c)  Wilmarth Lewis
d)  Chauncey Tinker

31.  She had a fondness for John Keats above all, forming a major collection of his works and writing an in-depth two volume biography of the poet.  However, her 12,000-volume library (gifted to Harvard) also contained important book, manuscripts and letters of many 18th and 19th century authors including Hardy, Austin, Bronte and Ben Johnson.  In her own time, she was better known as a writer.  Who was she and what was her best-known genre?

a)  Margaret Fuller, journalist
b) Emily Dickinson, poetry
c)  Amy Lowell, poetry
d)  Gertrude Stein, novelist

Bonus fact:  She once graced the cover of Time magazine, reading a book.

32.  He was an early champion and collector of Joseph Conrad and authored Fishers of Books, a first-hand view of the fevered collecting excitement of the 1920s.  He also compiled a bibliography of Booth Tarkington.  Pummeled economically by the Great Depression, he became disenchanted with expensive high spot collecting and later focused more on his writing.  He had a lengthy career as editor of Country Gentleman, Ladies’ Home Journal¸ and World’s Work.

a) Richard Curle
b) Barton Currie
c) Christopher Morley
d) Barton Roscoe

33.  She trained under Wilberforce Eames and George Parker Winship.  She mentored a young Frederick Goff.  Her area of focus was incunabula, but she wrote on a variety of bibliographic subjects. She was long-time librarian of the Annmary Brown Memorial Library at Brown University.  Her autobiography Librarians are Human is one of the underappreciated gems of biblio-literature and is filled with entertaining vignettes of many well-known bookmen and women.

a) Henrietta Bartlett
b) Belle da Costa Greene
c) Margaret Stillwell
d) E. Miriam Lone  

34.  This renowned urologist and teacher built several important book collections but his most notable focused on Leonardo da Vinci.  He worked closely with bookseller Jake Zeitlin who supplied many of the gems over four decades.  His library of Vinciana was gifted to UCLA.

a)  Herbert E. Evans
b)  Elmer Belt
c)  John F. Fulton
d)  Harvey Cushing

Bonus Fact:  He was a pioneer in sex reassignment surgery.

35. Formed over forty-five years, this extensive collection documenting women at work contains well-known examples of women’s history and the arts complimented by a wide range of material produced by women “scholars, printers, publishers, laborers, scientists, artists, and political activists.”  In 2015 the collection found at home at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library.  The collector who assembled it is:

a)  Lisa Ungar Baskin
b) Dorothy Sloan
c) Priscilla Juvelis    
d) Mary Hyde

36.  His recent untimely passing sent reverberations throughout the rare book trade.  He apprenticed with Jake Zeitlin before opening his own book shop in partnership with his then wife.  The two printed twenty-five titles under their Press of the Pegacycle Lady in the 1970s.  Although an expert bookman in many areas, his Sixties roots were exemplified by his formation of important collections on psychoactive drug related literature and Vegetarianism, now at Harvard and the Lilly Library, respectively.  Later in life he bought and renovated the Hacienda Hot Springs Spa in Desert Hot Springs.

a) William Dailey
b) William Reese
c) Michael R. Thompson
d) Frank Klein

37.  His Principles of Bibliographical Description forever changed the field of bibliography drawing many disciples and not a few detractors.

a) Charlton Hinman
b) Philip Gaskell
c) William B. Todd
d) Fredson Bowers

Bonus fact:  He was avid breeder of dogs and judge at dog shows, his first book being a handbook on dogs.

38.  This collector was chairman of Ginn & Heath publishers and built a world-class collection of textbooks including manuscripts, incunabula, primers and hornbooks, now at Columbia.  He authored two well-received books based on the collection, The Education of Shakespeare and The Education of Chaucer.   He also presented a large library of Italian literature to Wellesley College in memory of his wife and formed an extensive library on the French and Indian War. 

a) George A. Plimpton
b) John Shaw Pierson
c) William Speck
d) Winston Coleman

Bonus fact:  His grandson was a notable journalist, literary editor, and sports writer.

39.  His father avidly collected Stephen Foster.  He decided to pursue a much wider field, using many of the “most famous” biblio-lists as an outline to construct a formidable collection with exceptional holdings in literature, Americana, medicine, and science.  The collection became the foundation for one of the great rare book libraries in the United States. 

a) Henry Folger
b) Henry Huntington
c) J. K. Lilly, Jr
d) Walter Beinecke

Bonus fact:  He underwrote the funding for Jacob Blanck’s Bibliography of American Literature.

40.  Thomas Streeter ranks high on any list of legendary book collectors, but he was also a formidable bibliographer, authoring the monumental Bibliography of Texas 1795-1845 based on his own collection.  The auction of his Americana library at Sotheby Parke-Bernet from 1966-1969 was a landmark sale.  However, his Texana collection was not included.  Where did it go?

a) University of Texas-Austin
b) Alamo Research Center, San Antonio
c) Beinecke Library, Yale
d) Retained by the family and viewable by appointment

41.  The Grolier Club of NYC formally began admitting women members in 1976.  (Although women gave guest lectures as early as the 1890s.)  The first woman to serve as president of the Grolier Club (2002-2006) was this Churchill collector.

a) Mary Hyde
b) Anne Lyon Haight
c) Susan Jaffe Tane
d) Carolyn Smith

42.  At age 11, he purchased from the Henkels auction house an illustrated edition of Reynard the Fox.  Admitting afterward he was insolvent for the amount, owner Stan Henkels laughed, put him on a payment plan, and proclaimed he was “the very first baby bibliomaniac to come my way.”  He would later be instrumental in building some of the greatest collections of the 20th century and leave his own collection to establish a museum.

a)  Henry Huntington
b) A.S.W. Rosenbach
c)  Henry Folger
d) Lathrop Harper 

43.  His family business catalogues were groundbreaking and world renowned.  His book collection of early illustrated books and prints was arguably equal to the professional fame.  He would gift the Library of Congress his collection of books but retained it during his lifetime and added to its holdings.

a) William Clements
b) William Andrews Clark
c) Walter Beinecke
d) Lessing Rosenwald   

Bonus Fact:  The family business, Sears, rivaling the size of Walmart and Amazon in its day, has descended into bankruptcy and dismemberment.

44.  He was a prominent book collector who made a fortune as a Broadway producer during the Twenties only to lose all of it in the Depression.  He also published several distinguished literary limited editions via his Watch Hill Press.  In the 1930s and 40s he became known for his writings on fine foods and wine.  David Randall in Dukedom Large Enough recounts how he acquired and sold the collector’s books, a story not without adventure and tribulations.  Randall notes that “the reason [he] stored his library was to keep this asset from his creditors, as I found out when I tried to sell it.”

a) Crosby Gaige
b) Mitchell Kennerley
c) Harry B. Smith
d) Jerome Kern

45. This champion water skier in his youth rose to prominence in the accounting field.  His collection of Baskerville printings and biblio-material, particularly his auction / private library catalogues, are world-class.  He has printed many pamphlets and ephemera on his private press for over fifty years.  He also has the ex-Folger Library Hinman collator in his dining room.

a) William B. Todd
b) William P. Barlow, Jr.
c) Thomas Tanselle
d) Michael Winship

46.  A transplanted Englishman, he was a prominent Bay Area book dealer for decades.  His autobiography Infinite Riches captures his humor and personality along with telling many fine book stories.

a) Peter Howard
b) David Magee
c) John Windle
d) Jeffrey Thomas

47.  This rare bookstore was established in New Haven, Connecticut in 1915.  It has had three owners including E. Byrne Hackett, Franklin Gilliam, and the current proprietor, John Crichton.  The shop’s various locations in its illustrious history include Princeton, New York City, Austin, Houston, and San Francisco.

a) Heritage Book Shop
b) Howell Books
c) Brick Row Book Shop
d) Serendipity Books

48.  Rising to prominence as a Texas novelist and man of letters, relatively few people know that he has been an avid bookman since his days at Rice University.  For many years he owned used /rare bookstores in Washington, D.C. and Houston.  Later, he bought entire bookstores en bloc to establish a massive book emporium located in Archer City, Texas.  In 2012, citing health concerns, he auctioned much of the stock off.

a) John Jenkins
b) John Graves
c) Larry McMurtry
d) Dan Jenkins

Bonus Fact:  His private library, housed in his residence, once the country club of his hometown, holds a reputed 30,000 volumes.   

49.  An expert in detective and mystery fiction, he has published and edited many volumes in the field. He is the proprietor of the Mystery Bookshop in New York City. His massive private collection of first / important editions, numbering almost 60,000 volumes, is housed in his chateau in rural Connecticut. 

a) Peter Stern
b) Jim Pepper
c) Dan Posnansky
d) Otto Penzler

50.  He was an avid fisherman and published a well-regarded history of angling and its literature.  He is more well-known for establishing a famous bookshop whose logo was “Anything that’s a book.”

a) Charles Goodspeed
b) Walter M. Hill
c) Lathrop Harper
d) Peter Howard


26. b
27. c
28. a
29. b
30. c
31. c
32. b
33. c
34. b
35. a
36. a
37. d
38. a
39. c
40. c
41. d
42. b
43. d
44. a
45. b
46. b
47. c
48. c
49. d
50. a

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Moving Experience

The smell and feel and heft of books, time to move, only a mile away, the same neighborhood, and unexpectedly a new home called to us and we answered, empty nesters now, this an updated home with more room, better views, but what of the books some 7,000 strong, overflowing the old house’s master bedroom, the former kids’ rooms, the game room, the half bath, and closets and I couldn’t let movers touch them, no sir, and I’m still twenty-something mentally and I will move them myself, all of them, and it will be fun and a fine workout but time waits for no man, and I pack, and arrange, and lift, and push forward and the steep stairs push back and thirty boxes turns to three hundred and damnit my huge bottle of ibuprofen is the only thing separating me from incapacity and hospitalization but it’s worth it I swear to myself and each packed box tingles and thrills as thirty years of closely curated finds reveal themselves once again and I can’t remember them all but I do rediscover most as they fill my hands and I pause over and over to dip and touch and recall finds hiding in top shelves of bookstores, dealer catalogues, auction houses, and a furniture store, and I remember friends and acquaintances, a world of rare book hunters, some still close and others gone until Book Valhalla’s reunion and sadness and happiness as memories flow and I realize my book centered life is a people centered life and immersion in books can be almost overwhelming at times, almost, and I think about this as my breath is short and my dolly creaks under a stack of boxes, and I figure out even as a liberal arts major how to engineer 27 boxes in my Korean-born SUV, the rear tailgate not quite secure, but again I rationalize I’m only a mile away to the new house and I dodge youngsters playing in the street and wonder if they’ll even know what a book is as sweat drips and my sight is blurred and I barely miss my octogenarian neighbor walking his hot dog and I realize I almost took out one of the old school readers who may not know a rare book from a paperback but he knows a book and I coast gingerly into our new expansive driveway hoping not to shake a binding or twerk a fragile, wrappered copy, and this is only the delivery part and does not include my new expertise at assembling IKEA bookshelves that take the place of those dreamed of custom shelves that somehow never happen as the extra money goes to books and not to shelves and my priorities of a collector bubble up and I think fleetingly of the exotic sports car that could have been mine had my tastes not run to books and then I’m okay because someday I might sell some of these books and buy a sports car which is as likely as a unicorn, but the sun is shining, the air pure, and it balms the spirit as I precariously balance wants and needs and how my mind does wander when hot and tired and then it’s time to carry those boxes gently and lovingly up that damn flight of steep stairs to the new game room that is now properly a library and then the idea to put everything in alphabetical order worms into my brain like mad cow disease and instead of a couple weeks of moving it becomes a couple of months, and the organization takes the form of dozens of stacks and piles and temporary shelves and god knows what saturate my full mind as the mass is organized and all else is forgotten and the spouse wonders what sanity is left and I pause long enough to give that boyish look that is both cute and exasperating to the loved one and more time is granted for the folly and glory of a book person at full intensity, and miraculously order emerges, despite pause after delightful pause, and my reflexes sharpen as I ninja to keep half shelves from falling over and any book baby that is fragile is given extra attention and I realize more dust jacket and mylar covers are needed and this proposed task is daunting but the idea warms like the bourbon and Coke being sipped from my thermos, not to hide the drink but because it leaves no rings on books or shelves, and as my new library takes shape, the pain, the mental juggling, those pleasant distractions of work and family, melt away leaving a glorious ensemble of bookish delights to surround, fortify, please, intrigue, and sooth, each tome a person reaching from finality, and I grasp carefully one close and dip again or anew, and my biceps are taut as youth, and I can’t await my first book visitors to the new home and as this passionate thought provides stimulation, I notice, forlornly, that available shelf space in the new home is not what I had hoped and I worry once again, but it passes and somehow, I’m ready for more and no one is surprised.

The Upstairs Library
The Master Bedroom Library

Visitors this month.  Move it and they will come.

Very Fine collectors Bill Fisher & Douglas Adams with The Batman (and me)
Kevin Mac Donnell, Mighty Twain Collector & Scholar (and noted Dealer)

Old friend & former colleague Richard Austin, Director of Books & MSS at Sotheby's NY.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Featured Item VIII: The Zamorano 80. Food, Fellowship & Books

THE ZAMORANO 80: A SELECTION OF DISTINGUISHED CALIFORNIA BOOKS MADE BY MEMBERS OF THE ZAMORANO CLUB.  Los Angeles: The Zamorano Club, 1945. Foreword by Homer D. Crotty.  x [1] 66 p. Folding frontis., plates.  8vo. Rust brown cloth, front cover and spine stamped in gilt, dust jacket. Limitation: No. 190 of 500.

Inscribed, “For Crosby Gaige, fellow explorer in the realms of typographia and culinariana, with warm regards. Phil Townsend Hanna, June 17, 1946.”
                The selection committee consisted of Phil Hanna (1896-1957), whose earlier work, Libros Californianos, or Five Feet of California Books, served as inspiration, Leslie E. Bliss, Robert E. Cowan, Henry R. Wagner, J. Gregg Layne, Robert J. Woods and Robert G. Cleland.  Homer D. Crotty was the “moderator.” He recounts the somewhat contentious selection process in the foreword.  It took the men a flurry of list making, lively discussions, and two full-fledged dinners to hash out the final eighty selections.  One hundred titles had been the goal but better eighty heartily agreed upon then one hundred that would include lukewarm choices.
                Presentation copies of this influential book are scarce.  The recipient, Crosby Gaige (1882-1949), was a prominent book collector who made a fortune as a Broadway producer during the Twenties only to lose all of it in the Depression.  He also published a number of distinguished literary limited editions via his Watch Hill Press.  In the 1930s and 40s he became known for his writings on fine foods and wine.  He and Hanna shared a common interest in the culinary arts as well as books.  Each formed large cookbook collections.  Gaige was president of the New York Wine and Food Society and Hanna secretary of the Wine & Food Society of Los Angeles.
Gaige’s now mostly forgotten autobiography Footlights and Highlights (1948) is a surprisingly fine read (ghost written by bookman John Tebbel) but devotes only one chapter to his collecting and publishing. David Randall in Dukedom Large Enough recounts how he acquired and sold Gaige’s book collection, a story not without adventure and tribulations.  Randall notes that “the reason Gaige stored his library was to keep this asset from his creditors, as I found out when I tried to sell it.”

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Untrodden Paths in Book Collecting

A recent visit from collector and bookseller Kevin Mac Donnell resulted in a wide-ranging conversation meandering down many paths including an untrodden one.  His recollection of my brief book collecting guide written over two decades ago gave me pause.  The essay originally appeared in the February 1997 issue of Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine.   I had forgotten all about it.  I wrote the piece while working at Butterfield & Butterfield auction house.  My effort was inspired by a combination of sorting thousands of estate sale books, a particularly encouraging book department staff, and a then recent reading of New Paths in Book Collecting (1934).  My guide was surprisingly never reprinted, nor has it been available online.  A re-awakened combination of guilt and angst over this situation calls for rectitude.  Who am I to be so selfish, to hoard such knowledge from the greater book world, to prevent future collectors from drawing on the bonanza of my experience?  So, here it is as written with the original illustrations.  Timeless wisdom needs no revision.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

William Reese (1955-2018): A Personal Homage

Bookseller William Reese stood with my wife and me in his private room / biblio-lair at his shop at 409 Temple Street, New Haven, Connecticut.  It was a beautiful fall day in 2015.  The juxtaposition of large, blue exercise ball upon a bed surrounded by bookcases of bibliographic delights was momentarily disconcerting.  Reese gave a hearty laugh as we discussed the importance of keeping one’s back and “core” in good shape.  The tall, lanky Reese had been a long-distance runner in his younger days and was no stranger to exercise.  Today however it was all about the sentimental library that surrounded us.  For he and I both shared a love for the history of book collecting, particularly copies with interesting associations.  And this was his private stash.  And he had granted me unfettered access to browse at will.  Nicole said later that it was the only time she’d seen me star struck.  And I was.
We all talked briefly, too briefly, Bill pointing out a few things, then he excused himself for a doctor’s appointment.  Stay as long as you want, he said, as he exited.  It was my first visit to his shop and the last time I saw Bill Reese.   Unknown to us at the time, the doctor’s visit was one of many in a long battle with cancer that would eventually take his life last week on June 4th.  Few knew his condition or how sick he'd become.
I suspected, though.  In the last couple of years, he wrote and published a flurry of five bibliographic works and a collection of essays.  He was running his last race and wanted to make it a good one.  These final publications round out a career of rare bookselling matched by few in the long history of the American book trade.  Reese assumes his place in the pantheon among Henry Stevens, A.S.W. Rosenbach, Lathrop Harper, and the Eberstadts.
Reese specialized in Americana of all periods, spanning the arrival of Columbus to the settling of the West and beyond.  He was a bookselling prodigy as a teen, beginning his career while an undergraduate at Yale, and cutting his teeth in Texas working briefly for bookseller Fred White, Jr, before venturing out on his own in 1979.   His friendly nature, wit, raw intelligence, and acumen at buying and selling, let him command the Americana market for almost forty years.  The best material passed through his hands both at auction and privately.  The best collections bear his influential stamp.  But I’m not here to list his professional accomplishments in detail.  Others will certainly do that.   I want to share something more personal in my homage to Bill Reese.
Bill given his stature in his field, could have been arrogant, dismissive, pretentious, or unresponsive.  But he was not. His interaction with yours truly is certainly as good example as any.
While in graduate school, ca. 1990, I took Michael Winship’s bibliography class.  Winship noted my already incubating interest in the history of the rare book world and loaned me a copy of Bill Reese’s senior thesis, Winnowers of the Past: The Americanist Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (1977).  Reese details the history of 19th century Americana collecting with a focus on the famous collectors and dealers of the period.  This still unpublished thesis blew me away.  I dove right in and when I surfaced I was one inspired book hunter.  So, this serendipitous read is foundational to my own collecting and by extension provided much of the related joy I’ve experienced over the years.
Bill Reese had gotten my attention, although it would be awhile before I returned the favor.  I worked for bookseller Dorothy Sloan who knew Bill well.  I was present when she spoke with Bill on the phone – always an interesting exchange of book minutia, trade talk, and occasional gossip.  I recall talking to him directly, but it was punctual and of no great import.  I had heard his voice though, exchanged pleasantries and the connection was established.  I also began reading the William Reese catalogues, marveling at the material offered and descriptions within.  Ironically, I purchased from the Reese literary catalogues, not the Americana.  My impecunious budget (and interest) led me to the literary side managed by Terry Halladay, a symbiotic bookselling match with Reese, the two working together for four decades.  I should note here that Bill Reese was not confined to Americana.  His personal collecting interests were wide: for example, he assembled over many years an impressive library of color plate books and what is certainly the best collection of Herman Melville in private hands.
By the mid-1990s, I was a cataloguer and then director of the rare book department at Butterfield’s & Butterfield’s (now Bonham’s) auction house on the West Coast.  Bill Reese was an important buyer of Americana at our sales.  I would send advance copies of our catalogues and personal emails to market them.  We began to interact formally.  He bid and was highly successful.  Sometimes he and dealer Graham Arader, another major figure, would unwittingly butt heads via phone bidding to the delight of our department.  If Bill lost an item, he was a gracious loser (unlike some others), although it personally bothered me because by now I was a member of the Reese fan club.
I was fortunate to be present several times when he bid in person at auction.  The most memorable was our Los Angeles sale of February 14, 1996 in conjunction with the ABAA Book Fair.  A rare copy of Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia (1632) with maps of New England and Virginia was being offered.  Reese entered the room and soon had a big smile, shaking hands and talking with colleagues, towering over them literally (at about 6’ 4”) and figuratively.  But then the action began, and he calmly, quietly and relentlessly bid against E. Forbes Smiley III for the book.  Smiley was a big man, heavy set, sweating, and nervous as he raised his paddle.  They went back and forth tennis match style until the book hammered at $41,400.  I savored the moment.  Many years later, the competing bidder would be found guilty of stealing millions of dollars’ worth of maps from libraries and sent to prison.   
When I left the trade and assumed “collector only” status, our contact was intermittent.  I began to gather material related directly to Reese—books written by him, special catalogues, inscribed material, ephemera. I would see him at the ABAA Book Fairs and visit him briefly at his booth. But he was in work mode and typically didn’t have time to chat much. 
My friend and fellow collector, Douglas Adams, knowing my admiration for Bill, prodded me to have more interaction with him.  Look at this, he said, and showed me his copy of The Immense and Distinguished Half-Title Collection Formed by John H. Jenkins III, Esq. of Austin, Texas, Now Elucidated (1980), an elaborate spoof played on Johnny Jenkins in which Reese played a primary role.  Only ca. 25 copies were produced.   Douglas had sent his copy to Bill for examination and comment.  Bill wrote a full-page inscription in the book outlining the story and his role. 
I listened.  And when I acquired a batch of material from Texas bookseller Ray Walton’s personal library I sent a special item to Reese to peruse.  Reese had known Walton well.  Walton was a colorful cohort of Johnny Jenkins in the Texas bookselling scene of the 1970s and 80s.   The item was Walton’s heavily annotated copy of Reese’s first book Six Score: The 120 Best Books on the Range Cattle Industry (1976).  Reese not only inscribed it to me but went through the book, writing comments on Walton’s earlier notes both negatively and positively.   This was well beyond the call of duty and I was thrilled.  Another catalyst in our burgeoning friendship was Jeff Dykes, the noted collector and bookseller of Western Americana.  I had an 8 x 10 glossy of Dykes dated from the 1960s inscribed to Ray Walton.  A scan of this amused Bill and he recalled his early encounters with Dykes.  Walton had what I can only describe as a book dealer photo fetish and other photos of bookmen inscribed to him found their way into my collection, including ones to Jenkins and Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough, a prominent collector.  I sent scans of these to Bill, too.  One of my regrets is not printing up an 8x10 of Reese and having him inscribe it to me as an amusing aside.
We were having a little fun now.  And I must thank my wife Nicole for her role in a memorable chat with Reese at a book fair a few years ago that also broke the ice.  I’d said hello to Reese earlier in the day but played my usual role of hanging back, not wanting to bother him.  Nicole thought this all rather silly.  In a quiet moment on a Sunday afternoon of the fair she linked arms with me and literally dragged me to his booth.   Fortified by her presence, I relaxed and had an entertaining talk with Bill and Terry Halladay.  It wasn’t a lengthy conversation, but it was informal and for the first time I felt that Bill fully recognized me as a kindred spirit with our shared biblio interests.
Momentum built.  The visit to his shop in 2015.  And in July of 2016 I wrote a blog essay about another copy of Bill Reese’s Six Score with a sentimental inscription.  I had acquired the book years earlier and only of late discovered the importance of the association.  I surprised Bill with the essay and he much enjoyed it.  I added his commentary as postscript and we corresponded further.  And I knew it was time.  Time to share with him the full extent of my biblio-collection.  He would not find it overwhelming.
I realized a personal visit to my home was remote, or at best in the future, so I printed out a copy of my private library catalogue—some 800 pages in 9-point type—bound it in old school stiff red covers and metal clasps (the same as his senior thesis was issued forty years before) and sent it on.  No word for a little while.  Not unexpected, he was a busy man, and sicker than most of us knew, and I’d just dropped a phone book-sized catalogue on him unsolicited.   Then it came. 

Dear Kurt,
                 Yesterday we had a nice blizzard here in New Haven, and as everybody was exhausted from the Book Fair we just closed for the day, and I spent a pleasant day at home catching up on reading. This gave me a chance to really spend some quality time with your catalogue, which I had not previously been able to do with back-to-back fairs and much going on business-wise. Nothing like a snow day! In any case, I want to congratulate you both on the accomplishment of putting the collection together and on your excellent annotations, which open up a vast trove of bibliographical and bibliopolical lore. I very much enjoyed running across many old friends, both ones I knew personally and ones I had encountered in book history. Also, I'm impressed by your willingness to have multiple copies of the same book!    All best, Bill Reese

Writing this has become hard now.  The memories have me deeply saddened and I’m lamenting the fact there will be no further interactions.  There was so much I wanted to tell him and so much more I wanted to hear.  We were both big admirers of Charles Everitt’s Adventures of a Treasure Hunter (1951), one of the best bookseller memoirs.  I prodded Bill to write his own memoirs and he said he was, but I don’t think it happened—fleeting time, illness, and life cruelly short.   It would have been the best of them all.  I know it.  But I’m grateful for what he did write and gave to the book world and while he was busy building important collections, buying and selling great books, and becoming one of the finest antiquarian booksellers of all, he took time to be my friend.
Capturing the moment in the biblio-lair.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers

The release of a bibliographical work many decades in the making is quite an achievement.  One that breaks entirely new ground is cause for celebration.  Such is John Payne’s Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers (Austin: 2017).  Mr. Payne, who authored the standard bibliographies of John Steinbeck and W. H. Hudson, brings his formidable skills to bear on a subject long of interest to him. 
            He writes in the preface, “Bookshops open and close.  Booksellers retire, change professions, and pass on.  What remains, other than memories and reputations, are their catalogues, the lasting tangible record of a bookseller’s creativity and expertise—a remembrance, a talisman.
            “Catalogues reflect booksellers’ personalities, preferences, and priorities, the nature of their stock, sources of inventory, the evolution of bibliographical sophistication, and their relationships with others in the trade.  Catalogues also reveal friendships that sometimes develop between booksellers and their clients.  The best catalogues display scholarship in abundance.
            Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers was begun during my year as a Lilly Fellow at The Lilly Library at Indiana University, studying under the irrepressible David A. Randall, where I discovered The Lilly’s collection of booksellers’ catalogues.  During my succeeding seventeen years’ work with the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas Austin, I took the opportunity to examine its collection of 20,000+ booksellers’ catalogues assembled from the reference collection of the rare book dealer, James F. Drake, and the private libraries of Christopher Morley, Evelyn Waugh, William Targ, and others.  I sought out the most important, most interesting, and most entertaining catalogues.
            “Work on Great Catalogues lay undisturbed but unforgotten for twenty-five years, from the time I left the Ransom Center in 1985 to 2010.  These were the years I established and operated Payne Associates, an appraisal firm for rare books and archives, an ongoing scholarly enterprise.  By the time I returned to Great Catalogues, my perspective had changed.  Rather than simply identifying my choice of the most important catalogues and describing them in checklist form, I then realized the value of reproducing and introductory essays written by England’s and America’s most distinguished booksellers, bibliographers, and librarians on the most popularly collected subjects. 
            “My preliminary catalogue selection from the Ransom Center was expanded by research visits to the Grolier Club in New York and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and again at The Lilly Library.  I then asked booksellers and others for comments and recommendations for additional titles.  All were winnowed down to these one hundred and forty [selections].
            Great Catalogues describes catalogues published by American and English booksellers during the nineteen to twenty-first centuries.  Sufficient bibliographical particulars are given to identify each catalogue, including variants.”
            I would at this point typically give you my review of the work.  However, having been privileged to write the introduction, I will simply state that the success of such an endeavor is whether it serves as a valuable reference, stirs long-term interest in the subject, and provides a coherent framework to discuss and build upon.  In these ways, I feel its success is assured.  Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers goes one step further by illuminating an area of bibliography that has been surprisingly neglected.
            How does an individual or library obtain a copy?  I received the following information from Mr. Payne:
I want to take this opportunity to forward to you my announcement of the recent publication of Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers.

Great Catalogues is a fine press production designed and printed by Bill & David Holman of Austin, under the imprint, Roger Beacham Publishers, with only 200 copies of the 300-regular edition available for sale.  The net price is $225.  It is a substantial quarto, running close to 500 pages, printed on high quality paper, bound in a fine red cloth, filled with detailed descriptions and excerpts from the catalogues and highly illustrated in color.  Great Catalogues presents my selection of 140 significant English and American rare booksellers’ catalogues, 19th-21st century.

 Because each catalogue description includes the bookseller’s Preface or Introduction by a guest writer, the book has become an unexpected anthology of essays about the most popularly collected subjects written by England’s and America’s most distinguished booksellers, collectors and rare book librarians. The 100 Special Copies bound in quarter morocco will be available ca April 1, 2018, priced $450.  The Regular Copies, bound in full red cloth, are currently available at $225.  Because I am giving 100+ Regular Copies to booksellers and others who have assisted me with the preparation of my book, I am unable to provide a bookseller’s discount for this first printing. 

Please send orders, comments, or questions to John R. Payne at 2309 Camino Alto, Austin, TX 78746 or Phone: 512-328-4535.