Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Six Score and More: Wallowing in It with Bill Reese

I've been recently wallowing in rare books with noted bookseller Bill Reese.  Not literally, but via the Rare Book School podcast of his June 15, 2016 talk, “Starting Out: My Early Days as a Rare Book Dealer,”  Bill’s entertaining account of his biblio-youth in the 1970s that focuses primarily on Yale and Texas, two seemingly disparate paths connected by his early interest in Western Americana.  Reese discusses a brilliant sky of prominent bookmen and women who influenced him.  He ends with an observation about his pre-digital experiences garnered at the Yale libraries and via the rare book trade:
“In the pre-digital age . . .  one could really only learn and obtain knowledge of material by being absorbed in it and soaking in it.  I had the great good fortune to have the ability to wallow in vast amounts of material and be able to soak in a huge amount of knowledge through it.  . . . One of the things that has obscured the digital age is the difference between knowledge and information.    Information is now readily available all the time in every form, we think we can look it all up, and to a degree we can look things up in ways we never could before, but being able to look things up without the knowledge, and the knowledge that only can be obtained by literally wallowing in the material is I think the difference between true deep book knowledge and simply accessed information.”
             I’m familiar with this pre-digital wallowing.  I had the opportunity in my college days in the late 1980s to have three years free-reign of the stacks of the Ransom Center at the University of Texas (and other libraries on campus) during an internship.  I combined this with frequent visits to bookshops in Austin and San Antonio and all served as a marinade of biblio-learning that no amount of internet surfing can replace.  Wallowing is still available by the way—libraries are still filled with books, bookstores are still out there, rare book classes and schools are flourishing, and most dealers are more than happy to share their experiences.  One just needs to make a concerted effort to dive in.    
            Reese’s talk is delivered to me digitally but it feels like an old-school radio show with no video or a printed transcript as a crutch.  I pause the recording for a moment to crack open a Live Oak Hefeweisen, settle back on the couch sipping my brew, pet the fat cat sprawled next to me, and close my eyes to listen.  About twenty minutes into his lecture Reese discusses his four primary mentors at Yale: Archibald Hanna, Charles Montgomery, Donald Gallup, and Fritz Liebert.  All but Montgomery are familiar to me as prominent bookmen.  As Reese talks about Montgomery a flicker of recognition ignites in my mind but it is a slow burn.  My eyes are open now and I listen intently. 
            Montgomery (1910-1978) was an “extraordinary character” says Reese.  He began as a dealer in decorative arts and antiques and was hired as a curator in 1949 by Henry Francis DuPont to develop the Winterthur Museum and Library in Delaware.  In 1954, Montgomery became director of Winterthur.  After retiring, he came to Yale in 1970 to teach.  Reese took a class from him and soon learned that Montgomery, like Archibald Hanna, “knew everybody and had been everywhere.”   Montgomery was “absolutely fearless in taking his classes out to see things.”  
Reese recounts an example when “he took a group of us to the Frick Museum. . .  there was this amazing Boulle table that even in those days was probably worth a couple million dollars. . .  Charlie was very insistent that everybody understand the woods involved and things like that.  So, we’re standing in the Frick’s drawing room . . . and Charlie turns to me and another and says, ‘Bill, Joe, turn that table over’ . . . before the director could say anything we picked the table up and turned it over and I look up and the director of the Frick is standing there with his jaw hung open but it was too late to do anything about it so we got away with it.  That’s the way Charlie was, you went in, you wanted to see something, you picked it up and looked at it.  That was a great lesson, too.  That gall could get you a long way,” Reese says finishing his recollection with a laugh.  Charlie’s “brashness” and knowledge made quite an impact on the young Reese.
The flicker of recognition becomes a bonfire and I pause the recording.
 “Son of a biscuit,” I say loudly to the cat that is startled awake.  I can still move fairly quickly when motivated and motivated I am.    I’m up from the couch and heading full tilt for the bookshelves in the master bedroom.  There is no exact order to my books but I know the general area to search.  I can’t find it right off, damn it –take a deep breath--and then success:  the tall, thin tome is top shelf left, and I soon cradle it in my hands like a newly discovered relic.   The book is Reese’s precocious Six Score: the 120 Best Books on the Range Cattle Industry (Austin: 1976).  I bought the book on Ebay in 2010 from a dealer in New Hampshire.  The copy was inscribed and the price modest and that was enough. 
The inscription reads: “For Charles Montgomery, My first book—far afield from decorative arts, but another side of Texas from Miss Ima Hogg.  Best, Bill Reese, July 27, 1976.” 

My original catalogue slip is in the book.  I’d dutifully researched the information then available on the web to identify Charles Montgomery and sketched out a biography.  I explained briefly Reese’s reference to Ima Hogg, Texas philanthropist, patron, and collector of the arts, but I certainly didn’t realize the full importance of the association—until now.  
I immediately phone Douglas Adams, my friend who tipped me off to the Reese podcast, “I just found an awesome association copy,” I say excitedly. 
            “What did you buy?”
            “Nada.  It is already in my collection,” and I tell him the story in full.
            I gently place the book on the shelf and linger a moment admiring it from a fresh perspective.  Now is time for a catalogue revision and a surprise email to Bill Reese. 
I’m wallowing in it, indeed.


Bill Reese read the essay and was kind enough to reply:
"A few further notes on your copy of SIX SCORE. I finished writing the book in late 1975 and gave it to Jenkins, who got it out in a boxed set with Ramon Adams' book in July, 1976. I spent that June and July cataloging books in Texas, including a lot of time at the Jenkins company going through Eberstadt books. I had the first copies with me when I came through New Haven briefly in the last week of July to organize my apartment for the next year. Charles Montgomery's wife Florence and I shared a birthday-July 29- and several years had a birthday dinner together. We did it early in 1976 because I was turning 21 that July 29 and was having dinner with my family, then going to Europe for the rest of the summer the next day. So I had dinner with the Montgomery's a few days early, on the 27th, which is when I gave Charlie the book.
As I suggested in my talk, Charlie was a great inspiration to me, and he and his wife became good friends as well as mentors. Sadly he died in the fall of 1978, of a heart attack.   All best,   Bill"

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

De Ricci and Bartlett’s 1921 Book Collector’s Guide: An Icon of the Golden Age

Seymour De Ricci’s and Henrietta Bartlett’s The Book Collector’s Guide: A Practical Handbook of British and American Bibliography (1921) is much more than a forgotten price guide.   The timing of publication and bibliographic expertise provide an insider’s view of the Golden Age of American book collecting--then arguably at its peak--when opportunities were abundant and mighty collectors rose to the occasion.  It was a transitory age, too, and reflects in retrospect the coming shift from old paths to new paths in collecting that would take hold in the 1930s.  The story of the book’s birth is also quite a tale with the polymath bookman Seymour de Ricci at the helm and Henrietta Bartlett as his brilliant, but generally unrecognized co-author.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Featured Item VII: Wilmarth Lewis Presentation to a Thirteen-Year Old Compatriot

Wilmarth Lewis’ classic autobiographical account Collector’s Progress is well represented in my library in multiple association copies, many important, but none as charming as this example.  I purchased the book recently on Ebay for a nominal sum using Ebay “bucks” – in effect rewards credit for other purchases—that was about to expire.  Use it or lose it.  The recipient was not noted by the seller but the price so tempting I ordered it on a whim and let the dice roll. . . .

Wilmarth Lewis.  COLLECTOR’S PROGRESS. London: Constable & Co Ltd., [1952].  xxiii 245 p.  Plates.  8vo.  Blue cloth, spine stamped in gilt.  Notes:  First UK edition, with a preface for the English reader (pp. vii-ix) not found in the American edition.

Inscribed, “To John Thorpe (who came to all three of my Sandars Lectures) with every good wish for his collecting, Wilmarth Lewis, Room 4, Mill Lane, May 9th, 1957.”

            Lewis writes in One Man’s Education, “In 1957 [Lewis] became the Sandars Reader in Bibliography at Cambridge, the second American to be elected to the Readership since its establishment in 1895.  A liberal interpretation of ‘bibliography’ was necessary to make him eligible, but he felt safe in his subject, ‘Horace Walpole’s Library.’  The Reader spent six months on each of the three lectures, which were given on successive days at five following tea, the ideal hour for lectures in England when the audience is cheered but not inebriated. . . The audience got to nearly sixty each day; very good, the Reader was told, for a Sandars Lecture.
            “There were no undergraduates, but there was a boy in the middle of the third row wearing a school blazer, his cap over one knee.  Lewis could not imagine an American boy going to such a lecture.  He was in the same seat the second day, leaning forward eagerly.  Lewis asked Creswick later who he was and learned that his name was John Thorpe, that he was an ardent book collector who did the best he could on his allowance of a shilling a week, and that his father was at Cambridge on sabbatical leave from Princeton.  After the third lecture John walked with the Lewises to a sherry party given for them by the Vice-Chancellor in the Old Library.  Creswick kindly pushed his bike along the King’s Parade so that he could talk about his collection to Mr. Lewis.  At the party the latter learned what it is like to be proud of a thirteen-year old compatriot.  John was exactly right, not embarrassed, not precocious.  He had a question for Annie Burr.  ‘Mrs. Lewis, do you mind Mr. Lewis collecting books?’  ‘No, John, I don’t.  Do you think it would make any difference if I did?’  ‘No, ma’am, I do not.’”

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Full Immersion -- A Book Hunter's Trip to New York City

Meetings are often necessary evils but this one I am eager to attend.   I sit at an expansive table with Bill Allison, my friend and co-founder of the Book Hunters Club of Houston in, appropriately, the Founder’s Room at the Grolier Club, New York City.   The room is well-paneled and solidly-booked with shelves of bibliographic publications.  Certainly the ghosts of great bookmen of the past are in attendance as well.  We are seated with approximately fifteen trustees of the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS).  It is their annual meeting and our club is being officially accepted into the organization.  Bookish congeniality fills the air and also curiosity at the two Texans who have saddled up for the ride.  Being newbies, Bill and I remain fairly quiet as the meeting progresses.  Incoming FABS president, Michael Thompson of Boreas Fine Art in Evanston, Illinois, sits to my right.  Much to my surprise, he suggests a FABS trip to Texas for 2017.  (One of the primary FABS benefits being an annual book trip to a host city.)  This is not a spur of the moment idea but something he’s been thinking about long before the meeting.  “We’ve never taken a trip to Texas before,” he says. 
            I casually suggest that I could provide input for such a trip and would be glad to help, as in assist, informally.  Murmurs of delight echo in the chamber.  Information comes fast and heavy after that—planning, past trips, etc.  By the time the meeting is over, I appear to be a co-chair of the venture:  new guy with apparent enthusiasm thrown into the fire.  It will be fun, I say to myself and Bill.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

“Yours Bibliographically—and for Vegetarianism”

A SELECTION OF FIRST EDITIONS OF OVER ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY REPRESENTATIVE AMERICAN AUTHORS FROM THE LIBRARY OF CHARLES A. MONTGOMERY, BROOKLYN, N.Y.  New York: Bangs & Co., May 16-17, 1895.  Introduction by Montgomery.  603 lots. Prices realized laid in.  8vo. Printed wrappers. 

Charles Alexander Montgomery (1857-1933) of Brooklyn, New York, was one of the early collectors of American literature.  His strong focus on original condition was ahead of its time.  He compiled this auction catalogue himself providing more bibliographic detail than usually encountered and included extensive notes about the condition of the books and their contents.  The notable collector, Charles B. Foote (1837-1900), another pioneer of American literature collecting, seems to have been a role model and “rival” as Montgomery cited Foote’s copies often—Montgomery’s examples usually in better condition. 
Montgomery was an impecunious collector. The expensive, already sought-after rarities by Poe and Hawthorne were not present in his library. Only a handful of the volumes reached more than five dollars at the auction.  A Whittier item Incidental Poems (1828) in original boards garnered the high price of the sale at $35 (lot 540).  However, his assemblage of secondary authors, periodical appearances and ephemera, showed true bibliographic acumen.  The Whittier description provides an example of Montgomery’s enthusiastic use of commentary.  He wrote, “This Volume was procured after a long search through New England; and is believed to be the only perfect copy offered for sale, anywhere, ‘in the past twenty-years!’ A well-known bookman, who has attended every sale of Libraries at Messrs. Libby’s Auction Rooms, in Boston, ‘since 1882,’ writes me that he has watched very carefully for a perfect copy since that date, and that he has advertised extensively for one, but without result!  I know of but one other perfect copy (or, which I suppose is perfect)—in the Harris Collection of American Poetry . . . “
            Montgomery outlined his approach to the catalogue and his collecting philosophy in the introduction:  “To All Who Love Books:  In compiling this Catalogue of some of my books, I have endeavored, in the first place, to secure accuracy; but no one who has not attempted similar work can fully realize the truth of what Mr. Henry Stevens (‘of Vermont’) says in his ‘My English Library’: ‘If you are troubled with a price of accuracy, and would have it completely taken out of you, print a catalogue’”!
            “In some respects—perhaps many—this Catalogue will be found both original and unique!  Every book has been measured by the standard scale of sizes adopted by the American Library Association—the result being a certain uniformity of description which is usually lacking; though in some cases the sizes seem rather arbitrary, and I have guided more by the height, than by the width of the books.  Another exceptional point---all titles have been given in full; unnecessary, but more satisfactory, on the whole—especially to the printer! . . .
            “Every volume included in this Catalogue is, or is believed to be, a ‘First Edition,’ except where otherwise noted as being the First Revised Edition or the First Illustrated Edition; or an edition in which new and additional matter appears. . . when it is then become properly classed as a ‘First.’
            “The bindings, where not otherwise specified, are those in which the volumes were originally bound; very few have been rebound—and none of them by me.  While tastes differ, and each individual has a right to preserve in the original, or replace in a new binding, the volumes he possesses, yet I hope those into whose hands these and other ‘first editions’ come, will, if they desire uniformity on their shelves, or a more credible appearance than some of ‘th’ embattled volumes’ present, have cloth cases made for them, rather than mutilate them by rebinding!. . . I do not want my rare Shakespeare Folio, of 1623 (when I get it) dressed in the finest binding of to-day!  My Greek vases will not be ‘ornamented’ by ‘The Decorative Sisters’ (if I can help it!); nor my ancient coins ‘gilded o’er’!  And it seems to me that the same principle applies to ‘First Editions,” whether of Shakespeare or of Stoddard!  And so I appeal ‘to all those who love books’ to have cloth cases made for their rare ‘first editions’; and not to mutilate them by rebinding.”
            Montgomery then signs off, “Yours Bibliographically—and for Vegetarianism.” 
That certainly was a surprise ending.  His blend of bibliography and vegetarianism deserved a closer look.  Who was this pioneering book collector who was also a trailblazing vegetarian? 
            Biographical information about Montgomery is scant online: only a few threads here and there to weave a story.  Born in Brooklyn in 1857, Montgomery died in Brooklyn in 1933, apparently a life-long resident.  He had an advertising agency in New York City and was a publisher of sorts operating as C. A. Montgomery & Co.  The October 1, 1887 issue of Literary World noted, “C. A. Montgomery & Co., a young New York firm, are to make house and home books their specialty, and will shortly be ready with a number of tasteful and helpful little manuals instructive in the joint arts of house-keeping and home-making.”
A few examples of his publications include the following.  All are scarce to rare now:  Goodholme’s Domestic Cyclopaedia of Practical Information (1885), Perfect Bread: Its Preparation and Use (1886), and The New York Cake Book: Fifty Recipes by a famous New York Chef. (1904).
Adolph Growoll, publisher of Publisher’s Weekly and indefatigable recorder of book trade history, wrote in Book-Trade Bibliography in the United States in the XIXth Century (1898) that Montgomery was a member of the Dibdin Club and that he owned one of three known copies of the earliest book-trade catalogue issued in the United States (Boston: 1804).  Montgomery’s copy was reproduced in Growoll’s book.
Growoll also mentioned Montgomery in American Book Clubs (1898) and noted that the Dibdin Club was “formed in New York, in May, 1897, by half a dozen persons interested in publishing bibliographical material for which a publisher might not readily be found.”
Two other auctions of Montgomery’s books are recorded by McKay in American Book Auction Catalogues, 1713-1934 :  May 11, 1896 (4528) and May 22, 1907 (6335).  This last auction, Some Bibliography. Including the Most Complete and Perfect Catalogue of American Publications, 1774-1900. . . (344 lots) was also catalogued by Montgomery and showed his deep interest in book trade and bibliographic history.  Montgomery’s copy of the 1804 book trade catalogue was sold in this sale for $50.
Montgomery’s enthusiasm for vegetarianism was reflected in his position in 1895 as treasurer of The New York Vegetarian Society and later in 1902 as secretary of the Society.  Montgomery’s avocation is glimpsed throughout 1902 in various references.  A December 3, 1902, New York Times article with the wistful headline, “To Annex Mars and Make Meals on Air,” quoted Montgomery, “Vegetarianism meant temperance, anti-vaccination, anti-vivisection, cremation, anti-war and universal peace.”  This certainly covers a lot of ground and firmly classifies Montgomery as a free-thinker of sorts. 
According to The Vegetarian Magazine, Vol. 6, Issue 9 (1902), “The largest meeting at which vegetarianism has been brought forward recently was one held in the Grand Opera House, New York, on Sunday evening, June 1.  There were about 3,000 people present.  Charles A. Montgomery, Secretary of the New York Vegetarian Society, delivered an address on ‘Superiority of Vegetarian Diet for Developing Strength and Endurance.’”
The proactive Montgomery was certainly not shy about mixing his vegetables and books.  Growoll recorded  in The Bookseller’s League: A History of Its Formation and Ten Years of Its Work  (1905), “On the evening of May 8 [1902], the Entertainment Committee, at the suggestion of Mr. Charles A. Montgomery, secretary of the Vegetarian Society, provided for the League a strictly vegetarian dinner.  About fifty members were present to entertain their special guests, Ernest H. Crosby, president of the Vegetarian Society of New York, an enthusiastic vegetarian, and James Clarence Harvey.”
“The menu was printed in green ink on vegetable-colored sheet of blotting paper.  It was as follows:

Cream of Asparagus
Olives  Celery  Radishes
Braised Celery, Cream Sauce
Spinach Patties
Lintel and Rice Croquettes, Tomato Sauce
Pineapple Sherbet
Cauliflower Hollandaise
Cream Bermuda Potatoes, Parsley Sauce
Chicory Salad
Frozen Sago and Strawberries
Assorted Cakes

“Mr. Crosby made a happy speech on ‘Why Bookmen Should be Vegetarians.’  He claimed that all domestic animals were more or less unhealthy, and must breed disease in those who consumed them.” 
            After 1907, I can find little reference to Mr. Montgomery and wonder how he occupied the last twenty-five years of his life.  I’ll bring this brief glimpse to a close, fascinated but unmoved by his bookish vegetarianism.   It is time to head outside and smoke a prime cut of brisket in my pit.