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.

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.