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.
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.”
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.
few American antiquarian bookseller memoirs relating to the 19th-century
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.
Purple has made a house call and intends to stay awhile. It is my house specifically, third shelf to
my right, the newest delivery to the library.
Dr. Samuel S. Purple (1822-1900) did not author the work that just
arrived, he owned it. The book is a
tribute to his friend and legendary Americana collector, Henry C. Murphy
(1810-1882). Once finely bound in half
morocco and marbled boards with an elaborate, gilt spine, the book’s binding
has been battered and rubbed over its long journey, apparently un-appreciated
by some previous handlers, but protecting the contents within. There is the faint scent of cigar smoke. I plucked it from the flotsam and jetsam for
pennies, restoring the appreciation if not the binding.
to my desk is a small group of reference books that I utilize often. Don Dickinson’s Dictionary of American Book Collectors (1986) and Dictionary of American Antiquarian
Bookdealers (1998) are there: thumbed, note-scribbled, and worn from
use. I’ve spent the last twenty-seven
years with Don Dickinson by my side although we never met in person. We did exchange emails and books over a
couple decades and I told myself I would visit him one day at his home in
Tucson, Arizona. I imagined us diving
deep into biblio-lore talk, drinks in hand, surrounded by his stacks of books
and pamphlets and papers that overflowed his study. Or, at least that is what I envisioned. Perhaps he kept everything neat as a pin, but
alas, it must remain an imaginary happening.
My email to Don this last fall went unanswered. I suspected, but was hesitant to type his
name into an online search. When I did,
the finality of the moment was difficult.
Don had died October 10, 2016, age 89.
The brief obituary in the Arizona Daily Star described a life
centered around libraries and books. Don
received his PhD in Library Science at the University of Michigan and worked as
an academic librarian in Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and
Arizona. In 1969, he was invited to
establish a library science program at the University of Arizona and became its
first director. The obituary notes his
membership in the Grolier Club and Zamorano Club. A passing sentence refers to his works about
Langston Hughes, Henry Huntington, and John Carter. No mention is made of his Dictionaries. The rest of the obituary portrays a
progressive, fun-loving man whose hobbies included hitchhiking, playing drums,
Studebakers, jazz, table tennis, basketball watching, train travel, and of
course, book collecting.
Dickinson’s work in the history of
book collecting and the book trade deserves further elucidation. For the scholar, collector, or dealer,
Dickinson’s books are always a good place to start and sometimes the only place
His first major work was A Bio-Bibliography of Langston Hughes
1902-1967 (1967, revised 1972). In
1975, he produced for the Typophiles of New York, Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt: A Bibliography.
However, it was with Dictionary of American Book Collectors
that he broke new ground, or at least went much further than anyone else ever
had in the field. The word “dictionary”
in the title is misleading, conjuring an image of a brief definition, distilled
to sentence or two. Dickinson’s Dictionary is in fact a collection of
short but meaty essays on “359 significant American book collectors who died
before December 31, 1984.” He explains
in the preface, “The information provided in the narrative discussions is
intended to identify the collector’s chief areas of interest, to describe how
those interests developed, and where possible, to indicate the influence the
collector and collection may have had.
This approach should be useful to librarians, collectors, curators, and
individuals in the book trade who wish to identify prominent American
Dickinson’s criterion for selection
is described in the preface. He sums up
the process, “Generally, the men and women represented in this survey formed
libraries distinguished by the quality, unity, and superior physical condition
of the materials they collected as well as the importance those materials had
to other collectors and/or to institutional libraries.”
What is elusive is the spark that
ignited such an undertaking. I should have asked Don about this but never did. The amount of research involved, particularly
in the pre-Internet age, was tremendous and painstaking. Much of the source information was difficult
to access (and remains so). Dickinson
writes, “The only previous work on this subject, Carl Cannon’s American Book Collectorsand Collecting, published in 1941, is
still valuable but difficult to use for reference purposes. . . More recent
information can only be found by searching through a maze of journals, memoirs,
reports, and auction records. This book
brings that information together for easy consultation.”
Dickinson did not hesitate to draw
upon the collective brain power of many extraordinary book people to enhance
the value of the work. The preface cites
a litany of “librarians, curators, and bookdealers [who] have contributed
unselfishly to the preparation of this text.”
I’ll name only a few to give the flavor:
W. H. Bond, Herbert Cahoon, Glen Dawson, Herman Liebert, Marcus
McCorison, Lawrence Clark Powell, Ellen Shaffer, Madeleine Stern, Edwin Wolf,
and Jake Zeitlin. Dickinson ends the
preface, perhaps with relief, “The preparation of this volume has been both a
pleasure and a challenge.”
I’m glad Don took on the
challenge. I was twenty-three years old in September 1990 when I discovered a copy of his Dictionary at the old Half-Price books location on Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas. My
interest in the history of book collecting had just begun, and this fortuitous
find provided a framework to build my biblio-library. I still get excited to check off another name
in the Dictionary when I acquire an
item related to that book collector.
There have been many check marks over the years.
Don rose to the challenge again
after some time off, producing the Dictionary
of American Antiquarian Bookdealers (1998), another unique work in the
field. The format follows a similar one
to that of the Book Collectors. He writes in the preface, “This book has been
undertaken in order to throw light on the accomplishments of a select group of
205 notable American antiquarian bookdealers who died before 1 August,
1997.” He details the selection process
and explains, “Generally, the individuals included in this book developed a
quality stock, issued accurate, attractive sales catalogs, made an impact on
private and /or institutional collections, enjoyed a certain amount of longevity
in the trade and were active in professional organizations. Obviously, not all of the bookdealers included possessed all of these qualities. The
diversity of individual styles and practices among antiquarian booksellers is a
known and cherished phenomenon.” Indeed.
The research on Bookdealers was even more arduous than Book Collectors. He records
that he is “grateful” to the editor of Greenwood Publishing Group, “who
extended the deadline on the book on several occasions.” Dickinson explains, “Few [bookdealers] left
any permanent record of their life’s work.
This dictionary has been compiled as an attempt to fill that gap.” As before, he draws upon the invaluable assistance
of many prominent bookdealers, bibliographers and librarians.
Although published twelve years
apart, Dickinson’s two dictionaries are both bound in matching sturdy red
publisher’s cloth, the front cover and spine with black labels and silver gilt
stamping. This was a thoughtful gesture
on the part of the publisher Greenwood Press.
My copies sit next to each other on the reference shelf, reflecting the
symbiotic relationship between collector and dealer.
Dickinson wrote an important book, Henry E. Huntington’s Library of Libraries
(1995), between the publications of the two dictionaries. There have been biographies of railroad
magnate Huntington but none had focused intensively on his book
collecting. Dickinson explores the
crucial period between 1911 and Huntington’s death in 1927 when Huntington
dominated the book markets of New York and London. In his typically thorough manner, Dickinson
draws upon the Huntington archives, other manuscript material, printed sources,
and even the interviewing of two of Huntington’s granddaughters to flesh out
the narrative. It is crisply written,
engaging, and replete with details about prices paid and behind the scenes
jousting among the bibliophiles.
Huntington was the biggest book collector of them all in a Golden Age of
important American book hunters. Because
of this, the book naturally casts a wide net to tell his story, including just
about every prominent collector, bookseller, and bookman of the period. It is an essential read for anyone with a serious interest in the history of
American book collecting. The only
caveat is just that—a casual reader may want to start with a more general
biography. The Huntington Library
published the book both in hardback and paperback. The book itself is well designed and heavily
On a related note, Dickinson also wrote
the biographical introduction and edited George
Watson Cole: 1850-1939 (1990), No. 8 in the Great Bibliographers Series
issued by the Scarecrow Press. Cole was
Huntington’s chief librarian and played a crucial role in developing the collection.
Don Dickinson’s last major work was a
biography, John Carter: The Taste and
Technique of a Bookman (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2004). Carter (1905-1975), a well-respected Anglo-American
bookman, writer, dealer, and bibliographer, garnered fame early in his career
with the publication of his and Graham Pollard’s expose of Thomas J. Wise, An Enquiry in the Nature of Certain
Nineteenth Century Pamphlets (1934).
He also authored the classic ABC
for Book-Collectors (1952). Carter’s
writing acumen and insightful commentary are displayed throughout his published
works with Tastes and Technique in Book-Collecting
(1948) and Books and Book-Collectors
(1956) being other examples. This
elegant, witty Englishman was firmly embedded in the rare book world of England
and America for most of his life.
Dickinson uses material from many
institutional collections as well as personal interviews of Carter’s colleagues
/ family to structure the narrative. There
is also a checklist of Carter’s publications.
Don’s style is as usual concise and orderly, making for easy, enjoyable
reading. Full immersion in the biography
exposes the close-knit and sometimes combative interplay between the
collectors, dealers, and librarians who pushed to advance a more scholarly
approach to collecting and bibliography from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Don had other projects in mind that
unfortunately did not come to fruition. He emailed me soon after the Carter
book that he had a contract with Oak Knoll to write a biography of English
bookman and librarian, A. N. L. Munby.
He also was planning an updated revision of his Dictionary of American Book Collectors with Joel Silver, current
director of the Lilly Library.
Don explained to me in an email dated
January 29, 2010, “Don't know if I
told you I had a contract with O[ak] K[noll] for a revision up date ofthe Dictionary of American Antiquarian Book Collectors. Joel Silver was
going to be the co-author. I simply could not get itoff the ground here - maybe lack of energy ???? anyway
I cancelled the OKcontract and Joel may go
ahead and do it himself. I regretted
giving itup and still think it would be
worth doing - deceased collectors from 1985 to2009 or so. And just a few months ago I was tested and found to
have maculardegeneration, and am having
treatment. SO, just as well to put the DAABbehind me.”
disconcerting news of Don’s failing eyesight prompted me to print out and send
Don a draft of my biblio-collection catalogue filled with hundreds of
association items related to American book collecting. He emailed me soon after, “WOW!!! You have
done a mighty job. Congratulations. Absolutely delightful. The Zimmerman Collection of Books About
Books is a smashing showpiece. And Iintend to give it several showings to Biblio Friends
here in Tucson.Thanks for the warm inscription. It is, as they say, ‘up
my alley.’ I thought the
Preface struck just the right tone, a ‘work in progress’. . . I know as I look
in more depth, I will have notes/comments etc. to send on but for now
two “wows” from a mentor is more than I could have hoped for. Had I not sent him a copy of the catalogue it
would have been an eternal regret. A
labor of love has its own reward but positive feedback now and again keeps the
Book collecting has rewarded me with
many of my closest friends and best moments.Don Dickinson, through his writings and personal encouragement, greatly
enhanced my book collecting and thus my life.So, this tribute to Don is not only a pleasure to write but a necessity.