Monday, December 17, 2012

Doomsday Books : The Final Conflagration

The world will possibly end this week on December 21st according to various interpretations of the Mayan calendar.  I’ve seen quite a few of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan and they are impressive.  Who is to say the Mayans might not be right? One could simply sit back, sample a few craft beers, gaze at the stars, and ride out the cosmic happenings.  As tempting as that sounds, I’m a proactive type and thought that a blog post about an aptly titled book would be more stimulating.  This forgotten gem came my way via Ebay.  The author of the work, by all accounts, carried huge promise, and the creativity surrounding the entire production hints at what might have been had his life not been cut tragically short.   As for us, let’s hope the Mayan calendar interpretation is wrong.  I sure would miss the occasional vacation to Cancun.

[Frederick B. Kaye].  Paul Arthur Amadeus Niesenwurzel. DOOMSDAY BOOKS. San  Francisco: The Grabhorn Press, 1928.  Edited by Peter Bissenschwitz.  [vii] 9 [2] p. Folio. Light green plain jacket over paper boards.  Erratum slip tipped in.  Limitation: 150 copies.  Notes: Printed by Herbert L. Rothschild for members of the Roxburghe Club.  The described binding seems to have been the standard issue. Included also in my acquisition are two other copies:  a binding variant in brown quarter cloth and marbled boards with printed paper spine label, and a copy in unbound sheets. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

C. F. Russell: The Occultist as Book Collector

Cecil F. Russell, 1897-1987

Sometimes you stumble across a book that has all the elements of biblio-intrigue: rare, relatively unknown, interesting text, and surprising author.  Such was the following I picked up on Ebay recently.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A.S.W. Rosenbach in Photos

A.S.W. Rosenbach (1876-1952), legendary bookseller and collector, was a media darling in an age when important sales of rare books and manuscripts featured prominently in the news.  These three original news service photographs in my collection span the prime of his career from the early 1920s to the late 1940s.  A photograph may not always be worth the thousand proverbial words but it certainly can add an immediacy and texture to a collection not found on the written page.  The stories behind each photograph are given below.  The one thread that I found intriguing in all the original news wire descriptions was the emphasis on Rosenbach as a "collector" as much as a dealer in the eyes of the media-- even though it was obvious he was buying items for clients.  Rosenbach cultivated this image as a collector but it was no marketing mirage.  He salted away many items that he couldn't resist, showing them off to visitors while alive, and left behind the fine Rosenbach Museum holdings in Philadelphia are a testament to his acumen.

Rosenbach in 1921 entering his prime. He had just arrived back home after dominating the Christie Miller Library auction at Sotheby’s London where “[Henry] Huntington’s money and Dr. R.’s aplomb swept all before them.  .  . Lot after lot was offered; with boring consistency, no matter what others bid, the Doctor bid a little higher” (Wolf & Fleming Rosenbach).  He also had strong bids from Henry Folger. Now that makes for a happy bookman.
For further photographs read on....

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bookseller Henry Stevens Recollects Mr. James Lenox

I recently purchased an 1868 autograph letter from bookseller Henry Stevens (1819-1886) to a potential American client.  The letter itself is lengthy and informative but I'll save that for another time.  Enclosed with the letter as an after-thought, and not mentioned by the seller, was a four-page promotional leaflet for Stevens' classic bookseller autobiography Recollections of Mr. James Lenox of New York and the Formation of His Library (1886).  The rare little leaflet surprise stirred me bibliophilic juices.  Not only did it describe the book itself but cited excerpts from fourteen contemporary reviews.  These excerpts provide a glimpse into the contemporary reception of one of the greatest bookseller accounts written. The leaflet itself is quite a piece of marketing.  The opening salvo still holds true:

 Full of humorous and romantic anecdotes of rare
 and unique books, and of desperate struggles in
 the Auction Room, interspersed with in-
teresting bibliographical gossip of the experi-
ences of half a century of book collecting

  The leaflet is reproduced below for your enjoyment:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Featured Item No. III: Bookman's Valhalla, The R. B. Adam Auction Catalogue (1926)

(R B Adam).  ENGLISH LITERATURE FROM THE LIBRARY OF MR. R. B. ADAM, BUFFALO, N.Y. TO BE SOLD BY HIS ORDER. New York: The Anderson Galleries, February 15 & 16, 1926. 433 lots.  Frontis., text illus. 8vo. Original flexible pebble cloth, spine stamped in gilt, original wrappers bound in as issued (see below).

Lathrop Harper's copy, inscribed "For Lathrop, the kindest and best, E. Byrne Hackett." Signed by twenty-five bookmen during the pre-auction dinner party hosted by A. Edward Newton for the highly respected collector, R.B. Adam--one of the most famous such gatherings in the history of American book collecting.  Signers include Ralph Isham, Seymour de Ricci, Barnet J. Beyer, Jerome Kern, Louis B. Shaw (?),  A.S.W. Rosenbach, Owen D. Young, William Jay Turner, James F. Drake, Charles S. Osgood, Lathrop Harper, Walter M. Hill, Gabriel Wells, Carl Pforzheimer, Christopher Morley, E. Swift Newton, Chauncey Brewster Tinker, R.B. Adam, A. Edward Newton, Mitchell Kennerley, Edgar H. Wells, George H. Sargent, and E. Byrne Hackett.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pamphleteering in the Storage Unit

The McMurtry Auction haul written about earlier has sat impatiently in a climate controlled storage unit awaiting Douglas and me to sort it and make sense of it all.  We’ve poked and prodded the 50 plus boxes a little over the last month but that damn making-a-living thing has slowed us down. 
            Tonight is different.  We are meeting at 7:00 pm to begin a serious examination.   In a preliminary trip we modified the single light bulb outlet to accommodate both a light and a standing fan.  I’d supplied a sturdy table.  Douglas brought folding chairs and two old school, pre-globalization metal shelving units entirely devoid of the plastic found in the current box store crap.
            Douglas arrived fashionably late tonight and brings beer—craft beers, God bless him—a couple of bomber bottles of Arrogant Bastard Ale and Abita Andygator Helles Doppelbock.  He calls me a beer snob, but I prefer the term connoisseur.  I’ve tried 214 craft beers (so far) and have each one ranked on my account so I’ll let you make your own call.
            We sat facing each other at an impromptu partner’s desk in the middle of our 10x14 storage unit.  We are on the second floor of a huge facility, no one else is there.  The automated hallway light goes out and we are illuminated by our single bulb casting shadows around us. The fan hums.  The beer tastes good, and the first pile of old bibliographic pamphlets is heaped upon the table.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

McMurtry's Herd Yields a California Biblio-Nugget

I have not had time yet to thoroughly examine the thousands of items I purchased at the McMurtry auction.  This nugget surfaced randomly while moving a pile of miscellaneous pamphlets and catalogues.  Who knows what other goodies await?

John Howell. TYPED LETTER SIGNED FROM BOOKSELLER JOHN HOWELL TO FELLOW BOOKSELLER AND BIBLIOGRAPHER ROBERT E. COWAN, JULY 20, 1917. 4to. Included with the letter is Howell's mimeographed 32 page typescript catalogue containing 407 items for sale.  The first nineteen pages describe 265 titles from the Robinson collection, the rest of the volumes are from Howell's stock.

Howell writes Cowan that he has acquired a large selection of fine books & manuscripts from the library of Honolulu businessman, Mark P. Robinson (1852-1915).  Robinson had a predilection for English literature and fine bindings.  This acquisition was fairly early in Howell's illustrious bookselling career and must have been a major coup even with WWI in progress and the book trade in the doldrums.  Howell writes, "On account of conditions the books from the Robinson library are offered at prices in many cases from one-half to one-fourth the cost to the original owner, which was nearly a half million dollars for the collection.  Moreover, I will accept in payment, liberty bonds at par, if preferable to you, for any of the books on either list."

The two men were the most important San Francisco antiquarian booksellers of their time.  Cowan (1862-1942) was twelve years older than Howell (1874-1956) and by the time of this letter was selling books privately out of his home at 867 Treat Ave in the Mission District.  Howell had an open shop at 107 Grant Ave in the business district.  (His son, Warren Howell, would carry on the business until 1984.)

Mark P. Robinson's good but now forgotten collection was scattered to the winds.  A privately printed catalogue had been issued some years before:  Catalogue of the Library of Mark P. Robinson, Esq. of Honolulu. Philadelphia: 1909.  Anderson Galleries in NYC auctioned off other material from the library in 1918 (McKay 7928, 7956).  See Dickinson's Dictionary of American Antiquarian Bookdealers for more details about Howell and Cowan.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thinning the Herd: Larry McMurtry Cuts 300,000 Books Loose in a Two Day Auction

The Royal Theater in Archer City, Texas, inspired Larry McMurtry’s novel, The Last Picture Show, and featured prominently in Peter Bogdanovich’s both brilliant and unrelentingly bleak 1971 film adaptation.  The renovated theater hall was now serving as a large dining room for a pre-auction barbecue dinner Thursday night August 9th complete with all the fixin’s and a truckload of Shiner Bock beer.  The heat outside, even at dinner time, was stifling enough to irritate native Texans and cause consternation among attendees from more northern climes.  Inside however the air blew cool and some 150 book enthusiasts enjoyed food and conversation, all glancing occasionally toward the entrance door for sight of McMurtry.
                He showed up fashionably late, moving slow and steady, suspenders in place, white shirt mildly untucked, tennis shoes and jeans worn easy, completing a look that was a cross between local rancher and bohemian college professor: both wellsprings that flow through his complex personality.  He’d suffered a second heart attack a few months back and at age 76 was physically frail and quiet spoken but mentally sharp.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Quotable Currie

I wrote about collector Barton Currie, author of Fishers of Books (1931) in an earlier post.  He is a highly quotable guy and I jotted a number of quotations down while re-reading his classic work.  You'll find them below.  I also serendipitously came across two more nice Currie association items shortly after my original blog post.  The first was plucked from a booth at the LA Book Fair. . . . 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Featured Item No. II: Randall's DUKEDOM LARGE ENOUGH. Inscribed to Frederick B. Adams, Jr.

David A. Randall. DUKEDOM LARGE ENOUGH [REMINISCENCES OF A RARE BOOK DEALER, 1929-1956]. New York: Random House, [1969].  xiv 368 [1] p. Plates.  8vo.  Maroon cloth, spine stamped in gilt, dust jacket.

Inscribed to Frederick B. Adams, Jr., “For Fred from Dave, Aug. 7, 1969.  It all seems far away and long ago.”  Bookplate of Adams.  Adams has marked various sections with annotated slips. Laid in is a copy of a TLs dated Jan. 24, 1973, from Randall to Reginald Allen at the Pierpont Morgan Library, discussing the acquisition of Gilbert & Sullivan material including reference to Carroll Wilson, and Randall’s thoughts on how a bibliography should be written.  Also laid in is the AB tribute to Randall by Michael Papantonio.  Adams delivered the main address at the gala dedication of the Lilly Library in 1960.
 A companion piece, acquired separately, is an exceptional ALs from Adams to David Randall dated Paris, January 18, 1970, spurred on by Adams’ reading of the book:   “Dear Dave, I have just this afternoon finished Dukedom Large Enough. . . you have a lot of good stories to tell of men and books and you tell them damn well, without any pretentiousness, telling the bad with the good, and bringing back to me so many memories of old days and of wonderful people that we had fun with.  There were others too—Phil the literate bartender—Mrs. Clampitt, Sara Hay and others who entertained me if you were busy with a client when I dropped by—and a collector or two whom you didn’t mention, for reason of libel? . . . As to the introduction of Carroll Wilson and Waller Barrett, my memory runs this way.  CAW and Tom Streeter and I were working on the 100 Influential American Books [1947] and we had heard—through you? Through the Grolier Club?—that there was a youngish collector of American literature whose library might be worth looking into for some possible loans.  As I recall it, I made the date by correspondence, and in due course on a Sunday shortly after lunch Carroll and I descended from the Long Island RR train at Garden City to be greeted by a man neither of us had met before—C.W.B.  He took us to his comfortable but not grandiose suburban home, and our eyes were opened—bugged!  There seemed to be a whole room full of Henry James, and what’s more our host had read them.  He had a scattering of many authors, and by golly he knew exactly what he had and what he himself thought of it as literature.  The other thing I remember about the afternoon was the extraordinary number of children who seemed to be popping in and out irregularly, and assembled for tea, because we stayed on and on.  Obviously this was a collector after Carroll’s own heart—that was the beginning.  Some day we must ask Waller how he remembers it.  And what did Waller lend to the glorious 100?  One book certainly, which was included in the show at his insistence, W. G. Simms The Yearnassee. He already owned, I am sure, the country’s finest Simms collection, doubtless reinforced since then.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Great Bookseller Catalogs

Readers be forewarned:  My brief hiatus from blogging is now over.  (Been busy with work.)  Let the posts commence!

My friend John Payne, bookman, appraiser, and bibliographer of Steinbeck and W. H. Hudson, is currently working on a book entitled Great Catalogs by Master Booksellers.  The manuscript is in draft form and John has asked for feedback from a number of noted booksellers and book people to finalize the 100 or so catalogs that will be featured.  The catalogs will encompass 19th & 20th century examples in English.  Of course, any list is subjective, but a primary thrust is to highlight great booksellers and their catalogs in a way never done before.  This will draw attention to the whole subject and provide a foundational reference for further study.

John was gracious enough to ask me to write an introduction.  I've been chipping away at it and recently finished.  The intro as it will appear in the book will focus mainly on historical context.  However, I've also penned some personal reflections on bookseller catalogs that I'm posting now for your enjoyment and edification.  I'm highlighting a few interesting bookseller catalogs from my own collection, too.

If you have any favorite bookseller catalogs that you feel would be candidates for the book please let me know and I'll pass them on to John.  I will keep you posted on publication as well.  This will be an important reference and fine read!

Here follows some personal reflections on catalogs:

Monday, February 20, 2012

The 2012 California ABAA Book Fair: A Book Hunter's Holiday

The 45th California International Antiquarian Book Fair would be called in sports terms “A Super Bowl of Books.”  The Fair was held this year in Pasadena, California, at the Convention Center, February 10-12.  It alternates yearly between the Los Angeles area and San Francisco.   Some 200 of the top book dealers in the world gathered to tempt bibliophiles with a plethora of rarities, meet clients new and old, and network with fellow members.   One woman dealer observed in amusement that during set-up before the show the booksellers were colorfully dressed in quite a vast array of casual wear from cut-offs to tennis shoes, t-shirts and mismatched fashion statements.  Come opening day, however, the group had miraculously transformed themselves into spiffy, polished, book selling gurus.  
                It was this crowd that my wife and I entered into on Friday afternoon, the first day of the show.  This first day drew the most serious and eager book people.  There was a buzz of excitement in the air and quite a few booths already had patrons.  Imagine a museum quality display of thousands of rare books in every conceivable category and they are all for sale.  This convention center venue was a good one—open, airy, well-lit.  The rows of dealer booths were lined up with military precision.   It would take me all three days of the show to get through them.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Barton Currie: Formidable Book Angler

Barton Wood Currie (1877-1962) best captured the spirit of the 1920s Golden Age of book collecting in his witty and insightful Fishers of Books (1931).  Currie transcended much of the bibliophilic genre with this highly personal account of his development from naive enthusiast to seasoned veteran.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Featured Item No. I: Arnold's FIRST REPORT OF A BOOK-COLLECTOR. 1/85 copies

I thought it might be entertaining and (perhaps) enlightening to post selected items from my collection on a regular basis.  Each will feature a description of the work.  Keep bookin'.  Kurt Zimmerman
William Harris Arnold.  FIRST REPORT OF A BOOK-COLLECTOR; COMPRISING:  A BRIEF ANSWER TO THE FREQUENT QUESTION “WHY FIRST EDITIONS?” WITH SOME REMARKS ON THE COMMON SUPPOSITION THAT MERE SCARCITY IS A REASON FOR COLLECTING THEM; AND FIVE EGOTISTICAL CHAPTERS OF ANECDOTE AND ADVICE ADDRESSED TO THE BEGINNER IN BOOK-COLLECTING: FOLLOWED BY AN ACCOUNT OF BOOK-WORMS. Jamaica, Queensborough, New York: Printed on the Marion Press, 1897-1898.  xi 97 [2] p. Frontis., plates, illus., facsimiles, inserted leaves, two folded leaves in pocket at rear. Small 4to. Original stiff vellum, spine stamped in gilt, custom slipcase.  Limitation: No. 51 of 85 copies, signed by the printer, Frank E. Hopkins.  Also signed by Arnold at the end of the foreword.  Notes:  A second, less elaborate edition, limited to 220 copies, was published in 1898. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Great Expectations -- Bowers and Hinman

Re-reading a classic work of literature can lead down unexpected bypaths.  In my case, I can’t claim the re-reading was premeditated.  In fact, as I settled my tender loins against the hard, wooden bench, a book was not on the front burner.  My wife, Nicole, had an appointment.  Since we were together, I hunkered down to wait for her.  The appointment ran long and turned into a two hour sigh fest – or could have. 
Across from me sat an oblivious couple of flat-bellies, early twenties, deeply engrossed in their I-phones.    I deftly whipped out my Android phone, recently acquired, and spent a few minutes fumbling aboard the internet.  I still felt pretty cool.   This amused me for a little while but being well-seasoned I soon looked around for something printed to read.  Nothing.   Frustrated, I played more with the phone and noticed the pre-loaded “Books” application.  I opened it and my phone offered me a selection of Google-scanned free classics, one of them being Dickens’ Great Expectations.   I selected it and my e-reading adventure began.  The text was easy to read and “turning” pages required only a simple swipe of my thumb.