Monday, December 9, 2013

A Mighty Biblio-Wallop in a Small Package: Grolier Club Beginnings

This small, modestly printed 19th-century booklet I hold in my hand, entitled Jean Grolier, packs a biblio-wallop in terms of rarity. Only six copies of Jean Grolier are recorded in American libraries via WorldCat. I know of two more, including my own.  Rarity is meaningless, however, without some other distinguishing feature.  In this instance Jean Grolier is possibly the first separate publication of the Grolier Club of New York City, established in 1884, the oldest and mightiest organization of bibliophiles in the United States. The booklet is a biographical sketch of the eminent French bibliophile Jean Grolier and namesake of the Grolier Club.  It lays claim to a genesis from which sprang hundreds of important publications issued by the Club.  Ironically, among such bibliographical redwoods little is known of the booklet’s publication history.  My copy was acquired over a decade ago and since then I’ve gathered bits and pieces related to its production.  The information remains fragmentary but a clearer picture has emerged.  The Jean Grolier booklet is not entirely unknown.  Grolier Club Director, Eric Holzenberg & member George Ong did preliminary digging with the publication of their 'For Jean Grolier & His Friends': 125 Years of Grolier Club Exhibitions & Publications 1884-2008. (2009). We’ll utilize their findings as we go.  For reference, the traditional first publication of the Club, printed in December 1884, is A Decree of the Star Chamber Concerning Printing. 
The Jean Grolier booklet. 16mo. 14 p.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Huntin’ on the Bayou—A Rare Texana Item Surfaces

Douglas Adams—friend, book scout, bibliophile, and collector of literary forgeries—is having a mighty fine lunch break.  We can imagine a burger or burrito hastily consumed to leave plenty of time for a scouting stop.  Priorities in order.  After a quick smoke, he steps into a run-down antique store on Westheimer Avenue in Houston, Texas, for a look around.  It’s hot as hell outside and inside isn’t much better.  You sweat so much in the humid air you think you’ve just been swimming.  The building is older than much of the material within:  furniture, rugs, paintings, household items, and smaller knick-knacks.  An item almost missed in an overflowing display case draws our intrepid book scout. Almost is the key word because Douglas misses very little while on the hunt, and he is always on the hunt.  This display case yields a real beauty—a find so rare and marvelous that the book’s acquisition is the kind of story swapped among bookmen for years to come.  But first it must be bought.  There is no price and a helpful lady at the store, glad to see something go, quotes $50.  Douglas is so excited he forgets to bargain.  He has to tell somebody and I’m lucky enough to get a phone call shortly afterwards.
“I just found something really good,” he says.
“What?  Run of Playboys with centerfolds intact?”
“Nada.  How about the first city directory of Houston, 1866, in original boards, with the map.
            There is a pause on my end as my mind kicks into high gear (I can hear my wife laughing while reading that).  Early directories of major cities are highly sought-after and normally expensive.  They’re also rare because they were thrown away over the years like old phone books.  The information found within such directories—people, businesses, the advertisements, all primary source material for historians and the curious. In this instance, the book itself is a treasured relic from the embryonic beginnings of a burgeoning metropolis now over two million strong.
“Damn,” I reply, “that is a good one.”
“What do you think it’s worth?”
 “More than $50.  How about I double your money right now?  Heck, I’ll even throw in free pick up.”
He ungraciously turns down my offer and emphasizes the rejection with a colorful expletive.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


English bookman John Carter came into my life in early 1990 and has made frequent appearances since.  Our initial introduction was inevitable…  I was a novice book collector eager for guidance when I stumbled across a reprint of his classic guide ABC for Book Collectors, standing fine in jacket on the shelves of a retail bookstore.   I purchased the book for full price-- a rare occurrence then and now.  Today, I hold the book in hand and I see my scattered annotations from that first reading.   The foundation was set.
John Carter
            Before I discuss the origins and publication of ABC for Book Collectors a brief outline of its author is in order.  John Carter (1906-1976), educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, became a bibliophile early on and found himself so keenly interested in the field he made a career of it.  He entered the rare book trade in 1927 with the London branch of Scribner’s New York.  The New York office would be in a few years overseen by notable American bookman, David Randall.  The two men formed a formidable duo.  Carter & Randall’s natural tastes ran to new paths in book collecting and bibliography.  They published, via Scribner’s, a number of innovative bookseller catalogues designed to promote untapped or nascent collecting areas such as Mysteries, Familiar Quotations, Modern First Editions, & Musical Firsts.  However, the rent must be paid and many classically expensive items were also sold with aplomb including a Gutenberg Bible.  Carter became managing director of the London office in 1945 and remained at Scribner’s until 1953. In 1956 Carter joined Sotheby’s auction house and was also a director of Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York.  His wide circle of associates lay at the heart of bookselling and book collecting of his era and included John Hayward, Graham Pollard, Michael Sadleir, and Percy Muir.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Montana Copper Transformed Into California Biblio-Gold

William Andrews Clark, Jr.

It’s a long stretch from 18th century England to early 20th century California but for a bibliophile the journey is an easy one.  A recent serendipitous purchase on Ebay spanned the time and distance in short order.  The book bought was a 1925 edition of Thomas Gray’s An Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard printed by John Henry Nash of San Francisco for collector William Andrews Clark, Jr. of Los Angeles and Butte, Montana.  It is an elegant production limited to 200 copies and designed as a Christmas gift for friends of Clark. Clark fortified his biblio-eggnog with a lengthy foreword tracing the history of the work’s publication.  He writes, “Having in my library the first eleven separate editions of the Elegy, it may be of interest to note herewith the changes in the text as they successively appeared compared with the text of the first edition.”  No light sing-along caroling here for friends—this was a serious bookman at work.  For good measure he provided a separate facsimile of his copy of the first edition of 1751.
            I acquired the book because it was described as having not only the printed presentation slip normally encountered but also a personalized inscription from Clark.  The limitation statement indicated that this was copy no. 1.  Clark inscriptions in the wild are quite uncommon and this example showed promise for my association collection.
Clark inscription in Gray's Elegy

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rosenbach & Huntington: "No Epilogue Nor Sequel"

My book motor runs pretty hard with plenty of gusto.  However, refueling is required from time to time.  I usually do this by re-reading a favorite book about books which rarely fails to rev up my imagination.  No less importantly, the process usually sparks my acquisition mode.  I’m currently a third of the way through Edwin Wolf & John Fleming’s Rosenbach (1960), the best biography of a bookseller, and arguably the best book on the antiquarian book trade ever written.  The subject, Dr. Abraham S. W. Rosenbach (1876-1952) was a complex figure with a book motor that can only be described as supercharged (and apparently fueled by daily infusions of whiskey).  Wolf & Fleming, former employees of Rosenbach, describe him as “an eye-twinkling, hard-selling, hard-drinking, scholarly bookman.”
          This isn’t a book review so I’ll let you discover (or re-discover) the book yourself.  Pertinent to this post is the fact that Rosenbach was instrumental in building the collection of railroad magnate Henry Huntington (1850-1927).  Rosenbach began to sell Huntington books in the early part of the century but things hit full stride from 1920 until Huntington’s death.  Rosenbach facilitated the transfer of millions of dollars of bookish delights to Huntington’s shelves.  The material ranged from Americana to English Literature to Incunabula to Portolan Atlases.  Huntington is remembered for buying entire private libraries in big gulps using a strategy akin to the building of his vast railroad empire.  This large-scale book buying strategy was driven in the 1920s by failing health and his intense desire to form a library of international stature.  Huntington set up a nonprofit educational trust before his death establishing the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Museum.  Today it is a bucket list stop for book lovers.  It mustn’t be forgotten that Huntington was an enthusiastic bookman as well, not just a check-writing philanthropist. (Even Huntington, with almost unlimited wealth, bought so many books he overheated his budget and had to sometimes use railroad bonds and/or short-term payment plans to cover purchases.  I can relate on an infinitesimally smaller scale).  He and Rosenbach when possible would pour over auction catalogues together for hours, talking books, prioritizing individual lots and establishing bids.
          This all leads me to two copies of a book in my library, Rosenbach’s Books and Bidders (1927), a classic collection of somewhat embellished but always entertaining book essays.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Last Bookshop

This is neither American Book Collecting or an insightful, entertaining bookish essay but worth a watch.  Like a classic it starts a little slow but you'll enjoy it, although it may hit a little too close to our collective bookish fears...  (by the way, can I scout this shop?).

Thanks to Lew Jaffe at Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie ( for the link.

Kurt Zimmerman

Monday, April 29, 2013

Featured Item No. IV: Randolph Adams and the Beginning of a Great Career

Randolph Adams, Bookman & Librarian

(Randolph Adams).  [William L. Clements & George Parker Winship].  THE WILLIAM L. CLEMENTS LIBRARY OF AMERICANA AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN. Ann Arbor: Published by the University, 1923.  xii [1] 228 p. Title page woodcut. 8vo. Black quarter cloth and grey boards, paper spine label.  Notes:  William Clements wrote and edited the work with George Parker Winship.

Inscribed, "To Mrs. Gaither, To whose intuition the Clements Library is indebted for its first Custodian, with the grateful appreciation of George Parker Winship, Widener Room, August 9-29, 1923." Randolph Adams' ownership signature on the front free endpaper.
            An artifact of the highest importance in the history of the Clements Library and the career of its first custodian/director, Randolph Adams (1892-1951), then a young assistant professor of history at Trinity College (now Duke University).  Mary Gaither, a cousin of Adams and acquaintance of Winship’s, introduced the two on August 9, 1923, at Harvard’s Widener Library where Winship presided.  Margaret Maxwell gives a full account the meeting in her work, Shaping a Library: William L. Clements as Collector (1973):
            “The ninth of August, 1923, had dawned unusually cold in Cambridge. George Parker Winship sat before his typewriter at his cluttered desk in the Widener Library. He was answering the latest letter from Clements. Another prospective custodian that Clements was considering, and what did Winship think of him? Winship became aware that someone had entered the room. He looked up to see a pleasant-faced young man [Adams] and an attractive girl [his wife], with one of Winship’s casual acquaintances [Mary Gaither], standing before his desk.
            “Twenty-three years later, the same young man, now somewhat older, set down his recollections of that momentous meeting:
            Late in August, a young assistant professor of American history from a small southern college was catapulted into the Widener Room at Harvard by an imperious dowager-cousin [Gaither] whose addresses were Beacon Street, Boston, and Hingham, Mass. – names which, apparently, mean something in the Boston area. GPW had neither met nor even heard of the young assistant professor—nor had the latter ever heard of GPW. To add confusion, but no gaiety, the aforementioned Beacon Street matron could not remember GPW’s name, although she had met him at tea the previous winter. Nothing daunted, she barged into the Widener Room a la a Helen Hokinson drawing, introduced the young assistant professor and his wife, and promptly rushed away to shop at Jordan Marsh’s. GPW was stuck with the young couple. He had every reason to be annoyed. He had been interrupted in the writing of an important letter. It was addressed to his friend William L. Clements, and it was a last attempt to get Mr. Clements to make up his mind about the vacant librarian’s chair at the Clements library.
            The young man…has never been quite certain what happened next. The half-finished letter on GPWs desk was forgotten. The Winship charm was turned on….
            “Winship never finished his assessment of R.W.G. Vail, Clements’ new prospect for custodian. His letter closed, much later, with a hasty scrawl:
            At this point a friend introduced me to Randolph Adams and wife…I have known him four hours. One hour talk about books, an hour going over the library building, two hours at luncheon. On this, I am prepared to guarantee him” (p. 300).
            Later in the month, Clements met Adams in New York for a long interview. Winship was also present.  “By the end of their interview [Clements] had been completely won over by this young man of thirty, a sparkling conversationalist, witty, charming, yet obviously scholarly… Clements summed up his feelings about Adams in a letter to President Burton [of the Univ. of Michigan]: I thoroughly believe he and [Lawrence] Wroth of J[ohn]C[arter]B[rown] will be the forthcoming bibliographical authorities in this country, and their work will redound to the credit of Michigan” (Maxwell, p. 303-304). 
On August 28, 1923, Adams accepted the job of custodian/director of the William Clements Library of Americana, holding the position with distinction until his death in 1951.  Winships inscription to Gaither is dated “August 9-29,” spanning the time of their first introduction until notification of Adams appointment. 
Winship Inscription to Gaither

For more information about Randolph Adams and The Clements Library see:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Booksellers on Video: The Cultural Academy Awards

Full-time antiquarian booksellers are pretty rare when you think about it -- often times rarer than the books they deal in.  There are only a few hundred of them in the United States.  They are purveyors and protectors of important printed material in a wide variety of fields.    Among them are some of my favorite people.  A first-hand visit with a professional antiquarian bookseller is a treat, and given the diversity of personalities and backgrounds involved, often an adventure.   One is lucky to have a handful of them, if that, living nearby depending on your location.  Vacations and trips offer other opportunities.  Book fairs are the primary conduit to meet a large number of such booksellers face-to-face.  However, even then, the time is limited, they are often distracted with customers (hopefully), and one is often left wondering about their background and experiences.  Many of the best booksellers are members of the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers of America).  My friend Douglas Adams reminded me of the ABAA’s series of video interviews with member booksellers.  Although the videos are relatively short in length, usually 15 to 30 minutes, they provide a treasure trove of insight into origins and personalities.  Fellow booksellers Michael Ginsberg and Taylor Bowie conducted the interviews.  I highly recommend taking a look.  Get your popcorn ready.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Howes This for a Book Story to Make You Cringe

Wright Howes (1882-1978), a highly regarded bookseller based in Chicago, is remembered for his fundamental bibliography on Americana, U.S.IANA. This bibliography of uncommon and rare Americana is enhanced by Howes’ concise and witty annotations.  He was an acknowledged master in the field.  The first edition was published by R. R. Bowker Company in 1954 under the title U.S.-IANA (1700-1950): A Descriptive Check-List of 11,450 Printed Sources Relating to Those Parts of Continental North America Now Comprising the United States.  Howes considered the first edition a work in progress and welcomed input on revisions and additions.  He labored diligently on a definitive second edition that appeared in 1962.  The first and second editions sold quickly and remain essential for any book person interested in the subject.  I highly recommend John Blew’s recent article about Wright Howes and his bibliography in the April 2012 Caxtonian. (
The reading of Blew’s article was both enjoyable and vexing—vexing because it reminded me that I had yet to find an interesting association copy for my collection.  This inspired a search of copies online and I located one that showed promise.  It was the first edition, listed by a prominent bookseller, and described as having numerous annotations throughout.  I sent an inquiry to the bookseller asking about any ownership / provenance markings.  An assistant in the shop replied:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Bookman's Holiday with Vincent Starrett

Vincent Starrett

 My first trip to Chicago recently and lo and behold I find myself in a bookstore—Powell’s on Lincoln Ave to be exact.  It is chilly outside and overcast.  Wife Nicole is reclining comfortably with a book on the window ledge cushion at the front of the store--best window model I’ve ever seen but even this distraction doesn’t last long.  The books about books section is pleasingly expansive and irresistible.  I browse slowly savoring real books on real shelves instead of the usual internet searching.  I pull a jacketed copy of Vincent Starrett’s Bookman’s Holiday: the Private Satisfactions of an Incurable Collector (1942). This collection of engagingly readable essays is one of a number of such bibliophilic works written by Starrett.  The flyleaf is inscribed, “For Abel Berland in the fellowship of books, Vincent Starrett.”  The volume has Berland’s bookplate and notes.  Berland (1915-2010) a Chicago real estate magnate with deep pockets and an equally deep love of books and literature would assemble a high spot collection of literary rarities including the Four Folios of Shakespeare.  When he sold his collection at Christie’s in 2001 it brought $14,391,678.