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.