Thursday, December 31, 2015

Paramours of Print: Christopher Morley and Vincent Starrett

As my very fine 2015 book collecting campaign comes to a close this New Year’s Eve and the champagne awaits, I’m taking a few moments to reflect on my latest acquisition —three Christopher Morley titles inscribed to Vincent Starrett.  Morley (1890-1957) and Starrett (1886-1974) were two of the most prominent biblio-writers of their time and still remain in the upper echelons of the pantheon.  The men were also close friends, Sherlock Holmes aficionados, book hunting partners, and drinking buddies.
Ex Libris Carissimis (1932) is the most important title for my biblio-collection.  These bookish essays were issued as a publication of the Rosenbach Fellowship in Bibliography.  The second title, Hasta la Vista, or, Postcard from Peru (1935), is an entertaining travelogue, and the last is Thorofare (1942), an under-appreciated late novel.  The three books reflect the diversity of Morley’s writings.  All retain their original dust jackets and have Starrett’s ownership signature in addition to the inscriptions.  As an added bonus, the books were later in the collection of pre-eminent Morley collector, Herman Abromson, with his bookplate in each.  Vincent Starrett specifically cites below that both Ex Libris Carissimis and Hasta la Vista were two of his favorite Morley titles.   
Christopher Morley. Ex Libris Carissimis "from his friend and fellow-paramour of print"
Starrett provides a magnificent, lengthy homage to Morley in his autobiography Born in a Bookshop, pp. 268-272He writes, in part, “Among the American men of letters whom I have known, Christopher Morley stands first.  I knew him longer and better than any other professional writing man of my acquaintance. . .  And I was drawn to him more warmly than to most others by the peculiar correspondence of our interests.  Whenever I am inspired to write a gay little piece of bibliofoolishness, or shout my appreciation of a forgotten story-classic, I always wonder if I am not repeating something already uttered by Morley. . .
            “I don’t remember when I first met Christopher Morley. . . I have no clear recollection of one particular time or place: the experience, as a memory picture, is a montage of jovial alarums and discursions, of wistful flashbacks and exhilarating close-ups, of 221B culture and three-star Hennessy.  We had been in correspondence for some years before we met.  I had reviewed his enchanting fable, Where the Blue Begins, for Llewellyn Jones when it was first published, and he had written to thank me for a notice that he found ‘graceful, generous, and perspicacious,’ that is to say, a notice highly favorable to the book.  Obviously this was a good beginning for a literary friendship, and that is really how it all began.
            “Ultimately, when he began to visit Chicago several times a year. . . we saw a great deal of each other and one us at least found the association stimulating. . .  Sometimes we just rambled about Old Loopy, his name for Chicago, sampling books and Bourbon here and there and talking torrents of nonsense; and if occasionally we missed a barroom we never missed a bookshop. . .  Suffice it to say that, whenever Christopher Morley came to Chicago, his friends had a lively time. . .
            “Morley’s services to me over the years were numerous and helpful.  He contributed entertainingly to several of my books and anthologies.  He compiled an index for Books Alive (1940) that was so amusing it had to be moved from the back of the book to the front. . .  My file of Morley letters is a bulky one; it is difficult to single out any one or two for special attention.  They are literary letters in the best sense, crowded with references to his reading, his thinking, his drinking, his wrestlings with the muse, his opinions of the nuisances who interrupt writers at their work; the sort of chit-chat and gossip that bookmen love to read in the letters of Lamb and Fitzgerald. . . .
            “I have several shelves of Morley’s books, of course, all suitably inscribed.  I don’t like them all equally well. . . On the whole, I think I like certain of his essays best, such essays as one finds in Ex Libris Carissimis, Hasta la Vista, Letters of Askance, and Streamlines, more especially those concerning Sherlock Holmes and days and nights in Baker Street.” 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Tasty New Classic: Rebecca Rego Barry's RARE BOOKS UNCOVERED

Rebecca Rego Barry’s Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places (2015) is one of the finest books about books ever written (and I’m not just saying that because one of my stories is featured within).  This book is a genre busting mix of Nicholas Basbanes style biblio-journalism, John Carter-esque  ABC of Book Collectors, Richard Altick’s The Scholar Adventurers, and the irresistible details found in classic bookseller and collector accounts authored by the likes of A. Edward Newton, Charles Everitt, and David Randall.  Heady company.  I can think of no other book that is a better introduction to the culture of book collecting, nor one that so concisely captures the wide range of book hunting and the associated enthusiasm which enraptures the participants.  The book’s primary focus is on the adventures of fifty-two individuals.   But intertwined amongst their stories is a multi-layered view of book hunting that exemplifies the breadth of the field.
            Barry writes in the introduction, “The oldest [story] occurred in 1976, the latest in 2014.  This is not a historical review of literary discoveries, for that would take several volumes.  Instead, it is a collection of tales from living booksellers, collectors, librarians, and other seekers about their best find in a surprising place—‘best’ and ‘surprising’ being rather subjective terms.  I allowed for items with artistic, financial, or sentimental value found outside the ritzy galleries and major auction houses where rarities like this typically surface for sale.  That said, a handful of the items profiled within did indeed crop up at country auctions, in cluttered bookshops, and at book or paper fairs, not in themselves unusual places, but points were given for stories rich in serendipity and sleuthing.  And because rare and antiquarian books cohabitate with manuscripts and historical documents on collectors’ shelves and in dealers’ catalogs and showrooms, I welcomed them here too.”
I anticipated a good read—which it certainly is—but about a third of the way through the book I felt a growing sense of excitement akin to discovering a favorite dish for the first time.  Barry is a master chef seasoning the stories with information about the items, providing background and context, and she digs deep into a number of the controversial stories with first-hand interviews, revealing new facts, and shows a penchant for behind-the-scenes details (including prices paid) that are rarely encountered.  Some examples of this digging are her chapters on Eric Caren and the deaccessioning of New York Public Library material (Ch. 32) and the discovery of the Richard Greener papers (Ch. 43).
            While Barry is accomplishing this, she is also threading throughout her book tapestry the varied approaches taken by book hunters.  We see an insider’s glimpse at negotiating and reselling techniques used by scouts and dealers, the sometimes wily ways of determined collectors, and plenty of advice from advanced bibliophiles.  She even morphs into the aforementioned John Carter at times, defining book terms separately within the essays.  And did I mention enthusiasm? The passionate pursuit, the rush, the thrill of discovery--whether physical or factual—is amply represented here.  This critical element is often downplayed by those of too serious a bent, but in truth, it underlies every great bookish endeavor.  The whole eco-system of the wonderfully peculiar book world is revealed by Barry.
            No less an achievement is the accessibility of the book to a variety of readers. A general reader with a literary inclination will find it entertaining;  a book hunter who is frustrated that relatives, friends, or co-workers think him or her a bit nutty can offer this book in self-defense; a beginning collector will learn much in taste and technique and draw inspiration; and an advanced book hunter will enjoy not only the details involving current players in the field but also the armchair chance to step out of one’s focused circle of interest -- perhaps sparking new avenues of pursuit. 
            Do I have any quibbles with this newly minted classic?  Only a few and they don’t spoil the dish.  There is some repetitiveness that is naturally going to occur in a work compiling fifty-two stories within the same general theme.  The order of the stories occasionally appears haphazard but then again how does one group such an exercise?   One final quibble, mentioned because of my distinct focus on the books about books genre, is a wish that the selected reading list was meatier and not so random.  That, however, could be an easy fix for the next printing.  All these points pale in comparison to one major “Thank God” kudos – the inclusion of a detailed index that allows easy access to the book as a reference work.
Barry’s position as editor of Fine Books and Collections magazine has her fully immersed in the book hunting world on a grand scale.  If not a unique perch, it is certainly a rare vista, and we should all be grateful that she found the time and enthusiasm to write this book.  And patience, too, as I would guess dealing with all these book hunters and their stories must have been akin to the proverbial herding of cats.

Rebecca Rego Barry.  Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places.  Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2015.  Foreword by Nicholas A. Basbanes.  $25.

For anyone interested in further biblio-reading see my article, “Armchair Adventures: Ten Classic Accounts of American Book Collecting,“ in Fine Books & Collections, November / December 2007.  I highlight ten books to read and provide a brief essay on each.  The authors include Nicholas Basbanes, Edwin Wolf & John Fleming, Henry Stevens, David Randall, Wilmarth Lewis, Charles Everitt, Matthew Bruccoli, Lawrence Clark Powell, A. Edward Newton and Margaret Stillwell. Many other books are mentioned in the essays and the magazine put additional information from my article online.  The article is due for an update which I plan to publish on my blog early next year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gunnar Hansen, Texas Chainsaw Massacre Legend and Bookman

Gunnar Hansen (1947-2015), famed for his portrayal of the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface in the classic horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), died last week of cancer.  His agent called the character, “one of the most iconic evil figures in the history of cinema.”   Yet Hansen in real life –all 6 - 4 and 300 pounds of him – was a writer and poet at heart—and a bookman.
While in graduate school at the University of Texas, Hansen took a bibliography course from William B. Todd (1919-2011), one of the most noted American bibliographers whose wide-ranging interests spanned Richard Nixon's Watergate transcripts to literary forgeries.  Hansen and a couple of fellow students, inspired by Todd’s enthusiasm, decided to play a little biblio-trick on him.  Douglas Adams, collector of literary forgery material, was the first to identify the item that linked Leatherface to Bill Todd and the rich bookdom of the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.  I’ll let Douglas (and Gunnar) tell the story from here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Twenty-Five Years of Book Collecting: A Look Back and a Look Forward

This is a talk I gave at the Book Lovers' and Texana Collectors' Breakfast, March 6, 2015, Texas State Historical Association Meeting, Corpus Christi.  A rare appearance for me in jacket and tie.  Thanks to the TSHA for recording the talk.  This footage does not include the fine introduction and post-talk comments by John Nau, TSHA President and collector himself, who I'm occasionally bantering with as he sits off-camera.


Friday, May 1, 2015


Charlton Hinman with a Hinman Collator in the background

Hinman’s Own Annotated Set with Correspondence and Notes Laid In
Charlton Hinman.  THE PRINTING AND PROOF-READING OF THE FIRST FOLIO OF SHAKESPEARE. Oxford: At The Clarendon Press, 1963.  2 vols. xvi 507 [1] + vii 560 p. Errata slip in vol. 1. as issued.  Frontis. in each vol., plates, illus.  Large 8vo.  Blue cloth, spine stamped in gilt.

Charlton Hinman’s own set with his annotations on approximately 100 pages.  Laid in are four sheets and ten notecard slips of autograph notes regarding corrections and emendations, citations to other research, and miscellaneous information including a list of people to receive complimentary copies and a brief outline of major references of analytical bibliography.  Also laid in are thirteen pages of correspondence dated mainly 1964-1965, including six TLs’s with Hinman’s carbon TL replies.  Correspondents include Prof. S.F. Johnson of Columbia University, Akihiro Yamada of Shinshu University, Dr. J. Shafer of the Westfalische Wilhelms-Universitat, Arthur Humphrey of the University of Leicester, and Giles Dawson of the Folger Library.  Dawson, the curator of books and manuscripts at the Folger, was instrumental in assisting Hinman with his work.  All but Dawson’s letter deal primarily with errata found in the book by the various correspondents.  Dawson’s three-page TLs concerns Staunton’s photolithographic facsimile of the First Folio published in 1866 as well as personal news.
One of the monumental works in the history of bibliography, and the greatest achievement in the field of analytical bibliography.  Hinman, using a collation machine designed by himself and inspired by his service in WWII intelligence, did a page-by-page comparison of over fifty copies of the First Folio at the Folger Library. The results published here changed not only the entire nature of Shakespearian scholarship but also heavily influenced the general course of bibliographical studies.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


J. Frank Dobie 1888-1964
J. Frank Dobie.  GUIDE TO THE LIFE AND LITERATURE OF THE SOUTHWEST.  Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1943.  111 p. Illus. 8vo. Light-grey printed wrappers.  Notes:  A handful of copies were issued hardbound.

Inscribed, “Dear Fred Rosenstock, This is the first edition.  It was given away by the Univ. of Texas Press.  The trade printing was made from identical plates by Southern Methodist Univ. Press.  Frank Dobie, Oct. 12, 1952, In Denver.”  Checkmarks and annotations throughout.
                Dobie was a regular customer of Fred Rosenstock (1895-1986) one of the top Western Americana dealers in the country who had his store in Denver.  
Donald Bower writes in Fred Rosenstock: A Legend in Books & Art, “In 1952 Fred arranged a lecture tour for Dobie that included the University of Colorado, the University of Denver, Colorado State University and Colorado State College at Greeley. ‘About five hundred people attended his talk at the University of Denver,’ Fred recalls, ‘and his subject was on the psychology of Western animals—mostly the coyote.  The lecture lasted one hour, but he was so fascinating it could have gone on all night.  The audience was mesmerized.  I remember that he had a big pocket watch, like the railroad men used to use, and he would pull that out and look at it from time to time.  He stopped on the dot of one hour and no amount of applause could make him go on.’”
                “After Dobie returned to Texas he wrote an article for the San Antonio Light, in which he referred to Fred Rosenstock’s Bargain Book Store: ‘It is crammed with old books, some very rare . . . A person can learn an enormous amount by looking through books that he does not actually read.  I incline to judge the civilization of a city by its bookstores—or by their absence.  A genuine bookstore is far more than a house of merchandise.  As an asset of civilization, it is in the same category as public libraries.’”
                “J. Frank Dobie, while not a collector in the technical sense, put together says J. E. Reynolds, a noted bookseller [see next copy below], ‘with loving care the greatest collection of books on the range livestock industry ever assembled by a private individual in this country.’  Dobie bought books from the Rosenstocks for many years, usually writing a letter and attaching a list of the titles he was looking for” (p. 139).

Dobie. [another edition].  GUIDE TO LIFE AND LITERATURE OF THE SOUTHWEST. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1952.  viii 222 p. Illus. 8vo. Medium brown cloth stamped in dark brown, dust jacket.  Notes:  2nd edition, “revised and enlarged in both knowledge and wisdom.”  First published in 1943.

Inscribed, “Jack Reynolds -- I like to be quoted -- Frank Dobie, a su casa, 2/25/56.”  Bookplate of Dobie.
                Bookseller Jack Reynolds knew Dobie well.  Laid in is a newspaper clipping describing a pamphlet issued by Reynolds, “For Christmas greetings to their friends [in 1958], Mr. and Mrs. Jack Reynolds of Van Nuys, Calif., printed and mailed an appreciation of J. Frank Dobie written by Lawrence Clark Powell.  Reynolds is a rare book dealer; Powell is head of the UCLA library and a writer and editor.  They are friends and literary admirers of Dobie, whom Powell calls the ‘best Southwesterner of them all, and. . . the givingest man I know,’ both in his books and in person.”
                Reynolds is quoted in Donald Bower’s biography, Fred Rosenstock: A Legend in Books & Art, “’J. Frank Dobie, while not a collector in the technical sense, put together says J. E. Reynolds, a noted bookseller, ‘with loving care the greatest collection of books on the range livestock industry ever assembled by a private individual in this country.’”  

Dobie's Paisano bookplate in Reynolds' copy

Thursday, January 22, 2015

You Know You’re a Serious Book Collector When . . .

The insurance value of your book collection is greater than the value of your home.

You will skip watching any sporting event to attend a Book Fair.

You have a separate credit card just for book purchases.

The high balance on your book credit card “doesn’t really count."

You fantasize more about books than the opposite sex.

You realize you may never see that rare book again but you can always make more money.

You sell your piano to make room for another large bookcase.

You can’t wait to get the kids out of the house so you can use their rooms for books.

You quietly worry about the structural integrity of your home.

You can scout bookstores all day long and forget to eat.

You have a tumultuous relationship with your postman.

Most of the emails you receive are “want matches” from book sites.

Much of your day revolves around checking these want matches.

You often have books sent to the office instead of your home.

Book dealers send you advance catalogues.

Book dealers extend you credit.

Book dealers take you to lunch.

Auction houses send you complimentary catalogues.

You have experienced auction fever.

You can spend hours going through dealer pamphlet bins for fun.

You examine the decorative books at furniture stores in hopes of a find.

Guests grow silent in amazement when they walk through your book-laden home.

Your master bedroom is full of books.

You have book shelves in your bedroom closets.

A library space is the most important element to consider in buying a home.

You fantasize about building a separate book house on the vacant lot next door.

You buy the lot next door and build a separate book house.

You spontaneously cheer or curse when you win or lose an Ebay auction.

Your vacations feature book stores and book dealers.

The perusal of a fresh bookseller catalogue takes immediate priority over anything else.

You spend your free time reading old bookseller catalogues.

You order book jacket protectors and rolls of protective mylar in bulk from library suppliers.

Your spouse is now convinced that books are a good investment.

You are a bit embarrassed to bring a guest to the house who is not a book person.

You own multiple copies of your favorite rare books.

When someone asks how you are doing you reply, “Very fine.”

You begin to believe in a Book Deity.

That long sought after book finally arrives and time stops and the angels sing.