The release of a bibliographical work many decades in the making is quite an achievement. One that breaks entirely new ground is cause for celebration. Such is John Payne’s Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers (Austin: 2017). Mr. Payne, who authored the standard bibliographies of John Steinbeck and W. H. Hudson, brings his formidable skills to bear on a subject long of interest to him.
He writes in the preface, “Bookshops open and close. Booksellers retire, change professions, and pass on. What remains, other than memories and reputations, are their catalogues, the lasting tangible record of a bookseller’s creativity and expertise—a remembrance, a talisman.
“Catalogues reflect booksellers’ personalities, preferences, and priorities, the nature of their stock, sources of inventory, the evolution of bibliographical sophistication, and their relationships with others in the trade. Catalogues also reveal friendships that sometimes develop between booksellers and their clients. The best catalogues display scholarship in abundance.
“Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers was begun during my year as a Lilly Fellow at The Lilly Library at Indiana University, studying under the irrepressible David A. Randall, where I discovered The Lilly’s collection of booksellers’ catalogues. During my succeeding seventeen years’ work with the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas Austin, I took the opportunity to examine its collection of 20,000+ booksellers’ catalogues assembled from the reference collection of the rare book dealer, James F. Drake, and the private libraries of Christopher Morley, Evelyn Waugh, William Targ, and others. I sought out the most important, most interesting, and most entertaining catalogues.
“Work on Great Catalogues lay undisturbed but unforgotten for twenty-five years, from the time I left the Ransom Center in 1985 to 2010. These were the years I established and operated Payne Associates, an appraisal firm for rare books and archives, an ongoing scholarly enterprise. By the time I returned to Great Catalogues, my perspective had changed. Rather than simply identifying my choice of the most important catalogues and describing them in checklist form, I then realized the value of reproducing and introductory essays written by England’s and America’s most distinguished booksellers, bibliographers, and librarians on the most popularly collected subjects.
“My preliminary catalogue selection from the Ransom Center was expanded by research visits to the Grolier Club in New York and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and again at The Lilly Library. I then asked booksellers and others for comments and recommendations for additional titles. All were winnowed down to these one hundred and forty [selections].
“Great Catalogues describes catalogues published by American and English booksellers during the nineteen to twenty-first centuries. Sufficient bibliographical particulars are given to identify each catalogue, including variants.”
I would at this point typically give you my review of the work. However, having been privileged to write the introduction, I will simply state that the success of such an endeavor is whether it serves as a valuable reference, stirs long-term interest in the subject, and provides a coherent framework to discuss and build upon. In these ways, I feel its success is assured. Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers goes one step further by illuminating an area of bibliography that has been surprisingly neglected.
How does an individual or library obtain a copy? I received the following information from Mr. Payne:
I want to take this opportunity to forward to you my announcement of the recent publication of Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers.
Great Catalogues is a fine press production designed and printed by Bill & David Holman of Austin, under the imprint, Roger Beacham Publishers, with only 200 copies of the 300-regular edition available for sale. The net price is $225. It is a substantial quarto, running close to 500 pages, printed on high quality paper, bound in a fine red cloth, filled with detailed descriptions and excerpts from the catalogues and highly illustrated in color. Great Catalogues presents my selection of 140 significant English and American rare booksellers’ catalogues, 19th-21st century.
Because each catalogue description includes the bookseller’s Preface or Introduction by a guest writer, the book has become an unexpected anthology of essays about the most popularly collected subjects written by England’s and America’s most distinguished booksellers, collectors and rare book librarians. The 100 Special Copies bound in quarter morocco will be available ca April 1, 2018, priced $450. The Regular Copies, bound in full red cloth, are currently available at $225. Because I am giving 100+ Regular Copies to booksellers and others who have assisted me with the preparation of my book, I am unable to provide a bookseller’s discount for this first printing.
Please send orders, comments, or questions to John R. Payne at 2309 Camino Alto, Austin, TX 78746 or firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 512-328-4535.