Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Trafficking, Fossicking, and Noodling in Old Books: The Partaking of Biblio-Pleasures

Bookseller and writer Anthony Marshall where art thou, kindred spirit?  I recently discovered your two books by chance in an Austin, Texas used bookstore – Trafficking in Old Books (1998) and Fossicking in Old Books (2004), far from their place of publication in Australia.  There may be copies in abundance in Australia, but they are pretty scarce here—my excuse for overlooking them these many years.  And what an oversight!  Your adventures running an antiquarian / used bookstore in Melbourne and ancillary essays are among the damndest, bestest, funniest biblio-writings I’ve encountered.  Your prose enlightens and surprises: creative skills meeting a worthy subject.  I must simply salute you.
            But I’m just late to the party.  Some sleuthing revealed you received accolades upon publication (and just as importantly, brisk sales) primarily in Australia and the UK, but also a foray into the US where you did a few books signings.  Both books sold in the thousands of copies, not an easy achievement.  (You record a sold-out print run of 5,000 copies for the self-published Trafficking in Old Books.)  You even had a fan base and book signings in Tasmania!  Admittedly, that was much closer to your bookshop in Melbourne than it would be to someone in America, but it sure sounds exotic and alluring as recorded in your delightful Fossicking essay, “Et in Tasmania Ego.”

Friday, February 4, 2022

Camaraderie and Competition: The Big Five of Abraham Lincoln Collectors


A recent, unsuccessful bid on a group of Lincoln biblio-books from the collection of Louise Taper leads me here.  That, and a rediscovery last week among a group of books I acquired shortly before moving my library three years ago.  Both instances germinated an idea into an essay – the early collecting of printed material on the Great Emancipator.
            Works by and about Abraham Lincoln, called broadly “Lincolniana,” has been avidly sought by collectors since the Civil War.  Lincoln’s life from homespun roots to statesman to martyr has drawn interest from every conceivable angle.  Publications abound.  As early as 1910 there were already more than 125 separate biographies published.
            Often when I am doing biblio-research, I’m the first to clear a path (or follow one much overgrown).  I soon discovered this was not the case with Lincoln.  The early collecting of Lincoln has been documented directly by collectors such as Daniel Fish (1848-1924) and Joseph Oakleaf (1858-1930), and in secondary essays, most notably J. L. McCorison’s “The Great Lincoln Collectors and What Came of Them” (1947).
            So, a brief overview is at hand without a lot of hacking through the underbrush.  This will be interwoven with my own story of a terrific find.  The early groundbreakers in collecting Lincoln material included Andrew Boyd and Charles Henry Hart.  Boyd and Hart compiled the first major bibliographic work, Memorial Lincoln Bibliography (1870).  These men and others like William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner and biographer, laid the foundation for subsequent major collectors to follow.  The next group of enthusiasts, labeled the “Big Five” each built fabulous collections during the 1890s-1920s.  Despite the fierce competition among them, they all interacted as friends and colleagues, each to varying degrees willing to help the others and share new discoveries.