The New York Antiquarian Book Fair is just around the corner. Please join us at Booth B2, beginning Thursday, March 8, from 5-9pm. The show at the Park Avenue Armory @ 67th Street runs through Sunday March 11. Don’t miss out on this wonderful annual event and the greatest book fair in the world! Please see our catalogue a taste of some of what we will be exhibiting.
The New York Antiquarian Book Fair has moved to March this year, and is just around the corner. Please join us at Booth B3, beginning Thursday, March 9, from 5-9pm. The show at the Park Avenue Armory @ 67th Street runs through Sunday March 12, with Friday hours from noon-8pm, Saturday from noon-7pm, and Sunday from noon-5pm. Don’t miss out on this wonderful annual event and the greatest book fair in the world! Here is a taste of some of what we will be exhibiting:
April 7-10, 2016, at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan — come visit us in Booth #D5. Most of what we’ll be bringing to the fair is currently in random piles all over the office, but here is a list of 35 highlights from our selections for the fair. Remember, too, that our office is just a block from the Armory, so fair weekend is a perfect time to make an appointment to come see our stock! Items in the list include festival books, modern literature, fine bindings, manuscripts and photo albums, and Shakespeare. Enjoy! More about the fair can be found here.
We’re always happy to participate in the California International Antiquarian Book Fair — this time in Pasadena, February 12-14. For complete information on the fair, including hours and location, click here.
We’re bringing more than 150 items, on a variety of subjects, including Art, Autographs & Letters, Color Plates, Early Printed, Modern Literature, Manuscripts, Photography, Playing Cards (and other Curiosities), and Russian Literature. It’s a long list, perfect for a long flight, and it’s available as a pdf download here.
Come visit us in Booth #819!
There are 200 items on this list, and we’re still packing. So, our list is incomplete and it’s not as organized as we’d like it to be, but enough people are asking for it that we’re making it available for download here. Thanks, everyone.
We’re looking forward to the 39th International Antiquarian Boston Book Fair, November 13-15 at the Hynes Convention Center. We’re bringing more than 200 items, and we’re big on suspense — so no list. Just come say hi. We’re in booth #427.
Information about the fair, including a list of exhibitors, hours, directions, and admission, can be found here.
The New York Antiquarian Book Fair is coming soon, April 9-12, a long weekend of books, big meals, and bottles of wine. Many of us are going to read many, many catalogues in the days ahead — why not start with a free download of our list? Most of you know how we roll here at Sanctuary, but it’s worth mentioning that we’re bringing autographs and letters, early printed books, fine press, literature, manuscripts, albums and original photographs, and books on the visual arts. Notably, there is whimsy (item #169), magic (item #127), and mayhem (David Bergman’s booth).
We’re in Booth #A-42, in the back, by the bar. Contrary to popular assumption, we did not lobby to be so near the booze. See item #142, on temperance. We’re temperate(ish).
Road trip! We here at Sanctuary Books can’t wait to leave snowy NYC for… wait a minute… did anyone else see temperature predictions of 7 degrees Fahrenheit in Washington D.C.?
Well, we’re going anyway. Please stop by Booth #34 to say hello. General info about the fair can be found here.
And please download a copy our fair list, which features early printed books, signed and inscribed modern literature, travel and adventure, medicine, and one-of-a-kind manuscripts and photo albums.
We’re thrilled to participate in the Washington D.C. book fair for the first time, March 6-7! We’ll post a list in early March, so keep your eyes on the blog, facebook, and/or twitter. Until then, you can find information about the fair here.
Sanctuary Books can’t wait to leave snowy NYC for sunny California! Come see us in booth K-1 at the Pasadena Antiquarian Book, Print, Photo & Paper Fair. Saturday, January 31 (10 AM – 6 PM) and Sunday, February 1 (11 AM – 4 PM). Located at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 East Green Street. General Admission is $8; Senior Citizens (62+ years) admitted for $5; and children under 12 get in for free.
If you follow us on facebook or twitter, or you sign up for our mailing list, or even if you’re just cute and you bat your eyelashes at us — we’ll give you a free pass, if we have any left, first come, first served. (We’re anticipating a lot of eyelash batting in 3, 2, 1…)
Ample parking available! There’s a bar in the back! Please do not interpret the proximity of those two sentences as an endorsement of drunk parking, or drunk driving! We endorse neither!
The convention center’s phone number is 626-793-2122, for general questions.
Please take a look at a quick list we made of the items we’ll be exhibiting.
Tomorrow kicks off Bibliography Week, seven mad-cap days of book-related lectures, discussions, and schmoozing held annually in NYC. The haute monde of national organizations devoted to book history will hold their annual meetings, and on Friday, January 23, we here at Sanctuary Books will enjoy the Bookseller’s Showcase, held 10AM to 4PM at Christ Church Methodist, 520 Park Avenue. Please stop by our booth and say hello — it’s in one of the prettiest rooms EVER for a book fair.
We’ve released a short catalogue in celebration, available here
For more details on Bibliography Week, click here.
Over the past six-and-a-half years, I have been preoccupied with a single book, a copy of the second edition of John Baret’s Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie, printed in London by Henry Denham in 1580. I genuinely believe it to be a dictionary that once belonged to, and was fully annotated by, William Shakespeare. Confessing to this belief makes the preoccupation understandable.
Believing in such a book is, of course, one thing. Proving, or even making a compelling argument for the claim, is another. Long prior to the story of two booksellers buying this book on eBay being first reported by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, and the simultaneous unveiling of our website and our published study, my friend George Koppelman and I were attempting to play through the steps and anticipate how it might unfold. We had countless conversations over how absurd it was going to sound to scholar and non-scholar alike.
In a best-case scenario, we were looking at a tiring proposition. The implications of lending, from the vantage point of presumed expert opinion, the smallest bit of public support for even the plausibility for our thesis is dramatically more fraught with controversy, than being outspoken – either politely or impolitely – over what we have concluded and what we have produced.
Six months after going public, things have to this point unfolded largely as we expected. During this time we have only grown more confident in our thesis, as we continue to do research and locate further connections and associations that we feel, in sum, make an extremely persuasive case for Shakespeare being the annotator. Occasional updates to the project are supplied at shakespearesbeehive.com, where the annotated dictionary can freely be viewed in its entirely.
The purpose of opening my own blog contribution to the new Sanctuary Books website with this book – a book, that is, in fact, owned by a separate entity – is not to share or expand on any given element from our thesis, highlight any particular recent observation, or respond to any criticism that has emerged. I am opening with this post specifically because I felt it would be disingenuous to introduce visitors to myself and to our business, with personal thoughts on books and bookselling, and not begin with what – presumably for any antiquarian bookseller – is a bibliophilic pipe dream without equal.
For me, from a vocational standpoint, the dreaming in books began in Bethesda, Maryland at Second Story Books and Records. I was just months out of college and the first task I remember associated with the job was shelving. Somewhat surprisingly, despite being challenged by the whole notion, but especially the practice of organization, I took to it, and, to this day, the only thing I manage to be good at when it comes to organization are books. I have found my own personal panacea for melancholy induced sluggishness in the re-shelving and organization of already shelved and organized books.
I like the way that books feel, the tactile qualities that books have. Books make sense to me, and not just for what they contain; as objects they appeal to me in a way that no other object does. I have chosen to deal in large quantities of books, without regard to subject, place, time period, or size, in part because I can’t get enough of them, and in part because I am not of a specialist’s nature. Such an admission does not stop even the most voracious generalist bookseller from striving to string together many specialties. One specialty that Sanctuary Books has developed over time – manuscript books – was, in some respects, intentionally built as a mocking of the whole idea of specialization. Dating back to before books could be printed, these creations obliterate any restriction as to what a book can or cannot be, how it can look or what it can be about. The variety found among these books is truly astonishing, and we aim to celebrate that variety in our inventory and on this website.
The most interesting survivals among handwritten books, whether produced anonymously or otherwise, speak of the human reliance on the book to preserve memories and traditions (whether personal or collective), advance knowledge, and explore private obsessions. A fascination with the relationship of book to owner, so intimate in many manuscript books, also led to gradually collecting and acquiring as many copiously annotated printed books as possible, where the margins and interlinear spaces add to how the book is able to inform us.
There was never any thought that one day I might hold a book that could, from the annotations, be reasonably argued to have been Shakespeare’s own book with his own notes. Not everyone will agree that it is a reasonable argument based on our analysis and the evidence found in the fully annotated second edition of Baret’s Alvearie we have digitized and made available for further study. But putting aside that question, imagine the difficulty in feeling the need to keep it largely under wraps as you worked on the project over a number of years, constantly thinking about the mess you were getting yourself into, and ultimately deciding the book is what you believe it to be, putting it into a high security storage facility, and accepting that the inevitable attention and mud slinging to come is worth the trouble. The reality of two booksellers having traveled that path makes for a compelling and entertaining story, and I urge anyone interested in books to consider reading Shakespeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light and to follow the updates at shakespearesbeehive.com.
Essay by Jed Perl, originally published in Strange & Wonderful: An Informal Visual History of Manuscript Books and Albums.
What is a book? A book is a world between covers, a realm of fact or fiction or some combination of the two. A book is a distillation of experience, a record of our world turned into a world unto itself. Most books, at least most of the books that we have around us today, certainly most of the ones in the room where I am sitting as I write these words, were produced on a printing press. But of course there were books before there were presses, books in which each word was written by hand, and today we have notebooks and sketchbooks that do not contain pages of printed text. There are also volumes, including some of the most famous ones illustrated by Matisse, in which the pages are not sewn together but are instead gathered loosely in a sort of album. And then there is the e-book, the book without covers or indeed without a fixed physical existence, the virtual book that according to many people who think about such things is a book nonetheless.
The whole question of the nature of the book is of course much in the news today, and much discussed among those who have always loved books, not just the reading of them, but the look and feel of them, the comfort of knowing they are at hand. Books, we are often told, are on their way out; like newspapers and magazines, they are said to be nearly obsolete. I am not so sure. I am cautiously optimistic about the future. I believe there is something rather glib in many of the dire predictions about the death or near death of the book. In any event, for those of us who cannot imagine living without them, it is apparent that they are much more than devices for the delivery of information. Books provide homes for ideas and images. The form—the print, the paper, the cover, the size, the weight—has a relationship with the content, whether the book is a paperback thriller bought at an airport newsstand or a luxurious art book too heavy to carry under one’s arm. There is much magic to be discovered in this marriage of form and content. And nowhere will you find such bookish magic practiced with more brilliance and ingenuity than in the survey of the handmade book that you are holding now. This gathering of volumes, created in many different times and places, is a testament to the power of the book, not as a particular type of information machine, but as a forever mutating possibility, a form that gives lasting authority to facts and fancies, discoveries and dreams.
Here is a collection of books that confounds any easy definition of the nature of the book. If there is something quixotic about most of the volumes included, the majority of which have been created without the slightest assistance from the printing press, is it not also true that there is something quixotic about book culture in general, about the desire to contain so much unruly experience in an object that can be set down on a table or filed away on a shelf? Everybody who has a feeling for books is a dreamer, and that includes the person who picks up the most ordinary paperback at the airport. No doubt some fairly wild dreams have been dreamt by the men and women whose work is included here, for only a special kind of dreamer would be willing, long after the arrival and triumph of movable type, to concoct a book in which each page of text and each picture is made by hand. But the ardor that has drawn many of these authors into what I can only regard as the byways and backwaters of typography, illustration, and literary style also serves to return us to some primal sense of the power of the book, of any book.
Who, one wonders, are the people responsible for such supremely odd volumes? What energies and ambitions come into play? It would take a short story writer to do justice to the characters who planned and executed these handmade volumes. Turn their pages and you feel the force of obsession and the power of conviction, but you also fall under the spell of a benign megalomania. We know the names, and at times even a few facts, about a number of the men and women responsible for these singular creations. We meet here Mr. Morrish, the champion checkers player in Bristol in 1859. He produced a beautiful little volume, its pages full of immaculately rendered checkerboards and variegated patterns of checkers, the circles disposed asymmetrically amid the regularity of the grids, supplying a visual complexity that leaves me with the impression that I am in the presence of some as yet undiscovered early twentieth-century Constructivist painter. Paul-Charles Hamond, a typographer from Angers, is responsible for one of the strangest works, a manuscript of Chateaubriand’s Les Martyrs, completed in 1815, some two hundred pages of microscopic handwriting, each letter no more than an-eighth-of-an-inch high. Then there is Malinda Wells’s diary of the weeks she spent at the Keystone summer camp in Brevard, North Carolina in 1938. Malinda records what went on each day, sometimes she includes witty cartoonish drawings of young people with sexy come-hither eyes, and she has stuck between the pages tiny souvenirs—the wrapper from a Hershey’s bar, a laundry list, little nothings that recall the experiences of a given day. On July 29th she wrote that she “Danced with lots of counselors and with the cutest boy (Louie Moe). Bob Lambert was my date and I’ve never had a better time. Cute boys—Willie, Gordon, ‘Lanky,’ and ‘Handsome.’ Danced every dance and met oodles of people.”
The creators of these curious objects were sometimes animated by a nostalgia for the days before Gutenburg. A late Victorian rendering of a poem by Tennyson is filled with elaborate initials and borders that salute the manuscript makers of the Middle Ages. The curling tendrils, the leaves with their sharp, spade-like triangular forms, the stark juxtapositions of orange and blue or red and green—all of this suggests a close study of fifteenth-century manuscript painting. A mid-nineteenth-century Italian collection of rebuses is at once graceful and goofy. I love the witty little figures, ranging from schematic to caricatural, and the playful juxtaposition of various typographic conventions. The creator of this small, oblong volume has a hell-bent, impish style, prefiguring the work of such mid-twentieth-century illustrators as Bruno Munari and Joseph Low. There are odd twists and turns and echoes in these volumes, as when a seventeenth-century document from the King of Spain is drawn in such a way as to imitate the look of engraving. In many cases these are very much objects for personal use, recipe books of one kind or another, albums in which a person records private impressions or professional secrets. An early-eighteenth-century manuscript by Johannes Dicel, a German wonder doctor, contains directions for the preparation of medicinal herbs, a process to preserve ginger, remedies for the plague, and a treatise on bees. Dicel includes his own drawings, many of birds; they are beguilingly bold, with lucid outlines and areas of rich, unshaded color. Turning over the pages of Dicel’s herbal, you feel how much the man loved this volume, how he must have lingered over these pages in which he gathered together all the tricks of his trade. This compact, pleasingly roughhewn book exudes a powerful aura, evoking the enigmas of alchemy, the seductions of a wizard.
Certain volumes are not so much finished products as means to an end, for the authors surely hoped that what had at first been made by hand would eventually make its way through the printing press. Perhaps this was the case with Dicel’s herbal, although it is also easy to imagine that the doctor would not have let these recipes out of his sight, and regarded this as the most personal of compendiums, to be added to and revised in the privacy of his study. There are many sorts of handmade volumes that by their very nature grow organically, their shifting shapes mirroring changing experiences and even the varying perspectives of the human mind. There are the bound books that artists fill with drawings, represented here by a graffiti artist’s notebook from the 1980s. Ledger books of various sorts can fall into this broadly conceived collection as well, and here indeed is the guest book from a hotel in Cheltenham, where the Beatles stayed in 1963. Diaries, journals, notebooks, account books are all part of the story. An especially engaging reflection of popular culture in the 1950s and 1960s is the archive of a manufacturer of precision metal pressings in Birmingham, England, the big scrapbook chock-full of designs for enameled badges, buttons, and medallions, documented in hand-colored photographs and drawings. This nifty volume is unselfconscious Pop Art; that’s the best kind. And then there is the Mr. Weston who, in the late 1880s, created a cycle of wonderfully succinct folk emblems that celebrate the Temperance Movement. I imagine Mr. Weston as a reformed alcoholic, now channeling all his energies into this work with pen and ink, the predominantly black-and-white compositions accented by rhetorical touches of red. In one picture of the Ship of Christ, a floating church sails through shark-infested waters; three well-fed fish are labeled “Dancing,” “Rum,” and “Cards,” while a fourth, which has succumbed to the evils of tobacco, sports a pipe in its mouth.
There is so much pleasure, both verbal and visual, reflected in these works, such an abundant sense of the excitement of making something delightful with one’s own hands. And from time to time the excitement approaches exhilaration, and we are in the presence of a work that is a masterpiece of some sort, although of what sort it is not easy to say. I am thinking in particular of an enormous folio volume devoted to facsimiles of the signatures and monograms of European painters, assembled by one D. Durksen in the Netherlands around 1869. This handmade catalogue, its neatly composed pages packed with signatures and monograms rendered in black, brown, gray, and ochre paint, is a work of astonishing elegance, an elegance so exacting as to suggest the subtly daring juxtapositions of color and texture and shape in Georges Braque’s paintings. The signatures, reproduced in a variety of sizes, give the pages an animation and variety that confounds the idea of a catalogue or a list. There’s a loving, playfully romantic spirit to this intricately designed volume. Some signatures are rendered in light colors on dark-toned rectangles, as if to suggest plaques on which a name has been emblazoned or engraved; at times the lettering is accented with bits of a second color, to give it a witty dimensionality. There are passages of amusing trompe l’oeil. In order to show how a particular artist’s signature or monogram looks on a piece of wood, the author first paints a bit of faux wood grain (one of Braque’s specialties), or even a piece of wood with splintery edges. A bold monogram will be juxtaposed with a tiny signature; once, the entire big page is filled with a single name. The volume is an essay in the varieties of autographic expression, an idiosyncratic ordering of human particularities, as mesmerizing in its way as one of Joseph Cornell’s salutes to the achievements of the Old Masters.
Looking through these books, I am held by their range and variety, but also by some underlying unity. The urge to compile, to construct, to compose animates the American girl’s summer camp diary as well as the magnificent Dutch gathering of artists’ signatures and the delightful nineteenth-century Italian Collezione di Rebus. When I consider the books gathered together here as a totality, I find that what I am confronting is a story of the survival of the pre-Gutenberg vision of the book deep into the post-Gutenberg age.
But Gutenberg and the development of the printing press in the West, while critical, are not the only developments that must be taken into account. As the volumes gathered here make abundantly clear, the relationship between the handmade book and the printed book has been different not only in different times but in different places. In parts of Asia and Africa the fabrication of books without the aid of mechanical reproduction may have remained widespread for years and even centuries after such traditions were pushed to the margins in the West. A world history of the handmade book would trace not only the forward march of technology, but also the relative strength of traditions of penmanship and calligraphy in different parts of the globe, and the extent to which making books by hand has been an aristocratic or a popular tradition in different times and places, an expression of particular religious or artistic beliefs, a philosophic choice or a pragmatic decision. The handmade book can be high or low, the finest flower of an elite culture or a rough-and-ready product of the workaday world. As examples gathered here from Burma, Japan, China, and many other points of the compass make abundantly clear, there is also nothing inevitable about the idea of a book as consisting of sheets of paper bound together on one side. There are accordion albums. There are sheets of bark or leaf attached by cord. And a handwritten scroll, the Torah, is still at the very center of Jewish life. There are surely many reasons for the insistence, among observant Jews, that for certain purposes sacred texts must be written by hand. Judaism offers a rare—indeed perhaps an unparalleled—communal commitment to the continuing existence of the handmade book. And there is something altogether striking, when considered in the Western tradition, about this assertion by the People of the Book that the origins of the book in the work of the scribe must not be forgotten.
The truth is that there has never been an end to the handmade book, to the book as something made without the aid of the printing press, sometimes at home or close to home, sometimes for purely private pleasure. And this realization, in turn, provokes some wider thoughts about the nature of the book and, perhaps, the future of the book. True, much of what we are seeing here are exceptions to the rule—curiosities, unique cases. Some of them may by judged not books at all, at least not in the sense of a volume that is meant to convey information to others. But even if we grant that many are exceptional works, they nevertheless affect our more general sense of the history of the book, making that history appear less linear, less a simple matter of cause and effect than is generally believed. Technological development is not all about falling dominoes, at least not in the sense that one innovation invariably renders the know-how of an earlier period obsolete. These books were inspired by obligations, interests, and passions that confound any predictable technological pattern. I am reminded that sometimes an older technology is more appropriate to the task at hand, or simply more convenient. Each volume is a particular case, and yet when taken together they suggest the scope of our love affair with the book, for many of those who feel compelled to make a book of their own must surely have begun by loving the books they found in bookstores and libraries and on the shelves of their families and friends.
The heterogeneity of this group of books defies categorization. In exploring such material, we are moving through less traveled territory, at least so far as the rare book trade is concerned. These treasures might as easily be found in an antique store as in a bookstore. Some of them look like extraordinary flea market finds. They make a mockery of the collector’s concern with the perfect copy of the most desirable book, the first edition with all the proper markings, the immaculate dust jacket, the autograph dedication from the author to his famous friend. We are involved with an entirely different kind of connoisseurship. While some are representative of a certain class of book—the diary, the friendship album, the sketchbook, the commonplace book, the recipe book, the scrapbook—the examples are often so distinctive as to demand to be judged on their own merits, sui generis. These volumes suggest a radical, avant-gardist aspect of book collecting—each book as a thing unto itself, with its singular story, a life of its own. How do we judge them? What criteria do we use? The volume that strikes one person as deliciously strange can be dismissed by another person as merely odd. To appreciate such curious works you must give yourself over to a spirit of suggestibility—you must be prepared for echoes and undercurrents and unexpected affinities.
What we have here is a counter-history of the book in the modern world, a history at the margins that comments on and sometimes even parodies the official history. I imagine Borges would have been delighted. The man who copied Chateaubriand’s Les Martyrs in an immaculate hand, or the prisoner who, in 1810, copied a grammatical dictionary, translating English terms into French, offer a doubling of normative publishing practices, they seek to make by hand what otherwise might be produced by machine. There is an element of trompe l’oeil or sleight-of-hand about some of these volumes, in which an individual attempts to match the refined pictorial effects of a mezzotint or a lithograph or the immaculate typographical effects produced by the nineteenth-century printing press. One might argue, in fact, that in each century the handmade book is a funhouse mirror reflecting the mechanically made book. If there is a dissident element about some of these creations—a sense that somebody is saying, “Damn the world, I’ll make it myself”—this can be expressed through the subtlest attempt to match the effects of mechanized production, or through a blithe indifference to standard publishing practices. And if, in the nineteenth century, there were people who in effect were saying, “Damn the printing press,” who is to say that there will not be, in the twenty-first century, people who say, “Damn the e-book?”
I believe it is particularly interesting to contemplate this creative cacophony at a time when we are being told, over and over again, that all books will soon be obsolete, victims of the computer and the Internet. The place of the book in our culture, although it will surely be altered in some ways by the advent of the e-book, may not change as completely as some are inclined to imagine. I would make a counter-argument. Technology, while surely affecting consciousness, never entirely transforms consciousness. Indeed, new technology can as easily reinforce our attachment to older forms of thinking and feeling. It is too simple to conclude that in the age of the computer people are, if not reading less, than certainly less inclined to read a book. In the nineteenth century there were still people who wanted to create illuminated manuscripts, although what were commonly said to be the glory days of the illuminated manuscript were already long past. And I surmise that in the twenty-second century there will still be people who want to curl up in bed with a pile of printed pages contained between two covers. Perhaps the radical shifts in information technology that we are experiencing will spur fresh interest in the examples gathered here, which represent earlier technologies or dissident technologies or what might even be called anti-technologies.
In his essay on book collecting, “Unpacking My Library,” Walter Benjamin quotes the Latin saying, “habent sua fata libelli,” and observes that for the collector, “not only books but also copies of books have their fates.” Nothing could be more striking than the fates of the books collected in the following pages. The creators of these volumes have attempted, by writing and drawing and cutting and pasting and painting and collaging, to inscribe their own interests and avidities—and, sometimes, their own lives—into the world’s library. Considered one by one, many of the men and women who embarked on these projects appear to have been perfectly reasonable and even unexceptional characters. But taken together, they can look surprisingly heroic. I wonder what their reactions would be, all these years later, on seeing their handiwork examined by unfamiliar eyes. Would Malinda Wells blush to know that others are reading her girlish diaries? Would Johannes Dicel prefer that his medicinal recipes remain a secret? Surely they would have a range of responses, including embarrassment and incredulity. But I am convinced that many of these singular men and women would be delighted to know that their labors of love were being loved again.