Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year-End Reading Report 2013

This was quite a busy year for me: in the winter I worked on getting my books organized in Portland, only to find that I ended up packing them all up in August for the move to Charlottesville, where I then had the pleasure of unpacking and shelving them again (this time putting them in order as I did so). I ended the year by clearing out a whole bunch of boxes of books from my mom's house in New York last week and taking lots of volumes I didn't need anymore to some local libraries so they can find their way into the hands of new readers.

Like last year, I joined the 75 Books Challenge for 2013 group at LibraryThing (see my group thread), and the gentle competition, general stats-geekiness, and whimsy of that whole process proved entertaining as ever. I'll probably do the same next year.

The craziness of the year notwithstanding, I read 161 books in 2013, for an average of one every 2.3 days. Total page count was 50,366 (but of course that doesn't include all the magazines and journals and assorted articles, &c. &c. I'm not quite so mad as to try and tabulate all those too). The titles broke down into 84 fiction and 73 non-fiction books (plus 4 which defy such categorization). I read 67 hardcovers, 54 paperbacks, 37 ARCs, and 3 e-books. For a full breakdown of my 2013 reading stats, see Message 59 here).

This year I continued my resolution to try and read at least slightly fewer books published in the current year, and I managed that once again: 2013 publications made up just 40% of this year's total, but the majority of books read (58%) were still published since 2010, so I'll maintain the same resolution for next year and try to continue reading more not-so-recent titles.

And now, my favorite five fiction and non-fiction reads for 2013 (in no particular order within the lists):


Justice Hall by Laurie R. King (Bantam, 2009). Review.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker (Harper Perennial, 2013). Review.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Random House, 2013). Review.

All the Names by José Saramago (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). Review.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin). Reread (for the umpteenth time).


The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey (Penguin, 2013). Review.

The Mortal Sea by W. Jeffrey Bolster (Harvard University Press, 2012). Review.

The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle by Ava Chamberlain (NYU Press, 2012). Review.

If Kennedy Lived by Jeff Greenfield (Putnam, 2013). Review.

Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Review.

Happy New Year to you all!

Previous year's reports: 2012, 20112010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.

Year-End Links & Reviews

I hope you've all had lovely and restful holidays, filled with good books and good cheer. I'm back in Charlottesville now after a trip home upstate New York, and am spending the last days of 2013 tidying up and trying to close out the year on an organized note. Here are some end-of-year links and reviews for your enjoyment:

- Rachel Donado reported on the political aspects of the Girolamini thefts scandal in the NYTimes on 22 December, focusing on former Italian senator Marcello Dell'Utri.

- An American judge has ruled that Sherlock Holmes (or at least anything featured in any Holmes stories published prior to 1 January 1923) is no longer protected by U.S. copyright law. Read the full opinion.

- New in the "Bright Young Librarians" series, Colleen Theisen of the University of Iowa.

- To mark the centenary of A.N.L. Munby's birth (which occurred on 25 December), the Cambridge Incunabula Project blog noted some of the many donations of incunabula and other rare materials Munby donated to the Cambridge libraries during his lifetime.

- The Center for the Study for the Public Domain at Duke has issued the annual "What Could Have Entered the Public Domain" list for 2014.

- Photographic negatives from the 1914-17 Shackleton Antarctic expedition were recently found by a New Zealand team. See the photos.

- In The Guardian, writers comment on their favorite ghost stories.

- Art historians in China have concluded that a calligraphic scroll sold by Sotheby's as the work of Su Shi (1037-1101) is, rather, a 19th-century fake. The work sold for $8.2 million in September. Sotheby's says it stands by its attribution, but will investigate.

- Over on the Houghton blog, a look at the first book published in Antarctica, Aurora Australis.

- From October, but new to me (via Sarah Werner and John Overholt), from the MSU Provenance blog, "What Counts as Provenance Evidence?"


- William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays; review by Gary Taylor in the Washington Post.

- Kevin Peraino's Lincoln in the World; review by Stephen Budiansky in the Washington Post.

- William Seale's The Imperial Season; review by Fergus Bordewich in the WSJ.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: "The Secret Rooms"

Yet another reason why I don't settle on my top books of the year until the very last minute: I've just finished Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess & a Family Secret (Penguin, 2013), and it will certainly end up making the list of my favorite books for this year.

Bailey was given access to the family archives of the Dukes of Rutland, held at Belvoir Castle, the family seat. The archives had been basically locked up in their rooms from the time of the death of the 9th Duke in 1940 until the early part of this century, and Bailey was one of the first historians permitted access. She'd intended to write quite a different book, one about the experiences of the men of Belvoir and the surrounding estates during World War I, but when she began exploring the archives she found the story she tells here, and determined to recount that instead. We should be very glad she did.

The 9th Duke spent the final years of his life closeted away in the rooms where the archives were kept, and in fact even died there, on a small couch, surrounded by the family papers. When Bailey began her search, she quickly found that the 9th Duke's motives had not been entirely pure of heart: he had created three very precise, but very thorough, gaps in the archival record by removing all the correspondence and papers for those date ranges. Bailey set out to discover just what happened during those periods, and that hunt forms the basic structure for the book. What she finds is a tale of real family drama and somewhat shocking behavior on the part of a good number of people.

I had a terrible time putting this down once I started reading. Bailey's account of her efforts to puzzle out the events of those three mysterious periods makes for riveting reading, and it's really a pleasure to dig into her own research process and methods ... not to mention all the fascinating things she manages to learn. I'm not going to share any of those here: go off and read the book.

This is not, I admit, a perfect book. The title and subtitle are slightly overdrawn (except for the "plotting duchess and a family secret" part), and not only do some questions remain unanswered, but there are also certain points that just prove unsatisfying or anticlimactic. But on the whole, I found this a tremendously interesting book, and recommend it highly.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Links & Reviews

- The Indiana Historical Society will sell its copy of Audubon's Birds of America in April at Sotheby's. Their copy of Audubon's Quadrupeds will also be sold. Waldemar Fries' census reports that this copy of Birds was originally purchased by the York Subscription Library, possibly directly from Audubon himself. By January 1896 it had been purchased by William W. Borden for his wife, Emma, and it later was in the collections of the Borden Institute, a private school in Indiana. The Indiana Historical Society purchased it in 1933 for $4,000. Plate II in this copy contains the incorrect caption "Black Billed Cuckoo - Coccyzus Erythrophthalmus." Indiana Historical Society president John Herbst said that the copies "both had a lot of use before the society purchased them," and said that the Society would use the proceeds to fund purchases of Indiana-related materials.

- The New York Court of Appeals has reversed a lower-court ruling that would have forced auction houses to disclose the identity of consignors.

- In The Economist, an account of Cobden-Sanderson's destruction of the Doves Press type, and about designer Robert Green's attempts to digitally reconstruct it (the results of which you can now download).

- I've added a new blog to the sidebar: David J. Gary's American History Librarian. I expect this will be one most of you will want to follow too.

- "Shelfie"-madness hit Twitter this week, and it was great fun. More from Jacket Copy, or check out the Twitter hashtag.

- Cambridge University plans to raise £1.1 million to purchase the Codex Zacynthius, a ~6th-century palimpsest containing the Gospel of Luke. The manuscript has been on deposit at Cambridge since 1984.

- Eric Kwakkel asks, and then tries to answer, the age-old question "What is the oldest book in the world?"

- Over at the Oak Knoll blog, Bob Fleck writes about the Kelmscott/Goudy press, which sold this month to RIT.

- The BBC Magazine covers the Girolamini thefts; the article doesn't contain much new information, but there are several new photos of the looted library and damaged books.

- Also from the BBC Magazine, a look at the ongoing effort to recover and read the burned scrolls of Herculaneum.

- From Notabilia, a copy of Ben Franklin's Experiments and observations on electricity, inscribed to his sister Jane Mecom.

- At the Incunabula Project blog, Liam Sims covers a truly curious and fascinating list found in an early Belgian incunable in the Cambridge collections.

- Lew Jaffe posted an image of a particularly interesting bookplate this week, that of silversmith James Pérot, who lived for a time in Bermuda.

- Keren Levy highlighted one of my very favorite books, Watership Down, over at the Guardian this week.


- Simon Winchester's The Men Who United the States; review by Sarah Wheeler in the Telegraph.

- James MacGregor Burns' Fire and Light; review by Eric Herschtal at The Junto.

- Bob Brier's Egyptomania; review by Janet Maslin in the NYTimes.

- Beau Riffenbaugh's Pinkerton's Great Detective; review by Ben Macintyre in the NYTimes.

- The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; review by George Packer in the NYTimes.

- Jo Baker's Longbourn; review by Diane Johnson in the NYTimes.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Links & Reviews

- Your must-read article of the week (and I mean that) is Nicholas Schmidle's "A Very Rare Book" in the 16 December New Yorker. Schmidle's written an excellent summary of the forged Galileo Sidereus Nuncius (and other titles) and of de Caro's thefts from the Girolamini and other libraries. He also spent three days with de Caro and got him to confess a great deal about how the forgeries were made. The article's behind the New Yorker paywall, so if you don't subscribe you'll have to go find a copy, but trust me, it's worth it.

- Some nasty, nasty news out of Turkey this week, where reports suggest that as much as 140 tons of books and magazines were sold by the National Library of Turkey to wastepaper dealers for extremely low prices. The Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister said "We have detected some criminal and corrupted practices over many works in the National Library," and pledged a crackdown.

- An inquiry into the death of book thief Raymond Scott has concluded that he killed himself, the BBC reports. Further reporting in the Durham Times adds that Scott had been removed from suicide watch two weeks prior. Scott "suffered two wounds to the neck and razor blades were found in his right hand," the Times notes.

- The University of Pennsylvania seeks a CLIR postdoctoral fellow in data curation to work with the Penn Provenance Project and other related projects. Looks like a good gig!

- The Kelmscott/Goudy Albion iron hand press which sold at Christie's last week was purchased by Bromer Booksellers on behalf of RIT's Cary Graphic Arts Collection, with the support of the Brooks Bower family. Curator Steven Galbraith said that the press will be used as a working press at RIT, which is excellent news. See the full RIT press release.

- Alan Jacobs covers the rise of JSTOR (and its ilk) and why educators (and their students) shouldn't fall into the trap of relying on this sort of site.

- The British Library released a million images from scanned books in its collections this week, to the delight of the internet. More from Benjamin Breen at The Appendix.

- The seventeenth part of the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources was published this week, completing a project begun in 1913.

- Random House has acquired the rights to publish what is believed to be the first prison memoir of an African-American, Austin Reed's "The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, or the Inmate of a Gloomy Prison." Julie Bosman reported on the manuscript earlier this week.

- Mitch Fraas talked with the LC blog The Signal about his use of Viewshare as a tool to visualize library book markings and other useful things.

- Richard S. Newman has been appointed the next director of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Newman will take up the reins at the LCP in June.

- The National Library of Wales has digitized the 13th-century Book of Aneirin, the last of the four Ancient Books of Wales to be presented online.

- James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce share some photos from their new book The Library: A World History over at The Atlantic.

- In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jen Howard reports on the status of the DPLA seven months after its official launch.


- Diane Setterfield's Bellman and Black; review by Yvonne Zipp in the WaPo.

- Bart van Es' Shakespeare in Company; review by Charles Nicholl in the TLS.

- Richard Holmes' Falling Upwards; review by Daniel Stashower in the WaPo.

- John Ferling's Jefferson and Hamilton; review by Carl Berkin in the WaPo.

- Joyce Appleby's Shores of Knowledge; review by Marcia Bartusiak in the WaPo.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Links & Reviews

- I had the great pleasure of attending the Authenticity of Print Materials symposium at the Library of Congress this week, and I've posted a brief(ish) report on the symposium over at the Fine Books Blog. It was a thoroughly remarkable day, and it was a real delight to be able to catch up with so many friends and to hear an excellent series of talks on the symposium's theme.

- One of the key elements of the LC symposium was a presentation by Nick Wilding and Paul Needham on the Martayan Lan Sidereus Nuncius, now known to be a forgery. There was quite a good NYTimes article on this last week, and a piece by Nicholas Schmidle on the same topic will be in this week's New Yorker.

- Mitch Fraas reports at the Fine Books Blog about the dispersal of the John Gilson Howell collection of printed and manuscript bibles, long owned by the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA.

- Nick Basbanes has an op/ed in this weekend's LATimes, "A paperless society? Not so fast."

- Heather Wolfe has posted on the news that the Folger has received a three-year IMLS grant to fund the creation of EMMO (Early Modern Manuscripts Online), a searchable online database of Folger manuscript transcriptions from 1500-1700.

- From Literary Tourist, an audio interview with Alberto Manguel about his favorite libraries and bookstores.

- As previously reported, the Bay Psalm Book sold at Sotheby's on 26 November for a total of $14.2 million. Some coverage on the sale from NPR, The Telegraph, LATimes, BBC, Boston Globe.

- Over at the ARCA blog, excerpts from WGBH Boston interviews with Gardner Museum Director Anne Hawley and FBI special agent Jeff Kelley. Kelley told reporter Emily Rooney that they essentially know who carried out the theft, and that he believes that the artworks are all still in existence. The FBI and the Gardner have launched a new public effort to recover the art. Hawley told Rooney that immediately following the 1990 theft there were a series of additional threats and extortion attempts against the Museum.

- A major collaborative digitization project between the Bodleian Libraries and the Vatican Library which now live. The project was funded by a $3.2 million grant from the Polonsky Foundation. Coverage from the NYTimes, NPR.

- Travis McDade covers the trend of book and manuscript thieves defending themselves by maintaining that they found the material in the trash.

- Early and un-reprinted works by P.G. Wodehouse have been identified in the archive of Leeds newspaper The Globe and Traveller.

- Seems like we get one of these articles every six months or so, but here's another: author Patricia Cornwell claims to have uncovered new evidence that Jack the Ripper was artist Walter Sickert.

- Over at The Junto this week, a roundtable on the legacy of historian Pauline Maier.

- Booktryst highlighted a copy of the true first edition of Jefferson's Notes which sold for a healthy $269,000 at Christie's this week.

- That Christie's sale brought in a whopping total of $6,743,750, a good chunk of which came from a lavish presentation copy of Newton's Principia to James II, which made $2,517,000 (over estimates of $400,000-600,000). William Morris' Albion Press sold for $233,000. More on the press in the NYTimes.

- Jill Lepore spoke with Joy Horowitz at the LA Review of Books about her new book The Book of Ages.

- The Boston Public Library's Johnson Building will receive a $16 million renovation, the Boston Globe reported this week.

- Former Apple exec Glen Miranker, a fanatic collector of Holmesiana, is profiled in Forbes.

- While in DC this week I also had the tremendous pleasure of enjoying a behind-the-scenes tour at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which is just as exciting as you might think it would be. Among the paintings we saw was "The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions," or "The Baby Jesus Shakespeare," which Erin Blake blogged about this week at The Collation.

- From Antipodean Footnotes, a profile of a very neat book now in the University of Melbourne Special Collections: a copy of Malcolm Flemyng's An Introduction to Physiology which traveled around the world with Captain Cook on his 1768-71 voyage.

- Jennifer Howard reported for The Chronicle this week that academics who have posted their articles on the social site academia.edu began receiving takedown notices from Elsevir.

- One of the "my year in books" lists that I look most forward to every year is that of Miriam Burstein at The Little Professor. She's posted it here.

- Historian Michael Kammen has died. Read the obituary in the New York Times.

- Rebecca Rego Barry has posted a year-end bookish roundup too, which probably includes a few good additions to your holiday shopping lists.


- Alison Weir's Elizabeth of York; review by Roger Boylan in the NYTimes.

- Umberto Eco's The Book of Legendary Lands; review by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in The Telegraph.

- Simon Garfield's To the Letter; review by Carmela Ciuraru in the NYTimes.

- Leo Damrosch's Swift; review by Jeffrey Collins in the WSJ.

- Yuval Levin's The Great Debate; review by Jack Rakove in the Washington Post.

- Nick Basbanes' On Paper; review by Philip Marchand in the National Post.

- Graham Robb's The Discovery of Middle Earth; review by Wendy Smith in the LATimes.

- Ronald Frame's Havisham; review by Jane Smiley in the NYTimes.

- David Igler's The Great Ocean and Gregory T. Cushman's Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World; review by David Armitage in the TLS.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bay Psalm Book Sells, Hammer Price $12.5 Million

The Bay Psalm Book has just sold at Sotheby's New York for a hammer price of $12.5 million, a new record price for a printed book but well below the estimate of $15-30 million.

Total price, including buyer's premium, will be $14,165,000. Sotheby's tweeted soon after the sale: "The Bay Psalm Book was purchased by philanthropist David Rubenstein + is destined for exhibitions at libraries across the US".

Previous Bay Psalm Book-related posts.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Boston Recap, and Links & Reviews

This year's Boston Book Fair certainly appeared to be a resounding success, and it was a real pleasure to have the chance to see so many friends and readers of the blog while enjoying the great variety of books on offer at the Fair. It was, of course, also a treat for me to be back in Boston and visit old stomping grounds (including the Brattle and Raven for books).

- It was on the train up to Boston that I learned that the Google Books decision had finally been handed down, and was basically a complete victory for Google on fair use grounds. Read Judge Denny Chin's decision, or read a rundown at Techdirt. Jessamyn West rounded up some excellent links on the decision as well, and there's yet another link collection here. Nathan Raab wrote for Forbes about the impact this decision, suggesting that it will further drive down the prices of used books (I'm not sure I entirely agree).

- Sotheby's will sell the Bay Psalm Book on Tuesday at 7 p.m. EST in New York. See the catalog for a full account of the sale (you'll also be able to watch the sale via that link). Jill Lepore has an op/ed in the NYTimes about the sale today. Harvard has had their copy out for display through 14 December. Richard Davies attended one of the displays of the book in Seattle, and wrote about the experience. Earlier this month James Barron previewed the sale for the NYTimes, with comments from (now former) Old South Church historian Jeff Makholm. Over at Rare Books Digest, speculation on who might buy the Bay Psalm book this week (they suggest it may well be billionaire collector Steve Green).

- In Standpoint, H.R. Woudhuysen writes about the Senate House "Folio Fiasco" and the lessons it offers for librarians. It's an excellent piece; read the whole thing.

- Barry Landau's accomplice Jason Savedoff was released from prison earlier this month, after serving a year of his sentence.

- Over at Plougshares, an interview with Leah Price in their "People of the Book" series.

- In honor of the three-hundredth anniversary of Laurence Sterne's birthday, Karen Harvey posts on the OUP blog about the manuscript history of Tristram Shandy.

- Whitney Trettien discusses her work on a prototype of a digital facsimile "edition" of a Little Gidding Harmony.

- Columbia University has acquired the archive of Granary Books.

- An 18th-century Haggadah up for auction next week could fetch up to £500,000.

- The Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive was officially opened at the Library of Congress on 12 November.

- Harvard's Colonial North America project involves digitizing a great deal of manuscript material from across the Harvard library system, reports the Harvard Gazette.

- Making the rounds this weekend, a horrifying post at Tech Technologies documenting the 2010 sale and subsequent dispersal of a Book of Hours by an eBay seller who's been taking the manuscript apart and selling it piecemeal. Scott Gwara passed along a link to Erik Drigsdahl's running list of dismembered manuscripts seen on eBay in recent years.

- The NYPL has acquired Tom Wolfe's papers for $2.15 million.

- Charles Dornan Davis, best known for his role as a major forger of Texas documents, died on 30 September, Everett Wilkie reported on Ex-Libris. See Tom Taylor's book Texfake for a full account of these forgeries; there's also a 1989 New York Times Magazine piece on the events.

- Jenny Lowe posted some updates to the Girolamini theft scandal this week: the Italian culture ministry has brought the church and library complex under the regional network of cultural institutions. The ministry has also pledged €10 to restore the site. Herbert Schauer, of the Munich auction house Zisska & Schauer, was extradited to Italy earlier this month. Trials for the conspirators have been postponed yet again. And ALAI president Fabrizio Govi has called on the Italian government to release a list of the stolen books (which may not be possible given that such a list doesn't seem to exist). Govi adds: "apparently the Italian authorities are not concerned with the production of the forgeries that De Caro has disseminated throughout the antiquarian book marketplace, especially in the United States. Our worry is that, if nobody will investigate further in this field, we will never know who physically produced those forged books, how many are still circulating, and, last but not least, how they were manufactured, in order that we might be better able to recognize them in the future. The apparent disinterest in investigating this process brings up the frightening prospect that these forgeries might continue to proliferate and appear on the market long after the authorities are no longer interested in the stolen books themselves."

- To mark the publication of the three-volume History of Oxford University Press, there were a series of interesting posts by Ian Gadd on the OUP blog: "Before Caxton? Claiming Oxford as England's first printing city", "When did Oxford University Press begin?" They also posted a slideshow of OUP-related images.

- Over at Booktryst, a profile of British type-cutter Richard Austin.

- Just over a year ago I linked to a report that scholars had identified the authors of marginalia in a 1635 Mercator Atlas at the JCB as John and Virginia Ferrar. Now Ferrar Papers editor David Ransome weighs in, suggesting that the writing is not that of Virginia at all, but merely several varieties of John's own handwriting.

- The National Book Awards for 2013 were announced this week.

- Eleanor Catton talked with the NYTimes about her Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries.

- New from the Department of Labor: Books that Shaped Work in America.

- Mary Norris blogged about a round of literary "Jeopardy!" at the launch of Tom Nissley's endlessly interested new book A Reader's Book of Days.


- Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit; review by Michiko Kakutani in the NYTimes.

- Arlette Farge's The Allure of the Archives; review by Michael Moore in the LA Review of Books.

- Richard Holmes' Falling Upwards; review by Paul Elie in the NYTimes.

- Nicholas Basbanes' On Paper; review by Peter Lewis at Barnes & Noble Review.

- Denise Spellberg's Thomas Jefferson's Qu'ran; review by Kirk Davis Swinehart in the NYTimes.

- Graham Robb's Discovery of Middle Earth; reviews by Ian Morris in the NYTimes and Wendy Smith in the LATimes.

- Owen Matthews' Glorious Misadventures; review by William Grimes in the NYTimes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Links & Reviews

- Over at Slate, you an watch an 18-minute silent movie from 1925 about the making of the OED.

- The Internet Archive's San Francisco scanning center was badly damaged by a fire; there were no injuries or loss of material being scanned, though much equipment was destroyed. They're asking for donations to help them recover.

- Amazon brought belly laughs to indie booksellers all over the country this week when they announced that they planned to allow indies to sell Kindles. Melville House collected some of the best responses.

- Eric Kwakkel asks "Where are the scriptoria?" in medieval images.

- The Appendix has launched a new blog series called Magic Lantern, in which they will spotlight a particularly singular image. The inaugural example is an 1870s Japanese woodblock print of Audubon opening a box of his watercolors which had been eaten to pieces by rats.

- From Notabilia, a nice example of a paper ream wrapper being used as a component of pasteboard.

- Anna Baddeley profiled The Public Domain Review in The Guardian this week.

- The November AEMonthly is out; it includes a short piece on the resignation of the Senate House librarian over that attempted sale of Shakespeare Folios.

- Scott Brown of Eureka Books announced his purchase of the remaining stock of Serendipity Books in Berkeley, amounting to some 100,000 items. Much of this will be sold off at bargain sales over the next few weeks.

- ARCA CEO Lynda Albertson has a very thorough essay on the many questions raised by the discovery of a "lost horde" of Nazi-confiscated art.

- The McGregor Fund has pledged $245,000 to allow select materials from the Tracy W. McGregor Library for digitization and online presentation. The grant will also allow for metadata enhancements and other improvements.

- Jordan Goffin, Special Collections Librarian at Providence Public Library, is highlighted in the Bright Young Librarians series over at FB&C.

- Millions of documents from Bletchley Park are to be digitized and made available online.

- As we wait for the Bay Psalm Book sale later this month, the BL's Head of Hispanic Studies points out that there was a press at Mexico City nearly a century earlier and highlights some of the earliest printing in the Americas. And over on the Sotheby's blog, a very worthwhile post on "Printing the Bay Psalm Book."

- The NYTimes published a roundup of authors' views on how the internet has changed storytelling.

Raymond Scott confessed to the theft of the Durham University First Folio shortly before he was acquitted of the charge, according to a report in the Sunday Sun tabloid. The confession is to be detailed in a book by Mike Kelly, Shakespeare & Love, scheduled for publication later this month (and, it should be noted, Scott told Kelly in a subsequent text message that he was just joking).

- The record for the longest book domino chain was recently broken at the Antwerp Book Fair. Video here.

- The library school program at Southern Connecticut State University has lost its ALA accreditation.

- Nick Basbanes talked to Jackie Atkins about On Paper for The Philadelphia Junto.


- Simon Winchester's The Men Who United The States; review by Stephen Mihm in the NYTimes.

- Jill Lepore's Book of Ages; review by Joanna Scutts in the WaPo.

- Keith Houston's Shady Characters; review by Jon Day in the Telegraph.

- Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit; review by Heather Cox Richardson in the WaPo.

- Tom Standage's Writing on the Wall; review by Frank Rose in the NYTimes.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Book Review: "Bland Beginning"

Why yes, yes there is a mystery novel based on the T.J. Wise forgeries. Julian Symons' Bland Beginning (or as it is sometimes titled, Bland Beginnings), first published in 1949, is a schlock-filled romp (think P.G. Wodehouse plus Agatha Christie, but not all that well written). But it's full of interesting details about the Wise forgeries and Carter and Pollard's enquiries into them, making it absolutely worth the few hours it takes to read it.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Links & Reviews

One of these days I will catch up and get back to a regular schedule ...

- There was an appeal hearing this week in the Authors Guild v. HathiTrust case; Kenneth Crews of Columbia attended and has posted his notes.

- From the BBC, a "Living Online" report from the Folger Shakespeare Library on its digitization plans and strategies.

- Our friend George Psalmanazar is profiled by Benjamin Breen in The Appendix (drawn from his JEMH article here).

- There's a new CLIR report, Born Digital: Guidance for Donors, Dealers, and Archival Repositories. Naturally the report is web-only, but it's available for free download here.

- The Albion iron hand press used by William Morris to print the Kelmscott Chaucer will be sold at Christie's New York on 6 December, with an estimate of $100,000-150,000.

- Dan De Simone has been announced as the next Eric Weinmann Librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

- Newly digitized at Penn, a 1785 mss. inventory of Nicola Rossi's collection of early printed books and manuscripts. See also the later printed version [via Mitch Fraas].

- At the Centre for Material Texts blog, Jason Scott-Warren writes about his hunt for the 850 books of Elizabethan reader William Neile.

- Paul Collins' next book will be Blood & Ivy: The True Story of Money, Murder & the Trial That Shocked Harvard, about the Parkman-Webster murder. It'll be published by Norton and out in 2016.

- The DPLA has announced a million-dollar grant program from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to train public librarians in digitization, metadata creation, and digital technologies.

- Joseph Thomas recently wrote a fascinating piece for Slate on why his biography of Shel Silverstein may never see print.

- At Forbes, Tim Worstall on how Barnes & Noble is suddenly Amazon's biggest roadblock when it comes to getting the books they're publishing in front of readers.

- Nick Basbanes talked about his new book On Paper with Britannica editor Gregory McNamee, with Publishers Weekly's Michael M. Jones (here), and on the Diane Rehm Show (here).

- Nigel Beale has posted an interview with Bill Reese on collecting and selling books.

- In The New Yorker, Annette Gordon-Reed discusses the new "12 Years a Slave" movie and slave narratives as historical evidence.

- A Chicago man who discovered papers related to Richard T. Greener (the first black graduate of Harvard) told a Chicago newspaper that he would "roast and burn" the papers if Harvard didn't offer more money for them.

- The Getty Research Institute has released another 5,400 artwork images into its Open Content Program (bringing the total up to 10,000+).

- The Guardian is running a series of essays on "The 100 Best Novels," which so far have been very much worth reading.

- SHARP seeks editors for Book History.

- Peter Kirwan, an editor for a new volume titled Collaborative Plays by William Shakespeare & Others, writes very cogently about what the volume is designed to do and present.

- Houghton Library curator John Overholt recently appeared on the "You're the Expert" podcast, which makes for highly entertaining listening.

- Robert Darnton discussed "the future of books" with Memphis Flyer reporter Leonard Gill.

- New at Houghton, Kepler's Ad Rerum Coelestium Amatores Universos, the rarest of Kepler's works (just four copies are known).

- APHA has launched a blog on its new homepage. Recommended (even if it does not, at the moment, appear to be RSS-able, which is a bummer, and on which I will be happy to be corrected if someone can send me the feed URL Update: feed is at http://printinghistory.org/feed/).

- There's a new (and quite nice) version of the USTC site. More from Jim Hinck here.

- From Mitch Fraas at Mapping Books, an early look at mapping library markings from looted books.

- Denise Spellberg talked to NPR recently about her book Thomas Jefferson's Qu'ran.

- Keith Houston, whose book Shady Characters I enjoyed very much this fall, has announced that he's now at work on The Book: A Cover to Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time (to be published by Norton in 2015).

- At Medieval Fragments, a few treasure bindings to feast your eyes upon.

- The University of Melbourne has purchased the literary archives of Germaine Greer for ~$3 million, with proceeds going to rainforest restoration efforts.

- New at AAS, the only(?) issue of The Franklin, an early Washington periodical flop.

- From Jordan Goffin at Notes for Bibliophiles, an excellent reminder that, as he writes, "rare materials require the use of all five senses."

- Rebecca Rego Barry highlights the publication of An Inspiration to All Who Enter: Fifty Works from Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Yale University Press).

- The University of Illinois has acquired the literary archives of Gwendolyn Brooks.

- At Manuscript Road Trip, a consideration of Otto Ege and his biblioclasm.

- Irene O'Daly writes on images of medieval scribes at work over at Medieval Fragments.

- From the Bright Young Librarians series, Meghan Constantinou of the Grolier Club and Jordan Goffin of the Providence Public Library.

- Over at Typefoundry, James Mosley explores the history of @.

- New at Exeter Working Papers in Book History, a series of posts outlining the library contents of Sabine Baring-Gould.

- Jennifer Schuessler covered the launch of the Emily Dickinson Archive, including a look at the continuing tensions between Amherst and Harvard over the Dickinson materials in their collections. More on that from Sarah Schweitzer in the Boston Globe.

- McGill University has launched an exhibit to display select items from the J. Patrick Lee Collection of Voltaire, newly acquired by the university library.

- At Booktryst, a look at the manuscript of George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, going on the block at Christie's on 14 November.

- In The New Yorker, Paul Collins examines what may be some early Poe works through the lens of computer-based textual analysis.

- Reading Copy asked booksellers Bill Reese and Allen Stypeck for their predictions about the Bay Psalm Book sale on 26 November. In a later post, Richard Davies asks "Who Will Buy the Bay Psalm Book?"

- The Letterform Archive is fundraising (via Kickstarter) for what looks like a very cool 2014 calendar.

- Ron Charles highlights the launch of the new Shelley-Godwin Archive. More here from the NYTimes.


- Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries; review by Janet Maslin in the NYTimes.

- Alan Jacobs' The Book of Common Prayer; review by Adam Shields at Bookwi.se.

- A. Scott Berg's Wilson; review by Hector Tobar in the LATimes.

- Miles Hollingworth's St. Augustine of Hippo; review by Cole Moreton in the Telegraph.

- James WP Campbell's The Library: A World History; review by Clive Aslet in the Telegraph.

- Jeff Greenfield's If Kennedy Lived; reviews by H.W. Brands in the WaPo and John Timpane in the Philly Inquirer.

- Nick Basbanes' On Paper; review by Helen Gallagher in the New York Journal of Books.

- Jill Lepore's Book of Ages; review by Mary Beth Norton in the NYTimes.

- Richard A. Serrano's Last of the Blue and Gray; review by Scott Martelle in the LATimes.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Links & Reviews

- Just weeks after a plan to sell four Shakespeare folios was abandoned after a vociferous international outcry, the director of the Senate House libraries, Christopher Pressler, resigned this week. The Telegraph reported that Pressler had "admitted breaching financial rules by not disclosing his relationship with an employee at Bonhams, appointed to oversee the sale."

- A Vermont man has pleaded guilty to the theft of Robert Frost letters and Christmas cards from a desk donated to a White River Junction thrift store. Tim Bernaby has maintained that he took the letters from a trash can rather than from the desk, and he sold them for $25,000. The charge to which he pled guilty, unlawful taking of personal property, carries a $100 fine. A civil suit which will determine the rightful owner of the letters is pending.

- At The Junto, Sara Georgini interviews Molly O'Hagan Hardy, new Digital Humanities Curator at the American Antiquarian Society.

- Speaking of AAS, I was absolutely delighted to get word this week that the AAS Proceedings from 1880 through 2008 are now available on the Society's website. I hope to have more to say about these fairly soon.

- Rebecca Rosen recently visited the Folger Library and has written up a "Brief Tour of the Digital Delights" for The Atlantic.

- From Sue Lonoff de Cuevas at Harper's, a close reading of the Bronte sisters' French homework.

- The Library Company of Philadelphia has acquired Joe Freedman's collection of Philadelphia ephemera, comprising some 900 items.

- New from Heather Wolfe at The Collation, a new scholarly edition of piracy depositions from the Bacon-Townshend collection.

- In the LA Review of Books this week, Daniel Hernandez explores a new theory (offered by bookseller Kevin Mac Donnell, in fact) on the origin of the name "Mark Twain."

- Over at The Public Domain Review, Phillippe Blom argues for Diderot's importance as we mark the tercentenary of the philosopher's birth.

- The Harvard Libraries have started a pilot program to scan key content at the point of accessioning or cataloging. Read about the project here.

- Over at the John Rylands Library blog, a look at marginalia.

- The folks responsible for the great Six Degrees of Francis Bacon project are requesting input from users about additional information you'd like to see as part of the interface.

- Profiled in the FB&C "Bright Young Librarians" series this week, University of Iowa Special Collections Librarian Patrick Olson.


- Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things; reviews by Janet Maslin in the NYTimes and Jane Shilling in the Telegraph.

- Mark Cocker and David Tipling's Birds and People; review by Jeremy Mynott in the TLS.

- Roderick Beaton's Byron's War; review by Emily A. Bernhard Jackson in the TLS.

- Jill Lepore's Book of Ages; review by Julia M. Klein in the Boston Globe.

- Denise Spellberg's Thomas Jefferson's Qu'ran; review by R.B. Bernstein at The Daily Beast.

- Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed; review by Saul Austerlitz in the Boston Globe.

- Frank Prochaska's The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot; review by George Selgin in the WSJ.

- Peter Ackroyd's Three Brothers; review by Mark Sanderson in the Telegraph.

- Nick Basbanes' On Paper; review in Kirkus.

- The Morgan Library and Museum's exhibit "Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul"; review by Charles McGrath in the NYTimes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Links & Reviews

- A decision in the long-running Google Books case may be coming soon, Library Journal reported this week.

- Bethany Nowviskie has posted the text of her talk last week at a University of Illinois symposium on the future of the humanities at state-funded research universities. Read the whole thing.

- Prominent on this week's list of IMLS grant winners was the Folger Library, which has received nearly $500,000 to create a free, searchable database of manuscript transcriptions as well as a virtual community of transcribers.

- The Washington Post had good coverage this week of the grand opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.

- A collection of nine early alchemical manuscripts, mostly from the 15th century, has been acquired by the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

- Michael Geist has an intriguing look at Library and Archives Canada's current mass-digitization plan, known as Heritage. Again, read the whole thing.

- The Morgan Library and Museum announced recently that it will digitize and post for use its collection of some 10,000 drawings.

- There's a new exhibit of association copies from the collection of Bryan A. Garner on display at the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale.

- A Haggadah written and illuminated by famed scribe Aaron Wolf Herlingen was found recently in a Manchester house. It will be sold at auction in November, and could fetch up to £100,000.

- There's now video up of Jack P. Greene's talk at a recent JCB conference on "1763 and the Re-evaluation of Empire: The View from Britain."

- Over at the LOC blog, Erin Allen profiles the tremendously important Peter Force Library, comprising some 60,000 items.

- At The Junto, Jonathan Wilson writes about "Locating the Literati: Charles Brockden Brown in Philadelphia."

- The Jane Austen ring purchased at auction by Kelly Clarkson will stay in Britain after sufficient funds were raised. It will be displayed at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire.

- New, and quite possibly a tremendously useful resource as it grows: Geocontexting the Cultural Industries, 1500-1900.

- For Banned Books Week, Simon Beattie highlighted the Phillippiques of Lagrange-Chancel, and the University of Glasgow library blog focused on some copies of Tycho Brahe's works in their collections.

- This year's MacArthur fellows were announced this week.

- Over at Brain Pickings, some unusual techniques of famous writers, from Celia Blue Johnson's Odd Type Writers.

- From the AbeBooks blog this week, a quick look at the most expensive books (and manuscripts) sold.

- Nick Basbanes posted on the FB&C blog this week a question (plus some possible answers) he'd received about his new book On Paper.

- At Notabilia, the shelf-marks of Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke.

- The St. Andrews University Library is publishing a six-part collection to mark the six-hundredth anniversary of the university: 600 Years of Book Collecting.

- The February 2014 courses for the Australian and New Zealand Rare Books Summer School have been announced.

- From the UVA Special Collections blog, M.A. student Stephanie Kingsley on a recent bibliographical exploration she conducted using the papers of Virginia author Ellen Glasgow.


- Arlette Farge's The Allure of the Archive; review by Jacob Soll in the CHE.

- Andrea Barrett's Archangel; review by Jess Row in the NYTimes.

- Denise A. Spelberg's Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an; review by Seth Perry at The Junto.

- Jill Lepore's Book of Ages; review by Dwight Garner in the NYTimes.

- Lawrence Principe's The Secrets of Alchemy; review by Nicholas Popper in the TLS.

- Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things; review by Barbara Kingsolver in the NYTimes.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Links & Reviews

- Quite a fascinating post from Anthony Tedeschi at Antipodean Footnotes this week, on the discovery of a truly odd printing error in the University of Melbourne copy of the Gesta Romanorum (~1484).

- Some exciting news from Amherst College, where the Frost Library has acquired the Pablo Eisenberg Collection of Native American Literature, described as the most complete collection of Native American literature and history ever assembled.

- Adams Hooks covers a really lovely 16th-century English binding, the only one known to have a printer's device and motton in gilt on both covers (and now at Houghton).

- Heather Cole is profiled in the FB&C "Bright Young Librarians" series this week.

- In the Telegraph, an excerpt from Vybarr Cregan-Reid's new book on George Smith and his (re)discovery of the epic of Gilgamesh.

- University of South Carolina English professor Gregg Hecimovich believes he has identified the author of The Bondwoman's Narrative, an 1850s novel by an enslaved woman.

- At The Steeple Times, twenty questions for bookseller Pom Harrington.

- From Nathan Raab, a Forbes blog post on crowdsourcing technologies and public engagement in history.

- A 1592 compilation of Frankfurt Book Fair catalogues from 1564-1592 goes under the hammer on 1 October.

- With the launch of Oyster this week, Ian Crouch asks "What does it mean to own a book?"

- Over at the John J. Burns Library blog, 17th-century traveler Thomas Gage's The English-American is highlighted.

- In the NYTimes this week, a profile of the Art Loss Register and its leader, Julian Radcliffe.

- Via Dan Cohen on Twitter, a new research paper, "Solving the Orphan Works Problem for the United States."


- Andrew Lycett's Wilkie Collins; review by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in the Telegraph.

- A. Scott Berg's Wilson; review by Kevin Baker in the NYTimes.

- Robert O'Kell's Disraeli; review by Daisy Hay in the TLS.

- Melissa Mohr's Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing; review by Colin Burrow in the LRB.

- Anna Whitelock's Elizabeth's Bedfellows; review by Helen Hackett in the TLS.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Links & Reviews

- Quite an interesting story this week by Dean Beeby about Library and Archives Canada's ultimately successful attempt to obtain the Sherbrooke Collection at auction this spring. Archivists and others say that LAC could probably have managed to purchase the collection at a much more reasonable price had they actually had funds for acquisitions and been able to act more efficiently.

- New: Annotated Books Online, intended as a digital archive of annotated books from the early modern period.

- An upcoming episode of the History Channel show "Treasures Decoded" will be on the Vinland Map. One of those involved, history professor Richard Raiswell, is featured in a recent article on the show, but the article doesn't make clear what if any new information will be revealed.

- In the NYTimes T Magazine this weekend, a profile of author Peter Ackroyd.

- Anthony Tedeschi is highlighted in the "Bright Young Librarians" series over on the FB&C blog.

- New from Oak Knoll, wood engraver Alexander Anderson's 1793-1799 diary, plus Michael Twyman's A History of Chromolithography. And from W.W. Norton, a full-size, facsimile edition of the Bien Audubon.

- A Charlotte Bronte letter sold for £24,000 at an Edinburgh auction, doubling its estimate.

- At Notabilia, distinctive characteristics of Oxford bindings.

- From Booktryst, some thoughts on selling (or buying) books originally published in parts.

- A look at John Carter and his ABC, at American Book Collecting.


- A. Scott Berg's Wilson; review by Craig Fehrman in the WSJ.

- Alan Taylor's The Internal Enemy; review by Mark Smith in the WSJ.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

About those Folios ...

In all of last week's discussions about the possible sale of the Sterling Folios from the University of London, there wasn't all that much written about the actual books themselves. So, curious, I turned to Anthony James West's First Folio census (OUP, 2003) to see what he has to say about the volumes.

As one might expect, the Sterling Folios have quite a backstory, even if we don't know too much about their early life. The four volumes are uniformly bound, by the English binder James Hayday, in dark blue goatskin (West, I, 117; II, 101), with gilt edges (the First Folio also contains marbling beneath the gilt).

West notes of the First Folio (in a comment which extends to the other three) "The volume is notable both for its early migration to America and for its repatriation." This set of the four folios was purchased by Francis Calley Gray of Boston (1790-1859) around 1836, and was perhaps the first full set of Shakespeare folios to cross the Atlantic. Gray (Harvard, 1809) was the son of prominent Boston merchant William Gray, and went to Russia with John Quincy Adams in 1809 as a private secretary (William Gray also happened to own the ship, the Horace, on which JQA & Co. sailed).

Upon his return to America Gray was admitted to the bar and became a prominent lawyer, orator, poet, and art collector. His 1815 visit with George Ticknor to Thomas Jefferson at Monticello is well known (for a bit on this, see here), and he left an impressive collection of engravings to Harvard (see the catalog), "together with a choice library of works on art, and several valuable illustrated books, among them Rosellini's Monumenti dell' Egitto and Audubon's Birds and Quadrupeds of America" (Gray had been one of several donors to Harvard's original copy of Audubon's Birds, and perhaps gave his own copy of a later edition to the Museum of Comparative Zoology).

F.C. Gray's nephew William inherited the set of Folios in 1856, and they were purchased by Miss Mary Edgecombe (sometimes Edgcumbe or Edgecumbe) Blatchford (1838-1902) of Cambridge in 1879. West writes of Miss Blatchford "She was one of the two Americans who in 1901-2 helped Sidney Lee the most in gathering information about American First Folios for his census. He acknowledged her enthusiastic work in the Census introduction (p. 17), and there is ample evidence of it in her correspondence with Lee in the Sir Sidney Lee Collection at the Birthplace Trust Records Office. She mentions in her neatly completed copy of Lee's questionnaire there that she examined her Folio with Justin Winsor" (West, II, 100). Winsor had published, in 1876, his Bibliography of the Original Quartos and Folios of Shakespeare, with Particular Reference to Copies in America.

Miss Blatchford was the eldest daughter of Edgecombe Heath Blatchford (1811-1853) and his wife Mary Ann Hubbard (1820-1864). Blatchford, an alumnus of Union College (my own alma mater), was a lawyer by profession, and the Hubbards were a prominent Boston family: Mary Ann's father Samuel was a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Mary Blatchford, who wrote the 1898 childrens' book The Story of Little Jane and Me, was a donor to many Boston-area institutions, held a proprietorship at the Boston Athenaeum (perhaps inherited from her mother), and as previously mentioned was of significant help to Sir Sidney Lee.

From Blatchford or her estate the volumes passed, it seems, to the Massachusetts General Hospital Trust, who arranged for their sale at Sotheby's London on 4 March 1935. As West notes, this re-crossing of the Atlantic did not go unnoticed, with a comment in the TLS that "the sentimentalist will hope that these four folios ill stay." They were purchased for £3,100 by the booksellers Lionel and Philip Robinson, a price mourned in the TLS as "somewhat disappointing," given that First Folios alone had previously sold for rather higher prices (the letterpress on the title page of this First Folio is in facsimile, with the portrait inlaid; the "To the Reader" leaf is also in facsimile).

The Folios were then sold for £3,500 to Sir Louis Sterling (1879-1958), an American-born industrialist memorialized in one death-notice as a "millionaire socialist." The same piece continued "The industrialist-philanthropist amassed a fortune in the phonograph and recording business and became a naturalized Britain [sic] after arriving nearly penniless by cattleboat in 1903. Explaining why he had given away more than $2.8 million in Britain, the man born Louis Saul Sterling in a New York tenement, said: 'I made all my money in this country, so I guess Britain is entitled to it.'"

Sterling was known for his assistance to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, received a knighthood in 1937, and endowed the Sterling Library at the University of London in the early 1950s. The library itself was opened by Queen Elizabeth (as the University's Chancellor) in October 1956. For more on Sterling's library, see the collection overview, or this 1939 TLS piece, reprinted on the Senate House site.

See what happens when you start pulling threads? Connections abound: who would have thought this set of four folios would stand just a degree of separation or two away from John Quincy Adams, Union College, and the early days of the British recording industry?

Like all books, the Sterling Library Folios have their own stories to tell us, of the people who made them, bound them, owned them, sold them, and read them. While there are many unanswered questions about these (when were they originally brought together? Who had them bound? Who owned them prior to the 1830s?), we know much of what we do know about them thanks to the good work of Justin Winsor, Sidney Lee, and Anthony James West, assisted by Mary Edgecombe Blatchford and the countless others who helped make their censuses of the Shakespeare Folios possible. Another reminder (here are some more) that these censuses are important scholarly works, worthy of our attention and our assistance whenever possible.

NB: I couldn't find either Lee's or Winsor's Folio censuses online, which seems a shame. Though outdated now and vastly superseded by West's, their texts are still quite interesting, and it would be useful to be able to link to them. Also and as always, additions/clarifications/corrections appreciated!

[Update: Lee's census is in fact online, here. Thanks to Mitch Fraas and Sarah Werner!]