Category Archives: Collecting

MRT: A Reminisce

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Michael Thompson, photo courtesy of ILAB.

This past Saturday, the ABAA’s Southern California Chapter held a memorial for our recently departed colleague, Michael Thompson.  Through the good offices of Brad Johnson, my following remarks were read, as I was unable to deliver them in person.  I offer them here too, in an effort to pay wider homage to our dearly beloved friend.

I suspect that I’m like most of you here today, in that I knew Michael for over 2 decades, our acquaintance first being made, as I recall, in the mid-90s, at one of the then bountiful California book fairs.  We recognized in each other a kindred spirit, that is, we both loved the ‘hunt’ for books, and it’s in that vein I’ll relate a story from the late 90s that, I believe, epitomizes Michael’s joy in bookselling…   

One summer, we decided to share a booth at Rob Rulon-Miller’s Twin Cities Book Fair.  Like most regional fairs, Sunday morning that weekend was, shall we say, slow.  Standing idly in our booth, hands in our pockets, Michael looked over at me and inquired,

“Mind holding down the fort?  I’m gonna wander around for a bit.”

“No problem,” say I, “take your time.”

20 minutes later, I see Michael purposely striding back to the booth, clutching a little … something, in his left hand.

Entering the booth, smiling triumphantly, he exclaimed, “I just made my weekend!”

“Do tell!”

“Do you know what this is?” he queried, waving the little pamphlet, leaflet.. I couldn’t quite discern which.  “It’s the press announcement for Saul Marks’ Plantin Press!  I’ve never seen it before, and what do you know, I find this LA item in Minneapolis!  For twenty bucks no less!”  He grinned, and continued, “Young man, just remember, anything can be anywhere!”

Well Michael, I’ve never forgotten that advice given decades ago, just as I’ll never forget you.  Godspeed my friend, may you enjoy this new journey on which you’ve embarked with as much joy as that you experienced in the one just finished.

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Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut are Two Different People

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Embarrassingly enough (because when should you admit things of that nature except online, in front of strangers?), I spent a few of my formative years confusing authors Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. I thought the same prolific man wrote all of their stories! Obviously I was quickly apprised of the real situation (and excruciating difference in genres) and had to immediately stop telling people how much I enjoyed Bradbury’s Slaughterhouse-Five. (I was 14, okay??). I wised up. These many years later I am revisiting my childhood trauma – I mean “experience” – and updating my knowledge on Ray Bradbury on his birthday!

ray10Bradbury was born on August 22nd, 1920, in rural Illinois. In 1932 at the age of twelve, Bradbury had a somewhat extraordinary experience with a traveling magician known as Mr. Electrico – who touched him on the nose and exclaimed “live forever!” – to which Bradbury took in the best way possible – his literature (which he began writing only days after this experience) will live forever. A couple short years later, the Bradbury family relocated to Los Angeles, where he was able to join the Los Angeles Science Fiction league as a teenager, and counted authors such as Robert Heinlein and Henry Kuttner among his mentors.

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ray8At the age of 19 his literary career began getting even more serious – and he honed with fantastical science fiction writing style by publishing his own fanzine, called Futuria Fantasia, and traveling to the first World Science Fiction convention, held in 1939 in New York City. His short stories began to be published in Science Fiction magazines such as Weird Tales and Super Science Stories. In the 1940s, Bradbury began to be published in high-end literary and social magazines like Harper’s, the American MercuryCollier’s and The New Yorker - not typical for most science fiction writers. And to do it without losing sight of your style and genre – almost unheard of! Bradbury published short stories, series’, and novels over the coming years. In 1953 his novel Fahrenheit 451 hit the shelves – and is now regarded as one of his greatest works. It follows a futuristic world where censorship is in full force and follows the seduction of one firefighter through the world of literature. Fahrenheit 451 was closely followed by his collection The Golden Apples of the Sun, where the story inspiration for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was found. He followed up his works with more and more short stories, and more novels, until his later life, when he elected to turn more often towards poetry, drama and mysteries – including adapting his stories for the big screen. Despite being considered a primarily science fiction writer, Bradbury often considered his works more in the fantasy, horror and mystery genres – that he did not stay true to science fiction themes, with the exception of his novel Fahrenheit 451.

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Bradbury dated and married only one woman throughout his life – a lady named Marguerite McClure, whom he married at the age of 27 and remained married to until her death 56 years later. The couple had four daughters. Bradbury himself lived to the ripe age of 91, when he died in 2012 after a lengthy illness. His personal library was left to the public library in his small Illinois hometown – where so much of his inspiration came from.

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And now, for some book-related history!

There comes a time in every bibliophile’s life when you have to sit back, relax… and read an online blog instructing you on the history of books! Not all books are created equal (this is where you should start taking notes). Some books are newer than others, some books are flimsier than others. Some are made of pigs skin, some of human skin. (But not that many, thank god). Some are so delicate that to touch them is to risk their disintegration. And some changed the way books were bought, read, and used by the world. We speak, of course, of the modern paperback novel – on today, its 83rd birthday. 

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A paperback is defined as being a book between stiff sheets of paper or paperboard, held together by glue (more often than by stitching or staples, as would be more likely to be found on paperbound pamphlets or booklets). Though paperbound works existed long before in forms of pamphlets and yellowback copies of existing works or dime novels, the modern paperback as we know it was only recognized in 1935, when the UK’s Penguin Books released their first paperback title, André Maurois’ Ariel. Now, credit where credit is due… Penguin Books actually took over design elements initially brought forth by Germany’s Albatross Books and their paperbound book idea in 1931 (cut short by the rapidly approaching onset of WWII). 

Allen Lane, publisher of the UK's Penguin Books.

Allen Lane, publisher of the UK’s Penguin Books.

The paperback revolution, as it is sometimes called, was something bordering on the revolution that the printing press made upon its release in the world. Penguin Books offering the first selections in English, published ten titles (all reprints of existing works, of course) in a relatively short period of time. British publisher Allen Lane, who invested large amounts of capital in Penguin Books for the publication of these paperbacks, ordered 20,000 copy runs for the first titles – keeping costs low. (According to history, as long as Penguin sold at least 17,000 titles of a run, they would break even – which they did – by a long run.) The books ran cheaper than a dozen cigarettes at the time – more than affordable to the average citizen. Though at the initial onset paperbacks were considered trash by booksellers of the day, once British department store Woolworths agreed to carry the novels and they sold unimaginably well, booksellers soon changed their tune.

After all, within the first year of existence, Penguin Books had sold over 3 million copies of their titles. 

(We are only human, you know…)

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America’s Simon & Schuster began their own line of “Pocket Books”

Penguin Books were a godsend during World War II. They were small enough to be carried in the pockets of soldiers, and brought more joy to the men on the battlefield than much else available in those days. Penguin Books was not alone for long, however. Simon & Schuster was part of the initial run of the American Pocket Books label, and soon “Pocket Book” and “Paper Back” became synonymous for small, paperback books, affordable to the public. In France they began to call the books livre de poche – pocket book. No matter where you turned, paperbacks had changed civilization in the western world as we knew it. 

With the advent of the e-book, one has to ask – where do we see paperbacks in the future? Surely they still serve the same services they once did – the ability to read on the go, carry a title around with you with less weight and at a lower cost. The antiquarian book world is an interesting place – we feel a bit removed from the new advances in book reading technology. If anything, with more and more e-book reading and online activity, books should become even more collectible and valued. But what of the mass-market paperbacks that are being made every day?

Send us or comment your thoughts! 

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Celebrating Women Authors on Maya Angelou’s Birthday

We recently saw an interesting article online, detailing the “Best Female Authors” of all time. On this, what would be Dr. Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday, we would like to channel her inner strength and power as a leading poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist and honor some of the most famous female authors of all time.

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Top Twenty-Five Female Authors of All Time in One Sentence or Less

Followed by the First Sentence or So Found about these Powerful Ladies on the Internet (A Rather Fascinating Social Experiment, No?)

(Obviously Debatable, but these names are based on Book Sales and those found to be Classics Today)

Jane Austen:an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century.”

Virginia Woolf:an English writer, who is considered one of the foremost modernist authors of the 20th century and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.”

Charlotte Bronte:is one of the most famous Victorian women writers, only two of her poems are widely read today, and these are not her best or most interesting poems.”

Agatha Christie:Lady Mallowan, DBE was an English writer. She is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.”

Mary Shelley:an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).”

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Louisa May Alcott:was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. She and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and [Abba] May were educated by their father, teacher/philosopher A. Bronson Alcott, and raised on the practical Christianity of their mother, Abigail May.”

J.K. Rowling:is the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy series, one of the most popular book and film franchises in history.”

George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans):was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.”

Emily Dickinson:is one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time.”

Sylvia Plath:was one of the most dynamic and admired poets of the 20th century.”

Toni Morrison:American writer noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community.”

Margaret Atwood:is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, and environmental activist.”

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Elizabeth Gaskell:often referred to as Mrs Gaskell, was an English novelist, biographer, and short story writer.”

Willa Cather:established a reputation for giving breath to the landscape of her fiction.”

Dorothy Parker:was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”

Gertrude Stein:was an American author and poet best known for her modernist writings, extensive art collecting and literary salon in 1920s Paris.”

Ursula Le Guin: an “immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’” 

Isabel Allende:s a Chilean-American writer. Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of the genre of “magical realism,” is famous for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), which have been commercially successful.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay:received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award for poetry, and was also known for her feminist activism.”

Mary Wollstonecraft: “an English writer and passionate advocate of educational and social equality for women.”

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Alice Walker:is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, African-American novelist and poet most famous for authoring ‘The Color Purple.’”

Maya Angelou:an impactful civil rights leader who collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights movement. “

Judy Blume:spent her childhood in Elizabeth, NJ, making up stories inside her head. She has spent her adult years in many places, doing the same thing, only now she writes her stories down on paper.”

Betty Friedan: “a leading figure in the women’s movement in the United States, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century.”

Thank you to these powerful, courageous and wonderful writers for their influence on female empowerment!

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Oops, Jim Kay Did it Again! A Briefing on the Sacramento Book Fair

by Vic Zoschak Jr.

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Jim Kay did it again!  “What?”, you ask?  Nothing less than host the umpteenth million [or so it seems] successful Sacramento  book fair!  Seriously, in one iteration or another, I’ve been attending this book fair since the mid-1980s.  For northern California bibliophiles especially, it’s a local gem.  Jim [pun intended] resurrected the fair a decade or so ago when it, like many other regional book fairs, was falling prey to the spread of internet book-buying.  Under Jim’s guidance, it’s now a vibrant local fair that consistently draws a good crowd, not to mention, exhibitors, who hail from as far away as Seattle, LA, and Salt Lake City.

IMG_4103This particular fair was also memorable for another reason…  it was the first ever for my new assistant, Samm Fricke.  Samm came on board last Wednesday.  Yes, you read that right, she’d only been in my employ for 2 days before I whisked her off to help me man the Tavistock Books’ booth.  She did great!  And the good ship Tavistock…?  The buying was great*; sales, not so much.  But that said, unless someone buys out your booth, there’s always room for improvement, isn’t there?

Finally, one attractive aspect of this fair that it shares with others-  interaction with colleagues.  The Friday night dinner has become tradition, and this year was no different.  That night, eight of us gathered at a local restaurant, Roxie, to dine, converse & just generally relax after a long day of set-up.  For me, this is one of the allures that keeps me coming back… the camaraderie shared at that Friday night dinner.   As they used to say in that one commercial, “priceless”.

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See you in September.

IMG_4105* watch for our New Acquisitions list…  lots of interesting material will be coming your way!

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A Congress. A Book Fair. A Blog.

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$400,000.00  Could I sell my first born male child to fund this purchase?  OMG, I so want[ed] this book.  But I leap ahead, for that yearning comes later in the week…  the week, actually 11 days, started with a road trip.  A Vanilla road trip, but nevertheless, a road trip.  Saturday morning, the 3rd of February, Peaches dropped me off at my colleague’s shop in Walnut Creek, Swan’s Fine Books.  Luggage was transferred.  WC calls were made, and Laurelle & I headed south.  Pasadena bound.  Yes, we both were attending the 2018 ILAB Congress, being held in lovely Pasadena California.  The drive was pleasant, conversation exchanged, and other than 2 idiot drivers doing their best to side-swipe us [Laurelle alertly avoided both.  Thank you God], uneventful. 

The Congress started with a tour of Old Town Pasadena at 2 pm Sunday.  I arrived in the lobby promptly at 1:58.  2:00 pm, no guide.  2:03 pm, no guide.  2:10 pm, Brad Johnson explaining the guide had been confirmed, and the committee’s check cashed, but still no guide.  2:20 pm, no guide.  2:30 pm, I moseyed on over to the bar, where I found Laurelle, and we had a glass of Chardonnay.  And a second glass, to down the crab cakes.  A 3rd glass was contra-indicated.  The guide never showed.  I felt for Brad [and Jen, the Congress organizers]… was this a harbinger of the 3 days ahead?

IMG_3944No.  IT WAS WONDERFUL!  We went to the Clark.  We went to the Huntington.  We went to the Getty.  We went to the Herrick.  AND we went to the Petersen Car Museum!!  Can you say awesome!  OMG, the cars!  And there was a Porsche exhibit on!  Did I tell you I have an ’82 911SC [the “P Car”] and a ’94 964 Carrera 2 convertible [“Miz White”].  In other words, I was in 7th heaven!  

I could write this entire blog on that museum tour, but I’ll just say the coolest car seen, in my not so humble opinion [IMNSHO], was Steve McQueen’s Jaguar XJSS.  I swooned.

This visit was Wednesday am, and to be honest, I was sorely tempted to join the Congress afternoon group, so I could revisit the Petersen and see those cars I missed… but no, I stuck with my morning group, and was glad I did, for we went to the Herrick.  Howard Prouty, ABAA member, is also ‘the guy’, at this Academy Library.  Many treasures there, and I was glad to see them [fwiw, they house Peaches’ father-in-law’s papers, that being Irving Brecher, who wrote the screenplay for Meet Me in St Louis.  Those weren’t on display.  I survived the disappointment].

IMG_3961Wednesday night.  Gawd, I had to put on a suit.  It was the Congress “Gala Dinner”.  It’s California… couldn’t I go in shorts & flops?  Evidently not.  Ok, B-Squared it was.  Peaches said I clean up pretty well, your call if she’s right.  And really, it was a nice evening.  A palatable meal, lovely dinner companions, engaging conversation and dancing!  Whoohoo, been a while, let me tell you!  However, I did not go to the Presidential suite after…  getting a bit too advanced in my years to stay up till 3 am, as some of our younger members did.  

Thursday dawned, Congress over, the 51st ABAA California Antiquarian Book Fair about to begin.  Book fairs are funny animals.  They can cheer you, they can humble you, they can confound you, they can elate you.  This one was no different.  It was the first for my assistant Cassie.  She has a nice eye… her responsibility was booth set-up, and a great job she did. 

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Did I say we had adjoining booths with Swan’s Fine Books & Churchill Book Collector?  We did.  30 feet of dazzling material.  And how’d we do you ask?  Well, we sold some, and we bought some.  Like I told folks at the fair who inquired, “I didn’t crash ‘n burn, but I didn’t soar with the eagles either.”

IMG_3984Before I leave Pasadena, I should mention poker.  Anybody out there play?   James Bryant does, and he’s the new ABAA champion at Texas Hold’em.  In case you weren’t aware, the ABAA hosts a benefit poker tournament during the CA Book Fair.  Proceeds help fund the ABAA’s Elisabeth Woodburn Education Fund, which sends young[ish] booksellers to CABS, RBS, CALRBS, etc…. I’ve been told over $6000 was raised that evening.  While I was happy to contribute my $$ to a worthy cause, I confess, I didn’t make it past the second table.  lol

It’s now Thursday, Februay 15th.  Cassie & I are back in Alameda, those books not sold are reshelved, and we’re getting back into the daily routine.  Put another one in the books.  Next year, Oakland.  2020, the ILAB Congress is in Amsterdam.  Count ME in!

And oh, what was that $400,000 book…?  Shakespeare’s Second Folio.  Original, unsophisticated, in a period binding, with an enviable provenance.  In the booth across from mine.  Christopher, I’ll be calling if I win the lottery.

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The Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship is Up for Grabs!

So, you’re a somewhat new[ish] antiquarian bookseller, who just got in a fairly uncommon 18th C. book on conjuring…  and you ask yourself, is there a reference one could consult regarding same, that would give the pagination scheme, and number of required plates?  YES!  In this case, Raymond Stott’s BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ENGLISH CONJURING, 1581 – 1876.  

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Of course, that question of where to go, what reference to use, can come into play for a number of authors, subjects, time-periods, whathaveyou.  The solution:  RBS course L-25.

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Joel Silver, the Director of the renowned Lilly Library, University of Indiana, has been teaching this course for around a decade now.  From the RBS Course description, here’s what he covers during the week:

This course presents a systematic introduction to approximately 350 printed and electronic reference sources for researching rare books. Emphasis will be placed on sources in the fields of early printed books; British and American literature; historical Americana; voyages and travels; maps and atlases; science and medicine; and the book arts. In class sessions, the instructor will cover details related to the compilation of each of the sources and will provide information about their strengths and weaknesses, as well as strategies on how they can be used effectively. Students will receive listings containing bibliographical information on the sources discussed, along with reproductions of selected pages or entries from some of the sources.

The course is intended for special collections librarians, antiquarian booksellers, and collectors, at all levels, who are interested in finding out more about the books in their care. Although there are no prerequisites, a basic understanding of the principles of descriptive bibliography would be helpful.

I’ve personally taken this course.  The course is wonderful, Joel is nothing short of amazing, and even better for you, since I so believe in both the course & its instructor, I’ll pay the course tuition for an up-n-coming bookseller.  Yep, the Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship is for Joel’s course.  From the last paragraph of the RBS course description:

The Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship is a full-tuition scholarship opportunity that is available to all antiquarian booksellers interested in taking this course. For more information, please visit the Tavistock Scholarship page.

So, this blog, in essence, a scholarship announcement.  If you’re a bookseller, they say success depends on two factors: what you know, and who you know.  Both can be obtained at RBS, in this case, tuition-paid.  Applications now being accepted.

Questions?  vjz@tavbooks.com

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