Category Archives: Antiquarian Books

AN AGENT OF CHANGE

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On this auspicious occasion – the 150th Anniversary of Dickens’ death – there is no shortage of notional blog topics. We could discuss the strange diet he had on days when he did his public readings (a raw egg beaten in a glass of sherry was part of it), the curious nicknames he had for his children (“Skittles” was probably a joy – who knows what went wrong with “Lucifer’s Box”), or perhaps the ivory toothpick he once used that sold at auction for $9,000.

Given everything going on in the world at the moment, we decided to give whimsy a pass and focus on a single, defining aspect of Dickens. Relevance.

As an author – arguably the most famous in the world during his lifetime – Dickens was well-known and widely read. But that can be said of many authors in many times. Part of what continues to make Dickens fascinating was how he leveraged both his literary gifts and the attention they commanded. Despite his many faults, Dickens was a force for positive social reform and change. One might even argue that for his time, he was a radical agent for social change. It seems a good time to talk about how one man used his pen to give voice to those without one, to infuse entertainment with informing empathy, and to leverage personal fame to help others less fortunate than himself.

It is impossible to look at Dickens’ interest in the poverty-stricken, down-trodden members of society without a brief introduction to his early life. Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on the 7th of February, 1812 into a modest Portsmouth household that boasted his mother, father, and an older sister. Dickens’ father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, and for a time the family enjoyed a modest but happy life – a lifestyle some have referred to as “gentile poverty”. At just three years old, the young Charles and his family relocated to bustling London, where his father was transferred after the end of the Napoleonic War. London proved to be a difficult life for the constantly growing family, and the charismatic John Dickens began to fall into serious debt.

At the age of twelve, young Charles was packed off to Warren’s Blacking – a boot polish manufacturer. For a time, the young boy would work from early morning until late into the night. However, soon after Charles began work his father was arrested and the entire family moved into debtor’s prison. It was only after John Dickens’ mother died, leaving behind a small inheritance for the family to pay their debts and survive on, that they were able to leave Marshalsea Prison. This period would have an immense impact on Charles Dickens’ view of the world and on his writing. He would never forget the way being so unspeakably poor had opened his eyes to the world. In short, Charles Dickens lived a truly “Dickensian” childhood, surviving in extremely poor social conditions. Though the term may have been coined based on the living conditions of characters in his books, we can see that Charles did not invent the lifestyle – nor did he have to imagine it.

Skipping ahead, after Dickens achieved success with his writing (after all, the point of this blog is to bring attention to his efforts in social reform, not to his literary successes), we see Dickens becoming an advocate for many of the less fortunate. The Victorian period in England saw many advances in industry and technology – creating a rising tide of urbanization. Industrialism was at its height, but the division of wealth between the wealthy aristocracy and the poor was beyond considerable. The working class was on the rise, true, but the poverty stricken lower class life experience would be considered untenable today in the western world. The extortion of child labor, abuse of labor practices in general, homelessness and/or a lack of sanitation in housing, prostitution and general squalor were only some of the problems facing the lower classes in Victorian England. Though many upper class citizens remained ignorant of these many difficult subjects, Dickens chose to write about them. And because he did so with compelling craft and deeply engaging stories, he was able to command attention that no conventional soapbox could rival.

Combining his skills of humor and satire with a keen observation of society at large, Dickens brought attention to the many injustices against the downtrodden in Victorian England. He did not just write about them fictionally, however. When he could, he donated his own money. When he couldn’t, or wanted to do more than simply contribute cash, he pushed the wealthy to donate their time and resources. Most often, however, he used his fame and celebrity, but most of all talent to aid charitable institutions. Dickens was no stranger to giving speeches, performing readings, or writing articles for causes he believed in. Over his lifetime, he in some way supported at least 43 charitable institutions. Some of these included the Poor Man’s Guardian Society, the Birmingham and Midland Institute, the Metropolitan Sanitary Association, The Orphan Working School, the Royal Hospital for the Incurables, and the Hospital for Sick Children.

 

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One of Dickens’ most well-known and sustained philanthropic efforts was his work with the notable (and extremely wealthy) Miss Angela Burdett Coutts. The two met and became close friends in 1839, and were in contact for many years before Dickens approached her with an idea – a home for homeless and “fallen” women. Dickens wanted to get these women off the streets – many of whom had turned to a life of prostitution to survive – and teach them skills to make a living or marry and have a family. Dickens oversaw every part of this project – from finding the home to helping pick out candidates. Urania Cottage, as it was called, provided safety, a home and support to homeless and fallen girls and turned out dozens of recharged women over a ten year period. Until a rift with Coutts developed in 1859, Dickens worked tirelessly on behalf of his charity for women.

Now, Urania Cottage is just a single example of Dickens’ generosity. He gave to organizations, institutions, and even to families and individuals as often as he could. We have already mentioned how he was able to use his talents in both writing and readings to bring attention and awareness to difficult subjects. He also put forth tireless efforts into the Field Lane Ragged School – a school for destitute children, run by Evangelicals. Though Dickens had reservations about the religious leader of the school, he enthusiastically gave his time, money and resources into creating a safe space for these children to learn “religious instruction, elementary education, training in trades and food” (J. Don Vann) through volunteers in evening classes. He believed in free education, and thought that through equal (and therefore free) tuition throughout England, crime and destitution would decrease. He was not wrong.

The take away from these stories is this… here was arguably the most famous writer in the world since Shakespeare, scouting homes and schools himself for the poor and the homeless, using his time and influence to gain money and support, and keeping involved in the running of the charities even after they were set up. Dickens was not simply an armchair philanthropist. He put himself in the thick of it and wanted desperately to make a difference. Though scholars have occasionally thought it impossible to legitimately trace any direct reform legislation to Dickens’ work, there can be no doubt that he opened up discussions and used intelligence and humor to bring attention to social abuses and system deficiencies. Charles Dickens showed us one path that could be used to direct change – not the only path.

Though as Dickens scholars and purveyors of his work we adore the satire and intelligence of his literature, we realize this does not absolve him of any wrong doings in his personal life and sphere. We are not, under any circumstances, promoting Dickens as the perfect humanitarian. As we stated earlier, he certainly had his faults. But what we can learn from Mr. Dickens, especially in a time such as this – a time of radical positive change, but also of confusion and pain – is that nothing at all will happen if we don’t first put forth the effort.

As actor and Dickens scholar Simon Callow once said: “The reason I love him so deeply is that, having experienced the lower depths, he never ceased, till the day he died, to commit himself, both in his work and in his life, to trying to right the wrongs inflicted by society, above all, perhaps by giving the dispossessed a voice… From the moment he started to write, he spoke for the people, and the people loved him for it, as do I.”

 

Further Dickens reading & information:

Dickens in a Crisis 150th Anniversary YouTube video

Bleecker Street Media

Denton Dickens Fellowship

 

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An Environmentalist Before Her Time

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Rachel Carson was born on May 27th, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, Carson was not born near an ocean! And why might we say that? Well, Carson would go on to become one of the foremost nature writers and ocean conservationists of the 20th century. However, before her foray into the ecological world, Carson spent her childhood exploring her family’s rural farm. She graduated high school in the neighboring Parnassus, Pennsylvania, at the top of her class.

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Carson attended the Pennsylvania College for Women (today known as Chatham University). Though she first declared as an English major (having been an avid reader her whole life), she quickly switched her major to biology. After graduating magna cum laude, Carson began her graduate studies in zoology and genetics at John Hopkins University. In June, 1932, Carson earned her master’s degree in zoology. Though she had planned to continue her education and eventually receive her PhD, the world had other plans. The Great Depression hit her family hard, and Carson was forced to leave school and begin a full-time teaching position to help support them. A couple years later her father died suddenly, putting even more stress on Carson to be the sole caretaker of her mother.

carson1Carson eventually got a temporary position with the United States Bureau of Fisheries, a job which she had been on the fence about but was persuaded to take by one of her college mentors. She spent her time there writing radio copy for “weekly educational broadcasts entitled Romance Under the Waters.” With 52 programs in the series, Carson had her work cut out for her. The episodes focused on aquatic life and was meant to prompt interest in biology of fish and the work the Bureau did. During this time, Carson’s interest in marine life grew, and soon she was submitting articles on aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay to local newspapers and magazines. She impressed her superiors with her dedication and knowledge to the point where they offered her the first full-time position that became available, as a junior aquatic biologist.

Carson continued to write, articles and journals, essays and copy – detailing marine life. Her writing career would be changed forever after the publishers at Simon & Schuster saw an article by Carson entitled “Undersea” that had been published in Atlantic Monthly. This journey along the sea floor impressed the publishers so much so that they contacted Carson and implored her to turn the essay into a book… one that they would publish. Carson not only wrote the book, but continued publishing in journals and magazines all over the country at this time.

carson2Over ten years at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (as it was by then called) were good to Carson – she had become the chief editor of publications. Years after the first interest shown by publishers, Carson was once again on the book-publishing path. This time, Oxford University Press expressed interest in a life history of the ocean. Her completed work would eventually become The Sea Around Us. Several chapters were published serially in the Yale Review, Science Digest and The New Yorker, until it was finally published as a book in July 1951. It was an immediate bestseller, remaining at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List for 86 weeks straight. This success gave Carson the ability to give up her job at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and focus on her writing full time.

carson6Her books on the ocean life continuing to be popular, best selling works across the country, Carson began focusing much of her research on pesticide use in the United States, something she had been interested in for over a decade, but finally had the time and space to work on it. By 1957, the USDA was proposing widespread pesticide spraying – to eradicate fire ants and other pests. Carson was suspicious of some of the toxic chemicals they were proposing using, including DDT – a now known carcinogen. She worried what kind of effect the runoff from this activity would have on coastal life, and for good reason. Carson would spend the rest of her life focusing her efforts on conservation, with a great emphasis on “the dangers of pesticide overuse.” In September 1962, Houghton Mifflin published what would become Carson’s best-known book, Silent Spring. This work described in detail the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, and is credited worldwide with helping begin the modern environmental movement.  “Carson was not the first, or the only person to raise concerns about DDT, but her combination of “scientific knowledge and poetic writing” reached a broad audience and helped to focus opposition to DDT use.” She also poetically noted the dangers of human nature on the environment, a verifiable fact . Carson was, truly, ahead of her time. Unfortunately taken from us much too soon (passing away at the age of only 56 after a battle with breast cancer), Rachel Carson will live on with every moment that we choose to put the good of the planet above ease of our lives.

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Repeat After Me… “There’s No Place Like Home”

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“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Everyone, repeat it with me. “There’s no place like home.” I know we’re all feeling a bit of the cabin-fever felt by Jack Nicholson in The Shining (although, you know, hopefully to a significantly lesser extent), but let’s risk sounding like a broken record… we are lucky if we have the ability to stay home! We know money must be tight, but without the ability to put a price tag on our or our loved one’s lives we are extremely fortunate to have this ability. So in our opinion, “There’s no place like home” is possibly a great mantra to repeat to ourselves every morning. And every evening. And every afternoon. You know, just until it sinks in.

This extremely famous quote (mantra), brings us to today’s blog, however. On this day in 1919, 101 years ago, L. Frank Baum passed away. While we don’t mean to celebrate his death, we would like to bring attention to this world-famous author today with a few facts about his life! Keep on reading…

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1. The “L” in L. Frank Baum stands for Lyman, where he was born Lyman Frank Baum on May 15th, 1856 in Chittenango, New York. The seventh born (out of eventually nine kids) always hated his first name and preferred to be called “Frank”.

 

2. Baum was a somewhat sickly child, educated at home (with exception to two very uncomfortable years he spent at a military academy between the ages 10-12). Hi father indulged several of his whims and encouraged his eccentricities. Baum was gifted a small printing press as a child and began making a home journal with his younger brother that he would distribute to family and friends for free. He began a Stamp Collectors journal as a teenager, and eventually another on Hamburg chickens. Another eccentricity… as a young man Baum raised fancy chickens! Who knew?

 

3. I don’t mean to keep going on about these chickens but let’s get back to them for a second – as they were the subject of Baum’s very first published book! At the age of 30, Baum published The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs. Okay, I promise to stop harping on about the chickens.

 

4. Baum had a lifelong love affair with the theater, and dreamed of being on the stage. He did have a short career in it, after his father actually built him his own stage in Richburg, New York. As he was touring with one of his creations – The Maid of Arran (a prototypical musical, for all intents and purposes, based on the novel A Princess of Thule by William Black), the theater back home in Richburg burned down, and in it most copies of Baum’s plays.

 

5. In 1882, while touring with The Maid of Arran, Baum married one Maud Gage – the intelligent daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a famous feminist and women’s suffrage activist. Baum would be a proponent of women’s rights for the rest of his life, standing strong alongside his wife.

 

6. As wonderful as it is to hear of a man standing up for women, Baum was not faultless. As tough as this might be to hear, when Baum was living in Abderdeen, South Dakota his emotional response to the death of Sitting Bull prompted him to call for the extermination of all indigenous peoples! After the Wounded Knee Massacre (where the US army killed hundreds of the Lakota tribe, including women and children), Baum reiterated once more, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.” Yikes! Some do argue that Baum was actually attempting to generate sympathy for the native tribes by coming out with such a ludicrous statement, but it sure is shocking either way.

 

7. After having children with his wife Maud, Baum found he had a talent for telling them stories at bedtime. After overhearing one of these stories one night, Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda encouraged him to write one of them down. Baum had a wonderful relationship with Matilda and respected her greatly – if she thought his stories deserved to be published, perhaps she was right! This encouragement would become the impetus for his writing The Wizard of Oz.

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8. The idea for The Wizard of Oz apparently came to Baum very suddenly, and he wrote it all down in pencil. Once he had a working manuscript, he wanted to call it The Emerald City. Unfortunately, his editors did not want to use the name of a jewel in the title (bad luck, apparently – who knew), and as Baum sat in his office he looked over at a file cabinet labeled O – Z. Hence, the land of Oz was created!

 

9. The first release of The Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, sold out in two weeks. It became an instant classic, and received full critical and literary acclaim. Some consider it America’s first true fairy tale! The book remained a bestseller for two years, and Baum went on to write thirteen more Oz books for a bestselling series.

 

10. Baum did not only write a book on raising fancy chickens and the Oz series, oh no! He was quite a prolific writer up until his end, and actually published 50 novels, 80 short stories, hundreds of poems, and at least a dozen plays. He wrote under pseudonyms, he wrote articles for journals. And he was a family man. The all around package! (Except for his views on native peoples.)

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Our 1905 1st edition of The Woggle-Bug Book by Baum, inscribed by him on the copyright page! Check it out here.

Fun fact: The line is NOT “There’s no place like home” in the book! It is actually “I’m so glad to be at home again!” But that doesn’t really have the same ring to it for the opening of this blog so…

Also, Dorothy’s slippers were silver, not red. Bursting all kinds of childhood bubbles over here!

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“There’s no place like home!”

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Grateful the Road was Taken

We know that things have been looking grim over the past month… businesses shutting their doors, schools closing, unemployment rising. It is a scary world to be living in – for there is the fact that we have no set plan for how long this will all last. Call us old fashioned, but we find that in times of crisis a little bit of stability goes a long way, so we are planning on keeping up with our blog posts, our newsletters… and Samm has even upped our lists to biweekly so that we can entertain you at home with interesting items from all over the world! Is there something in particular you’d like to see a blog on? Shoot us an email and we’ll see if we can fit it into our schedule. In the meantime, we’d like to do a 10 Fact birthday blog on a born San Franciscan who has spent over the last hundred years keeping us sane and calm. Mr. Robert Frost, ladies and gentlemen!

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1. Happy Birthday to Robert Frost! Frost was born on March 26th, 1874 in San Francisco to William Frost, a journalist and Isabelle Moodie, a Scottish immigrant. After his father’s death, his mother moved him across the country to Massachusetts to live off the charity of his paternal grandfather.
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2. Frost was named after General Robert E. Lee, the famous General of the Confederate Army. As a youngster, Frost’s father ran away from home to join the Confederate troops. Though he was returned safely to his parents he never forgot his obsession with the Confederate army.
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3. Frost published his first poem in his high school’s magazine. Lawrence High School was a fine institution in its day and Frost graduated as valedictorian. His fellow valedictorian? One Elinor White… a young lady who would eventually become his wife!
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4. Frost attended Dartmouth College for two months, before leaving to pursue jobs and earn an income. The various jobs he undertook, however, brought him no joy – and he still dreamed of being a poet. He then attended Harvard University for two years later on, but once again dropped out to earn money for his wife and child. Harvard bestowed an honorary degree on Frost in 1937.
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5. Frost and Elinor had six children – four daughters and two sons. Unfortunately, Frost himself would outlive 4 of his six. The many tragedies that Frost knew throughout his life caused him bouts of anxiety and depression, and often influenced his poetry.
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6. Frost attributed much of his early success to fellow poet Ezra Pound. After a brief misunderstanding where Frost was given Pound’s card but did not feel a warm invitation, Frost and Pound got on quite well. Pound wrote a wonderful review for Frost’s first book of poetry, entitled A Boy’s Will and Frost immediately became known in the literary world.
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7. Frost won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 for his book of poetry: New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes. He didn’t stop there, however! Frost would go on to win three more Pulitzer Prizes in 1931, 1937 and 1943. To this day he remains the only poet to have ever won so many Pulitzers, and one of only four people worldwide to win so many in any category.
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8. In 1960 Frost was awarded the highest honor a civilian can have – a United States Congressional Gold Medal “in recognition of his poetry, which has enriched the culture of the United States and the philosophy of the world”.
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9. In 1961 Frost became the first poet to read at a Presidential inauguration. At the age of 86, Frost was asked by John F. Kennedy to recite a new poem at the inauguration. Frost composed the poem “Dedication” for the event, but due to the brightness of the sun and his failing eyesight Frost could not make out the words on the page. Confidently, Frost put the poem aside and instead recited his previously written poem “The Gift Outright” from memory.
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10. Frost felt that his most popular and beloved poem “The Road Not Taken” was severely misunderstood by the American public. This poem, recited worldwide but especially in the United States as a coming of age transition poem touting determination, was actually written in humor to Frost’s friend Edward Thomas. The two frequently went on walks together in the woods, and Thomas was an indecisive chooser of paths. Frost never meant for the poem to be taken so metaphorically! Nevertheless, we appreciate it even today.
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Happy Birthday, Robert Frost!
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Not Just Elizabeth

Todays blog celebrates one of the many authors that we know the name of but few facts about. Despite a family wealth in the slave trade she was an abolitionist, she was a major supporter of child labor rights… and the first in her English-descended family to be born in the United Kingdom in over 200 years. Today’s blog honors one Elizabeth Barrett (later Elizabeth Barrett Browning)… poet, lover and worldwide literary influencer. 

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Elizabeth Barrett was born on March 6th, 1806 in Durham, England. As the first Barrett to be born outside of Jamaica since 1655, her birth was the cause for much celebration. Her family’s wealth had come from sugar plantations in the island country, meaning that her family did benefit from slave labour in running their grand plantations. Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children, all but one of which would live to adulthood. Elizabeth’s childhood was fairly sweet and standard – full of family picnics, home theatricals and pony rides. However, unlike some other children (and definitely little girls) of the time, Elizabeth fixated on books and began writing, even as a four year old child. She was intensely studious, learning the Greek language by the age of ten and writing her own Homeric epic poem by eleven. Since both of her parents encouraged, published and saved her work, Elizabeth Barrett has one of the largest collections of juvenilia of any English-speaking writer.

barrett4A young illness affecting her spine and movement led to Elizabeth being given (and then continuously taking) laudanum, morphine and opium as a child for pain. Being addicted to these somewhat serious drugs and taking them throughout her lifetime is generally acknowledged to both have helped and hindered her in life. Her constant frail health was negatively affected by these chemicals, but they also may have contributed to her originality and imagination when writing her poetry.

Barretts late teens and twenties were fraught with trauma and tragedy. Her mother passed away in 1828, and her grandmother just a few years later. After moving to the Devonshire coast to aid her frail health (by this time she had possibly contracted tuberculosis), Elizabeth endured the loss of two of her brothers. One caught a sickness visiting the family plantations in Jamaica, and the other, her favorite brother, sadly drowned in a sailing accident while visiting her in Torquay. The guilt of this tragedy stayed with Elizabeth for the rest of her life.

barrett5In 1841 Elizabeth’s life seemed to begin to turn itself around. She was struck with a few years of intense creativity, which led to the publication of several of her greatest works. Her 1842 poem “The Cry of the Children” published in a Blackwoods magazine helped bring about child labor law reform. In 1844 she published not one but two volumes of poetry, which were immediate successes. She was suddenly a household name. It was her poetry that inspired one Robert Browning to write to her and tell her of his love for her writing. They met and instantly became ardent devotees of the other. Both Browning and Barrett’s works improved (despite their work already being popular with the public). After meeting Browning, Barrett published her most famous works Aurora Leigh and Sonnets from the Portuguese. The marriage between Browning and Barrett was carried out in secrecy, and once found out Barretts father disinherited her (as he funnily enough did to all his children who married). They made their permanent residence in Italy, where they raised their son, Pen, and befriended many influential writers and artists of the day.

On this what would be her 214th birthday, we honor this timeless writer – one who inspired Edgar Allen Poe and Virginia Woolf alike. And we give you a parting few lines…

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Today we are Thankful for… William Blake!

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Copyright Learnodo-Newtonic!

Happy Thanksgiving to our fellow bibliophiles! We thought we’d start off this day of giving thanks for a world-famous English poet, artist and printmaker with a brief history of his early life. Despite the fact that this renaissance man was largely unrecognized for his talents in his time, today he is considered one of the foremost artisans of the Romantic Period. William Blake’s prophetic art and poetry are both moving and inspiring – and for that we honor him this Thanksgiving – which also happens to be his birthday!

NPG 212; William Blake by Thomas PhillipsWilliam Blake was born on November 28th, 1757 in Soho, London. He was the third of seven children (though two of his siblings died in infancy). Though his family were English dissenters, it did not stop Blake from being baptized and having a thorough biblical education – knowledge which would prove to be quite inspirational in his work later in life. Blake’s artistic side surfaced when he began copying drawings of Greek antiquities given to him by his father. It was through these copies that Blake was first introduced to works by Michelangelo, Durer and Raphael. By the time Blake was ten he had completed his formal education and was able to be sent to a drawing school in The Strand – where he not only read and avidly studied the arts but also made his first foray into poetry.

blake6At the age of fifteen, Blake was apprenticed to an engraver in London and upon his completion of his apprenticeship became a professional engraver at twenty-one. The following year, Blake became a student at the Royal Academy where he studied over the years and submitted works for exhibition. Though he disagreed with the views held by the headmaster of the time and favored more classical art rather than the popular oil paintings of the age, Blake used the years to make friends in the art world and perfect his own skills. He printed and published his first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, around 1783, and opened up his print shop with fellow apprentice James Parker in 1784. Blake began to associate with radical thinkers of the time – scientists, philosophers and early feminist icons like Joseph Priestly and Mary Wollstonecraft. Blake spent the 80s experimenting with different kinds of printing, finally moving onto relief etching in 1788. Relief etching (also called illuminated printing) would be a medium Blake would continue to use in printing his works throughout his life. In this medium, color illustrations were able to be printed alongside text. Blake has become well-known for his illuminated printing, but throughout his life he was also known for his intaglio engraving – a more standard process of engraving at the time.

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All of these processes are wildly interesting, of course – but perhaps better explained by simply showing some of the most famous of Blake’s sketches and illustrations. His poetry and text almost always contain spectacular imagery and mythological symbolism, which were even further highlighted by his beautiful images. He was an artist, a free thinker, a poet, a radical, a spiritual man, and a devoted husband – among many other things! On this Thanksgiving, we’d like to bring recognition to him and wish him a happy birthday.

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From our 1922 holding of The Drawings and Engravings of William Blake, edited by Laurence Binyon and Geoffrey Holme. See it here!

From our 1922 holding of The Drawings and Engravings of William Blake, edited by Laurence Binyon and Geoffrey Holme. See it here!

For more information on William Blake, we recommend visiting our colleague John Windle’s William Blake Gallery where you can find blogs related to the author and various prints and books for sale both online and in person in San Francisco. We highly recommend a visit!

Happy Thanksgiving, bibliophiles!

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The Future of Antiquarian Book Fairs

As Antiquarian Booksellers, we are intimately familiar with book fairs. For those of you who have never attended such a fair before, we highly recommend it. For collectors and bibliophiles, scholars and tradesmen alike – book fairs are a wonderful place to get a feel for our world. All sellers bring a variety of items, and you can make note of who has items of interest to you and research them further. It is a wonderful place to make contacts with like-minded souls and spend time talking books. Tavistock Books has now been in business for decades, and we like to think that our fearless leader, Vic Zoschak (who also happens to be the current President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America – the ABAA) has a fair amount of experience in this field. We share with you a mini Q&A with him and his thoughts on the past and the future of the antiquarian book fair.

Photo courtesy of Fine Books and Collections magazine.

Photo courtesy of Fine Books and Collections magazine.

Vic, Thanks for answering our questions. We’ll get right to it – what changes have you witnessed in antiquarian book fairs over your many years in the trade?

Vic Sac IOBAWhen I started doing fairs back in the early 90s, book fairs were an opportunity for collectors to see a bunch of material they may not otherwise have access to.  There used to be lines around the block awaiting entry to the fair.  No more.  Remember, then, there was not widespread internet access… so no searching 20,000 bookstore inventories with a click of the mouse.  Today, a collector, or just an individual searching for a given book, need not attend a fair to look for material.  Today, when buyers search for their title on vialibri.net, they search the inventory of 20,000 booksellers.  That’s an unprecedented access to inventory that has not been possible at any other time in bookseller/book buyer history.  What that means for fairs is that most regional fairs have gone by the wayside…. in those early 90s, on the West Coast, I did 20+ book fairs a year.  Now, 3.  The local/regional fairs just don’t bring in the number of buyers that they used to.  And if exhibitors don’t sell books at the fair, they won’t come back.  Today, it’s my opinion, that a book fair needs to be an *event*, perhaps coupled with other *events* that same week.  The ABAA book fairs are trending in this direction…  not only will a potential attendee have the book fair to attend, but also events offered by sister organizations, like the Grolier Club, or the Book Club of California, or the Ticknor Society.   As I think about them now, in response to your query, I think fairs are a somewhat endangered species…. continuing to exist, but in a fragile state and in need of attention.

How are the fairs different for you now as President of the ABAA?

Well, here there is, in fact, a challenge that faces the ABAA…  our New York Fair, and our California fair, are too close together on the calendar.  There’s a long back story there that brought this to pass, much too long to recount here, but suffice it to say, there’s no easy solution.  I only wish, as President, I had a magic wand to fix it.  But I don’t, so it’ll be a significant issue that my successor will, hopefully, be able to resolve.

Vic at a recent Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair.

Vic at a recent Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair.

What fairs that you attend (New York, LA/San Fran, Boston, Seattle, Sacramento) have stayed the same throughout the years and which have changed? Have they changed for the better?

I now only exhibit at 3 a year: Sacramento [local, one day, and easy to do], as well as the ABAA CA fair [this coming year in Socal, Pasadena].  But I do attend, as a visitor, all ABAA fairs, which means I’ll be heading to Boston in a week.  This year, I also exhibited in Seattle, which was fun, but not particularly remunerative, so it’s a question mark for 2020. 

Re: change?  Here I have to give a shout-out to Jim Kay, the Sacramento promoter.  He’s kept that local fair alive and vibrant.  And I also want to give a shout out to the local ABAA book fair committees – Boston, NY & California – who have the task of keeping our ABAA fairs alive & well.  In this challenging economic environment, they are doing a bang-up job in my opinion.  They have evolved to meet the needs of the current book collecting milieu.

A shot from the New York ABAA fair, photo courtesy of LitHub.

A shot from the New York ABAA fair, photo courtesy of LitHub.

How do you see antiquarian book fairs faring (pun intended) in the future?

I think we’ll be fine, especially if we continue to market our fairs as ‘events’.  Give people more than one reason to attend.  There’s a lot of competition for an attendee’s time & money; let’s make our pitch for our fairs be one that compels.

Amen to that! Keep the book fairs coming, people. 

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