Category Archives: Antiquarian Books

The 2018 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest

Some of you may not know this, but our fearless leader Vic Zoschak Jr., owner of Tavistock Books, is the current President of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America. In our eyes there could be no more fitting president, as Vic has always spent a great deal of time, his finances, and effort to ensure that the upcoming generations of booksellers have all the knowledge and understanding of what it takes to become a truly great collector and bookseller. He supports fundraisers and donates, he awards scholarships so that those without the financial stability to attend courses and lectures are able to do so, and he is a large proponent of being “the job.” The man positively eats, sleeps and breathes bookselling. (And manhattans. And the San Francisco Giants. But mainly bookselling.)

It is no surprise then that he would like us to bring a little attention to the recent (just this past Friday) 2018 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest – a contest established in 2005 by Fine Books & Collections Magazine to highlight, bring attention and awareness to young book collectors across the country, as they are the upcoming generation of people who will support the antiquarian book world – whether as collectors or perhaps even booksellers themselves! Too often we hear (mainly from people outside of our world) that books are going “out of fashion” – did you know another Barnes and Noble bit the dust?? Yes, yes – we know. However, we would like to argue that (despite other, somewhat unrelated difficulties of the act of reading being pushed aside in favor of our fast paced world of technology) rare books should only become… rarer. Collectors are collectors for life – booksellers are booksellers for life. So long as these young people continue doing what they are doing, our world will continue to survive. So without further ado, let’s bring a little light to this contest and the 2018 winners!

A previous year's ceremony. Photo not taken by Tavistock Books.

A previous year’s ceremony. Photo not taken by Tavistock Books.

As we said, the contest was begun by Fine Books & Collections Magazine, but is now jointly sponsored by the ABAA, the the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS), the Grolier Club, and the Center for the Book and the Rare Books and Special Collections Division (the Library of Congress), with prizes underwritten by the Kislak Foundation. This institutional collective work hard to ensure that college and university students are recognized in their own right as collectors. First, competitions are held at almost 40 schools nationally, and the prizewinners are all encouraged to enter the National Competition, which picks four winners from the lot. Entries are accepted until early summer (usually in June) and the winners for 2018 were picked just last week. The event (held last week at the Library of Congress) includes an awards ceremony, a program, and a reception – and is free and open to the public. 

Though we in California were unable to attend, this year’s ceremony featured featured a talk given by Glen S. Miranker, “an avid bibliophile, a preeminent collector of Sherlock Holmes material, and former Chief Technology Officer at Apple” and was, no doubt, a success! Without further ado, we would like to praise the following winners of the 2018 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest! 

First Prize: Samuel Vincent Lemley, of the University of Virginia for his collection of Biblioteca Genealogica: Sicilian Printing, 1704-1893

Second Prize: Paul T. Schwennesen of the University of Kansas for his collection, Borderlands: A Manifesto on Overlap

Third Prize: Hanaa J. Masalmeh of Harvard University for her collection - Far From the Eyes, Far From the Heart: My Life as a Syrian-American Muslim

Featured Essay: Ena Selimovic of Washington University in St. Louis - Ja, Ben, I, Je: A Book Collection in Translation

Once again, the ABAA is absolutely thrilled to be a part of this collective offering the chance for young collectors to be recognized – they truly are one of the many important reasons why we do what we do. Well done!

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OTD in 1891…

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Moby-Dick is, undeniably, a classic American novel. But did you know that at the time of its publication it was considered a total flop? In fact, Melville’s prior novels (which some of you may never have even heard of) did much, much better in American critical literary society than Moby-Dick. Readers could not see past the complexity of the novel – they were expecting an adventure tale and what they got was “obscure literary symbolism.” I always find it humorous (though I am sure it wasn’t humorous to Melville) when a work that is today considered of the highest class was at the time frowned upon. The old Picasso problem, right? At least due to these instances we understand what genius looks like at the beginning, no?

melville4Herman Melvill (yes, that spelling is correct) was born in August of 1819 in New York City. He was the third of eight children born to a merchant and his wife. Though his parents have been described as loving and devoted, his father Allan’s money woes left much to be desired. Allan borrowed and spent well beyond his means, and after contracting what researchers imagine as pneumonia on a trip back to Albany from New York City, he abruptly passed away when Herman was merely 13 years old. Herman’s schooling ended as abruptly as his father’s life, and he was given a job as a clerk in the fur trade (his father’s business) by his uncle. Sometime around this time, Herman’s mother changed the spelling of their last name by adding an “e” to the end. History is still unsure as to why she would have done this – to sound more sophisticated, to hide from debt collectors… we may never know! But that simple “e” will live on forever, that is for sure.

melville3In May of 1831 Melville signed up as a “boy” (a newbie, for all intents and purposes) on a merchant ship called the St. Lawrence, and went from New York to Liverpool and back. That experience successful (and what with a longstanding obsession with the true story of the search for the white sperm whale called Mocha Dick), he decided to join the Acushnet for a whaling voyage in 1841. After a few months on board, Melville decided to jump ship with another deckhand in the Marquesas Islands after several reported disagreements with the captain of the ship. Expecting to come across cannibalistic natives, Melville was (unsurprisingly) pleased to find out that the natives were accommodating and friendly – a fact which he would later address in his 1845 novel Typee – semi-autobiographical in nature as it was based on his stay in the islands. Melville then experienced island and country hopping to an extreme degree, after boarding a boat from the Marquesas to Australia then continuing on whaling and merchant vessels visiting Tahiti, Oahu, Rio de Janeiro and Lima, Peru – among others. Eventually, Melville ended up back in Boston, Massachusetts.

Between the years 1845 and 1850, Melville experienced substantial success as a writer. His first novel Typee performed well in both public and critical arenas, and its sequel Omoo (also based on his time in the islands) performed almost equally as well. During these years Melville won the hand of Elizabeth Shaw in marriage, which throughout the years would give him four children – two sons and two daughters (though only the daughters would live to adulthood). Melville followed Omoo with novels Redburn and White-Jacket – both successful enough in their own right to afford Melville the opportunity to buy his beloved home Arrowhead in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which was an inspirational setting for his writing. It was here that he wrote Moby-Dick, or The Whale – which started as a simpler story on a fictional whaling event and eventually (with the aid of Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had recently enjoyed success with his novel The Scarlet Letter) turned into the allegorical novel it came to be. As a matter of fact, Melville dedicated what is now considered his most enduring work but became the flop that threatened to break his bank account to this friend and colleague.

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After the unfortunate reception of Moby-Dick – it seemed a bit too far-fetched in style and meaning for its audience – Melville was forced to sell his home in Pittsfield to his brother and move his family back to New York City, where he took up work as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service. Though his writing took much of a backseat at this time (roughly 1857 to the late 1870s), Melville continued to write poetry throughout his lifetime, up until his death from cardiac arrest on September 28th, 1891, when he was 72 years old. His last work Billy Budd he had stopped working on in 1888, but was found accidentally and published posthumously in 1891 – and today holds great esteem as yet another wonderful work by a misunderstood great American novelist. Today, 127 years to the day of Melville’s death, we are glad to have a chance to study and appreciate his work today. And if you haven’t yet read Typee – we greatly recommend it!

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Report on the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair, Pt. II

Answers by Samm Fricke

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So Samm! This is (a bit confusingly) your second Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. Could you tell us a bit about your experience, prep and overall impression of the previous Sacramento fair you attended in March of this year? For those of you that don’t know, Samm was brought onboard the Tavistock Books train (what seemed like) mere minutes before this past spring’s Sacramento Book Fair.

Last Sac Book Fair was quite overwhelming for the first hour of set up.  As I was loading in, taking in the surroundings and meeting everyone Vic brought to me saying “This is my new assistant Samm!  Samm this is ….”.  All at the same time! Lots of info and names. But after about an hour of watching other vendors set up booths I was beginning to get a feel for it and settle down a bit. As for the opening of book fair to the public, that was the more easier part as I have done so much book retail in the past, but these were people with more niche interests rather than what I have known of “I’m just looking for a good beach read”.  

How was this last weekend’s fair different from the fair in March for you? Do you feel more at ease with Tavistock’s wares and in the antiquarian book world in general? We know you come from a book background, but we also know that the antiquarian book world is a horse of an entirely different color!

I thought this past weekend was much easier!  I knew where the booth was, I knew our booth mate (Hey Chris!).  The faces of collectors and vendors were more familiar.  I knew where the bathroom was and when was the best time to order food was! Ha! Because I knew vendors a bit more, and they have now seen me, emailed with or talked on the phone with me I was more comfortable making small talk at their booths.  Surprisingly to some, but I am pretty shy! 

As for the wares of Tavistock, yes much more at ease!   And more comfortable discussing product and assisting collectors find items that may interest them.  Knowing the stock is always good, which was not the case last fair!

How did you find turnout and other sellers’ wares? Did any items of note catch your eye?

I only have the last Sacramento Book to compare, but I did think the turn out grander. At the end of the fair Jim Kay got on the mic and said it was the best fair turnout yet – a new record had been set! So shoutout to Jim for doing an awesome job. Perhaps by March 2019 I will have my name tag! *wink wink*

Vic bought a lot of cool items there, more than last year even! (Didn’t think it was possible, but that just shows how much I know.)  You can see them when you sign up for our New Acquisitions Newsletter! (Yes, that is a plug… and yes, you can sign up for it on our website!) As for me, there were a few items that were of interest, though I am not in the position to spend the big bucks on them yet. However, I made many mental notes!
What will be the next fair you are excited about and what do you hope to learn or accomplish before then?

Oakland! I am very, very excited about the Oakland Book Fair in February. Just seeing all the amazing items at Sacramento, I cannot wait to see what an international fair brings! Also, being local means packing and load in won’t be too bad.  

I am trying to have a better grasp on our stock so I select the most interesting items to bring that will also show Tavistock’s interest best! 

We certainly won’t! Thanks, Samm!

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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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The World’s Most Beloved (and Criticized) Family of Bears

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If you are a 90s child like myself (or a 70s child, or an 80s child, or a 2000s child…or even a 2010s child), I can guarantee that you know a family of bears… that live in (pretty much) the coolest treehouse ever… and whose sister and brother magically (almost) always get along. I grew up envying this small family and their adventures in pumpkin patches and at school. (So get to the point, you say?) Well today we thought we’d do a short feature on our favorite (fictional) family of bears… the Berenstain Bears, in honor of Jan’s birthday anniversary!

The Berenstain Bear family and franchise was created by Jan and Stan Berenstain in 1962, and has since become a series of over 300 titles. Since 2002, Jan and Stan’s son Mike continues the tradition by authoring the titles. A full family project, in a sense! Let’s see how it all came about…

bears5In 1941, Janice Grant and Stanley Berenstain met on their first day at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and became close very quickly. At the onset of World War II, they took up different war effort posts (as a medical illustrator and riveter), but were eventually reunited and married in 1946. They found work as art teachers, then eventually became co-illustrators, publishing works like the Berenstain’s Baby Book in 1951 followed by many more (including, but not limited to Marital Blitz, How To Teach Your Children About Sex Without Making A Complete Fool of Yourself and Have A Baby, My Wife Just Had A Cigar). In the early 1960s the Berentain’s first “Berenstain Bears” book made it to a very important colleague and publisher – Theodore Geisel – or, as some of you may remember from our somewhat recent blog, Dr. Seuss! 

bears2Geisel traded ideas with the Berenstains for over a year – until he finally felt like they had a marketable product for the American public. In 1962, The Big Honey Hunt hit shelves across the USA. The Berenstains were working on their next book – featuring penguins – when Geisel got in touch to say another bear book was needed by demand, as The Big Honey Hunt was selling so undeniably well. Two years later The Bike Lesson came out… which began a waterfall of publications… at least one a year since then, but typically more than a few. A record 25 Berenstain Bears books were published in 1993 alone! Six titles have already been published in 2018. The immediate success of the Berenstain Bears lead to a situation not unlike the popular Hardy Boys series or Nancy Drew’s popularity – only for a younger age range and with a somewhat different tone. Not to mention all written and illustrated by the same authors, at least until Mike Berenstain took over the franchise in 2002. Jan and Stan were quite a busy pair for a number of years!

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Jan and her son Mike, the now author of the series.

Now why were the bears as successful as they were? Though some criticism has fallen on the books over the decades for its “formulaic” and “syrupy” tone, the books have also seen 35 titles in the Publishers Weekly top 250 titles of all time, and 15 titles in the top 100 Children’s Paperbacks. As an educational series (each title dealing with a somewhat moral or educational lesson for youngsters) it has received many accolades. However, as stated the series has also received criticism for being outdated and perpetuating stereotypes from its beginning. That being said, I do not believe that anyone, even those critical of the texts, can deny the obvious influence they have had on children and families… for decades! The bears provided a learning ground for warm and cuddly (if only mildly didactic) lessons for young children in the United States.

And the rest of the world. Because it has been translated into 23 languages. 

Happy Birthday to Jan Berenstain and the family of Berenstain (NOT “Berenstein”) Bears – Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Honey!

(…How come Honey gets an actual name?)

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Jan & Stan working in their studio with sons Leo and Mike. One big happy family!

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Happy Birthday, Aphra Behn!

And if you’re just now asking yourself “Who in the world is Aphra Behn?” then this is surely the blog for you!

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When I was at University I took a course on the Renaissance/Restoration poets, and completely fell in love with Ms. Behn and John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. For those of you that don’t know, Restoration authors such as Aphra (sounds odd, but will use it anyway) and Rochester wrote in the time period of (roughly) 1660-1689. This was an interesting period of time, as Charles II had just been restored to the throne of England, and the focus in literature and poetry was on simplicity and the interesting mingling of human reasoning and natural passions. This gigantic shift from the Romantic form of literature seemed to happen almost overnight. And who was in the very throes of it? Why, Ms. Aphra Behn, of course!

Aphra Behn was born sometime in 1640, being baptized in December of that same year. Not much is known about Behn’s early life – which many believe she wanted, but being purposefully vague and misleading on such facts. Her biographer Janet Todd wrote that Behn “has a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess which makes her an uneasy fit for any narrative, speculative or factual. She is not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks.” And certainly she was a mystery – she sometimes wrote under the pen name “Astrea” and though she was a well-known figure in the literary world, her life was a mystery to many. 

behn 1As a stout Stuart supporter, Behn became attached to the royal court after King Charles II came back into power in 1660. Now we get into the exciting (and more traceable) details of this woman’s life – in 1666 her connections to the crown landed her a job as a spy during the Second Anglo-Dutch War and she arrived in the Netherlands in July of that year. However, her time there did not pan out as planned, as Charles II was extremely neglectful of payments – and Behn was forced to return to England after having to pawn some of her jewelry in order to live abroad. After her return to England, she began working as a playwright (though reportedly had written poetry prior to this job) for the King’s and Duke’s Companies in London. Her work as a scribe was popular, and her plays began to be seen on the stage in 1670  with The Forc’d Marriage and 1671 with The Amorous Prince. After her third play, The  Dutch Lover, was noted a flop, Behn traveled for three years before settling down once again to write – this time more comical works that proved infinitely more popular than her earlier works. The most popular and well-known of which is, of course, The Rover – premiering in 1677 and featuring a group of well-bred Englishmen’s amorous adventures in Naples at Carnival time. 

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Behn continued to write “ferociously”, as Todd notes. Over her (somewhat short) lifetime, Behn would write and stage 19 plays and translate/author other essays and poetry. She became one of the first “prolific, high-profile female dramatists in Britain” and was one of the most productive playwrights in Great Britain, second only to Poet Laureate John Dryden (Todd). She became friendly with the other playwrights and literary greats of the day, and moved in interesting circles for a woman of the times. As one of the first women to earn her living solely from writing, we women today have a great deal to thank her for!

behn4Publishing her famous novel Oroonoko just a year before her death in 1688, Behn truly wrote until her health completely deteriorated. Though she died at age 48 in relative poverty, Behn was buried in Westminster Abbey under her tombstone which reads, “Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality.” (Hilarious even in death…) Happy Birthday to this early feminist!

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Highlight on the 2018 Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship Winner Ellen Saito and her business, Excelsa Scripta Rare Books!

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The 2018 Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship Award Winner Ellen Saito and Bibliography instructor Joel Silver this month at RBS.

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Welcome, Ellen! As the latest recipient of the Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship to Joel Silver’s course at RBS, what were you most excited about, in terms of RBS? The class? Meeting more like-minded people?

Thrilled to secure the Tavistock scholarship, I was elated to attend this course as my first choice by far. For months, I was in a tizzy of anticipation of this course, ESSENTIAL to everyone in the rare book world. It was most exhilarating to meet Joel Silver, prominent librarian, kind and generous teacher and master storyteller, who shared his discerning knowledge of 350+ top rare book research sources, including their free websites and affordable reprints. Develop your inner librarian; you, too, can be privy to any topic related to rare books. Your lost invitation to a secret society for smart, down-to-earth and humorous adults has been found. You are most welcome to join this warm, embracing community. Applicants are sought. Scholarships and affordable housings abound. It is a bargain. Invest in yourself!

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What is your general impression of RBS? Did things run smoothly, were people enjoying their classes and themselves? Etc.

6RBS provides you with the ultimate learning environment. The faculty is a who’s who of rare book experts, who unselfishly divulge their secrets, meant to be shared further with others. Students are free to select their favorite course(s) only, but once you experience this wonderful place, you will want to return soon and often. There is no competition, no cramming, no grades. This is learning at its best. Hint: get to know your peers; they will be delightful and VERY helpful to you. The RBS staff made hard work look easy; everything ran without a hitch. People enjoyed their chosen course, each a shortcut to expertise garnered over a lifetime. Casual, well-attended get-togethers formed naturally during breaks; people were very happy to be there. It felt like a week-long vacation from reality.

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How did you like the course? As you, but possibly not everyone, knows – Vic offers a scholarship to this amazing Bibliography class every year! We love to see booksellers taking the time and effort to cite their sources properly – one mark of great bookseller, in our opinion! How did you find it?

Joel Silver.

Joel Silver.

I learned of the RBS at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) and enjoyed the course immensely! You might expect Joel Silver, professor of librarianship, to have a vast and deep database of detailed and accurate knowledge of all things book-related in his laptop. Wrong. It is all committed to MEMORY. Well worth the time, effort and tuition, this course is an excellent introduction to the RBS: just take notes as you like, while Joel Silver instructs you and keeps you laughing with astonishing real-life stories. Explore the clear RBS website. The RBS staff is truly helpful, so call in or email any questions. The online application requires a personal statement and CV, then you write an essay for Joel Silver – that’s it. You are considered for all RBS scholarships. Outside scholarships are available.

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The beautiful gardens at Monticello - Thomas Jeffersons home, just a short drive from RBS.

The beautiful gardens at Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home, just a short drive from RBS.

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Did you hear about any courses that were of interest to you you’d like to pursue in the coming years?

I am most interested in twelve courses: Introduction to Bookbinding, Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography, Illustration to 1900, Printing to 1800, Introduction to Typography, Provenance, Forgery (detection), Collection Development, Indigenous Sovereignty, Book History 200-2000, Introduction to Illuminated Manuscripts and English Handwriting 1500-1750. I am currently doing the reading for Printed Books to 1800.

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Tell us a bit about your business!

Excelsa Scripta Rare Books, where “excelsa scripta” is Latin for “sublime writing,” is an online boutique bookstore specializing in social justice as a source of inspiration, while reaching back over the centuries. Emphasis is placed on historically significant books about striving for social and economic equality in a safer, more civilized world with better protection of freedoms and rights. Subjects that are prioritized include, but are not limited to: Women’s History, Black History and topics addressing civil disobedience, disability, poverty, L.G.B.T.Q., Native Americans, racism and ethnic cleansing. First editions in original bindings prevail. Expect truth in advertising and attention to customer care. Eco-friendly packaging products make use of recycled, renewable and biodegradable materials to support sustainability.

Thank you, Ellen!

More information on the scholarship can be found here.

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