2018 is Not a Leap Year. That Being Said… Get ready for 2020!

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Sometimes, children ask ridiculous questions. I think everyone here has probably rolled their eyes at a bright and inquisitive child at least once, while answering questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do we have to wear pants?” (The latter of which I am still not sure of a legitimate answer to.) 

But there are a couple basic life questions that a child could ask me… and I would be unable to answer scientifically. Hence this blog. I would like to use this time to answer a question I have had since childhood and never bothered to truly research… until now. 

What is leap year and why on earth (pun intended) does it need to happen? And in that same vein… why did February get jipped at only 28 days (most of the time)? Ahh. All in good time, folks. All in good time. 

Leap year is defined as a calendar year with a single extra day in the mix, making a year of 366 days instead of 365. It is added to keep the calendar year synched up with the astronomical or seasonal year. What does that mean, exactly? Well, one full day on earth is the planet spinning around on its axis once. A year is how long it takes the earth to orbit the sun exactly once. Now the problem lies here – the earth actually orbits the sun 365.25 times – an “astronomical year.” Quite obviously, the .25 years accumulate and voilà! The stars threaten to drift out of sync with our calendar, so every four years we have one extra day laying around. 

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So how did we figure this all out? Ancient Egyptians actually discovered that it was 365.25 days by seeing the Sirius star drift out of sync first. However, much later (in 46 B.C.) Julius Caesar (with the help of an astronomer) discovered the same, and created the Julian Calendar with the leap year added. Today, a revised version of the Julian calendar called the Gregorian calendar (for Pope Gregory) is in use – leap years still hold true. However, every year that is divisible by 100 (1700, 1800 and 1900) will NOT be a leap year, even though they normally should be. Then again, every year divisible by 400 WILL be a leap year, even though it is also divisible by 100. Like the year 2000, which was a leap year, despite being divisible by 100. 

You still with me? (Good, because I almost lost me there for a second.)

So all of this science behind us, we now know WHY we use leap years – so that we stay in sync with the stars! But why February? Well, it actually used to be that August had 28 days! But when Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar, he wanted his name month (Caesar Augustus) to be the full 31 days… so had it switched to February! 

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Now if only we could figure out why we still need to deal with daylight savings… 

(Stay tuned for THAT blog coming to a computer screen near you this November.) 


A Congress. A Book Fair. A Blog.


$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. 


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.



Why We Should Thank Charles Dickens on His Birthday!

Every year we post a blog about Dickens around this date… it is his birthday, after all! What better way to honor our main man than keep his writing and memory alive? This year we thought we’d do something a bit different – instead of a long rambling blog about some aspect of his life, we thought we would remind you of a few ways that you see Dickens’ influence every day!


Happy 206th birthday, Chuck!

Dickens re-built Christmas.

True, Prince Albert (of Albert and Victoria) is often given the credit for reviving the Christmas holidays and traditions – he was the instigating factor in setting up a Christmas tree for the royal family! However, Dickens’ depictions of Christmas and the season at the time certainly helped people around the world begin to see Christmas as a time for joyous celebration with their loved ones!


Where would we be without this word, which has become a household term for a deplorable level of poverty and poverty stricken folk.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do…”

Many people attribute current celebrities ability and humor in characterizations and voices from Dickens! One of his interesting habits was to do all the voices of his different characters during his reading tours. Often, it was the way the characters spoke and expressed themselves that made the lines humorous. As Professor John Mullan of University College London said, “Quite a lot of the time, if you were simply to describe the plot situation of one of the set pieces that you find very funny, it’s not very funny at all… But it is very funny. The extraordinary thing he does introduce to the novel is the comic potential of the way people talk.” Voila!

And we couldn’t very well have a blog thanking Dickens without bringing up some of the terms and phrases he brought us! Just think of these words, coined by none other than our main man!


The creeps


On the rampage



Very cool, eh? Happy Birthday indeed!


Why People Love to Hate Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

We all know it, or at least part of it. You either learned it in school or you’ve heard it around Halloween-time… it doesn’t really matter how you know it, you just do. And no matter how you feel about it (good, bad, indifferent) you must admit… it’s a fan favorite the world over.


Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re just talking about a poem. On this date 173 years ago, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven was first published. Let’s look at what this poem was and how it affected both the literary world and Poe’s life.

At the time when The Raven was published, Poe’s life held startlingly similar circumstances to the protagonist of his poem. Poe’s young wife, Virginia, was slowly succumbing to the fate of sufferers of tuberculosis. Poe knew well what would happen – having lost much of his family to the disease. In the poem, the protagonist agonizes over a lost love, and even asks the raven whether there is any “balm of Gilead” that could ease his suffering. He is rejected by the raven (you know, in the way where it is a raven rejecting you with the only word he seems to have memorized) and laments on his seemingly wasted life (as one does when a bird rejects you).

A fact we truly enjoy bringing up to all Poe fans at length is that part of his inspiration for this poem came from… none other than Charles Dickens! I mean, Poe may not have directly admitted this fact, but he did publish a review on Barnaby Rudge and mentioned the fact that the raven in the novel, “intensely amusing as it is, might have been made more than we now see it… Its croakings might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.” How’s that for inspiration?!

Alright – well, enough fun facts about the poem itself. Let’s focus a bit on what might have been happening on this day so many years ago. The truth is that The Raven turned Poe into an instant celebrity – it was well received from the beginning, and prompted publishing house Wiley and Putnam to publish a book of Poe’s prose in June of that year, and a book of his poetry in November of 1845. Though the poem brought Poe very little financial success ($9-$15 is what Poe received for it at the start), the fact that it prompted the publication of his first book in five years was obviously a boon. Plus he had children following him in the streets flapping their arms and cawing until he would turn around and screech “Nevermore!” at them so that they would run away squealing. I mean, how much happiness could one man take?


So I know I promised that we would talk about how its writing influenced literature, but in all truthfulness, I have yet to see an article reflect at length on such an announcement. It drew an audience from all over the United States and abroad in England and Europe, where Poe became a household name. It sparked fear in the hearts of many – watching a depressed protagonist slowly lose his mind and be both the conveyor and interpreter of an ominous message delivered by an irritating feathered friend will do that to you. It was revered, accepted, and even sparked apathy and distaste by both civilians and other writers – much the same as every other piece of the written word that gets sent out to be eaten by us literary wolves. So what is it that The Raven had that was so singular?


It was written by a man with the prettiest handwriting I’ve ever seen, of course.



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.  


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


10 Fun Facts about Benjamin Franklin on His Birthday

Happy Birthday to Benjamin Franklin! A common misconception many Americans make is that Mr. Franklin was a President of the US. Though it seems like it, and we have his face on some of our money, that is not true! He was never a President… just a typical Joe Schmo like you and me! Okay… perhaps not quite so typical as we are… In honor of this Renaissance Man’s birthday here are ten fun facts about this founding father!


1. Franklin began the first volunteer fire brigade in America! He was a classic Dogooder, that Ben Franklin.
2. He was mainly self-taught. Franklin only went through two years of formal schooling! And yet, he conducted several science experiments with electricity, spoke 5 languages fluently and was a newspaper columnist at one point. Makes you feel like a lazy, useless human, doesn’t it?
3. Not only did Benjamin Franklin invent the first volunteer fire brigade in America (or the colonies, at that time), but he also created the first insurance company… because, you know, fire.
4. My brothers would die of laughing at this, but Benjamin Franklin also wrote a scientific essay called “Fart Proudly” – a scientific study of passing gas. Mind blown.
5. Benjamin Franklin took “air baths” every day. What is an air bath, you ask? Well! It’s when you hang out at home, reading, drinking tea, or what have you… absolutely butt naked. Nice visuals of Mr. Franklin, eh?
6. Hi signature glasses look? Well, did you know that Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal in 1784? That whole he went to two years of school and I went through eighteen is really starting to bug me.
7. He was inducted in both the Swimming Hall of Fame (even invented a pair of fins) and in the 90s he was inducted to the Chess Hall of Fame. Man of many talents, indeed.
8. Franklin fathered three children – two legitimately by his wife, and one through an affair. His son William, the child had out of wedlock, and Franklin were quite close throughout Williams life… until the American Revolution! William chose to be loyal to England, and eventually fled to London.
9. In 1785, Benjamin Franklin was considered the richest person in the United States. (As if you needed any more reasons to be jealous.)
10. His last words? “A dying man can do nothing easy.” Franklin passed away in 1790 at the age of 84. Approximately 20,000 people attended his funeral. Now that’s popularity, people! Happy Birthday to Mr. Benjamin Franklin.

Snap Back to Reality… with J.R.R. Tolkien!


Now that your holidays are over, it’s time to leave your dreams of sugarplums and fantasies in the past and get back to… reality. And who better to discover reality with than J.R.R. Tolkien!? After all, you know as well as we do that he detested his cult fantasy following and wished only to bring awareness to the Catholic church… right? Oh, no? Well then, allow us to enlighten you!

tolkien5John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3rd (yes, yes – we are one day late with this… so sue us!) 1892 in South Africa. Born to English parents, Ronald (as he was known) was followed by a brother just a couple years later. When he was only three years old, his mother took the sons on what was intended to be a long vacation in England to meet their family. While away, Ronald’s father took ill and passed away from rheumatic fever, and the Tolkien family, left without income, did not return to South Africa. His mother Mabel taught Ronald and his brother Hilary from home. Ronald showed an adept interest in languages early on, and was reading and writing around the age of four. His mother became a devout catholic in his early life, and when she passed away when Ronald was twelve years of age, he and Hilary became wards of her trusted advisor, catholic priest Father Francis. Francis would have a profound influence on Tolkien throughout his life. 

tolkien 2During his teenage years, Tolkien and two of his female cousins had a unique pastime… making up languages. Their languages, Animalic, Nevbosh and Naffarin varied in complexity and drew their roots from Latin, which his mother taught him as a young boy. Tolkien eventually began attending Oxford, at first studying Classics but soon realizing that his interests and talents lay in studying the English language and literature. He graduated in 1915 with first-class honors, a rarity for the year as it was looked down upon for Tolkien to have completed his studies before enlisting as a soldier in World War I. 

In his early twenties, Tolkien married Edith Bratt – a “childhood” sweetheart (in quotes because they met when Tolkien was 16 years old and Bratt 19, but “teen” sweethearts just sounds ridiculous). Shortly thereafter Tolkien was deployed to France to fight in the war. However, Tolkien was to count himself lucky (if you can call it so) as he suffered from so many infections and illnesses throughout his service that he was considered unfit for service and was often between hospitals and off-the-field duties. Upon his final return to England, all but one of his friends had perished in the war. 

After the war in 1920, Tolkien went to work (appropriately so) for the Oxford English Dictionary, then shortly thereafter became the youngest professor at the University of Leeds, taking up a post as Reader there. While working there, Tolkien produced his version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a medieval work that his involvement on would become the academic norm for decades to come. 


At the onset of World War II, Tolkien was approached by the British government and asked if he would consider working as a cryptographer and codebreaker in the Foreign Office, in the event of an emergency. Tolkien replied that he would be honored to do so, though it would turn out that his services would not be necessary. In 1945 Tolkien began his term as the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford, a post he would remain at until his retirement in 1959. After retirement, Tolkien and Edith set-up house in Bournemouth, England, not only because Edith was delighted to live there, but because in the 1960s the counter-culture movement saw a rapid increase in interest in Tolkien’s fantasy work and his popularity began to be distressing, with unwanted visits and phone calls, and the rise of a cult-following. Family being the main interest of the couple, they relocated. Truthfully, I feel as though I cannot do re-working Humphry Carpenter’s statement on the Tolkien’s relationship justice, so I copy it here:

tolkien6“Those friends who knew Ronald and Edith Tolkien over the years never doubted that there was deep affection between them. It was visible in the small things, the almost absurd degree in which each worried about the other’s health, and the care in which they chose and wrapped each other’s birthday presents; and in the large matters, the way in which Ronald willingly abandoned such a large part of his life in retirement to give Edith the last years in Bournemouth that he felt she deserved, and the degree in which she showed pride in his fame as an author. A principal source of happiness to them was their shared love of their family. This bound them together until the end of their lives, and it was perhaps the strongest force in the marriage. They delighted to discuss and mull over every detail of the lives of their children, and later their grandchildren.” Now if that doesn’t make you want to cry, then I don’t know what to tell you.

tolkien1Edith passed away two years before Tolkien. While he lived those years pleasantly enough in very nice rooms provided him at Oxford and honored by the Queen in that time, Tolkien’s grandson Simon would go and visit his grandfather and Tolkien would speak of how he missed his wife and Simon would remark that he seemed “sad”. Tolkien is buried with his wife in Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford, wanting to be buried in countryside (not in London, etc.) as he disliked industrialization and favored a quieter, country life. These facts were not what you were expecting from the man famed for creating the destructive and warring, mystical and fantasy world of Middle-Earth, now were they? In any case, Happy Birthday to J.R.R. Tolkien! Your work is still remembered and revered today. 

(But sorry, there is definitely still a cult following, there is really probably no way of getting around that by now.)