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Archival Cataloguing for Booksellers, Part II

By Kate Mitas

Getting to Know Your Archive

Now that you know your archive is about, say, Alaskan beauty pageant contestants or Italian motor scooters (to use two of Lorne Bair’s examples from the last blog in this series), it’s time to write up a snazzy description and send the archive out into the world, right?

Well, no.

As with anything else, first impressions can carry a lot of weight, but they exist to be refined, deepened, and, in some cases, overturned completely by later information. This is especially important to keep in mind when you’re dealing with archives: unlike books, whose (expected) contents are often already known by your customer and documented in bibliographical references, archives, in a sense, don’t really exist until they’re catalogued. Cataloguing an archive defines, as well as describes, its contents for a potential customer. That’s part of what makes archives so exciting to work with, but it also increases the risk of misleading your client (and/or yourself) by imposing a narrative, rather than letting the narrative be dictated by the material.

Physical Content

First things first, to borrow from Brian Cassidy’s oft-repeated maxim at CABS: Look. At. The. Archive.

An archive in progress -- stay tuned!

An archive in progress — stay tuned!

It can be easy to skip over an archive’s physical content and dive right into those letters, or diaries, or photographs — after all, that’s the fun part, when you get to read on the job(!), hunt for clues, do research, and, in general, be utterly and exquisitely nerdy.  In contrast, cataloguing the physical content of an archive is tedious, sometimes mind-numbingly so: you count the different things in the archive, and you figure out what they’re made of and how big they are, and, if you’re like me, you also probably recount something at least once, because the phone rang in the middle and you want to make absolutely sure you’ve gotten it right.  So what’s the big deal about physical content?

Put simply: everything in an archive is a function of its physical content. It’s impossible to draw accurate conclusions about an archive’s intellectual content without knowing its actual composition, and, consequently, to determine a commercial value based on those factors. (Note the qualifiers, here. Sometimes it’s far more practical to slap a price on a minimally-catalogued archive and send it on to another bookseller who knows more about the subject. More on this later.)

Take those photographs of Alaskan beauty pageant contestants, for example. They might be the most interesting subsection of Alaskan life you’ve ever seen, but what if they’re real photo postcards instead of photographs, issued as souvenirs at an annual fair in downtown Anchorage? Or worse, half-tone reproductions? Conversely, what if your Alaskan pageant contestants are only in ten photographs in an album of 300, all featuring contestants at beauty pageants held around the country during a 20 year period (which would be a pretty kick-ass archive, by the way)? And what if those ten Alaskans are scattered throughout the album, rather than grouped together?

You get my point: establishing an archive’s physical content is a way of applying quantifiers to aspects of valuation like rarity and significance, as well as forcing you to reconcile the parts of an archive you found interesting (Alaskan beauty pageant contestants) with the likely intent of the person who formed the archive (beauty pageant contestants). It’s a way of grounding your enthusiasm and, ultimately, making you focus on what an archive actually is, rather than what you might want it to be.

Not everyone includes the same amount and kinds of information when describing an archive’s physical contents. Nevertheless, here is a list of general factors that we include at Tavistock, and which I’ve found to be helpful:

For textual material:

  • number of pages and size of leaves
  • if unique, whether the material is manuscript and/or typescript
  • if manuscript, overall legibility
  • if printed, whether professionally or not
  • estimated word count (of manuscript/typescript material)

For photographic/visual material:

  • number and type of photographs/images, with a breakdown by category
  • photographic process*
  • color, black and white, etc.?
  • professional vs amateur

This list is far from complete, of course — you’ll note there’s nothing here about film, for example, since we almost never handle it — but these attributes are a good place to start when determining the physical content of most textual and photographic archives from the mid-20th century and earlier.

* For a good reference on how to distinguish the type of photographic process used, with a handy fold-out chart for identification, we recommend James Reilly’s Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints.

Next up in the series: Intellectual Content and Research Methods

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Come to Pasadena, for There You’ll See…

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We are exhibiting at the Pasadena ABAA Fair! If you have a chance to come check out Booth 418 while you’re there (February 12th-14th at the Pasadena Convention Center), here are some of the goodies you can hope to find. See anything else on our site you’d be interested in perusing? Shoot us an email! We’d be happy to bring it down just for you.

Check out this 1st edition, inscribed copy of Clara Barton’s “Story of My Childhood” – published in 1907. Now housed in a custom red quarter-leather slipcase with marbled paper boards… As Barton is perhaps the most well-known nurse in American nursing history (organizing the American Red Cross and all), this is a must-have for any nursing collection! See it here>

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.00.15 AMAn attractive, Near Fine set of Forster’s “The Life of Charles Dickens” – all first editions! Published between 1872 and 1874 by Chapman & Hall, these volumes are beautifully set in early 20th century three-quarter green morocco bindings and green cloth boards. Love Dickens? Look no further than here>

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.00.50 AMFor the celebrity groupie in the Southern California crowd… we have a scarce cookery book published in 1936. “Favorite Recipes of Famous People” contains favorite recipes of, according to its compiler Felix Mendelsohn, “famous chefs and maitres, by stage folk and screen stars, by newspaper men, columnists, opera stars, musicians and leading household economists, in fact by glamorous personalities in every walk of life.” This cookery book only shows 4 holdings on OCLC! Get it while it’s hot>

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 6.46.50 PMA book fair wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of library history! Have you seen our Catalogue of the Milford Library yet? This is a rare 19th C. catalogue from this small-town free library, formed in 1868. OCLC records no holdings of this edition (can you say “Score”?), noting only a sole holding of the library’s 1870 catalogue. The 3 page introduction provides a succinct history of earlier attempts at establishing local lending-library societies, etc. Interested? It is available to see here>

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.04.45 AMThis Hardy Boys title, “The Short-Wave Mystery”, number 24 in the series, is in, according to Carpentieri’s reference, it’s “most collectible” format. This 3rd printing of the title has a frontis by Russell H. Tandy and is bound in maroon cloth with black topstain and pictorial endpapers. Colorful pictorial Dust Jacket is included! Are you a collector of children’s series books? Contact us – we can bring many! See “The Short-Wave Mystery” here>

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 6.39.30 PMWho doesn’t love a good restaurant menu? Especially one where a big-mouth bass tells you to eat him! Check out this menu from New York’s McGinnis of Sheepshead Bay – “The Roast Beef King” (but also “Famous for Sea Food”). In 1943, a Roast Beef, Spinach and Mashed Potato dinner cost $1.45. Oh, the good old days… Drool & giggle here>

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.05.13 AMAnd last but not least – our Fine Printing item! This broadside is a 1934 printing from San Francisco’s Grabhorn Press – one of only 100 copies. “To Albert Bender – Saint Patrick’s Night 1934″ was written by Ella Young to Albert Maurice Bender, and has a woodcut headpiece by Valenti Angelo at the top. See it here! 

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The Antiquarian Book World in 2016

Woohoo! It is almost 2016 and have you got a whirlwind year ahead of you! Interested in Book Fairs? Book events? Bibliophiles in general? The Antiquarian Book World has got you covered. Check out the most pressing book events (mainly CA or ABAA related) in early 2016 below!

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January:

Now until January 10th: If you haven’t caught it already, you have a few days left! The California Historical Society has hosted their current exhibition “City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair” since January of 2015, and the closing day is January 10th of 2016! Get a viewing in while you still can… take it from someone who has seen the exhibition – it’s worth it!   http://www.californiahistoricalsociety.org/exhibitions/current_exhibitions/

January 9th & 10th: Greater Los Angeles Postcard & Paper Show - Glendale California. http://www.postcardshows.com/Glendale.php

January 25th (to April 25th): New exhibition at the Book Club of California in San Francisco! If you have never attended an exhibition at this prestigious club or thought of joining the ranks, you are missing out! The BCC hosts lovely and interesting functions and surely their new exhibition “Calligraphy and Poetry” is sure to impress!  http://www.bccbooks.org/

February:

February 5th & 6th: San Francisco Book, Print & Paper Fair at the San Mateo County Event Center – San Mateo, California! This fair is close to our lovely shop… Just a ferry ride (or a long swim… just kidding you can also drive here) away! Please feel free to make an appointment and come see us when you’re around for the fair!   http://www.sfbookandpaperfair.com/

February 12th, 13th & 14th: The California International Antiquarian Book Fair (ABAA) - Pasadena, California. For those who don’t know, each year the ABAA oscillates between hosting the California ABAA Fair in Pasadena or the Bay Area. This year is Pasadena’s turn! Come down and show your support for the packed show of local, North American & International Booksellers! We’ll be there – even more a reason to come! http://cabookfair.com/index.php

March:

March 11th, 12th & 13th: Florida Antiquarian Book Fair - St. Petersburg, FL. I have to plug this one because not only has Vic exhibited at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair before, but it is my home state! Don’t worry, alligators are more scared of you than you are of them…  http://floridabooksellers.com/

The Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair

The Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair

March 19th: Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. This one is a must! For those of you who have never been to a book fair, this is a great starting fair to attend. Lots of local booksellers, fun-loving bibliophiles and sunshine… what more could you ask for? Read our past blogs on this fair to hear what it’s all about, then come and visit us!  http://www.sacbookfair.com/

 

April (We like to call it… Bookselling in a New York Minute):

April 7th, 8th, 9th & 10th: The ABAA New York Antiquarian Book Fair – Park Avenue, NY. Always a beautiful venue to behold, this fair boasts booksellers and book-lovers from all over the world, and never fails to deliver a spectacular event! Don’t believe us? We wouldn’t lie to you! http://www.nyantiquarianbookfair.com/

April 9th: The Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair / The Fine Press Book Fair – Lexington Ave, NY. One of the greatest things about the NY book fair are the numerous “shadow” fairs that go along with the ABAA’s shindig… check them out! You won’t be disappointed.  http://www.flamingoeventz.com/    http://www.fpba.com/fairs/newyork.html

April 9th: The New York City Book & Ephemera Fair. Again… how many fairs do you need to have happening before you agree to go to New York and have your fill of antiquarian books?! I believe “Shop till you Drop” is the phrase needed here!  http://www.antiqueandbookshows.com/

 

To find out more throughout the year, visit:

www.bookfairs.com or the ABAA list of events at www.abaa.org/events/  to find more to explore!

 

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Braving Rush Hour to Feed my Holiday Bibliophilia

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By Margueritte Peterson

Click, clack, click, clack… are these the sounds of the keys on my keyboard puncturing this blank document with letters as I write this? Maybe. Was it also the sound my heels made as they climbed the steps of the Berkeley City Club last night for the annual holiday dinner & raffle of the Northern California Chapter of the ABAA? Most definitely. That’s right, ladies and gents! Another year has passed us by and last night saw the usual cast of characters (minus a few) sharing cocktails, laughs and bottles of Single Malt Scotch Whiskey (for the raffle, of course… we aren’t alcoholics!) at a beautiful local venue.

Michael Hackenberg and his Raffle Surprise!

Michael Hackenberg and his Raffle Surprise!

The night started out promising enough, as Kate Mitas, Vic’s Aide-de-Camp, and I braved rush-hour East Bay traffic for over half an hour to get to Durant Avenue. We then parked in a lot I know well only to be accosted for $8 by what I originally assumed was a homeless person trying to make a buck (not a bad idea, when you think about it). A glass of red wine later and we were sitting at the back table, watching booksellers all around us enjoy an evening with friends, spouses and colleagues. Michael Hackenberg, Chair of the NCC, hustled all (rather well, I might add, as only Michael can do) for the purchase of raffle tickets, and then introduced the new board of the NCC. Himself returning as Chair and Steve Blackmer continuing on as Treasurer, we have the honor of welcoming two new members to the board! Scott Brown of Eureka Books joins as Vice Chair and Alexander Akin of Bolerium Books as Secretary.

After hearing from the current Chair and Steve as Treasurer, current Vice Chair Vic Zoschak gave some words on some recent goings-on in the ABAA. One of which was this – at the recent Boston ABAA fair, the ABAA partnered with RBS to offer an educational seminar. It was attended by 44 people in all, 9 of which were booksellers (3 from Northern California alone!). The session was opened by intrepid president of the ABAA Tom Goldwasser and President of RBS, Michael Suarez. The seminar was very successful and there are hopes that it will be repeated in the future!

Enjoying salmon and missing out on eggplant!

Missing out on eggplant!

After hearing from all parties, the meal continued! While a couple of us from Tavistock Books enjoyed a delicious roasted eggplant & polenta dinner (and another at Tavistock Books deemed it an alien life form and ate his usual salmon dinner), we exchanged pleasant dinner conversation with Rachel Eley, an associate at John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller (and an Associate Member of the ABAA herself) and her colleague Annika Green. As desert appeared on the tables I was suddenly thrust into the position of raffle item presenter (thanks a heap, Vic), and decided then and there that I should probably never apply for a position on a game show, no matter how low on cash I am! (I don’t think that game show hosts like it when the raffle presenter holds a bottle and when asked what it is retorts with “…it’s alcohol…”). In any event, the raffle each year is held to benefit the Elisabeth Woodburn Educational Fund which provides educational scholarships to booksellers (a great opportunity, of which a handful of booksellers in Northern California have been able to take advantage of to further their knowledge of the bookselling world!).

All in all, it was a pretty tame evening (compared to some other bookseller events I have been to over the last few years) but any night with books, wine and bibliophilia is a great night in our eyes! The holiday season has now officially begun!

Yours truly, Vic Zoschak & Kate Mitas of Tavistock Books!

Yours truly, Vic Zoschak & Kate Mitas of Tavistock Books!

 

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